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I, Politico

By Daniel M. Ryan
web posted November 27, 2006

I am a buck politico – the ordinary smoother that, I hope, you'll use every day. I am a familiar figure to all citizens who vote and solicit.

Politics is my profession and my specialty; it's all that I do.

You may wonder why I should write an apologia. Well, to begin with, my kind is interesting. And next, I am a mystery – more so than a ballerina or an escape artist or even a chameleon. But, sadly, I am taken for granted by those who use me, as if I was a mere do-nothing and without skills. This supercilious attitude I have long learned to thrive on. This is a species of grievous error in which mankind remains locked in thralldom. For, the wise H.L. Mencken observed, "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard."

I, Politico, doltish though I appear to be, merit your attention and study, a claim that I will rhetorically prove. For if you can pin me down – no, that's too much to ask of anyone – if you can be made aware of the suppleness which I deploy, you can help reverse the loss of self-government people are deploring. And I can teach you the lesson better than can a writer or a professor or a retired statesman because – well, I am seemingly so simple.

Simple? Yet, not a single group on the face of this earth knows how to replace me. This sounds fantastic, doesn't it? Especially when it is realized that I and my kind face a thousand putdowns every day.

Shake my hand and look me over. What do you find? Not much to impress – there's a smile, greeting, a canned platform, some soundbites, factoids, a bit of folksy, and a gleam.

Innumerable Maneuvers

Just as you cannot trace your genealogy very accurately, so it is impossible for me to name and explain all the tricks I've pulled. But I would like to suggest enough of them to impress you with the richness and versatility of my brain.

My ruling ancestors begin with what is called rulership, a class who wound up on top in most every polity. Now contemplate all the laws and edicts and regulations and countless other controls used in rulership all through History. Think of all the persons and the visageless tools that went into their statecraft: the mining of fears, the making of grievances, and their refinement into planks, platforms, mandates; the plumbing of envy and bringing it through all the stages to burly and taut cultures; the secret rooms with their plans and cut deals; the taxery and the claiming of all the wealth. Why, untold thousands of minds had a contribution in every grab the cadres make!

The traditions are distilled to an august building called the Legislature. Can you imagine the individuals who all had interests in roping in their fellowman? These legions are among my antecedents.

Consider a legislature in Ruritania. The ruling threads are cut into long, legalese-laced bills, many more than 10 pages long. These are talked over and euphemized for the same reason men lie about sex. People prefer that I be relevant, not a numbed pedant. The bills are greased and talked over again. How much learning went into the crafting of each speech and the chats, into supplying the lingo, the patinae, the tape, grease, and all the other things a bill requires? Writers in the garrote among my antecedents? Yes, and included are all the philosophers who contributed any of their wisdom to the study of politics.

Don't overlook the cadres past and present who have had a sublime interest in ensuring the enforcement of rules.

Once in the Legislature – the product of untold sacrifices for a monument to our hopes – each bill is given (typically) three readings for diverse eminences, after each are taken votes, and often amendments laced within, for another group now satisfied – a constituents' breakfast, so to speak. Three majorities are typically required to move bills into laws.

The "bill" itself – many of them are the authorization for real billings – is typically complex. The need for them is in our fears. Consider the helpless and those who are or feel helpless at least once in their lives and those who think that politics is the proper place for moral gestures and those who just want their hands washed. Even the toughest thinkers in History assist in my genesis – and the priests.

The passed bill is mixed with assentive customs in which various taboos are invoked to give it regality. Then interpretive agents are added, such as regulations – more tape for a veritable thicket of controls. After passing through numerous interests, the controls finally appear as endless volumes – as from a super-pedant form-fit to times, published, and enforced in a complexly sporadic process. To increase their reach and popularity laws are then treated with a hot mixture which includes expert consultations, published commission reports, professors' researches, and public input.

The edicts are enforced in courts. Do you know what a court really is? Who would think that mere subordinate bureaus, lonely and obscure, are indeed part of the courts system? They are. Why, even such a laughable body as a film-censor board involves the skills of more citizens that we can count!

Observe everyday rambunctiousness. That's a result of applying compromise to greasing, mixed with regency. How do you make compromise and what, pray tell, is greasing?

My root of reason – my foundation – is force. Think of all the persons authorized to use force, and all those others who can use it with my exemptive blessing. Those dark buildings in my foundation are jails. What are jails, and how are they used? The complete story of why my graces need jails to rebunk them would take many sessions to explain.

Then there's my crowning glory, inelegantly referred to in my trade as the "hazing," the part the ordinary man uses to bring fear to me and to occasionally replace me. It is a month-or-so-long meet-and-greet with extraordinary publicity. Elections, contrary to their common definitions, are mere ratifications. Then, too, there are innumerable media plugs and photo ops. The glory in them comes from France, and the sanctity in them has its ultimate source in Rome.

No One Knows What The Controls Are

Does anyone wish to challenge my earlier assertion that no-one knows how to pin me down?

Actually, millions of citizens have had a hand in my creation, and I have listened to them well. Now, you may say I go too far in identifying with kings and Emperors in times long passed and in asserting that no-one knows what the entire totality of laws, regulations and assorted edicts are; that this is an extreme assertion. I shall stand by my claim. There isn't a single person in this, the crown of politicos past and present, the modern polity, who can state with certainty whether or not he or she hasn't broken any laws or regulations. From the stand-point of social control, there is little difference between my assertion that all humans are lawbreakers (to one degree or another) and the Vatican's statement that all human beings are sinners. The voluminous totality of all controls guarantees it.

Here is an astounding fact: Neither the busybody in the church hall or schoolroom nor the capitalist nor the worker in field or office nor any who minds and educates the young nor any professional, whether eminent or humble, has agreed to universal criminality because they wanted it that way. Each wants only what he or she can get out of the political process, some more than me, to be honest. Indeed, there are some who have never read a single law, nor would they know how to obey a single regulation. Their motivation is other than to aid my rise. Perhaps it is something like this: Each of the citizens sees that he can exchange a tiny slice of his liberty for the power and strength that comes with being allied to the State. I may or may not be involved in the decision. 

No Grand Conspiracy

There is a fact more astounding: the absence of a dictator, of any ruling class or organized conspiracy which directs those countless controls which inflate my self-esteem. Instead, we find the Invisible Bugbear at work. This is the Great Mystery to which I will now refer.

It has been said that only God can allay all fears. Why do we agree with this? Isn't it because we realize that there are real things for us to fear? Indeed, can we even enumerate all dangers? We cannot, except for those familiar to us. We can say, for example, that swallowing a large amount of trans-fats manifests itself in shortened life. But what mind is there among men that could record, let alone predict, the precise number of molecules of a certain dubious chemical that would give the death stroke at a certain stage of age? Such a feat is utterly unthinkable!

I, Politico, am a complex combination of smoothie, subtle fearmonger, envious debunker, and sidewalk superintendent. But in those dangers that manifest themselves in Nature an even more extraordinary list of fears has been added: they add up to a fear of remaining alive at times – millions of tiny cautions, configuring naturally in the human brain into a collection of mythical Bugbears which always have elements of truth in their origin. Since only God can allay all fears, I insist that only God can replace me. Man can no more scotch out all the reasons for skepticism in life than he can direct the entire exchanges in a modern economy.

The above is what I meant when writing, "if you can be made aware of the suppleness which I deploy, you can help reverse the loss of self-government people are deploring." For it is evident that life involves physical, social, spiritual, economic, and other risks, and if this truth be accepted by all – that is, in the absence of me, people have the capacity to take care of themselves – then one will possess an absolutely essential ingredient in self-government: losses, pain and disappointments have an irreducible minimum. Self-government is impossible without this realization.

Once government has had the responsibilities traditionally accorded to God, it is not generally evident that new risks, new tragedies, new threats to life, new causes to hate and fear one's fellowman, have not disappeared. And here is the reason: Each one acknowledges that in the face of all of Nature and of entire Society, he is small and powerless. He also recognizes that every other individual is. These assumptions are correct. No individual possesses enough power to enact a fear-free existence for himself, any more than any individual nowadays knows what the entire set of laws, regulations, et. al. are. Now, in the absence of Everyman's fatalism – in the unawareness that some deaths, pain, losses, humiliations, rude awakenings, and plans going aft a'gley are unable to be prevented before they occur – the sensible individual cannot help but reach the erroneous conclusion that only Big Government, with controls for every known contingency, can ensure a human mode of life.

[This spoof is a take-off from Leonard Read's classic essay, "I, Pencil.", with conclusion left for you to draw. It is offered in the spirit indicated by Ayn Rand's words, "When the first creator invented the wheel, the first second-hander responded. He created altruism." (The Fountainhead, hardcover, p. 715.)]  ESR

Daniel M. Ryan is a regular columnist for LewRockwell.com, and has an undamaged mail address here.

Other related essays:

  • I, Pencil by Leonard Read (October 1997)
    The 1958 classic by Leonard Read. The story of the pencil is used to illustrate the beauty of the free market and individuals


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