Saturday, July 28, 2007

Everything you need to know about politics you can learn on the playground.

I realized that a lot of political views are rooted in our experience on the playground. Let me explain.

In the wee hours of the morning I was contemplating the visceral anger I feel when I learn of cases like the one in Oregon where two boys are being prosecuted for sexual abuse for playfully swatting other students on the butt. It is the same sort of inner rage that bubbled up when I saw the malicious campaign that Phoenix District Attorney Andrew Thomas and his followers were using against a young boy there.

I get pissed off, to put it mildly. And I think one reason is that I hate bullies.

Most of us have had to deal with bullies in one form or another in our life. When I was a kid it was particularly difficult. I was small for my age. That later changed but even long after the reality had changed the emotional impression I had remained the same. Eventually that, too, changed.

The one advantage of all that was that I also looked much younger than I was. But looking younger and being smaller, when you are kid, invites the bullies who are always on the lookout for an easy target. Bullies rarely bully one another. If there is a code among thieves there is code among bullies: never pick on someone your own size.

And that is why so many bullies get attracted to government work. With the dangerously. overwhelming amount of power that has been confiscated by the State bullies are naturally drawn to government. The same phenomenon attracts many of them to police work as well.

Once you are in a position of power you can bully all you wan,t and don’t have much to fear. On the playground a teacher might intervene -- usually they pretended they saw nothing. But when you have political power there is damn little others can do to stop your bully campaigns.

I also think some bureaucrats and politicians were, like me, victims of the bullies. And just as many people who were abused as children learn to abuse many people who were bullied as children become bullies when offered the opportunity. Politics offers them that opportunity.

Why is Mr. Berry prosecuting these children in Oregon? Because he can. Why did Andrew Thomas try to destroy the live of a teenaged boy? Because he could.

Of course government is supposed to be different. The Founding Fathers basically saw it as a playground patrol who was there to stop the bullies. What they didn’t expect was that the bullies would become the playground patrol. And the more power the patrol had the more bullies found it irresistible. Like moths to the flame, bullies are attracted to the accumulation of power over others.

I know many of my friends on the Left think government can protect us from the bullies and vicissitudes of life. But government that has that much power becomes the bully. It becomes populated with bullies at every level. As much as you wish it to be an engine of enlightenment and compassion it easily, perhaps inevitably, becomes a concentrated form of the bullyism. This is not to say that it never does something decent. It can and does sometimes act in a way beneficial to people. But the more power you give it to do good the more power it has to do evil.

I remember something Harry Browne said about the war in Iraq. He said that everyone who was cheering for the war imagined that Bush would do precisely what they thought ought to be done. But that the results would not be the results they dreamed of. In reality the war will turn out very differently from what any of us wished it to be. One of the great fallacies of government is that we each imagine it to act only in ways of which we approve. The truth is much uglier and deadlier than we ever imagine.

People who cheered when Bush took the powers to remake Iraq now cringe at the results. Government programs inevitably lead to unintended results.

When Bradley Berry was given the power to stop sexual harassment the people who did so didn’t anticipate that it would lead to children being arrested for roughhousing in the school hallways. It is one of those unintended consequences.

Even the vicious system of apartheid was created with the best of intentions. Afrikaners were truly poverty stricken especially during the Depression in South Africa. Hendrik Verwoerd designed the laws that evolved into apartheid in order to provide opportunity for Afrikaners who, he said, were disproportionately unemployed and disproportionately poor. It was supposed to be a temporary program that would put an end to “poor whiteism”. Over the next half century it became a monster that devoured black and white alike and imposed inhumanity as a political system.

Good intentions are not enough. When power is concentrated in one place the bullies find their way to that power. They end up using the power given them in ways which no one intended. If we wish to avoid the great tragedies of government like the Iraq war, or the minor tragedies like those in Oregon—though major to the families involved—then the power of the state has to be limited. The power to “do good” is still power and power is always misuesed. Several thousand years of history proves that to be the case.

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