Tea Shades and Brill Creme

FICTION

It never happened.  Most things don’t.

He stopped in at what passes for a gas station in America, now.  Had to pee – long drive in the heat and a steady diet of soda will do that for you.  It was a mini-mart sort of affair: some groceries, soft drinks, beer, candy — all overpriced.  Convenience is something for which one will pay and pay, and pay some more.

As with most things.

First thing was this when he walked in: a guy, looked as if he hadn’t bathed in days, permanently grey, scruffy face, hair slicked as if he’d wandered out of the 1950s right from a Brill Creme ad aimed at mechanics — this fellow cut him off with a sort of wide headed greenish broom affair.  And no wonder.  The man’s tea shades were flat black and the lighting in the store was fluorescently next to non-existent.

Talking, talking, talking while he worked, diligently moving the invisible dirt around.

Maybe one of those phones people jam in their ear.

Our friend’s second, and true, thought in these situations was always, “…or schizophrenia,” though.  Not that it worried him.  Instead, he stepped around the broom-man and proceeded towards the men’s room… only to be cut off at the pass at the end of the narrow lane of shelves by the broom again.

He’s gonna walk right in front of me, slow, all the way down that damned hall to the men’s room.

And, yes, he did.  Jabbering all the way, only to stop at the cooler door, inexpertly snap it open, stick his head inside and yell, “Anybody in here drinking it up?!  Heh, heh, heh.”

The other man, bladder unyielding in the face of attempts at humor, demanded he slide by the comedian, go into the men’s room, and release the torrent.

Guy’s not wearing the corporate smock.

Great.  He didn’t see anyone at the counter, either when he came in.  Broom man didn’t work here.  Maybe he killed the cashier.  Maybe there were looters poking around in the back and this guy was the lookout.

Oh well.

He’d seen beaucoup drunks at this joint and witnessed a couple of brawls.  It happened.  Anything was possible, though not likely enough to sweat over.  Finishing up, he went to wash his hands.  The soap in the dispenser was thin, watery, an odd amber color.  For a moment, he imagined Brill Creme standing on top of the toilet pissing away into the liquid soap giggling like a child.

Too late – his hands were sudsy-ish, so he rinsed them in the spit-warm water and turned to the air dryer.  Broken.  Covered in deeply etched graffiti, none legible, skillful, or towards any point other than as evidence some anonymous person had been there to mark territory.

He shook his head and hands and wiped them on his jeans.  Exit back into the store to the soda cooler.

At the counter, Brill Creme was chatting up the cashier – maybe – who was a worn, thin woman, the brown corporate smock hanging from her frame three sizes too large.  He stepped between the broom man and the counter, set down the soda, and produced three bills from his pocket.

“How are you today?” he asked with some sincerity.  Are you being robbed?  Is this fool here aggravating you?  Or is he some drunk you’re making work off a stolen beer.  Or worse, your husband who’s just hanging around taking sips off the Aqua Velva bottles when no one’s looking?

Her weary, dark eyes betrayed no emotion at all, but she managed a bit of a smile.

“Fine,” she said, passing him the change.

Good enough.

Back out into the heat, back into his beat up Toyota lacking air conditioning.  He cranked her up, twisted the lid off the Diet Coke and took an unsatisfying swig before rolling out into the 6:37 PM Saturday evening traffic.  South Texas was not a busy place at such times, not in the direction he was headed, but the speeding, reckless drivers had to be watched.

Time to mow the lawn.  Time to listen to Pete Townshend on the headphones and walk the lawnmower around the uneven back yard, watch the grackles descend to pick off newly revealed bugs and such.

Time.

12 June 2017

Richard Van Ingram

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Sometimes.

“If you see something that looks like a star
And it’s shooting up out of the ground
And your head is spinning from a loud guitar
And you just can’t escape from the sound
Don’t worry too much, it’ll happen to you
We were children once, playing with toys
And the thing that you’re hearing is only the sound of
The low spark of high-heeled boys

“The percentage you’re paying is too high priced
While you’re living beyond all your means
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
From the profit he’s made on your dreams
But today you just read that the man was shot dead
By a gun that didn’t make any noise
But it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest, was
The low spark of high-heeled boys

“If you had just a minute to breathe
And they granted you one final wish
Would you ask for something like another chance?
Or something sim’lar as this?
Don’t worry too much It’ll happen to you
As sure as your sorrows are joys
And the thing that disturbs you is only the sound of
The low spark of high-heeled boys

“The percentage you’re paying is too high priced
While you’re living beyond all your means
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
From the profit he’s made on your dreams
But today you just read that the man was shot dead
By a gun that didn’t make any noise
But it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest, was
The low spark of high-heeled boys (heeled boys)

“If I gave you everything that I owned
And asked for nothing in return
Would you do the same for me as I would for you?
Or take me for a ride
And strip me of everything, including my pride —
But spirit is something that no one destroys
And the sound that I’m hearing is only the sound
The low spark of high-heeled boys (heeled boys)”

TRAFFIC

“The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys”

Sometimes.

Sometimes is a bad location in the terrain of life; it is in my case.  It’s the ever-shifting space not on any map — suddenly, one arrives upon it and has no idea how long it must be endured.  It is an occasion of indefinite duration that may immediately be followed by another… and then another.  Or one may traverse it and not encounter such again for quite awhile.

How many times a day did Voltaire contemplate throwing his quills out the window, do you suppose?  How many days did this happen in a lifetime?  Physically, he could have gotten by perfectly well without writing a revolution into being — especially not knowing whether there’d be any revolution or not at the time.  Lacemakers gave him income; writing made him trouble.

But once a year on the anniversary of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, he became violently ill without fail, ran a fever, vomited, had to take to bed for a space.  All because the utter injustice and hate of it ate away at him so badly and his conscience was such that he suffered for the dead in his own flesh.

So, back to the quills and ink.  Like it or not.

He was a man of good, high spirits not often given to fits of melancholia; instead, his bile came forth as bouquets of wit and satire.  Right and wrong, it was beautiful and effective.

The temptation to quit all his creative activities or hide them away never seemed to be part of his life — his “sometimes” came in the form of having to escape the censors and the crown by fleeing to Switzerland.  A dangerous but adventuresome sometimes that at least let him know: “Voltaire, you are one effective son of a bitch.”

I am no Voltaire.  Yes, I become physically ill when wars erupt — I ran a 104 degree fahrenheit fever during the debate over the first Gulf War after protesting it with the Quakers and became so sick I wound up at the hospital.  The whole thing, as a memory, is hallucinatory and terrible: I felt to my depths that this was the beginning of a string of horrors for humanity.  And so it was though I could do nothing about it but lie in a bed of torment for a couple of weeks.

My art turned more political after that and my writing often the same until I became a lone voice crying in the wilderness during George W. Bush’s administration — in a small Appalachian town, I wrote lead-heavy long essays for the county’s only newspaper, the only weapon of protest I had to oppose illegal domestic spying, torture, kidnapping, lying, our soldiers being sent to die for Halliburton, human beings — as vicious as some were — redefined legally to the point they were outside the possibility of due process.

Hatred, in the main, was my repayment.  That and $10.00 a pop for the privilege of penning those 5 and 6 page essays every couple of months.  But all that’s external and insignificant: I had to bear witness to the times and use my small voice to say what someone more important should have been saying from the floor of the Senate.  My own conscience would not let me throw my pens out the window.  Maybe that’s why Voltaire never threw his own.

People think it’s my paranoia acting up like a bout of rheumatism, but I swear to you at the height of my writing, the last two years of nearly six years as a freelancer at that paper, all my mail arrived in the box pre-opened.  Was it angry locals at the post office trying to dig up dirt?  Was it the FBI not even bothering to cover their tracks anymore?  (After all, who was I going to call: The FBI?)  All I know, once I was banned from writing for the paper — yes, that happened — my mail was fine thereafter.

That was one of those “sometimes” I felt so defeated I considered just quitting.  I had no platform to speak to the community; some people who were very friendly  to me when I was infamous quit and wouldn’t even do me the grace of saying “hello” when face-to-face; the invitations to come over and discuss ideas failed to arrive anymore.  In short, I was shut down and shut up.

A friend let me begin putting essays and art on a page in his popular website… but it was mainly an exercise in keeping me busy, not gaining readers.  Too broke to get my own site — like this one — no one knew to read it except by word of mouth.  I couldn’t advertise it in the sole paper in the county: That cost money and I’m unsure the ad would have been accepted.  Decline followed and depression as I am melancholic.

I got letters and e-mails now and again from people who said I spoke for them because they were afraid to say anything, or that something I’d said touched them, or to keep up the fight.  Those were good moments, but I rarely responded; I had no words for praise and barely knew what to do with it.  I’m not used to such.  Abuse, yes — that I can do something with; sincere praise and agreement — that’s shocking and frightening, perversely enough.

Someone standing by me and fighting the fight would have been nice, or at least people writing their own ideas, even more moderate, and picking up where I fell would be good.  I was replaced in the paper by a high school girl who wrote columns about the trials and tribulations of being a teenager.  God bless her for at least putting herself out there and getting something in print and her $10.00 a week.  She made more than I did overall for her efforts and it looked good on the college applications. And the people had their wholesome sweet nothings to not bother their consciences — a must for every editorial page.

But it truly made me wonder why I’d bothered in the first place.

The years passed, I mostly moved on, physically if not entirely in spirit.  Loss of my job with insurance, cut-backs in the number of lectures I had at the local university due to underfunding the state educational budget, loss of my marriage… then, I moved to Texas.  Georgia, except for my son and friends who barely speak to me anymore, has nothing but very bad memories for me.

Here, I got to work trying to make comic books and eventually to lecture again, and I do both and attempt to sell some art.  But now, a few years after all the aforementioned,  I’ve wandered into one of those “sometimes.”  I’ll hit 50 in a couple of weeks and Americans have some sort of psychic time-bomb that goes off each birthday ending with a zero.  But 50 is a half-century and 50 is easily more than half my potential lifetime on planet Earth.  In fact, my life could easily be over with at any minute I have so many chronic illnesses and a major mental illness with an average 30% fatality rate.  Manic depression is a hard thing to live with, especially when the tension and pressure becomes intense and all these thoughts of failure and stupidity come boiling up.

I’m becoming too tired to write anymore and I imagine this is tiresome to read if you’ve made it this far.  50 years.  I did not do much damage or accomplish much, really.  My work is uneven, my art difficult to look at, my underground comix are appreciated by other artists and that’s about it — not nothing, but not the popular audience I was looking to speak to, either.  If I last a little longer, maybe more people will read.  Maybe not.  If I last a little longer, some gang of misfits might decide my art is inspirational or speaks to them — who knows?  If I keep writing, I am at least a writer and spreading ideas… then again, I’m unpaid and have no idea whether actual humans are looking at this and not “robots” and webcrawlers.

And my students: some benefit, some don’t; some resist and just don’t care, say so openly, and act as if, because they are “paying customers,” they have arrived at Burger King College where they can say and do as they please and “have it their way.”  The others — I have no clue.  We rarely do: Teachers do their best to plant seeds that might sprout years down the road in their students’ lives and must be content with that, content with having planted better seeds than worse.

As a philosopher… I don’t know and don’t even wish to hazard a guess.  Philosophy, thank God, has kept me alive and given me guidance through Hell several times.  Including the Hell of “sometimes.”  Maybe I gave a good example if anyone noticed.  You never know.

You never know.

16 January 2016

Richard Van Ingram

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Individualism vs. Egoism: They Are Not the Same

The Problem

 

What we are seeing in the streets and hearing on the airwaves of our country at this moment has roots that run far deeper than categories such as “liberal” and “conservative,” or movements such as the Tea Party or the Libertarian Party or the far right of the Republican Party.

 

This root is a fundamental tension between what the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset called concord and liberty [see the book Concord and Liberty, 1946, W. W. Norton); and further, on the side of liberty, there is a secondary problem: the antipathy between atomistic egoism or selfishness and genuine individuality.

 

The latter problem is the more pronounced at this point in the history of the United States and makes the issue of how to live together with common purpose (concord) while protecting the rights of select minorities (liberty) impossible to address.  So, let’s face the issue of egoism and individuality and see if we can’t sketch it in a way so as to make it less abstract.

Hobbes and Psychological Egoism

 

Atomistic egoism is a theory which has it that human beings are fundamentally disconnected from one another, complete and whole unto themselves, in need of nothing or no one apart from themselves except by free choice to further their own selfish aims and desires.  Ethically, this theory takes a couple of forms in the history of modern philosophy.

 

The first is Thomas Hobbes’ notion that humans are “by nature” selfish – we are beings who cannot help but act in our own self-interest and only in our own self-interest.  No matter how disinterested we think our actions are, the reality is that we are, at best, lying to ourselves.  Mother Theresa, in devoting herself to lepers and AIDS victims, the poorest of the poor and the outcast, with no hope of recompense, for example, was secretly, in her heart of hearts, motivated by some self-interested motive: winning the Nobel Prize, gaining a platform to spread her message and gain attention, or to attain the blessings of God and ascend to Heaven after death. (This example was taken from James Rachel’s The Principles of Moral Philosophy. )

 

Everyone is like this, according to Hobbes.  No one does anything without some expectation of repayment for it, and this is simply the inescapable reality of human life.  Now, paradoxically, Hobbes’ version of egoism has it that the best, most realistic, way of getting what you want and getting your repayments involves cooperation.  We choose to give up some of our liberty to, say, steal from one another in order to create a working market within which we can trade and bargain without fear others will steal from us in return.  His version of the Golden Rule was something akin to this: Do good unto others so they will be contractually obligated not to do ill to you.

 

We, then, do not do good or virtuous things because they are good and virtuous things in themselves – no, we do them because they tend to maximize our opportunities for repayment and getting ahead.  We do not do good things for others because we care for them or see humanity as deserving of special respect, nor do we do it to become good people or good at being people – no, we do it to make ourselves marketable and assure we will tend to get our way.

 

Several things follow.  There isn’t necessarily any incentive to do anything for anyone who cannot further your private aims.  Children, for example, especially infants, are incapable of repaying one for anything – they take but do not give in return.  Animals, as well, usually lie outside this circle of selfish repayment – my dog may give me pleasure by his company, but yours may give me absolutely none.  And when you are not looking, if I decide to poison him to get him out of my misery, it cannot be said I did anything wrong – I did not owe the dog anything nor did it further my aims.

 

The poor may do nothing for me, as well.  I and my society may benefit in the immediate more by allowing them to starve to death or shorten their lives by withholding access to healthcare than by assisting them and extending the full benefits of civil society to them.  If they rise up and complain, it may be easier for me and my society to put down their complaints by force than give them a full voice in decisions about how resources are to be distributed.  Or I may propagandize them to have that segment of society believe they have as much as they deserve or that they can earn better treatment only by working harder.  I may never see that it is in my best interest to share power and wealth, much less that there is such a thing as a fundamental human right to anything except to be selfish, and that those with power can override the desires of the weak.

 

Moreover, this selfishness is sanctified by psychological egoism’s appeal to “human nature.”  I cannot help but be selfish; nor can anyone else.  This means that selfishness is ordained either by God (if one is so inclined to believe in God) or by nature – there is no court of higher appeal to claim humans should base their morality on something better than their inherent selfishness.

 

In fact, anyone who claims we have motives other than self-interest is simply deluded.  If I show that a certain soldier dives on a grenade to save five of his buddies, and say that he lost everything in the performance of that action, did not gain anything, and received not even pleasure from it, the psychological egoist will begin to look for the “payoff” – it MUST be there somewhere.  Maybe he believed that he’d go to Heaven if he sacrificed his life.  If I say the soldier was an atheist, the psychological egoist will search for some other selfish explanation such as the selfish gene theory of Richard Dawkins, and so on, ad infinitum.

 

No matter what evidence you bring to a psychological egoist, she will always interpret it as evidence to support her theory and cannot conceive of a different explanation.  And this, oddly, is the fatal flaw in the theory – it has the hallmarks of a flawed theory.  A good theory is always able to posit what its opposite would look like – what it would take to prove the theory itself is wrong.  If I have a theory: All swans are white, it’s easy to imagine what it would take to show a theory is wrong – I can imagine green or purple or blue swans.  This doesn’t mean I actually see any multihued swans, but if I ever find one, such as the black swans of Australia I was unaware of when I made my theory, I would know my theory is incorrect.

 

Hobbes and his school cannot conceive of any moral motive other than selfishness.  Present all the evidence of probable non-selfish acts and motives, and they will reinterpret then to fit their theory.  Ask them what a theoretically non-selfish motive would look like, and they have no answer other than they are unimaginable.  And this makes the theory fundamentally and fatally flawed as far as logic goes.  It may have an emotional resonance for certain people, but good ethical theories are hardly constructed mainly of feelings and wishes.

 

Combine this with the unacceptable, or at least questionable, moral and social consequences of the theory – that we are not obliged in some way to pay attention to the needs of the weak, any minority, or to pay attention to correcting or avoiding injustices when we receive no immediate benefits – and this form of egoism has little to recommend it for rational people.

Ayn Rand and Ethical Egoism

 

The second form of egoism, however, is more difficult.  It is also probably the more virulent strain in our contemporary society thanks to the novelist and popular philosopher Ayn Rand and her influence on the Libertarian Party, strains of the Tea Party movement, and in all likelihood many other far right groups ranging from militias to some Christian fundamentalist organizations where one often hears echoes, strong and faint, of her teachings.

 

Rand’s egoism is what we call “universal ethical egoism.”  It does not say humans are, by nature, selfish; rather, it claims that all humans ought to choose to be selfish – to be moral, one must be selfish in one’s choices and actions.  Anything else, and one has, in effect, sold one’s soul to “the collective” and has allowed oneself to be used – or worse, one uses others in order to live.  Laissez-faire, utterly free market capitalism is equated with ethics: All of one’s interactions with other humans are nothing more or less than business deals.

 

We should bargain with one another with the motive of getting the most for ourselves (and ourselves alone) out of each interaction without regard for the needs of others.  The needs of others are the other’s problem, not ours – unless we need the other person to meet our needs; in which case we may assist them, but only with a view of an ultimate payoff.

 

One, of course, may choose to help others with no possible repayment, but Rand saw this – charity – as not at all virtuous; and even bordering on foolishness.

 

Rand’s primary book on ethics, in fact, was entitled The Virtue of Selfishness.  For literally thousands of years, ethical theories based on the virtues, such as Aristotle’s or the Stoics’ or some forms of Jewish and Christian ethics, saw various virtue as a means to self-mastery and the development of habits designed to liberate one from mere self-centeredness and subjective passions and desires.

 

Rand, in a move probably borrowed in a horribly clumsy manner from Nietzsche — in fact, a misinterpretation of Nietzsche, turned the concept of virtue on its head.  Being a dogmatic atheist, she believed “virtue” had been poisoned from within by Christian and Jewish concepts of concern for the weak – which she believed consisted in chaining the strong and creative and forcing them to become the servants of “leeches” and the incapable.  The ultimate expression of this tendency in history was and is “collectivism”: socialism, communism, Marxism.

 

Therefore, her conception of “virtue” was to redefine it in terms of what she believed was the other end of the spectrum from collectivism: egoism.  The unfettered “free trader” who defined her own needs, obtained what she needed by any and all means short of outright lying and force.  The only virtue was to be “selfishness,” self-centeredness, the only value was to be freedom, as close to absolute freedom as possible.  For Rand and her sort, the individual is an ego – a self-contained, socially disconnected self, who is either out for himself (moral) or out to steal from others (immoral), with no middle ground possible.

 

Politically, as a larger social expression of this ethical principle, is the theory of laissez-faire capitalism.  For the Randians (and this is easily seen in the Libertarian movement), the government exists to do two things: protect the sovereign individual against the threats of force and fraud.  This sounds reasonable enough, but “force and fraud,” here, are defined in a very narrow way.  Protection from force can include protection from foreign encroachments – so the government must attempt to maintain a military.  But it also means the government itself cannot do much else: It cannot require anyone to involuntary pay the taxes required to maintain this military, or pay for police to keep the streets safe.  The belief is that self-interested people will voluntarily chip in to pay for these and the like.  And it certainly may never enact laws to regulate the free market or protect something like real civil liberties or human rights.

 

Laws against insider trading, laws against profiteering, laws to regulate health, product safety, and workplace safety and the like are all “collectivistic” because they limit freedom.  The belief is that the free market, left to itself, will take care of any problems that need to be taken care of through a sort of evolutionary process – fit ways of doing business will survive while unfit ways of doing business will fall by the wayside.  Alan Greenspan (yes, THE Alan Greenspan), a student of Rand’s in the 60s, wrote an essay in one of her books in which he optimistically states that companies in a completely unregulated free market system would never do anything to endanger their consumers because, among other things, their profits would suffer, no one would trust them again, and other companies would move in to take their consumers with more trustworthy products.

 

Let’s begin to examine how realistic some of these political and economic claims are before looking for the flaws in ethical egoism itself.

 

For a moment, let’s look to China.  Recently, there have been problems with tainted baby formula that killed or injured untold numbers of children – because the regulation of that industry was lax.  There were children’s toys, some of which made it to the markets of America, doused in lead paint which is known to cause retardation and other maladies – due to lax regulation of that industry.  The only reason these things were caught here was because of the allegedly “collectivistic” regulations on goods we enjoy here in the States, contrary to what Mr. Greenspan would have had us believe in the Randian essay he never disavowed.

 

Yes, eventually the market may have corrected itself even without legal regulations – but how many people would have to die or be injured first?  Which is more important: an unregulated free-for-all business atmosphere, or public safety, especially when individual consumers cannot possibly protect themselves against corporations hell-bent on quick profits at any costs?  Or are we to believe that some must die or suffer injury and lose their freedom for a greater good – absolute freedom for the economy?    Are those who die just random losers in the Social Darwinian lottery?

 

Moreover, after the time the economy was in the hands of people such as the Reagan Republicans and Mr. Greenspan, after the age of deregulation began, it is common knowledge what began to occur – the Savings and Loan debacle of the late 80s/early 90s; the housing bubble and burst that very nearly pulled the entire economy beneath the waves of a depression 2008; Enron and its cooked books that destroyed the savings of untold investors, and on and on.

 

Again, contrary to Greenspan’s utterly optimistic forecast as to what human beings with control of great deals of money and power will do if outside the reach of law and oversight, something else occurred: Some people showed that, out of sheer greed and selfishness, they will cash everything in, regardless of who is ruined in the process.  Most people, perhaps, won’t, but some people will.  And it doesn’t take more than a relative handful of these to destroy an economy and a nation in relatively short order in the 21st century – especially if their ethical belief is that they don’t owe anyone except themselves anything.

 

It is ironic that an ethical and political position that proclaims its opposition to force and fraud seems to unerringly create a situation in which corporate force and corporate fraud run rampant, with no way to reign them in or correct them other than praying the almighty free market fixes itself at some unspecified, even mythical, future date.

 

I leave speculation as to how many people would voluntarily pay income tax even to support the police and a modern military to a minimum: If the nation were run by individuals with no allegiance to anything except themselves, would they have any sense of responsibility to something such as a nation or law to begin with?  And if so, why, beyond purely subjective whim?

 

And here we arrive at flaws in the ethical egoist’s theory of morality.

 

First, the Randian egoist, an alleged free trader and complete “individualist” would seem to be playing a double game.  She counts on the fact that, in a libertarian society, not everyone would be a pure libertarian – many would never accept that form of ethics due to the fact that their more traditional philosophies or their religious beliefs run contrary to it; it is far from the dominant position in Western belief.  Many people, as now, would see the need to be responsible for others, for the common good, for the weak and unfortunate – the egoist would count on these people to take care of the ills and problems of civil society while the egoist could go free to spend her time and wealth simply looking to her own affairs.  Oddly, the egoist counts on living on the credit amassed by four thousand years of basic Western morality which do not enshrine greed and selfishness as virtuous.

 

If everyone decided to become an egoist at the same time, to use the standard Kantian method for testing whether an ethical theory is universal: Could the egoist live in the resulting world?  No one would have to cooperate with anyone else.  No one would have to tolerate anyone else.  No one would have a right to any good, service, or value she couldn’t individually grab on her own, with no assistance – including children and infants.  No one would have to hire anyone and could discriminate according to any personal whim.  No one would have to do anything as simple as help a child face down in a puddle from drowning.  And on and on.

 

Could we consistently and completely be egoists? Is such a world something we could live in as humans, with a thriving culture and a growing civilization?  Or is it a recipe for anarchy and then real tyranny?

 

I will add here that Ayn Rand despised Kant, and perhaps we can see why: He insisted that some moral rules are things which must be done or avoided whether we individually like it or not.  He also insisted that ethical principles must apply equally to everyone, by definition, if they are just (i.e. universal).

 

One is not certain Rand or her followers grasp that her version of morality is fundamentally unjust – it could allow some to be “more equal than others”.  Her theory fails to take things such as fortune – luck – which grants advantages to some and withholds them from others through no merit of their own and pretends that what each person has or gains is simply a pure matter of merit.  It fails to address how an actual world in which everyone was an egoist would ever function without some segment of people voluntarily not being purely selfish.  And this is probably no accident since the egoist is mainly interested in getting her own way and little else.

 

Another major flaw, then, is that ethical egoism can end in being a mask for ethical subjectivism – the theory that our personal feelings create right and wrong.  Rand often asked, “Whose morality?  Whose values?” when confronted with questions about the rightness of her theory – and thereby seems to fall into the subjectivist trap (though she insisted till breathless her system was “objective”).  The fact is, moral values, if they have any reality worth noting at all, are not “personal” – i.e. they don’t originate in some person creating them.  If a moral value has any value at all, ethically, it isn’t just a value “for me”; it is a value “for everyone” and can be discovered by rational argument.

 

Randians and Libertarians seem comfortable with the notion that it is completely moral to value anything at all, to devote one’s life to anything at all, so long as one doesn’t force it on anyone else.  (Except, of course, if the Randians come to power, they intend to enforce their morality by reforming all law and government and society in their own image.)  Which means that what one values should be chosen entirely in accord with one’s subjective, private desires, one’s feelings which are motivated by unexamined beliefs — opinions and prejudice.  No guidance can be offered by the ethical theory on this other than that everyone should have the complete liberty to do nearly anything one wishes, if one can.

It is easy to hear this subjectivist whine in the voices of our Tea Partiers: They incessantly demand to be freed from the responsibility to pay taxes for anything they happen not to like.  Healthcare, of course, they do not like; so they feel they ought not be required to pay for it.  And, of course, the more extreme don’t feel they should be “forced” to pay taxes at all.

 

[I take this argument from Rachels, mentioned earlier.]  Yet we know, by the simplest use of moral reasoning, that some moral values exist that are, indeed, universal, and to which everyone should give assent.  We know, for example, there has never been a culture in the world that has ever allowed murder: All cultures define some segment of their populations as “innocent,” people off limits to being killed without very good reason.  Differing cultures draw the lines differently, but all cultures contain a group of people who are off limits to being killed.  All cultures value truthfulness – there are always times and places where one is expected to speak the truth.  This value is the very foundation of such things as communication and law and even commerce.  All cultures value the care of children – in every culture there is some segment of children defined as important enough to care for and raise to adulthood.

 

And there are many more such values.

 

Further, it is relatively easy to see these values were not created by anyone.  It is not as if all human cultures just accidently made up the same moral rules – that is suspicious on the surface.  Instead, certain moral principles are the precondition of humans living together as humans in society.  Just as humans require air for biological life, we also require certain moral values to be present to fully flourish as human beings and live together.  (There are also moral values we require individually, not socially, but I’ll stick to the social values as they are more easily seen.)  We no more created air and then sprang into existence than we created moral principles and then created societies.

 

If, then, there are objective, universal moral values such as I have argued for here (following the example of many ethicists), their existence certainly does not depend on our feelings and subjective desires.  To be more precise: Our desires and feelings only take on morally praiseworthy dimensions when they accord with these objective values.

 

Even more: We must abide by these principles even if we don’t feel like it at times or if it would be easier to avoid them.  And if an egoist wishes to claim an exemption for herself from abiding by these values in order to pursue her own private list of desires, she will have to do one important thing.  That is, she will have to make a good rational argument why she is special, why she deserves to be treated differently than every other human.

 

And if she can’t do that one thing, she will either have to give up her subjective list or she will have to admit she isn’t rational or reasonable in her demands and she does not care.  At which point, the rest of us will be able to see what manner of barbarian has wandered into our midst.

True Individualism

A true individual is not an egoist.

A true individual is involved in both a private sphere and a social one, not one to the exclusion of the other. She recognizes she has both a private life, a creative area of freedom and intelligence with its obligations, and an external life, with its obligations to recognize the inherent value of other human beings.

What Rand and her followers have never grasped is that it is possible to do things for others, “altruistic” acts, without losing oneself, without failing to take care of one’s own needs as well. Morality is not a matter of acts either being completely selfish or completely self-sacrificing: There is a middle ground where one can and should care for one’s self while also caring for others and one’s society.

Returning to the idea of the virtues, as the Stoics saw them, there isn’t even always a clear dichotomy between doing something for others and doing something for oneself in some sense. Being generous benefits both the giver and the receiver – the giver becomes a generous person and the receiver has her needs met. This is because the real moral value – generosity – is valuable in and of itself. Aligning oneself with the value perfects one and assists one to do a good job at being a human.

The same goes with being just, courageous, temperate, prudent, with seeking wisdom, with being merciful, slow to judgment, and so on. Each of these is simply good, and to do these things consistently makes one good and also increases the likelihood one’s community will be a good one to live in.

The true individual grasps the moral ramifications of Ortega y Gasset’s metaphysical formula: “I am I plus my circumstances.” The individual is not a disconnected atom, merely an ego, an abstract “I.” Instead, she is always an “I” in a circumstance, a world, and her life is one of interaction between her interior life and the world around her… and included in the world are other people and their lives.

There is much more to say on this, but, perhaps, this essay has gone some distance in defining some of the basic issues facing us at this time in the political realm. I maintain, however, that unless we strongly address the ethical issues underlying the political ones, the political and social world will continue to unravel.

(Originally written 31 March 2010. with editing  and updates 9 May 2015.)

Richard Van Ingram

Richard Van Ingram 1988
Tom Paine, Richard Van Ingram 1988, etching

 

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The Tea Party, Anti-Government Militias, and the Mass-Man (updated)

Prelude

Once upon a time, there was a country, a place of great learning and thought, which underwent many social reforms, including the establishment of universal health coverage.  The government was lead by liberal reformers.  Conspiracy theories abounded, including: foreign powers were attempting to destroy the nation; that minorities had undermined the social structure and laws and were plotting to take over the country from within.  Citizens and former soldiers began to form private militias and political clubs to oppose the elected government and one another, and ostensibly to protect their class interests.  There were economic troubles that went from bad to worse – the citizens were fearful and anxious.

 

This country was called Deutschland – Germany .  The year was 1919, just after the disasters of the First World War, and the government in power was not Hitler’s NSDAP (the Nazi Party), which was little more than a gang of street thugs at the time.  No, it was The Weimar Republic led by the Social Democrats.

 

(A side note for those presently under the influence of the Tea Party propaganda that claims universal healthcare was a Nazi phenomenon – it wasn’t: it was a moderate liberal position established by law in Germany 11 years prior to Hitler’s rise to power).

 

For those readers who have a knee-jerk reaction to the word “liberal,” allow the writer to remind you that, in political terms, these German political liberals had far more in common with the British (after whom they modeled their new government) and the Americans – both with liberal forms of government in the 18th c. meaning of the word “liberal” – than they did with Marxists.  In fact, the German Communists hated them.  The extreme right-wing despised them and gave birth to the anti-Semitic paramilitary movement called the Freikorps, which prepared the way for the rise of Hitler’s Sturmabteilung – Storm Troopers – the Brown Shirt militia that fought in the streets and helped put him in power.

 

The real opposition to “liberalism,” in modern times, has not come so much from some vague thing called “conservatism” – which is truly a problematic term requiring far more examination as American mainstream conservatism itself clings to and depends upon liberal ideas – but from totalitarians, dictatorships, and from people willing to sell their freedom (political freedom is a modern liberal idea) in order to, ironically, be set free from the imaginary horrors of liberal democracy and constitutionally established law through force of arms.

 

The Problem Of The American Militia Movement

 

In times of crisis, violence is a seductive solution to human problems.  But if only it were that simple, that an appeal to violence was only some abnormal tool resorted to by human beings when they feel threatened.  It would also be an easier thing if we could say humans are simply violent by nature; then we could say, “Of course humans are seduced by violence, we’ve no real choice in the matter.”  Yet, neither of these is the case: Humans often have other tools in their repertoire besides violence for the solution to vital problems and the fact that we have ethics, laws, and civilization to, in part, oppose the resort to violence militates against the idea that we are simply “violent by nature.”

 

There remains for us questions: Why do humans pick up arms?  Are there better and worse reasons?

 

And, for purposes of this essay, I am interested specifically in the present-day mania in the United States for forming private militias and the political factions which use the language of uprising and revolt for their own benefit.  As mentioned at the outset of this writing, these things have happened in the world before, using Germany of the 1920s as an example, intimating that the outcome was not a good one for that country.

 

What does the formation of militias, then, signify for our own country, our own immediate circumstances and for the future?  What does it say about the times, the dominant beliefs floating in the collective mental atmosphere of our country – their truth or falsity?

 

Our Present Circumstance

“To have an idea means believing one is in possession of the reasons for having it, and consequently means believing that there is such a thing as reason, a world of intelligible truths. To have ideas, to form opinions, is identical with appealing to such an authority, submitting oneself to it, accepting its code and decisions, and therefore believing that the highest form of intercommunication is the dialogue in which the reasons for our ideas are discussed. But the mass-man would feel himself lost if he accepted discussion, and instinctively repudiates the obligation of accepting that supreme authority lying outside himself. [….] This means that there is a renunciation of the common life based on culture, which is subject to standards, and a return to the common life of barbarism. All the normal processes are suppressed in order to arrive directly at the imposition of what is desired. The hermeticism of the soul which. . . urges the mass to intervene in the whole of public life, also inevitably leads to one single process of intervention: direct action.” [Jose Ortega y Gasset, 1930, “The Revolt of the Masses,” pg.74]

Though the philosopher Ortega was speaking specifically about the European situation of his day, he also diagnosed a universal symptom that arises in history when population levels increase and the masses mistake their unexceptional private desires for principles capable of leading societies and running states: they forgo giving reasons and thinking; they leave off reminding themselves why laws and traditions and institutions of all sorts they suddenly feel constrained by were established in the first place; they ignore the obligation to educate themselves appropriately and practice self-control; they support their feelings desires with mythologies and rumors, “what people say”; and, in the end, they resort to threats and the imposition of their collective will by a resort to violence – what Ortega calls above “direct action.”

Our situation in the United States is not, at this moment, as desperate as that of Europe when mass movements eventually led to the installation of “strong men” and totalitarian governments – Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco; no, we are not that far along . . . yet. But how do these things begin, movements that erode, cripple, then topple governments, including liberal democracies and their constitutions? Is that what is happening here, in America, in the early 21st Century?

Last week, we read this:

“OKLAHOMA CITY – Frustrated by recent political setbacks, tea party leaders and some conservative members of the Oklahoma Legislature say they would like to create a new volunteer militia to help defend against what they believe are improper federal infringements on state sovereignty.

“Tea party movement leaders say they’ve discussed the idea with several supportive lawmakers and hope to get legislation next year to recognize a new volunteer force. They say the unit would not resemble militia groups that have been raided for allegedly plotting attacks on law enforcement officers.

“”Is it scary? It sure is,” said tea party leader Al Gerhart of Oklahoma City, who heads an umbrella group of tea party factions called the Oklahoma Constitutional Alliance. “But when do the states stop rolling over for the federal government?”

“Thus far, the discussions have been exploratory. Even the proponents say they don’t know how an armed force would be organized nor how a state-based militia could block federal mandates. Critics also asserted that the force could inflame extremism, and that the National Guard already provides for the state’s military needs.” [Sean Murphy and Tim Talley, Associated Press, 12 April 2010, “Okla. tea parties and lawmakers envision militia,” http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100412/ap_on_re_us/us_tea_party_militia]

However, there is this most curious sentence in the Constitution of the United States from Article II, Section 2:

“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States. . . .”

So, assuming that, even if the 2nd Amendment did say citizens were to be armed in order to form “militias,” in context, it looks as if these military bodies were intended to serve the United States in times of extreme crisis, and that their one commander was to be the President of the United States – not politicians, governors, and not private citizens from a Tea Party movement. Also, in context, as the AP article states, it has come to pass in our country that the National Guard has now occupies the role of what was intended by the term “a well regulated militia” in the 2nd Amendment.

Yet the Tea Party representative claims that the right to bear arms was allowed by the Founders for the express sake of the various states to defend themselves from the Federal Government – as if the Federal Government, by definition, somehow is worse or less responsible or trustworthy than state governments: Federal Government is equated with tyranny.

“…[W]hen do the states stop rolling over for the federal government?” he asks in amazement. What exactly is it that this man means when he says this? Since the Civil War it has been a settled question in our country that the states are not entirely autonomous, that they may not secede from the union, and that they must abide by federal law. If they have legitimate complaints about federal laws, the states have recourse to the federal courts and must abide by the decisions of the judicial branch like everyone else.

States and citizens do not, under our system, have the right to form a private army independent of the Constitution, free from Federal oversight, to “somehow” “defend against what they believe are improper federal infringements on state sovereignty.”

Because the “somehow,” the only way such an armed group could achieve their ends, will be by taking to the streets with guns to apply direct action – that is, by imposing their will, not by rational argumentation, which they have foresworn, but by threats and violence.

It is not as if this Tea Party movement has exhausted its rights to free speech or has been prevented from exercising it – even to the point of being allowed to abuse civility and sense in exercising it. It is not as if this movement has been prevented from spreading rumors that: President Obama is not an American by birth; he is a closet Muslim; he is a socialist; he is a Nazi; he is a communist; he is a Marxist; he will enslave us all; he is the Antichrist; he is destroying freedom; he hates America; he is trying to create a one world government; and so forth.

No, these people, with their “Don’t Tread On Me” flags and placards and even racist signs are allowed to gather and march and use the internet and collect monies and run politicians for office. Many people do not like what they say or how they choose to say it. To be perfectly honest, I do not: the Tea Party hasn’t heard a crackpot theory it won’t stoop to adopt to use as fuel for its anger, as far as I can tell. It is utterly irresponsible in its use of political speech, it is uncivil, hateful; its methods of “discourse” – such as shutting down Town Hall Meetings by yelling and making threatening or sarcastic remarks en masse – are not fit for children, much less adults entrusted with citizenship. But no one is attempting to shut them up, least of all the government, federal or otherwise.

Yet, groups of them are bringing out the guns and joining or creating militias. They feel threatened, they say; their freedoms are under attack; America is in danger; the Constitution is being violated; the alleged independence of the states is being molested.

A New York Times/CBS poll of Tea Party activists on 15 April 2010 revealed, among other things:

“The overwhelming majority of supporters say Mr. Obama does not share the values most Americans live by and that he does not understand the problems of people like themselves. More than half say the policies of the administration favor the poor, and 25 percent think that the administration favors blacks over whites — compared with 11 percent of the general public.

“They are more likely than the general public, and Republicans, to say that too much has been made of the problems facing black people.

“Asked what they are angry about, Tea Party supporters offered three main concerns: the recent health care overhaul, government spending and a feeling that their opinions are not represented in Washington.

““The only way they will stop the spending is to have a revolt on their hands,” Elwin Thrasher, a 66-year-old semiretired lawyer in Florida, said in an interview after the poll. “I’m sick and tired of them wasting money and doing what our founders never intended to be done with the federal government.”” [Kate Zernike and Megan Thee-Brenan, The New York Times, 15 April 2010, “Poll Finds Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated,”http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/15/us/politics/15poll.html]

And:

“Ninety-two percent believe Mr. Obama is moving the country toward socialism, an opinion shared by more than half of the general public.

““I just feel he’s getting away from what America is,” said Kathy Mayhugh, 67, a retired medical transcriber in Jacksonville. “He’s a socialist. And to tell you the truth, I think he’s a Muslim and trying to head us in that direction, I don’t care what he says. He’s been in office over a year and can’t find a church to go to. That doesn’t say much for him.”” [ibid]

Yes, these are older white people, wealthier than most, a group whose members probably attended some college somewhere. What did they study? What did they learn? How much did they forget or reject out of deeply held prejudices? Their answers in this poll and the representative quotes in this article show nothing but irrational fear and a deep suspicion of anyone who pays attention to the racial problems in this country.

They are terrified they are losing control of the nation, frightened they may have to share power, horrified that their taxes may be spent to make society more equitable and more stable for the people as a whole. They are fundamentally angry that they will be made to take responsibility for the problems arising from poverty – they are over 50% more likely to make over $100,000 a year and will be damned before anyone asks them to take on any burdens of living in a society.

Unsurprisingly, they see plots everywhere. Plots to install “socialism,” plots to give power and money to black people and the “undeserving” poor, plots to force them to support Islam, disarm, bow to the authority of some vague “world government.” Speeches by people such as Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota, a Tea Party favorite, have even gone so far as to whip up anger and fear of the Census by telling people that the intent of it was to provide the government with information to start a mass round up with the objective of tossing conservatives into concentration camps.

Is it any wonder, according to the poll and reporting on Chris Matthew’s show, “Hardball” on MSNBC, that 24% of the Tea Party believe that violence against the government can be justified?

Given such convictions, the entrance of some Tea Party factions into the militia movement – as in Oklahoma – should be unsurprising.

Though the philosopher Ortega was speaking specifically about the European situation of his day, he also diagnosed a universal symptom that arises in history when population levels increase and the masses mistake their unexceptional private desires for principles capable of leading societies and running states: they forgo giving reasons and thinking; they leave off reminding themselves why laws and traditions and institutions of all sorts they suddenly feel constrained by were established in the first place; they ignore the obligation to educate themselves appropriately and practice self-control; they support their feelings and desires with mythologies and rumors, “what people say”; and, in the end, they resort to threats and the imposition of their collective will by a resort to violence – what Ortega calls above “direct action.”

Our situation in the United States is not, at this moment, as desperate as that of Europe when mass movements eventually led to the installation of “strong men” and totalitarian governments – Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco; no, we are not that far along . . . yet. But how do these things begin, movements that erode, cripple, then topple governments, including liberal democracies and their constitutions? Is that what is happening here, in America, in the early 21st Century?

Given such convictions, the entrance of some Tea Party factions into the militia movement – as in Oklahoma – should be unsurprising.

Some Side Notes On The Militia Movement

 

The broader militia movement, groups of loosely associated or independent groups of armed people generally on the far right-wing of the political spectrum, of course, pre-dates the Tea Party.  In fact, many of that movement’s general beliefs seem to be influencing some Tea Partiers, not the other way around.

 

In recent times, relatively speaking, the far left had its equivalents: the Yippees; the Weather Underground; the Symbionese Liberation Army.  The government cracked down on these, at times with good reason since they were committing acts of domestic violence and attempting to foment violent revolution. But the right-wing militias, since their rise in the 1980s out of the survivalist movement, have, by and large, been allowed to gather weaponry, train, and predict a day when the country will be overrun by foreigners, or the Constitution will be suspended in a national emergency by an overreaching president.

 

Some of these militias are white supremacist gangs, neo-Nazis predicting a soon-coming race war they intend to win (among these are groups such as the National Alliance).

 

Other groups have some sort of extreme religious, eschatological interpretation of history that predicts a confrontation between the “true believers” and the “forces of evil,” usually identified as the United Nations and the Federal Government.  (Note: The recently arrested Hutaree Militia in Michigan which planned to kill police officers and spark a general armed uprising was of this sort.)

 

Some groups have roots in tax protest groups that arose decades ago, such as the John Birch Society, seeing all taxation as “confiscatory,” legalized stealing, and are preparing to protect their property against government intrusion and redistribution of wealth, which they see as socialism or communism – even though the Constitution gave the Federal Government the ability to tax the populace from the start and was amended in 1913 to allow specifically for an income tax.

 

The particular doctrines of the groups are many and vary widely.  However, all of the militias, regardless of individualized beliefs, share certain features.  They are 2nd Amendment absolutists – they believe there can be no legal restriction on the ownership of any sort of weapon whatsoever: anything else is tyranny.  They see the world in bifurcated terms – it is Us, the righteous, against Them, the infidels, the evil, with no possibility of shades of right and wrong.  And the “Them” are plotting to herd people into some sort of “New World Order” or “One World Government,” leftist/socialist in nature.

 

They see the world as requiring, eventually, armed struggle against government, because government inherently limits absolute freedom to do whatever one wants.  All groups, while praising the Constitution’s 2nd Amendment, seem to have plans to change the Constitution or do away with it entirely should they succeed in their armed struggle, replacing it with “God’s Law” (which only they understand), fascism or Nazism, some sort of anarchistic individualism, or a severely limited national government with power shifted to states, counties, or towns; and so on.

 

These smaller, diverse groups plowed the fields that now bear the fruit of the Tea Party movement; and it is a return to the origins of their faith rather than a new development when Tea Partiers begin, as in Oklahoma, to discuss the creation of anti-governmental militias.

The Character Of Our New Revolutionaries

 “…the mass-man of to-day [possesses] two fundamental traits: the free expansion of his vital   desires and therefore, of his personality; and his radical ingratitude towards all that has made possible the ease of his existence.  These two traits make up the well-known psychology of the spoilt child.  [***] Heir to an ample and generous past – generous in both ideals and in activities – the new commonality has been spoilt by the world around it.  To spoil means to put no limit on caprice, to give one the impression that everything is permitted to him and he has no obligations.  [***] And these spoilt masses are unintelligent enough to believe that the material and social organization, placed at their disposition, like the air, is of the same origin, since it apparently never fails them, and is almost as perfect as the natural scheme of things.

“[***]Thus is explained and defined the absurd state of mind revealed by these masses; they are only concerned with their own well-being; and at the same time they remain alien to the cause of that well-being.  [***] In the disturbances caused by scarcity of food, the mob goes in search of bread, and the means it employs is generally to wreck the bakeries.  This may serve as a symbol of the attitude adopted, on a greater and more complicated scale, by the masses to-day towards the civilization by which they are supported.” [brackets mine; Jose Ortega y Gasset, “Revolt of the Masses,” pgs. 58-60]

Those who have chosen to take up arms ostensibly to combat the expansion of government fit Ortega’s diagnosis perfectly.  The Tea Partiers, older, wealthy, educated, fail to note that it was a very generous society indeed that made their position in life possible in the first place, else there would not be so many of them.  Social stability itself, which arose, in part, in this country by addressing the issues of poverty, and the social and political inequality that exists between the races played a large role in creating the circumstance that made their peaceful existence a reality.  And those things – and others like them – were established by acts of the federal authority, often dragging recalcitrant states, who were acting extra-legally (as in the case of Arkansas during school desegregation in the 1950s), from unjust positions towards more tolerable ones.

 

One wonders how many of the Tea Partiers benefitted from college grant programs and federally guaranteed school loans in the years when they were young.  One wonders how many are now kept alive by medicines that had their inception in government sponsored research.  One need not wonder so much as to how many of them benefit from Social Security or the protection of our legitimate military as the vast majority of Tea Partiers in the survey reveal they support paying taxes for both.  Which would be the height of hypocrisy if this segment of society were conscious enough to understand they are damning a thing out of one side of their mouths while clamoring to preserve it out of the other.

 

I mean this: The majority of the Tea Party are receiving or will receive Social Security benefits and Medicaid/Medicare, and they are satisfied with this, ecstatic, even, and do not support any cutbacks in these programs.  Yet, conservatives for decades, since the inception of these programs have called them “socialism,” Marxist, encroachments on freedom – just as they now call any move towards public health care and universal coverage the same things.  But the benefits of Social Security are such that its recipients are generally quite happy to receive them and benefit greatly from the program: even Tea Partiers, obviously.  But why is Social Security a good thing and no perceived threat to anyone’s alleged sovereignty, yet the new health care law enough to drive the same people to form militias or disrupt normal political discourse with threats and screaming?

 

One wonders, following Ortega’s theory, if it isn’t because these people grew up with Social Security and see it as “natural,” as something that is simply “there” to be relied upon and taken for granted, paying no mind to the thinking and political labor that went into establishing it, and the historical problems it answered.  And universal health care is a new thing and they have witnessed a part of the long effort, debates, negotiations, and fights required to get the bill through Congress – a process few if any of them are equipped to understand fully, in its broader context.

 

And, perhaps, health care reform has not solved many of the Tea Partiers’ personal problems.  That is one of the hallmarks of the mass-man, as Ortega calls people who place no special requirements or burdens upon themselves: they see the world as at their individual service – they have no conception of others or requirements of any sort from which they do not feel they immediately benefit.  They want to run society without taking on all the responsibilities demanded of genuine leaders: the ability to think beyond one’s personal desires, taking into account the needs of all members of society and the needs of the as yet not arrived generations; a sense of history and why institutions and traditions we have inherited were established in their various forms, and an understanding when these need to be reformed or replaced.

 

As long as he benefits, the mass-man is happy.  But the moment he is handed a responsibility for which he feels no personal need, the mass-man revolts under the pressure of having to bear a burden.  How dare anyone limit my freedom!  Don’t tread on me!  Yet, ironically, he is not content to yell his protests from the privacy of his home, leaving the problems of government and society to people truly equipped for the task.  No – he wishes to dictate how government should be run, how society is to be ordered, and, unsurprisingly, as he has no creativity in this area and has made no effort to educate himself, the mass-man’s loudest demand is that government and social institutions should resemble his own self-satisfied image: they should only benefit him alone and they should never make demands upon him.

 

And if he cannot have his way, he will wreck the institutions, he will scream in the streets, he will perhaps, in the end, resort to threats of violence and end in acts of armed insurrection and secession.

Last Word

 

I have little to say as to whether this will be the outcome of our present political tension in America.  I am no prophet.  Past nations and peoples have not fared well once groups began to choose to act in this fashion.  In the United States itself, we once fought one another in a destructive Civil War due to many of these tendencies – a war whose effects are still reverberating through the militia movement and even in the Tea Party rhetoric.

 

Or, perhaps, this group and its conservative fellow travelers will come to power.  What then?  How will they rule?  Who will they choose to rule?  Can a movement with such conflicted ideas about power and responsibility do anything with power except destroy the delicate work of years, just as we witnessed the Bush administration bend and break the law, wreck the economy, benefiting a select few, or fight a war in Iraq and conduct foreign policy based on personal motives and desires?

 

I think we are left with some somber questions.  And questions call for meditation.

 

Richard Van Ingram

Originally written:

16 April 2010

Post Script, 7 May 2015:

Little has changed since 2010 when I wrote the above essay, except I would say the situation has worsened overall.

 

The Militia Movement and anti-Federal Government sentiments have grown and deepened.  Many people, at this point, distrust President Obama — in no small part simply because he is half-black and they are half-out-of-the-closet racists.

 

Presently, I reside in South Texas.  As of last week, when the Patriot Movement discovered that our troops would be conducting military practice exercises in the Southwest this summer, they decided this meant that President Obama was “invading” the states; the governor of Texas, Abbot, purely paranoid and playing to the prejudices of the mass, has ordered the National Guard here to “watch” and “defend” the state against “invasion.”

 

One hates to tell him that, when Texas joined the Union and later, when it lost the Civil War, the “federal government” took possession of Texas and subordinated the state to its authority and Constitution.  America cannot “invade” America.   This place is rife with military bases and institutions — there are more than enough soldiers and equipment in this state alone to silence any rebellion quickly, even without summer maneuvers.

 

But I live in an absurd age, an age of absurdities.  Such is the case when the Mass Man begins to rule by appeal to mythologies and other irrationalities.  Reason and reasons are meaningless to such people.  They are incapable of hearing or thinking — only acting and reacting emotionally, subjectively, selfishly.

 

Secondly, the Middle East, among other locales, is falling apart.  ISIS, another gang, another mass movement devoted to destroying the very principles and accomplishments that have made their lives and technology possible, is destroying the hard-won cultural achievements of the lands that gave them birth.  We — the USA — are engaged in a struggle with them which will grow in intensity even as the internal struggles with a similar mental attitude at home splinters our tenuous grasp on unity and liberalism.

 

I speak of storms on the horizon in my essays — these are the rumbles I hear and the high winds I feel in the night as the destruction threatens to approach.  And the average person, being average, is unconcerned with anything other than his and her comfort and ease and entertainment.

 

I am not confident in the least this will come to a good or acceptable conclusion.  There will be more to say later — I’ve said more than enough for now.

 

RVI

Ayn Rand Vampire Queen of the Mass Man, Richard Van Ingram, 2013
Ayn Rand Vampire Queen of the Mass Man, Richard Van Ingram, 2013
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