The Lessons of Tyranny

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It’s a small, petty complaint. In the grand scheme of things, with a government lying us into war and letting loose Blackwater thugs in American streets, a 5-minute wait on my way home from the health food store is not really such a big thing, even if I did have 2 gallons of milk in the car and it was hot out. Yet, petty intrusion builds on petty intrusion. Imagine the world we would live in if every minor, petty irritation placed upon us by the government were met with fierce resistance. A government faced with rebellion over miniscule taxes or petty regulations would not dare try the large-scale intrusions our government has practiced for the last few decades. Conversely, a government whose population easily tolerates smoking bans, road-use restrictions, speeding fines, and so forth can expect to meet little resistance when it wishes to come out with wholesale tyranny. After all, the citizenry has already shown itself to be willing to put up with government coercion, or even to welcome it. As a mathematician, I work with abstractions, divorced from their specifics — I’d claim that the latter description just offered is an abstract history of every modern nation.

Anyway, as I mentioned, I had gone to the health food store to pick up two gallons of milk. In Connecticut, unlike other states, the government actually deems us adult enough to buy real milk in stores. Although, I must point out, the state does require nonsensical labeling on the milk — "Raw milk is not pasteurized" — shocker there, really. So, my local health food store does carry raw milk, but only by order. You need to place your order on Tuesday, and you can pick up your milk on Friday afternoon. So, I had picked up my milk this particular Friday afternoon, and was heading home.

As I drove down the street, I came upon a roadblock. All lanes of traffic were stopped in all directions, with several police cars being parked perpendicular to traffic flow, creating the stoppage. The police cars, although empty, all had their flashing lights on. Only some terrible danger, you’d think, could create such a situation, or perhaps a disastrous accident with emergency crews still working, after half an hour, to extricate the hapless victims. If you thought that, you’d be wrong.

Well, then, maybe some celebrity was in town, and traffic was stopped for his convenience. Now you’re getting closer, although you’re not quite there. As I sat, waiting, hoping that I’d get home (I didn’t turn around and go another way, mind you, because there is no other way. An interesting thing about the Shoreline is that there are many locations reachable only by the Boston Post Road, and there is no other route to my home from where I was), a flow of children began to cross the street. As I watched, approximately 50 students paraded across the street, on their way from the nearby elementary school to the bowling alley directly across the street.

Now, I have no particular objections to children, and I think bowling is a far better way for the children to spend their time than being in school. If asked, I wouldn’t mind waiting 5 minutes for the children to cross the street. The problem, though, is this: say what you will about our educational system, children learn things in school. The fact that they graduate without being able to do simple arithmetic or read does nothing to disprove this, it just shows that reading and arithmetic aren’t what they learn. They are learning something, though.

So, what did the children learn from this small adventure? First, they learned that "the policeman is your friend." Certainly, the man who stops traffic (in a child’s mind, traffic is a force of nature, and stopping it is little short of a miracle) so that you can go bowling is no threat to you or your freedom — he gives you the freedom to cross the street, doesn’t he?

Next, they learned that it’s perfectly acceptable to unilaterally decide to inconvenience others for your own desires. What other lesson can a child take from watching dozens of motorists sit motionless on the road so that they can do what they want? The children were not instructed by the teachers to ask the motorists if they would agree to the arrangement, or even to say "thank you." I’m sure, though, that they remembered to thank the friendly, nice policeman who would never, ever do anything bad to anyone. The hierarchy was clear — policeman, students, then the rest of the world. Why would a student lower himself to thank a lowly "other"?

Of course, the market has a way of ranking needs and ensuring that the most urgent needs are met first — the price system. If you wish to inconvenience others in order to obtain your own ends, you have to be willing to pay the price. The statist approach that the children learned on this day, though, prevents one from having to reimburse others when harming their interests for your own, and precludes the market from operating to move resources to their most urgently-needed ends. Instead, the force of arms decides the matter. Now, you might object that I’m going too far — of course the children didn’t really pick up on all these details, true as they may be. If that’s what you’re thinking, try this thought experiment. Just imagine finding those children, and asking them what would happen to a motorist who drove past the police barrier. I’m willing to wager they’d get the answer right — they’d tell you that the policeman would get him, by which they’d mean either arrest or kill. They could immediately tell that they were being given the right of way by force, not by consent. Only an adult with his sophisticated means of denying reality could insist otherwise.

Finally, the student learns not only that you can put your needs ahead of the needs of others, by force, but that it is also perfectly acceptable to force those very others to pay for the privilege of being so bothered. After all, I am a taxpayer, the student is not. The student has not been forced to pay for the upkeep of the road, nor is he forced to pay the salary of the police officer — I am forced to pay for both of these, only to have that very police officer stand between me and my enjoyment of the road — for the benefit of those who do not pay for either.

We need to stop complaining that children don’t learn anything in school. Instead, we need to start thinking about the horrific things that they do learn. If the schools truly were unable to teach anything to the students, we would be in far better shape. Instead, the schools turn out children who have been intensely educated in the philosophy of control, in the mechanisms of statism. The disastrous harvest we reap from that is altogether too predictable.

Joshua Katz, NREMT-P [send him mail], is the newest member of the mathematics faculty at the Oxford Academy, Westbrook, Connecticut. He has studied philosophy of mind, logic, and epistemology of economics from an Austrian perspective, and is a former graduate student in philosophy at Texas A&M, as well as holding a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. He still holds the title of Chief of EMS for the Town of Hempstead Department of Parks and Recreation, and will return to full-time service there in the summer. He enjoys a glass of port and a wedge of Brie, but has discontinued this practice on a regular basis, due to the sugar content of the port.

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