The Sage of Baltimore

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The sage of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken, once observed, "The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it."

We could even indulge that old habit of division by saying that people are divided into two classes — those who are willing to leave others alone to pursue their own happiness, and those who have a burning itch to tell others how they should do it and, if they don’t listen, force them to follow instructions.

I’ve seen this in my own life. Even under the influence of spirits, I never imagined that disliking the flavor of brussels sprouts could spark anger in another person, but as it turned out, I married just such a person. She had a great many virtues, but it did upset her to find out that people had different tastes and opinions about things.

She thought, bless her memory, that her firm statement that brussels sprouts were good was a universal and indisputable fact. It frustrated her greatly when I insisted that it was merely a matter of opinion, and in my opinion they were not good and that their flavor resembled the smell of sewage.

My philosophy, no doubt a result of my Celtic genes, is that I will do what I like and other people are free to do what they like. Differences of opinion, tastes, even ideology don’t bother me. I’m even reluctant to give advice when people ask for it.

In fact, since the traditional definitions of liberals and conservatives have been made obsolete by modernity and its muddy thinking, we can even redefine them. A liberal is person with a burning itch to run other people’s lives; a conservative has no desire to do so.

Look at our current society. People who think smoking is bad are not content to quit the habit themselves; they wish to forcibly prevent others from smoking. People who think eating trans fat is bad are not content to avoid it themselves; they want to ban it. People who think owning a gun is a bad thing want to prevent others from owning guns. People who think using certain drugs is bad want to prevent others from using them. People who dislike the Confederate battle flag wish to prevent those who like it from displaying it. And so on and so forth.

In every case, prevention is translated into a denial of choice, and what is freedom but the liberty of making one’s own choices? The more areas of our lives in which we are denied the freedom to choose, the less liberty there is. Totalitarianism is the denial of all choices. We haven’t gotten to that point yet, but we seem to be steadily marching in that direction, led, of course, by liberal reformers who wish to save us from ourselves. That’s why I say that authoritarianism, not democracy, is the direction the world is headed toward.

Truly, I’ve never understood the psychology of those people who want to control the lives of other people. Granted, parents have to provide some guidance to their children, but even that, I think, should be limited to survival skills and a basic moral code. Children come into the world their own persons, and parents have no right to force them into some kind of mold. Whether a child likes sports or reading should be left up to the child, for example. All of a child’s inclinations should be encouraged, and none discouraged. Conditional love is, in my opinion, not love at all. No child should have to earn his or her parents’ love.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn said once that America had lost its civic courage, and that might be our core problem. It takes a great deal of courage to live free and to allow others to live free. Maybe I’ve answered my own question. People’s itch to control others might be motivated by fear. That’s at least worth thinking about.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

© 2007 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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