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The morality of the government…is probably not close to your own

June 30, 2011

Imagine you are the burgermeister of a town of 100 souls.  You are in total control.  Where people work, how much they are paid, how much education they get, what industry and services exist, whom can get married, when and where they can travel, what products you don’t create internally can be shipped into the town, the prices of all products, and a multitude of other factors are all under your purview.  In fact, you are the only one allowed to make such decisions.  I ask one simple question?  What do you do when someone says no?

Pick one of those factors that you are in charge of from above and imagine one of your citizens deciding they don’t like your plan.  I’ll do it for you.  Frederick doesn’t like the fact that he has to dig ditches for $4 an hour.  For sure he is strong and healthy and full of vibrant endurance that only the youth possess, but he is lazy.  He would rather sit under a tree and admire the clouds than work under the hot sun for the betterment of society.  What do you do?

You rightly understand he simply can not work, that mentality could spread to disastrous effects.  Maybe you try to rationalize with him, explaining that it’s for the good of the community that he do such physical labor, but he is intransigent, he likes doing nothing.  Perhaps you offer him a raise?  Nope, clouds are pretty.  A different job?

Frederick sort of perks up to that idea, “What job?”  Well, I guess we could use another person in the coal mi- “Ohh hell no!  Nah, I will just sit right here.”  No matter what you do, you can not get Frederick to work, what do you do?

You can’t just let him starve can you, that would be inhumane, plus he has a wife and children?  You could expel him from the community, but that is as bad as a death sentence what with the wild beasts and all in the wilderness.  Hmm, maybe you could punish him?

How would you do that?  Throw him in jail?  That wouldn’t solve the problem of the ditch being dug, plus he gets food and shelter in prison and it has air-conditioning, it looks like he is warming to that idea.  You might have to beat him, just a little, to motivate him.  20 lashes at high-noon, oh yeah, in front of the whole town to serve as an example to the others who are thinking of taking the lazy route.  Or you could just get rid of him, in the same public setting.  I mean, he seems like he is more harm than good.  He is a drain on society.  He doesn’t seem to grasp that the collective is more important than his individual desires.  Yeah, that’s the ticket, a hanging!

All joking aside, think about that circumstance a minute, or the numerous other circumstances that would arise if you were in total control of a community.  What would you do?  I can guess a vast majority (like 99%) of you would never resort to the more violent coercive measures suggested in the example, because that is morally repugnant to you.  But what happens when people don’t listen?  You got bigger fish to fry than the lowly cares of some prole, you are trying to run a whole community here.  Let’s put it this way, if coercion is morally repugnant, you would make a bad dictator.

That is one example of where one’s personal morality does not jibe with that of the collective.  But does the collective’s morality ever truly jibe with the collective, or is the morality the collective must follow actually the morals and principles of only a few at the top?

I started watching Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War last night.  Its 883 minutes long, so I only briefly undertook this multi-day journey, but something in the first episode got me to thinking.  Robert Mitchum’s character, the Naval Attaché to Berlin in 1939, is looking for a home in said city when him and his wife are offered an amazingly sweet deal, a fully furnished mansion (with tennis courts) for the paltry rent of $78 a month.  Can you guess who owns the house?  That’s right, a Jew (those are the people who live in Israel for the college students out there).  Why was he renting for so cheap?  You see, Hitler just wrote an executive order saying that Jewish homes not being rented by prominent persons (like American Naval Attachés) were to be sold way below market value and given to Nazi higher-ups.  The poignant piece in the scene is where Mitchum rightly feels bad about taking advantage of the older Jewish owner’s “hardship”, but the elder man reiterates that Mitchum would be “doing him a service”.

Do you think the seizure of Jewish property, the forced relocation of Jews and the eventual extermination of that population was consistent with the morals and principles of the German people?  Not all of them surely?  I would argue not even half.  So, not even a majority of the German “collective” morally agreed with Hitler’s ultimate Jewish solution, but that was irrelevant, the only thing that mattered was Hitler’s morals.

Let’s look elsewhere.  Saudi Arabia has numerous restrictions on the rights of women.  Probably consistent with the morals of the male segment of the population, but no so with the opposite.

Iran hangs gay people, for being gay.  That probably is consistent with the morals of the majority of the populace, but it certainly is not consistent with the morals of those being hanged.

As you can see, the populations in these examples continues to decrease, but that doesn’t change the fact that in all of these dictatorships, the morality of a certain segment of the population (sometimes even the majority) is disregarded for the sake of the collective.

This is significant for two reasons.

First, it proves (as does history) that when you relinquish individual freedom of self-determination to the control of the state, individual morality must necessarily follow suit.  Your morals and principles must be supplanted by that of the government’s.  Without question this is the reason in totalitarian governments the necessity of controlling dissent becomes the prime directive, over-riding all other priorities.  This is also the reason why typical totalitarian regimes seek to indoctrinate their populations at the earliest age possible, the better to teach them morals early than to leave it to chance.

Secondly, it denies natural rights and universal morality.  One could deconstruct my argument and suggest “well, aren’t honor killings and female circumcision a morality of a certain part of the population?  How come they aren’t protected under a democracy?”  The point is not that government ALWAYS goes against the morality of the people (as the hanging of gays example alludes to), the point is that the individual has no choice.  He has to accept the morality and principles of a select group of individuals whether he wants to or not.

This is a tough subject to nail down, but history proves its validity.  The argument is not government imposed morality vs. anarchy, but instead it is limited government morality vs. unconstrained government morality.  By it’s very nature, the instance a government passes its first decree it is imposing the morality of the few on to the masses.  It is not a question of morality per se, but a question of power.

As our government collects more and more power, power specifically over the individual choices each and every one of us has to make in our life from salted foods to Happy Meals, your morals and principles are being ignored, nay replaced, by that of the autocrats in office.  It is not a question of whether salt is bad for you (which it ain’t, everything in moderation) or do Happy Meals make you fat, it is a question of “who should make that decision?”

There is no slippery slope argument here because a slippery slope is a hypothetical – this is already happening, and has happened, in numerous countries across the planet.  Agree or disagree with abortion, homosexuality, Islam, global warming, gun control, high-calorie drinks, potatoes, it is irrelevant – the government is deciding your position for you.

The real question becomes not one of a traditional liberal view of individual freedom vs. a socialist view of government’s role in our lives.  The true question becomes, What do you do when you can’t say “no” anymore?

14 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2011 5:03 pm

    Great post, Fleece. In our case, government morality seems to be no morality at all. BTW, I wanted to give you the link to Curt Shilling’s blog Some interesting stuff on there for baseball fans.

  2. June 30, 2011 6:29 pm

    What do you do when you can’t say no any more? Join the underground resistance.

    An excellent post, my friend. It will challenge more than a few minds, I’m sure.

    • June 30, 2011 8:02 pm

      Thank you for the kind words. The beauty of today, the resistance isn’t underground anymore, we are right in the light! =)

  3. June 30, 2011 7:58 pm

    Great post! You cannot legislate morality, yet that is what the government tries to do. These are decisions which should be left up to the individual. The government also tries to regulate behavior to get people to avoid things which they feel are bad for the people; again these decisions should be left up to the individual. The more we let the government make decisions for us the more decisions the government will make for us, until we have no free will (or freedoms) left.

    • June 30, 2011 8:05 pm

      Exactly. But don’t let morality constrain you to only social issues, it is all pervasive. Opposing tax increases is an argument that should be had on moral grounds, not economic. When we allow the government to change the premise from one of morality to something else, economic, security, defense, anti-terror – it absolves them of the responsibility towards morality. Hence, we get 95 year old women losing their adult diapers to a gestapo agent.

  4. June 30, 2011 10:14 pm

    I’m with Bob, big government is amoral at best, sociopathic at it’s worst.

    • June 30, 2011 11:01 pm

      Government morality mirrors that of the governors, given the psychology of most people whom desire such power over other people, sociopathic is a most apropos description.

  5. July 1, 2011 10:49 am

    This reminds me of the story within Atlas Shrugged about what happened when a factory was run in collectivist style. The needs of the collective destroy the individual in no time flat.

    • July 1, 2011 1:06 pm

      Yeah, that was one of my favorite parts in the book. Especially how she describes how the “people” began turning on each other, ratting each other out for any indiscretion so as to prove someone was receiving more than they needed.

  6. July 3, 2011 6:34 pm

    I have to admit that I’ve only seen the movie, Atlas Shrugged Part I. Collectivism sure does kill the rights of the individual. I agree with Matt, big government is nefariously amoral at best and sociopathic at its worst.

    My husband and I have a together blog called Catholibertarian. I linked your article in my latest post and added Fleece Me to our blogroll.

    • July 3, 2011 6:45 pm

      Yeah, I commented over there after I followed the pingback, thanks so much. Two awesome blogs, you are amazing! =)


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