Re-thinking our relationship with the government

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A lady I met on the street told me of someone who was promising to “get rid of Trudeau,” ushering in a government that would provide for more happiness and prosperity. Realistically, that’s not going to happen. Among the disadvantages of democracy, is that very few people get a government that does just what they want. Everyone else has to accept a compromise. There are channels to address grievances, but you don’t get to demand that the government lets you do whatever you want, but then stops anyone from doing unto you, what you don’t want done.

You, individually, are simply not that important. As Bob Dylan sang, “To live outside the law, you must be honest.”

The state, in the general sense, has a monopoly on violence. The police have the power and hardware to stop you, arrest you, put you in jail, and then you can plead your case of innocence, and regain your freedom. Our tax money pays for those mechanisms. For anybody else to kidnap you would be criminal, and they would be subject to arrest and trial. Try shooting it out with the police (in nearly any country in the world) and you will lose, and innocent bystanders will likely be harmed. If you “win” such a fight, you’re now the de facto government, until someone with more firepower comes along.

One problem with that system is that law enforcement comes into play after the fact, so harm to innocent people has already been done. In a well-governed nation-state, the police won’t stop you unless you’re apparently breaking the law. The laws are not necessarily right, because they are made and enforced by imperfect humans. It’s up to the higher courts to make rulings that limit the power of police to apply overwhelming force, or the legislature to enact laws that are unfair.

It’s a complicated system of checks and balances. In Canada, we often take for granted the safety in which we live our daily lives, not overtly threatened by state or criminals.

Ultimately, the peace and freedom that we enjoy come not from the government nor the police, nor the courts. It comes from mutual trust in our neighbours. If you don’t have that feeling of trust in your neighbours, life can surely be a nightmare. Some people seem to expect a higher degree of personal sovereignty than can be afforded within our system of governance. If you have to “fight for your rights,” they are not actually rights, but privileges that can be taken away by someone with more might than you have. You can never gain freedom by taking it away from someone else, especially when that person is in a position of less power than you. Would-be dictators often try to convince us that someone other is taking away our freedoms. That’s called divide and conquer, inflaming our fear of differences, and then offering to “take care of that for you.” If you fall for that, congratulations, you’ve just chosen your new dictator!

Robert Wills,
Shawville and Thorne