Archive | January 6, 2007

My Country ’Tis of Me

As Stephen Colbert has said: “My country ’tis of me, sweet man of liberty!”

Actually he was right. I’ve argued that the idea of democracy – the idea of self-government, of the people ruling themselves – logically leads to the idea of individual self-government, to anarchy; that mere majority rule, the government of the many over the few, is precisely not any form of self-government and does not deserve the term “democracy.”

In the following passage Mark Twain seems to be working his way toward the same idea:

For in a republic, who is “the Country”? Is it the Government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the Government is merely a servant – merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them. Mark Twain Who, then, is “the Country”? Is it the newspaper? is it the pulpit? is it the school superintendent? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it; they have not command, they have only their little share in the command. They are but one in the thousand; it is in the thousand that command is lodged; they must determine what is right and what is wrong; they must decide who is a patriot and who isn’t.

Who are the thousand – that is to say, who are “the Country”? In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country; in a republic it is the common voice of the people. Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country – hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of.

(Mark Twain, Papers of the Adam Family.)

(Conical hat tip to J. Michael Straczynski, in the latest issue of Amazing Spider-man – though I then looked it up to make sure it was a genuine quotation.)

No, Twain hadn’t gotten all the way yet. Individual self-government and collective self-government were still blurred together in his mind. But the seeds were there.

Saucer Speak

News coverage of the recent O’Hare UFO – this sighting with the added frisson of multiple credible witnesses and FOIA-extracted proof of a government cover-up – has fallen into a predictable pattern. The story is always introduced with a chuckle, as though to suggest “don’t worry, we’re not actually taking this seriously,” and the assumption is always made that whatever was seen must either be

  • a) some perfectly familiar and ordinary phenomenon misidentified, or
  • b) an alien spaceship.

Hence all the jokes: “Who would fly a million light-years just to land at O’Hare?” 

These are not UFOs Indeed the term “UFO” has virtually come to mean “extraterrestrial spacecraft” (as when people ask “do you believe in UFOs?” or inquire of some anomalous sighting “was it a UFO?” – clearly the term is well on its way to becoming a dead acronym, in a sense analogous to a dead metaphor); thus language is once more pressed into the service of foreclosing alternatives.

Yet alternatives of course there are. Just to name three, UFOs might be:

  • c) some unfamiliar natural phenomenon not yet understood, perhaps electromagnetic in nature;
  • d) parapsychological phenomena along the lines suggested by Jacques Vallee and Kenneth Ring (and earlier, Carl Jung);
  • e) secret experimental military aircraft.

And probably there are more possibilities. I hold no particular brief for any of (c), (d), and (e); nor do I claim they’re especially likely. Then again, (a) and (b) aren’t especially likely either – indeed, those two strike me as the least likely of the five. 

But I don’t have any particular UFO theory. As long, however, as the prevailing attitude toward UFOs remains a mix of embarrassed titters on the one hand and fantastic visions of space invaders on the other – as long as the aliens-or-nothing paradigm prevails – serious investigation of the UFO phenomenon will continue to be minimal.

Which might be just the way our rulers want it, especially if something like (e) is the truth. (Indeed, cynical-minded folks have suggested that some UFO sightings may be deliberate hoaxes perpetrated by the government to discredit the actual sightings. But then, we all know that the Illuminati are a front for the Illuminati ….) In any case, the media seem remarkably uninterested in the government cover-up, despite the fact that in this case the FAA was caught red-handed and basically had to admit it had lied. But what news agency is going to risk its credibility by investigating Saucermen from Sagittarius?

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