Why do good men do nothing in the face of evil, especially when evil aggressively invades their lives?
The question has relevance to those who value the tradition of individual freedom; a tradition that includes not only freedom of speech, but the right to bear arms and to demand due process. These traditional freedoms are crumbling under the wheels of run-away government.
Some people are paralyzed by fear; some by denial. But many others are immobilized by an apathy that strips away the emotional will to act in self-defense leaving them unresponsive to the world.
Translated into political terms, he might realize that a gluttonous government is feasting on his liberty, his wealth and even on his children’s future but, because he feels only numbness toward government, he doesn’t act in self-defense. He obeys even when the command is self-destructive.
The question of why people passively obey government has haunted the history of political discourse. In 1552, Etienne de la Boetie addressed what he called the most important problem confronting freedom, that of consenting to their own enslavement. His analysis of ‘why’ resulted in the world’s first book on non-violent resistance, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude.
Modern historians ask the same question. During the mass arrests of Stalinist Russia, people reportedly slept in their clothing, not in order to flee more easily but, in order to be fully dressed when seized. In Hitler’s Europe, Jews reported on their own to deportation centers and to their deaths. Why?
Part of the complex answer lies in what psychologists call ‘object specific’ apathy, a form of “learned helplessness” which comes from relentless teaching man that he has no control over a situation and therefore, his efforts are futile.
Most of us absorb a degree of this apathy through constant exposure to a society that attempts to control almost every choice in daily life: smoking, eating fast food, gun ownership, telling a rude joke at work, marriage and divorce, boarding an airplane, medical care, banking, posting on social media, etc. It is difficult to find a choice that isn’t scrutinized by bureaucracy and covered by some form of government control. The message is clear – conformity is rewarded, the wrong choices are punished or otherwise discouraged.
Something within the human spirit wants and needs to shake off destructive programming – call it a survival instinct. Perhaps it is the inbred urge revealed by every two-year-old who yells ‘no’ over and over again for the simple joy of exercising veto over his own life.
Adults need to recapture the childlike joy and power of saying ‘no’. The words most feared by those in authority are ‘I won’t.’ Individuals with the habit of obedience may need to start by saying ‘no’ on small matters like refusing to fill in racial information on application forms. They may be shocked by how difficult it is to say ‘I won’t’ even to petty demands. But the difficulty is a sign of how important it is.
Only when a person is able to say ‘no’ can he say ‘yes’ and have the word mean more that the obedient response of a servant.
‘Yes’ is properly the affirmation of a free man.