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Why People Believe Government Is Here to Help Us

Paul Bonneau.

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The tenacity of the meme, that government is here to help us and protect us, is hard to understand. All evidence throughout history points in the opposite direction--that government is here to prey on us, and that if there is anything we need protection from, it is our own governments. Why do people cling to this harmful meme?


A possible clue was provided last night, when I was watching an old Paul Newman movie, “Hombre.”


In that movie, Richard Boone plays a really tough, nasty bad guy (and does a great job of it). In one scene, Boone walks into the stagecoach station to get a ride, and is told all the seats for the next stage have been sold. He then walks up to Newman and explains to him that Newman is going to give Boone his ticket. Another passenger, a young man in Army uniform, starts objecting to Boone's behavior, whereupon Boone transfers his attention to him. He explains the young man is going to hand over his ticket, and if he doesn't think so, he will have to shoot it out with Boone. Eventually, not wanting to lose his life over a stagecoach ticket, he hands it over to Boone; but the shame is palpable. Everyone else in the station is looking at him as he walks out.


An individual thinks government is here to help us, for a very good reason: to protect his psyche. If he thought the contrary, that government only preys on us, he would be placing himself in the same shameful position as that young man in “Hombre.” He would be saying to himself, "These bastards rob us every day, and there is not a damn thing I can do to stop it!" Or worse, "I don't have the courage to stand up to it."


It is much easier for people to imagine they are simply buying services from the government, and of course the government participates in this self-deception by laying a thick coat of euphemism and outright lies over reality. But it is revealing, the ease with which people swallow these lies. Again, it's protection for the psyche.


Even some “libertarians” will often insist that the only legitimate job of government is protecting our rights. Nothing could be more absurd, than looking to the Richard Boones of this world to help us; but the psyche must be protected.


When will people give up this harmful meme, that allows the ruling class to parasitize them? When will they look reality in the face? And when will they begin to do something about it?


I believe it is starting. The Tea Parties, however clumsy and uncoordinated and internally inconsistent, are good evidence. When the next Great Depression shows up with a vengeance, it will be hard to maintain this meme any longer. It will be interesting to see what happens when the scales fall from their eyes, and when shame is replaced with outrage.


Sept. 27, 2011