TAG | philosophy
Note: My weekend op-ed. I’ve been working on this little fable for about 10 years now. This is the final form (I hope.)
“Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. It is force, and like fire, a dangerous servant and a terrible master.”
Two brothers were walking through a dark forest one day, when they came upon an object lying on the path. It was a length of polished hardwood, about as long as your arm and half as thick as your wrist.
The older brother picked it up and said, “It’s a billy club. Someone must have dropped it.”
This was an understandable conclusion, because the forest was very dark and gloomy, with many robbers and wild animals.
“No it isn’t,” cried the younger, “it’s a magic wand!”
“Here,” said the older brother, “try it out and see for yourself. Do some magic.”
The younger brother took the object and shouted, “I wish you’d stop contradicting me!” and hit his older brother on the head with it, who fell stunned.
“See, it works!” the boy shouted jubilantly.
Now in possession of the magic wand and determined to do good to all the poor and unfortunate people of the kingdom, the boy set off to town. The first person he met was a crippled beggar.
“Here,” he said, “I can fix you,” and tapped the beggar on the head.
“Ouch!” yelped the beggar. “Stop that and leave me alone!”
“Hold still you ungrateful wretch!” said the boy and tapped again. And again, harder and harder as the beggar begged, not for alms, but for the boy to stop hitting him.
“Hmmm, that didn’t work,” said the boy to himself. “Perhaps I need to tap harder.”
Well, it wasn’t too long before the beggar stopped complaining altogether.
“I wonder why the magic wand didn’t work on him?” thought the boy. “Perhaps a small wand wasn’t up to such a big job.”
Just then the boy spied a baseball bat lying on the ground…
By now you will have realized this is a fable about two different ways people see government: as a magic wand, or a club. Two views that in one form or another, lie behind all our political differences.
Both sides see the same thing. They differ in their opinion of what it is and what can be done with it. One side sees a tool for the use of power, dangerous even in best of hands. The other sees a cornucopia of all good things, when in the right hands.
A club is a useful instrument for a limited number of purposes that revolve around hitting people, or threatening to hit people. It can be very versatile in the ways you can hit with it, depending on whether you wish to do serious harm or merely get someone to do something, or stop doing something. This is called “pain compliance” in use-of-force training. And it’s why police still carry clubs, man’s oldest weapon, alongside modern firearms.
Likewise, a government is a handy thing to have around to discourage foreigners who want your country or criminals who want your wallet, and to enforce court decisions so they mean something more than, “Pretty please do this.”
But a club is not much use when you want to heal the sick, uplift the poor, cultivate the arts and sciences, or educate youth. (Though some teachers might disagree.)
To accomplish these worthwhile things, you need the willing cooperation of free men – or a magic wand.
That’s the simplest way of looking at political differences. And of course, people’s views are most often mixed. Everybody believes in magic at least a little.
But it’s a difference that matters. Because after all, there are such things as clubs.
Note: all events and persons depicted in this fable are entirely real, and bear a startling resemblance to quite a few individuals, living and dead, and their plans to put the world to rights. However the author wishes to assure readers that no big brothers or beggars were harmed in the making of this fable.