"The framers of the constitution knew human nature as well as we do. They too had lived in dangerous days; they too knew the suffocating influence of orthodoxy and standardized thought. They weighed the compulsions for restrained speech and thought against the abuses of liberty. They chose liberty." ~ Justice William O. Douglas
Evicting the Statist Within Us
Column by Paul Bonneau.
Exclusive to STR
Himalayan blackberries, Rubus armeniacus, were introduced into America in 1885 as a berry crop, but escaped cultivation and have become a pest plant in the Pacific Northwest particularly. One day I was visiting my parents when I found Dad out doing one of the usual tasks around here, beating back the blackberries. He was calmly, quietly snipping 4-inch pieces off the canes with a hand pruner, leaving them on the ground where they fell. I looked at him in amazement and said, “Dad, what the heck are you doing?!”
Up until that point, my method had been to use some long-handled device to cut the spiky canes at ground level, then use heavy gauntlets or a large pliers to laboriously pull the canes out of the tangle, stacking them on the ground in a bundle, then putting the bundle in a recycling bin or a burn barrel--all very labor-intensive and sure to generate festering blisters where the thorns got me.
To my amazed question he quietly responded, “That’s the way I’ve always done it,” and continued snipping.
I’ve often thought of that exchange, now that he is gone. Funny how such a small thing can teach lessons. I was ready to debate with him the obvious superiority of my way of cutting blackberries, all charged up for a debate. He did not respond in kind. He made no value judgments at all, in fact, not saying “I tried many ways and this seems the best,” or even “I prefer doing it this way.” No, just “That’s the way I’ve always done it.”
Well, how can a person debate with that? Of course, one can’t. When he said that, it simply set me back, forced me to shut up for once, and see what was happening. Cutting them leaves small pieces that simply rot over the wet Northwest winters and turn into mulch. No need to fight the plant or get battle scars from it; not even gloves are required. I’ve never cut canes my old way since.
We all swim in a sea of statism. Most of us have spent 12 years in the government indoctrination centers during our impressionable years, and the media and much of society reinforces that message throughout our lives.
Newly-minted anarchists like to imagine that finally they see the truth, and they are now free of that indoctrination. But . . . old habits die hard. We still do many of the same sorts of things that support the state, at the very same time we rail against it! We don’t even realize we are doing it. It’s not a simple matter to shuck the statist habits planted deep within us, not by a long shot.
To give some examples, there is nothing more statist than minding someone else’s business, or having distress over the fact he looks at the world differently than we do, or has ideas we don’t share, or promoting “universal” solutions (the dream of all power centralizers).
Even persuasion is suspect, and all too easily slides into statism. It, after all, starts with the proposition that (1) “I’m right”, (2) “You’re wrong”, and (3) “I’m going to fix your opinion.” Maybe asking honest questions rather than “persuading” would be a better idea; we might then even learn something from the experience. Of course, this whole article is a form of persuasion! Old habits die hard . . . .
Commonplace among anarchists is antagonism to faith. If they bother to rationalize this antagonism at all, there is a lot of arm-waving that tries to connect religious authority with state authority. Strange though, that the most faithful people of all often tend to be those least impressed with authority of any sort, religious or otherwise (that is, they tend not to be impressed with organized religions or with governments). The other problem with this antagonism is that the other shoe is never dropped--it’s never explained what is going to happen if people don’t give up their “irrational” beliefs after all the so-called persuasion has been tried. Keep in mind what happened after the Temperance movement fell short: Alcohol Prohibition, an absolute efflorescence of the state. If people have convinced themselves they are right, and others do not respond properly, the next thing on the agenda is usually force.
I keep getting back to the question, why should another person’s beliefs be my business at all? Aren’t these anarchists’ thought processes essentially the same as those used by imperialists: “We fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here”? In other words, the only rationalization for attacking faith seems to be a preemptive one--as in, “We must fight religious belief before it turns into support for government coercion.” Yet, what about religious people who don’t support government coercion? Preemption is a fundamentally statist habit of mind.
Maybe reality is not so simple as “religion is bad" after all. Here is an enlightening talk on the connection between religion and violence (skip the first 7 minutes unless you like introductions).
Another habit common among anarchists is antagonism to parenting or parental authority; some have claimed that family life actually enables the state. Back when I was wasting my time on Facebook, there would regularly be posts by them berating and belittling people who spank children. Who knows what good these posts were supposed to accomplish . . . . It got so bad that I once made a post there proposing that we actually discuss the concept of parental authority. I said, let us act as if children actually mattered. Interestingly, no one (except one woman who was on the “spanking” side of the question) was interested in getting to the bottom of things after all. I had naively thought that parental authority needed to be parsed and discussed to see what effect it would have on discipline, but it turned out virtually no one cared about that. All that most of these anarchists were interested in was wailing on others. How statist can you get?
Very often, this particular antagonism is presented passionately. I guess passion trumps inquiry and reason.
Again, the other shoe was never dropped. Ostracism of spanking parents is sometimes mentioned, but it seems pretty sure that coercion of some sort cannot be far behind . . . . it’s “for the children,” after all.
Sometimes I wonder if the rulers tolerate anarchists on the Internet, among other reasons, because these anarchists spend so much time spewing hatred and creating rationalizations for control of others. From the ruler’s point of view, what’s not to like?
Well, what’s the true non-statist alternative? How about minding one’s own business, and looking to one’s own parenting skills? How about recognizing that general parenting practices are in fact improving, historically, and not unnecessarily working ourselves into a frenzy over them? How about recognizing that parents and children are individuals, and that what works for some may not for others?
The last example is the “smash the state” crowd--even if some other people may still want a state for themselves. Well, they can’t be allowed to have it, that’s all. The 1% (anarchists) are perfectly capable of dominating the 99%. No wonder the 99% don’t have far to look, to justify their own dominating impulses--even anarchists are supplying them examples.
Personally, I do think the day will come when those who want to be free will be free; but it won’t happen until we evict the statist impulses within us. It will come about when people start acting a bit more like my Dad, and stop mindlessly responding like Pavlov’s dogs to statist cues.