This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

June 19, 2002 - Government & Doug

The older I get, the more I realize how shaped I was by early influences.

One of those influences was the late, great science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein. I discovered him at our school library when was I was about 12 .

Some might say, "Yes, of course. What young people read molds the pattern of their thinking."

But nobody made me read Heinlein. Even if someone had, that's no guarantee it would have stuck with me. Books are like menus -- they merely offer. Only what we choose from the menu becomes part of our mental meal, is taken within to be digested.

I loved Heinlein because his consistent presentation of the human race resonated with my own intuitive biases. I was inclined to listen. That gave him, of course, a good chance to pass along other opinions.

In the main, Heinlein was a libertarian. That is, he argued for a "maximum looseness" in society. Yet he was also a fierce patriot, firmly committed to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." A veteran, he proudly offered his life to defend our peculiar national code of individual liberty.

While re-reading "Tunnel in the Sky," one of his young adult novels, I found a surprising statement that helped explain his position.

The situation: several groups of high school students have been sent to another world as a survival exam. The "gate" through which the students were sent doesn't re-open at the end of the test period. Finally, the remaining students band together to improve the odds of their survival.

One young man, at the first council of the group, asks, "What is the prime knowledge acquired by our race?" The students advance various ideas. Fire. Writing. The wheel.

Heinlein writes, "No, none of these. They are all important, but they are not the keystone. The greatest invention of mankind is government. More individualistic than cats, nevertheless we have learned to cooperate more efficiently than ants or bees or termites. Wilder, bloodier, and more deadly than sharks, we have learned to live together as peacefully as lambs."

So the students form a government. They begin the long climb from savagery to civilization.

Until the events of Sept. 11, it had become fashionable to bash our various levels of government. It was commonly accepted knowledge that all government was inherently parasitical, all bureaucracy inescapably inefficient.

Since Sept. 11, however, during our mini-recession, and in the midst of Colorado's drought and fire season, another side of government has revealed itself. Today's heroes are firefighters and policeman -- government workers whose mission is now fully revealed to the people: To serve and protect, even at the cost of their lives. When we looked for a response to the terrorist attack, we looked to government.

Around the world, various upheavals of the sort that lead to the tyranny and anarchy of the Taliban are common. Absent the rule of law, the separation of church and state, a stable and literate bureaucracy -- in short, all the trappings of our government -- the lives of real people quickly devolve into squalor, ignorance, and sudden death.

That isn't to say that government should be exempt from challenge. It is a wonderful tool and a fearsome master. Yet there is a difference between thoughtful oversight of our public institutions, and a destructive hostility.

Two years ago, Doug Bruce's "Taxcut 2000," which proposed an annual reduction of $30 in each property tax until the taxing entity was out of business, is a good example of this kind of pre-9/11 thinking. Defeated that year by the voters (who thought that the elimination of fire districts, water districts, and other entities might be a problem, and doubted the ability of the state to take on such tasks), Bruce is returning to the ballot this year, as issue #134.

I anticipate a vigorous debate. It just might be that Heinlein has a few important points to contribute.

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