IT SEEMS SAFE TO SAY that if you were to take a confidential poll of the private citizens of the nations of the world, all but a handful of firebrands and crazies would come out in favor of peace at pretty much any price. They have their conflicting political systems, ideologies, and holy causes to be sure, but by and large they give the strong impression of asking little more than a chance to raise their children as best they can, keep the wolf from the door, have some fun when they're through working at the end of the day, find some sort of security against old age, and all such as that.

Their leaders, on the other hand, are continually delivering ultimatums to each other, plotting to confound each other any way they can manage it, spying on each other, vilifying each other, impugning each other's motives, spending billions on weapons to destroy each other, and all such as that.

If at this most basic level, governments don't reflect the dreams of the people they govern or serve their wills, you wonder what on earth governments are. Reading the papers, you get the sense of them as small, irascible groups within each capital—far more of them men than women—who behave in ways that under normal circumstances would land them in the slammer in no time flat. They seem to have a life and purpose of their own quite apart from the lives and purposes of anybody else. They are perpetually locked in desperate struggles with each other that have little if anything to do with the general human struggle to live and let live with as little fuss as possible. It's we ourselves who have given them the power to pull the whole world down on all our heads, and yet we seem virtually powerless to stop them.

We need governments to collect taxes, keep the roads in repair, maintain order in the streets and justice in the courts, and so on, but we certainly don't need this. They don't pay us—we pay them—yet they're the ones who call the shots while the rest of us stand by with our knees knocking. Gulliver in all his travels never came across anything to equal it.

-Originally published in Whistling in the Dark and later in Beyond Words

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