This article was published on libertasutah.org on October 25, 2012, and an audio recording is available here.
Recently, a very accommodating and encouraging Lieutenant from the Provo Police Department showed up at our neighborhood’s first Neighborhood Watch in years. We have recently experienced a small crime wave in our neighborhood, as mostly unlocked cars were robbed and a few neighbors experienced backyard trespassers. Present at the gathering were several of us who wanted to take personal responsibility to patrol our own neighborhood at night. I live in a very good close-knit neighborhood, and my neighbors and I are all both shocked at the recent criminal activity and concerned for our neighbors’ well-being.
There are several concealed-weapon-permit holders in my neighborhood and others who sometimes open carry, all of whom carry on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. I say this to illustrate the fact that my neighborhood is very conscientious in taking personal responsibility for its own problems.
I previously wrote concerning individual accountability and personal responsibility. As I have seen others in my neighborhood dealing with the violation of their individual rights, I have witnessed living examples of their individual accountability and personal responsibility in the manner in which they have stood side by side with their neighbors to act responsibly to repel problems.
While I believe my neighbors have acted boldly and as responsibly as any people can to fix their own neighborhood’s problems, our neighborhood gathering and the Lieutenant’s words have made me wonder about a possible underlying and misplaced reliance on government services to protect us. Now, in saying this, I want to make clear that I believe my neighbors and the good Lieutenant are above reproach. What I want to discuss does not pertain to the forged chains of government dependency but rather to a type of flaxen-cord dependency that can lead to greater and more visible dependency, and therefore a greater lack of accountability and responsibility in the future.
Self-reliance vs. reliance upon government
Do we not pay our government to perform certain services for us? Do we not pay for certain protections and securities? Are we not entitled to ask for and receive help from government institutions when we have invested ourselves physically, financially, and emotionally in our neighborhoods, communities, and cities (not to mention our counties, states, and countries)? Even the great John Locke and many of the Founders argued for the need of “coming out of the state of nature” to better secure for ourselves our rights and freedom, so what could possibly be wrong with relying on government officials to actually do their job in helping to secure for us our rights?
Dependency is not a traditionally political or social ideal of conservative-based individualism. Individualism not only requires, but necessitates radical self-government, individual accountability, and personal responsibility. I wonder, however, whether the mere existence of government necessarily promotes dependency–even if only flaxen-cord dependency.
Seemingly practical responsibility and real practical responsibility
At our neighborhood gathering, I waited to hear what new answers the Lieutenant could offer that had eluded our intelligent neighborhood already. When it came down to it, he had nothing to offer us that we hadn’t already thought of doing for ourselves. In other words, the good Lieutenant was simply an authority figure that confirmed our own intelligence. This was nice, I suppose, but ultimately not necessary.
The seemingly practical and responsible thing to do in a situation like ours is to utilize the resources provided by the police department. After all, what normal and average citizen perceives that they have the time, available resources, or training to deal with the “bad guys” that they perceive their police department has? Additionally, it seems counter-intuitive for people to expend more time, money, and energy on a problematic situation when they are already paying the police department to do so on their behalf.
That said, my experience with my neighborhood gathering demonstrates a subtle distraction that can lead to greater dependency: Looking for authoritative assurance to act in our own capabilities. I more fully realized the façade and illusion of protection and safety that many think they gain not only from law enforcement officials, but government in general.
My neighborhood already was doing exactly what it needed to for its own safety and preservation before there were any police involved. The realpractical, responsible, and accountable thing to do preceded (i.e. was prior to) police involvement. Inseparably connected to radical self-government are assurance, confidence, and power in one’s own capabilities to take care of one’s own needs. Good government–as a proper, moral, and just extension of the individual–enhances self-government and promotes individual liberty and freedom. Conversely, bad government depresses one’s will, makes timid the individual’s resolve, and debases the individual’s inherent power. Bad government inherently leads the individual towards greater dependency on the state.
How do we rid ourselves of bad government?
Speaking of the creeping threads of dependency that grow within the hearts of men under bad government, Dr. Bhikhu Parekh, Professor of Political Theory at the University of Hull in England, once quoted Mahatma Gahndi as asking:
When shall we learn to rebel against ourselves? We have become so dependent that we must learn to rebel against ourselves and get rid of our psychology of dependency… We cannot rebel against the government until we rebel against ourselves.
The act of rejecting bad government requires that we reject the psychology of dependency within ourselves first. Conservative ideology purports to promote small, limited, and specifically defined government, but, regardless of what political ideology one self-identifies with, good government cannot follow unless the individual first learns to reject all forms of dependency within his heart.
Every society that continues to accept dependency as the norm will inevitably rationalize away the need for individual liberty and freedom. It is at the level of the individual that society first accepted its dependency on the state, and it is necessarily at the level of the individual that society must re-learn individual independence and come to realize that with increased dependency on government there is decreased individual liberty and freedom. The first step to ridding ourselves of bad government is to rid our own individual natures of dependency.
Not all forms of dependency are equal. One might argue that even an ardent capitalist depends on his customers to perpetuate his business. The dependency that I am speaking of is the kind of dependency on superficial authority and power. In other words, I am speaking of a kind of unnecessary dependency that we artificially create, justify, and rely upon. There are various reasons why individuals build up unnecessary dependencies in their lives–usually in the name of personal expediency, time, and perceived utility–but, regardless of the possible and varying reasons, it is important to recognize that it is within the heart and nature of the individual that the flaxen cords of dependency first creep in as he becomes more and more dependent on the government and its services.
As a matter of practicality, pragmatism, and realism, no police force or government agency can be everywhere necessary in all instances of crime or perceived threat. While I am not arguing for or against the seeming need for a police force (or any other taxpayer funded government “service”), the simple matter is that no government agent, agency, or program can take care of its people from cradle to grave in every needful thing. No government, regardless of how effectively and efficiently it runs, is capable of filling the void that comes from our dependency on the state.
The individual’s dependency on government, at first, is almost unnoticeable, unless one is very attentive. If left unattended and unchecked, the enumerated delegation of authority to government to act in our stead leads to strong chains of dependencies on the very institution we created.
Government is not the inherent problem, and to seek to fix the symptoms (government problems) without first addressing the disease (individual dependency on government) is a futile and worthless endeavor. The apparent problem with government is really a symptom of the individual’s flaxen-cord dependency on the artificial institution that he has created. The social and political binding, checking, guarding, and rechecking government’s adherence to the enumerated duties listed within the document that formed government in the first place–the Constitution–is equal to the level that the individual rebels against his own psychology of dependency and asserts his own liberty and freedom.
H.L Mencken once observed:
The fact is that the average man’s love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice and truth. He is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely. Liberty is not a thing for the great masses of men. It is the exclusive possession of a small and disreputable minority, like knowledge, courage and honor. It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty… (Baltimore Evening Sun, February 12, 1923; emphasis added)
Dependency is attractive, because it offers the illusion of a certain level of guaranteed safety and protection. The more dependency we place on government the more protection we expect, but, conversely, that illusion brings a very real loss individual freedom and realization of liberty we might otherwise attain and enjoy. When we strive for our own personal independence, we will face an uncomfortable and quite alarming world–as the illusions of dependency fall from our eyes and we learn what it really means to stand tall and unafraid.
Individual liberty and freedom require radical forms of personal responsibility and accountability, and this is what we at Libertas Institute are seeking to re-instill into the social, economic, and political discussions in Utah.
How serious are you about standing tall for your own independence?