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Letters from Downunder

A powerful vacuum

Submitted by Lindsay, Melbourne Australia!

The love of liberty is the love of others;
the love of power is the love of ourselves.
William Hazlitt (political essays, 1819)

(8/11) There's an old saying, 'nature abhors a vacuum,' but as 99% of nature is the vacuum of outer space, the saying is wrong. What it means to convey is that all things on earth flow from a higher pressure to a lower one. It is mankind that abhors a vacuum.

Not a physical one, of course, but a socio-political one. Man is a survivor, a collector of power, a flexer of muscles and a wielder of influence. And by 'man', I mean the human race - men, women, and children - when they get the hang of it. But mankind is also a social animal and needs to live in harmony with his fellows, in whatever social structure he finds himself, because without accord and tolerance the group would eventually wither away. It is this dichotomy of goals and imperatives that produce both the tensions and advances in society.

There's a very interesting experiment that all high school students are shown: An electric bell is placed inside a bell jar which can be attached to a vacuum pump. The bell is turned on, the sound is heard, then the jar is evacuated. The sound gradually dies away as the vacuum increases, until it can no longer be heard. In society, this is the equivalent of a cabal.

The word cabal is derived from the ancient Jewish Kabbalah, the mystical and secret interpretation of Hebrew scriptures, but has come to mean a group of men who work together in secret to create or establish something they wish to bring about. The most famous is the Cabal ministry, a group of four ministers of king Charles the second, the initials of their surnames coincidentally forming the word Cabal. This was not a true cabal in the modern sense, as they fought among themselves and dissolved after a few years. Free masonry, Opus Dei, and numerous other groups have had the title of cabal slapped on them by opponents and detractors, often with some justification, and today the concept is firmly associated with secret government meetings, plans and aims.

The participants can be clearly seen, individually heard, and their position known, but their conclave is off the radar. This hardly matters if it is a business, because many businesses are run this way in part, as strategies, plans and possibilities must be kept secret. When it is political, though, things can get dangerous.

Dictatorships run on cabals, but a democracy, by definition, cannot, as it is a government of, by and for the people - not just a few of the people, but all of them. A cabal is un-democratic, then, because its aim is to bring about something that is in the interests of a few, or of some section of the community that may have similar desires. There is one big proviso, however, in the formation of a cabal: It cannot flourish where there is real, informed opposition.

Yes, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and the preservation of democracy is the voice of informed debate and a clear setting out of alternatives. Yet cabals exist. How do they get away with it in such strong democracies as ours and yours? Why, a lack of such debate and setting out of alternatives. And that comes about because of opposition infighting, laziness, preoccupation with their own status, or simple ignorance and inability.

For there is no substitute, especially in a democracy, for learning, perspective, dedication and a desire to see the best deal for ALL the population. That is never easy. At the moment in Australia we have a party in power that is somewhat to the left of your Democrats, but looks like losing at the next election to someone so far to the right that he'd make Genghis Kahn look like a communist - and all because the incumbent party is so intent on promoting factional members it cannot get a powerful message out.

In other words, this party has created a vacuum, and it's going to be filled by someone very few people want, someone who runs on cabal time and keeping the population in the dark about the reality of his policies. I understand you too have some issues to be decided soon, and wonder if you have an effective voice on both sides of any debate - or will you too be taken by those who have, cabal like, seized the opportunity of filling a vacuum?

If that is the case, I hope you can find a voice to balance the debate. Remember the bell? It's ringing, you can see it, but it is not heard. Until the air is let back in - and then it may be too late to deal with the outcome. Take up Mt. Hazlitt's mantra: "The love of liberty is the love of others. The love of power is the love of ourselves."

Trying to let the air in,


Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker