Government is Like Fire…

I heard an analogy the other day that I had never heard before. “Government is like fire.” I immediately stopped what I was doing and just sat, and thought. Now, when I hear an analogy, I usually try to think about how far I can stretch it, and where it breaks. I do this because I am a natural born contrarian, and an over-thinker. This little habit of mine also ends up helping me understand both the analogy and the thing it is describing a little better, and from a different angle. The government/fire analogy is no different.

The analogy the speaker gave was, “Too much will burn everything around you, but none at all and you will freeze.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

This concept isn’t hard to understand, either. In fact, it’s about as simple a concept as can be! We’ve all been too close to a campfire, or touched something that was hot. We all know what happens when you let fire get out of hand. We’ve all seen a house ablaze on the news, if not in real life. Too much fire is an obvious thing to be avoided.

Section 1: Too Much Fire

This is a pretty easy concept. There is an old saying that goes something like this: “Fire is a great servant, and a terrible master”. The idea is that if you maintain control over the fire, you can do a great many things with it. It can cook your food, allowing your hunting and growing to be more efficient. It can sterilize water, keeping you safe. It can help you craft metal. Most importantly, fire can keep you warm. You have to keep an eye on it, but if you keep your fire fed and going, then it will keep you fed and going. If you don’t keep an eye on it and it gets out of hand, it can burn everything down around you.

The similarity to government is pretty obvious. One need not look beyond the current century to see the effects of government run amok. North Korea or Venezuela come to mind as the most obvious ongoing example, though we could just as easily be talking about California or New York (though not quite as bad). For more concrete examples we could look to The Soviet Union, or Maoist China, or Nazi Germany, or basically any powerful government in history. The most immediate issue with having too much fire government is the issue of exorbitant taxes. The United States was started over an issue with being taxed. Too high a tax burden will absolutely destroy a country, just like a house burning down. There is also the aspect of government trying to over-govern the populace through ridiculous laws. For more info on that, look into the book Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent by Harvey A. Silvergate.

Not good. Not good at all

Section 2: Not Enough Fire

Now for the other side of the argument: the lack of fire. We’ve all been outside in the winter without proper gear. We’ve all been cold at night. We all know what happens when your fingers or toes start to get numb from the cold, and what can happen if you don’t get warmed up in time.

Basically a documentary on frostbite

What’s the government analogy here? Well, there are certain things that governments do well. I don’t think there are many things that the government does that the private sector couldn’t do better, but the government does have a few things that aren’t total failures. I don’t think public land would exist anywhere. Police and fire departments would be very different than they are today. Power, water, and sewer utilities would probably be a complete mess (not that a lot of them aren’t already).

Also, let’s look at what happens when law enforcement is absent. The terrible, malicious, sick individuals who are cowed into civility by the ever-present threat of legal trouble are suddenly free to do whatever they want. On Instagram currently (mid-June 2020) there are a lot of videos of people going crazy looting stores, beating random people on the sidewalk, tearing down statues, and even having rolling gun battles in the street! We can live in a world with no government if everyone was willing to put those kinds of people to the sword, but most people aren’t like that. Most people are not willing to use violence to resist violence. Most people require someone else to do their fighting for them. This isn’t necessarily a fault, it’s how our modern society is designed to operate. Call the cops so that you don’t have to fight. For a successful society full of people unwilling to do violence on their own behalf, you have to have a police force. They could be privately funded, I guess, but the places they are needed most are the kinds of places that cannot afford them.

Section 3: Both

There is another, third aspect to the analogy. If you have no fire for too long, the unburned fuel will pile up and when fire does come, and it always does, the resulting blaze will be so much hotter than anything is made to withstand. Fair warning, this is where the analogy starts to get a little stretched. I do believe that it works, but I’ll let you be the judge.

This problem is a current issue in the forests of the American West, especially in California. My fellow Americans have spent the last century combatting forest fires by trying to put them out whenever they pop up, and they always pop up. Usually by lightning, ever increasingly by arsonists, but the source doesn’t matter. Fires always get started somehow. Fires always get started and they burn through the brush that has accumulated since the last fire came through and cleared it all out. Fallen branches, years’ of leaf litter, brushes, ferns, vines, it all piles up and all gets burned by the cathartic flames of wildfire… until it doesn’t. Imagine instead of a few years’ worth of buildup, you have a few decades. The shear mount of fuel available to the next fire that comes through is overwhelming. Literally overwhelming, as the resultant fire overwhelms the local trees’ ability to withstand it.

A lot of trees in the forests of the American West have evolved not only to survive the occasional fire, but to thrive among them. These fire resistant trees have bark that can survive wildfires, the tree within remaining unharmed. There are some species of tree that don’t actually release seeds unless triggered by the high heat of a fire. Those seeds have a good start at life because the floors have been cleared and a lot of nutrients returned to the ground, thanks to the fire.

Trying to prevent the smaller, more common fires allows the leaf litter and other fuel sources to build up. The nutrients locked up in the dead vegetation doesn’t return to the ground. The fire-needing seeds never get released, and the seeds that do get released are choked out byt he existing ground clutter. And that’s before you consider what happens when a fire does come through (which it always does).

When you have far too much fuel built up, the fires have a different effect. When the fire is large enough, and hot enough, it can burn through the fire resistant barks of the trees that need fire, killing them. Such a fire will clear the path for seedlings to sprout, except that the parent trees all died in the fire. The seeds that already hit the ground all got burned up as well.

A small, regular fire is good for the forest, but a super-fire is devastating. Trying to keep the normal, cyclical, beneficial fire from happening does not make the fires go away, it concentrates the destructive power. It goes from the unfortunate but necessary part of the life cycle to one that is unbalanced and throws everything off.

What’s the government equivalent? A power vacuum. If a group of people were to somehow create a government-less area, an “anti-state”, it wouldn’t last. In fact, it would probably be overrun by warlords almost immediately. A lot of people find it fashionable these days to be anarchists. They don’t mean burning down buildings and hurting people, but just want to be left alone. To just own a home out inna woods, solar powered and stream fed, to raise their family and their chickens or something, without any sort of tax burden or government overseer micromanaging their lives. What these well intended but unstudied fools don’t realize is that it will never last.

Most people need little to no direct oversight, and can be trusted to uphold societal norms. Keyword is most. When one person comes along who doesn’t uphold those norms, either because of disagreement or general maliciousness, it disrupts everything. This is how organized crime happens. A guy who is stronger than most people comes along and decides that he wants the society to work for his benefit over everyone else’s. He gets a few more guys to work for him, and now this guy’s power and influence has multiplied. With this new power he gains more influence, more followers, and more power.

Look at what happened in CHAZ. A soundcloud rapper rolled in with a group of thugs and a trunk full of ARs, and became the defacto police force. The only reason he was able to do so is because the normal barrier to such power grabs (aka the cops) was absent from the area. Look to what happened in NYC, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and a lot of other US cities in late may and early June 2020. It doesn’t exactly take a chess master to see how this would turn out in a place with no local, state, or federal government. I’m sure there’s a couple examples of that ongoing in Africa and the Middle East at the moment…

Section 4: Take Home Lesson

I’m not pro big government, not by a long shot. Quite the opposite, in fact. If I were to put the US into this analogy, I’d say that it was created as a camp fire to keep us warm and maybe roast some s’mores on. By 2020 however, it has grown into a massive bonfire that is about to get completely out of hand. It isn’t as bad as the raging, out of control wildfires of the USSR and North Korea, but it seems like people keep trying to toss more and more gas on it.

pictured: Socialists

But I’m not a true anarchist, either. The events occurring after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis have shown the problems of an overbearing government, but it’s also shown to me the issues of no government. Government has a way of standardizing everyone’s experience. When done correctly, it means that everyone gets to enjoy something that normally would be reserved for the very wealthy. When done incorrectly, it means that everyone is equally miserable (as is usually the case). Just like fire, a little every now and then is wonderfully useful, but it can quickly grow out of control and burn everything down around you. A total lack thereof can be just as bad.

We need to have a limited amount of government in our lives. Not nothing, but not very much. The system we live under today is only possible because of the amazing ability of Americans to create wealth. People are actually very resilient and resourceful, and people can find ways to make almost anything work. But ‘making it work’ does not mean that it is optimal, or even acceptable, to live in that manner. I believe the Founding Fathers brought forth what can be argued as the closest thing to a perfect system of government. Power was distributed among a lot of people, no one person held much power, and everyone was being checked for overreach by someone else. Within the analogy, a prescribed burn. A little one, tightly controlled, to keep a much bigger burn from happening. In the past 230 years or so, we have taken that beautiful, elegant framework and completely twisted it into the very thing it was meant to replace, except orders of magnitude worse.

The Founding Fathers wouldn’t be shooting by now, they would have started shooting a century ago.

Wrapping Up

When you vote, wherever you vote, vote for less government. When politics comes up in conversation, advocate for less government. Be an advocate for freedom. But don’t be so naive that you think that a governmentless anti-state is even feasible, much less able to last. It’s almost like the best way to ensure the greatest amount of freedom is to settle for almost all of it. As I write that sentence, I am reminded of my earlier writings on why ‘good enough’ really is good enough, and on my personal philosophy of complimenting dualities.

Fighting fire with fire.

Stay smart, stay free, and I’ll see you next Friday. -S_S

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