My wife and I have recently been binge-watching the FX show Justified. Adapted from an Elmore Leonard story, the show takes place mostly in eastern Kentucky, an apparent hotbed of criminal activity, rampant drug use, ruthless mafia types, and off-beat characters. The show is entertaining but bloody. Being aware of its use of violence for entertainment value, we can understand how disconnected this story is from reality.
As has been mentioned here before, we are often given portrayals of history which are far removed from reality. We’ve been told, and largely come to believe, that the settlement of the American west was “wild” with violence and lawlessness. The remedy, we’re lead to believe, was wise government oversight and policing. However, much like the landscape of modern fiction, the body count and criminal activity portrayed in popular history would have made settlement unlikely at best.
People seek opportunities to improve their lives. Those who chose the arduous journey westward would have been far less likely to go had they believed the destination held violence and death. They certainly would not have ventured without the expectation of self-defense. There is little reason to expect otherwise.
The purpose of popular fiction is entertainment. The popular fiction which evolved into a history of the old west, on the other hand, developed a new purpose: reinforcing the supposed necessity of the state. Without government to create and enforce law, the narrative insists, we would violently extract from one another the means of survival. This was not true then and is not likely to ever be true. There is a cost of violence which makes cooperation and mutual support far more appealing and, therefore, likely.
Modern culture is awash in misinformation and propaganda. While the Internet makes it possible for decentralized dissemination of information, it is no less prone to abuses than are any other communication media. As has been chronicled here before, little emphasis is given to teaching logic in U.S. public schools. Some might argue that this is by design but, regardless of the cause, the result is a lack of critical thinking across the majority in the population.
As the saying goes, “If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.” However, this simple adage somehow escapes significant numbers of people. Nowhere is this more evident than when new government programs or solutions are being marketed.
If a government program exists that exceeds expectations of performance or results, it remains a well kept secret. Similarly, if a government agency consistently operates under budget, it hasn’t been given adequate exposure. Yet both efficiency and low cost are commonly claimed for each proposal. Obamacare, for example, was supposed to lower health costs and improve health care. Whether you support centralized management of health services or not, anyone applying a modicum of critical thinking would question such an assertion, particularly in light of the aforementioned track record for government achieving neither.
In Planning for Freedom, and Sixteen Other Essays and Addresses, Ludwig von Mises said: “If one rejects laissez faire on account of man’s fallibility and moral weakness, one must for the same reason also reject every kind of government action.” Another way Mises might have put this is to say that governments do not act, humans do.
Progressives and conservatives alike regularly descry what they claim to be the flaws of humanity. They tell us that humans are morally weak, that we care little about one another and, left to our own devices, we would rather kill one another than cooperate. Despite the fact that this is both logically and demonstrably false, hey insist on outlawing drugs, alcohol, guns, free association, and anything else that encroaches on their ability to control the masses. At the same time they claim democracy is the cornerstone of civilization, enabling representation in government policies. The irony of claiming “fallibility and moral weakness” in private affairs while believing in the ability of these same people to select wise leadership appears lost on them.
In addition to the inconsistency routinely exhibited by proponents of state power, it is common for those less enamored with government oversight to blame government for wars, recessions, or other social ills. While the presence of government certainly might enable such things, governments themselves cannot actually start wars, tamper with economies, or otherwise impact societies absent the actions of those in command. Even when working in unison, all actions are individual actions and all responsibilities can only be ascribed to individuals. As a result, when the next war or economic downturn occurs, responsibility for these events will fall with those whose actions and policies directly led to them.