Power Corrupts… And Makes You Stupid

December 9, 2008 at 9:29 PM (Uncategorized)

Over the years, I’ve changed my political outlook on the world in many ways and occasionally have gone all the way around again. I was thrilled when Bill Clinton was elected, then disgusted with him by the time he left office. I actually voted for Bush the first time around. By the time he was up for re-election however, I’d changed my tune rather dramatically. I voted for Kerry and I voted for Obama last month.

If Hillary had won the nomination, I’d have just stayed home. I’ve had quite enough of the Bushes and the Clintons.

One opinion that I’ve never changed is that we need to take a lot power and authority away from our government. They say that power corrupts. I say it also makes you stupid. If you need any proof of that, go no further than this article at Cracked.

Things like this is why I can’t stand the size and power of the government. There are the powerful, then there are the petty-powerful. The powerful are people like presidents, prime ministers and kings. They can do things to screw over a vast number of people and there isn’t much those people can do about it.

The petty-powerful are pathetic, small-minded, often ignorant, irrelevant little people who nevertheless end up in some position of temporary authority over their betters. Such as TSA rent-a-cops.

The things described in that Cracked article are not simply the end result of someone faithfully following an idiotic policy to its absurd and inevitable conclusion. You have to put considerable effort into being so stupid as to match an infant’s name to the “no-fly list” and think you have captured an international terrorist. Being stupid on that scale requires talent.

The TSA people stood around laughing at the spectacle of a woman being forced by armed security forces to yank out her nipple rings with a pair of pliars. These are the people who rifle through your underwear in full view of thousands of other people and steal the nice things they might find in your suitcase. They have the power, there’s nothing you can do about it while you are under it and everyone on the scene realizes it.

Give people even the smallest measure of power and this is what happens.

I heard of an experiment someone once did. It sounds like an urban myth really, but I read of it in a couple of unrelated places, so who knows?

One person would be hooked up to electrodes and asked to do something. Answer questions or do some task. I forget the details. Another person would be watching them via camera. If the first person screwed up, the second person pressed a button that would deliver a nasty electric shock.

A third person would encourage the second to keep pressing that button. Things would escalate to the point that the button pusher was slapping the button just for the hell of it. The torture of the helpless person in the other room became amusing.

He didn’t realize it, but his button didn’t work. He, not the person with the wires attached, was the subject of the experiment. The guy with the wires was faking it. They did this experiment on several people and found that, more often than not, the person who thought he had power abused it, regardless of the effect on someone else.

That’s what our gift of sentience has done for us. The king of a pride of lions doesn’t do that sort of thing. Neither does the alpha male of a wolf pack. Humans cannot handle power responsibly if there isn’t someone else keeping them under control.

The people that founded my country realized that a government holding absolute authority over a large subject population will inevitably abuse it. Because people act stupid when they have power.

So they did their best to limit what this government can do. They did a decent job I think. It’s not that they created a flawed constitution. It’s just that nobody is paying any attention to it these days.

If they could see what would become of their creation two centuries later, they probably would have just thrown their hands in the air in disgust and quietly paid the taxes on their tea.

We have this nonsense at the airports. We have the government conspiring with the telecom industry to spy on all US communications, in full violation of the constitution. When caught, the government hands out immunity to those involved and tells everyone else to shut up. The UK has put surveillance cameras on every street corner, wants to record every electronic communication in the country and is even trying to maintain a genetic database of every person there.

There are countless other examples of this sort of thing. But I’m not writing a history of the human race, so I’ll stop here.

The age of freedom for the common person is coming to an end. We don’t have kings and emperors in charge any more (at least not on this side of the pond), but we are very definitely becoming subjects of the ruling class again, not citizens. It was nice while it lasted.


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