If You Could Be a Dictator, What Would You Do?
Freedom Isn’t Working
Freedom in America isn’t working. There is far too much emphasis on enabling selfish and racist/religious behavior and far too little on social responsibility. In fact the mere mention of social responsibility will clear a room faster than a spewing sewage pipe.
We allow companies to poison us, rob us, render us homeless, enslave us. We have crazy people with massacre weapons intimidating us. We have millions and millions addicted to lethal and legal substances.
Freedom of speech. for example, was originally a conception of license to be critical of authority without fear of legal reprisal; now the exact opposite is being promoted by our president. Our notions of freedom have become exactly as John Kenneth Galbraith wrote:
“The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”
a formulation which reaches its apotheosis in ideologies like libertarianism and Objectivism, various “propertarian” movements in which selfishness is elevated, openly and unapologetically, to the highest of virtues. And in all conservative approaches to freedom, cruelty is never far from the center. Trump’s presidency and the outlook of his followers have cruelty at their very cores. Some people voted for Trump out of what we call “economic anxiety”; most voted for him in hopes that he would hurt people they don’t like.
We need a new approach to the idea, returning to its core principle, now under direct attack, that criticism of government and public officials is not sedition and with a strong emphasis of our responsibilities as citizens.
Because let’s be candid: democracy is inefficient and we have a lot of laws and rights that stand squarely in the way of making some supremely urgent changes. The reason we don’t replace democracy with dictatorship is because there is no remotely safe way to assure that the one with the power wouldn’t use it for horrible ends.
Suppose through some miracle you were granted absolute power, regardless of the Constitution and other precedents; what would you do? Please list in your responses as well, but here is what I would do.
The video here shows temperature deviations from average since 1880. Note what starts happening around 1950. warming trend is already established but in the last 20 years it has accelerated and strengthened. Since 1970 populations of global wildlife have halved and many species are gone. We will join them if we don’t start taking this seriously.
It has long been too late to avoid massive global damage; the real damage was done in the deforestation if the late 19th century. We have climate hell in our future and it is far too late to avert it. Most wildlife species face extinction.
But if we act as if we were in a world war for our survival, because, well, we are, we can mitigate it, reduce the harm.
But we are hampered in our efforts by political considerations, the alleged need to strike a balance between survival and economic interests. and the latter have the power granted in our charter documents to make sure that we do nothing; they will be dead when our lives really fall apart, and they don’t care what kind of world they leave to us.
It is only a matter of time before food productions suffers from the heating and droughts; when food costs more than the rent and later is rationed people are going to demand their government get them food and a few wars of plunder will likely end the time of man, and most life. on Earth.
And while “environment” to most means clean air and water for people, to me it also includes the survival of wildlife. To send species into extinction is a greater obscenity than anything we do to each other.
A dictator would have the ability to set us on a multi-pronged war footing to stop adding greenhouse gases, create programs to sequester such gases both naturally and technologically, build desalinization plants to restore plant growth to pre-Industrial levels. You can read more elsewhere.
We can do none of this now. Because freedom.
This may sound like an odd high priority to many but you first need to know a few things
- Cigarettes are savagely addicting, and addiction comes very quickly; they are harder to quit than almost any other addictive substance and many less addicting (albeit with actual uses) have been withdrawn from the market precisely because of their enslaving dependency. No illegal narcotics are as addictive as cigarettes. Moreover, 90% of people motivated enough to smoke a second cigarette even after the intense respiratory reaction to their first go on to become addicted.
- One out of three smokers dies prematurely from ailments directly resulting from smoking. Smoking is Russian Roulette with two bullets in the gun.
- Smoking costs America hundreds of billions of dollars a year in medical care, and absenteeism, to say nothing of immeasurable grief.
- Every year 480,000 people die from smoking-related causes. COVID comes nowhere near that yet but for some reason we just accept this. Because freedom.
Had I the power I woulds arrange the absolute prohibition of cigarettes with the unannounced and simultaneous confiscation of all those unsold and with the import, distribution, and sale of them as capital offenses, since selling them is tantamount to murder. Assistance in withdrawal would be provided but once private stocks were consumed only by their owners they would be gone.
That a product both savagely addicting and lethal when used as directed is freely sold for profit is an enormous condemnation of our economic system.
The Second Amendment
Full repeal. Absolutely no more right to own firearms of any kind for any reason (and, no, “I enjoy killing animals” is not a legitimate reason). Guns would only be available to people with demonstrate legitimate need, such as running a jewelry store or living in a high crime neighborhood, and demonstration of continued possession would be a regular requirement. Weapons of massacre would be absolutely unavailable to all but certain arms of the military.
Extant firearms would, excepting collectibles rendered incapable of firing, be collected with possible compensation for their cost, but never to be returned, and mostly destroyed. Armed resistance to confiscation would be answered with force as deadly as the owners made necessary.
Guns are responsible for dozens of thousands of American deaths every year, the majority of them suicides; firearm suicide is 90% successful, only 10% without firearms. Guns are a matter such such “passionate intensity” with a cultlike devotion to their possession and collection. There are huge numbers of people who personally own enough firearms to arm an insurrection, and for many that is their hope.
This “right” is unacceptably harmful, so much so that mass shootings scarcely make the news anymore and many of them are at schools, even at kindergartens.
I am not discussing the origins and judicial perversion of the Second Amendment; there is already plenty of that available. I just want to see it ended.
The First Amendment and Falsehood
As mentioned above freedom of speech was originally intended to allow criticism of the government or of government officials without leading to arrest for sedition. It was never intended to enable dishonest commercial or political speech.
Now the original purpose is under direct attack, the president himself believes that people don’t applaud him at his gatherings should be arrested and has called for the execution, judicial or by right wing vigilantism, of reporters who quote his own exact words.
For decades the executives of tobacco companies concealed the truth about the deadliness of their product; millions died while they insisted there was no indication that smoking causes cancer. They were covered by free speech. They should have been executed. They still should be.
I think freedom of speech is a good thing and I take advantage of it every day. I think it should not excuse deliberate falsehood.
I would add too that the irresponsible counseling of destructive behavior should not be protected by freedom of speech. Those advising destructive and irresponsible reactions to the coronavirus should be silenced; anti-vaccination voices spreading illegitimate science and conspiracy paranoia would not be allowed to encourage others to bring back polio,
This one is going to get some reactions.
Bigotry has deeper roots in America than most realize, predating the import of Africans and the antebellum south. The original Pilgrims came to the New World to practice a degree of intolerance they were forbidden in Europe. Recent events have shown so many undisguised murders of black men by police that we are finally seeing a broad public reaction. Why didn’t the murder of Tamir Rice do this? He was twelve years old.
You don’t get rid of bigotry with sensitivity training. Just as we are not going to see wage equality for women without laws, we need aggressive and draconian laws to eliminate bigotry from our culture.
Some people become racists all on their own, a path to vicarious authenticity that they are unable to get from their own lives. But most learn it at home, growing up with racist parents, and this is a cycle we must break.
A child in grade school is overheard talking about black people being dirty or repeating the classic racist slurs. He finds himself in an interview that scares him out of his wits, with police present, and if it is determined that he is learning his bigotry at home then the family gets a visit from CPS and police. There is a fair investigation but children of racist parents are taken away and rehomed and assisted in overcoming what their worthless mom and dad have taught them. If it’s one parent but not both, the racist permanently parent loses access to his own children.
Break the cycle.
The goal of this harsh response is not cruelty. It is that racism takes on such serious consequences that no unmarried person wants to associate with a bigot at all (your writer’s sister divorced her first husband for his bigotry), and the workplace consequences for harassing a minority coworker entail prison, not just termination.
Bigotry is extraordinarily difficult to eliminate and we have never really tried. But it is a very serious social problem and we are long overdue in taking it on. The time for half measures is over. We must treat it with the same severity as rape or homicide, so that anyone who even has a private racist thought has bowels churn with thoughts of prison violence.
Even with measures as harsh as this we will need two generations, maybe even more, to remove this scourge from our culture.
I do not want to live under a dictator. But we face many serious problems that are hampered by altered versions of the freedoms granted in our charter documents. We cannot wait to act on global warming; we literally face our own extinction. And we can’t act when resource extraction profiteers are free to lie to us.
What would you do? Feel free to disagree with my brief list, but I would like to hear from others.