Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Debunking: Protections

"I shall say it a hundred times: We really ought to free ourselves from the seductions of words!" -- Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

How many times have we been told that the police department's function is to "protect" us? How many times have we been told that the United States military "protects our freedom?" How many times have we heard, with regard to this or that item, occupation, or practice, that by passing a law Congress has "protected" it?

Those phrasings promulgate some of the worst misconceptions in all of political speech. Yet most Americans let them pass as if there were nothing to be said about them.

To protect a person or thing is to shield him or it from harm. Protection, viewed in this exact sense, is one of the rarest and most difficult of feats. More, it involves practically none of the exercises or accoutrements of the "protections" mentioned in the previous segment.

If Smith, seeing Jones approach Davis with lethal intent, positions himself between the two, such that Jones must first remove Smith before he can strike Davis, Smith has performed a true act of protection, however temporary or effective it might prove to be. But if Smith stands aside, brandishes a pistol and announces to Jones that "if you touch Davis I'll shoot you," Smith isn't protecting anything; he's threatening Jones with vengeance, conditional upon Jones's next actions.

Similarly, when Congress passes a law that criminalizes interference with some tract of land, it isn't "protecting" that land, but rather threatening to visit undesirable consequences upon anyone who dares to use it in a legally disapproved fashion. The land itself might be ravaged to an indefinite extent; what passes for "protection" does nothing to restore it to its former state -- if, indeed, any penalty is thereafter exacted from the violator.

Do you imagine that the residents of high-crime areas feel well "protected" by the local police? How about the residents of Arizonan and Texan border regions where violent Mexican drug cartels range freely, doing what they please? As for lands that have been fully "exploited" by companies or groups granted waivers from "protection" laws, is further comment required?

    "Why, James, I came here to thank you."
    "To thank me?"
    "Of course. You've done me a great favor-you and your boys in Washington and the boys in Santiago. Only I wonder why none of you took the trouble to inform me about it. Those directives that somebody issued here a few months ago are choking off the entire copper industry of this country. And the result is that this country suddenly has to import much larger amounts of copper. And where in the world is there any copper left-unless it's d'Anconia copper? So you see that I have good reason to be grateful."
    "1 assure you I had nothing to do with it," Taggart said hastily, "and besides, the vital economic policies of this country are not determined by any considerations such as you're intimating or--"
    "I know how they're determined, James. I know that the deal started with the boys in Santiago, because they've been on the d'Anconia pay roll for centuries-well, no, 'pay roll' is an honorable word, it would be more exact to say that d'Anconia Copper has been paying them protection money for centuries-isn't that what your gangsters call it? Our boys in Santiago call it taxes."

[From Atlas Shrugged]

"Protection money" is a phrase most often associated with the "protection rackets" of urban organized crime. Yet it has another, quite different application, delineated by Francisco d'Anconia's statement above.

Political "protection" often functions in the exact opposite direction from a gang's "protection." Whereas the gang solicits payment under threat of the destruction of the targeted business, the government offers to impede the targeted business's competitors...for a price. The impediment might be legal, regulatory, or through licensure; the price paid might be directly monetary, indirectly monetary (e.g., campaign contributions), or through the cession of some item the target controls (e.g., land the government covets for its own purposes).

Many a law "protecting" this or that is followed by the issuance of waivers from the terms of the law. Indeed, in quite a number of cases, "protecting" anything is the last concern on the legislators' minds. ObamaCare is merely the latest example.

But how often do Americans reflect on this aspect of aggressive legislation when they learn about the "creation" of a new "national monument," or some regulation supposedly to "protect consumer safety?"

Political language, as George Orwell has told us in his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language, is designed to deflect, distract, and conceal -- to turn the attention and thoughts of the outsider away from the true purpose of whatever is being discussed. This is nowhere more significant than in this business of governmental "protection." Indeed, Americans could hardly gain more from any other debunking than from this: to realize that when politicians speak of the need to "protect" this or that, the time is upon us, in the classic phrase, to "put one hand on your wallet and the other on your gun."


smmtheory said...

one on your wallet and one on your gun... token resistance, and not likely to stop government at all.

glennwampus said...

Two things in this context; "Vengence is the extension of the concept of self defense". Also; lex talionis or 'eye for eye'.

It would be nice to know why these statements are in bad odor these days. Vengence is the equal and opposit reaction to force, which is why people find it so satisfying even when practiced by renegades, scoundrels, and even the state.

Eye for eye is certianly more humane than hanging people for stealing.