About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

The Danger of a Government That “Fears” Its People

 Fear and loathing

One of the primary justifications for a completely unfettered Second Amendment that I see on the Right is some version of the statement “We need to be armed so that we can make the government fear us, rather than us fear the government.” 

This is complete and total idiocy.

For a moment, let’s sidestep the fact that this is an explicit call to revolution in the United States, or at least a constant threat of potential revolution, and let’s examine what happens when a country “fears” its people.  (Spoiler alert: really bad things.)  Countries that fear their people are NOT bastions of democracy, they are lands of oppression, and places where the government’s fear of the people results in a reciprocal imposition of fear and an imperative to make the people fear their government.

Let’s break down why this is. 

First, a government that fears its people has to impose limits on the people so that they are not toppled.  These limits generally include:

  • Strict limitations on what people can say in public, or sometimes even in private, because you might speak against the rulers.
  • Establishment of a state religion (or lack thereof) to ensure that religious fervor is directed exactly where the state wants it to be, because priests and preachers have always been a thorn in the side of power
  • Control of the media to make sure that no opposing views are delivered to the masses, and now, this includes restricting or completely cutting off access to the World Wide Web and social media, so that people have no frame of reference to see what is actually happening.
  •  Bans on assembling in large groups for anything other than a state sponsored event, because lots of people in one place ramps up possibility that those people might try to stage a revolution
  • Prohibitions against the people airing their grievances to the government itself, preventing citizens from contacting them to tell them how much they dislike what they are doing.

In case you haven’t realized it, these things happen to be the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, which illustrates which of the freedoms in the Bill of Rights are actually the most important.

This leads to the second part of the oppression, in order to eliminate the freedoms listed above, you need to have a pretty draconian police state to stamp these out, including:

  • Constant surveillance of the population through the use of informants and secret police, so that they ensure that no one trusts anyone enough to talk freely.
  •  Suppression of all “non-approved” faiths to ensure that no one gets any idea that a Deity might want a system different than what they have imposed.
  • Establishment of a state-run media system that pumps out propaganda constantly telling the people how great they have it compared to everyone else in the world, and then blocking access to any source that might show this to be false
  • Bans on congregating in groups larger than a small handful of people, so that any time people start coming together, the police and the military have latitude to just start arresting, or even massacring them.
  • Blocking all channels of access into the inner workings of the government, which prevents many of the officials from knowing what is actually going on, because the rulers can never be absolutely sure that all of the people who work for them are totally onboard with what the regime is doing.

Now, let’s (briefly) look at a few places in the news where the government is actively afraid of the people.

First, we have Iran, where there has been a slow-moving revolution going on since September.  While the protesters have won a tiny, almost symbolic victory, with the elimination of the morality police, nothing has actually changed, as the laws they enforced are still on the books, and the regular police can still enforce them.  But these protests mostly haven’t frightened the government into reform, they have frightened it into incredible oppression.  The rulers are engaging in mass arrests, televised executions, and in a few cases, large scale massacres to frighten the population into surrender.  However, at this point, many people feel like they have nothing to actually lose, so this makes the government even more afraid, and increases both oppression and the possibility of astounding atrocities to bring the protesters to heel.  The more success they have, the more dangerous the situation becomes.  (It should be noted that I fully support the protesters, and hope they continue, I am just realistic about how far the government will likely go to remain in power.)

The second place to look at is China, where we have seen brutal suppression of the Uighurs, the people of Hong Kong, and even Chinese citizens living outside of the borders of the country. The Uighurs are being thrown into literal concentration camps and forced to renounce their Islamic Faith.  The Tibetans must accept Lamas chosen by the central government, rather than their own tradition, and when the Dalai Lama dies, they have said in no uncertain terms, they will dictate who will become the reincarnation of that leader.  The citizens of Hong Kong have been placed under a security regime that outlaws protests, or even large assemblies.  They have the power and authority to even dictate what Hollywood movies show, to ensure that these films conform to “Chinese Values.”  Worst of all, and beyond what most totalitarian governments impose, they even pursue Chinese Nationals who have left the country, through a system of secret police and police stations that can arrest and charge people in other countries, as seen by the arrest of five Chinese protesters by diplomatic security forces in Manchester.  To a large part, however, China masks its iron fist with a velvet glove, to try to conceal the actual brutality of the regime.

Finally, we will look at a country that fears only a portion of its populace, which is Israel.  Israel doesn’t fear everyone in the country, although they are starting to question the loyalty of the Liberal-minded Jews, they fear the “Palestinians,” a collection of indigenous Christian and Muslim residents of the country.  This example shows how a country that fears part of its citizenry can surgically remove rights from one group, while maintaining a veneer that those rights exist for everyone else.  The Palestinians have absolutely no right to free speech, free press, or free assembly, and their petitions for redress are completely ignored and even ridiculed.  While they ostensibly can practice their religion, their holy places, including the Dome of the Rock, are under constant threat of destruction, and their religious leaders are under constant surveillance.

But foreign countries are not the only places that have feared their people.  The United States at a few points in its history has as well, and these have not been bright points for Liberty.  First, we have the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which were a response to the undeclared war with France at the same time.  At this point in US history, the Constitution was still very new, the government was not particularly stable, and the great powers in Europe were still looking to squash the new nation.  Several prominent politicians and press people were arrested and prosecuted under these acts.

Next, we have the period of the Civil War, when Lincoln was afraid that Rebel sympathizers in the North might work to undermine the Union forces.  To prevent the dissolution of the United States, he unilaterally chose to go to war, to prevent the people from questioning this, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus, detaining thousands for years without trial, to prevent this from gaining widespread knowledge, he shut down newspapers critical of him, and blocked others from being able to be distributed via the Post Office.  While these actions were understandable, and probably even necessary, when examined through the lens of the Civil War, they still were profoundly un-Constitutional, and they were still the acts of a man who was afraid of the general populace of the country.

After this, we have the Espionage and Sedition acts of 1917 and 1918, which were responses to the government’s decision to enter World War 1 on the side of Britain and France.  This decision was not particularly popular in America, which had a very large German population with large swaths of the country where the first language was actually German rather than English.  This suppression of speech and the media was in response to the real danger that civic unrest over the war would undermine the United States participation in it.

Next, we have the utterly abhorrent imprisonment of the Japanese in concentration camps during World War 2, alongside the Alien Registration Act of 1940, which regulated speech of so-called “extremist” organizations.  Again, these acts were in response to fear of the population overthrowing the government on behalf of the Axis, which wasn’t an unreasonable fear, given the Business Plot of 1933, which planned on overthrowing the US government and replacing it with a fascist dictatorship in the mold of Mussolini’s Italy.  It should be noted that the Alien Registration Act was the instrument used by McCarthy at the beginning of the Red Scare and was later enhanced by the MCCarran Internal Security Act of 1950.

To put this all together, through both international in domestic examples, we can see the response that governments have when they “fear” their citizens.  Fear of the populace inevitably leads to authoritarianism, if not outright dictatorship.  And given that a government will always be able to have superior weaponry, this renders the Second Amendment moot, at least for the point the absolutists tend to put forward.  A government that fears people will increase surveillance, limit freedoms, control the populace, and ultimately oppress the masses to remain in power.

So, what should we want, if we don’t want a government that fears, and consequently, oppresses us?

We want a government that respects us.  Respect is not the same as fear, and in fact, is functionally the opposite, as people rarely respect someone they are afraid of.  We should demand that the government treats us like adults: tell us the truth, no matter how unpleasant it is; allow every single citizen to vote in every election, and in fact encourage that, trusting that the people are smart enough to select leaders to guide the country; listen to us when we say that something is not right, rather than come up with insults to belittle us and minimize our ideals; and finally, try, as much as possible, to craft solutions that make everyone a little pleased, rather than perpetuate the concept that a compromise should make everyone a little angry.

And guess what, if we knew we had a government that respected the citizens, all this idiocy about why we need guns would evaporate overnight.