A PARABLE OF LIBERTY LOST AND FOUND — Part 5 of 10: Corruption
More generations pass. Government makes basic choices that people once made for themselves. Government decides when to harvest a field and where to grind the grain. Government decides who can tend the sick and how much it costs to be ill.
Government sets all the rules for commerce and industry as well as personal conduct in the community and home. The habits of mindfulness that once assured joyful harmony are replaced by the habits of dull obedience. Compliance with the government earns social approval and rewards, which satisfy most people’s need for safety and love.
Spiritual consciousness is left to a few mystics and faith healers, both in and out of organized religion. They are respected not revered, or tolerated as quirky amusements, but denied any real social influence.
Religion and science work in harmony, by the grace of God, to give men the holy means to be wealthy. The island is a gift from God for the men to be fruitful and multiply. Only a few witchy old women still cling a long dead goddess they call “Mother Nature.” Nature has no value except to serve man. Natural resources should be private property.
Natural science divides up the world into the smallest classifiable bits. Scientists look at trees and miss the forest. Businessmen fund universities to make discoveries with “commercial applications,” like how a tree can yield patent medicines. No one considers how planting too many of those trees affects the forest watershed or the whole island.
A split in perceptions between faith and reason creates a tension in the minds of islanders. The more people feel doubt, they more they assert their beliefs as facts.
One such ardent true believer is Horace B. Cartman, a descendant of the preacher. Horace Cartman, a district representative in congress. A parson at heart like his ancestor, Cartman keeps preaching about salvation by faith and the dangers of doubt. For him and his fellows, faith matters more than facts.
Horace Cartman sees himself as a great man of destiny. He runs for president. The Cartman name is still tainted. Voters reject him. In retaliation, he urges election reform.
Cartman declares that public funding of campaigns denies “freedom of speech.” Government should cover the cost of elections themselves, of course, but nothing else. Paying taxes to fund every separate campaign, even those in remote districts, is unfair to all those poor suffering taxpayers who care only about their own backyards, the working stiffs, struggling to feed their hungry families, bless them. Stop cheating the people!
Cartman and his backers propose a new constitutional amendment. They say any private person or group may contribute to any campaign — citizens, corporations, small businesses, trade unions, civic clubs, religious groups, even charities — but taxes must never be spent to fund anything beyond administering elections and counting votes.
Foes of the measure manage to win one concession: All donation records become public documents. The provision is meaningless, however, because campaigns already routinely keep two sets of books. It’s a difference that makes no difference.
A campaign of united citizens buys advertising on the newfangled broadcast radio and television networks. Letters to the editor with a plain-folks appeal soon appear in all the newspapers. “All of them darn campaigns should be paid for only by those who care about them, not by everyone,” writes one man. “Paying taxes for all these stupid election campaigns is unfair to all of us just like me who never even vote!”
The campaign to end public funding of elections gains traction among the people. Propaganda plays on taxpayer resentment and persuades islanders to vote against their own interests in the guise of voting to protect themselves. Brazen cynicism.
The amendment passes by a slender margin. Political power shifts from all the taxpayers to the wealthiest donors, whose money drains into the corrupt swamp.
Competition for campaign donations soon spawns rival political parties. Each party adopts a platform of proposed laws, which the party machine sells to voters like a bill of goods. Scoundrels readily sway voters with patriotic appeals, claiming the other party is an evil threat to the nation and must be feared. Bigots use racial slurs to divide and conquer the opposition. Passions get aroused and manipulated in this game of graft.
Meanwhile, each party ensures that all candidates running for office, from local mayors and town councils to the congress and the presidency, have proven their loyalty to the gentry, regardless of their political party. Elections convince commoners that their democracy is real, but the campaigns are merely a pretense, held for sport, actually. The ruling class still rules, men still rule, no matter who wins any election.
The elites are more powerful than ever. Wealthy donors now assume they own the politicians they help to elect. Politicians spend more time raising funds than passing laws.
Still, the legislators’ job islawmaking, so they generate a vibrational energy field attracting more problems to solve with more laws, hoping they look good to donors and voters alike. They never see their trap.
Bubbling up from below, two opposing political ideologies catch fire in the public mind and compete to become the ruling principles in government.
On one end are progressives, who want a government big enough to ensure the social security of all citizens from cradle to grave. They favor tax-funded education and health care for all, which they call a natural human right. They say government must take care of those few who cannot take care of themselves through no fault of their own. Their brand of “liberalism” is rooted in the principle of social responsibility.
On the other end are the libertarians, who want government to be kept small with low taxes. The only proper roles of government are protecting individual liberty and law enforcement. Let “free enterprise” provide services like road construction or trash pickup. Conserve what’s vital in government, but discard the rest. Coddling people makes them weak. Their brand of “conservatism” is rooted in the principle of personal responsibility.
Horace Cartman feels drawn to the conservatives. He hears the rumble in society and sees a career opportunity. Now a media pundit with a substantial following, Cartman confounds voters by declaring, “Government itself is the problem.” He urges cutting the size and reach of government.
At the same time, drawing on a collective memory that the first settlers came here to escape war elsewhere, he calls for the buildup of an army and navy — in case some unknown overseas enemy ever suddenly invades their sacred island paradise.
The congress, elected by private money, passes a government budget that slashes funding for social services, education and the arts. Public ignorance rises.
Meanwhile, funding for state security grows. Military spending outstrips domestic spending. Law enforcement is a popular career, glorified on TV and in movies. Oddly, common people feel less safe than ever.
Cartman plays on their fears to runs for president once again on a “law and order” platform. After a tight race, contested in the nation’s supreme court, loyalist judges give him the presidency. He holds the office for two terms. Every year, government corruption grows more rampant. Public officials demand bribes to get anything done.
Too few people protest civic corruption because too many believe protests are pointless. Voters see how money buys the ballot box. They figure elections are rigged. They think their votes do not count or are not counted. They feel powerless. They lose hope. Apathy spreads. Cynicism spreads. More people stop voting at all. Power shifts further to the leaders, who abuse power with impunity.
In this way, the island’s rulers use misdirection and fraud to control the unwitting masses. In the name of liberty, they deprive people of responsibility for managing their freedom, whether they do so wisely or foolishly. Such a corrupt republic lasts only as long as barely enough people still behave themselves.
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Excerpt from the expanded preamble for
MAKING GLOBAL SENSE
Grounded hope for the 21st century
inspired by Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events or places is entirely coincidental or is intended purely as an allegorical satire, parody or spoof of such person, event or place, and is not intended to communicate any true or factual information about that person, event or place.