FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Serfdom for dummies
Serfdom is making a big comeback these days. It never really went out of style, of course, but it’s remarkable how many people are now willing to submit to government authority without question, or without much in the way of expectations. Shoddy performance, from fiscal insolvency to a moribund economy, is no cause for outrage among the modern serfs. They accept the “New Normal” without question, believing they live in the best of all possible worlds, because it’s now about five years removed from the worst.
That’s an important principle for the serf to accept: Success is measured by the suffering of your enemies. It doesn’t matter if your taxes go up, provided some hated rich guy’s taxes go up more. It doesn’t matter if the economy is weak, provided “income inequality” is under attack. Daily life is a means toward the end of elections. Any dissatisfaction you might feel with your political leadership is easily re-directed against their opponents. This keeps the bar set nice and low for the leadership of your team. Who cares if you’re hurting, as long as bad people are hurting worse?
A good serf is willing to grant his leaders immunity from criticism based on race, sex, or other attributes. It’s extremely helpful for a maximum leader to know his loyal followers will dismiss all criticism of his performance as racism, sexism, or other forms of unreasoning hatred. Conversely, members of a group “owned” by the serf’s masters can be stripped of their identity if they become dissidents. Even racial and sexual identity can be erased through ideology.
For example, during a particularly rocky White House press conference on Tuesday, press secretary Jay Carney actually dismissed questions about the IRS scandal and other stories by comparing them to conspiracy-theory interest in President Obama’s birth certificate. A good serf stands ready to comply with such evasions of accountability.
It’s useful for the serf to generally equate dissent with hatred. Anyone who disagrees with idea X must personally hate politician Y, or the members of group Z. If a political position can be equated with personal identity in this manner, dissent can be automatically rendered illegitimate, making it unnecessary to respond to provocative criticism. In a similar vein, it is easy to rally other serfs with a simple battle cry of, “I love X, so I believe Y!”
To extend this compliance mechanism, insist that dissent must be total. Modest criticism of your leadership is not allowed – they must be either embraced in full, or hated at the molecular level. And we all know that hatred of good people is bad, right?
Insist upon lots of rules for what dissidents are “allowed” to say, policing these limits with accusations of hypocrisy. For example, if a dissident says the government is spending too much money, respond that he is not allowed to level such criticism because George Bush spent a lot of money on the Iraq war. This keeps the serf’s questions happily buried in the past, while his obedience is secured with talk about the future.
The serf accepts his leadership’s agenda as “progress,” the irresistible march of history. Dissenters are standing in the way, preventing the wise and mighty from getting things done. Delay is unacceptable, for progress is urgent. Skepticism toward power is merely cynical obstructionism, which leads to “gridlock” – and nothing is worse than a paralyzed government that cannot Do Things For The People. Reversing mistakes is unthinkable, because progress only runs in one direction. This cements the leadership’s victories as permanent, and helps the serf avoid troubling questions that lie beyond the bounds of acceptable rhetoric. Draft horses plod endlessly forward because they wear blinkers.
An important component of serfdom is the belief that what is good must be mandatory. Virtue cannot be left to individual choice or volunteer effort. People are selfish, so compulsion is necessary for the good of society. The only way to prove you really “care” about a particular issue is to let the State resolve it with force. Resistance to mandatory goodness is unacceptable.
Of course, the serf likes to see himself as empowered and independent. His masters often tell him how very special he is, and how deeply they care for him. The serf is easily manipulated by assertions that the ruling class is the executor of popular will, doing what “most Americans” think should be done, while steamrolling the illegitimate and meaningless objections of “some who say” they disagree. Elections purify power. After all, if the ruling class abuses its power, the serf believes he can simply vote them out of office – and they know it too, so they’d never do anything to provoke the wrath of the people! Periodic elections are the only real limit the serf requires on government power. They allow him to pretend that he’s the boss, a delusion his masters happily reinforce.
Lastly, nothing is more important to sustainable, contented serfdom than belief in the “free lunch.” Do not listen to people who say that nothing is “free,” because everything is ultimately paid for by someone. The catechism of the free lunch allows a serf to believe in the limitless benevolence of the State, whose generosity can only be thwarted by the greedy and selfish. Dissenters are cruelly determined to keep good people from having the “free” things they “deserve.” Only the ruling class possesses the wisdom to decide what everyone “deserves.”
Keep these rules in mind, and serfdom can be comfortably devoid of intellectual challenge. And that’s the key to a successful life, isn’t it? Avoid challenge, risk, and consequence.