Precious Medals: Purchased Privilege

Harry Pollard and Mark Monson

[Reprinted from a Land-Theory online discussion, 29 March 2000]

Once upon a time, a king wanted to show his appreciation to some brave soldiers who had recently defended the kingdom from attack. He presented each with a medal and made this decree: "From this time onward, whoever wears these medals shall be allowed to go to the head of the line, wherever lines are formed."

The people cheered as the king pinned the medals on the soldiers.

Everywhere the soldiers went men tipped their hats and women curtsied. All the subjects of the kingdom were grateful to the heroes for what they had done in the war. When the any of the soldiers approached a line, everybody smiled and moved aside so the soldier wearing the medal could advance to the head of the line. The soldier wearing his medal need never again wait in the check out line in the supermarket, or the line at a ball game, or the line at the motor vehicle department. Anywhere people lined up to wait, the soldier wearing his medal immediately went to the front of the line.

After many years, the oldest of the soldiers died and his eldest son received the medal from his father as a bequest. Soon the son was out wearing the medal and going to the front of the line.

Later, another old soldier died. He had no family to leave his belongings to. His things were auctioned to pay debts he had incurred. someone paid $600 dollars for his bravery medal. From that day, the new medal owner enjoyed the convenience of going to the front of the line wherever he went.

And so it went that after a few more years none of the owners of the medals were the original soldiers. Although the people still moved aside for the ones wearing the medals they moved aside less cheerfully.

At the supermarket, a woman said, "Why should we have to move for this one to go first? He was never in the war. He merely bought that medal"

She was answered by a man who said," Yes. But the buyer of the medal paid good money for it. He has the right to go first now"

At the movie theater, the bickering became so intense that the police had to be called to restore order. The policeman said, "The King's law says whoever is wearing the medal is entitled to be first in any line. Anybody who interferes with that decree is breaking the law and will be arrested".

At that the grumblers fell silent.

After a time, the medals became quite valuable on the open market. They were much sought after by the rich and powerful. To wear the medal was to show the world that you had attained success and prestige.

Some people said that it would have been better if the King had never given the medals in a way that they could be used by others than the original soldiers. They said that nobody should be able to buy the privilege of cutting in line, unless they bought that privilege from those in front of them.

But most people just envied the medal wearers.


One of my best ploys as I Bilko'd my way through the RAF was a "Front of the Queue" chit I wrote and got signed by a Group Captain. (High, high, high!)

I used it for almost 2 years before it became to tattered.
Back then, we had ration cards which were holed at the cook house. Of course I had several cards, but the problem was that to get a second or third helping, one had get on the end of one of the long lines.

I would choose another line, brandish my chit, and stuff.
Sure beat hitchhiking home on a weekend without a pass, with a knapsack full of stolen food for my family - or at least it was safer. I must have been very young to take such risks.
I think I was developing my philosophical roots back then without knowing it. Once I found that the cooks were living pretty sumptuously with food falling out of the refrigerators and being thrown away, I decided my family (living on a per capita one egg a week, an ounce of butter, one can of fruit, a smidgen of meat) could use some of it.

Perhaps the best way to fight coercive control is not to beat your head against their wall, but simply to refuse to join them.