James Leroy Wilson's one-man magazine.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Who Are the Bad Guys?

I saw The Bourne Ultimatum last night.

Often in a movie like this, when the bad guy is a government official, he is usually a) a twit, or b) someone who knows he's evil and is proud of it. David Straithairn, however, is the kind of actor who doesn't let his character become a caricature. I've said it before, but the great actors in supporting roles are the ones whose characters don't know they're a supporting character in somebody else's movie. Straithairn acts as if he's the hero and good guy trying to chase down a national security threat.

And that's probably more true-to-life. When someone is a) given near-absolute power; b) actually believes absolute power is necessary, then c) he will justify "extreme measures" to himself and will break the law. The "rogue" and "black-ops" portions of the U.S. "national security" apparatus think they're the good guys. If the JFK assassination and 9/11 were inside jobs, the guilty parties believe what they did "had to be done."

It's really the same mentality that, in the 2000 election, seemingly drove Democratic election judges to count spoiled ballots, and Republican election judges to dis-enfranchise eligible voters. It's what drives legislators to attack free speech and abolish third parties.

The ends justify the means, especially if they can be sanctimoniously decorated with phrases like "national security" or "clean politics." The bad guys persuade themselves that they're the good guys while they persecute the innocent.

A similar racket goes on with economic protectionism. Lobbyists for the American Society of Interior Designers, for instance, probably don't realize they're the bad guys when they try to impose regulations and licensing in their industry. They've probably persuaded themselves that what is good for themselves is good for America. And that's true of everyone who seeks legislation to drive out economic competitors. They'll use phrases like "public health" and "safety." They'll accuse opponents of regulation as greedy. They'll claim that without regulations, people will buy snake oil. But the real reason marijuana and industrial hemp are illegal is that, if legal, the price of countless drugs and other products would fall drastically. Real greed is using the force of law to drive out your competition, allowing you to raise prices. And the most effective snake-oil salesmen are the ones who persuade the government to purchase and mandate their snake oil - such as ethanol.

A "bad guy" is one who cheers when the State knowingly harms the innocent. But they will forever persuade themselves that the innocent are not really innocent, or they're not really harmed, or it's necessary for the overall good.

I don't think it's paranoid to say that there are bad guys all around us.

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