I have several pets – dogs, cats, horses. Some of my pets are fat, but they are all, I believe, happy. They rely on me for their food, care, and shelter. I am a benevolent provider; my pets want for nothing. But all these animals are conceivably capable of taking care of themselves. If they had been born free they would not look to me for any need – although it’s unlikely they would lead such pampered lives. These animals, however, weren’t offered a choice between freedom and domestication.
As human beings capable of reason, we have the mental and physical capacity to choose between liberty and captivity. When the choice is between two such stark alternatives, I am fairly certain that many people would find the decision for liberty an easy one to make.
But there is a considerable gray area between those two alternatives. The gray area between a free society and a captive society might aptly be termed a domesticated society. A domesticated society accepts a large degree of state presence in, and control over, each citizen’s life in exchange for the state’s providing, or at least guaranteeing, some minimum level of shelter, food, and so on. Those who populate such a society are conceivably capable of providing for their own needs and wants, but the drive to do so wanes in the face of government largesse. One can take a trip to Western Europe and experience domesticated societies of varying degrees.
Thinking about American political and social condition and how they have changed over time, it is not hard to discern a gradual taming of our free society. How did this come about? Many factors contributed: technological progress, increased leisure time, greater pressures in the workplace, the general complexity of life. A major factor, however, was that as a population, American citizens accepted the Rule of Law – the imposition of more and more state control over, and legal presence within, their lives.
Over the course of the past century, statutes, ordinances, laws, and regulations expanded and multiplied exponentially. Such an overwhelming legal morass – backed by the coercive power of the state (federal or local) through fines and other measures – produces the specter of fear: fear of litigation, fear of criminal penalties for previously unregulated behavior, fear of civil fines, fear of increased insurance costs. Fear, as our politicians know, is a very compelling tool.
For that reason, politicians and other government employed elites traffic in fear. A free society is unruly, not submissive. A fearful population is tame. A tame society conforms to rule quite easily. Politicians’ and other elites’ reactions to recent popular protests over the government’s proposed healthcare measures demonstrate their preference for a domesticated society. Politicians, like many pet owners, wish their domesticated charges to see them as benevolent providers doing what’s best for their chattels. The recent Massachusetts “health emergency” house bill is one example.
Whatever the degree of social domestication, it jeopardizes citizens’ liberty. It is within the gray area of domesticity that politicians are most adept at whittling away our freedoms. As a libertarian, I have no faith in the benevolence of the state, especially as currently controlled by the Democrats.
This past year of hopey-dopey, government-forced, largely unwanted change has demonstrated our governing elites’ preference for a domesticated, easily ruled society. Yet, as the growing prevalence of the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag shows, people who believe in this still-free society are not willing to be tamed. We must keep up the fight. As I write this reflection, I am reminded of a pretentious mid-’90s song (go figure!), featuring the chorus “well make great pets.” Let’s build on this past year’s reawakening to liberty, and in 2010 show that we will not make great pets.