This essay was written for inclusion in The Sounding, the newsletter of Tampa Bay Mensa, many years ago.  In view of recent events, it now seems more timely than ever.

Tacking to Port
by Frank Clarke

We voyagers have been tacking now for 50 or 60 years, alternately left and right, toward a far distant port.  We are nearing our landfall and can just barely make out the outlines of the town.  Those with better vision have been able to see clearly for some time what some still now see only hazily.

Travelers' tales of other voyages have made us eager to see some ports and anxious that we might accidentally sail into others.  Some harbormasters provide free and easy access both in and out; they are often associated with the pleasanter variety of stories we hear.  Some harbors are easy to enter and nearly impossible to leave;  their travelogues are always of the dark and stormy sort.  A German crew, it is said, made such a port call some time back and it cost them millions before they were able to sail to safety;  a Russian crew likewise lost more millions in a very similar situation before they were able to fight their way clear.  We stare at the harbor beckoning us to enter and wonder if it will be that sort.  God help us if it is.

* * *

Socialism takes a variety of forms, so we sometimes misidentify it even when it's staring us in the face.  We think of socialism in terms of Sweden or England, eminently civilized nations, and completely miss the decline of choice that is always associated with a movement toward socialism.  Everyone wants to be civilized like the Swedes and English; wouldn't you like to be civilized, too?

The "identification problem" is made even more difficult when emotion-loaded topics cloud our vision, and appeals to our better nature block reason.  The more gruesome the problem, the more urgent are the calls for redress of the grievance, and the most urgent calls are always for immediate relief via government fiat.  When we agree that only the government can provide the necessary solution, we take one more step toward socialism.  In order for the government to impose a solution, the individual must cede authority to some agent who will actually make the decision, take the action, solve the problem.  The transfer of authority is usually via legislation by an already centralized authority; legislation rarely provides for a reversion of that authority lest the problem recur; therefore such transfers are one-way and permanent.  It is not a very great task to see that a free people can become quite un-free over the course of time.  Recently it has become evident that events largely precipitated by prior transfers of authority are now generating calls for more governmental action.  That is, there must be more transfers of authority to rectify situations which are themselves the products of the original transfers of authority.  In the words of Albert Einstein:  "We cannot solve problems with the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

In his "The Road to Serfdom",  Friedrich Hayek makes the case that socialism will always mutate into totalitarianism if left to run its course.  We are devolving from a socialist mind-set toward full-blown totalitarianism or, to use its street name, dictatorship.

* * *

After the First World War, Germany's economic situation was (to be blunt) awful.  It was a conquered nation and punishment proceeded apace.  When Hitler appeared in the '30s, the people saw him as some kind of savior and voted the NSDAP firmly into power.  (NSDAP, by the way, stands for National Socialist Democratic Workers' Party, Nazional... etc., shortened to Nazi.  Hitler was originally a socialist.  In eight years he became Der Führer, a dictator.)

Tsarist Russia was not the most pleasant place to be a peasant if the stories are even vaguely true.  After the revolution, Mother Russia was replaced by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  You may call them Communists, but they called themselves Socialists.  By any account, Stalinist Russia equalled or bettered Nazi Germany in every area of endeavor: poverty, repression, corruption, genocide, you-name-it.

It must always be so.  Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Central decision-making breeds discontent on several fronts.  For one, no decision will please everybody; someone will always feel short-changed.  For another, once a permanent one-way transfer of authority takes place, the receiver has a reduced incentive to perform efficiently in that decision-making, guaranteeing that the number of those who feel short-changed will increase rather than decrease, and the sum of discontent will likewise increase.  Discontent breeds more transfers of authority.  In a destructively increasing oscillation reminiscent of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, socialism leads to totalitarianism; totalitarianism leads to self-immolation.  Somewhere along that path, the streets will run with tears and the rivers with blood.

* * *

In the '60s political activists wondered: "If totalitarianism comes to America, will it come from the Left or from the Right?"  We can see the town's clock tower now, and the hour is very late, but at last we know the name of our destination.  The current tack to the Left is bringing us closer, ever closer to our next port-of-call.  The inevitable tack to the Right will bring us closer still.  There is only one way to avoid sailing into this harbor.

All hands, stand by to come about.


© Frank Clarke, 2001

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