The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
13.1 (Winter 2013)
THE POLIS VS. PROGRESS
courtesy of artrenewal.org
Self-Sufficiency: The One Hope for Political Freedom–and the Inevitable Response to Social Collapse
John R. Harris
Cyfyngder y dyn yw cyfleusdra y Duw.
Man’s tight spot is God’s way in. (Welsh saying)
I understand that people do not like to be oppressed by gloomy thoughts. If asked whether they prefer the half-full or half-empty option of the “drinking glass” cliché, 99% of the respondents would naturally choose the former, especially in contemporary America. To mistrust optimism, among us, is taken as an embrace of pessimism. The choice is a “toggle on, toggle off” polarization: the non-optimist is a pessimist by default.
This severely reductive mentality is really quite foolish, and potentially quite dangerous. It may explain why legal endorsements of marijuana gained momentum in the last election cycle, as well as why sports, video games, and other retreats to fantasy continue to boom in a collapsing economy. People are trying to remain optimistic, in the face of a growing mass of somber facts. The opposite polarity to this stupid but popular version of optimism would probably be a mass hysteria—a panic with no apparent limits, as excessive in its tendencies as the “happiness” vector. If Americans only knew outright, that is, what most of them already suspect deep down, riots would erupt and the nation would slide into anarchy. Under the circumstances, perhaps an etiolated stupor really is the better option.
So we dream on. We buy more gifts for another Christmas and stop following Washington’s vultures as they daily rip more sinew from the Constitution’s corpse. We are only too willing to dismiss as loonies the Cassandras who carry their Agenda 21 warnings far and wide over the Internet, even as our Congress votes to expel the word “lunatic” from all public documents lest feelings be hurt. Everything’s okay, just fine: the doomsayers need to “get high” or “get laid”. Abortions occur rarely and only because teenagers have gotten drunk—and the procedure never, ever involves sucking away a fully formed fetus’s brain in ambush as it exits the birth canal. The whole world would be safer if only all privately owned firearms could be collected: criminals would most certainly not do anything so horrid as exploit the disarmament of the law-abiding public. Universal health care will assure everyone an equal chance at state-of-the-art medical treatment, and its funding can easily be supplied by raising taxes on the obscenely rich and by simply printing more money—which latter may be done as needed and without any effect upon the cost of bread and shoes. Everything will be all right. The sun rose yesterday, and it will rise tomorrow. Light another joint, and chill out.
The promotion of substitute-opiates like weed, booze, and Hollywood films is actually an essential step in the playbook of any ambitious despot with designs upon a republic. Anesthetize the masses. Dope them up. Give them sports. Stir in millions who speak a different language and have never lived in a functional democracy. Call the lingering conscientious objectors despicable names like racist, hate-monger, and neo-Nazi. Reduce the electorate to a herd of grazing cattle.
It is difficult not to denominate the men and women (but mostly men) behind the massive power-grabs ongoing in many global “democracies” as evil. None of us is perfect, of course: all of us go astray. Yet the prerequisite for any moral behavior, good or bad, is freedom. A sentient, somewhat intelligent being must possess a choice of actions in order to be credited with having chosen rightly or wrongly. A man is not a murderer if he is tied and gagged so as to lure his friend into a mine field: the true malefactor must both make his own choice and make it in the knowledge of its probable harmful consequences. To be sure, if we refuse opportunities to extend our free will over circumstances or to acquire necessary information, we may become as culpable as if we had done certain deeds with malice aforethought. A twelve-year-old who strikes another child with a wrench because his father has often beaten him with blunt objects deserves much leeway when being judged; the same person at the age of twenty-two ought to have asserted more control over his unhappy conditioning. A landlord is not responsible for his property’s caving in on a family during a violent earthquake—but the same landlord carries heavy responsibility if a structure of whose dangers he has been warned kills people on a clear, calm day. The service of goodness must include a desire to do better, energetically exercised.
Now consider the case of a person who would take away the very possibility of moral choice—of freedom—from his or her fellow beings. This person has meditated for years and years upon various schemes to deprive normal adults of choice on a vast scale and for all time to come. The design, then, is highly deliberate. It is no crime of passion—no punch thrown in a fit of anger. The formidable amount of reflection behind it, far from exploring how to do better, is all invested in stealing from humanity the ability to do any good at all. Its utopian ecstasy cannot even claim the modest excuse, often available to such vices as envy and greed, of channeling outward a twisted desire for the admiration or approval of others (a condition that Thomas Aquinas applied to all sin). Rather, this quiet and persistent brooding upon the removal of moral choice from the human realm passes within the secrecy of one sick mind, one dark heart. Its object is not an eventual round of applause: its object, rather, is the complete subjugation of the audience to the status of insects in a lab experiment.
Such a sooty, withered soul does not deserve to be designated that of a mere transgressor. I am describing a human being who has turned thoroughly foul on the inside. Dante represents Fra Alberigo’s soul as frozen in the pit of Hell even as his body continues to live and breathe. The “Jovial Friar” lured his own brother and nephew into a deadly ambush after richly wining and dining them—an exquisitely appropriate metaphor for the conduct of many “people’s choices” in our own time. I believe that those who harbor this slavering lust to devour the freedom of innumerable human beings around them—who thrill like modern Caligulas at the thought of reducing their fellow creatures in vast numbers to playthings—already carry the smell of death inside of them. They want us, as spiritual beings, bound and tied to little strings like marionettes. These are not bosses who humiliate others because of their own insecure ego or harridans who slander others out of sexual jealousy or career ambition: these are not normal, pitiful people with their unsightly peccadillos. These are irremediable megalomaniacs. In them we see young Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. Hitler, we must remember, was once a boy, and Stalin was some mother’s son. They all started somewhere; and in the present configuration of the planet’s ruling elite, we find many who could pose as the boy-man Adolph in his corporal’s uniform.
We must fully understand, and constantly remind ourselves, that free peoples around the world are now at war with elected, paternalistic despots. How such a war is to be prosecuted must be very carefully weighed. Not only are rank-and-file advocates of freedom—the ultimate enemy of the tyrant—materially unsuited to wage a physical war against expertly trained and equipped troops: the use of deadly force, except in cases where one is immediately defending lives against aggressive assault, is unconscionable. Urban terrorism, the new guerilla warfare, destroys innocent individuals as spiritual creations quite as ruthlessly as does the totalitarian’s program of brainwashing—and it destroys them literally and permanently, in the terms of this world. A hand grenade is not a cure for cancer: neither is it a cure for evil designs.
Since this war is for the minds and hearts of men and women, it must be waged through direct appeal to common humanity—that inner being in whose place the tyrant has only dead tissue. I believe that nothing can so effectively broadcast the case for freedom as actual free living: self-sufficiency, that is, in as many of the areas of vital need as possible.
An immense first step can be taken simply by eliminating those “needs” which are bogus—degrading dependencies grafted onto our daily lives by the seductive pandering of the high-tech marketplace. Let each identify his own “addiction”, whether weekly trips to the movie theater or yearly jaunts to Vegas or season tickets to a sporting event, and shore up his domestic budget against the coming storm by abstaining from such expensive indulgence. The best imaginative diversion is still provided by a book, a paintbrush, or a guitar; the best sports are those one plays with one’s family and friends.
Having thus embarked upon the road to frugality (the virtue from which all others flow, according to Cicero), address the most truly needful necessity: food. Human beings became agricultors immediately upon abandoning the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and remained so until the Industrial Revolution appropriated their lands for timber, mining, and cash crops while luring them into cities with the Siren song of higher wages and more luxuries. We cannot now desert the suburban setting in which most of us have invested heavily—but we can certainly begin planting fruit- and nut-bearing trees and otherwise learning (i.e., re-learning) how to grow our own food from the little bit of property we possess.
Complete independence of the high-tech global economy is neither possible nor, in some ways, desirable. Technological advances will indeed prove essential to bringing these “suburban farmsteads” to their highest degree of functionality. A means of collecting, purifying, and preserving rainwater on one’s own property, for example, will not be hard to develop in the near future, and it will avert the impending calamity of our fast-falling subterranean water tables. The individual’s demand for such equipment, however, will fuel a genuine boom in free enterprise (as opposed to the almost mesmeric subornation of the “mass mind” by savvy merchandisers into wasteful, costly frivolity). At present, market activity appears to make the consuming populace more and more dependent, less and less capable of thinking and laboring on its own. A renaissance of largely self-sustaining citizens would, on the contrary, produce a marketplace that itself depended on the consumer’s craving for independence. Enterprises would prosper in direct proportion to the assistance they rendered the common man as he struggled to do more for himself.
This realignment of the market is, indeed, perhaps the most critical stage of the “revolution”. It depends entirely upon the moral character of the public—upon the ordinary person’s will, that is, to stand on his or her own two feet. An enterprise can prosper by generating either that which makes people servile or that which makes them free. Demand is determined by the purchasing choices of the individual consumer, and those choices are determined, in turn, by the consumer’s values. Where our treasure lies, there lies our heart.
Shelter, energy conservation, and security are all integrally bound together. The recognition that they are so, at any rate, would seem to me another major step in our self-liberation. The pages of Praesidium have lately floated many ideas about how much safer and more efficient homes might be constructed. If ever there were a sector of the capitalist marketplace illustrative of the Ivory Tower cliché that producers lead consumers around by the nose, home realty must surely be it. Capitalism is the economic persona of freedom, and hence reflects human choice in both its most and its least responsible moments. The typical American domicile is a silly but expensive toy. It has little or nothing to do with taste or common sense. It sprawls, like the suburban settings in which it participates: it makes no use whatever, for instance, of the schoolboy insight that heat rises. The shuttering or unveiling of window spaces according to the season (with state-of-the-art shutters, of course—something on the order of a retractable wall) could halve heating and cooling bills. The adjustment of living functions to various levels of the house in response to seasonal change, furthermore, could halve that half. Sleep in the cool cellar bedroom during summer, and in the warm attic bedroom (to which kitchen warmth has been vented) during winter. Homesteaders on the frontier, as well as simple peasants in the Old Country, used lofts to capture this rising heat as they slept.
As for security, design no ground-floor windows with sufficient space for an intruder’s body to crawl through. Supply higher windows with extensive ledges (and/or angle them inward) if a concern exists about prying eyes or (God forbid) stray bullets. Furnish the cellar’s entry with an impenetrable door in the event that a refuge of last resort is needed (whether from intruders or tornadoes or fire). Likewise, use the “attic’ and the roof creatively. Food-bearing plants could grow in this space if hail-resistant glass were employed; and the view of several blocks from that height, as well, could be an early-warning system if neighborhood invaders were up to no good.
Besides a mere block-headed idolatry of arbitrary custom—a “keep up with the Joneses” mentality that favors certain home-types simply because they register to the onlooker as luxurious—one of the most formidable obstacles to this kind of change is, once again, over-regulation by the minutely intrusive tentacles of government. Many encumbering ordinances, however, are local, and could be recast with a determined will at the local level. A man cannot decry the chains on his arms and legs if he himself replaces their links every time one rusts.
The single greatest historical boon to individual self-sufficiency in the matter of security—the firearm—has of course lately become the target of a full frontal assault from people of oligarchic sympathies. Whatever guns may eventually escape the voracious magnet of the micro-managing nanny state should suffice, nevertheless, to improve the homeowner’s peace of mind. A single-shot flintlock dueling pistol would send a strong message to a break-in artist that he should ply his craft elsewhere as soon as its one load was discharged. In all seriousness, I also would think it foolish to disparage the utility of a bow and a quiver of arrows. There are few ways to keep furry little nibblers out of one’s garden that pose less risk to one’s neighbors; and, unless one wishes to send burglars straight to the morgue, an arrow whizzing at the dark figure climbing through the window should be just as effective as a blaze of bullets.
The self-supply of educational needs is being tended to even as I write by dedicated home-schoolers around the country. This initiative, in fact, is far ahead of all the others I have adumbrated, and its resonant success is a model for what we can do in other spheres. Home-education has maturely and rather easily cleared all three of the hurdles that confront any “self-sufficer”: a) recognition of the need for personal initiative, b) determination to address and fulfill that need, and c) dissemination of personal successes into the broader culture—for we must always remember that the ultimate goal of self-sufficiency is a free society. There is a kind of evangelism implicit in personal independence. The freedom-lover’s “revolution” has encountered a setback in the area of security because so many in our midst do not recognize that need as requiring a personal response; about one in three Americans, indeed, appear to believe that the problem lies in the other two third’s desiring to have some means of self-defense. Everyone, on the other hand, recognizes the need for food and also the possibility of growing tomatoes on the back porch—but few have the determination to embark upon the very long road that would lead to supplying much of the dinner table.
Home-educators are not only well ahead of the curve on both of these points: they also, by virtue of the very nature of their enterprise, understand that the final goal is to cure an ailing society. An Amishman apparently sees no need for his children to study history, read classics, or solve quadratic equations. The sooner the children take to plow and spinning wheel, the better. The “world beyond” is irredeemable and, hence, uninteresting. The mainstream home-schooler, in contrast, aims at producing a child who understands the philosophical underpinnings of “unalienable rights”, who can preserve Shakespeare and Dante for posterity, and who might be capable of creating an invisible shield against ICBM’s (or rockets launched from domestic Drones).
The revolution of which I write, in short, is not a program for “survivalists”—or, as they are more commonly designated today, “preppers”. I don’t honestly know why the survivalist is so intent upon survival. The world for which he is preparing will be a wasteland, and he seems to imagine himself gunning down those pitiful remnants of his species who stagger toward him for help. Among the years’ worth of canned goods within his fabulous underground bunker sits not a single copy of War and Peace (not even on a Kindle) or a single rendition of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” (not even on an iPod). What has he hung on for—with what crude tribe of gun-toting troglodytes does he intend to repopulate the world? If he truly views himself as morally compelled to shoot every maimed refugee from the wicked city, then in what sense can he be said to have preserved freedom? His creed sounds to me about as liberating as the Mayan’s who is obliged to watch a priest cutting out innocent victims’ hearts.
In contrast, the freedom of learning how to grow beans rather than how to amass them in cans, how to dissuade criminal aggressors from their crimes rather than how to drop every human figure fleeing from town, and how to preserve the most sublime creations of the human spirit rather than how to fit a Spartan phalanx with bullet-proof vests is invigorating and uplifting. In a time when so very much exists that may deeply depress us, the renewal of communal life through an emphasis upon self-sufficiency verges upon being downright fun. And its implementation is inevitable in many cases: public schools have already run off the rail in much of the nation, leaving a great breach into which the home-educator’s alternative might readily step. Food and water will fall into perilously short supply: it’s only a matter of time. These crises of calculable depletion and attrition are infinitely more likely, in my view, than nuclear holocaust or a mega-meteorite impact or a calamitous power-grid blackout from sunspots. They are, after all, part of natural cycle, however much paternalistic despotism may wish to remove such cyclicity from earthly existence. When the calf finds that its dam refuses to suckle it any further, it learns how to provide for itself. The fear of uncertainty is succeeded by the exhilaration of independence.
The forces of evil—the wanton boy-despots plucking the wings off the denizens of their insect farm—have no weapon in their arsenal fit to annihilate this exhilaration. If we stir ourselves to action, we win.
Dr. John Harris, founder and current president of The Center for Literate Values, is also Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Texas at Tyler.