Saving the World from Democracy
© 2009 Ross Williams
Every so often I get an email – usually from my mother – about how some history professor, or political science professor, or other expert in the field has just proven that US democracy is about to fold up its tent and hit the road. It’s normally based on some ancient Athenian history professor, or political science professor, or other expert in the field who noticed that the Greek’s own experiment in democracy a few millennia ago folded up its own tent once the Greek citizens realized that the authority for power in a democracy – Majority Will – can very easily plunder the Treasury of all public wealth by law, thus causing the Government of, by and for The People to quickly become the Government of, by and for the Lazy. It’s soon discovered to be easier to find some convenient [and wealthy] minority to lawfully rob in order to continue satisfying the thirst for plundering the public treasury by the lazy majority.
It is frequently cited in these mass-produced emails that this Majority Will understanding of their power to plunder others under color of law has a ceiling of about two centuries, which puts our Welfare Society and other entitlement programs right on schedule for our democracy’s self-destruction. Political entropy.
Despite the sarcastic and cynical way I’m describing all this, the concept is sound. Democracy without an abundance of self-discipline is doomed to fail sooner rather than later – two centuries, in the Grand Scheme, is no time at all – and it takes on the air of handing the house keys and check book to our three pre-teens and hopping a flight to Rio. What do we honestly expect to happen while we’re gone?
Of course the house will be a shambles when we get back – if it’s there at all. Of course the checking account will be overdrawn. Of course the child with all the Big Ideas® and Clever Schemes® is going to convince the fence-sitting child to go along with almost every cockamamie notion … over the objections of the timid, stick-in-the-mud, responsible child who keeps his room clean.
Of course this will happen. This is a Duh Moment.
Laziness and whim-fulfillment win out every time. And satisfying our whims is the ultimately laziness, for it not only means less work, but it also gives us an emotional charge at the same time. This is the reason that once the voters in a democratic society discover they can compel their legislatures to create Social Security, Food Stamps, Welfare, Medicare and Medicaid, all programs whereby the public rationalizes why it deserves a share of the public treasury, the more Big Ideas® and Clever Schemes® are going to be created with grander and grander rationalizations as to why more and more people similarly deserve having their existence underwritten by everyone else. “Universal” Healthcare, anyone?
The ironic thing is that we created democracy to get away from this lazy, whimsical government which is known, in other circles, as Tyranny. You could look it up. In fact … here. Pay particular attention to: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.”
What’s old is new again; there is nothing new under the sun; same shit different day … take your pick. In any event, the Declaration of Independence, if edited for modern diction and syntax and presented to the US government, would be fairly substantial evidence of treason were anyone to sign it; change a handful of names and virtually the whole thing reapplies today.
We have become our own parents. The outrages and offenses we bristled against 230 years ago and which caused us to arms are what we now do to ourselves. …seemingly without a second thought. We will happily reintroduce pre-democratic, pre-Constitutional expediencies if it suits our whim, our fear, our laziness. And we will self-righteously defend those lazy, whimsical, fearful notions as “moral” or otherwise justifiable when confronted about them.
I could go off here on large-scale issues owing to our nation’s mass paranoias like the Patriot Act, drunk driving, sexual predation, drug crimes – but I’ve already done so. I could wax cynical on our nation’s laziness in accepting bureaucratic nannying and overkill rather than having to take the slightest bit of responsibility – not to mention risk – for and upon ourselves … but I’ve already done that as well.
Instead, I’ll point at a different subject. Something new.
Some stupid lady, being stupid while driving, flattened another lady stopped at a stop light. The second lady was on a motorcycle, minding her own business and obeying traffic laws. The first lady – the stupid one – was applying nail polish to her fingernails and “didn’t see” either the motorcycle or the traffic light.
Understandably, virtually everyone hearing about this is outraged; I know I am. One woman is dead in a senseless and preposterous accident at the hands of a stupid, brainless, thoughtless other woman. It is outrageous, and outraged is how everyone should be.
But what is happening is that prosecutors are searching law books high and low for reasons to charge the stupid woman with a crime. Why? because they are listening to the majority of us … who are justifiably outraged, and are busy trying to convince ourselves that “something must be done”. More than issuing the stupid lady a traffic ticket, that is.
Being stupid isn’t a crime. If it were, there wouldn’t be a single person not locked up for one reason or another … and usually several. Society cannot function that way, and that is the ultimate purpose of having a government: to create a society that works.
Not all of our stupidities cause the senseless deaths of others. Some stupidities simply cause them grievous bodily harm, or poison their water, or make them ill, or cause them property damage that insurance cannot and would not touch. When these are done deliberately, they are called assault, or fraud, or what have you. When they are done out of stupidity, they are properly called stupidity.
Others of our stupidities annoy people, cause them to lose sleep, cause them to lose hair, or gain weight, or offend their sensibilities to distraction. In some instances, where actual harm is done by these stupidities, we can sue the stupid for being stupid. But being stupid is still not a crime.
You can’t criminalize stupidity; it would violate our civil rights. The right to be stupid is near and dear to most of us and many could not live without it. Witness those who defend the Designated Hitter and 90% of network television. Finding excuses to punish stupidity because it causes outrage is called vigilantism, which works off the human emotional impulse of vengeance. Which is, to beat the dead horse, what we tried to get away from 230 years ago. And here we are, less than ten generations later, trying to rationalize getting right back into it. …because it will make us feel better right now.
Illinois legislators, ever ready to be super serious in response to some outrage or other, are talking about criminalizing this stupidity. …because, like voting ourselves a share of the Public Treasury, we have discovered we can also vote ourselves out of freedom and into tyranny just as easily by indulging our whims, our laziness or our fears.
Being free means being free to be stupid. But being stupid carries risks – to ourselves and others. I find it interesting that most of those clamoring for laws to criminalize others’ inconvenient or outrageous stupidities are quick to deny that the things they do which inconvenience or outrage those others should themselves be criminalized.
…like lawsuit abuses which have the cumulative effect of driving doctors out of practice by raising all malpractice insurance rates because a handful of doctors are truly incompetent enough to MALpractice medicine, while other doctors are sued because some [lazy] patients want a windfall for having undesired health and have to defend themselves … at the insurance company’s expense.
…like the endless justifications for pilfering the general public to pay for their own guilty consciences and sympathy binges, or their own lazy greed.
…like rationalizing vigilantism by passing laws in the heat of the moment to make others’ stupidities a criminal act.
Criminalizing stupidity has the net effect of formalizing vigilantism and the emotional satisfaction we derive from it takes us one step away from Rule of Law which is supposed to be based on an unemotional, pre-defined and deliberative response to potential outrages. It moves us two steps closer to the barbarism of tyranny. Claiming to be “Rule of Law” because you’ve managed to change the law to criminalize stupidity along with deliberate actions is to short circuit everyone’s liberty for the current notion of stupidity. …which is what takes us two steps closer to tyranny: most of us aren’t even aware that their own future right to stupidity is now in jeopardy.
Let’s not even mention the effect it has on the ideals identified in our Declaration of Independence [it emasculates them], nor the principles fleshed out in our Constitution [it obliterates them].
No one is justifying stupid women stupidly applying nail polish while driving stupidly and flattening random motorcyclers obeying traffic laws. But others are justifying vigilantism under color of law to make themselves feel better.
Vigilante justice: can’t get more democratic than that.
 Lawful robbery is called taxation
 See Parliament of Whores, by the inimitable P J O’Rourke
 Do we really believe it makes a difference whether the public treasury is being plundered on behalf of ourselves, or on behalf of those we feel sorry for? Robbing Peter to pay me? versus robbing Peter to pay Paul? Either way, Peter gets robbed. Liberals and other sympathy-junkies have no moral leg to stand on.
 Which is to say hypocritical and self-righteous