No Worse Enemy - Afterword
When I was a child, my mother would tell me to be sure and brush my teeth. Being as sensible as most boys that age, I didn't really listen to her. The net result, I have to confess, is that I spent too much time sitting on the dentist’s chair as he worked on my teeth, inserting more fillings than I care to talk about. Suffice it to say that I learned a lesson about taking care of myself – and if I had learned it sooner, I might have had fewer problems in later life.
As my wife will happily tell anyone who asks, taking care of your health is important. Eating properly, drinking properly, getting a reasonable amount of exercise and seeking medical attention when necessary is all a requirement for keeping your body as healthy as possible. Of course, barring the development of some form of rejuvenation treatment, you will grow old and die, along with everyone else on the planet. But you can put that day off as long as possible.
You might be wondering, at this point, what keeping yourself healthy has to do with The Empire’s Corps series. Read on.
I cannot claim to be a formally-trained historian (neither were Pliny or Thucydides) or a sociologist (I have my doubts about many people who publish extensive texts on the subject). What I do have is a great deal of knowledge about history, human affairs and a rather cynical view of human nature. I rather doubt that any of my conclusions are unique to me; I certainly do not claim any breakthroughs. All I can really do is present them for your consideration and invite your comments, particularly if you disagree with me. I welcome open discussion.
From my studies, I have drawn a simple conclusion; governments decay. The process is often invisible at the start, but tends to gain speed over the following years. It also tends to accelerate as government responsibilities grow and governments become less accountable to the population. Put bluntly, the more the government attempts to do, the less able it is to do anything.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics claimed to rule in the name of the People. In reality, the elite held all of the power, which it used to impose a communist state on Russia. I’m sure that some of the Bolsheviks genuinely believed that they were doing the right thing for the People they ruled, just as I am sure that others (Stalin, in particular) were in it for their own personal power. They still created a police state to seek out enemies, imposed a command economy on Russia and smashed any hope of independence in Eastern Europe. It is one of the many signs of communist failure that the Russians, who could have fed themselves if they were willing to relax communist control, were forced to buy grain from their arch-enemy, the United States of America.
It is no exaggeration to say that communist control strangled the life out of Russia and Eastern Europe. How could a planner in Moscow hope to account for all the variables involved in running a modern (insofar as the USSR could be called modern) economy? Where the West rewarded ‘searchers,’ people who sought out solutions to problems, the USSR relied on ‘planners’ – and the ‘planners’ were simply not up to the task. The system relied upon the people at the top to be able to command the others, rather than attempting to make use of the talents of the entire population. Maybe they did mean well, but it didn't matter. The USSR was doomed right from the start.
The lack of proper feedback only made it worse. People tend to respond to incentives and pressures and the USRR – perversely – rewarded lying, rather than honest reporting and debate. Each of the Five Year Plans was hailed as a success, either by moving the goalposts or – more commonly – lying about the results. The USSR needed to draw accurate feedback from its workers. Instead, those who pointed out that the system was failing were branded ‘class enemies’ and dispatched to Siberia.
It is common to regard ‘fascism’ and ‘communism’ as polar opposites. This is simply inaccurate. Fascism can be summed up as gathering all the power in the government’s hands for the government’s benefit. As such, it is the logical end result for ‘communism,’ which can be defined as gathering up all the power in the government’s hands for the People’s benefit. But tell me – who defines benefit? Does it really surprise anyone to know that it’s the people at the top?
Unsurprisingly, fascist states also decay. Hitler’s Germany shared many of the same flaws as the USSR, including a simple inability to grasp facts on the ground, a refusal to tolerate dissent and a dependence on ‘planners’ rather than ‘searchers.’ And, for that matter, attempting to exterminate a very productive part of the German population. Fascist Italy did little better before being overwhelmed by its former ally. Spain avoided involvement in World War Two, but decayed from within, with effects that are still haunting the country today. Saddam’s Iraq also decayed, to the point where Saddam was as deluded about the outside world as Hitler.
There are people who preach the virtues of surrendering power to the government, either so that the government can take a hard line or impose socialism. History tells us – every time – that the results are disastrous.
It is tempting to claim that the West – by which I mean Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand – has avoided these problems. Unfortunately, that claim doesn't bear scrutiny either.
I’m going to be blunt about this, because there are things that need to be said and said clearly. The West is decaying too. In the long term, the results threaten to be disastrous.
The basic problem – maybe the core problem, although I suspect that many will disagree – is the rise of what we might as well call the Political Class. It consists of a relatively small number of people who provide a disproportionate percentage of politicians and senior ministers. Those who are tempted to mock this theory might want to consider that the United States had two Presidents drawn from the Bush family (father and son), a former First Lady – Hilary Clinton - who attempted to run for President and a handful of political families that have considerable influence, such as the Kennedy family. Aristocracies from all over the world were often utterly unaware of the problems facing the common folk; it should surprise no one that the Political Class is also growing disconnected from the population.
This doesn't merge well with a second growing trend; the increasing willingness of people to place their trust in the government. Government cannot solve your problems for you – and to try will prove disastrous (as it did for the USSR). People want more benefits and hang the financial costs, perhaps assuming that the ‘rich’ will pay. If something doesn't seem fair, then change the rules – but really, why trust the government to do it? The governments we have in the West really don’t know what life is like for ordinary people, or how to run a business, or just how disastrous some laws can be for people without deep pockets to hire lawyers.
An incident from the UK illustrates this nicely. Gordon Brown, then Prime Minister, was stopped and questioned by a member of the public about matters of great importance to her and the rest of the population. Afterwards, he referred to her as a ‘bigot,’ unaware that his microphone was still on. Brown, a man who had been a politician for much of his life, had lost touch with ordinary people. He is hardly the only politician to forget where he’d come from.
Added to this problem is the rise of bureaucracy and unelected officials making laws for the general population. It will not surprise anyone who has worked in a large organisation to know that, as new layers of management are grafted on, general efficiency, common sense and competence falls sharply. The European Union attempts to standardise all kinds of items across the European continent. Unsurprisingly, the results have been disastrous. It is perhaps telling that the EU’s finances are in such a mess that auditors have refused to certify them.
Setting targets – Five Year Plans, in effect – was a common trait of the Labour Government under Tony Blair. There is something wonderful about being able to say that – for example – twenty-five percent more patients were handled by the NHS this year than the previous year. However, as the USSR showed, the temptation to cook the books became overwhelming. As the government expanded, so did the paper-pushers, while those who actually did the work were pushed aside. One of the reasons Britain has so many immigrant doctors and nurses is because home-grown medical staff, sick of dealing with the NHS, preferred to emigrate.
(An alternate example of this are the disasters inflicted upon the Third World by Western ‘aid’ agencies, few of which actually work with the people they are supposed to help, let alone be accountable to the locals. Instead, ‘solutions’ are often imposed on the locals from the outside, with predicable results.)
Media manipulation is also a hallmark of the Political Class, forming yet another nail in the West’s coffin. One fairly simple example was the attempt by the Blair Government to ‘spin’ what could only be described as a disaster in Iraq. A more dangerous example was how much of the American Mainstream Media lined up behind President Obama in his recent campaign for re-election. The media is not ‘neutral’ in any real sense; it quite often spins facts to support one political agenda or another.
This has effects both obvious and dangerously subtle. One is the introduction of a dangerous level of ‘political correctness’ as an attempt, deliberate or otherwise, to muffle free speech. Those who question Islam have often been branded as racists or bigots, as have those who oppose immigration or (in the US) President Obama. For that matter, when Shahid Malik, a Muslim MP, was caught fiddling his expenses, he promptly accused his critics of racism.
I’m not saying that the members of the Political Class are evil. I just think that history suggests that allowing them unrestricted control is asking for disaster.
If this goes on, as Heinlein was fond of asking, what might happen? I don’t think I want to find out.
There are plenty of people who don’t give a damn. Life is pretty good in the West for the vast majority of people. Even our poor enjoy a lifestyle that is beyond the dreams of the noblemen in the Roman Empire. (My dental problems would be incurable even 100 years ago, as Queen Elizabeth I could testify.) There is a considerable temptation not to get politically active. Why not leave it to the politicians?
The thing is, just like my teeth, government and the country requires constant maintenance to keep it functioning. This could be as simple as voting in every election, or as complex as actually running for election yourself. If you allow the government to drift, it will decay. And you happen to live in the country the decaying government is trying to rule. If you accept, however tacitly, that the government and politicians exist on a different plane to yourself, you are abdicating both the birthright and responsibility of a citizen born to a democratic society. Why should you be politically active? Heinlein put it very well:
“Because you are needed. Because the task is not hopeless. Democracy is normally in perpetual crisis. It requires the same constant, alert attention to keep it from going to pot that an automobile does when driven through downtown traffic. If you do not yourself pay attention to the driving, year in and year out, the crooks, or scoundrels, or nincompoops will take over the wheel and drive it in a direction you don't fancy, or wreck it completely.
When you pick yourself up out of the wreckage, you and your wife and your kids, don't talk about what "They" did to you. You did it, compatriot, because you preferred to sit in the back seat and snooze. Because you thought your taxes bought you a bus ticket and a guaranteed safe arrival, when all your taxes bought you was a part ownership in a joint enterprise, on a share-the-cost and share-the-driving plan.”
Study politics, study history, learn the limits of the possible – and don’t let the bastards get away with it. It’s not too late to save the West, but it needs YOU. Do you really trust the politicians to put your country’s interests first?
And consider this – just because you take no interest in politics, as a very ancient statesman observed, doesn't mean that politics will take no interest in you.
Kota Kinabalu, 2012