“Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.” — Daniel Webster
When I was a bright-eyed political science undergrad at the University of Michigan (last century!), one of my professors predicted that the technology driving the information era would make the United States one of the easiest nations to convert into a dictatorship. He argued that unrestricted access to a nation’s citizens’ personal information – their buying habits, preferences, physical locations, likes, friends, etc. – would make it easy for anyone who tapped into that treasure trove of data to influence and eventually control a vast swath of the population in short order.
He went on to say that if history was a guide, it would not be some nefarious leader who took the reins, but a few generations of well-intentioned leaders who tipped the scale by virtue of misguided virtue, not vice. The final nail in the coffin, of course, would be apathy on the part of the common man in relation to this threat.
After seeing the general lack of concern relative to Edward Snowden’s ringing of the alarm bell on this very point and after reading subsequent articles on the US Government’s relentless drive for information about not just its sworn enemies, but its allies and even citizens(!), I am beginning to wonder if that professor may have been less of a whack-job than he seemed at the time. Not being one to indulge in conspiracy theories, I have long discounted such thoughts, but it occurred to me this morning that I was missing the most important point, which Webster described so well in his statement that: “There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern.”
Representative democracies are robust political systems. They are more likely to fail from internal corruption than they are to wilt from the attacks of a foreign enemy. The leadership is important, but the quality of leadership is only a byproduct of the quality of the general populace. In a republic, poor leadership is simply a symptom of a weak and apathetic public.
It’s no wonder that this is happening in our era. A quick read of the paper will point to many of our societal ills: humanities on the decline in US colleges, funding for and interest in the arts is evaporating, the world’s major religions have squandered their opportunity to strengthen the moral fabric of society, etc.
This is not a partisan matter; it is people problem. It is not an issue of “they the government,” but “we the people.” We have got to get off of our collective, comfort-seeking derrieres and do something to change the tide!
5 thoughts on “Good Intentions”
While the collection of technology is one way that those in charge are trying to dominate, the other way lies in the establishment of a culture where the people need the government. They need the assistance of the government and they are uncomfortable when they do not have it because they were brought up believing it to be the natural order of things. It is only a true education, where critical thinking skills and self reliance are emphasized, that will fix this issue.
I suspect that if the truth were known, even the wildest conspiracy theories could look tame! The elaborate network of smoke and mirrors includes both deception deliberately promoted as well as the fact that we have a populace that is poorly and inaccurately educated and inclined to self-deception for various reasons. Apathy is common, but so is the tendency to judge and rail self-righteously while missing the point entirely! Furthermore, all of this mixture of fact and fiction is fueled by powerfully hypnotic mass media – what a mess!
It seems to me that the first step is to be able to step back from the whirl of emotion and misinformation and look, not just at the daunting and sometimes terrifying facts of the governing factors in our world at large, but more specifically at the governing factors in ourselves. There we have a starting point, and there we can begin to take back the control that has been lost. As trite as it may sound, the only viable starting point is with the individual, and each one can make that start!
It seems to me that we as a country have gotten into this state because we have passed on the privilege of taking personal responsibility and instead expect or wait for it to be done for us. Perhaps a good starting point for each of us would be to see how we can be genuinely serving and of value to others in our minute to minute living instead of seeing what we can receive from each moment.
Your comment on the lessening of our arts culture remained me of a quote by John Adams, “I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, natural history and naval architecture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, tapestry, and porcelain.” We have not progressed to the heights of the vision of those patriots who founded this country. We are squandering the legacy they left us. We are denying our future generations the right to be free to study anything. If you look at what has transpired in just the last 30 years we are becoming pseudo socialists that paves the way for an oligarchy. We are guaranteeing the enslavement of our future generations through laziness of thinking and apathy.
I want to cringe when our government officials try to manipulate the conversation to vilify Snowdon instead of taking responsibility to correct or explain what he has revealed. If Snowdon broke the law then I’ve no doubt he will answer for that but that is not the primary issue. Making it about him is akin to condemning the canary in the mine because he has succumbed to the escaping gasses. I think we, the public, look on the actions of our government as entertainment or voyeuristic rather than realizing they are steering the ship of our future freedom. In Ancient Rome when they wanted to pacify the public they organized blood sport games in the collesium. Today it’s easier to compel the weak minded in the collesium of the media.