How the Government Wants You
Posted by Jew from Jersey
10 October 2011
[Edited 3 January 2023]
That title is misleading. Even in a dictatorship, policy is usually made by masses of anonymous bureaucrats, often working in disparate agencies and unaware of each other’s actions, and not by any one person or group of people to whom a single desire might be ascribed. Even insofar as the actions of these people are coordinated, they are usually not motivated so much by any particular policy goal, but by their own sense of self-preservation. Furthermore, even when their coordinated efforts are policy-oriented, the policy is likely to be economic, military, diplomatic, etc., and not focused on how they would like the citizenry to be. In a democracy, all these efforts are complicated further still by the presence of elected officials, who focus their efforts almost exclusively on their reelection. So, who ever you think of as “the government”, you can be reasonably sure that he/she/they/it are not overly concerned with what you should be like.
Besides, direct coercion by government entities to modify personal character and habits is rare even in dictatorships. And in the absence of such direct coercion, citizens usually don’t pay much attention to the government’s desires anyway. The locus of concern then is not so much what government desires, or how citizens perceive or react to such desires.
Similar to genetic change, people’s habits and characteristics do change and this tends to happens in certain discernable directions throughout the populations over time. The source of such changes is never in the government. Nor does anyone in the government usually have a consistent articulated position on them. Nor do most governments have much power to influence such changes in a direct articulated manner. The problem is that even in the freest of countries with the least intrusive of governments who concern themselves the least with citizens’ personal traits, there are some types of behavior which will suit the government better, even if only by accident. And even in the most limited forms of government, staffed by officeholders who are most dedicated to freedom, there is always some small way they can make some types of behavior more or less costly than others. And this goes double for officeholders who are not so angelically inclined.
Such change will always be slow and never complete, but given the passage of several generations, at least in the absence of any large war or other national trauma, certain tendencies should make themselves visible. There will be certain kinds of behavior, which even if they arise completely by coincidence, are very convenient for bureaucrats and officeholders. And over time, there will be certain policy changes and programs they can advance, even if only piecemeal, that will reinforce these behaviors they find favorable. Individuals seldom change their long-term behavior and belief simply based on policy changes. But some of them might change their short-term behavior, which would serve to make it more socially acceptable. And children who grow up observing such behavior as normal will guarantee that is more common in the next generation.
So, given these disclaimers, how does the government want you?
DependentDependency is probably the single most useful trait a citizen can possess, as far as governments are concerned. A child is dependent on his parents. A dependent adult will look to the government sooner or later as his parent. Looking to the government for guidance and solutions increases the power of the government and makes government less likely to be scrutinized. You don’t examine too closely someone who is about to solve all your problems, especially if you have no other options left...
[Dependency is more important than obedience. An obedient citizen may one day become disobedient if his interests or ideas change. But a dependent citizen, even if he is angry and rioting in the streets, is still dependent.]
Unable to Reason...And you can’t examine anything too closely if you can’t think clearly. Of course, all people are confused sometimes. Overconfidence is in itself dangerous. What’s particularly useful to government is that you are unable to reason for yourself. This doesn’t mean that you lack firm beliefs on any particular subject, but that you lack the ability to form beliefs on any subject on your own. In the absence of a politically mandated and socially acceptable attitude towards a given question, you will shy away from addressing it at all.
ShallowNot everyone was born to be a philosopher. And philosophers themselves may get things hopelessly wrong. But even the less gifted of us benefit from having some concept of the world and their place in it. This doesn’t have to be a deep philosophy or even a consistent philosophy, as long as it recognizes that everything you are is to a large extent determined by forces larger than yourself, both in the present and in the past. The less you know about other people, the less you know about your ancestors, the less you know about larger forces in the universe, whether scientific or religious, the more you will assume everyone is just like you, has always been just like you, and that everyone’s happiness and importance is determined largely by everyday circumstances. You don’t need to have a grand narrative. It may even be best not to have one. But if you don’t have some kind of reason to think the world is larger and more complex than it appears to you in your daily life, and if you don’t have some things in your daily life that regularly remind you of this, your world will effectively become smaller.
Lonely Some people spend all their time surrounded by friends and family and yet describe themselves as feeling lonely. Think how lonely the people who aren’t surrounded by friends and family feel. It would be a ridiculous generalization to say that without loneliness there would be no politics. People might become politically active out of a sense of responsibility to friends and family just as much as out of need to find a substitute for some.
But you are much less likely to look to government for any of your needs, whether social or material, if you have meaningful friends or family relations. And you are much less likely to resist government or build alternatives to government if you are plagued by the sense of helplessness and lack of purpose that loneliness often brings on.
ImmatureWhat politician doesn’t extol the virtues of youth? Excitability is useful to government, especially when it’s not founded on particularly deep understanding that stems from actual experience, and when it’s not matched with an attention span longer than the duration of a political campaign.
But adolescence has other traits that government might prize in a citizen: confusion, lack of identity, and difficulty forming plans. It is natural for all human beings to experience these in their adolescent years, but it is terribly useful for government if they can be extended indefinitely into adult life.
OverweightGovernment officials certainly bemoan obesity and it’s hard to imagine any praising it. But the same can be said of poverty. While starvation can destabilize a government, a sense of helplessness and never-ending need short of starvation can be very useful. While obesity is not a need in the same sense as poverty, most overweight people consistently express a desire to lose weight. This is a desire that they can not seem to meet themselves, since otherwise they would not be overweight. So in this sense they are in a mental state of need and helplessness, this suits a lot of government officials and agencies. Furthermore, being consistently overweight suggests the presence of other personal traits that are amenable to government such as a lack of discipline and inability to postpone gratification.
Promiscuousness[Promiscuity] is good for government because it leads to loneliness, breakup of families, and in general an inability to postpone gratification. In particular, children of promiscuous parents are likely to grow up without a sense of stability. They are more likely to grow up to be adults who will themselves lack real confidence or an ability to postpone gratification, and be more likely to see the government as their means of salvation.
In DebtNot only is debt correlated with the inability to postpone gratification and the likelihood of relying on government, but debt is indicative of dependency as a way of life. No matter how poor a man is, no matter how lacking in physical amenities, he might still be stable, self-sufficient, and self-reliant. Not so a man in debt, no matter how luxurious his physical conditions.
[To these one might add addiction, which is a form of depedency and insobriety, which a form of inability to reason.]