The Socialist Apprentice
by DANIEL GREENFIELD
March 22, 2012
The question is not a new one though it continues to be asked over and over again, as each generation comes into its own, and examines what it is they want of government. Most people want there to be limitations on government, but at the same time they want government to carry out certain functions for them. The tipping point between tool and master kicks in when government gains the ability to expand its own parameters independently of the people. It's that moment when Mickey Mouse realizes the brooms aren't going to stop and Dr. Frankenstein realizes the monster isn't going to sit down and have tea with him after all. It's that moment when the thing you've created takes on a life of its own.
Most of our parables along those lines deal with people who wanted convenience, a shortcut, only to invoke magical powers that they cannot control. The sorcerer's apprentice wanted to get his chores done without all the hard work. We want the same thing, except we don't use enchanted brooms, we use government on the understanding that since government works for us anyway, why not put it to use?
But how does a tool become a master? Through dependency. Dependency shifts the source of power turning the user into the used. The more dependent you are on something, the more power it has over you. Addicts use drugs as a tool to feel good, until the power shifts and the only way they can feel good is through the drug, and then finally they need the drug not as an means to feeling good, but as an end in and of itself.
That is how dependency locks in its users, by turning the means into the end. So too socialism may begin by promising to be a means to achieve certain ends on behalf of the users, only to turn itself into the end. And when a socialist system fails to get any of the ends done, the nationalized health care system is broken, poverty is on the rise, violent crime is out of control, the economy is stagnant and unemployment is climbing-- it's much too late to protest that this isn't what you wanted. Because government itself has become the end. The end of everything.
Like all tools, socialism seems like a tempting solution. A shortcut to solving problems by loading them on the backs of elected officials and giving them a generous budget to handle the whole thing. And then we go away and do something else and let them take care of it. Why not? Isn't that what we pay them for.
But like all shortcuts, socialism depends on creating a new thing. Primitive man was afraid of magic, because magic was said to take a part of him and place it into a thing. A thing which then takes on a life of its own. Which moves about and acts under our orders... until we lose control of it.
Government is a kind of magic too. By determining our own institutions, we invest a part of ourselves into creating collective corporate entities that are not human, but have rights, responsibilities and powers. We give them a piece of our life and a piece of our soul. But what happens when we lose control of government?
Like any good magicians, we try to bind the powers of government by deriving them from a text, such as the United States Constitution. When read this text is said to have power over the government created through it, binding it to perform its obligations and charging it not to go beyond them. But such precautions wear down over time, particularly once the people charged to keep them also become the same people limited by them.
In the United States, the division between the states and the federal government created an incentive for government at the state level to limit Federal power. As slavery demonstrated however, this was an extremely imperfect solution, but once it was gone, there was no longer any check on the expansion of the Federal government, except from the last remaining idealists and a few business interests. And when the only real check on the Federal government came from within itself, the entire business was doomed. The brooms had begun to move on their own.
When organizations are given the ability to set their own parameters, they tend to increase in size and authority rather than decrease. Which is only natural. If you let an animal loose in a paddock full of food, it will eat until it bursts. Individually people are smarter than that, collectively they're not. Which is why we don't practice democracy because it leads to superior results, but because it's a check on tyranny. But it is possible to combine democracy and tyranny, because there is more to a free country than a popular vote scheme. It is not the freedom to vote that defines a free nation, but the freedom not to vote and still be left alone that does.
Collective stupidity is the product of a lack of individual responsibility and accountability. That is why a mob will do things that the individuals in that mob would not do. It is why a committee will produce results so ridiculous that no individual in that committee alone would have produced. It is why legislatures during an economic crisis will vote themselves raises. Because there is no individual point of accountability. A collective group in that way can be less human than an individual, a thing given life that can't be stopped or reasoned with.
As government becomes a master rather than a tool, in turn individual accountability and responsibility begins to wither. Because we are no longer living in the conventional flesh and blood universe in which actions have consequences, and wanting a thing means having to go out and get it done. We are a community now. We are "We". It takes a village to raise us, an idiot's village of bureaucrats, academics, politicians, assorted officials and union members. We are a collective and have only one remaining right, the right to be collectively stupid.
A dollar is no longer a dollar anymore, it's a counter in a great international game of monopoly in which if everyone passes around the play money fast enough, no one will realize it's worthless. A paycheck is no longer a paycheck, it's an investment in the government's social system, which is overdrawn, but if more of the paycheck keeps being taken every week, hopefully somehow no one will notice that there's no actual money in the bank.
People no longer buy, they "shop" now. They are consumers who are encouraged to run up credit card debt, and then not pay it off. Encouraged to take out mortgages they can't afford. Encouraged to buy cars on credit by car companies that are themselves running on credit. And when someone notices that there's no actual money behind any of this, the banks and the car companies are bailed out by a government that itself is running on credit, with money lent to it by a country whose chief source of income is exporting cheap products to Western consumers which they pay for with credit cards.
With all that can you really say you don't believe in magic?
That's what it looks like when the brooms are going full tilt, and no one can stop them because no one wants to actually get down on their knees and scrub the floor anymore. Sure we know the magic brooms don't work. They make more of a mess than they clean up. And no matter how fast they clean, they make their messes even bigger and faster. Because the product is the problem, and no one wants to admit that anymore.
Because the thing about magic is that it doesn't work. Yes we can turn lead into gold, but the gold we would get that way is more expensive than mining actual gold would be. Sure we can set government to solve our problems for us, but government has a way of becoming the problem. And its solutions are more expensive than the problems themselves.
We've become too used, to addicted to the power of government to think of it as a means to an end. It's become the end. The end of autonomy. The end of freedom. The end of everything but the promise of a shortcut to security held dangling in front of us on a ragged rope.
You want universal health care, don't you? What are you a fan of diseases or expensive medicine, a fan of death? As if government were magic. As if it could stop death. But we believe in the magic of government precisely because it's impossible, because it's so big and so inhuman, so complex that we assume that it can do anything. All we need is the right man to get it in gear.
And that is how tyranny begins. When we forget that government isn't magic, that it's a tool we made and set to work. A tool that forgot its purpose and its masters. A tool that became too complex and unwieldy to fulfill the tasks we designed it for. We made government. It's ours. And it is only as human as we make it.
Government stops being human when we forget that we made it and that only we can shut it off. But when we let it go, when we watch dazed while it spins out of control, and the buckets fly, and we accept the messes in the hope that eventually the room will somehow be clean, then we ourselves have let the monster loose. Power has shifted, and the users become the used.
Socialism is the promise that the tool we made can be a better master for us, than we could be for ourselves. But to believe that we first have to believe in magic. We have to believe that the things we make are better at running our lives than we are. We have to accept that the collective is better than the individual, that the corporate is wiser than the lone man or woman. And when we come to believe that, and bow before the icon of socialism that we ourselves have made, then we have chosen to irrationally believe in magic. A magic that is all inside our heads, the sweet siren song of the shortcut promising us that we don't have to work, that we don't have to think, that we don't have to plan... someone else will be doing those things for us.
Daniel Greenfield is a blogger, columnist and freelance photographer born in Israel, who maintains his own blog, Sultan Knish.