There’s been a lot of spirited online rebellion in the last couple of days in reaction to Obama for America’s “Attack Watch” campaign. In typical American fashion, people are reacting to Obama’s announcement of a new criticism watchdog, replete with web site, by going out of their way to criticize and make fun of our President.
I am glad to see this, because it shows that the American sense of life–which has found expression in the Tea Party movement and is aptly symbolized in the classic “Don’t Tread On Me” flag–is alive and well. (Republican wins in the recent special elections are also a great sign.) I must admit I’m somewhat torn about discussing Attack Watch, however. This is because, as much as I want to join in on the frequent Obama-heckling tweet-fests (they’re fun and cathartic), I don’t want to increase the amount of resources squandered by Attack Watch. But maybe I should just get over that, because it’s all for a good cause: showing that Americans won’t stand for censorship of their criticism of their elected officials.
The reason I’m posting about this (in addition to trying to come up with at least one really clever tweet heckling the President) is because it occurred to me that Obama’s institution of Attack Watch is a case study in the application of Ayn Rand’s observation that force stops thinking. In Chapter 8 of his book, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff writes, “[I]f and to the extent that someone’s gun becomes a man’s epistemological court of final appeal, replacing the law of identity [A is A], then the man cannot think.”
So, to those who frequently criticize the President, let me ask you: When you first heard of Attack Watch, did you say to yourself, even for a millisecond, that you would now have to be more careful when criticizing the President publicly? Never mind that, if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably the kind of person who would go ahead and act as you had before anyway. That’s not the point. People decide to resist the institution of government controls all the time, but that does not mean that those controls, if and to the extent that they are imposed, do not stop thinking.
Some might argue that Attack Watch doesn’t threaten the use of force of any kind, nor the imposition of any penalties, so this is in fact not an example coming under the principle. (The site is apparently run by a non-government organization, Obama for America.) But if you think about it, the only reason that people even care about the existence of Attack Watch, the only reason they feel like they must rebel against it, is because they know that, even if there has not yet been a threat of penalties of any kind, such penalties might not be far behind. This is why phrases like “enemies list” and “political prisoner” keep appearing in discussions of Attack Watch. If you feel the slightest bit intimidated by the creation of Attack Watch–even if you tell yourself you will not be affected by it, that you will continue on, as before–then you have experienced a small taste of what Ayn Rand meant. (As have, for example, businessmen who were called to Washington and “urged” to run their businesses in a way more pleasing to the President, even though there was not, at that point, any legislation compelling them to do so.)
The initiation of force, or threatening to use force, is evil. This is why even a fairly heavily veiled threat of force by our government is cause for concern.