The Cult of Government

by | Nov 16, 2022 | , ,

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I remember David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. I was a young man working at Mcdonald’s at the time, and it was the biggest news story of the year. All of America had its eyes glued to the TV, watching the siege on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, play out.

I did not know it at the time, but I would eventually find myself in the Army, serving on the exact model of the tank that was used to poke holes in the walls of the compound, setting it on fire and killing the Branch Davidians.

David Koresh was not a good person. He was a cult leader who took advantage of and controlled a large number of people. When the compound went up in flames, 86 people died, David Koresh included.

After the siege ended, there were a lot of questions as to why it started in the first place. The FBI and ATF claimed they were concerned that the Branch Davidians were stockpiling illegal weapons, but the only evidence the FBI could show to suggest that there may have been illegal weapons were sales receipts showing large numbers of legally owned weapons in the compound. People wondered, and I still wonder, how the FBI and ATF got a judge to sign off on a search warrant to look for illegal weapons based solely on the known existence of legal weapons.

Another problem with the siege was the use of the Army, which is only legal when dealing with drug dealers. The Branch Davidians were never even accused of dealing drugs, so many people asked what the Army was doing surrounding the compound.

I get why the FBI and ATF wanted to use the Army. It was a big compound and neither the FBI nor the ATF are designed to hold a large compound under a literal siege for a long duration of time – the siege lasted almost two months. The FBI and the ATF needed to illegally use the Army to enforce an illegal siege, based on an illegal order to perform an illegal search.

Along with an incident on Ruby Ridge shortly thereafter, the Waco Branch Davidian siege became a rallying cry against government overreach, but it also demonstrated something else, which is a legitimate problem with the concept of liberty.

Liberty exists in two scenarios. One is anarchy. When there is no government, hypothetically at least the people are free. I say ‘hypothetically’ as there has never been a true system of anarchy before. Anarchy has historically been a transitional period after one form of government fails and another – that of the warlord – emerges.

Anarchy leads to warlords, and warlords are a particularly bad form of government.

The other scenario where liberty exists is where the government sees its primary (or even only) role as enforcing the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). Such a government prevents internal and external forces from infringing upon the rights of its citizens. Basically, the people have the right to do whatever they want, provided that they do not infringe upon the rights of others to do the same. The government prevents foreign powers from invading, and prevents the people within the nation from infringing upon the rights of one another.

It is difficult to maintain a country built on liberty, as a people left free will tend toward an economic hierarchy in which those who do the best job building the goods and services others want will get rich, and those who are the least productive at doing things society values will be poor. Some people lack productive capacity and will be poor due to no fault of their own. Others may be productive, but at things society does not value, and will be poor for having taken risks that did not pan out.

People are also corrupt ⏤ we all are to one degree or another (though some of us fight to overcome that in our behavior). Because of that even people devoted to building a nation around the NAP may do so imperfectly. In our case, we allowed the individual states to continue to determine the question of slavery, which is an institution that stood in stark contrast to the NAP.

It has always saddened me that as a people we seem incapable of escaping the question of whether or not our nation was founded in greatness, such that we can instead try to build agreement both that liberty is good, and that slavery is bad. Whether or not our country was great is a question for historians. Our duty as citizens is not to rehash the greatness of our past, but to work on the greatness of our future. If we wish to become great, we must first define what greatness means and what greatness looks like. Whether we were ever great before is a far less important question. We need a national discussion on what greatness is such that we can reach for it together, but sadly all we ever get is a debate on whether or not we ever achieved greatness in the past.

I, personally, believe in free people and free markets. I believe in the NAP, and in a government designed to enforce it.

People who do not like the NAP fear businesses taking advantage of the public through it, but while such a business may be able to make money for a time, eventually the people tend to figure out that they are being taken advantage of and stop buying that company’s goods and services, and the business fails.

A free society needs to be able to determine who is violating the NAP, and for this reason a free society will institute laws. Laws are necessary, but dangerous. Laws are necessary as without them determining what constitutes an infringement of the NAP can become subjective and capricious. Laws are dangerous as to many, they collectively become a replacement for the NAP – it is easy for a society to lose track of why laws exist, and to become a legalistic society where the laws infringe upon the NAP, and where government becomes exactly that which it was created to prevent.

Cults thrive in free societies, as cults can provide two things free societies often lack: community and purpose. 

Societies that are not free try to provide purpose and community to the people through government, but in free societies government does not concern itself with purpose or community, leaving the people free to discover such things on their own, however they see fit. 

Cults may break the law, but there is no rule that they have to do so. Many cults have existed for very long periods of time without breaking the law. 

David Koresh’s cult was a particularly bad variety of cult:  a death cult. 

Koresh taught that he was the Second Coming of Jesus, and that Revelation was upon us. The Branch Davidians were stockpiling weapons and ammunition to fight a very literal Armageddon against our government, and I can see why our government did not like that.

In a truly free society, the Branch Davidians would have been allowed to exist, even while legally stockpiling weapons, right up until they violated the law ⏤ at which point it might have been too late.

School shooters are another byproduct of freedom, in the sense that the government lacks the authority to stop school shooters until they break the law, at which point it may be too late. There may be things we can do to reduce the number of school shootings just as there are things we can do to reduce other forms of crime, but in a free society the government cannot go after people until they commit a crime, and as such some level of criminality will always exist.

Cults will always exist in free societies as well.

Cults take two basic forms. One focuses on a belief system that is known and open, and the other focuses on growth through ‘secret knowledge’ that can only be acquired over time. The first type of cult generally involves some form of deity. The second type is called ‘gnosticism’ and involves the promise of turning adherents into deities over time, as the secret knowledge is revealed.

Gnostic Cults tend to be unstable, as the ‘secret knowledge’ can never be revealed sufficiently to provide deification. Once people realize they will never become gods, they tend to leave.

We can also separate Cults based on the intent of the cult leaders. To the degree that the cult exists to enrich the leadership and to control the membership, the cult will tend to be unstable. Members will become suspicious of the leadership, and the leadership will tend to become ever more controlling to prevent people from leaving.

Cults that are based on a belief system the leaders truly believe and that focus entirely on providing purpose through belief tend to grow, and may eventually become religions.

Religions are unique in that the leadership and membership both believe the faith to be true, and as such their belief morphs into a search for truth. If the faith proves to be untrue, the religion will tend to be unstable. Only where the faith continues to seem true can a religion continue to grow and thrive.

Many look to the government to provide purpose and community. Government has a natural role in doing so when it comes to external threats. The need to protect ourselves against other nations provides purpose, and the act of protecting ourselves against other nations provides community.

But how does a nation provide purpose and community when there is no credible threat of war?

Providing an umbrella of support for the NAP can provide some sense of purpose, but without the threat of a foreign enemy invading, this sense of purpose is weak. Real purpose can only come from within ourselves, and we have to find our own communities within which to belong.

Communities have rules, which is to say culture. The more diverse we become, culturally, the weaker our sense of natural community as a nation becomes as well.

We have one more need, and that is to be valued. There are, of course, an infinite number of ways someone can be valued. As our society becomes less and less religious, many of us are more and more tempted to use money as a source of value, which is to say that many Americans use wealth and/or income as measuring sticks.

We have a $23 trillion economy. That comes to just under $70,000 for every man, woman, and child in our country, or just over $186,000 per household.

Some people find value not in religion, the acquisition of wealth, or the earning of income, but in developing society into one they deem ‘fair.’  Fairness can be determined by looking at processes (if the process is fair, the outcomes are fair as well, no matter what those outcomes are), and those who return to the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) would look at a society where the average household income is 2.5 times the median household income as fair provided the disparity is the result of the decisions people freely make mixed with the outcomes of what people freely do. In other words, if freedom leads to inequality, many people would find that to be ‘fair.’

Others look at ‘fairness’ based on outcome, and view any system in which the median household income and the average household income differ, as ‘unfair.’

Still others look at the $23 trillion dollars in our GDP as a bucket they can enrich themselves through.

Where the government exists only to enforce the NAP, the government need not concern itself with such things as the GDP, the median household income, or the average household income, but a government that does more than enforce the NAP may start to look at the GDP as a bucket to control. Such a government will then start to spend more and more of the GDP on things the people in government deem important.

Government primarily attracts those who want to control others, and as such very few of the people in government believe in the NAP. That’s very sad in a country, like the United States, that was largely created around the NAP, but it is what it is. Proponents of liberty don’t join the government unless they feel a need to prevent others in government from controlling the people.

Those who want to control tend to fit into two groups: those who want to enrich themselves, and those who want to ensure that the average household income and the median household income are the same.

It is a sad fact that the government of the United States was created of the people, for the people, and by the people, as an instrument to enforce and defend the NAP, and yet has over time become the enemy of the NAP, but that is where we are. We have one political party that is in open defiance of the NAP, and we have another political party that defends the NAP on paper, but that is in practice heavily corrupted by the ability to control $23 trillion a year. There are very few people in government who still act to defend the NAP. As such, the NAP is largely dead.

Our government tells us we have free and fair elections, but our government also runs our elections, and those in government have twenty-three trillion reasons for our elections to be something other than free and fair.

Without religion acting as a back-stop of morality, we have been divulging into a nation where tolerance for immorality is rapidly becoming the only moral virtue. Is it any surprise that a nation that celebrates immorality would put controlling our $23 trillion economy ahead of ensuring we have fair and free elections?  If we have free and fair elections we might want the government to enforce the NAP again – which would do a great deal to keep the government’s hands off that $23 trillion.

And the Republicans who have been in office a while – what you might call ‘establishment Republicans’ – many of them are just as guilty as Democrats of wanting a share of our money.

Our country is turning into a cult where the god is government, where morality is dictated by an ever changing executive fiat, where we find community and purpose through obedience, and where we are valued only as slaves.

Slaves don’t vote, so we should hardly be surprised that our vote has become a sham.

Wallace Garneau

Wallace Garneau is a two-service military veteran, with four years in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, and four years in the US Army. He has twenty-three years of experience in process improvement roles, having served as the E-Commerce Manager, IT Manager, and Director of Business Systems for a variety of medium to large manufacturing companies. Wallace holds a Bachelors of Science from the University of Phoenix, and an MBA in Lean Manufacturing from the University of Michigan. Wallace is currently finishing a Masters of Science in Lean Manufacturing, at Kettering University.

Wallace is a published poet and essayist, and recently finished his first book - The Way Forward: Lean Leadership and Systems Thinking for Large and Small Businesses.

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William Spickerman
William Spickerman
4 months ago

Great Essay!! Thanks for sharing.

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