The Totalitarian Impulse
Liberty-minded individuals are so used to criticizing the totalitarianism that emanates from governments that they forget one other source of constant oppression that needs to be dealt with: the tyranny of the masses.
The mass of totalitarians, these days, is composed of hordes of petty, self-elected Führers running around trying to dictate everyone else's choices and lifestyles to suit their own preferences and comfort levels. The totalitarian impulses that resonate from these individuals are alarming. Americans, on the whole, are ripe for lording it over everyone else, and they have no problem making arbitrary judgments about the needs of others while proclaiming that which is necessary or not, based on their own foregone conclusions.
How about the current "war" against SUVs? This is one of the most hysteria-induced campaigns to ever permeate the human senses. Nitwits like Arianna Huffington, a nationally syndicated columnist, don't just declare a dislike for SUVs or a personal preference for something more inspiring, but instead, Huffington promotes an entire Detroit-bashing campaign that is running TV commercials indicting SUV owning soccer moms for hijacking airplanes, blowing up nightclubs, sending American soldiers off to war, and teaching kids around the world to hate America. So sickening and insane are the implications that one has to immediately see Huffington as an illegitimate source on any topic going forward.
In fact, nothing is more reckless than people appointing themselves to apply dictatorial rule over their fellow men. Not a day goes by where I don't receive yet another e-mail from the latest Hitler-of-the-day, telling me why others don't “need” to own and drive an SUV. They actually take to defining "accepted purposes" for the ownership of vehicles. I had one reader tell me that her parents "lived on a farm in snowy Iowa, and if they could get by without one, so can soccer moms and everyone else." Well, there you go. Let's not improve living standards for folks, but rather, let's let the frenzied, envious masses dictate life's little rules according to their bête-noirs.
Somehow, an SUV becomes an unnecessary fashion statement while sports cars, convertibles, big luxury cars, and classic cars all get passing grades. The whiners never present a substantial case for their wild assumptions. Instead, they can only point out that their lives are made miserable when others don't come up to their standards and absolutes.
These kinds of people are downright wicked. They are quintessential fools who don't believe that their freedom ends at others' noses. They make simplistic, emotional claims that everything everyone else does can somehow "affect them," so therefore, the potential for being impinged upon is enough of a reason to trot out their list of decrees that others need to abide by — decrees that can only be enforced by the ruling regime in Washington.
The most amazing thing about these fascists is that they can't even think for themselves; they are out there parroting everyone else on the hysteria-mobile, and they go digging for ways to rationalize the tyranny over others. Any rationale will work. Perhaps these tyrants need to wake up to the fact that the choices of others are none of their business.
In any case, it is ruinous for anyone to think they can determine what has or hasn't a "purpose" in anyone else's life. Just because they don't have an immediate purpose for a given option does not mean that others don't. The point is, "need" or "purpose" is defined by whom? Them? The government? GW Bush? Michael Jackson? Santa's elves? Dorothy and Toto? Do we all have to justify our choices with the Hitlerian bunch first?
The SUV despotism, overall, is a sign of much more ominous things. It defines a personality type that often resorts to sniveling and whining about the human race as a whole, with a hatred for the hoi polloi and their commercial tendencies. These folks hold themselves out as the paragons of righteousness in a world that is awash in bad behavior, bad choices, and misguided appetites. Sound familiar? Study the routines of the world's worst tyrants and it will.
ABC's John Stossel is perhaps a good example of a guy who recognizes the totalitarian impulse of the masses. His Give Me a Break segments not only make a mockery of government repression, but also, much of his fault-finding is with the people themselves — regular citizens that commence tirades over the details of others' lives.
Witness the collective howls over cell phone use in cars. Stossel's segment on banning cell phones was particularly compelling, especially since the latest popular crusade for all the little tyrants is the micromanagement of what we do in our car.
According to Stossel, "polls show about 70 percent of Americans support a ban on handheld cell phones." He adds, "People do all kinds things while driving. They eat, fix their hair, put on lipstick, light cigarettes, and we even saw someone curling their eyelashes. If we must always drive with two hands on the wheel, should we outlaw picking your nose? Just putting on my sunglasses or drinking a sip of coffee takes a hand of the wheel. The radio is a big distraction problem; I'm constantly distracted trying to push the tiny buttons to avoid commercials."
In any case, why are cell phones such a focus? If it's not out-and-out envy, what is it? Hardly a day goes by where some jerk talking on a cell phone doesn't do something foolish in front of me, enough to put me on the alert. However, the same goes for folks driving while they are eating, yelling at their kids in the back seat, and distracting themselves looking at the latest strip mall, neon sign, or sales banner. Do we just ban all distractions, ban any and all items in cars, and ban children from cars? How about banning passengers in the front seat? They can be more distracting than the ubiquitous cell phone.
Stossel's findings that Americans have a totalitarian bent toward cell phone use are hardly surprising. This impulse is apparent in the anti-junk food crusaders as they rage on against corporations like McDonald's under the auspices of "health concerns." These crusaders blame the manufacturers of quick foods for everything from obesity to lifelong bad habits to baiting "addiction" to fat and cholesterol. If they can't dictate your car choice, they'll try to tell you what you can or can't eat.
The totalitarian hordes hate Starbucks, and they would probably like to put caffeine on the same regulatory level as heroin. The smoking Nazis need no introduction, as various state attorneys general and corrupt trial lawyers persuaded the masses that smoking is a collective decision, not an individual one. You want to allow your customers to enjoy smoking in your place of business? Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, wants to stop you. And he's got the support of many citizens who would love to see that happen because they don't smoke.
Raising children is no longer a parental choice as others want to lord it over that sphere too. Don't discipline your children in public, because somewhere someone will decide that they are the arbiter of justice for your child if they don't like what they see. Car seats? A friend of mine showed up at his son's school with his son not in the car seat (he was beyond the required minimum age), and he was read the riot act by a teacher who thought that her capricious assessment supercede a father's direct supervision.
The individual tyrant mindsets that make up that of the collective mass are necessarily the result of democracy. Weaned on the teats of the State, these individuals are imbued with the "democratic" philosophy that government is there to provide for their endeavors, even if it means having the State aggress against others to relieve them of life's little uncertainties and risks. Democracy gives them a say-so in the political process, a process where coercive powers are exercised at will via majority rule. Once the nipples of democracy have been exposed to the piglets gathering round the hub of majority rule, we engender a perpetual breeding process of decadent usurpation by the masses over the few.
Do people ever stop to think that the world exists beyond their own little, personal quirks? The powers that create the laws these folks clamor for will only be used against them to clamp down on their own choices and lifestyles at some point in the future. What goes around comes around, but hey, I suppose it's only the here and now that matters to the high time preference peoples.
Before I get the wave of hate mail from the assorted Führers that have read this, here's the startling revelation I must make in order to avoid the usual charges of "me first": I don't own an SUV. I don't smoke, and I don't ever eat at McDonald's. I defend individual rights, private property, and free enterprise where it does not aggress against the person or property of another. It's called F-R-E-E-D-O-M. Let the Lifestyle Police get a life and stop whining about the consumer choices of those around them for the sake of elevating their personal choices as truths. Consumers should be able to make their own choices without others dictating their own moral sentiments, complaints, and general harassments upon them. Perish the thought!
In other words, get out of our lives, get out of our decisions, and tend to your own attainments. This is not Stalin's Russia.
January 14, 2003
Karen De Coster, CPA, [send her mail] is a paleolibertarian freelance writer, graduate student in Austrian Economics, and a business professional from Michigan. Her first book is currently in the works. See her Mises Institute archive for more online articles, and check out her website
Copyright © 2003 Karen De Coster