Do Americans Have Cognitive Dissonance When it Comes to Liberty?
by Karen Kwiatkowski
Vladimir Lenin's post-revolutionary destruction of lower class entrepreneurs — the kulaks — is understood by both Marxist and liberal historians to have been both cruel and counterproductive. In the 1970s, even as our own post-FDR, post-Truman, post-Eisenhower, post-LBJ and ongoing Nixon eras of big federal government bloomed and grew — young and old Americans alike still vocally condemned interference with economic freedom, particularly the economic freedom of the lower classes.
The Civil Rights movement, and the subsequent women's equality movement, were fundamentally about economic freedom. For affected minorities, the lower social and political classes, these shifts meant freedom to move, to travel and work; freedom to hire and be hired, to conduct trade with whomever we chose. As a people, we claim to be proud of that history, that defense of economic freedom, as it were.
Americans prefer to act freely — witness the substantial American cash and underground economies, our widespread craving to learn, share, produce and create satisfied by 20th and 21st century technologies, and our recognized predisposition toward liberty. Our heroes are liberators, not jailers. That more than one in five Americans is today sympathetic to the amazingly radical message of freedom articulated by Ron Paul in the last election cycle also attests to the extreme level of freedom with which we are comfortable.
The American tradition loves liberty. Our national mythology is of individuals, families and communities living free. Our public conversation is littered with the language of liberty, and marketing strategies, from cars to credit cards, from medicine to menus, glitter with images of freedom. Freedom sells.
So why is it that so many Americans seem to be such a freedom-fearing, kulak-hating bunch?
Our legislation is stacked against small business, small farms, and budding entrepreneurs. Most have read about the farmers jailed and fined because they sold raw milk to forewarned, eager consumers. Some have followed the saga of the USDA's program to identify all agricultural holdings with "premises registration" and to ensure all cattle, hog, and sheep owners adhere to computer scannable tagging systems, matched to government inspectable databases, so that the federal government can keep track of what it calls "the national herd." The expanding nature of government-backed guild restrictions — impacting hairdressers, flower arrangers, horse massage therapists, computer repairmen and interior decorators, to name a few of the thousand of career fields affected — is another politically acceptable onslaught on the lower classes cloaked in the language of the common good. This week many Americans and hundreds of thrift store owners and charitable operators discovered post hoc a new federal law, effective February 10th, 2009, that will prohibit the sale of used children's clothing — all in the name of keeping children "safe."
The easy salability of the idea that government will keep the faceless masses "safe" — from milk, meat, a bad haircut, an improper equine massage or a depressing living room — belies our love of and our loud talk of freedom. We buy this line time and time again, even as we are reminded that in big things and small, it is the government from which we ought to be protected, and from which we should be liberated.
Protect me, please, from an federally mandated SEC that can't understand Bernie Madoff's annual reports, an SEC too busy to take calls from shareholders and others who complain about the Ponzi scheme, years before Bernie confesses to his heavily invested children that he was running a Ponzi scheme from the beginning.
Liberate me, please, from the looming social security nightmare, and the appetites of our global military machine.
Congressmen Paul suggests that it is very difficult for government to criticize the big swindlers like Madoff, or the unproductive beggars in the financial and automobile industries, when government itself manages and heavily promotes a far larger Ponzi scheme, a far more vicious and heavy-handed tapping of our present and future productivity, via the social security system!
Again, like eliminating used children's clothing from your local thrift stores, we are told the social security system, as with the warfare state, is for the good of the collective, for the betterment of the masses.
So, tell me why it is that so many Americans seem to be such a freedom-fearing, kulak-hating bunch?
Is it that too many generations of Americans have remained uneducated in basic ethics, philosophy, history and economics? Is simple ignorance the reason for such cognitive dissonance when it comes to freedom in this country? Are we so gullible and uninformed that we can't figure out when government is telling us the same lies, over and over?
Or is it that the model of state socialism is simply irresistible, tailor-made to appeal to greed, gluttony, sloth, and envy among both the populace and the political class, with a structure always ready to stoke nationalist fires of lust, pride and anger when the proles begin to question the model?
Is it apathy? Perhaps three hundred million citizens in a constitutional republic is just a few hundred million too many. Maybe the problem is simply the ease with which the state deceives us on issues such as the value of our money, the significance of our debt, the cost of our wars, and the nature of our national lawlessness. A king in feudal Europe would have long ago lost his crown, and probably his head with it, for a thousandth of the misdeeds of any of the modern American presidents. Even Caesars had to fear the people — our modern American caesars seem to have lost that fear, as they construct large and loyal armies, build ever more prisons, and invest in the technology of monitoring and management of crowds, both real and virtual.
I think it is not that we are poorly educated — but wrong-headed state education has probably achieved a toehold here. Consider our latest Nobel Prize-winning economist — he attended the best universities, and has been exposed to every opportunity, yet he remains amazingly uninformed and illogical in his area of lauded expertise. Happily, most working Americans have a far better understanding of economics than Paul Krugman — and he remains as irrelevant as ever to their actual lives and actions.
I think it is not that we are poorly informed, or illogical. If one eavesdrops on a typical American conversation these days, domestic policy will be discussed, and Americans get it. Average Americans hope to get social security checks, as they have paid into the system, but they generally understand it correctly as an unfunded Ponzi scheme near collapse. On some level, they get that printing fiat money is not good for them when they go grocery shopping, or job hunting. They reject government bailouts, and they want to be able to start businesses and make a living doing what they love, with a minimum of government levies, interference, and restrictions. Most heartily despise the IRS, and hold local, state and federal government officials in high contempt. On foreign policy, average American instincts are solid. Leave other countries alone, do not waste hard-earned money on either friends or lost causes. The few hard cases of intellectual dishonesty who claim to want to "Win the War in Iraq" or "Make Afghanistan a Western Democracy" depend solely on the false prophets of talk radio and Washington politicians for their argument, and tend not to talk too loudly or too long about these topics in their local diner or hardware store.
Is it that state socialism is the cockroach of government species? Certainly state socialism seems able to survive, and even thrive. But state socialism, corporate capitalism, or fascism are not variants of the cockroach, a hardworking creature who adapts readily, and plays fairly, on its own merits. Instead, these are parasitic systems, and as parasites, they are below average, because they too quickly weaken and destroy the viability of the host.
There is apathy — and American political apathy may be a blessing in disguise. We may indeed be socialistically indoctrinated from an early age, but we are not passionate about our federal government, and government in general. We imagine that it leaves us alone (even as it does not!) and so, when we do notice its stupidity and cost we are able to imagine that we are not invested in it. Unlike a divorce, where a onetime co-dependent and widely accepted mutuality is torn apart — our eventual divorce from our overbearing government will be a much happier and more positive event. This divorce will be, like any divorce, pursued by individuals who realize, in their own time, that they can't live like this anymore. It will be initialized in our imagination of freedom, and manifest as we begin to live differently, separately and uniquely from the overbearing and unproductive state.
Contrary to our shared language and mythology, there seems to be a collective American hatred of the kulak, the productive and creative entrepreneur, and strangely, of liberty itself. There seems to be a dissonance between talking about freedom and actually practicing it in our lives, work, and community. However, the promotion of class envy, collectivism, authoritarianism, and centralized control is not something emanating from the people of this country. Instead, this is the theme of the state, the siren song of its deception, a deception that continues even as the state fails before our eyes, emptying our pockets, frightening our children, and shooting the insufficiently submissive in the back.
Incompatible with individual freedom, expression and imagination, we have identified the only true freedom hater in American. It is the state. And while we may be guilty of many shortcomings as a people, a cognitive dissonance over liberty is not one of them.
January 7, 2009
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.
Copyright © 2009 Karen Kwiatkowski