This is a topic I’ve often thought about: Why is it that when businesses or individuals do something corrupt or devious, the media and the people get outraged and insist on more government control – then, when the government takes control and government itself screws everything up, or worse, takes the corruption and law breaking to the next level, people laugh about it? What’s so funny?

Let’s start with a simple example of government bumbling and ineptitude. Remember a few years back when the US government “lost” billions of dollars it packaged up and sent to Iraq in the form of $100 bills on pallets? Try telling that story to a patron on a bar stool at your local pub, and I can predict the reaction of your listener: A shake of the head and laughter. Boy, that government sure is incompetent, isn’t it! Never mind that we should be outraged that $12 billion of our tax dollars are being packaged up on pallets, 360 tons of it, and shipped into a war zone to buy support from Iraqi interests. Never mind the fact that $8 billion of it could not be accounted for. Boy, that government sure is bumbling! Ha ha.

Now for a slightly more serious example: Remember when private airline security “failed” to protect us from terrorist attacks? Immediately, the cry went out for the government to take control of airline security. Overnight, an entire industry was removed from private holding and moved to government management. Never mind the fact that now we all pay for airline security whether we fly or not, and never mind the fact that everything the government does costs ten times more, we’ll all be safe now, right? Now, with complete government control over airline security, we’re all treated as subjects to government scrutiny, not paying airline customers. We can’t bring our toothpaste on a plane unless it’s in a government-approved package, we face longer lines, deeper intrusions into our property, and we’re not one bit safer. Reports abound of abuses at security checkpoints, and the constant ongoing failures to stop “dangerous” items from getting past security. Leno and Letterman are making jokes about it – are you laughing? And even if you’re not laughing, where’s the outrage that we had for the private sector failure? It’s as if once something has been pushed up to government responsibility, we expect failure and rest on our belief that it can’t be done in the private sector, and that government will sort out the problems, ill-founded as this faith may be.

But these examples pale in comparison to the hilarious examples of government’s abuse of the law and its attacks on liberty.

Before I go into the details, there is a second and larger issue tied in with all of this: We’re all constantly reminded of the declining morals of society. We blame Hollywood, lack of religious teachings in the schools, an obsession with instant gratification, hedonism…the list goes on and on.

I have been working on the idea lately that government itself is responsible for decline of morality in a civilization. A few examples in my studies kicked the idea into high gear, when I read about how the Jews were dehumanized with humor in Nazi propaganda short films. The people laughed. Eventually, doctors were participating in unthinkable crimes using human babies as rats in research experiments. When the whole system broke down, we look back at the behavior of the doctors and ask “how could they have done such things?” as if there were an event, a single traceable occurrence that led a doctor to one day switch from a caregiver to a monster. It doesn’t happen overnight, it happens through a long series of gradual conditioning steps. Governments, in their ongoing efforts to kill people, consistently dehumanize their victims to make it easier for the people to accept the killing – even to the point of using humor.

And then today I read Joshua Katz’s excellent piece at where he argues that in the United States today, we laugh at such things as torture, police abuse, and military occupation.

These are things we should hold as completely antithetical to the idea that is the United States of America, but we’re joking and laughing. It’s not just a matter of bad humor, it’s that we are desensitizing to atrocities committed by the government we formed to prevent them. Here is a passage from Katz:

Let’s be clear what these events all signify. Guantanamo Bay is a place where people are held, without charges, for 7 years now. In order to avoid judicial oversight, the executive has flown these people outside the boundaries of the United States; there is no law in place to protect them. The people held there, who have not been convicted, or even charged with a crime, are routinely tortured. At the University of Florida, a student asked a Senator a question about what he suspected was a stolen election. In response, he was electrocuted, beaten, and arrested. These are not jokes, these are deadly serious actions which establish, beyond all doubt, that a tyrannical order is being built. Our culture has turned them into jokes.

I’m not laughing. I’m concerned about the growth of government power and its abuses, and I’m acutely aware that a nation of peaceful people does not become a society of tyrant supporters overnight. It starts with ineptitude, and we laugh. It progresses to lawbreaking and we throw our hands up in helplessness, then use humor to deal with it. A society breaks down when it arrives at perpetual war, torture, and general inhumanity – and laughs.  Governments are destructive to morality.