Recently, I wrote a post titled Religion, Milk, and Education. In it, I explored the connection between religious belief and the emotional attachment we have to cow’s milk, and briefly iterated how it related to our educational system today. It was my most popular post, and the neurons in my brain, newly tuned and primed (via dopamine) to the connective influences between disparate links in our society, thought up this post. The connection between Government and Alcohol.
In this year of 2012, we have (and had) elections ranging around the world. From France, where they recently elected a socialist by the name of Francois Hollande, and soon in the USA, where they will decide between the aesthetically pleasing and benign Barack Obama, and the sloppy flip-floppy Mitt Romney.
The major issue at play this year, is the role of government, its effect upon markets, and therefore, societal and individual well-being. The left say government can do no wrong, while seemingly acknowledging those areas where it has. While the right believe that government can do nothing right, while effortlessly and repeatedly praising the military, social security and other beneficial government programs. Even to the point of boner-inducing-embarrassment when it comes to the military. So in America, which side holds the factual upper-ground; left or right? As usual, the answer is somewhere in-between, with both polarities having an element of truth but wrapped in hordes of myth and propaganda.
But let us first explore alcohol, and soon after, its connection to government, which is rather simple to make, and just as simple to show. Upon having a glass of wine (as I do), or any other drink (and assuming a healthy tolerance of alcohol). The first drink primes you for the smooth and pleasant dizziness that follows, serenading you as only an alluring Greek siren can. The second, and third, consumed at a healthy pace, give you a nice buzz, neither robbing you of your faculty, and only ever so slightly inhibiting your physical prowess, while bestowing you with increased confidence, creativity, happiness, social capital, and even longer-life.
Drink too fast, or past your body’s natural ability to process the alcohol, and that same elixir, which only a short while earlier had you happier, more social, smiling, laughing, and enjoying the good life, takes a sudden turn for the worse. All of a sudden, you are giddy, obnoxious, incoherent, perhaps even violent, and your ability of thought, which raises us above and beyond the rest of the animal kingdom, deteriorates ever faster until blackness envelops, and you wake the next morning with a terrible hangover, dehydrated, hungry, and half-dead to the world.
Let’s play out the story in the real world, linking the two seemingly unrelated and distinct subjects.
The Glass-Steagall act brought into US law in the early 20th century, prevented banks from speculating with their depositor’s money. Our first glass of wine, i.e., good government, and helped bring in a prolonged economic expansion lasting decades, protecting depositors money, giving them peace of mind, and increasing prosperity all round. It was repealed in 1999, and a huge factor in the Global Financial Crisis that almost brought the world economy to its knees. Sounds awfully like the over-confident actions of a 16-year-old frat boy doing a backflip to impress the head cheerleader.
The response of the US government (and many other governments) in the aftermath of 9/11, passing the Patriot Act, embarking on wars, and bypassing so many constitutional laws rendering it, for all intents and purposes, a dead letter. The government’s response to the travesty was so dimwitted and shortsighted as to not even realize that their reaction was exactly what Osama Bin Laden wanted (and even articulated to add insult to ignorance).
The allied response, through the organisation of industry and national will that resulted in the eventual defeat of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan, which later became known as the Military Industrial Complex that the less-drunk government of fifty-years-past warned us about trusting. Needless to say, it continued and grew unnecessarily afterwards, unwilling to let go of the profits that follow when blood is shed, lives are ruined and countries are destroyed, gobbling up one-trillion-dollars a year In the USA alone, which can scarcely be afforded in this economic climate and ever-expanding debt burden, and which is still being added to at a continually stupefying rate, but which neither left, nor right, wants to touch. And in fact, the American right wants to increase it! Thankfully we don’t all speak German now and while the world was better off in the short-term as a result, the same can not now be said as a result of the War on Terror, and the Middle Eastern entanglements of the last decade.
We still live in a world of Hydrocarbons subsidies, in particular oil, estimated at one-trillion-dollars in subsidies a year, in a world where science shows that our climate is getting worse every year, and where alternatives are available, and even if you disagree on the science, our addiction to carbon is still destroying the biosphere we are utterly dependent on. While these subsidies made sense in the past, they clearly do not anymore. They’re preventing the transfer of the baton to clean energy which would save an incalculable amount of money, ecology, healthcare costs, and lives in the long-term. Clearly, government is operating under the impression that 10 tequila shots is not enough. Something even stupid ol’ me learned at the ripe young age of eighteen.
There are many other examples I could make such as racial segregation, slavery, and same-sex marriage (though the battle is still ongoing) et al, but you get the idea, so I’ll stop here.
In the daily rat-race we all find ourselves in, which we are forced to incessantly compete against society writ large, day in and day out. Mental relief is rarely found and we are simply too short-sighted to pay attention to the plights of others, or simply care too little for societies trials and tribulations to bother our own fragile ego’s with. In this sense, the plight of labour, fairness to women, safe banking regulations and the defense of the weak behind which society rallied around was our metaphorical first (maybe even second) glass of wine. It opened our eyes to injustices and we fixed it. As a result, society itself became healthier as a whole and our ethical and moral framework evolved as a result.
The connection between the two is almost self-evident. Command economics (where the government tugs [or controls] the tools of production; most extreme of which is communism) witnessed time and time again in history (and too which we are inching towards today), all eventually collapse. It is simply not possible to sustain a command economy—where the human urge to do as one pleases, is usurped by the central hand of bureaucrats with monopolistic force and ever-increasingly incremented to the nations entirety—indefinitely without eventually loosing the negative effects of such decisions upon the nation, to the detriment of all, or in our metaphorical parlance, the blind drunk and the crashing hangover of the next morning.
It tends to feel like the right thing to do (increasing governmental intervention to all), because of the sweetening of life’s quality and society when done on a small-scale, especially to the proletariat, who feels wronged at the hands of those with better luck, or at those who have more, and at those who act with an (genetic) ambivalence towards them. But it is no different from having one more drink, then another, and another, each drink bringing the confidence that another can be drunk without the consequences that one must pay for this self-propagating catch-22. You simply wake up the next day groggy, hung over, and with little to show for the night before, if it is remembered at all, and that’s assuming that you didn’t get into a fight, hit-and-run accident, end up in jail, or catch a STD.
We Homo sapiens might be the most rational of creatures on this pale blue dot, but this does not free us of the irrationality we have inherited from our ancestors, which resides in the reptilian, emotional section of our brain, and that responds in greater force to fear, than to love (for fear is more genetically self-propagating). We unfortunately still carry this emotional baggage in far greater amounts than we do reason and rationality.
This is the struggle that is being voted upon this year, and which elections will still decide in some countries yet to vote. From Greece, to France, but especially in the US of A. Neither side of the left-right dichotomy having the right answer, and our politics (the usurper of religious and dogmatic power structures) slowly degenerates into the realm that religion and dogma once proudly conquered, enshrined, and propagated: ignorance. It is being corrupted by the simplicity that our brains crave; this or that, left or right, forward or backward, by pandering to the ignorant, the selfish, and the busy. It muddles our lives with useless drivel, over-simplified talking points (bearing little to no relation to their concealed complexity; metaphorical or otherwise) and over-regulates and under-funds that which is most beneficial to our integrity and freedom; education, and the businesses and technology that seek to free us from that which is unnecessary.
Government can be a force for good, in moderation, but taken a step too far, it unwinds that which it bought about and abandons, perhaps unwittingly, its responsibility to ensure equality for all, stifles the mental confines of its citizenry, and eventually sees them as subjects. We have had the greatest intellectual, economic, and libertarian boom in the history of our species in the last century. It has freed us from despotism, feudalism, religious rule, tyranny, and most importantly, ignorance. And yet, it seems poised to take on the qualities of that which it has usurped (for the greater good no less!). I see very few places where this is recognized (it is in libertarian philosophy, though they wish to roll back the dial much too far, and in the face of the continued moral immaturity that 80% of the world’s population still lives in, I am not sure I trust our irrational tendencies). I hope I’m wrong though time will tell.
Government, in moderation, can be a good thing, just like alcohol. But when overdone, it can result in significant damage that can undo years and decades, of philosophical, political, scientific, and moral progress. Government will not always be necessary and in fact, a few decades from now, it could (with the right educational mindset and planning) become completely irrelevant as a result of new technological, scientific, moral, and ethical progress, but until that time, it is increasingly necessary to ensure that we have the capacity to pursue these endeavors instead of wasting our time on drivel; such as religious concerns, amplified through government, dominating the realm of stem cell research, or the rights of women in abortion, sex, education (creationism), and even gay marriage (which is just racism by way of discrimination by way of a book). Nor should moneyed interests outweigh the concerns of the poor, or employers out-voice employees and many others.
The responsibility of government is to educate, institute the rule of law, propagate that which is beneficial, and in times of need, direct the national will to issues of overwhelming importance (such as WWII in the past and climate change now). Recently, it has stopped doing these things, and these are the result of too much government, of which neither left nor right are addressing, merely distracting voters with their penis-measuring in the hopes of privilege and esteem. Everything is subject to the law of diminishing returns, government included. It’s time to wean these bureaucrats off their addiction, which always ends up being money and power, but that’s impossible if people don’t understand what the problem is, and the problem is too much government, not that too little government is the right course-of-action. Just like Goldilocks, the answer is finding just the right amount of government; admittedly, not an easy thing to do…
Fourat Janabi is the author of Random Rationality: A Rational Guide to an Irrational World, available for $1.99 on Kindle, and $7.99 on Paperback. Subscribe to this blog for email updates, and receive Random Rationality for free…