“Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”
– Frank Sinatra as Major Bennett Marco in The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
For anyone who has seen the film classic, The Manchurian Candidate, the quote in the prologue should bring back the subtle horror of the premise of the film. Using experimental methods of operant and classical conditioning, the villains of the film – the intelligence community from the eastern communist bloc – were not only able to control the actions of their subjects, but their thoughts and feelings as well. While the most horrific scenes in the film are those in which Raymond Shaw is forced to kill people he loves or respects, the control exerted over the other members of Shaw’s unit is equally disturbing and much more relevant to our political discourse today.
For those who have not had the opportunity to see the film, Marco and the other characters who repeat the adoring words about Raymond Shaw only do so because they are conditioned to for the purpose of covering up the massive plot that constitutes the story line of the movie. Marco later says, “It’s not that Raymond Shaw is hard to like. He’s impossible to like!” He tells his superior officer that while praising Shaw he really believed what he was saying, even though deep down he knew it wasn’t true. He had been trained to respond emotionally in a way that contradicted his reason. A more appropriate metaphor for American politics is hard to imagine.
The United States of America was born during the Age of Reason. Its founders believed that reason was the law of nature itself, and that the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were logical conclusions based upon observable facts. Further, they believed that reason was a duty and a prerequisite of those rights – one could only be entitled to liberty if one followed the law of nature, which requires non-aggression in return for the natural right to do as one pleases. This is why children do not have a natural right to liberty. They must first develop their reason sufficiently to be able to responsibly claim that right. As Locke said,
“The power, then, that parents have over their children, arises from that duty which is incumbent on them, to take care of their off-spring, during the imperfect state of childhood. To inform the mind, and govern the actions of their yet ignorant nonage, till reason shall take its place, and ease them of that trouble, is what the children want, and the parents are bound to: for God having given man an understanding to direct his actions, has allowed him a freedom of will, and liberty of acting, as properly belonging thereunto, within the bounds of that law he is under. But whilst he is in an estate, wherein he has not understanding of his own to direct his will, he is not to have any will of his own to follow: he that understands for him, must will for him too; he must prescribe to his will, and regulate his actions; but when he comes to the estate that made his father a freeman, the son is a freeman too.”
So, it is not surprising that an absence of reason has accompanied the loss of liberty, for it is only the former that makes possible the latter. No one would logically conclude they would benefit by placing their life, liberty, or property under the arbitrary power of anyone else, for to do so is profoundly illogical. Yet, every generation, Americans have surrendered more of their rights to a government that has grown into the most pervasive institution of power that has ever existed in human history. They have done so for the most part because they have allowed their passions to replace their reason. Until we recognize this, every “change” we make is going to be for the worse.
Third parties and other tiny constituencies aside, American political discourse is dominated by our two major political parties. Their primary goal in any debate is not to reach the truth, but to enlarge their voting base. Having discovered long ago that appealing to the voters’ feelings is more effective than appealing to their reason, there is little more to most political dialogue coming out of politicians and activists than ad hominem attacks against their opponents and empty jingoism that similarly appeals to conditioned emotional responses rather than any rational position or argument (and once in a while, they cry). Perhaps this has always been true in politics; perhaps it will never change.
However, what is truly frightening is how successfully these parties have been able to train average Americans to think and act as they do, and ultimately to cast their votes likewise. For anyone that has given their allegiance to either of the major parties, no dissent or even discussion of that party’s platform is permissible.
If you are talking with someone who identifies him or herself as a Republican or a “conservative,” the mere suggestion that the United States government should consider decreasing military spending or changing their nation-building foreign policy results in a vitriolic, ad hominem assault of the most vicious nature. Often, the response will reference positions that you not only did not take but were not remotely related to the discussion you were having before you questioned party dogma. You may criticize the war in Iraq and find yourself attacked as “godless” or an atheist or even a traitor, while your subject goes on to tell you why you are so wrong about supporting amnesty for illegal aliens, regardless of the fact that the subject of illegal aliens was never heretofore mentioned and you happen to oppose amnesty for illegal aliens.
Similarly, when talking with someone who identifies him or herself as a Democrat or a “liberal,” any mention of support for a free market will elicit a similar attack. You may be called a racist, a fascist, selfish, or greedy amidst a blustering diatribe about the importance of the separation of church and state and religious tolerance, which are likewise subjects that heretofore were not part of your conversation and which you may well agree with wholeheartedly.
One must recognize at this point that you are not engaged in a debate. The person you are talking to is no longer reasoning, but instead giving conditioned responses to words he or she has been trained to react to with abhorrence and intolerance. In most cases, you can expect no chance to redirect the person back to the discussion you were having nor any chance to make a further point, as your opponent will likely continue to cut you off and ultimately withdraw from the conversation, having heard nothing beyond the trigger word(s) that set the absurd reaction in motion.
If the whole encounter seems bizarre, consider the associations that were likely revealed during it. Anti-war equals godlessness (is God pro-war?). Free market equals racism. Property equals greed. Neither Orwell nor Burgess could have imagined a victory over reason so complete. Soon, like the iconic Dr. Pavlov, our masters will need to do no more than ring a bell to direct our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Without reason, there can be no liberty. Reason – the law of nature – is what allows us to discover the natural, non-aggression limit to human action. It is what defines liberty and distinguishes it from the state of war. It is doubtful that any one of us has not been guilty of abandoning reason at one time or another, although there are some that are certainly guiltier than others. It is also clear that there are those who would go on exhorting our passions in order to cloud our reason and therefore rob us of our liberty, for their own gain at our expense.
There is only one way that we can regain our freedom. We must “pull out the wires,” as Major Marco said to Raymond Shaw. We must break the links that we have allowed others to implant within our minds and begin to listen to one another again, even when we disagree. Pacifism is not communism, freedom is not racism, and property is not greed. These associations are as insane as “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.” We should be disgusted with our political class for manipulating us this way and ashamed of ourselves for allowing them to train us like dogs.
Until we break free from this irrational partisanship, we are like the children that Locke describes above, without the understanding that qualifies us for liberty. There are plenty in our political class that prefer us this way, so that they may “will for us” in regard to every aspect of our lives. However, unlike wise and loving parents, they have demonstrated throughout all of history that they will teach us nothing but nonsense and guide us nowhere but to war and economic destruction. Even a small child will stop touching the stove after he has burned his hand a time or two. Are we not even as intelligent as this?
There are a few simple things to keep in mind as you attempt to fight the good fight. If you are conscientiously arguing a position that you believe in but find yourself being called a racist, a satanist, a right-wing extremist, or a traitor, keep doing what you are doing. You are very likely winning. On the other hand, if it is you that is resorting to calling your opponent names, ask yourself, “Why am I attacking my opponent? Am I unable to refute his argument?” Maybe it is time to consider the other side.
If you find yourself saying anything that you heard a politician or any of the politicians’ lapdog media hounds say, think very carefully about whether you really agree with it or not. It is likely that further thought will change your mind.
Finally, if you hear a bell ring and find your mouth starting to fill up with water, be aware that there is something very, very wrong.
 Locke, John Second Treatise of Government Hackett Publishing Co. Indianapolis, IN (1980) pg. 32
 Orwell, George 1984 New American Library (Penguin Group) New York, NY (1961) pg. 4
Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.