Seemingly small incidents sometimes take on a much greater significance with the passage of time.
A decade ago, Australia banned its citizens from travelling to Syria in order to prevent lumpen Muslims from Western Sydney joining ISIS. Those that made it anyway were stripped of their citizenship in order to block their return.
I vaguely recall civil rights groups kicking up a fuss at the time but most people were untroubled. Who cares if some people wanted to travel to Syria for innocent reasons, i.e. to work as civilian medics? Do-gooders have no right to go get themselves killed in some hellhole. Who cares if some ‘Australians’ are not allowed back after fighting? They’re citizens of Islamic State now and if they don’t like it, tough titties.
Then in 2020, Australians were banned from travelling anywhere in the world without permission and those stuck in India were threatened with jail if they tried to come back. This would have been politically harder without the Syrian precedent. Before that, Australians were free to go anywhere including Cuba, North Korea and Iran.
The border controls illustrate two vital principles of WEIRD nations:
Everyone thinks they want to be free but aside from a pet preference here and there they don’t, really.
Not in comparison to their desire for material comfort, social approval and above all else, safety.
In the West, few of us wanted our rights enough to fight for them. Others fought on our behalf. The nobles fought the King, the petty bourgeoisie fought the aristocracy, a few union rabble rousers fought the capitalists, a tiny minority of feminists fought the patriarchy. Much of the battle for racial equality was fought on behalf of others.
Most Americans in the Thirteen Colonies did not fight in the War of Independence and it is unclear what percentage of them supported it. Most women never campaigned for equal rights. Most ordinary, landless men did nothing personally to further their case to receive the vote or gain individual freedoms.
For that matter, the slaves of the British Empire and the United States did not fight to free themselves. They, to, were emancipated by others.
It was all thrust upon us unbidden.
Sure, most will vote for freedom when it’s all organized for us and there’s an option on the ballot. That’s about the extent of the average person’s dedication, though.
We all know the cliche about absolute power corrupting absolutely but we think about it too little.
That’s the thing about cliches. In general they are true but overused so we tend to ignore them.
I’m currently re-listening to The History of Rome Podcast. I’m up to the Crisis of the Third Century when emperors are barely lasting a year on average. Each time a new fellow makes a treacherous grab for the purple we wonder, ‘Why?’ Few of them had a bold plan for rescuing the Empire. Most just wanted power for its own sake, despite the danger of holding the throne being greater than that for 1960s cosmonauts.
Today, it’s hard for us to understand the allure of power because in our society there are no comparable positions. For example, the few times I’ve had a position of responsibility thrust upon me it’s been the rock-and-hard-place situation perhaps familiar to my readers: I cop all the accountability of getting a project finished by the deadline without any of the authority to force people to do things they don’t want to do, like complete their part of the project.
That’s as close as we get to power in modern times. As Eisenhower said, in the military you pick up the phone and issue orders confident they’ll be carried out instantly and to the letter; as president you bark orders down the phone and nothing happens.