Landmark #4: Government
What should we do about these major deficiencies of government? I recommend a balance of two approaches: (1) try to fix the problems, and (2) try to work around them. The steps toward fixing the problems of government are familiar ones -- writing letters, demonstrating peacefully, being an informed citizen and voting whenever possible, supporting alternative candidates, and supporting organizations like Amnesty International and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). Worldwide, individuals need to try to rein in their governments -- try to make them less oppressive, less provincial, and more responsive to the needs of the people.
"Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error... They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only... If it [free inquiry] be restrained now, the present corruptions will be protected, and new ones encouraged. Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now. Thus in France the emetic was once forbidden as a medicine, the potato as an article of food. Government is just as fallible, too, when it comes to systems in physics. Galileo was sent to the Inquisition for affirming that the earth was a sphere; the government had declared it to be as flat as a trencher, and Galileo was obliged to abjure his error... It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself."
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a passage from Notes on Virginia
Secondly, we must not rely on our governments to solve our problems. Here in America I think we've increasingly come to view our government the same way small children view their parents -- as the single source of solutions to all our problems, obviating all need for individual responsibility. We blindly trust the government with our tax money and our welfare, and then when things don't go smoothly we turn around and use the government as a scapegoat -- "it's not our fault, the government should have taken care of that."
The media brings us images of needless tragedy around the world: war and poverty, oppression and ecological abuse. With a sense of detached dismay we watch the reports come in, and sitting in our recliners, sipping our Cokes, we say with lazy conviction, "That's intolerable! They should be doing something to stop that." We should not, and cannot, rely on the government to solve all our problems.
We cannot afford to wait for our governments -- we must learn to solve problems ourselves. We must practice taking personal responsibility and showing individual initiative in addressing major problems. The Gumption Trust is one small initiative -- important and significant, but a drop in the bucket. All over the world concerned individuals are working hard to make the world a better place. These are the people to whom we should give our trust and allegiance.
"Governments could go on talking from now to doomsday. We must prevent the destruction of western civilization."
-- Albert Einstein
The Bottom Line
We should do our best to make our governments behave benevolently, broad-mindedly, and responsively, but in the end we must take personal responsibility for solving our problems.