I write a lot about politics these days; and I think about it a lot too, probably more than I should. I suppose we all do though. Not partisan politics however, at least not for me. Hit pieces against what this or that person said and what they meant or didn’t mean and why it should matter. No thanks. Who occupies a particular chair is of very little interest to me these days. Those are discussions for democracies that work well. I have instead become more interested in the exercise of authority – coercive authority, because there is no other kind – and its impact upon the personality of nations.
I write a lot about Venezuela, not necessarily because I want to ‘pick a side’ in that two decade old food-fight – although in that country the bad guys are pretty self-identifying – but because for me that is the most extreme example of ‘authority gone wild’. Not government, government is – or should be – a network or association of free men with shared interests, usually geographic, who come together to solve disputes and chart a common path forward. I have no problem with this, as no sane man does.
The issue I’ve seen increasingly around the world is the confusion of governance with ‘authority’, and its subsequent use as a blunt object with which to bludgeon certain segments of society with whom the blunt-object-holder does not agree or sees some sort of threat to their continued retention – and use – of said blunt object. Be honest, think back at every policy proposal you’ve seen for years. Look to the debates from the halls of power to the local bar. Isn’t that what most policy discussions inadvertently – and quickly – degenerate into? Less than the resolution of common challenges, it’s mostly about punishing the other for some behavior that my tribe, my clan, my party – my side – is threatened by.
Granted, the violence – in ‘free societies’ – is usually reserved for the most extreme cases. Most of the abuse comes in the form of societal pressure to conform. This is an exhausting process, as Hugo Chavez figured out fifteen years into his rule – because it requires those who would wish to wield authority to be ‘right’. And so begins the propaganda, the control of the media, the silencing of dissenting voices and squelching of debate, lest the blunt-object-holder prove to be, well wrong.
Of course being wrong should not be a big deal. Knowledge must find a way – will find a way – and that way can only be found if opinions and hypothesis hit up against each other, with only one surviving. Sure, you can torture Galileo, and he will recant. But that doesn’t change the movement of the earth. There should be no ‘safe spaces’ for the uninformed.
Back to Venezuela – again as the greatest example of “oops” in policy making by actors unwilling to admit the “oops”. No food, no water, no electricity, violent protests on the streets. Hunger running rampant, a specter haunting the silent hospital halls enveloped in darkness.
We have been told in our post-modern society that right does not exist. Eschewing the powers of reason – rational thought – gifted to us by the philosophers of the enlightenment and, well, the ‘Age of Reason’ as it was aptly called, we have instead these days chosen to chart a more tortured path – for reasons I really don’t clearly understand. Hence my writing. We are told to acquiesce to authority, an authority ordained by simple majorities and enforced using the blunt-object that seems to be getting heavier each year. ‘Authority gone wild’ has a mighty power of censure – as the Venezuelans have learned, standing in food lines to be turned away because of the neighborhood they are from or being denied medical care because their name appears on some list.
Naturally, I would argue – which I do a lot – that there is a better way. That we can return to the uncoerced interactions between men of the mind, seeking to solve common challenges that life on a resource-limited planet bring, and resolve disputes that living together in community cause. But for this way to work, we must first believe in truth – that an idea, if right, will find a way. Will in fact be unstoppable. And that foolishness – despite all the power of the blunt-object holders – will invariably also be known as such.
But I’m a dreamer.
Which incidentally brings me to my final reflection. We writers are trouble for ‘authority gone wild’, aren’t we? Bloggers like Raif Badawi lashed in Saudi Arabia; writers like Anwar Malek in Algeria surviving assassination; novelists like Salman Rushdie in hiding for decades. Fearless people who refuse to take the advice of their betters, ‘Pipe down, for we cannot allow you to be right’. As it has best been said, yes by a writer – Edward Butler-Lytton – in his play Richelieu; Or The Conspiracy:
“True, This! —
Beneath the rule of men entirely great
The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold
The arch-enchanters wand! — itself is nothing! —
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyze the Cæsars, and to strike
The loud earth breathless! — Take away the sword —
States can be saved without it!”