The Long Con

A very dear friend – a man with whom I disagree on almost every existing political issue, thus a person who fills me with gratitude that we don’t define ourselves by our politics – posted something online a week or so ago which got me to thinking. I’d been meaning to get to it before now, but Ancient Roman itineraries and the Crusader State of Antioch have been devouring nearly all of my waking hours not already dedicated to work or enjoying that sliver of sunshine which we learn not to squander here in little old Portland, Oregon. But here I am with a half-hour or so to kill and, at last, the inability to do anything productive on any of the various projects competing for whatever remains of my never-impressive attention span. So if it’s now or never, it may as well be now.

The basic thrust of my friend’s comment was that he wondered how those who put their trust in the government to protect them could continue to do so, after the IRS and AP/Fox News records seizure incidents. I believe my friend is implying that, in light of these incidents, the government can hardly be expected to follow the law with respect to the protection of the rights of the citizenry.

There are a great many directions from which to approach this comment, and I haven’t time to pursue all of them. Briefly, the governmental structure under which modern Americans live is a gigantic, many-tentacled creature with hundreds of disparate nerve centers, duties and activities. Even the federal government alone is so diverse a body that attempting to generalize about its trustworthiness (or lack thereof) is inherently a useless exercise. If somebody at the DMV in Peoria, Illinois is trading confidential records for blow, that doesn’t mean the customs office at the port in San Diego isn’t doing its job to its best ability. The data set of a departmental office misbehaving is beyond infinitesimal when compared to the size and reach of the government at large. So making statement’s about “the government’s” trustworthiness are completely pointless.

It’s a popular conservative straw man (particularly since President Obama was elected) to claim that people anywhere left of center want the government to run our entire society and are completely befuddled when the government does something poorly. It ought to go without saying to anyone not completely blinded by right-wing partisanship that this is utter nonsense. This naive pollyanna view of the government existed only in the realm of conservative boogeymen. Corruption happens, in the private and public sectors, and ought to be dealt with commensurately to the seriousness of the crime, irrespective of political party. No liberal denies this. The fact that some malfeasance might have occurred in a the DoJ and the IRS (and by the way, neither of those incidents was the worst thing to ever happen in the history of everything ever, regardless of what the formidable conservative victimization complex might suggest) does not change the fact that those two agencies perform duties necessary and beneficial to the functioning of a modern society. Police officers occasionally break the rules, soldiers occasionally break the rules. Any given subset of any functioning group will break the rules at some point. This does not mean that the body at large does not perform some valuable service towards the societal well-being. It is a wild overreaction, well out of proportion to the actual offenses involved, to suggest that the IRS incident or the records seizures mean that “the government” is writ large untrustworthy.

If we don’t trust the government to perform these duties, who will? The obvious answer would be either that they aren’t performed at all, or that private corporations would fill the gap. The first is simply not going to happen. The small government libertarian ideal where we all just live on our country beet farms with our rifles and our pot plants and everyone leaves each other alone is not. going. to. happen. It might for a few hundred people living up in the Sierras and the Applegate in Southern Oregon, and more power to them. If you have the means and the know-how to live that way and that’s your thing, great, whatever floats your boat. But under no circumstances, barring an apocalypse, is our society ever going to be structured as a small-government, libertarian Ayn Randian Jeffersonian paradise. Widespread, large-scale social organization of a society of 300 million+ people demands an overarching structure that has certain powers and responsibilities, making the small-government vision utterly unworkable. The suggestion that it is workable is, frankly, one of the longest, most successful cons in American history. If the government doesn’t do certain things, corporations will. In a modern society that power void will not be left vacant, and frankly THAT is the real pollyanna naivety – to believe that things would be better if the government didn’t regulate as it does.

I’m not quite as cynical about the government as my friend is, nor do I subscribe to that pollyanna view that they have our best interest in mind. Far from it. I distrust the government too. I just trust Monsanto, British Petroleum and the Koch Brothers even less.

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~ by kroveechernila on May 28, 2013.

4 Responses to “The Long Con”

  1. Kevin,

    Your post is the most well written I’ve read on the IRS scandal still unfolding. Thanks for posting.

  2. Thanks cousin!

  3. Well, I finally have a chance to take a look at this and reply. First off, there is an over-generalization going on here, though that may be, in part, my fault. Adding in state and local governments to the mix when I was speaking of the federal government, is not germane to the question to the question I asked. Interestingly, after eliminating that red herring, the claim is essentially made that the fed is too large to be held accountable, at least until will after the fact. It assumes that some inefficiency and even corruption is to be expected as inevitable. In effect, that position makes the case for those who advocate a smaller, less intrusive, government. The fewer the people involved, the easier it is to hold those accountable who would misuse or abuse their power, fewer places to shift blame or hide in the shadows or shades of grey. As stated, the writer’s thesis would also seem to assume that any form of wrongdoing that does not exceed a certain, but unspecified, point is acceptable as some kind of trade-off. The moral ambiguity that point of view allows is analogous to the old story about the frog i a pot of water on the stove. Heating the water gradually ends up killing the frog, who would have jumped out if the water was hot at the start. Another assumption which appears to be here is that any form of personal responsibility aside from the threat of being caught in the wrong does not exist. Admittedly the intestinal fortitude it takes to stand up and scream foul is getting harder to find, but there are still people who do just that, based on principles that do not rely on consensus for their authority. It is also interesting to note that in closing, it is assumed that I expect the government to look out for my best interests. I have never assumed that. What I have assumed, is that the government will act withing the limits prescribed by law, especially those limits established by the Constitution. As the president characterized it, that document is a charter of negative liberties. I wouldn’t quite go that far, but the fact is that our founding document lays out specific governmental functions and includes safeguards that are supposed to prevent the government from exceeding its authority, even as it says quite specifically that those powers not succinctly put to paper are reserve for the several states. AS time has progressed from that initial question, the list of infractions has grown. People whose organizations have included certain specifically designated buzzwords have been discriminated against as per first hand testimony, questions have included the contents of prayers and curricula, required pledges not to picket certain left-leaning causes and organizations, assumed in the absence of evidence that petitioning organizations have participated in criminal activity, targeted adoptive parents simply because they have adopted children. In the last day or so it has been revealed that the fed has demanded that Verizon turn over communications data for its entire roster of customers for a three month period, a blanket order with absolutely no justifiable premise.

    Is there a need for society to have structure and organization? Absolutely. But the integrity needed to maintain that structure and organization is required of everybody, at all levels, and at whatever place in society one happens to be.

  4. BTW, what’s with the Kyrillic alphabet and the picture of Lenin?

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