The Politics of Control

The 20th Century was the bloodiest century in human existence, and for a number of reasons.  One reason was that modern technology allowed people to kill each other on scales never before possible.  Another reason was that modern technology made it possible to exert control over people on scales never before possible.

The famed historian, Will Durant, wrote that killing is the only thing man has always been good at, and there is a lot of truth to that.  We have, since the dawn of time, become better at everything – farming, cooking, producing resources, caring for the poor and infirm, medicine, you name it – but we have also become better at killing, to the point that we now have the capability of ending all life on Earth, other than, perhaps, the carp, and the cock roach.

World Wars One and Two were the most catastrophic wars in history largely because the instruments of war were far more efficient than were those of earlier wars, and if we see a war of similar scope in the future, it will be exponentially more brutal still.

There is not much mankind can do about the ability to kill.  The genie is out of the bottle, and one thing mankind has never learned to do, is to put genies back in bottles after they escape.  We can, however, focus on the desire to kill.

Very few people kill out of a pure enjoyment for killing.  Some people do (hence the show ‘Criminal Minds’), but most people who kill do so out of a conflict for resources, and/or out of a desire to control other people.  These two motivations can largely be rolled together, as control over people also gives control over the resources they produce (and consume).  The desire to control is, then, the primary motivation behind killing.

Another facet of control is that very few of us really want to be controlled, so much as we want everyone else controlled.  Most psychologists will say that most people want someone in charge of their lives, but when you drill down further, most people want their own preferences for how to live to be enforced on other people, as other people might otherwise choose to live differently.  The anti-gun crowd, as an example, doesn’t want a government that forces citizens to own and carry guns; they want government to take guns away from other people.  Some of the anti-gun crowd might own guns, but they are only willing to give them up if government can also take them from other people.  Those who want fossil fuels banned already have the option of getting wind and/or solar power for their own homes; they want government to force other people to get their energy from the wind, solar power, and other forms of so-called ‘green’ energy.  The rich and powerful in Hollywood complain about inequity with regard to CEO pay, but they never complain about their own wealth; they are only concerned with the wealth of other people.

One of the beauties of the free market is that it leaves consumers in charge; under free market dynamics, there is no profit in producing things people do not want.  Another beautiful thing about free markets is that they most reward those who provide things other people demand.  In other words, free markets encourage people to do things for other people.  What free markets do not do is to force people to do things for other people, and those who do not like free markets do not like them because they do not trust other people to do the ‘right thing’ (whatever that phrase might mean) unless forced to do so.  To the degree that socialists practice what they preach, socialists are not trying to control themselves, but to control other people.

Hitler and Tojo not only wanted to control other people, but they wanted to kill innumerable other people to make room for people they considered more like themselves.  Hitler exterminated about ten million people (six million of which were killed for being Jewish), but his post-war plan for Poland was to force the Polish people to work Polish farms, while seizing all of the output from those farms for importation to Germany.  Hitler intended for all non-Germanic Poles to starve to death, with Germans moving into Poland to take the land as the Poles died off.  Tojo killed upwards of 100 million people in China and other Asian nations.  In China, Tojo’s forces would go into cities and kill every man, woman, and child in it, except for the pretty girls (who became concubines for the Japanese Army).  The Japanese Army would then roll into another Chinese city and do the same thing.

Killing people based on their ethnicity, to take their land for use by people of one’s one ethnicity, is a particularly perverted type of control.  Stalin orchestrated two mass-starvation events in the Ukraine (collectively known as ‘the Holodome’), ,killing somewhere between 14 and 40 million people.  Stalin also killed upwards of ten million Russians, and all of these killings were conducted to control the populations of Ukraine, of Russia, and of the other areas under Stalin’s control.  Nobody controlled Stalin, so when Stalin spoke of control it was always in relation to other people.

I feel particularly bad for the Polish people who, after enduring a war fought on their land, with Hitler intending to exterminate them once the war was over, had to then deal with Stalin.  Stalin at one point actually ordered his army to pause its advance toward Warsaw, giving Hitler two weeks to raze Warsaw to the ground.  After the war, rather than helping the Poles rebuild Warsaw (and the rest of their country), Stalin built a giant ‘cultural palace’ in the middle of Warsaw.  This ‘cultural palace’ served two purposes: it served as the center of Soviet control over Poland, and it served as a giant middle finger pointed toward the people of Warsaw, with the message of, ‘I control you.’  The image at the top of this article is actually the ‘cultural palace’ in Warsaw, in 1955.  Note that though this picture was taken ten years after the war, the ‘cultural palace’ was still surrounded by ruins.  Stalin favored showcasing his control, over rebuilding the homes and cities of his conquered peoples.

When people criticize the history of the United States, it is generally either for slavery, or for the near-extermination of the Native American population, both of which were done to control other people.  I often wonder how those who most criticize the United States as a flawed country, cannot see the irony involved in trying to make up for the horrendous attempts to control other people in the past, by trying to control other people today.

The United States is unique in that no other country has ever been founded on the notion that controlling other people is wrong.  The United States was founded on the notion that each person should be free to control themselves, however they see fit, as long as they respect the right of others to do the same.  The great sin of our founding was that the only people our founders really cared about making free were white men, and though many of our founders wanted to extend the promise of liberty to all people (it is a little known fact that in New Jersey, both African Americans and women could vote as early as 1789), the political will to do so just was not there, particularly in the South.  But this is not 1789.  How is it that so many people today think that the way to make up for not extending liberty to everyone, is to take liberty away from everyone?  How is it that so many people, while individually yearning to be free, still want to control other people?  

How is it that we never learn?

Mankind’s greatest enemy, and the greatest threat to our continued survival, is not that of what people might do if left free, but that of what people might do out of their desire to control other people.  If we all worried less about controlling other people, and worried more about controlling ourselves, it would make the world an immeasurably better place.


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