Friday, January 25, 2008

Ron Paul

No, I haven't become a Ron Paul supporter. However, I did have what may have been a mini-epiphany the other day.

Honestly, Ron Paul supports confuse me and even make me feel a tiny bit nervous. While the man himself seems to be a mental hostage to a variety of conspiracy theories, his supporters horrify not only typical conservatives and liberals but even many libertarians. Have you ever been talking with someone and just realized that you were on completely different wavelengths and weren't really communicating? It's like that. Not all of them are like this, but a surprising number are. They're utterly dedicated to their cause, believe that Ron Paul is America's only hope, and honestly believe that the only reason Paul's not widely supported is because the media is screwing him over.

I have some sympathy for these positions. If I could describe my thought process when hearing them explained, it would go something like this:
"Mmm-hmm, okay...that makes sense. Yes, that's true. Uh-huh. Wait. Stop. Right, that last part at the end? You totally lost me."

One of the topics I worked on helping to research at my job this past summer was a group called J.A.I.L. 4 Judges. To make a long story short, they wanted to be able to pursue criminal charges against judges (and even jurors) who decided against them. Again, in short, they seem to fit the "Western state militia" stereotype.

What got me thinking is the realization that the supporters of these two groups (and I have no doubt that there's a very significant overlap) are people with grievances. They've been worked over in the past, whether it be by a corrupt city councilman who abused his position to cheat them out of desirable property they owned, but a justice system which let them down in a claim (or even criminal charge) in the past, or even simply being upset that they work hard and still get passed over for those with less talent and more influence. Sometimes these are simply misunderstandings over the way things actually work, but I'm inclined to think that most of these people have experienced an injustice, whether to personally or to a close friend or relative.

I've felt this way before, and you probably have, too. It just makes you feel upset that things aren't right. Sometimes we're able to let it go. Sometimes, like Don Quixote, we're able to channel our outrage into a quest to right wrongs against others, disregarding the slings and arrows we perceive against ourselves. Other times we just want to get even and so we seek equalizers. You've probably heard the old saying that "God made man; Sam Colt made them equal," talking about how the "Peacemaker," being accessible to the public, brought the physically weak up to the level of the strong. Some more directly followed the spirit of this by arming themselves, resolving to fight for their rights, even against the American government and its agents if necessary. Others, and this is where Ron Paul and J.A.I.L. 4 Judges went, have attempted to start grassroots efforts to equalize through the ballot box.

Much of the time, the proper response to suffering an injustice is to offer it up to Christ. Actually, we should always do that, but what I mean is that it doesn't always require efforts on our own part to try and put things equal with the way they were before the injustice. Not everyone subscribes to Christianity, especially the flavor I'm advocating, and it's not incomprehensible to me that folks will try to take measures into their own hands (after all, most Americans are descended from people who decided to do just that and emigrate here).

There is a danger when you have a large group of people who feel aggrieved. This is just as true of the rural white people who seem to make up most of the Ron Paul supporters as of urban black people fixated on "institutional racism" and seek reparations for slavery. This can go horribly wrong: Germany before WWII got royally shafted in the early 20th century (most notably with the Treaty of Versailles), Southerners felt their rights trampled upon by busybody Northerners over slavery (while doing little about child labor in their own backyard), and the recent spate of school shooters (and we do not need to remember their names) who found themselves at the bottom of the high school totem pole are examples of what happens when there's no redress or safety valve.

My guess is that these people paid attention in Civics and were told that they had a variety of God-given rights which shall not be infringed by the government, the same government that was obligated to protect citizens whose rights were invaded by others. Instead, they found government taking these rights while leaving the person prey to others who connived to harm them. Maybe they tried to work their way through our often-Byzantine legal system, only to find themselves denied justice (perhaps through a procedural error) and even owing their lawyer a massive debt. Locke, Hobbes, and others argued that we have a government in order that we may be better protected than we ourselves could do. When a person sees that this isn't the case, they may feel justified in deciding to resolve the situation without submitting it to government.

Their backs are also against the wall. In the past, one could simply pack up and leave for the wilderness to seek a new fortune. Columbus to America, Americans in Manifest Destiny, and the California and Alaska gold rushes were examples of this. We've hit a snag, though: there's nowhere else feasible to go. Maybe we'll eventually colonize space, but at least for now that's not an option. Maybe this was an aberration, that civilized people could become pioneers, mixing the decency and security of civilization with the freedom of the wilderness. Certainly throughout history there have people whose only option was to somehow cope with their situation as it was without the ability to escape. One by one, the traditional bastions of freedom which made up the English-speaking world succumbed to fear and sought the remedy of collectivized security. The same stock of people who fought the Battle of Britain and who waged the first successful colonial revolution in modern history now expel high school students for having a Swiss Army Knife on the dashboard of their car.

It isn't a steady decline; popular outcry sometimes forces the government to scale back its claims. Overall, however, the trend has been downward. Technology and new economic concepts have allowed some people to obtain more power, but someone who simply wants to be a farmer or a teacher or a "country doctor" finds themselves regulated by a huge bureaucracy. Ancient Rome comes to mind, falling from a powerful Republic to a tyrannical and corrupt monarchy to a decrepit society unable to do anything but allow themselves to be conquered by barbarians.

It seems to be part of the general Anglo-Saxon mindset, which is itself somewhat barbaric and less cultured than other systems. I suspect it could hardly be any other way. Take the descendants of loutish Vikings and Goths, give them a touch of Celtic and Roman culture and civilizing, and then introduce a religion originally started by the Jews (whose history is full of against-all-odds victories in the name of God and righteousness) and you'll wind up with a people who revere mottoes such as sic semper tyrannis, nemo me importune lacessit, and nolo me tangere. Other cultures, such as China, the rest of Europe, India, and others place a high value on survival rather than vindication. We believe that the squeaky wheel gets the grease; they think that it's the tallest blade of grass which is the first to get plucked.

Where does this leave things? Sadly, but probably unavoidably, unresolved. We tend to want heaven on earth. Failing that, we want a just cause and a clear enemy to fight against. We're not at either extreme right now, though, and as much as prevention is better than repair, it's nearly impossible to make happen. In the meantime, we should try to win battles where we can, not because we think we can win the war (only the return of Christ will win the war we're truly fighting) but because the victories we achieve grant relief to those who are oppressed and might otherwise be crushed.

So to Ron Paul supporters, let me say a few things. One, please don't spam my email or comments boxes. Two, keep supporting your beliefs but take the time to examine them periodically as well. Some of your allies have views that are abhorrent to most Americans, and while that's not dispositive of what's right it does tend to be generally reliable. Three, work on your tactics (but remember that they're a tool for being more effective, not for winning at all costs). Despite some claims to the contrary, you're simply not connecting with most Americans. Lastly, make sure the things you're fighting for are worth the fight. If something can be resolved without too much harm by simply letting it go, do that. For many other things, keep your efforts proportional to the threat faced. And, of course, for a select few things, use every tool at your disposal (so long as it's righteous and doesn't lead you to sin) to win and remember that fair fights are for practice or for suckers.

1 comment:

MHL said...

The Ron Paul folks really are an odd lot. I don't mean that as a negative, but just an observation on the strange bedfellows that make up his constituency. Mix in some right wing financial world conspiracists plus left wing anti-war types and throw in some legalize marijuana people as well.

I really admire his ability to attract this diverse a group. There is a woman at my church who is very smart. I've never heard her discuss any politics or take a position on public issues before. Yet there she was at our local Christmas parade dressed as a clown and handing out Ron Paul literature.

Paul should probably run as a third party candidate since his views don't come close to matching either party. Of course, he wouldn't win this time, but I'm all for more paticipation in the process.