Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Power and authority
Martha Bridegam's Demisemiblog is a site I wasn’t familiar with till Atrios linked to it today. She is trying to track down the provenance of a quote credited to Arnold Schwarzenegger by a number of sources, including U S News and World Report.
My relationship to power and authority is that I'm all for it. People need somebody to watch over them and tell them what to do. Ninety-five percent of the people in the world need to be told what to do and how to behave.

It’s a pretty shocking quote—almost too much so, fulfilling so perfectly so many of our worst expectations. The large man with the Austrian accent must be a closet Nazi. All Republicans are secret totalitarianists. If the quote is authentic, it should be plastered across the front page of every newspaper in the big sock-shaped state on the left coast.

I’ve noticed that people who are enthusiastic about authority and order are similar to people who want sacrifices for security. They’re better at volunteering it for other people than for themselves. This is a pet peeve of mine and I’ve mentioned it before. Brendan Steinhauser, the Executive Director of the Young Conservatives of Texas, thinks Muslim-Americans should gladly undertake as their patriotic duty additional scrutiny and harassment by law enforcement. People who believe that “[n]inety-five percent of the people in the world need to be told … how to behave” invariably number themselves in the other five percent.

Of course, not everyone who talks about sacrifice or order is a hypocrite. In times of crisis, people often pull together and volunteer to make truly inspiring sacrifices for the good of others. We call them heroes. In everyday life, family members make tiny daily sacrifices for each other. We call that love.

It is in public discourse, that the word “sacrifice” sets off my bullshit alarms. But those alarms are mere wind-chimes compared to the claxons that sound when I hear someone say, “people need somebody to watch over them and tell them what to do.” This isn’t just self-serving hypocrisy; this is an assault on democracy. It’s dangerous when someone brings this up because they expect to be part of the ruling elite, but it is survivable. Democracy has always had its discontents. It’s healthy for the rest of society to periodically make a show of slapping down our would-be führers and duces. When we are in trouble is when those who know they are in other ninety-five percent start agreeing.

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