Sunday, January 1, 2012

Your Resolution

I normally don't make a practice of New Year's resolutions, for the simple reason that my cup of unfulfilled resolutions – past and present – already runneth over. There is a backlog that can supply New Year's or any other occasion for years to come. And it's not that I don't act on resolutions; they aren't totally neglected. It's just that my talent for making resolutions far exceeds my talent for seeing them through. I am, in other words, a better starter than finisher, and I don't think that's an unusual trait in our time. The landscape (both physical and otherwise) is dotted with the hulks and remains of follies -- of what must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but the resourcing, persistence, and endurance just weren't there. I suppose it's human nature to come up with ideas – and Americans are, after all, “idea people” extraordinaire – but much less common is the ability to accurately count the cost – especially what are called “opportunity costs”, i.e. the things you can't do because you're spending that time doing something else. Most resolutions are neither bad nor foolish; they are simply based on willful ignorance of what it would take to actually carry them out. Call it over-optimism... call it delusion... but we could avoid a lot of guilt and self-incrimination if we never overreached in the first place.

But! Having said all that, I will, nonetheless, offer a proposal to anyone who is shopping around for a resolution. You may think your life cannot be improved on, and have therefore despaired of coming up with any meaningful resolution. But, like any good marketer, I can offer you something you didn't know you needed. And I got the idea from none other than the old hippie guru Timothy Leary, who advised us to “Tune in, turn on, drop out” (not necessarily in that order). But how does this advice to furry freaks and acidheads of the 1960s apply to us today? Watch and learn...

TUNE IN: First of all, “tune in” to what's really wrong with this country. And that involves, above all, turning off the mainstream media, AKA the Ministry of Propaganda. All they want you to do is believe that things are just groovy... or that the minor problems that do exist can be readily remedied if only we allow government to grow even larger (completely ignoring the fact that the vast bulk of the problems were caused by big government). And by “mainstream media”, I don't only mean what “conservatives” usually mean, which is the liberal media which constitute the overwhelming majority of the mainstream. No, I also mean the loyal opposition – the supposed “conservatives” like the FOX Network, the Washington Times, etc. that are content with twiddling around at the margins of some issues, but are never willing to attempt any major surgery. The best evidence for this is that the liberal and “conservative” media are pretty much in agreement when it comes to foreign policy – one area where the misdeeds and folly of the government are most blatantly on display. And yet they all seem to think that everything's just peachy in that department.

So yes, don't listen to, or watch, or attend to in any way, the MSM, or its alleged counterparts, unless it's in preparation for a battle of ideas. And this would include virtually all TV networks, radio stations, and newspapers, and the vast majority of magazines. So where is the truth to be found these days? Well, on the Internet, for starters, and we can all be eternally grateful that something that was invented by the Defense Department has turned into such a useful tool for the political counterculture (I mean the real one, not the frauds like the Occupy movement). There is a certain delicious irony in that.

Now, when I cite the Internet, and the odd print media, and the even odder electronic media, as potential sources of truth, I know I'm introducing a virtually infinite array of possibilities. And when it comes to the question of “what's wrong”, there is a wide expanse, or spectrum, of opinion, ranging from the mildest right up to militant conspiracy theories, anarchism, what have you. So how to choose? What's the average citizen to do? In the old days, you might have one or two newspapers to choose from, and three virtually identical TV networks... and a handful of virtually identical news magazines. Were those really simpler times, or did the limited choices just make it seem that way? There were voices of opposition and protest even then... and some have vanished, others have been co-opted, and others are alive and well, if virtually underground. In fact, it's ironic in a way that the “old left” media have gradually been absorbed by the mainstream media blob, which means that most of the alternatives are either radical newish left, or paleoconservative (the Neocons being the main segment of the “loyal opposition” as discussed above). And I suppose, in a sense, this is the way it always has to be – the spectrum (or political bell curve) gradually shifts leftward, carrying the majority of the unthinking masses with it... and only the most radical “eggheads” have the courage and persistence to stay outside the blob, either on the left or the right. It's hard work these days being a true leftist, for instance, since the president, who has all sorts of claims to being a leftist, is acting like some fascist puppet the Nazis would have installed if they'd won the war. On the other hand, it's fairly easy to be a paleoconservative, since all one has to do is adopt the positions of mainstream Republicans of 60 or so years ago, as exemplified by Robert Taft. Another way of putting this is that there is a lot more room on the right than on the left these days... and, of course, there is all sorts of room on the libertarian side, whereas the collectivists and totalitarians have to be feeling a bit claustrophobic, since there are so many of them and they are all crammed into the same box.

But to return to the question – what to do? Where to go? And what I say is, start reading, start thinking, start surfing the Net on topics you're interested in. When you run across people and ideas that make sense, explore further, and never mind the ceaseless propaganda that portrays them as “nuts”, “crazy”, “haters”, “radical right-wing”, “conspiracy theorists”, and what not. Bear in mind that the establishment – the ruling elite – want, more than anything else, to retain the power they have and to increase it – and they have enlisted the media to aid them in that quest. Therefore, anything the media present in the way of “news” or “information” or “data” is designed to support that. Not to support liberty, or true education, or individual freedom – only to support the interests of the Regime. In fact, one can do worse than study who the MSM really have it in for (Ron Paul comes to mind), and then try and figure out why. The results can be very enlightening.

Let me go a bit further with this. I say don't believe the propaganda, but also don't accept the media's notions of what's important and what isn't... of what constitutes “news” and what doesn't. They not only put their own “spin” on stories, they also decide what stories are worth reporting – and that also falls under the heading of “supporting the Regime”. Look no further than the virtual news blackout on the Ron Paul campaign for evidence of this. But also, consider that no one in the MSM ever seriously questions the “two-party system” that has wrought so much destruction over the years. They never question the “War on Drugs” -- or any other war, for that matter. They never question the existence, or actions, of the Federal Reserve, or the IRS. I could go on, but you get the idea. The key is to assume nothing, when they want you to assume everything. To accept nothing and to question everything -- this is the truly radical position, which our so-called “leftists” these days are absolutely averse to. They sport bumper stickers that say “Question Authority”, but they are, in fact, the last people on earth to do so. Authoritarianism is not – nor was it ever – the exclusive province of the right, or of “fascists”; that in itself is left-wing propaganda of the first order. Any form of unthinking loyalty to a political party, a political cause, or even a nation, qualifies as authoritarianism, and should be subject to repeated hard questioning.

So... erase what's in your mind. Become pure... childlike. I'm serious! Be like the five-year-old who never tires of asking “why”, or the 14-year-old who says “prove it!” every five minutes. Skepticism is the one thing most lacking in the American character – although I dare say it was not always so. We supposedly escaped Old Europe and sailed over here on leaky boats to escape tyranny and dogmatism – and yet have established a more comprehensive system of both, sporting our own brand. And this is one of the countless things that should be questioned: It's “the American century”? Prove it! Our brand of “democracy” is the best model for governments world-wide, regardless of geography, economics, religion, culture, custom, tradition? Prove it! We are the “last, best hope of mankind”? Prove it! Because our actions demonstrate anything but. We go over to places like Vietnam, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, and start acting just like Vietnamese, or Iraqis, or Afghans – or worse. We “go native”, in other words – aided and abetted by technology.

So don't drink the Kool-Aid, as the saying goes... don't become a mind-numbed robot, or a complacent, obedient serf. “Rage against the machine!” There is all sorts of talk about “minority rights”, but what about “majority rights” -- i.e. the rights of the ordinary, average, halfway-decent citizen against those who want to control his every thought and movement, and turn him into some sort of android?

TURN ON: What I mean by this is to “turn on” to the alternatives – because, as people keep nagging the Occupy crowd about, “what's your plan?” I mean, it's one thing to point out things that aren't right – and that's a perfectly healthy first stage in the dialogue. But sooner or later people are going to want a plan. And the problem is that a fairly clear vision of what's wrong doesn't necessarily yield up a clear or workable plan. After all, even Karl Marx had a lot of insight into what was wrong with the Industrial Revolution in Western Europe – but his solution, his alternative, left something to be desired, as was so convincingly (to everyone but American academics) demonstrated decades later.

The most simplistic, perhaps, version of “the plan” is to just go back to the way America was before... you pick the catastrophe of your choice. Before the New Deal... before the Federal Reserve and the income tax... before the “robber barons”... before the Civil War... whatever. Everyone has their own idea about when America was still “OK” -- before it started downhill. (For my money, the War of 1812 was our last “just war”, so the slide happened somewhere between then and the Civil War. But that's just me.)

The problem with coming up with a plan – even in retrospect – is that there were built-in flaws present from the beginning, in our country's foundation. There was the moral, philosophical, and spiritual burden of the Reformation and the Enlightenment, which had a profound impact on our founders, on our founding documents, and on our “origin myths”. There was also – not unrelated by any means – the baleful influence of Freemasonry. There was our Puritan heritage, which, among other things, dictated that the Catholic Church was anathema, and that the truth was not in it – including its very valuable social teachings. There was our tradition of Protestant zeal and fanaticism, which impacts our foreign policy to this day – and, on the domestic side, a tradition of Utopianism, which impacts our domestic policy, and has at least since the Progressive era.

So the dilemma – in theory, of course – is, can America be re-made or do we just have to start over? Can we salvage anything from the ruins? Because if not, we are set back, on almost all fronts, more than 200 years. My modest suggestion for our thinking is that we adopt – at least on a tentative basis – the outline and basic structure that is represented by the Constitution, with improvements as needed (ones Justice Scalia and Ron Paul might agree with)... and then embellish that with Catholic social teaching, particularly in the economic area, like distributism and subsidiarity... but also with Catholic teaching on “just war”, which, if it had been put into practice 150 years ago, could have helped us avoid most of the catastrophes which have befallen this country.

My personal dilemma in all of this is that I consider myself to be a paleoconservative, and also a libertarian, and also a supporter of Catholic social teaching... and I'm convinced that, somewhere out there in n-space, there is a place where the three meet and can get along without falling into disharmony and fisticuffs. My solution, from day to day, is to adopt a kind of “shell” approach, with the libertarian model being the first, or outer shell... and the rule is to use libertarian principles as a baseline “unless proven otherwise”. The middle shell is paleoconservatism, which is more of a political model than a set of principles, although it overlaps with libertarianism to a surprising degree, the main differences being centered on Christian morality, which libertarians would typically not have much interest in. Morality, as in “ethics”, yes; “Christian” per se, no. So that's where I have to make a break with strict libertarianism, at least as far as genuine Christian morality goes – by which I mean to exclude such ephemera and crazes as the War on Drugs, unquestioning support for Israel, etc. Those are examples of things that are often presented as moral issues, but which are, by and large, political or just plain neurotic in nature. Then we have the inner shell, namely Catholic social teaching, which cannot be described as “Christian” if that includes Protestantism and the “Protestant ethic”, social Darwinism, etc. So basically, it's a good day when I come up with an idea that is consistent with all three lines of thought – and I have my work cut out for me when it violates one or two out of the three.

Part of this approach – at least for me – is reading books and articles by the few people in our day who think clearly. This would include, for instance, Thomas Sowell, Justice Antonin Scalia, Walter Williams (economist), Joseph Sobran (recently deceased), and Pat Buchanan – also print media like The American Conservative, Chronicles, and The Wanderer (Catholic weekly newspaper). Then if you want to go back down memory lane a bit, there's G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. But avoid the Neocons and their various organs like the plague, because that's what they are. Ditto “liberal Catholics”, “progressives”, socialists (needless to say), etc.

And I don't say that everyone ought to adopt this approach; by no means. It is, I admit, a bit wonkish and egghead-esque. But on some level everyone has to decide what they believe, “in their heart” as Goldwater might have said, and how that ought to apply to the ways of the world. Otherwise we're all living in separate cocoons, and are ripe for exploitation by the people who do think about these things, and come up with answers that are evil, but they work... at least in the short run.

DROP OUT: Now we get to the tough part, because it involves that which we value most, namely our creature comforts and convenience. And I do not present myself as a model for this variable, since I am probably as addicted to my “stuff”, and technology, as most people. But it goes back to questioning, once again, the propagandists' line about how we ought to live – as “good citizens”, “voters”, “consumers”, and unquestioning slaves to any idea or program the Regime decides to impose on us. You can stay in the thick of things – in the midst of the battle, like Richard III in the Shakespeare play – or you can draw back, with the thought that with a certain distance comes freedom... freedom to think, and to reassert your individuality – two human rights that are scarcely mentioned per se in the founding documents, but which are always implied. For was this nation not founded on the assumption that its citizens would be thinking individuals? (And wasn't that assumption a bit far-fetched, at least in retrospect?) There is always the risk of confusing “thinking” with “ideas”. But in fact, some ideas – like communism – are so seductive, so appealing to our lower nature, that they cause all further thought to cease. In fact, I would go so far as to say that a person with only a single idea is not thinking at all; only by means of comparison of ideas – not only initially but as part of an ongoing process – can we claim that thinking is taking place.

In any case, what I want to suggest is that each of us, to the extent of our abilities and inclinations, “drop out” as much as possible from the servitude that the Regime expects of us. Get out of the matrix; pry that mind-control metal plate out of your skull.

This would include, for instance, not going into unsecured debt (or even better, no debt at all) except in the very short run. An example is the popular, but largely ignored, advice, “pay off all your credit cards each month”. But consider – what is the real engine of the Regime, of our rulers and oppressors? It's debt, and that means our debt, and that means what is euphemistically termed “consumer debt”. Get rid of that and you get rid of one of the major hooks that the Regime has in each one of us.

Another thing – boycott the mainstream media. Don't watch the shows, don't buy the papers and magazines. The sponsors will notice, believe me.

Don't support the “agents of change” who continually burrow into the body politic like a plague of termites. Whenever you have an opportunity to support “public education” and the social work establishment, don't do it. “Just say no.”

Like distributism? Then keep your money in small banks and credit unions, and to hell with Wall Street. Give to charity rather than voting for government social programs. Invest in real things, not just paper.

Like subsidiarity? Then support local governments and their span of control, as opposed to state governments, and support state governments over the federal government. Also, try and support local merchants; I know the “big box” stores are tempting, but they are soulless. Anything that drives people off the land and into big cities is highly suspect.

Don't invest in businesses that do bad things. Don't invest in mutual funds that invest in those businesses. And so on.

On a slightly more radical side, try to become self-supporting in ways other than simply earning a wage. One book that I've found quite inspiring in this area is “Better Off” by Eric Brende.

You don't have to rage against the machine in the streets, with pitchforks and torches. Yes, there is a place for that, but there is also a place for more subtle sabotage. What if, for instance, everyone just held on to their car for one more year before trading it in? Imagine the rolling impact that would make.

Why do Americans, who are known, supposedly, for their feistiness, willingly put up with all sorts of inconveniences, insults, and barriers to living a serene life? As the hippies used to say, “shoot your television”. Just start turning things off! Incessant noise is a time-honored brainwashing device, and don't think that's not one reason why we encounter it in a daily basis.

Try, just once, to cut down on the artificial – foods, clothes, smells, tastes, materials, and so on. These things blunt our senses and separate us from nature and from our natural survival instincts (which is, of course, one reason why they are pushed so hard by the system). And BTW, this includes air conditioning.

Embrace the classics – and I don't just mean books; also movies, art, architecture, drama, music... stuff that was done by men who knew they were men, and women who knew they were women. Yes, I mean that. I doubt if there is anything more demoralizing or alienating than this repeated (by the media etc.) mantra, “we're all the same”, when anyone with a grain of sense knows different. We have this hoax called “diversity” as a flavorless, nutrient-free substitute for real, meaningful differences among people and among groups – things that really deserve to be celebrated, but are now suppressed.

Don't be a “consumer”; be a frugal user. And most of all, take a vow of abstinence when it comes to “fashion”. What has the “metrosexualizing” of our society ever done for anyone except people selling things that no one really needs? And I'm all for real diversity and self-expression and all that, but have you had a look at what passes for “public art” these days? It's enough to make you want to go back to the Art Deco era with those allegorical statues around the Mall in Washington, DC, where everyone's neck is bigger than their head.

Assume that anything the Regime, by way of the media and the “entertainment” industry, tells you is not important is, in fact, important. This would include religion, family, ethnicity, and – yes – race, in the good, constructive sense. Prefer patriotism (genuine pride in place and heritage) to nationalism (a hoax, by and large). And above all, be unashamed. Shame has been brought back from the grave and has been turned into one of the principal motivators (or de-motivators) in American society – shame, and guilt... for being who we are, for being the way we were born. It's all designed to make the masses feel penitential (in a bad way) and dependent on the government for validation.

“Support the troops” by bringing them home and keeping them here. What if we defended our southern border with 1% of the resources we pour into the Middle East?

Try to avoid, or at least not totally buy into, any of the major rackets of our time. This would include conventional medicine and “health care”, processed food, “agribusiness”, “big pharma”, televangelists, professional sports (full disclosure: Go Steelers!), fashion (as I said above)... anything, in fact, that tries to separate us from our hard-earned money (and time); anything that requires us to trade our birthright for a mess of pottage.

See how simple it is – or can be? No one piece of this is all that radical, but add it all up, and let enough people do it, and there's a possibility we can reclaim some of what we've lost... or, better yet, stake a claim on something new... something that is alive, and not rooted in any of the many American mass neuroses. If this is truly the land of opportunity, it should also be the the land of opportunity to overthrow much of what has gone before – not our true and valid heritage, but all of the sick and perverse accretions that have built up over the years. But it can only happen if we, on some level and each in our own way, “tune in, turn on, and drop out” -- and it can only happen one individual at a time.

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