Governments arose to control us, and they center power in the hands of a few. But if government did not control us, who or what would? (More)

Government, Control, and Power

When progressives think of government as control, we tend to think of the good things it does. It defines crimes and punishments. It recognizes and protects certain rights. It establishes social order and what we think of as civilization. Since the first cave dwellers, there has probably been someone who set and enforced rules for the community. Such rules were and are necessary to the functioning of a society.

I will not argue against government’s function to help keep me safe in my home and my person, to protect my property, and to punish those who violate those basic rights. Anarchy is not a state I would ever advocate. But government does other things, too. Some good, some bad. We all know of issues and laws where we think our government is wrong.

At its heart, government is about control. And we need to keep that in mind as we advocate for change. Those who hold the reins of control and power are not about to cede them willingly.

A modern and disturbing messiah.

I got started down this path of thought by a novel I’ve been reading, The Final Testament of the Holy Bible by James Frey. A reviewer described it as a novel about the second coming of Jesus as he was in the original Gospels, without two thousand years of overlaid theology and mythology. The reviewer is mostly right. Frey parallels the Gospels in a harsh, modern setting to portray an updated, modern messiah.

Like most good literature, the novel is disturbing and sometimes upsetting. It kicks me out of my rut and makes me think. I’m engrossed, yet I have to keep putting the book down to think it over. This second messiah, like the first, reaches out to the neglected and despised. The people most of us don’t even see or notice, like the homeless living deep in subway tunnels, and the forgotten who live in The Projects. The book’s messiah warns us that greed, not God, will bring about our end, and our only salvation lies in loving one another.

And he says, repeatedly, that religion and government exist to control us.

I got hung up on the bit about government and religion. Not because I thought it was untrue, but because I hadn’t really pondered religion and government as control and power. Religion controls us through faith and belief in an afterlife. Our governments control us with threats of prison and death. Some are more heavy handed than others, but basically they all have their foundations in the same things: control and power.

The book got me thinking about control and power. At least some of is good, even necessary for a safe and reasonable society. If people always treated each other with love and respect, we would need no rules or leaders. But people don’t always do that. So we have to agree to some rules, and recognize some persons or institutions to make those rules.

A struggle for control and power.

The question, then, is what those people and institutions do with that control and power. And our nation is engaged in a huge debate about control and power. If you look at our two major parties through the lens of control and power, patterns emerge.

The Republican budget isn’t about budget deficits and the debt. It’s about where control and power are placed. The GOP advocate placing the maximum amount of control and power in markets and private contracts. They call that economic freedom. But markets and contracts are ruled by dollar voting, and the more dollars you have the more votes you get. In effect, the Republicans want to concentrate control and power in the hands of the wealthy. That is antithetical to democracy, as it debilitates the majority and gives all control and power to the wealthy and corporations.

The People’s Budget proposed by Democrats is also about control and power, but in a different way. It distributes control and power between the dollar vote of the markets and the popular vote of elected government. Democrats seek to use government to create a more balanced and just society, where even people with few or no dollars still get to vote on the rules. That lets all of We the People try to form A More Perfect Union.

Morality, control, and power.

We progressives talk about morality. And we mean it. We want a society that takes care of “the least of these.” We want a society that expresses our highest ideals of what is good for the most of us, including the “despised and rejected.” Experience has shown that the market will not do those moral things, so we progressives want government to help do them.

But when approaching those who make the laws that control our lives, we must not lose sight of the important factors: gaining control and power. The debates that encircle our lives right now are not solely about “who should bear the burden” of a budget deficit. They are about who will emerge with the most control and power.

If we see this as the power struggle it is, perhaps we can frame our moral arguments in ways that better resonate with those in power and those who want more of it.

Suggestions?