The game of power has been played throughout history. Kings and Prime Ministers. Queens and Viziers

The Game of Freedom

By —— Bio and Archives--June 8, 2010

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Two teams face off on both sides of the field. The signal is given. The ball is in play. But in this game what’s the ball? The ball is your freedom. It’s your freedom that’s in play here.


This same game is played in various forms throughout the world. It isn’t limited to a stadium or a particular season. The game is about power. Different factions contend for it. Eventually one faction gets it and then the game is over for a while, until there’s a revolution or a coup. The difference in our version of the game is that none of the teams is actually supposed to win the game. That’s why we have the rules that we do.

The game of power has been played throughout history. Kings and Prime Ministers. Queens and Viziers. It’s an old timeless game that goes back into the darkest past. But our version of the game is different for two reasons. First, the spectators get to help decide who plays and who wins. And Second, we make sure the game is replayed over and over again, so no team ever wins in a final way. Our system of representative government, the Bill of Rights and checks and balances, are not there to help the players for power, but to handicap them. Where many systems of government and their games of power were built on faith in governments—ours was built on a great deal of suspicion about government power.

And the ball tossed between the teams. That’s our freedom. Our freedom exists only so long as the ball is in play. When the ball stops being contested, then our freedom is in danger. Because a victory by one side means that power is being concentrated. And when power is concentrated, freedom is diminished.

But our unique game depends on one fundamental thing. It depends on both sides agreeing that playing the game by the rules is more important than the outcome. It requires that players on both sides believe that losing by the rules, is better than winning against the rules. And the moment one side stops believing that, the nature of the game changes fundamentally. Because a game is defined by its rules. The games we play are based on the rules that we make for them. If one team in a game no longer abides by those rules, then it’s no longer a game. It’s a war.

The rules of a game define civilization

The rules of a game define civilization. By playing civilized games, we agree that following the rules is more important than getting our way. That is what separates us from societies where a resort to violence is a solution to not getting your way. In politics, the rules of the game require that everyone believe that they matter more than winning. And the underlying moral logic for a politician to believe that is fallibility. A politician must believe that he is capable of being wrong, and his opponent right, in order for following the rules to be more moral, than winning by any means necessary. Without a sense of individual and ideological fallibility, the only moral logic that remains to a politician is victory at any cost.

This of course is the problem with our not-so-nice or neat little game. Our rules are a process. By trusting the rules, we keep the process going. And the process is what protects our freedoms, because no individual team gets to keep the ball, centralize its power and gain absolute control over all our lives. But what happens when one side believes that their goal is worth more than the process? War happens. And then tyranny.

Ideology and unlimited ambition form the toxic stew in the mix here. Because both immunize one against a sense of fallibility. The more a political movement becomes submersed in an ideology, the less its followers believe in any kind of objective reality or independent process of transferring power. Because ideology propounds a polar reality, in which there is a clear and absolute truth. And the natural corollary of this is that only those who know and believe in that absolute truth may be permitted to hold power.

Last week, Keith Olbermann delivered one of his patented rants against Campbell Brown on CNN, for giving some amount of equal time to views that he doesn’t agree with. Airtime of course is one counter of power. And ideologues do not believe that anyone who isn’t them, has any right to hold or have access to any power whatsoever. The idea of equal time or fair play makes no sense to them. They already know who’s right and who’s wrong. Why even bother giving the other side a chance to talk when it can only mislead the public?

The same thing of course holds true for elections. Many countries have elections, and they tend to have a standard for public office which requires participants to agree with their dominant ideology. You cannot be opposed to Communist rule in China or opposed to Islamic rule in Iran or opposed to national hegemony in Turkey. One of the reasons the left was so outraged and infuriated by Sarah Palin, is that with her, unlike McCain, they had no points of agreement at all. And so they predictably reacted as the Mullahs would if some infidel woman were to walk in and propose to turn Iran into a free country. They went howling mad. And they still haven’t recovered from it yet.

Ideologies do not play by the rules or trust objective processes. They control them instead. So the left politicizes everything it can get its hands on. Because the act of politicizing something gives them control over it, and in the process diminishes human freedom. For example, the left has been politicizing culture for a long time now. Injecting political messages into culture, whether to promote right-thinking or filter out wrong-thinking (political correctness) inevitably leads to propaganda. The purpose of propaganda is to control attitudes and behavior by shaping minds. And the core principle of all propaganda is the reaffirmation of the ruling ideology that is manufacturing the propaganda. This may exist only as subtext, but it is always there. The politicization of culture thus leads to cultural tyranny.

The game exists only so long as both sides agree that playing is more important than winning. Ideological fanaticism has no use for such thinking, however. Its only goal is to win in order to implement the “Best Possible Way for Humans to Live” as soon as possible. Ideological purity is measured by ruthlessness. Any talk of playing fair is clear evidence of corruption and sympathies with the enemy that are to be rooted out. Such movements will exploit democracy, but have no use for it except as a tool to achieve victory. And once victory is achieved, democracy becomes redundant. The logic behind that is quite clear. It is the same logic used by those who torched the Library of Alexandria. “If what is in the books is in the Koran, they are redundant. And if it is not, they are heretical.” Similarly, democracy is useless. Since if the people support the ideology, then open voting is redundant. If they do not, then voting is counter-revolutionary.

This same logic applies to every aspect of life. Ideological rigidity fears even allowing the question to be asked, for fear that someone will hear the wrong answer. Questions are already redundant, since the answers are available. It is better than to repeat the answers over and over again in creative ways. And that is the wallpaper of propaganda. The recirculation of the same dumbed down ideas over and over again in new and interesting ways.

Freedom of course is the first casualty

Freedom of course is the first casualty. Ideologies will elevate leaders who are expert at getting things done. Very soon ideological tyrannies become just plain tyrannies. The ideologues are purged. The dictator takes a firm grip on the reins. And the rest follows naturally. This is how both the USSR and Communist China devolved back into crony capitalism. But the left is ignorant of its own cycle of violence and corruption. Instead it is doomed to perpetuate it over and over again, because they are so certain of the answers, that they refuse to even ask the questions.

The game was designed to prevent this very state of affairs. To stop power from being invested in one faction and one ideology. Because the Framers understood that laws could easily be rewritten by a dominant faction or ideology. Only by keeping the ball in play, could that be prevented. But the left has no interest in abstract rules designed to prevent the monopolization of power, because their driving objective is to monopolize power in the name of the public good. It wants to get the ball and hold on to it. To end the game for good, so it can get down to building the perfect society, without any pesky rules to get in their way. And the spectators won’t have any say in it. All they will be allowed to do is stand and cheer, when prompted by their betters.

Thus the radicalization of one faction dramatically changes the game, and endangers freedom. A radical faction will be free to ignore the rules or make them up as it goes along. The game spins out of control. And the ball. The ball will end up in the radical faction’s hands, unless, perhaps, one of the spectators catches it first.



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Daniel Greenfield -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Daniel Greenfield is a New York City writer and columnist. He is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and his articles appears at its Front Page Magazine site.

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