Libertarians like to think that government is the source of evil, and are partially right: government can be a method of evil when it becomes self-serving and there is no strong culture to overthrow it. However, greater evil comes from the desires of individuals.
Without culture to constrain them, individuals simply do what benefits them, without first running it through the filter of consequences, whether indirect through social disapproval or direct from a concern for the results of their actions. Human desire leads us astray time and again.
The same evil that can exist in government will use any other method to gain power, including socializing and convincing other people that what is not true is in fact true. This method predates government, and explains how so many stupid, incompetent, and parasitic things have come to pass.
This leads us to the oldest human problem, namely self-governance. How do we control ourselves when the enemy is within? People in groups make bad decisions; there are also some people who are just bad. Common sense says to find the good ones and put them in charge, but that is unfashionable.
We all dream, at some point, of something like the Judgment that the Christians write of, where all of humanity is called before the pearly gates and judged. This means that a balance sheet is created with good and bad, and the sums are tallied, to see who is in the black and who is in the red.
Let your mind wander as you consider a seemingly inconsequential news story:
Gautier police say the tractor-trailer was traveling westbound when it lost the wheels, which then crossed the eastbound lanes and entered the rest stop.
Authorities say Maurer and two friends were about to get back into their vehicle when the tires hit her and two cars. The rest stop was closed while the death was investigated. It’s unclear what caused the tractor-trailer’s tires to come loose.
The audience claps loudly. You stride purposefully toward the bleachers next to the stage awash in lights. A host — perhaps he looks like Alex Trebek — trots out and takes his place behind a podium. Then the contestants file out and sit in dentist-office style utilitarian chairs.
“And now, introducing our contestants! Cody, 31, works at the service station that most recently adjusted the tires on this truck. Mano, 26, works at the plant that made the wheels on this truck. George, 42, is the line manager for that plant, and Ronald, 35, is the owner of the rig and its driver. Now, let’s play!”
The chairs rotate to face the curtain behind as it lifts. Facing each contestant is a Revolutionary War era musket.
“Now it’s time for Face the Muzzle!” the host shouts, to roars and clapping from the audience. Cheers intersperse the chatter of an excited crowd.
“Each one of these muskets is loaded with a soft lead ‘dum-dum’ style bullet that expands upon contact with flesh. Each has a trigger operated from the board over there which we have given to our expert panel — Saint Peter, Satan, Azazel, Rasputin, and Ba’al wave cheerfully — who will determine who is guilty here. Oh, and contestants, you are now locked down in your chairs.”
Arm and leg manacles extend and seize limbs, clicking into place. The contestants struggle for a moment, then give up. Fate has come. The host takes out some cards as the audience settles into a muted hum.
“Let us start with Ronald. Using our cosmic intuition, we can see that Ronald has maintained this truck by buying the cheapest parts available. However, he also inspected those parts and took two back to the store for being of inferior manufacture. He is also operating on a slim margin, since he is still paying off the truck. On the day in question, Ronald performed on operating check on his truck before starting on his run, after telling his dispatcher that he wants to do an overhaul on the engine in another five thousand miles. At the time of the incident, Ronald was distracted, mostly because he was singing along with Waylon Jennings and thinking about how his divorce means he will see his daughters only on the few weekends he is home. Tell us, Ronald, were you feeling sorry for yourself at that moment?”
The slightly heavyset man, wearing a white and red flannel and scuffed jeans, nods.
“I can’t hear you. Speak up!”
“Yes, I was,” he said. “I’m gone about half the weekends, and they’re going to grow up with their mother, and she hates me, and they’re going to be teenagers before I know it, and I’ll probably have spent only a dozen weekends a year with them. I’m gone as soon as they are old enough.”
The host wrinkled his brow. “That is pitiable, Ronald, but should you have been keeping an eye on the your truck?”
“I pay attention to her by how she rides. Nothing went wrong until right before the wheels came loose, when I felt a little hitch on the port side, and then a crash or thud and I seen the wheels racing off to the side. Was about to lose my hat I was screaming so loud.”
Moloch stood up. “The judges have decided. Are you ready to Face the Muzzle, Ronald?”
The beefy face beaded in sweat.
The demon, his words hanging in the air like storm mist, said simply, “We have found that he exercised care over his vehicle, and despite being a pathetic sniveling waste of a human meat sack destined for eternal sodomitic torture by all demons who deign to consider him important enough to torture, we render him innocent in this case.”
The gun facing Ronald tilted backward until it was facing the ceiling. Tears in his eyes, Ronald nodded as if making a vow to do better.
“Now it is time to turn to you, George. George, you maintain the line at the plant that made this truck, is that not true?”
A thin man with thick glasses and dark brows, George looked over and nodded, then said “Yes” in a slightly quaking and rusty voice.
“On the morning this truck was made, George reported labor troubles to his manager. Seems like there were too many hangovers, and a squabble broke out. Instead of stopping the line, George had his new supervisor, with less than eighteen hours on the job, double-check the work done, and then swapped in new labor to finish the work.”
George nodded. “That is the procedure.”
The host looked at the audience. “That is one option provided by the procedure. You could have shut the line down and had a full inspection. Why not?”
“Each unit gets a final inspection before shipping, and my numbers go down if the line is still too long, which was really bad that day because we had a lot of people sick or just having problems.”
“And yet, that may have been why workers improperly threaded an axle head to the point where mounting a tire would require the lug nuts to be on a 16.5% angle?”
“Well, no one told me about that…”
The host turned to the judges. This time, Satan uncoiled his tail and stood up. He simply held out a hand with long spidery fingers, then suddenly twisted the thumb down. Saint Peter pressed a button.
George struggled against his chair but then fire and smoke engulfed him. The sound of the shot hit the audience a moment later. You felt something wet like mist spray your face. Then George made a sound like gargling, and something that sounded like wet newspaper hitting the floor happened around him. The smoke slowly cleared and you saw that George had been shot in the lower chest, ripping his narrow frame open and causing an egress of intestines onto the floor.
Satan made thrusting motions with his hips to the cheers of the audience.
“Looks like George will be getting sodomized in Hell for eternity,” said the host. “That’s the thing about Face the Muzzle, folks: you are always facing judgment. We just make it happen a little quicker. On to our next contestant! But first, a word from our sponsors.”
A few minutes later the SILENCE lights came on, and the host counted down and began speaking. “Mano, you made the wheels that went on the factory truck, is that correct?”
Sí,” said Mano. “I did it just like normal. Push them onto the axel assembly, screw twice, then bolt.”
“Did you notice anything unusual?”
“No, we just put them on like that, make sure there’s no slip, you know? Nothing looked all that weird, but I had a hangover, man, was killing me, so I just tried to make sure it looked right from the side.”
The host turned to the other table. “Judges?” he said.
Rasputin stood up. “We find him to be not guilty, but not really worth saving either. He is, as you would say, a standard slob, a Homer Simpson, a mediocrity by the standards of the mediocre.”
The host looked down at Mano. His manacles unlocked. “It looks like you have won something today, Mano,” he boomed.
“Is that true?” said Mano.
The host turned to the audience and winked. “A free trip to Venezuela!” The audience cheered as two burly bailiff-looking fellows led Mano outside to a waiting plane.
“Well, folks, it has been a hot time tonight. With one innocent, one guilty, and one untermensch, we have only one contestant left, and he is looking green at the gills. Cody, tell us about the morning when you replaced the tires on Ronald’s truck.”
“Sure,” Cody drawled, with a touch of an Irish accent. “I put the tires on just as usual. Bolt off, remove, apply tire, seal, inflate, and then check with a pressurizer for leaks, then bolt it back on.”
“Do you,” the host paused for a moment, “do you normally encounter trucks which are imperfectly manufactured?”
“Oh sure,” said Cody. “There’s bad work that comes through all the time. Usually we recommend that it get fixed, but I know truckers, and they don’t want to hear that they need undercarriage work. Slows down the whole load.”
“That’s understandable, I suppose. If you know that trucks are imperfect, how do you deal with that when putting on wheels?”
“Heck, man, we just put them on. That’s the job. If it floats and rolls, all’s good.”
“And yet you failed to notice that in this case, the wheels were not fully flush and were wobbling?”
“Well, we didn’t have time to check that. We just got ’em on there.”
The host turned to the judges. Audience members began putting on ponchos that they had brought specifically for this reason. Ba’al bellowed an unearthly roar, and Saint Peter mashed a button.
“No–” shouted Cody but it was too late. The musket fired directly into his face, spraying the first three rows with human detritus. Some guy in the back started shouting, “I caught a skullcap! I caught a skullcap!” The headless corpse slumped forward, blood and tissue shreds slopping onto the floor.
“That wraps up our first session here on Face the Muzzle. Remember, for all the excuses you heard today, someone died here. Trucks move down the road at high speed and any sloppy, lazy, or incompetent behavior means that someone else or something else suffers. Join us after the commercial break for more exciting judgments of the everyday failings of your fellow humans!”