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What do they got that we ain't got?
It isn't courage
In the movie The Wizard of Oz The Cowardly Lion, while waiting for an audience with the wizard, gives a soliloquy about courage. He begins by asking: What makes a King out of a Slave? After many examples of courage, he concludes his list by asking: What puts the ape in apricot? He then asks: What do they got that I ain’t got? His companions all answer, courage.
We who live in a world of subtle and overt oppression sometimes wonder how those in authority manage to consistently escape the consequences of their misdeeds, then even retain authority and continue to rule. It surely isn’t by courage. The suffering that they cause while endangering others very seldom causes them much personal loss. What do they got that we ain't got?
One thing that they do have is a consistency of purpose. No matter how badly some episode may go, the deck gets reshuffled and they resume play as if nothing has happened. They continue striving for dominance. We, on the other hand, are constantly driven, to and fro, from one unresolved shocking outrage to the next. For only a sense of security, we cluster in factions, and then maintain our good standing within the group by dutifully shifting our attention toward whatever purpose that those within our own faction are being driven to support. Other people draw the battle lines, then we dutifully join the fight. Their purpose, that of maintaining a controlling interest, stands as a steady guiding ethic. We on the other hand, are non-players, or at best pawns. We spend our time and our energy like soccer hooligans. We are frenzied spectators of our own world, watching, while it is being reshaped.
“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” -Karl Rove
Notice how similar the World Economic Forum’s notion of how history can be guided is to the one that was given by Karl Rove. Something about having a persistent purpose seems effective.
As perverse as having dominance as an ethic may seem, at least they have one. Though it is true that “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken”. If we are driven by fear to join a gang that promises a hope, for some form of victory, we corrupt any standard of virtue that we may ever have hoped to support. Whenever some opposing gang deeply offends us, we are drawn by superficial flatteries to support our own gang. Our individual strengths are given to some, or the other, faction whose ultimate goal is dominance. Instead of lending our strength to smaller groups of known and trustworthy companions, we work, instead, to forge the chains that enslave us.
One other quality that these narrative makers seem to have is a calm and dispassionate view of circumstances and events. There is a reason that the word blind and the word rage go together. Strong emotional responses can be helpful when quick reflexive action is required. If we really cared about nothing, we could easily stay inside of a burning building, just to watch the flames. When fighting an attacker tooth and nail there is little time to plan. When we are kept constantly agitated however, we never properly analyze those goading words and the events that set and reset our course. If we have been paying attention, and if we call upon memory, then by calm reasonable analyses we can perceive the trajectory of our world. We are then no longer driven, like dumb animals, to distraction, or to serve someone else’s purpose. We can begin to consider what types of corrective measures may best serve the long term well-being of all of humanity.
We are not powerless. On December 5th, 2022, the Department of Homeland Security again extended the deadline for full enforcement of the Real ID Act, stating “REAL ID progress over the past two years has been significantly hindered by state driver’s licensing agencies having to work through the backlogs created by the pandemic”. They never mention that REAL ID was never popular among the states, or that as of 2021 , “only 43% of all state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards are considered REAL ID-compliant”. It is as if, without even trying, and only by their disinterest, the public has forestalled the initiation of required internal passports within the United States. Clearly such a system is not a necessary security measure. We have survived without it since 2001. Just imagine what would be possible if we offered deliberate resistance to such presumptions of authority.
The national emergency declared on September 14, 2001 is still in effect. It is renewed annually. It was most recently renewed on September 9th 2022. That means that every American president since G.W. Bush has had a hand in its continuation. This list even includes your own favorite president. This quietly continued emergency is clear evidence of a trajectory that transcends elections. Each of these men should be called upon publicly to justify their decisions to continue these emergency powers, but since that seems unlikely, we should talk among ourselves to evaluate our consequent condition.
I once before wrote about another example of the public’s neglected ability to push back.
“There are reasons to hope that this approach can succeed. Our impotence is self-imposed. This places at least part of the remedy within our reach. Consider this incident from 2013, when soon after The United States had successfully assisted NATOs’ destruction of Libya, Secretary of State John Kerry proposed using U.S. airpower to “liberate” Syria. “Secretary of State John Kerry said during a hearing Wednesday in the House of Representatives that count[r]ies in the Arab world have offered to foot the entire bill for a U.S. military mission that destroys the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.” In a rare outburst of energy and purpose the public frustrated those plans, but failure was built into that victory. John Kerry knew his mark. How many times has the public been assured that they would be compensated or rewarded for military adventures? Even though his assurance of repayment failed to promote the desired airstrikes, Syria continued to be plagued by less direct means. Meanwhile the public went back to sleep. Governing is like feeding a baby. If the public spits something out, they just scrape it off of the chin and put it back in until it goes down. We failed to persist and follow-through. The worst failure though, was that of having no concern for how a military, acting in our name was being used.”
Syria is still suffering, Libya is still in ruins, and the narrative managers never see fit to even bring Yemen to mind. If the public were adequately diligent, we would have realized no later than 2014, how badly our allies in Ukraine had been chosen .
During G.H.W. Bush’s tenure as President, one political faction opposed increasing domestic surveillance while the other justified it as being necessary. During the 2008 Presidential primary election, candidate Barack Obama, opposed unwarranted surveillance.
"I am proud to stand with Senator Dodd, Senator Feingold and a grass-roots movement of Americans who are refusing to let President Bush put protections for special interests ahead of our security and our liberty," declared Obama, who indicated that he would support efforts to filibuster any attack on the ability of citizens to use the courts to defend their privacy rights.
During Obama’s Presidency, the Edward Snowden revelations served as a sort of coming-out party, to secure the public’s acceptance of a growing surveillance state. The protests that followed were not sustained. They were ineffective. The trajectory of increasing domestic surveillance continues to this day.
Did we watch the opposing political factions swap positions just to remain loyal to their standard bearers? If we are this easily led, we should want to know who is pulling our strings. We should ask ourselves: What purposes do we inadvertently serve?
As perverse as having dominance as an ethic may seem, at least they have one. We too, individually, should find some worthy and unwavering purpose. Even when allies in our cause are few, this is better than lending our strength to deceitful leaders who command blind raging mobs. We should persist in our worthy goals no matter how uncertain the outcomes may seem. We are accustomed to seeking emotional comfort from liars, but we never look back to evaluate how we are being led.
Abandoning illusions, then acting, while facing uncertainty during a perilous time, will require us to remain calm and reasonable. This is a form of courage.