The Simpsons Against the State

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American culture
has a populist libertarian streak that stretches back to colonial
days. The "Don't Tread on Me" spirit is clearly thriving
in the delightful subversiveness of the longest running sitcom on
television, The Simpsons. Although most of its writers are
liberals, the reclusive John
Swartzwelder
is a hardcore libertarian and has been credited
with writing the most Simpsons episodes. With the show having
just celebrated its 20th anniversary, it would take an entire book
to describe all of the episodes, characters, and gags with libertarian
themes. Below, I summarize some of my favorites and explain their
basis in truth.

NASA

In the episode
Deep
Space Homer
, NASA sends Homer into space as a publicity
stunt to raise TV ratings for Shuttle launches. The mission nearly
ends in disaster after Homer opens a bag of potato chips and crashes
into an experimental ant farm.

Assistant:
Sir, the TV ratings for the launch are the highest in ten years.

Everyone:
Yay!

Scientist:
And how's the spacecraft doing?

Assistant:
I dunno. All this equipment is just used to measure TV ratings.

Basis in
truth:

Public interest
in space launches has been dropping since the 1960s – for good
reasons. The Space Shuttle serves no real scientific purpose, it
has failed to achieve its primary goal of reducing the cost of access
to space, and NASA's flawed safety culture has caused three space
catastrophes. Four decades after NASA put a man on the moon, observers
still collectively hold their breaths for every Shuttle launch,
half expecting another group of heroes to be incinerated. As former
NASA employee James Oberg wrote,
"…each of these three disasters could have been averted. That
the NASA space team failed to do so not once or even twice but three
times is the true disaster." One former astronaut called
the Shuttle the most dangerous spacecraft humans have ever ridden.
You can hardly blame astronauts for flying
drunk
!

NASA is consistently
embarrassed by scandals like climategate,
that crazed
love triangle
, and the loss of the $125 million Mars
orbiter
. NASA promises to put a man
on Mars
but it can't
pass an audit.
It is a myth
that NASA has invented scores of useful products like tang and semiconductors.
Even the Federation of American Scientists has concluded that NASA's
rate of return from "spin-offs" is low.

NASA: If you
want to send a bunch of drunks and nutjobs
on suicidal space missions that serve absolutely no purpose,
DO SO AT YOUR OWN EXPENSE. It's funny on the Simpsons; it's not
funny in real life.

Prohibition

In Homer
vs. the Eighteenth Amendment,
Springfield enacts Prohibition
after Bart accidentally gets drunk at a St. Patrick's Day Parade.
Helen Lovejoy screams, "Oh, won't somebody please think
of the children!" Homer fights the law by becoming a bootlegger
known as the "Beer Baron." The incompetent Chief Wiggum
is replaced by Rex Banner, an officer of the U.S. Treasury Department
who starts harassing everyday citizens in his futile attempt to
stop people from drinking:

Rex Banner:
Are you the Beer Baron?

Ned Flanders:
Well, if you're talking about root beer, I plead guilt-diddily-ildly
as char-didily-arged.

Rex Banner:
He's not the Baron, but he sounds drunk. Take him in.

Springfield
finally ends Prohibition because it is pointless, cruel, and a violation
of individual freedom. Marge declares, "Prohibition has cost
us our freedom – our freedom to drink!" Rex Banner then lectures
Springfield about the need for upholding the rule of law:

Rex Banner:
It's not up to us to choose which laws to obey…Our laws are in place
for a reason…

As he rambles
on, he inadvertently steps on a catapult that was meant for punishing
bootleggers. Chief Wiggum says, "Send him back to Mamma, boys,"
and Banner gets catapulted out of town.

Basis in
truth:

Just
as prohibition in Springfield was on overreaction to the dangers
of alcohol, the war on drugs has been driven by propaganda and exaggerations
about the dangers of drugs. Most people can handle casual drug use.
When drugs were legal (for most of U.S. history), civilization did
not implode. Marijuana is not
a gateway drug, and crack and cocaine do
not
excite users to commit criminal acts.

Because drug
dealing is a victimless crime, law enforcement must resort to intrusive
measures like snooping,
warrantless searches, racial
profiling
, and no-knock
raids
in their attempts to stop it. The war on drugs has allowed
the U.S. government to declare war on its own people, causing a
devastating amount of collateral
damage
and serving as pretext for abuses like asset
forfeiture
. Just as Springfield turned to a federal agent to
enforce Prohibition, the war on drugs has led to the federalization
and militarization
of law enforcement. And just as Rex Banner was outsmarted by the
normally hapless Homer, the war on drugs has been a miserable failure
despite an annual cost of $50 billion and the incarceration of half
a million citizens.

Rex Banner
represents the "law-and-order" conservative. He sees government
as the thin line between civilization and chaos. Such people tend
to believe that all laws must be followed and enforced to the letter,
even if they don't make any sense, because the alternative is "chaos."
They fail to see that the social order is spontaneous; government
is more often the cause of disorder and chaos. People have the right
to resist unjust laws by any means necessary, including the catapult!

Let Rex Banner's
fate be a warning to drug warriors everywhere: Cease and desist
your war against the American people. It's funny on The Simpsons.
It's not so funny in real life.

The Military

The episode
G.I.
(Annoyed Grunt)
begins with two Army recruiters trying to
enlist Dolph, Jimbo, and Kearney:

Recruiter
1:
I don't know what I dig more: hip hop, crunk, or serving
my country.

Jimbo:
Are you guys hittin' on us?

Recruiter
1
: No, man. We just want to talk to you about something near
and dear to us.

Dolph:
What? Being gay?

Recruiter
2
: Close! The Army! Because of exciting current events the Army
needs new members!

Recruiter
1
: New members that want to earn money for college and see a
part of the world that tourists never go to.

Kearney:
Doesn't the Army have to fight in wars?

Recruiter
1
: Not "wars!" "Global struggles."

Recruiter
2
: You guys like globes!

Dolph:
Let's go, dudes!

Recruiter
1
: Damnit! Even the dumbest teenagers in the dumbest town in
the dumbest state know better than to join the Army.

Recruiter
2
: We'll just have to go younger!

The recruiters
then give a presentation at Springfield Elementary:

Recruiter
1
: How many of you like video games?

Students:
Yay!

Recruiter
2
: What if there was a violent video game, plus its real life,
and not a game at all? Wouldn't that be slammin'?

Students:
Yay!

The recruiters
show a video that glamorizes soldiers as knights in shining armor
who kill bad guys during the day and perform rock concerts at night.
The video closes with, "The Army: It's everything you
like."

Recruiter
1
: You can't "legally" join the Army until you're
18. But if you pre-enlist now, we will save you a spot in America's
next unresolvable conflict!

When Bart tells
his family that he has pre-enlisted, Marge sends Homer to the recruiting
station to get Bart out of his contract. A sign outside the station
reads, "Suicidal teens welcome!" The recruiters agree
to terminate Bart's contract but manage to convince Homer to take
his place. Homer ships off to basic training.

Colonel:
Gentlemen, I'll be frank: Never before has the Army accepted recruits
with test scores as low as yours!

Homer's unit
is chosen to play the enemy in a training exercise. They escape
into Springfield and realize that the Army is testing live weapons
against them. The Army invades Springfield, destroying property
and imprisoning innocent citizens in their search for Homer.

Soldier:
Sir, you can't just invade an American city without authorization.

Colonel:
I sure as hell can! Congress slipped it into the National Broccoli
Day Proclamation Act!

Marge
organizes a resistance movement that spikes the city's
water supply with alcohol, causing the soldiers to get drunk
and pass out. The soldiers awake the next morning to find themselves
surrounded by armed citizens of Springfield, and the Army surrenders.

Basis in
truth:

Military recruiters
use
coercion, deception, and sexual abuse to enlist new members. In
recent years, the military has lowered its standards for minimum-intelligence
tests and has made it easier for criminals,
gang
members
, and non-citizens
to enlist. And yes, the military is recruiting children: Military
recruiters are prowling the halls of middle
schools
and showing up at Boy
Scout Jamborees
. The Army built a $12 million arcade
in a Philadelphia mall where local kids can play high-tech combat
simulations. The military spies
on American teenagers to find potential recruits, analyzing everything
from their athletic skills to their video game preferences.

Just as the
Army tested live ammunition against Homer's unit, thousands of U.S.
soldiers have been used as guinea pigs in nuclear
tests
, vaccination
trials, and mind-control
experiments. The Pentagon knowingly exposed
troops to cancer-causing chemicals. Rape and sexual assault are
rampant
throughout the military, which seems unable or unwilling to prosecute
rapists in the ranks. The U.S. government buried
information about POW's left behind in Vietnam, it covered
for the Israeli government after it murdered 34 crew members aboard
the U.S.S. Liberty, and it denied the existence of Gulf War Syndrome.

Just like the
people of Springfield, American citizens have become victims of
the military that is supposed to protect them. The Pentagon carried
out secret radiation
tests
on thousands of non-consenting patients, including children,
many of whom died or lived to endure excruciating health problems.
The military tested deadly bioweapons
on an unsuspecting American public during the Cold War. Pollution
from military bases has created a staggering number of health and
environmental problems for surrounding communities. Military lawyers
are experts in shielding
higher-ups from accountability and denying compensation to victims.
The Pentagon bureaucracy is trying to seize hundreds of thousands
of acres of private
property
from ranchers in Colorado. The U.S. Navy knowingly
exposed millions of shipyard workers to deadly asbestos
during World War II. The 2008 crash of F/A-18D outside San Diego
amounted to "murder
through depraved indifference
." The Joint Chiefs of Staff
proposed committing terrorist attacks against American citizens
with Operation
Northwoods
. Military leaders wanted to launch a pre-emptive
nuclear
strike
on the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, and they pushed
for an invasion of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. General
Lucius D. Clay recklessly escalated a standoff between U.S. and
Soviet tanks at the Berlin Wall in 1961. Any one of these events
could have led to a nuclear holocaust and the deaths of millions
of Americans, which was seen by military elites as an acceptable
way to "win" the Cold War.

The Simpsons
scenario of martial law is not so far-fetched. The military forcibly
relocated and interned 120,000 Japanese-Americans and Japanese during
World War II. The Ohio National Guard fired on unarmed college students
during the Kent
State Massacre
in 1970. The military participated in the federal
atrocities at Waco
and Ruby
Ridge
. The National Guard confiscated
firearms from law-abiding citizens during Hurricane Katrina. Americans
are already being policed
by the military and private
security forces
. Plans for martial law have been taking shape
for decades, hidden behind continuity
of government
programs, but have accelerated during the economic
crisis. Combat units are being redeployed
from Iraq to the United States to assist with crowd control in the
event of civil unrest. Military units have set up checkpoints
and have conducted urban
warfare training drills
in American towns. The Bush Administration
twice threatened martial law: first when it considered sending the
U.S. military to arrest the so-called Lackawanna
Six
in 2002, and again in 2007 if Congress refused to pass the
banker bailout.
A secret Homeland Security program has been training clergymen to
preach obedience to the government in the event that martial law
is declared. The federal government is classifying its critics as
"terrorists,"
and up to eight million Americans are listed as subversives
who can be detained under the slightest pretenses during a national
emergency. Even misdemeanors can be classified as "terrorist
activity," and the executive branch now has the legal authority
to detain U.S. citizens, torture them, and imprison them in undisclosed
locations indefinitely. Government contractors are building mysterious
facilities that could serve as internment
camps
for political dissidents. Martial law can be declared
at the President's
whim
for practically any reason thanks to a secret directive
that was signed by President Bush in 2007. Finally, it serves as
a dark warning that some of the worst atrocities ever committed
by the U.S. military were against civilians
who opposed the federal government's War to Prevent Southern Independence.

Let the words
of Lisa Simpson be a warning to members of the military who might
be called upon to suppress a modern-day American Revolution:

Lisa:
Colonel, I hope you've learned that an occupying foreign force can
never defeat a determined local populace.

The Environmental
Protection Agency

The episode
The
Frying Game
begins with Homer finding a screaming
caterpillar, or "screamapillar," in his backyard. Just
as he is about to kill the obnoxious bug, an EPA agent steps out
from behind a tree:

EPA
agent
: Mr. Simpson, allowing an endangered species to die is
a federal offense under the Reversal of Freedoms Act of 1994. You
are now legally responsible for the safety and well-being of this
screamapillar. Everything you need to know is in this pamphlet.

Lisa:
Screamapillar care tips! Wow, look at all this stuff! Without constant
reassurance, it will die. It's sexually attracted to fire…

Homer:
Are you sure God doesn't want it to be dead?

In The Simpsons
Movie, the EPA tries to destroy the entire town of Springfield
after Homer pollutes a lake with pig feces.

Basis in
truth:

Homer is right:
God does want some species to die. Even before the appearance of
man, 99 percent of all species that lived on Earth went extinct.
Fears over human-caused extinctions are overblown: In the 1970s,
environmentalists were predicting that up to 80 percent of all animal
species would be extinct by 2000. In truth, a handful of known species
extinctions have been vastly exceeded by the number of species that
have been observed and described over time. Scientists have counted
between 1.5 million and 1.8 million species, and up to 100 million
might exist. In the last two decades, the number of known mammals
has grown by 25 percent – and that doesn't include
Bigfoot
!

The Endangered
Species Act is counterproductive. Landowners face the prospect of
draconian regulations and restrictions if an endangered species
is discovered on their land. This creates an incentive for them
to "shoot, shovel, and shut up" in order to avoid attention
from the government.

Public
Schools

Springfield
Elementary is the ultimate satire of public education in the United
States:

Edna Krabappel:
Now, whose calculator can tell what seven times eight is?

Milhouse: Oh! Oh! Low battery?

Edna Krabappel: [sighs] Whatever.

The
faculty at Springfield Elementary is abusive, bored, unmotivated,
unqualified, and prone to alcoholism. Bart is the antihero who exposes
the teachers as emperors without clothes. He is forced to write
on the chalkboard, "I will not expose the ignorance of the
faculty." The gym teacher Coach Krup is obsessed with Bombardment
and enjoys pummeling students relentlessly. Lunchlady Doris serves
meals with animal genitalia and ground-up rats. The school puts
Bart on a behavioral drug called Focusyn that makes him go crazy.
The students are forced to pull the school bus with chains after
it breaks down on a field trip.

The
faculty discourages students from reaching their potential and thinking
for themselves. The music teacher Dewey Largo resents Lisa for her
talent and creativity. In Lisa
the Vegetarian
, it is shown that teachers
have access to secret "Independent Thought Alarms." When
Lisa triggers the alarm twice in one day, Principal Skinner
complains that "The students are over stimulated," and
he forces them to watch a corporate propaganda film made by the
Meat Council. In the episode Lisa
Gets an u2018A'
, Principal Skinner tries to cover up a cheating
scandal to help the school qualify for more grant money:

Lisa:
But we can't accept that money. It's tainted!

Skinner:
Now, now, leave the money out of this! It's not the money's fault
you cheated. Besides, I've already started spending it. Check out
this new scoreboard!

Students treat
each other with harsh cruelty. Bullies are free to terrorize anyone
who happens to be different:

Bashir:
My religion says I can never eat pork.

Bart:
A different religion? Do not tell anyone that because if the bullies
around here find out that you're different.

Jimbo:
Who's different?!

The
Simpsons has portrayed the end of compulsory education as a
liberating event. In the episode D'oh-in
in the Wind
, Homer becomes a hippy
and bursts into the school cafeteria:

Homer:
Hear Ye, Hear Ye! The Intergalactic Jester proclaims this conformity
factory closed!

The
students run out of the school screaming with joy. In Bart's
Comet
, Principal Skinner sees a newspaper
headline reading, "Prez Sez: School is for Losers." He
falls to his knees in despair, yelling "Noooooo!"

Basis
in truth:

Kids hate public
schools. "It's
stupid
," as one student said. "It's a boring waste
of time and I don't understand why I should be forced to go. Last
I checked this was a free country."

Public
schools operate more like prisons than centers of learning. For
six classes a day, five days a week, nine months a year, twelve
years of their lives, students must go through a dehumanizing, mind-numbing
routine of being bused like cattle to warehouse-like buildings where
thousands of kids sit in cell-block-style confinement and get trained
to reflexively obey orders. They suffer daily humiliations like
walking through metal detectors, having their lockers searched,
being attacked
by security guards, having their movements dictated by a ringing
bell, and asking for permission to use the bathroom. They are subject
to a constant battery of standardized tests that strip them of the
responsibility and independence to develop their intellectual capacities.
Public schools are rife with
physical
and
sexual
abuse – not to mention the
horror stories involving seclusion
rooms
and cage
fights
. Schools pressure parents into putting
their kids on addictive
behavioral drugs
. The meat served in school
cafeterias is less
safe
than the meat that is served at fast-food
restaurants. While schools fail to protect students from gangs
and shooting
rampages
, they insist on enforcing ridiculous
zero-tolerance
policies. Children are "socialized" by living through
twelve years of cliques, cruelty, bullying, gossiping, and other
forms childish, petty, and immature behavior.

Teachers
hate public schools just as much as students. As John
Gatto
writes, "anyone who has spent time in a teachers'
lounge can vouch for the low energy, the whining, and the dispirited
attitudes, to be found there." Who can blame them? Schools
do not reward the good teachers or fire the bad ones. Nearly every
detail of their job is dictated by strict guidelines on what to
teach and how to teach it. They cannot innovate or challenge their
students in any way. Teachers spend most of the year drilling kids
in order to help them perform well on standardized tests. Depth
of understanding, context, creativity, and intellectual curiosity
are forgotten in the effort to raise scores. Teachers are pressured
to dumb
down
standards, help
students cheat
, and pass
failing students
to make the school look good. It
has become impossible for public schools to attract and retain qualified
teachers. In Massachusetts, nearly three-quarters of the
people who took the state elementary school teacher's licensing
exam failed
the new math section. Nearly half of teachers leave the profession
in the first five years.

Studies
routinely show that students in public schools lack basic knowledge
and skills in history,
math,
and reading.
Underfunding is not the problem. Public schools spend
nearly $10,000 annually per student. The average public school teacher
makes almost $48,000 per year with good benefits and lots of vacation
time. There is no
connection
between education spending and student achievement.

Public schools
don't fail to educate students. They succeed at dumbing
them down. The true purpose of compulsory education is to make people
childish, docile, conformist, obedient, and predictable – and
to squash qualities like dissent, originality, leadership, and independence.
Cloistering children around other children is designed to perpetuate
childish behavior. Compulsory education was inspired by the military
state of Prussia and was imported to America by an unholy alliance
of politicians, industrialists, and intellectuals who wanted to
make the population "manageable."
Politicians wanted a harmless electorate that would never challenge
the government. Industrialists wanted a servile labor force and
a virtual herd of mindless consumers. Intellectuals wanted a populace
that could be molded to fit their ideological preferences: pietists
wanted to Protestantize Catholic children; utilitarians wanted to
assign each person his proper role in a more efficient social machine;
and eugenicists wanted to tag the genetically unfit and make them
socially undesirable for breeding.

Let Springfield
Elementary be a reminder of the true nature of public schools. Close
down these conformity factories!

Conclusion

The Simpsons'
anti-government messages seem to be getting more radical with time.
In the 1991 episode Mr.
Lisa Goes to Washington
, Lisa gets disillusioned with government
after witnessing a bribery scandal. After the politician is caught,
she says, "The system works!" and her faith in government
is restored. So, whereas an early political episode focused on run-of-the-mill
corruption balanced with assurance that democracy works, newer episodes
have themes like genocide, martial law, and armed rebellion! In
the 1998 episode Treehouse
of Horror IX
, Marge encourages Kang and Kodos to kill every
politician in Washington. Hokey patriotic themes have disappeared
from the show. In the 2006 episode See
Homer Run
, Homer runs for mayor dressed as the Safety Salamander:

Homer:
People may not love Homer Simpson, but they love this suit. Ha.
Just like they love their stupid American flag.

Perhaps some
of this can be attributed the show's general drift toward zany antics,
but I think it also indicates that more Americans are disillusioned
with government and could be supportive of radical challenges to
the status quo. If you want to see evidence of declining faith in
government and the possibility of revolution (while being entertained
in the process), look no further than America's First Family.

Happy 20th
Anniversary, Simpsons! Keep fighting the State.

February
25, 2010

Tom Finnigan
[send him mail] works at
a restaurant in Washington, D.C.

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