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Why Freedom Cannot Ring

By David Grant

Quiz: Rank the following in order of impact to your (you, your family and others you care about) future well-being or the lack thereof:

  1. Having the right people in political office;
  2. Removing undesirables from political office;
  3. Second Amendment rights;
  4. Stopping terrorists;
  5. Government debt;
  6. Corruption;
  7. Adherence to the Constitution;
  8. The economy;
  9. Health care;
  10. or Education.

If you picked 6 first, you get an A.

John Adams accurately pointed out that,

“Our Constitution is made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Remove virtue, altruism, conscience, charity, public and private virtue, honesty, integrity, and you will quickly find your well-being substantially diminished.

Power and Corruption

Making the connection between power and corruption requires little study. Most of us are familiar with Lord Acton’s quote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

What is not as easy to see is the connection between invisibility and power and, therefore, corruption. For Tolkien, who really got the idea from Plato, the connection between invisibility and corruption comes down to a ring.

In The Republic , Plato, through Glaoucon, told of a shepherd named Gyges who found a cave that was revealed after an earthquake. Gyges discovered that the cave was a tomb. Inside the cave was a bronze horse. Inside the bronze horse was a corpse wearing a ring.

Gyges removed the ring from the corpse and found that as he adjusted it, the ring was able to make him invisible. He sought after and was given the post of “messenger to the king” to report on the status of the king’s flocks.

Once inside, with the help of the ring, he seduced the queen, and with her help, killed the king and became king himself.

The Republic then launches into a discussion of whether or not justice is possible where there is no accountability. In other words, “can you be invisible and just?”

For our purposes, “Can you avoid corruption if you are not held accountable?

It is an important question, not because the answer is difficult or controversial, but because the conclusion is the battleground for the future of civil society.

The conclusion in The Republic is that it would be impossible to be invisible and just. I concur. Where there is no accountability, there will be corruption.

Tolkien implies that it would be nearly impossible but doable for someone like Frodo. Every other ring bearer was unable to avoid corruption. In Frodo’s case, the ring’s destruction was the only way that it would not be used at all.

The Ring of Gyges has become the prototype for societal disruption, and in the United States we have a particularly difficult dilemma on two fronts.

The first is that one of our sacred, implied rights is the constitutional right to privacy. A peek into privacy law reveals a quagmire of opinion, commentary, conflict, and dysfunction. It will certainly end up being one of the most important debates of this century.

The second reason that the Ring is prototypical for societal disruption for the United States is that we have not been able to adequately grapple with the difference between privacy and anonymity.

Though privacy and anonymity share likeness, the effective difference is drastic.

Consider eBay, one of the best functioning exchange mechanisms ever devised.

You can buy and sell in complete privacy. It is a unique marketplace where typical prejudices are irrelevant. Judgment as to the possible success of a transaction is based almost solely on historical transactional data that is completely public.

eBay’s success is found in the discrimination of what will be private and what will be public information (interesting that the free market dictated the wildly successful mechanism condition).

In an eBay transaction, race, gender, weight, political affiliation, religion, nationality and personal history are private. Skinheads and Black Panthers freely buy and sell to each other. Liberals and conservatives exchange goods and services and give each other stellar ratings.

Yet, in the eBay marketplace, you will find little to no anonymity. Though identity is private, there is wonderful accountability and therefore no anonymity. In fact, through protocol and PayPal guarantee, you will not suffer an anonymous (Ring) transaction.

Unfortunately, in other arenas, Ring-seeking has become a national pastime as it was for others before us.

Those that hold the Ring can amass fortunes, gain influence, murder, plunder, and destroy with impunity. In one historical example, by the 1400s, Ring wearing had led to multiple sacerdotal abuses.

Priests could not be held accountable because only they had access to scripture and could claim scriptural justification for nearly anything. Wycliffe, Tyndale and Luther were all Ring-destroyers. Their successful attempt to widely publish the Bible cost many their lives.

In Wycliffe’s case, the hatred for his accomplishments in Ring destruction led to the un-earthing and re-burning of his bones after his death. Tyndale was strangled and burned. Others suffered similar fates. Those that hold the ring will hold onto it at the cost of many lives and vast destruction.

It could be successfully argued that the world’s current financial woes are a direct result of Ring-holder activities.

For lawmakers, every attempt is made to remove accountability for one’s closed-door, backroom deals through spin, favors, bribes, kickbacks, mountainous paperwork, lies, promises, threats and compromises. Conditions in manipulated financial markets allow for destructive speculator anonymity.

The resulting mortgage crisis can be blamed on both governmental and financial speculator anonymity. None are required to account for the actions that have wreaked havoc on present and future financial markets.

Though some may lose office and position, they can safely float home in their golden parachutes.

How We Are Trending

We are in trouble. Transparency International’s 2010 survey of corruption shows that, with the exception of Fiji, Georgia, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Palestine, we are far worse off than we were three years ago.

The data for the United States shows that 6 percent believed that there was a decline in corruption in the United States over the last three years. Twenty-two percent said that there was no difference, and 72 percent said that there was more corruption.

Venezuela’s numbers are 7 percent, 7 percent and 86 percent respectively and they have a corrupt dictator at the helm.

As far as perception of corrupt institutions goes, the following numbers are sobering. On a scale of 1 – 5 with 5 being the most corrupt United States scores the following:

  • Political Parties, 4.3;
  • Congress, 4.0;
  • Police, 3.3;
  • Media, 3.5;
  • Public Officials, 3.8;
  • Judges, 3.4;
  • Religions, 3.1;
  • Military, 2.8;
  • Education, 3.0.


We must push for public transparency, individual and business privacy and limited anonymity. The end of the invisibility road is corruption, and where there is corruption, there is suffering and it is usually the suffering of the weak and the innocent.

The most serious of all of the president’s campaign promises to be broken is the transparency promise. There is power in the presidency, on the courts and in Congress.

If these are allowed to work in the dark, corruption will breed faster than blame at an Obama press conference.

Integrity needs to be elevated to the number one electability criteria for all public officials. Shareholders should insist on the same thing for corporations.

Not long ago, a friend and I were debating the relative merits of WikiLeaks. I argued that WikiLeaks is aiding in anonymity destruction.

He conceded the point but argued that WikiLeaks amounts to vigilante justice and that although WikiLeaks did remove some anonymity, it also unfortunately removed some privacy.

There are two ways that integrity increases in an individual or a population. It can happen internally and may begin with a religious or transcendent experience or by an awakening of sorts.

The other way is through the imposition of exterior conditions that threaten an undesirable consequence. Wikileaks will only promote the latter.

Freedom and Rings

Two of the most poignant moments in movie and actual history occurred at the death of two martyrs.

The first was William Wallace as played by Mel Gibson. Wallace’s last word before his execution was the cry “Freedom!”

The second was the same cry from Hans Scholl who, immediately before suffering death by guillotine, shouted “Freiheit!” (Freedom).

You may conclude from each film that bad government or some other entity or circumstance was responsible for the death of both Wallace and Scholl.

In the end, the executions were mandated and carried out by ring bearers.

Corruption and Freedom are antithetical. To cry for the one and not decry the other amounts to the worst kind of ignorance. (If you are unfamiliar with the story of Hans and Sophie Scholl, you would do well to spend some time learning about them.)

Ring removal can be painful to the point of bloodshed, but where there is no accountability, there can be no freedom.

Luke 12:3 – Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.


davidgrant-150x175-customDavid B. Grant is the founder of Summa Logica Productions, which promotes formal logic training, particularly among youth, and helps you become a better thinker, reader, and writer. He is the author of Joseph Spider and the Fallacy Farm.

David holds degrees in Philosophy (BA) and Business (MBA) from Brigham Young University. He teaches Entrepreneurship and Operations at Southern Utah University.

He resides in Cedar City, Utah with his wife and five children.


  1. Steve Barfuss says

    Hey, Dave, I chose education on your quiz, and I give myself an A because education solves corruption. Transparency might not solve anything if the people don’t know what they are seeing.

    Good ideas though, enjoyed the article.

  2. Steve:

    Great comment. I still place integrity above knowledge as a leadership value. Really, though, without either, you suffer. Thanks for commenting!!

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