As the American Heritage Dictionary defines it, a police state exists when “the government exercises rigid and repressive controls over the social, economic, and political life of the people, especially by means of a secret police force.”
Ten years ago, then-Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) asked whether the United States fit such a description, and someone responded: “Where are you? Are you wondering?”
“Now,” Paul says, “everybody knows we live in a police state.”
Paul shared these remarks during a recent Mises Institute Circle in Houston, Texas: “The Police State: Know It When You See It.” However, despite the seemingly glib assessment of the question at hand, he sees this awareness as progress.
“The people are waking up; they realize what’s happening; and they’re getting annoyed.”
As is his tendency, not following notes, Paul drifted between a variety of topics as he commented on the police state in the US context. However, one particular segment drew my attention. As Paul referenced 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tiananmen Square Massacre, he offered “the tank man” as a role model of courage against such tyranny.
This man — whose identity remains unknown — had the brazen confidence to face a line of military tanks, armed with nothing more than a couple of shopping bags. “It’s so symbolic,” Paul says, “of man against the state,” and the tank man merits his place as an icon of civil disobedience. So impressed, Paul had a framed photo of this incident in his congressional office.
While many see this act as a total failure, since the communist regime remained in place and hundreds of people died that day in China, Paul sees otherwise: “I am convinced the tank man won.”
Why would he say that? Because that David-versus-Goliath act disarmed any legitimacy the regime had. It was also a wake-up call to those in power, that people would defy them if they did not change their ways. The reality is that no regime can contain a population that possesses great anger, even with police state tactics.
These days, China is no haven of liberty — far from it — but in some regards, doing business there has become easier than in the United States. As of 2013, China has surpassed the United States and become the world’s largest economy, and in January, Houston became the sixth US city to have daily, nonstop flights to Beijing.
On this side of the ocean, Paul points to heroes such as Edward Snowden and legislators nullifying unconstitutional federal activity as leading the way towards reform: “We’re really in the middle of something going on in this country. . . . There’s every reason to believe that the police state is going to continue to crumble.”
Whether that reversal will come about peacefully, via the political process, or through a more severe economic downturn and civil unrest, Paul does not know. The necessary anger, though, is building, amid an unfortunate economic environment.
EspañolAt Peter Thiel’s Founder’s Fund they ask aspiring entrepreneurs the following question: why should the 20th employee join your company? This is in the Silicon Valley context, where a decent employee could find a job at somewhere like Google, for much better money and conditions than a new business could provide. The test is to find how powerful the idea behind the venture is: is it enough to create a vision of future value, beyond the close circle of initial partners? Now this is the question to entrepreneurs, but there is an inverse to this question, to aspiring employees, and it’s the following: would you be the 20th employee? In other words, do you believe in this idea enough to sacrifice safer and more secure alternatives in order to part of it, even if you are not at the core, ready to reap the lion’s share of the equity? We could ask the question of those interested in the ZEDEs for Honduras, or the whole concept of LEAP zones or startup zones. For us the answer is clearly yes. I would much prefer to be in the top nineteen, but, yes, I would be the 20th employee for this venture. And that would be a sacrifice. It already is. I may not have a job at Google open to me, but the "sensible" path would have been to be a transport manager in the British Midlands, drawing a steady and reasonable wage with the promise of career advancement. Hell, even being a truck driver in the United Kingdom would be more secure financially than what we are doing now. But . . . there is something beyond the sensible that drives us, something that if we pursued the sensible path would always have us longing for what could have been. If you read this, there is a high chance that you also have this drive, this yearning to be part of this idea. I’ve recently had a few conversations about what people’s motivations might be, and I’ve always been aware to question my own motives. For sure, there are people whose desires will not be met by the ZEDEs in Honduras. If you are looking for a libertine paradise, where people can "walk around naked with a needle hanging out of their arm" — as a Honduran friend said with studied crudeness — then the ZEDEs are not for you. But I would suggest that many of the people I know who are attracted to the ZEDEs have another motive, one which maybe even they don’t truly realize is inside them. It is this: these zones are a frontier. They are a new thing, an adventure, and a new addition to humanity. Now, we could trot out an analogy about the discoverers of the “New World,” the Americas. But I’ll go further back, and draw on the great unwritten story of human adventure, when prehistoric man spread across the globe. Back then, as now, to explore frontiers was to challenge the status quo. For our forgotten ancestors the status quo was geographical. They said instead of here, what is over there, beyond that mountain range, beyond that ocean? They traveled beyond those frontiers, and were rewarded with new lands and new resources. The spirit of human adventure was born. Now days, to challenge the status quo is to challenge the social. To challenge not where things are done but to challenge how things are done. This is where our fresh faced tech entrepreneur comes in. He may come with an app, for example, that alters how people interact. This may be subtle, it may be relatively small, but it may be enough to attract more than 20 people who want to be part of that new frontier. So what about the ZEDEs, this new thing in Honduras? The Hondurans have allowed for a blurring of the concepts of state and governance. This is quite clearly a challenge to the status quo; it is quite clearly a new frontier. So quite clearly, it will attract those who are driven by adventure, by those who possess that frontier spirit. It’s for those who believe that over that mountain range lie unheard of rewards, and that their boldness will win those rewards. They know that what lies ahead is unmapped, but that spurs them on even more, because they know that they could have some part to play in shaping what lies ahead. So for those in Honduras who have planned this, who have spent years bringing this to fruition, how could they answer the question? Would the 20th person give up the secure options to get involved? The answer must be the most resounding yes, and for the 200th and 2,000th individuals as well. Because this must be one of the most profound challenges to the status quo of our age; this must be one of the most promising new frontiers. This article first appeared on GrahamPBrown.com and appears here with permission.