Sic Semper Tyrannis, or My Kingdom for a Corvette 9/15/04
You may have read recently that a certain Major League Football Coach, well known as a martinet, has fined some of his players for arriving late to required meetings although they were in fact early. They were just not early enough. Just how early would be early enough to avoid incurring the coach's wrath? No one can be sure. This zone of uncertainty has been brilliantly created by the coach in order to reconfigure the mental space of his players; it reduces their strength as independent agents, and keeps them anxiously focused on trying to read the coach's mind. The Uncertainty Mind-ray has been used to good effect for thousands of years by parents, and by your higher grade of dictator; a virtuoso on this instrument can ensure a solid reign of terror for three or four decades, whereas if the instrument is used weakly or clumsily, the unfortunate player will be quickly replaced by another more ruthless or deft. Immediately after killing your predecessor and assuming the purple, you will of course distribute huge largesse, cancel all the oppressive edicts in effect and try to create the impression of the start of a new Golden Age of tolerance and freedom. Then when the huge bills for all this come due, you tighten the screws by killing a few friends, relatives, possible rivals, and a number of completely random victims just to ensure that no one thinks they might be immune to your capricious wrath. Finally when everyone is good and scared and pretty much all pulling your way, you give them a fake democracy to play with, and lots of public works and minor wars to keep the people distracted and the economy humming. Be sure to quietly skim off virtually all the cream for yourself - not because you are insanely greedy, but because if others have access to the cream they will certainly use it to undermine you. This is how an empire is run; easier said than done, I admit.
The trouble with all this is that people always break out and make a mess somehow. They aren't scared by the coach and his fines; they know that their work has an irreducible value, and that living in fear is not worth the price. So whenever Americans even suspect that someone is trying to mess with their democracy (and they are really paranoid about this) there is a nasty brou-ha-ha, and the opposition does its best to tar the administration with aspirations to tyranny.
Nowadays the huge scale and immense complexity of our civilization make it quite difficult if not impossible to check the truth of any political assertion, and therefore the Zone of Uncertainty expands over the whole country. The President claims that making large 'permanent' tax cuts in the higher brackets, and spending plenty of money on security, the military and whatever makes people vote for him, will not in fact bankrupt our children; his opponents claim the opposite. I might consult the OMB, the CBO, the IRS and a hundred other agencies and think tanks around town, (hoping, but not knowing, that they are free of ideological taint) but will I really get a useful answer? Do any of them really know, any more than the weatherman knows what the weather will be the Saturday after next? When the weatherman tells me it will be a good deal colder in winter than in summer, or that it will rain tomorrow, I believe him, but anything in between those two that I generally ignore. So if I try to decide whether the President and his team are in fact sincerely trying to run the country on democratic principles, according to our ancient virtues and values, or, on the other hand, are systematically subverting all of it for the benefit of the ruling class, I have to rely on nothing more than intuition. I watch the President's face for clues; but this is useless if in fact he is merely the figurehead for a cabal headed by Karl Rove. I consider many reports of autocratic misdeeds in various governmental activities; but this may just be the natural outgrowth of the kudzu of bureaucracy, whose tendrils always reach out for more control, not more democracy, and therefore these unfortunate incidents, or if you prefer, Hitlerian schweinerei, don't qualify as a deliberate attempt at tyranny.
Before this year's Republican convention was over I heard one semi-famous partisan express the wish that the Constitution be amended to make Arnold Schwartzenegger eligible to be President. No, not the Newt - more minor than that - no, not Pat Buchanan, who has broken with the Republican mainstream over what looks very much like his personal intellectual integrity, in that he's honestly come to the conclusion that the administration is going the wrong way down a one-way war. This would position him in the long term as the Conservative Savior if the cycle of historical context swings that far around in his lifetime; and who are we to say that it will not, in these exciting days when every morning brings another full dumpster of recent cultural artifacts to be tossed on the ash heap of history? However, the man of the moment is Arnold the Great, a man of such Herculean thews, of such Aristotelian intellect, and of such Daedalean cleverness (not to mention Caesarian charisma) that the magnificent new adjective Schwartzeneggerian must now be minted in a handsome brushed pewter and added to the lexicon. But I don't care how supermaniacal the guy is, I don't want him grinning his Hollywood grin down at me from the White House. I admit that he represents the archetypal American: the immigrant of superior ability who works harder than anyone else, with an appetite and an ego to match, but he's got to be stopped! Who shall stand up to Arnold the Great and oppose his march to tyranny? Will it be Harrison Ford? Will it be Tim Robbins? (just a joke!) No! I choose as my champion... Kevin Costner!
Taking as our template for heroism the overlooked, much-scorned masterpiece, Waterworld, we see a very quiet and self-effacing Aquadude, a regular Gary Cooper with gills, opposing the last True American and Mad King, Dennis Hopper, as he drives the Last Gas-guzzler here and there on his rustbucket oil tanker and swears insanely that the buffalo will come back, and so forth. Unfortunately the removal of this retro tyrant is accomplished in the usual way, by blowing him up, rather than by a reasoned exchange of views leading to a peaceful resolution and a long-term stable management plan for the soggy planet. And if Arnold the Great is impervious to reasoned argument, he's also proven many times over that he can handle anyone who tries to blow him up. So I guess we're all doomed! Again!!
Copyright 2006 David Warren Rockwell