No Magic Words – Part I

SeeNoEvilThumbby Brad Nelson
A friend and I have had several discussions through the years about how to change the minds of people who keep voting for the reckless spenders, over-regulators, and control freaks of collectivism, no matter how obvious it is that such political arrangements (and politicians) produce great harm. (How about 10 to 20% real unemployment for starters?) It doesn’t seem to matter to many people how egregiously the debt and dependency keep piling up.

And this isn’t rocket surgery (as I say). History is rife with concrete examples of the great harm of collectivism (and statism), as well as abundant examples of the efficacy, decency, and life-enhancing nature of freedom. But there is great intransigence against the idea of freedom by many. My friend, ever the optimist, thinks there should be a way to find the right words to move people from a collectivist orientation to a freedom-based one. (And he may be right.) But such “magic words” that are persuasive and conclusive have thus far proved very elusive.

A good contemplation of this issue is proved by Paul Rahe’s two-part essay, The Servile Temptation. (Here is Part 2.) It’s worth reading if only to get to the concluding quotes from Alexis de Tocqueville. The following is both a summarization of the article by Rahe as well as my additional commentary to wrap it all up into a bigger picture:

Mankind is inherently restless, a state known as “inquiétude.” Freedom itself leaves mankind feeling even less settled and vulnerable. In the old days, men could look for help and consolation from “local aristocrats, to great magnates, to the church, to the various corporate bodies constitutive of European monarchy.” Freedom inherently puts oneself at the center of the universe (one must make one’s own way in a free market system of individual responsibility and personal initiative) and that leaves people feeling quite “helpless in the face of political and economic forces beyond their control.”

I agree. And add to that a political party and a media who intentionally ramp up those feelings. But I do think one of most under-rated and under-reported aspects of modern civilization is the power of capitalist success — and freedom itself — to stress people out and make them feel vulnerable. It probably doesn’t help that every commercial on TV, every sitcom, and every MTV “reality” show, shows an idyllic life of beautiful people, having abundant fun, with lots of money, and beautiful friends all living a carefree life.

Personally, I’ll take the stress of freedom and material wealth, but it is surely true that once mankind’s basic needs are being met (food, clothing, shelter), we will find something to stress over. In fact, none (absolutely none) of the things we stress over now would even be on the radar in centuries past when humanity’s main task from daylight-to-dusk was just having enough to eat. Sometimes I think we Westerners are all like George Costanza from “Seinfeld.” He, too, couldn’t handle success.

So what do we do to try to escape such “stress”? Well, in a democracy, we don’t have kings or lords anymore to take care of us and make all of our big decisions for us. But we can get much the same thing and elect those who concentrate not on increasing and protecting our freedoms but who will instead “care” for us (including choosing something as basic as our health care and doctor).

And eventually with enough of that “caring,” people may fall prey to what is called “the administrative state” which is a government that has expanded and enlarged itself incrementally according to every want and need we felt we just had to have and couldn’t possibly live without. Government becomes the nanny as people trade their freedom for security. (This is, in fact, the exact experience of our times and we’ve got the tens of trillions of dollars of debt to prove it.) Often accompanying that desire for security (and driven by the same angst) is the desire for meaning. In this case, it’s meaning not from our church, friends, or family, but one supplied by the state.

Politicians are more than ready to prey on this feeling of vulnerability, angst, and the desire for meaning because “Unlimited government heightens their power, and it flatters their sense of self-importance,” according to Rahe. (Again, I would say this is our exact experience of today.) And all this and more has led me and my friend, who I mentioned at the beginning of this article, to ask ourselves “Why it is so hard to explain to people the importance of freedom? Shouldn’t there be some easy and obvious ‘magic words’ to cut through the statist and collectivist lies?” The best answer I have been able to come up with is something like this: “They don’t really want freedom. They would rather have security and meaning, both of which are promised by the administrative state and the politicians who — even if on a credit card — can make a living promising these things.”

Yes, it’s true many have come to take their freedom for granted, and some might indeed miss it when it’s gone. But many have been seduced by the idea that freedom itself is not a good thing. The word used is not “freedom,” of course, for few citizens will consciously be against such a concept. But they may be against it in practice if you change the word to “capitalism” or “corporations” and sometimes even to “individual choice” which are words that are regularly demonized (Obama derides it as “ever man for himself”), even though such things are the very expression of political and economic freedom.

Rather than business and industry, for instance, being seen as the vehicles for jobs, production, and opportunity (all of which are the outgrowth of freedom), there is a word change and such things become the symbol of nasty “greed” and “exploitation.” Thus many learn to hate the very symbol of freedom even if they do not consider themselves opposed to freedom and even if they do chant slogans of “choice.” Business and the free market become the conduit for displeasure, even to the point of rioting about it at a gathering of the WTO (as happened a few years back in Seattle — an early look at the Occupy Wall Street types). At the same time, they ascribe to government far more trust and benevolence than it deserves.

This is a worldview that takes a powerful grip on people…to the point of a religious outlook complete with various myths (one of which is known as “the myth of the noble savage,” the idea that before “greedy capitalism” all people lived at peace and in harmony with nature). And it makes them extremely vulnerable to the Barack Obamas and Nancy Pelosis of the world. As obviously as it is to you and me that they are atrociously socialistic — and the very harbingers of the same kind of statist tyranny that devastated the world last century — such demagogues sell the promise of refuge from the inherent “inquiétude” that is the product of life itself and something that, ironically, can be amplified by freedom. And they’re more than willing to do it by borrowing us into bankruptcy.

That we have become somewhat psychologically fragile and superficial people is without a doubt. The inability of many men and women to draw even the most obvious line in the sand between right and wrong is demonstrated time and again. But, as Tocqueville said:

After having taken each individual in this fashion by turns into its powerful hands, and after having kneaded him in accord with its desires, the sovereign extends its arms about the society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of petty regulations – complicated, minute, and uniform – through which even the most original minds and the most vigorous souls know not how to make their way past the crowd and emerge into the light of day. It does not break wills; it softens them, bends them, and directs them; rarely does it force one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting on one’s own; it does not destroy; it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it gets in the way, it curtails, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies, and finally it reduces each nation to nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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15 Responses to No Magic Words – Part I

  1. ladykrystyna says:

    Brad, great points. In my journey from slightly left of center to Right Wing Radical, I try to remember what it was that finally caused the elevator to get to the top floor. I figured that could be of help trying to convert others who were like me.

    I wish I had kept a journal.

    But I can tell you that I never felt freer when I finally understood what freedom
    meant. That my life and my destiny, every success, every mistake, was my own. Scary and thrilling at the same time.

    I wish more people would have that feeling.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Whaddaya mean, no diary? You’re a lawyer. Just make it up. 😀

      I’m guessing that a fair number of people make the natural journey from naive yute to wizened conservative. It just tends to be what life does to you. Unless something interrupts the process. And I have a sneaking suspicious that 90% of the libtards you meet online over the age of, say, about 30 are hooked into the government in some way, whether it’s because they work for them, receive a retirement from them, or in some way get benefits.

      You never know for sure. But these types (and intentionally so considering just how immoral our political class is) have had their growth stunted. But it would be nice to hear people’s explanations on how they basically became an apostate from the Church of Liberalism.

      • ladykrystyna says:

        Ha, Ha. 🙂

        I have met quite a few ex liberals/lefties during my journey.

        I don’t think all who refuse to rethink politics are necessarily tied to the government, although I’m sure many are (and they could be both Democrats and RINOS).

        I think that desire to be nice rather than good plays a part. And also a normalcy bias and a fair amount of indoctrination. Apathy as well.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I don’t know how many people who cling to the “Progressive”/Cultural Marxist narrative receive substantial benefits or jobs from the government. But I’d like to know. It’s something I often suspect, particularly when I hear supposed conservatives talk big on guns, abortion, gay marriage, etc. But then they suddenly go all wobbly concerning entitlements and stuff like that.

          Again, it’s not polite to say, but socialism corrupts people. It is basically the political parties using the power of government to tax, print money, and borrow money to buy votes. They are the pimps, we are the Johns. That’s not a flattering image, but I believe it to be the true one.

          • Kung Fu Zu says:

            In 2008, I sat next to a female history professor on a flight to Switzerland. We had a lot of time to talk.

            She was a liberal and I asked her why so many profs were leftists. She said she thought a lot of it had to do with guilt feelings. They were making good money for jobs which they enjoyed and were not too strenuous, so they had these feelings of guilt. I said, if you feel guilty then you should personally go out and help someone who needs it, not force the government on everyone. She didn’t argue.

            I also asked her why Sarah Palin was so unpopular with profs. Sh said she thought it was the way Palin spoke. I looked at her and asked her to listen to herself. She smiled sheepishly and said she knew it sounded silly but that was the way it was.

            What was funny was the prof had a very thick Baustonian accent which was not in the least refined. I guess we cannot see ourselves as we really are.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              I can believe it. I think that is also true of many who have been a success in business. They have been made to feel guilty for doing so, thus they bow to the Church of Leftism and beg forgiveness for their sin of prosperity.

              I say, f**k Karl Marx and this whole class warfare poison. We ought to celebrate success and achievement, not apologize for it. And I can’t tell you how deeply affected I have been by seeing some of my successful Christian friends go all wobbly on this subject. It really does shake me to the core sometimes to witness such utter cowardice in otherwise good people.

            • MarkW says:

              I’ve always told people who feel guilty about their success, that they should write a big check to the church, or to GoodWill, and get over it.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Great advice. But the point is not to do good. It’s to be *seen* to do good — or just to relieve the guilt.

                And I guess because that sense of guilt is inculcated via political means, it can only be relieved by some showy political means. One would think your suggestion of a check send to St. Vinny would be enough.

          • Kung Fu Zu says:

            It ain’t only socialism which corrupts.

            Everyone knows government is going to be corrupt to some degree. It is after all a human institution. This is accepted because it is believed that the small amount of corruption in a small government is worth putting up with in lieu of the necessity of certain basic governmental functions.

            The problem is when the government becomes so large that it has the power and funds to infiltrate and corrupt large parts of society. The government then starts calling the shots.

            • MarkW says:

              I’ve known quite a few liberals who while they might acknowledge that govt can, at times, be a bit corrupt, they are convinced that govt is perfectable. Whereas capitalism is inherently corrupt.
              Just look at how they run to govt every time a flaw is found in capitalism. They honestly expect govt to be less corrupt than capitalism.

              Maybe I’ll throw together a short treatise sumarizing Dr. Sowell’s much longer piece on why capitalism rewards cooperation and socialism rewards corruption. (I seem to be having lots of trouble finding the time to do the research I need to do on the nuclear power piece.)

              • ladykrystyna says:

                Mark, my mother is one of those people. She doesn’t trust the gov’t or capitalism, but she doesn’t understand that capitalism is the least of our problems.

                It’s hard for people to wrap their head around that idea. They’ve been so indoctrinated by the media, by entertainment, by education, that capitalism is bad and gov’t saves everyone.

              • ladykrystyna says:

                BTW, I would love to see that piece on Sowell. 😀

          • MarkW says:

            I’ve lost track of the number of people who call themselves conservative, but still get quite indignant whenever you discuss of cutting Social Security.

          • ladykrystyna says:

            “But then they suddenly go all wobbly concerning entitlements and stuff like that.”

            I think many people are afraid to say anything about actually taking away SS and MC. Even those who might be what we would consider “staunch conservatives”.

            And many people who complain about big government and even welfare, definitely don’t want their SS or MC to be touched at all – “I paid into it.”

            My mother often says that. And I remind her that whatever she paid into it has already been paid out to the folks older than she. Right now, she’s living on what the younger set is paying in. It’s a Ponzi scheme.

            My thoughts on SS were always to get rid of it for those who were 55 and older (or 50 and older) and the rest of us would be on our own. I don’t have enough information about MC and what it would take to not provide that.

            I just got to the point where any creeping of gov’t into something meant it was only going to get bigger and bigger and out of control so I’d rather not go down that road at all.

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