Tuesday, January 26, 2021

What is Government, and What Should It Be?

It's no secret here that I am not a fan of the U.S. government as it is now, and probably as it's ever been. Clearly, this is something I share in common with many people around the world and across all political spectrums. Pretty much unless you're a registered Democrat with a blue wave in your Twitter handle and/or bio, or you're currently collecting a sweet government salary, benefits, and power as a lawmaker, you probably kind of hate the government.

But what is government? This question started brewing in my noggin a while ago after talking with someone I know who identifies as libertarian but is not just a Republican who likes weed. We were discussing universal healthcare and they expressed that they didn't trust their healthcare to be in the hands of the government. I inquired whether they would prefer that to be in the hands of big corporations, and they said they trusted corporations a bit more than the alternative.

Like many on the left, I started my political journey as a centrist liberal and have been drifting leftward ever since. 2020 may have pushed me all the way into anarchism, which is an ideology that condemns all power hierarchies. So obviously our system of government is a no-go. But I find it easy to slip back into liberal "big government is good actually" thinking. It becomes hard to reconcile my desire for people all over the U.S. to not die of preventable medical issues because they can't pay with my own disdain for our government.

What I really want is public ownership of the healthcare system. But that becomes different from government ownership when the government doesn't represent the people anymore.

The point is, people are mad at the government to the point that many fairly average U.S. residents' automatic reaction to many issues is "government bad." Big government controlling every aspect of our lives is a weird boogeyman that U.S. Republicans love to whip out any time someone proposes helping the poor even though Republicans make up half of that big government. But they're also not wrong - the government does control much of our lives, and the people running it are largely completely out of touch with the average U.S. resident.

So what is government supposed to be? In basic terms, it's supposed to be a group of people coming together to pool their resources to make things better for everybody. It's pooling money to build roads we can all drive on and schools we can send all our kids to and, if we felt like it, pay doctors to treat everybody. That way, people who fall on hard times don't just get fucked or have to rely on charity that may or may not exist when and where they need it.

In those terms, government-run healthcare sounds far preferable to me than private health insurance companies. The reason I would still prefer even the U.S. government running our healthcare over our current system is that a corporation's natural and inevitable highest goal is profit, which means they are always, always motivated to screw you out of care. If they can get away with it, they will. Governments are at least supposed to exist not for profit or some asshole's power but for the people.

Anarchist theory generally says that hierarchies will always lead to abuse. This means that the U.S. system of representative democracy, in which we elect people to give power to in order to make our laws and shit for us, assuming that they follow the will of the people, does not work for anarchists. We see power corrupting people every time and we go "let's stop giving people power over others."

Anarchists instead desire direct democracy. That means everybody votes on every issue and proposal that comes forward. Instead of electing people with enough money to successfully campaign only to have them break all their campaign promises and point fingers, we'd just all cast individual votes on proposals like COVID stimulus payments and Medicare for All. 

What does that look like in a practical sense? There is no simple answer to that. The problem is that with such a huge nation, understanding the issues well enough to vote on them is a full time job. Not everyone wants to be so engaged even if we didn't have to have other jobs. Many anarchists believe such a thing would only be possible in rather small communities and I tend to agree. Will we have to break down human civilization into a series of thousands or millions of small independent towns not governed by one big government entity? Maybe? I still have a lot of anarchist theory to read before I can even begin to tell you what an ideal human society would look like.

But something is clearly very wrong with our current system, and just about everybody seems to sense that. I can't tell you how to fix it, but we can start with some simple questions. What is government, and what do we want it to be? Some slave owners hundreds of years ago said something about "by the people, for the people," but obviously they were full of shit. Still, that is what most of us want out of our democracy. Pooling our resources and working together to make life better for everybody is something that few would say no to. Yet here we have a whole nation full of people who react to the very word "government" like you just said "moist" or "Nickelback."

Anarchists themselves often disagree over whether government is inherently bad. You were probably told at some point in your life that anarchy means no government and therefore total chaos, but that's not correct. It really depends on how you define government. If government requires authority and hierarchy, then anarchism is anti-government. If government can just be people coming together and trying to make sure everybody is taken care of and is as happy and fulfilled as possible, then it's definitely not anti-government.

It's annoying how often things come down to semantics, but this is how we humans are. We can, however, stop to consider that how we think of government might be considerably different than how another person thinks of it. We toss around words like "government" without really thinking of it, but now's as good a time as any. Stop and ask yourself, sincerely, what is government to you? Can government exist in a form that works for you? Would we be better off without it, and how might that look?

To me, the most important question is how can we all best take care of each other so we can all be safe and happy? How can we make a world that uplifts everyone? Okay that's two questions, but you get what I mean. These are the questions that could unite the common people, if anything can.

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