The Platters released their famous song “The Great Pretender”on November 3, 1955. It’s popularity drove it to the number one position on both Rhythm and Blues and pop charts in 1956, according to Wikipedia. The words of the first stanza go like this:
Oh-oh, yes I’m the great pretender
Pretending that I’m doing well
My need is such that I pretend too much
I’m lonely but no one call tell.
As children, we all used our imaginations to fantasize and pretend, creating make-believe situations to amuse ourselves. As children and even as adults, some of us may pretend that our personal circumstances or relationships are different from reality as a means of coping with difficulties and stress. Sadly, however, our culture is based on illusions – illusions that a moment’s reflection could dispel, if it weren’t for the overwhelming social pressure to maintain them. For ours is a culture which tolerates institutionalized fraud, larceny and violence, while we live in grand denial.
For example, most Americans pretend that income taxation is not simply an elaborate form of theft. If you have ever tried to point this out to someone in a rational discussion, you probably have been met with variety of excuses, which, of course, have nothing to do with the nature of what the income tax actually is. “How would we pay for roads, schools, or national defense if we didn’t raise the money through a tax on income?” is one such response. Notice that such a retort isn’t an attempt at a direct refutation, but rather a way to side-step the issue – a way to pretend that the income tax is something other than what it is.
As another example, various online publications have revealed that the President of the United States claims the authority to kill an American citizen simply based on the President’s determination that such a person is a terrorist. When Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary,was asked for proof that assassinated Anwar al-Awlaki was indeed involved in plotting terrorist activity against Americans, Carney pretended that such a killing without due process was justified and that no proof even afterwards is necessary. He and many others pretend that when a foreign leader kills in this manner, it is murder, but not when the President does the very same thing.
As a third example, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Banking System Alan Greenspan, when asked about the safety of investing in U.S. Treasury bonds, said, “This is not an issue of credit rating, the United States can pay any debt it has because we can always print the money to do so.” If you or I print money to pay our debts, it is called counterfeiting, but if the government does it, it is legitimate! Greenspan and others who defend the Fed pretend that government printing of money and forcing Americans to use is it not a form of fraud. All of these can be summarized under the great pretense that government officials are justified in taking actions that would be judged criminal if done by ordinary people.
Before we can correct this pervasive corruption in our society, a large enough number of us must admit the truth about institutionalized fraud, larceny, and violence and renounce it. If we were to rewrite the first stanza of the Platters’ hit to reflect the unfortunate, but current eschewal of reality, it might go something like this:
Oh-oh yes, we’re the great pretenders
Accepting that government is legitimate
Our need is such that we pretend too much
While freedom grows dimmer by the minute.
So, what do we freedom-lovers do? Direct “head-on” confrontations with apologists for statism rarely do any mind-changing on their side. They just dig in their heels and get angry at us. I’m therefore going to try an approach that focuses on my principles when I am asked about a problem, such as “What do we do about the poor?” A dialogue might ensue like this:
The statist: So, Peter, don’t you think we need to provide more government help to the poor in our country?
Me: No, I am opposed to forcing anyone through the government or by any other means to help someone. I will help others to the extent that I am able and perhaps set an example for others. But I will always uphold any person’s right to decide how much they will help the poor, including their decision to not help at all.
The statist: But without government help, some of these people will starve to death! Surely you’re not in favor of just ending all government assistance to the poor.
Me: It’s not really the government that helps the poor anyway. Any money that is channeled through the government to the needy is first taken by force from those who have it. I can never countenance the use of violence against someone who has done no physical harm to another or his property. That’s my position; you may have a different one.
The Statist: Sounds to me that you are looking for an excuse to not have the government do what it’s supposed to do.
Me: You and I have different opinions about government. You are entitled to your opinion. I will never FORCE you to accept mine, and I hope you won’t force me to accept yours. I seek foremost a society that doesn’t solve or attempt to solve problems by the initiation of violence. That is only creating another problem.
The Statist: Well, you sound like you have lofty ideals, but I am more practical. I want to see help given to those who truly need it. Whatever it takes.
Me: Again, that is your opinion. I guess I want to approach society like a doctor is supposed to approach a patient: first do no harm. Only when I can be sure that I am not initiating violence against someone, then I will consider various approaches to solving a problem. But for me, any means – ANY means – that entails the initiation of force no matter how subtle or hidden that force may be, is prohibited. I respect your opinion (actually I don’t, but I might say so) as long as you are not requiring the use of force to achieve the desired ends.
The Statist: Well, proper government doesn’t entail the use of violence.
Me: Hmmm. Maybe you want to re-examine that notion. If you would like to honestly and openly discuss the nature of government sometime, I would be happy to do so. But until then, we probably don’t have much else to discuss. Have a good day.
At this point, I can only hope that a seed was planted in the statist’s mind to really examine the nature of government. On to the next statist!