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Home | Mises Library | The Flame of Oppression

The Flame of Oppression

  • Cigar.jpg

Tags Free MarketsInterventionismOther Schools of Thought

06/30/2011Jim Fedako

The flame must have burned dull, since it burned unnoticed. Then without warning it brightened, revealing the face of a criminal. I called my children in close. "Let's go home," I said in a low voice. We withdrew from the parking lot, disappointed frowns marching homeward, while I turned to keep an eye fixed on the lonely car and its driver.

The evening had been uneventful. The kids and I played in the elementary-school parking lot that adjoins our backyard. Bikes, scooters, and RipStiks rolled along in joyful sweeps and swooshes. I watched for the occasional car to come in and out.

Near nightfall, toward the end of our play session and almost without my notice, a car slowly pulled into the lot and stopped in a spot away from us. I do not remember giving the car or its driver a second glance; we continued as before.

Oh, sure, I occasionally caught the smell of something odd, but I thought it would soon pass. Then, on the periphery of my vision, I spotted a glimpse of a flame as it burned bright, emanated some smoke, and then dulled into a mellowed orange. I reacted. Why?

Well, smoking is banned on school property. That means the driver is a criminal. And I am a father who does not want his children to be near crime or criminals. So we hastened toward home and safety.

Oh, the Absurdity

What an absurd world we live in — a world in which a father enjoying a cigar on a warm evening as he waits to pick up his son from an after-school activity is guilty of a crime. Whether he had no knowledge of the ban or no care, I will never know. I thought of talking to him about the ban. However, I feared he would take my opening — "Did you know that smoking is not allowed on school property?" — the wrong way and, instead of recognizing my question as an initial inquiry into the ethics of the state, would have considered me a snitch and sought refuge in a more distant parking spot.

So I watched and contemplated.

We are all criminals. There is some action that each of us has performed, is performing, will perform, or — most absurdly — will not perform that the state has designated a crime. These include actions that no reasonable person would believe criminal, such as blowing a whistle while riding a bicycle in Ohio.

In reality, I did not consider the cigar a threat, nor did I actually march my children home that evening. Instead, we stayed in the parking lot, and I used the opportunity to explain the actions of the state — actions that criminalize all sorts of nonaggressive behaviors.

My children asked, "Why did the school district ban smoking?"

I responded, "Because it could."

The Nanny Do-Gooder

This is an article about the nanny do-gooder, well-intentioned and wrong. About folks who desire to do something good through the force of the state, but miss (or discount) all the destruction left in their wake.

Years ago, I was on the school board (forgive me) when the smoking ban was approved.[1] My "no" vote was overwhelmed by the nanny-do-gooder desires of all the other board members and administrators. In fact, some of these very same folks were considering banning birthday cupcakes and enforcing at-desk exercises.

In these discussions and debates, all the "public-good" arguments — the usual suspects — were made without any sense of hypocrisy. Not a board or administration work session ever occurred without the ubiquitous pile of candy and chocolates. However, the thought of cupcakes in the classroom sent shivers through the nannies who exist to run your life but never their own.

The board did not ban sugar (not yet, anyway), but the rest of its members at the time could not even consider anything that appeared to defend the demon tobacco. So the ban was passed and the father smoking a cigar made an outlaw.

We Exist to Act

Man exists to act. He can act in a manner that increases liberty or decreases it, but he must act. So it should not be a shock that the agents of the good — the nanny do-gooders — want to do something they define as "good."

However, the definition of "good" has become so corrupted that those who seek to do good end up creating harm that they do not even recognize.

It Is a Matter of Words and Worldview

When liberty is perceived as wrong and control as right, actions that ban nonaggressive behaviors are deemed good. So the nanny do-gooder who proposes and pushes through a ban of salt or fat is a hero, while the few defenders of liberty are portrayed as anachronistic and nonsensical, and certainly not progressive.

The goal — our goal — is to reclaim definitions that have been turned on their heads. We need to prove to our neighbors that liberty is good and control is bad. And we need to work toward reorienting worldviews.

We will know that the movement toward a dim future of statism has ended when our neighbors rise up as one and declare for the first time in ages, "Don't you dare ban it. Not today. Not tomorrow."

When this simple act occurs, we will be headed in the right direction.

With this reoriented worldview, man will still be able to exist through action. And he will do so by removing the barriers toward peaceful social interactions erected by the state. Then the nanny do-gooder will be the one who works to repeal instead of enact, and a father will be able to quietly smoke his cigar without an eye toward the potential snitch and an ear toward the siren.


[1] I started my intellectual journey as a progressive nanny do-gooder, thinking I could master the scientific keys to understanding and improving society through the coercive power of the state (though I then considered the state nothing more than a gentle nudge).

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