Sunday’s Wisdom #328: The Need for Vigilance

“Villains who twirl their mustaches are easily spotted. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are easily camouflaged. …she or someone like her will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mr. Worf. That is the price we have to continually pay.”
– Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 4, Episode 21, “The Drumhead”

Last week, I talked about the first link in the chain, and the dangers of allowing even that first link to stand. This week, I want to use another Picard quote, from the same episode, to discuss who forges those chains and why, and what we must do about it.

There is this notion that somehow never goes away that villains are always easy to spot. Good and evil are supposed to be easily distinguished from one another, so villains and heroes ought to stand apart – and stand out – just as much. To this end, small distinctions like political affiliation – and I do count that as a small distinction – become the dividing line between good and evil in many people’s minds, which they defend with rabid ferocity.

This is deliberate, a lie that is carefully cultivated for generations until people become so accustomed to believing it that it becomes a way of life, and nothing is allowed to challenge “the normal.” Any deviation from what “should” be becomes cause for suspicion, for fear, for anger, for righteous judgment, especially when there can be conjured some faceless, monolithic “enemy” which clearly threatens all that is good. Those who do not conform are lumped in with this “enemy” and forgotten as they are destroyed.

And thus do the lying, fear-mongering hypocrites gain power. Those who follow them give them power, while those who would oppose them are wiped away. They talk about everything good, as they hollow out the very husk of the cause they supposedly espouse, and wear it like the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Bite after bite do they take our of the flock, gorging themselves, their power and pride and influence and wealth, always casting blame for it on the unseen wolf, on the sheep themselves, and on the wolfhounds.

The only way to combat those who feed on fear is with vigilance.

Complacence, that feeling of safety because all the lights are on, is a would-be tyrant’s first friend. The moment they can turn the lights off, make people suddenly uncertain and afraid of what’s in the shadows, and promise to turn the lights back on, to let them feel safe again… well, that is what they will do.

But vigilance keeps calm, and keeps one’s eyes open even in the dark, adjusting to any scrap of illuminating light… and reaching for the flashlight one already has prepared, just in case, the better to distinguish, for all to see, which of those voices in the dark are friend or foe.

Vigilance is demanding, and unyielding, but also calm. There is a tremendous gulf between vigilance and paranoia. One keeps the eyes open, the gaze steady, while the other tries to look everywhere at once in a panic, and sees next to nothing.

Vigilance is careful and thorough, and takes its time asking the questions that need to be asked and answered, instead of jumping to conclusions and lashing out. (I have some personal experience there, involving when some “friends” of mine decided to turn off the lights and scare me, and I responded by lashing out… and hurting one of their little sisters, an innocent bystander)

Vigilance is constant, most especially in times of peace, when things are good. No one has their guard down more than when they think they have nothing to worry about.

Vigilance is a price, part of the price of freedom. It is merely a question of what price we would rather pay: to maintain a vigil, or mourn the damage done by disasters which could have been avoided.

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