With her mother in town, my wife and I decided to take the opportunity of a built-in babysitter and have a rare night out alone. Our choice for the evening was a prohibition themed joint where you enter a waiting area dressed like an antique store and then make your way into what I’m assuming must be the bar area after satisfying the “cashier” that you’re not the fuzz. I say this because we, well… I, wasn’t able to get inside. The reason? I’d forgotten my license. You know: that 2×3 piece of plastic that the state issues to you so that you can prove that you have permission to drive a vehicle that you own on roads that you paid for.
It has become so much more than that. Maybe it’s just Utah (it isn’t), but this little piece of plastic has taken a central role in our lives.
Let it be clear that I look as middle-aged as I am: grey running through my hair and beard, permanent scowl from years of trying to rein in the fuckery of subordinates, reading glasses dangling from my pocket and the seemingly inevitable dad-gut. In short, there is no way that I look like I might not be old enough to (legally) consume an alcoholic beverage. Additionally, I have several other forms of ID that state my date of birth on them, to include a state issued permit to carry a concealed weapon. Why this document in particular is not acceptable to prove my age is beyond me, but that’s not the thrust of this piece. In a fantastic storm of absurdity, I found myself standing in an establishment whose entire shtick is based on their forebearers’ penchant for sticking it to the man’s burdensome rules, unable to get inside because the plastic bit that the state insists I carry had the wrong barcode/color/number and the law says they can’t accept it.
We have evolved from people whose distrust of those in power led to the foundation of a new form of governing which was designed to respect the rights inherent in the individual and not force them into relationships they find detrimental. Those people dumped British goods into the ocean over a paltry tax, tarred and feathered those they felt were collecting unjust taxes and stood tall in the face of His Majesty’s Army’s attempt to confiscate their means of defense. Compared to not just the ideal but our own past, we are approaching or have surpassed Orwellian levels of control. The people of today have grown lazy about the rights that remain, have minimal conception of the rights they have had stolen and take on authority nearly anything that comes out of their televisions. The citizenry may offer a weak mewl when some new measure is trotted out by some committee or another, if they’re even aware of it, but ultimately roll over when their rights are sacrificed on the altar of safety (it’s for the children, don’t you know?), as most rights are.
How has our conditioning become so deep that we don’t recognize this loss of liberty? How do we, as a people, not see that the few freedoms that we still retain are limited to such a narrow scope that it is laughable to even call them freedoms?
There a number of factors that have contributed to this erosion, but licensure might be one of the more onerous and obvious. Licenses are supposed to be slips of paper or plastic that indicate that the bearer is capable of engaging in the noted activity. In reality, they are nothing more than proof that the appropriate hoops were jumped, fees were paid and permission was granted to partake in a given activity.
Pay to play, indeed.
The state requires us to obtain their permission to: drive cars, drive trucks, tow a trailer, camp, get married, get divorced, raise children, watch children, cut hair, run a business, broker a house sale, be an accountant, pull wire, lay pipe, provide security, clean teeth, apply makeup, conduct a funeral, landscape, inspect marble, shape and paint fingernails, have a dog, hunt, fish, guide others on hunting and fishing tours, carry a firearm, talk on most radios and protest injustice, just to name a very few. The state has imposed itself as the arbiter which can, and will, dictate which of those rights you are allowed to exercise, with whom and how much you’ll pay for the privilege. Provided you meet the requirements set forth by bureaucratic fiat, you are free to pursue the American Dream.
We are required, at the point of a gun, to submit our rights to the government who then sells them back to us. You might think that I’m exaggerating or being deliberately hyperbolic by alluding to the state’s guns, you’d be mistaken. The state, in all its collective wisdom, claims the right to monetarily fine you for non-compliance. If you decline to pay their fine, they claim the right to kidnap you and put you in a cage. If you resist being taken by force, they claim the right to kill you.
Papers please. And don’t forget to pay your fees.