Police broke and entered, arrested and physically harmed residents of Asheville, North Carolina because of the way Mark and Debra Kuhn flew the United States flag. Perhaps the police were objecting to the signs the Kuhn’s had pinned to the flag explaining why it was flying upside down.
I’m sure this was a significant matter of national security. The flag is a symbol of our great land, and all of the things we stand for at home and around the world. Desecrate the flag and you begin to tear down collective trust in the state and faith in its authority.
No wonder the cops, and the Republicans, were scared!
The flag, among other things, is not to be used as a decoration or drapery. As you may know, I watch a lot of Home and Garden Channel. Just the other day they redesigned a master bedroom that had featured a massive American flag as a headboard. The design team was careful not to insult the romantic patriotism of the boudoir, or its occupants. Instead, they quickly and carefully folded the illegally displayed flag and replaced it with a more aesthetically pleasing — and legal — headboard.
HGTV took the right approach. The Asheville PD did not. In a nutshell, these cases illustrate how a free and voluntary society resolves differences among members, versus how the state enforces its will through fear and violence.
Yes, I am reducing the display and use of the flag to a statement of style, like baseball caps or preferred team colors. More importantly, I am comparing an arrangement entered into by free people — a clearly written contract to appear in and work with an HGTV design team for mutual benefit — with a one-way arrangement posited by the state upon unfree people.
With this arrangement posited by the state upon unfree people, I am not talking about the occupation of Iraq, although the logic extends smoothly from the French Broad River in western N.C to the Tigris and Euphrates. Today, U.S. citizenship means being automatically subject to a vast array of legislation, both known and unknown, to be exhorted to be competitively patriotic and to express your opinions through political parties but in no other way, and to have your earnings and your property routinely extorted.
But as Jeff Knaebel pointed out recently, what is it to be "automatically subject"? What is it to be exhorted? What is it to be subject to extortion? How much of this requires complacent citizen consent? Where on the spectrum of the state and the individual does real power lie?
I think most Americans intuitively know the answer. Power lies not in large organizations, but within individuals who simply overcome fear and act. Who simply live, rather than being sent to kill or die. Who simply think, rather than be told. Who simply choose, rather than wait to be chosen.
We see it, and celebrate it, in our national and historic obsession with heroes. We study heroes, we literarily examine the hero construct, we madly consume stories, books, plays, operas and movies that feature the lives and actions of heroes.
These heroes can be penguins or dogs or horses, they can be men of the state (The 300 or any of the World War II soldier movies). They can be little boys learning how to be men and fight evil as in The Ring Trilogies and the Harry Potter books, or little girls growing into wise adulthood. Contemporarily, our heroes are often men and women who are falsely accused by the state, wrongly pursued by the state, or victimized by some aspect of an iron triangle of state, corporation and monopoly on force.
We know the formula, and we invariably applaud the individual and hate the state. Just take a look at the top movies in any given week. I haven’t yet seen the latest Jason Bourne flick, but Robert Ludlum probably ought to be credited with inspiring at least as many anti-state individualists and libertarians as Ayn Rand.
We love these real life hero stories because they show us how we can counter our fear, and in doing so, gain power, freedom, vitality and justice.
We teach our children that if they get scared in the water, keep swimming and dive back in. If they fall off a horse, we say, "Get back in the saddle!" If they have an unreasonable fear, we tell them to face that fear, and master it through faith and logic. If that doesn’t work, we just turn on the light and demonstrate how thinking people deal with monsters!
The funny thing is, when you turn on the light, overwhelmingly the fear is proven to be unwarranted — because the thing we thought had power is shown, in fact, to be imagined, unreal, nothing. Just as Ahmad Chalabi told us he was a "hero in error," we can show that the monster of the state is but "power in error." Its power lies in our faith in it, and it becomes fundamentally powerless the instant we cease to believe in it.
Any parent — indeed, anyone who has ever tried to console a dog in a thunderstorm — knows how this works. We really don’t need to be heroes to apply these same rules in our dealings with the state.
Americans are a people with a strong individualist heritage, and a passion for the individual versus the state. Americans also tend to be quick to anger, especially when we think something or someone is interfering with our "rights." Let’s take this cultural reality and these seeds of courage and do something crucially important with it. It is our destiny today, as it was over 200 years ago, to embrace reality and break the state!
LRC columnist Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, has written on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for MilitaryWeek.com, hosted the call-in radio show American Forum, and blogs occasionally for Huffingtonpost.com and Liberty and Power. To receive automatic announcements of new articles, click here.