There are so many pernicious things about “being a joiner” – i.e., identifying yourself, and therefore your convictions and interests, with some organization – that I could write about it for a whole year and not exhaust the subject. However, as most of my Gentle Readers come here for the gut-punches and bile geysers, today I’ll confine myself to a brief survey of currently important examples.
Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t be back to the subject tomorrow.
Back at the late, lamented Eternity Road, I once wrote about a discipline I called “identity management:” the sometimes fine, more often crude, and always strenuous art of managing what others know or believe about you. Joinerism compounds the problems in this domain, as one’s perceived identity is too easily conflated with the public posture of your group...even worse, with the positions and behavior of your group’s most flamboyant or erratic members.
Identity management is particularly important to politicians bidding for elective office. The democratic and quasi-democratic processes America uses to choose elected officials can make a number supreme above all other truths. That number, of course, is “50% plus 1.” In a political environment as complex and deeply riven as ours, taking a chance on the sentiments of even a relatively small group that exhibits bloc-voting behavior can mean risking electoral defeat.
If you identify yourself as “a Republican,” just now you have some serious identity-management problems, owing to the behavior of the Republicans most conspicuous in national politics. That includes those contemplating a bid for the presidency, a few of the more prominent governors, and several who appear destined to live and die on Capitol Hill.
(Yes, yes, if you identify as “a Democrat,” you’re even worse off, but let’s not go there for the moment. At any rate, if any self-nominated Democrats read Liberty’s Torch, I doubt they regard it as a source of wisdom.)
Consider: The Republican Party’s platform position is that the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which struck down every anti-abortion law in every state (“An exercise of raw judicial power” – Associate Justice Byron White in dissent), is an overextension of the Court’s authority – in essence, a violation of the Tenth Amendment. But the pro-abortion forces, which can’t abide any abridgement of the “right” to murder an unborn child, aren’t willing to let any Republican recur to the platform and stop there. Their press henchmen persist in pressing prominent Republicans, especially those vying for the Oval Office, with questions intended to “trap” their target into alienating some portion of his support. For example: “Governor, you’ve said you’re pro-life. Does that mean you’d favor punishing a woman who chooses to abort because she was made pregnant by rape or incest?”
Consider also: Some fringy types have espoused elaborate conspiracy theories about forces half-in, half-out of public view that secretly control the world economy. The fringiest among them, particularly the ones who focus on the multinational banks, compound the damage by focusing on Jews in the financial industries. (Inasmuch as moneylending is one of the few trades that European Jews were allowed to practice during medieval times, this is both ironic and unjust.) That some such persons call themselves Republicans allows the Left to imply that other Republicans accept such representations. For example: “Senator, your father the former Congressman has said that he regards the banking industry as a secret Jewish cabal whose aim is the control of the world economy. What do you have to say to that?”
Consider as well: Certain “controversial” subjects are so tightly enclosed by “politically correct” positions that to dissent from them can sound as if one has rejected heliocentrism. Even a hint that one believes that discussion of the matter should continue can result in being tarred as something seemingly vile by a particularly militant special-interest group. The consequence of sharing a group membership with someone braver than yourself – or who has less at risk – is the need to choose between defending his position and distancing yourself from it. For example: “Governor, your fellow Republican Candidate X has said that he believes that homosexuality isn’t an inborn characteristic but a choice. What do you have to say to that?”
Those are the cases I can produce with only five seconds’ thought. Can you name any others?
To someone not in politics, wholly uninterested in acquiring the powers and perquisites of public office, such problems may seem unimportant. There’s some justice in dismissing them as pertinent mainly to the politically ambitious, but in our time there’s a considerable hazard as well, for politics and political affiliations have come to permeate every corner of American society.
There are institutions of every sort that seek to bar persons of divergent politics from entry. Companies, universities, clubs, discussion fora, and eleemosynary organizations can all be found that do this. Even some zoning boards have exhibited a tendency to approve or deny permits on the basis of the applicant’s politics. When “your” politics isn’t really “yours,” but consists rather of imputations laid upon you by others with an agenda of their own, the problem reaches its maximum.
Many Americans have experienced separation from their families over political differences. Many can’t abide holiday gatherings because of politics. If political strife can penetrate the family, the nucleus from which all successful societies are built, what could possibly be safe from it?
I’ve written many times, including quite recently, that politics is the pursuit of power over others. Whether some political component is inevitable, even indispensable, is open to question, but this is not:
The hyperpoliticization of American society endangers everything. If my argument here resonates with you, this implication should be just as strong:
Men of good will must begin an explicitly anti-political movement.
Subject after subject must be wrenched loose from the grip of political discourse. Everything not inherently a matter of force or fraud must be removed from that realm:
- Economics: What we make, how we make it, and to whom we sell it.
- Education: what is taught to our children, when, and by whom.
- Medicine: Who practices it, of what it consists, and how we pay for it.
- Charity: Who shall receive succor, in what forms, and from whom.
- Religion and quasi-religious convictions.
- Family life and practices.
- Science and technology.
I could go on, but that’s enough for the present.
The process must start with individuals and their relationships with one another. Over time it must extend all the way to the pinnacle of voluntary organization. It must liberate from political discourse every subject that stands outside the rei publicae: the defense of the realm, the protection of individuals’ lives and property, the safety and cleanliness of the streets, and the peaceful resolution of contractual disputes.
Let’s make “That shouldn’t be a matter for politics” the mantra of the Twenty-First Century.