Omnipotent moral busybodies

My last post talked about the persecution of some believers by others.

This need not involve violence or physical suffering, and it happily rarely does (in the west, at least).

Persecution as power

Instead, that persecution usually involves the imposition of one’s will upon others:

Religious persecution does not consist in thumbscrews or fires of Smithfield; the essence of religious persecution is this: that the man who happens to have material power in the State, either by wealth or by official position, should govern his fellow-citizens not according to their religion or philosophy, but according to his own.

–       G.K. Chesterton, All Things Considered, 5.

And, this need not happen just in the nation state. It can occur whenever someone with power can co-opt or seize resources of time, prestige, or money that is not theirs, and use it to press their own agenda.

The State can seize some of my assets in the form of taxation and the like—and so not ought to be able to dictate to me in matters of religion and philosophy, especially by using my own earnings against me, which I cannot withhold from them.

Seizure and redirection of resources

Likewise, persecution becomes inevitable when time, money, or other resources are redirected to ends which the givers have not approved. Their own donations and efforts are turned against them, or against the philosophical or religious views of which they approve.

The other goals may be worthy in their way, and if asked perhaps givers would have chosen to support them as well. But, that is a decision for them to make, not one to be made by those who consider themselves their betters.

Thus, persecution need not involve cases of right vs. wrong or good vs. evil (though it may).

At times, it simply about the naked exercise of power, which is always oppressive, and which virtually always leads to trouble (see D&C 121:39).

Signs and symptoms

In such cases, watch for centralization of decision making in a few persons (or one). Watch for those who differ to be forced out or intimidated into silence. Note how those in charge over-react to  questions. Observe how such folk try to lock down information, carefully package and control its release, and spin-doctor everything. Any dissent is seen as a mean-spirited personal assault.

Challenges to the narrative being offered will be met with anger and petulance, and will lead to efforts to tighten control even further. Cosmetic changes take precedence over true, system-wide reformation.

Look for a lack of council work (which fosters a broad perspective with a chance to hear all voices) and little accountability. Those who provided the resources being co-opted are the first to lose a seat at the table. If such mechanisms remain in place, they will be ignored, stripped of real power, or treated as purely ceremonial or courtesies.

Watch for a paternalistic attitude, in which those in charge assure the masses that what is being done is for “the greater good,” or (more ominously) “your own good.”

My contention is that good men (not bad men) consistently acting upon that position would act as cruelly and unjustly as the greatest tyrants. They might in some respects act even worse. Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. Their very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level with those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.

–        C.S. Lewis, “The humanitarian theory of punishment,” The Twentieth Century: An Australian Quarterly Review 3/3 (1949): 5-12.

At least robber barons do not attempt to make their victims grateful for their depredations. But, heaven preserve us from “moral” busybodies, especially those who help themselves to that which was given by their victims.

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