by Michael Maharrey
I was always something of a careless child, and as a result, I struggled with math because of the importance of precision in mathematical problem solving. When I was learning algebra, I remember often experiencing frustration after flawlessly following the correct problem solving steps, only to come up with the wrong answer because I miscopied a number in the original equation. Despite a passionate defense of my proper technique, my teacher always insisted the answer was wrong, because â€“ well â€“ it was wrong.
Many Americans make the same kind of error in their application of logic.
You see, if you start with a flawed premise, you will always come up with the wrong answer.
Interestingly, despite the hue and cry over the last few weeks, and anecdotal evidence to the contrary, most Americans have no problem with full body scans and groping pat-down procedures recently adopted by the Transportation Security Administration. In fact, a recent CBS News poll revealed 4-of-5 Americans actually approve of the TSA security protocol.
Most people insist that the TSA, â€œis just trying to protect us.â€
Others say, â€œIf you have nothing to hide, why should it bother you?â€
I’ve heard similar arguments voiced in defense of overzealous police searches, warrantless wire tapping and random traffic stops.
On the surface, this line of thinking appears reasonable. We all want to live our lives safe and secure. And most of us would be willing to put up with a little inconvenience to stop hardened criminals from preying on innocent victims. So why not allow government to exercise a little more power in order to keep society safe and sound?
But the logic rests on a faulty premise â€“ that those in power will always use it with our best interests at heart.
Americans tend to give others the benefit of the doubt. We assume the best in people. We believe that those who â€œserveâ€ us do so out of a benevolent heart. But history and any objective examination of human nature prove this a dangerous and naive assumption.
Modern psychology and pop culture promote the idea that most people are basically good. This is a relatively new notion in the history of humankind. Our predecessors took a much dimmer view of human nature.
“Man is nothing but a subject so naturally full of error that it can only be eradicated through grace.Â There is nothing to show him the truth, for everything deceives him. The two so-called principles of truth–reason and the senses–are not only not genuine but are engaged in mutual deception. Through false appearances the senses deceive reason.Â And just as they trick the soul, they are in turn tricked by it.Â It takes it revenge. The senses are influenced by the passions which produce false impressions.” Blaise Pascal
History testifies to the truth of Pascal’s observation. Tyranny, oppression and injustice litter its pages.
Part of our problem as Americans in understanding the danger of concentrated power lies in the fact that we have rarely experience the terror of its application. And we assume that will always be the case. But we should know better. Just look at some of the laws on the books during the Jim Crow era and tell me that our government always has all of its citizens’ best interests at heart.
Our founders understood. They understood human nature. They understood the corrupting influence of power â€“ as Lord Acton said, â€œPower tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.â€
The men and women who founded our republic lived under a tyrannical, overreaching government. And they spilled blood to free themselves from its yoke. Then they set about creating a Constitutional government with limited, enumerated powers to protect its citizens from its overzealous reach. George Washington summed up the founders’ view of government.
â€œGovernment is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.â€
Those who would trade their liberty for a sense of security will ultimately end up with neither.
Remember, always check your premise.
Because a wrong answer remains wrong, regardless of the beauty of the process by which you reached it.