Might Makes Right

Might will always make right because lambs do not lie down with lions except for dinner. The dividing line betwixt anarchy and civilization is when the might of the organization is greater than the might of the individual. Sure there may be occasions where altruism wins out (a bully is bullied by a bigger bully on behalf of the bullied, all out of the goodness of the bigger bully's heart), but in the long run that is not the case. Drug lords, Mafioso, gangs, etc. are all many steps above anarchy, though to softer 'civilized' people that may not seem the case. These groups are well organized, generally well disciplined and often have clear (though perhaps unwritten) rules that are enforced with swift justice. The same can not often be said of our 'civilized' government. However, governments in general (and the US in particular) have a great deal of might that can be used for 'good' or 'evil'. By creating various laws and enforcing them with a militia of some sort (cops carry guns, after all) the government's might makes right over the lesser organizations. This concept can be carried from the small town government in the empty Midwest all the way to the top in any country. Indeed, there are even efforts (not all as laughable as the UN) attempts to impose law and standards of behavior betwixt countries as well, though who has the might is not so clear (which is probably why there is so little viable enforcement). It has been said with a lot of validity that no country has every honored a treaty when it was in its best interest to violate it. Weak organizations often attempt to negotiate a means of protection from strong organizations, generally by means of some sort of bribery. Sound strong? Well, what do you call the pay the Sheriff gets? You could easily view it with a jaundiced eye and call it institutional bribery. For a steady paycheck the Sheriff enforces a set of (sometimes seemingly arbitrary) rules upon those who pay her as well as any others that wander into her jurisdiction. We agree (though obviously not all do so quietly) that we will abide by a certain set of rules our government has promulgated in return for the government enforcing those rules uniformly (though obviously our system of 'justice' favors the rich over the poor (and guilty over innocent, but that is for another post)). Sometimes a government comes under control of a single individual who is able to leverage personal might into institutional might (think Sadam Hussein and others of his ilk), but that 'government' is still subject to might vs. right by other, stronger, organizations (think Iran-Iraq war and the original Gulf War).

I am sure this is an unpopular view amongst anti-military people, but I believe the old wag: the best defense is a strong offence.

As history is written by the victors and since we are living today, our ancestors wrote history as pleased them since they obviously had to be victors. Thus we have no clear record of the (likely) horrible things our ancient ancestors did in order to set us up for us today. Looking a bit closer to recent times, we can clearly see how well the US treated the Native Americans and how often those treaties were honored, so there is plenty of evidence for the mighty righty.

Right and wrong are moral sides of a coin. Sure it is trivial to say that shooting praying monks is evil, but unless some entity mightier than the shooters rises up to smite the shooter, where is the incentive to the shooter to give up power? Wailing that it isn't right, that it is unfair, as the goon bashes your brains in is a silly waste of your last moments. Making yourself mightier or aligning the interests of someone mightier is the smart way to go about doing things. It is all fine and dandy to talk about absolutes when sitting at a desk in a liberal arts class, but when the goon is swinging the bat the only response that will allow your ancestors to read your version of history is to blast away with your Uzi.

Is self-preservation an absolute right? What if it comes at the cost of the destruction of a society, even if that society is dysfunctional? What if the greatest good for the greatest number requires absolute misery from a small minority? Should that minority rebel? If (as is likely to be the case) the society is the mighty one then the impugned minority must find an ally who is mightier or must use technology or some other paradigm shift to make themselves the mightier. Are they then justified in destroying the previous society? Perhaps they can create a new society with fewer members of the miserable minority and keep that minority from assembling might. I find it difficult to envision some sort of utopia where there is no group that unwillingly suffers the subjugation of some mighty members. Humans being humans and all it seems that each individual would need to have any possible whim or desire instantly catered to in order to avoid any possibility of the bad feelings that lead to the desire to exploit whatever might they have to get that whim implemented. One of the largest challenges in child rearing is tempering the child’s immediate desires and whims with the notion that the immediacy cannot and should not always be granted. I view societies much like children and sometimes you really need to invest in the future, thus taking an immediate loss for a longer-term gain. Sometimes it is as difficult to convince a society that it needs to accept a short-term difficulty in return for a long-term gain as it is to get a child to realize that eating the veggies in preference for candy is an important short-term cost to achieve long-term health. A strong government that is sincerely interested in the greatest good for the greatest number (while attempting to minimize members of those groups of the miserably minority) will gently steer the society in the correct direction. Having said that, sometimes you just need to be firm and put your foot down and say to the recalcitrant child: "no more candy today" and a good government will sometimes be forced to take that tone with society. Just as exercise is an immediate cost for a healthier body, sometimes the government needs to make decisions that cause us short-term pain in exchange for longer-term health and welfare. Too bad our government is a popularity contest where people willing to say anything voters want to hear get elected to represent us. At some point all that candy and lack of exercise is going to cost us big time!

Copyright 2009 by Keith Oxenrider