“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help.’" Have you ever heard these words or some version of this quote from President Ronald Reagon? I know I have. I grew up in a conservative family, with extremely conservative extended family for the most part. I can remember taking vacations to some of my cousins' houses and hearing my uncle say this phrase, or something similar, to my dad while discussing politics. Back then, I didn’t get what my uncle was saying. But I do now, and I find it a childish sentiment.
In order to highlight the problems with this quote, I’m going to share an excellent story that I read this last year that has really resonated with me. This is the story of “The Dog and the Dragon.” (Yes, I will be paraphrasing from Rhythm of War.)
The short version of this story (link for the full story at the end) is that there was a dog on a farm that one day saw a dragon. He, a mutt and the smallest of his pack, decided he wanted to be a dragon to become special. He saw that dragons could fly, had a beautiful coat of scales, and could speak in the human tongue. To fly, he learned to use a rope and swing around the barn on a crane. To have a coat of scales, he got wet and coated himself in corn seed that resembled scales. He was unable to learn to talk as dog jaws are unable to make human sounds, but in replacement, the dog learned to read and write in the dirt.
When he showed his pack each of his three “dragonly” traits, they laughed, said he looked stupid and that he was simply a dog. Ultimately, this dog realized that he was indeed a dog and had failed at being a dragon.
So what’s the point of this story? Why should we care about learning a lesson from a dog that failed at what it was trying to do? Because, for the point of this article, the dog is the government (specifically the US government). I grew up hearing how worthless government is, how much of a waste all government officials are, and how the less government there is, the better it always is. I believe it is too easy to blame this nameless “government” because it is formless and, therefore, simple to blame. But we need government (hopefully, a competent one). Yep, I said it. With that phrase, I just proved to every libertarian and deep conservative that I’m crazy.
But government is responsible for so much that enables the high level of living that we enjoy here in America.
Are you able to read and write? The majority of Americans, 80% of students, are in public schools, learn skills and become proficient thanks to our public school system, which is funded by the government.
Do you have access to fresh fruits and vegetables? If yes, odds are it’s because of America’s freeway and highway system that was built thanks to the government.
Do you have the right to go to court to fight off false accusations or to win reparations because you were wronged? Guess what? That’s thanks to the government.
Do you have electricity, fresh water and enjoy having indoor plumbing? Again, if yes, odds are it’s thanks to the government.
Undoubtedly the government has many things wrong in it, and there are definitely ways it could and should be improved. Regardless, it is important to remember all the good government provides for our communities. Just like the dog. Yes, he failed at being a dragon; he didn’t even come close; frankly, dogs can’t become dragons. Government is the same; people often have this ideal picture of what government should or shouldn’t do, and this is always going to be unrealistic. Everyone's ideal government would be someone else’s worst. A government that compromises and provides to some of the wants of all citizens sounds like a start.
A prime example to me that demonstrates how much of a bad rap government sometimes gets is the state government of California. For the past ten months, I’ve been living in southern California, in LA county to get specific. Before moving there, I was told all kinds of horror stories about how terrible it’d be there. How expensive it’d be, how many “negative nancies” (yes, that is exactly what was said; when the friend clarified, he meant it as people who’d get offended over everything), how many homeless there’d be, and just how much of a hellhole it’d be.
Guess what? It’s not that bad. In fact, I’ve come to rather enjoy it.
Yes, living costs are more expensive compared to northern Utah, where I moved from, but the rate I’m being compensated is also significantly higher here than I would be in Utah doing the same thing. I’ve had a few people get offended/upset because of things I’ve said, but with so many more varieties of people in California, I’d say that’s to be expected. There is a homeless problem, but it’s not that terrible. LA actually tries to help it’s homeless through some good welfare programs. (In fairness, it definitely has its issues but is not an area I feel qualified to talk about.)
I am not saying, however, that California has it all figured out. I still love my home state of Utah. There is a lot Utah has going for it. It has some amazing national parks and stunning sights in general. (The view from on top of the Wasatch mountains is simply the best.) The (relatively) low cost of living is a huge perk, and in general, the cities of Utah have a great sense of community. The point I’m trying to get at? Despite these two states generally being cast as complete political opposites (in many justified ways), both have some great things going for them. There’s no need to hate on one or the other.
While California undoubtedly has problems it needs to fix, it actually does some things remarkably well, like affordable healthcare for low-income people through their system of Medi-Cal. It’s got a pretty great highway system (speaking for LA county) so you can get around anywhere in this huge population center efficiently (as efficiently as possible in an area with such a massive population). It also has been incredibly welcoming and open, like you can find people of any variety super easily. In such a short period, I have been able to attend a Mexican festival for the city I’m in, go to some pretty awesome museums, and be a part of a research organization that has individuals from over twenty different countries.
In 10 months, I’ve been exposed to so many more experiences (to be fair, some good, some bad) than I ever was previously.
The point is, government is good; it’s the amount of government and how its “influence” is being used that’s important.
The reason I shared the story of “The Dog and the Dragon” is that though the dog is naive and fails at becoming a wise and majestic dragon, that doesn’t mean what the dog accomplishes is worthless. He’s still an absolutely amazing dog. Let me tell you the ending of the story to really drive this point home.
So one day, the family was playing in their yard when one of the children fell down the well. As the family frantically tried to find a way to fit someone into this small well to save the child, this dog, who had failed as a dragon, turned out to be uniquely qualified to save the child. The dog was small enough to fit in the well unlike the humans. Because the dog had tried to fly he knew how to use the rope. He had learned to swim from putting on his scales. Because he had learned how to write he was able to get the farmer to help with his plan. In the end, the dog was able to save the child from drowning, and in gratitude, the farmer allowed the dog into the home, to eat at the dinner table, and to sleep next to the fireplace instead of out in the cold with the rest of his pack. Because the dog was special.
Just like the dog, government is special. Because of government, at least early forms of it, humans have been able to build civilization and, ultimately, grow from simple hunter gatherer lifestyles into what we have now. Yes, it makes mistakes and fails, but my whole point is that decrying the government as some great evil, opens the door to allowing something far more nefarious than what we currently have to take its place.
(If you’d like to read the actual story of the Dog and the Dragon, feel free to contact the author or go read Rhythms of War (RoW). You can read the story as written in RoW as an excerpt here )