Monday, April 4, 2022

"Conformity - Death Knell for Freedom"

                                                                   Sydney M. Williams


Thought of the Day

“Conformity – Death Knell for Freedom”

April 4, 2022


“…for conformity is the jailer of freedom, and the enemy of growth.”

                                                                                                                              President John F. Kennedy

                                                                                                                              Speech to the UN General Assembly

                                                                                                                              September 25, 1961


News sources seem unable to deal with more than one crisis at a time. Three months ago, and for the previous twenty-one months, airwaves were dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now it is Ukraine. What has been happening in Ukraine is awful, but is it, as commentators on both Fox News and MSNBC have reported, the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II? Is it worse than China’s Cultural Revolution, which caused an estimated 20 million deaths? Is it worse than the Cambodian killing fields when the Communist-led Khmer Rouge slew as many as 3.0 million people? Does it compare to Islamic terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa where 3 million Christians have been displaced and 43,000 killed in Nigeria alone? Where is perspective? Evil is part of human nature. It was because of the existence of evil that the Founders put constraints on governmental power. Evil leaders – from Hitler, Hirohito and Stalin to Mao Zedong, from Kim Jong-un to Ali Khamenei, from Xi Jinping to Vladimir Putin – rule by forced conformity, with none of the restraints on their leadership necessary for people to live freely and securely. Dissent is not allowed. Opposition to prescribed doctrines threatens totalitarian leaders.


Lest one tags me as an anarchist, let me add that I do believe in conformity when it comes to adherence to civility – tolerance, decency and respect for others, regardless of opinions, gender or race. And I believe in the universal values, embedded in traditional concepts of virtue. It is not the superficial differences reflected in gender and race, but differences in the opinions we carry, that threaten progressives’ desire for conformity. The freedom to express those opinions in a civil manner is critical to a democracy. In his 2007 book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Stanford Professor Philip Zimbardo wrote, “Research shows that the decisions of a group as a whole are more thoughtful; and creative when there is a minority dissent than when it is absent.” It is the premise behind the success of democracies versus the failure of authoritarian rule.


Politically, my preference is for Lockean free markets and individual liberty, but I realize our country and politics have grown more complicated, with government assuming responsibilities it did not once have – in voting rights, education, commerce, transportation, retirement, health, protections against fraud, etc. Nevertheless, and while I am in accord with many of government’s responsibilities, they have come with a cost. While the population of the U.S. has increased by a factor of 63 times, from 5.3 million in 1800 to 335 million, the budget of the federal government has grown at a far faster rate – from $11 million in 1800 to a proposed $5.8 trillion in fiscal 2023, or by a factor of over 500,000 times. As government has become more deeply rooted in our lives, elected officials have become less representative – from 106 House members in 1800 to 435 today. Yet there are 1000 times more unelected federal employees today than in 1800 –11,000 to over 11 million. One might argue that today’s social and international complexities warrant a relatively larger government, but this much bigger? And is it surprising that federal bureaucrats whose careers are dependent on ever-growing government, support politicians who favor government expansion?


The Left claims the threat to democracy comes from an autocratic Donald Trump and his far-right followers, but that is a red herring to detract from the greater risk that stems from conformity to a progressive manifesto, with tenets that preach gospels which must be obeyed – on climate change, critical race theory, ESG ratings, DEI adherence, mask mandates and digital IDs. Failure to comply with woke policies at universities, and in law firms and corporations, and on Wall Street result in an Orwellian world of cancellation and loss of employment. While Mr. Trump never attained my standards for civility, and his undisciplined use of words risked damage at home and abroad, he was never the threat to democracy that comes from the insidious reach for power that is the progressive state. In a recent op-ed regarding Anthony Fauci and COVID-19 but which is pertinent to today’s woke progressives, Roger Kimball wrote of frogs and boiling water. If you toss a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will immediately jump out. On the other hand, if you place the frog into a pot and gradually heat it, the “frog will linger languidly…as it is slowly cooked alive.”


Reversing the trend in federal expansion may be impossible but slowing its rate is doable, which should be the goal, as every service assumed by government reduces individual choice. At a time when the Left warns of threats to democracy, we should remember that democracy is not designed to be efficient or to have equal outcomes. It was designed with checks and balances. It abhors an invasive administrative state that demands conformity. It thrives on limited and unintrusive government, while it empowers the individual and encourages values found in families and personal faith.


The social, psychological and economic effects of the government’s mandates regarding COVID-19, the subsequent rise in inflation and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have had (and will have) real-world consequences for the well-being of the American people. “When the rock of green and woke ideology hits the hard place of reality, sheer madness always results,” wrote Victor Davis Hanson in an op-ed last month. Phrases like social justice, words like inclusivity, diversity and equity and acronyms like ESG and CRT lose their meanings when definitions conform to what the state deems acceptable. Is it right for transgender women to be allowed to compete against biological women in sports, or is it okay when parents are discouraged from instructing their children in traditional Christian values?


The French expression vive la difference is generally linked to distinctions between the sexes, but it could as well refer to the myriad opinions we all carry, views that reflect our individual upbringings, experiences, studies, readings and associations. It is the uninhibited flow of ideas that is the backbone of democracy. Conformity, in contrast, demands we relegate our minds to the imprisonment of those who would guide us.

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