Michelle Teheux: Explaining the point of government
We need less government!
Why are all these worthless bureaucrats sucking on the public teat?
Back in the day, we didn’t need all these danged departments of this and departments of that. We oughta just close ’em all down.
That’s the sort of thing you’re apt to hear from people who just don’t like the current state of government.
You do sort of wonder if these folks might have a point. Would we be better off with less government?
Go back in time, and indeed we got along without any government. Perhaps you’d like to return to those days of a few thousand years ago.
Our distant ancestors were pretty egalitarian. You didn’t have layers of society. One hunter-gatherer’s lifestyle and status was much like another’s. You might have been the leader of your little group, but you still had to spend most of your time hunting. You didn’t just sit back and let others bring you your share of food. Everybody spent a good deal of their time hunting and/or gathering.
Everybody also spent a good deal of their time trying not to get killed by rival bands, constantly keeping a lookout for any intruders who might possibly be coming to plan a raid.
You had to be ready to defend yourself and your relatives at any time, because your rivals were always ready to kill your people in revenge for a killing your group made a few years ago, which was in revenge for a killing they made of your relative a few years before that, which was in turn revenge for yet another killing your people made before that.
That’s how life goes in non-state societies. Once a strong central government of some sort exists, the rate of violence drops dramatically. When the government is in charge of punishing murders and other crimes, the revenge cycle stops.
No longer does every able-bodied male have to divide his time between hunting and defense. They can devote more time to other pursuits. It’s how we got art, written language, technology and all other aspects of culture. It’s how we got trade.
If not every member of the tribe has to spend all of his or her waking hours trying to get enough to eat while not getting shot by an arrow or spear, there’s more free time to develop a more advanced society. People can spend their free time inventing the wheel, or perhaps iPhone apps instead.
And that, you see, is why we need government.
The more complex society grows, the more complex the government will need to be. So frankly, I don’t see the government getting smaller anytime soon. I see it getting bigger.
That’s not a terrible thing, frankly, if we do it right.
But at the moment we aren’t doing it right.
We’re too content to let “the government” function on its own as a separate entity, when we should all remember that “the government” is us.
We are the ones who can vote them in — and vote them out. We can contact our local leaders and tell them what we do and do not want them to do. Since they need votes to maintain their power, they have to listen if a large number of their constituents have something to say.
We need to pay attention to them. We need to watch what they do. Maybe you have a pet cause — pro-life, pro-choice, pro-gun, pro-gun control, pro-this or pro-that. Fine. But you need to also be familiar with other issues, and to hold elected officials to account.
Pay no attention to those wild-eyed crazy people who think they want to go back to a day when every man wielded a gun 24/7 to protect his own family, because we didn’t have a criminal justice system to fall back on. Pay no attention to those other wild-eyed crazy people (very often they’re the same ones) who think no government is good government.
Frankly, we’re all a lot better off than we were thousands of years ago, and the invention of government is a big part of it.
Perhaps we can drop all the anti-government crazies off on a little island somewhere and let them live their fantasies of life without government always telling them what to do.
They’ll be ready to return to civilization soon enough. When the last few uncontacted tribes in Papua, New Guinea, were suddenly introduced to Western ways, most of them were thrilled to immediately modernize.
Yes, it’s easier to simply write off all of government as “a bunch of crooks” than to actually be an involved citizen. But if you want to reap the benefits of civilization, you need to do your part.
Or just head to that little island and learn to make your own spears.
Michelle Teheux can be reached at email@example.com.