by Sarah A. Hoyt
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
One of the most appalling moments at one of the DNC—was it 08 or 12? I can’t even remember—was when some creature said “We all have to belong to something, so I choose to belong to the government.”
He/she/tutti-fruti wasn’t wrong in that first half of the sentence. “We all have to belong to something.” We are, after all humans, built on the frame of a social ape. We’re creatures of the band, creatures of the group, half biological and half culture, not nature, not nurture, but yes indeedy.
And that’s fine.
But in that second half the meaning of “belong” changes. You can belong to a group, you can belong to a band, you can belong to a family, a culture and a nation. That means you’re included, you’re part of it, you identify with its history, its past, its future.
But you can’t belong to the army, the bank, the mortgage company, the government. Because those aren’t identities, ad-hoc associations or philosophical entities. Those are organizations, with a ledger, with belongings, with the ability to enforce and reclaim what belongs to them.
To belong to the government means to have people who have the right to order you to do things; not to do things; to work at something; not to work at something; to kill yourself.
Stop right there, Sarah, you’ll say. Belonging to a nation is the same, isn’t it? The nation also has laws, the ability to enforce them.
Kind of. In that case you have to squint and ask yourself how you belong to the nation. Do you “belong” by fitting in, and because these are your people. Do you obey the laws of the nation because the nation’s government takes its power from the consent of the governed?
And that’s as far as I want to go down that slippery slope, because when it comes to nations, yeah, you can belong in both senses. But if you’re a free man—which is almost to say an American, though Britain at one point also knew what it was to be free—the line is sharp and clear in your mind. You might give your life for your nation, but you’ll be d*mned if you obey an order to commit suicide.
That’s the line between free and slave.
What was creepy was that the person didn’t say “I choose to belong to the nation, but “I choose to belong to the government”” That is the order-giving, often irrational, always bungling part of the nation. The authority part of the nation.
I had a moment of recoil, and then a moment of overwhelming pity.
We, the children of the late twentieth century, messed about by generations that went through the two global wars—or if you prefer the long war of the 20th century—we were born to a generation/generations that had had fundamental assumptions shifted, tilted, banished. As a result we were fired off into the world with complete nonsense filling our addled heads.
You’re going to say every generation goes out with heads filled with nonsense. Well, to an extent. But to an extent, it was tried and true nonsense. “My country right or wrong”, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,” “Our gods and our temples are right and just, yours are silly, strange and heathen,” “My band has the best flint tools and we will feast on your carcasses tonight.”
Was it nonsense? Band/country/city and religion/tradition/way of doing things? I don’t know. I was taught all that was nonsense, and completely wrong, and besides it caused war and was mean and stuff.
I doubt it. A lot of it masked the deeper mechanisms of how human cultures select for the best and the best traits of those; how they share, perfect and evolve. Yes, it sometimes sucked to be a human being caught in those movements. And yes, it often meant that for a time the culture took a turn to greater suckitude. But looking back, you can see we’ve moved steadily to “more people having enough to eat, and being able to live full lives.” (With the exception of imposed synthetic cultures like socialism/communism. Come for the philosophy, but the famines and massacres are to die for.)
I am progressing, slowly, to believing that cultures themselves are…. quasi-sentient entities with minds almost-their-own. They change slowly and organically. There are mechanisms for them to evolve. We violate those at our own risk, because they can die. But they take their people with them.
Anyway, the point is, my generation was sundered from the past of humanity and the things that humanity traditionally told the individual he/she belonged to: family, locale, nation, religion. All of these were wrong/evil bad/ deeply distorting.
My generation took seriously the nonsense of the romantics (what else did we have to go after?) and encouraged by parents who were themselves either already traumatized or addled and confused by Marxism (a toxic form of the romantics besides) did a deep dive in search of the “natural man” with the sincere belief that if we eliminated everything else, we’d go back to Eden and the “natural” way of being, to the noble savage and some kind of egalitarian garden.
Of course this is nonsense. At the bottom of that pit there is no natural man. The natural man is an ape: naked, scared, alone, and without much in the way of tools. It will mostly likely die/be vanquished/kill and commit horrors.
But this is what our elders told us; the only culture we were given.
Those of us who are…. stubborn and odd started noticing the issues, fighting back, finding ways to connect to something deeper, something more meaningful. Others went along, and ended up….
Well, we call them NPCs, because they seem to change their minds and attitudes with whatever comes from above as the new thing.
In fact, they’re rather sad apes, drifting in a sea of nothingness and clutching onto these “truths from above” as a life saving something that will finally make them fit in, make them be part of something.
Yes, they are scary and they will commit atrocities in the name of transitory truth. But in the end, they’re just normal (which none of us is, really, my friends) humans, betrayed by a culture that denies them what they need most: to belong.
They’re willing to be mindless slaves just to belong to something.
You see, humans are brief, but the human mind compasses eternity. We need—NEED—to belong to what came before, and know we are shaping/will belong to what comes after. It’s part of being human. This doesn’t always required biological descendants, but it requires being part of something bigger than us.
Which most people in our culture never had.
A lot of them are the children of my generation. We were fired off into the world with nonsense like the lyrics of Imagine as a map for living. By the time they came along, we knew that didn’t work, but we had nothing to replace them with. We’d been given nothing. So they were fired off into the world with….. nihilism, cynicism, and the vague, desperate hope that there was, somewhere, something to believe in. Then the schools gave them collectivism and the worship of authority.
Maybe what saved me was grandma, my dad’s mom. We were of course from very different worlds, but when it came to being a solid point in the maelstrom, give me grandma as a fulcrum, and I can move the universe.
She knew who she was, she knew what she was for. She belonged, and was part of the past and the future. She was part of her family, her village, her world.
And though I left the village behind (And the family, in the sense women do) and the country too, she gave me roots. I know where I came from. And I know where I am, where I chose to throw my lot in with.
And I know what’s important, and it is this: A free individual provides for him/herself. (There is no work too menial. And yes, for a while I didn’t provide for myself monetarily, but I devoted myself to both improving my craft so I could, and easing the life of the person who did provide for both of us), he/she looks after those who are “his” be it by kin, friendship, choice or chance, and prepares the way for those in his/her future to do the same.
In the end, the rules according to grandma were not so different from Jordan Peterson’s. Though, granted, she would have said “feed a cat” but hey. A dog too. And a turtle. She …. liked animals.
It seems ridiculous the hatred the man draws. And I’m sure grandma would draw no less hatred, for the same reason.
The scariest thing of all to those who would be slaves is to know there is an alternative. You don’t need to belong to a faceless organization that has unearned rights over you. You can choose to build what you belong to: a family; a group of friends; a band of free individuals. You can choose to serve your family, your G-d, your nation.
And in that CHOICE to serve find your freedom. The freedom to choose every day, to do what is best, not what you’re ordered. The freedom you will never find in handing yourself over to the judgement of faceless bureaucrats or “experts.”
The freedom to be yourself, rooted, confident in past and future.
Because even if you lose, even if you die, you’ll do that as yourself. Not another… Brick in the wall.
Go forth and be yourself. Belong only in kinship, never in blind obedience.
Go be American. The world needs your example.
Be the America oppressed people evoke. And tell the government to go fly a kite.