Thursday, March 12, 2015

Politically Insoluble Part 3: Directions

The previous two essays have outlined why political engagement alone will prove insufficient to reverse (perhaps even to decelerate) the totalitarianization of these United States. Indeed, there’s a possibility that political engagement is part of the problem rather than a component of any solution. But that’s ground we’ve already covered; if you accept the thesis, the obvious next question is “Then what?”

I’ll allow that there are many ways forward that appear potentially constructive at least. For my money, the one that’s most promising is a campaign of localized apolitical privatization.

What I mean by that might not be immediately clear, so let’s have a go at an example or two.

Smith lives in a neighborhood that’s being marred by a slowly increasing frequency of crimes against property. He ponders applying to the relevant police precinct for additional surveillance, perhaps a regular roving patrol, but realizes that, as his locale is neither as prosperous as some nor as badly off as others, he’d have a hard time making the case that the police ought to devote more of their resources to it.

What about political action? Some residential areas have used partisan influence to cause protective resources to be redirected in their favor. It could work – Smith’s neighborhood is largely inclined in the direction of the currently dominant party – but it would run the risk of being temporary, as political solutions always are. Smith files the thought away while he looks for another approach.

Smith suddenly remembers an article he read, a couple of years back, about a neighborhood in another state that formed a gun club specifically for its residents. That neighborhood had seen a dramatic decrease in local crime, as predators are naturally wary of law-abiding citizens with firearms. There was a cost – property suitable for a firing range had to be purchased, and someone had to be paid to administer the club – but the result seemed positive all the same. “What if such a club were coupled to a Neighborhood Watch program?” he muses.

Smith appeals to his neighbors for their thoughts. The bifurcated approach to deterring crime appeals to the majority of them. There’s some difficulty working out the details at first, but ultimately the necessary funds and scheduling requirements work themselves out. Presently the neighborhood has an armed guard, composed of the persons best inclined toward taking the problem seriously: its own residents. Crime decreases. Property values go up. Perhaps best of all, neighbors become better acquainted with one another: more neighborly.

Smith, delighted with the success of the anti-crime efforts, turns his attention to another problem of note: the inadequacy of the local public schools. Property taxes increase each year, always on the representation that the schools can’t do a decent job without more money. Yet the complaints against the schools increase even more swiftly, with special focus on the displacement of academic substance by politically correct indoctrination. The administrators turn aside every suggestion for improvement by crying poverty.

Smith is aware that there are a couple of homeschooling families not far away. He resolves to visit them, to describe his neighborhood’s problem, and to ask their advice.

The homeschoolers prove more than happy to share their knowledge and experience. They readily admit that homeschooling isn’t for everyone – that some children don’t learn well in such an environment and need more regimentation than a parent with multiple responsibilities can provide – but that a variation on familial homeschooling might prove suitable, if it can be “scaled up” to neighborhood size.

Smith looks up some retirees. A couple of technologists, a doctor, and a former public-school teacher agree to take part in an ad hoc private grammar school, admission restricted to children of the residents of the neighborhood, if there’s adequate compensation for their time and sufficient interest from the locale. Once a group of students has been assembled, each of the retirees agrees to put an hour a day, five days per week into operating a class in the finished basement of a suitable private residence. As the children are of varying ages, the challenge resembles that of the one-room schoolhouses of old, but without interference from the smothering hand of the educratic bureaucracy, the task proves manageable.

Without the interference of the unions and the massive superstructure of the government-run schools to impede them, the retirees prove equal to the task. The students actually learn. More, since their “school day” is only four hours long, they feel less stifled by the routine and have more time for their own pursuits. Interest grows in the arrangement among formerly skeptical parents.

Things are seriously looking up for Smith’s neighborhood. However, there remain some irritating problems. One such, potholes in the streets, rises to the top of the list.

Smith visits a local driveway-paving company for advice. The proprietors are happy to talk about their business, which tends to be seasonal, occasioning certain difficulties in cash flow management. When Smith raises the pothole problem, they disparage the efforts of the town highway department, which appears uninterested in providing long-lasting repairs, and assert that they could do a better job if trusted with it.

Smith’s next stops are at the homes of residents on a badly potholed street. He asks them, “Would you be willing to pay for good-quality repairs?” When enough of them have agreed, he arranges a meeting with the driveway-paving business. A deal is eventually struck that defines the scope of the job, the price per pothole, and the degree of responsiveness expected of the company. The pavers are happy to discount their services for the sake of an “off-season” income where there was none before. Even so, it’s not cheap, but by dividing the cost among themselves, the residents find it bearable and worthwhile.

Smith’s own street is a particular problem, as only he is willing to bear any share of the cost for repairs. He decides to hold onto the idea until enough of his immediate neighbors find the potholes as annoying as he.

Not everything is well. Local politicians and bureaucrats are not pleased. Smith’s neighborhood is making them look bad. They can’t abide the constant comparisons between “Smithville” and surrounding locales that continue to depend upon “official” institutions. Yet the incentives public employees face prove too strong to overcome; they know their jobs are safe, and that they’ll get paid regardless of how slowly or shoddily they perform. Wasn’t the effective lack of accountability a big part of the reason they agreed to work for a government?

So the politicians and school board members strike back in the way they know best, the way that’s proved most effective in the past: at the residents’ wallets. Taxes and fees escalate sharply. The police and town officials attempt to intrude into Smithville’s private arrangements, demanding payoffs before they’ll go away. Smithville’s residents begin to question the wisdom of Smith’s work.

So Smith calls in the press: reporters from the local weekly, the regional daily, and the local cable-television channel. All of them find the contrast between Smithville and surrounding demesnes striking and suggestive. As are reporters everywhere, they’re particularly interested in the politicos’ attempts to bludgeon Smithville’s residents back into conformance with government control. Nothing excites a reporter’s enthusiasm for a story like a whiff of corruption. Coverage of the contest becomes intense...and the residents of Smithville find themselves regarded as heroic champions of “the little guy.”

There’s no way of knowing how things will eventuate, but Smithville has an asset the politicians can’t match: the degree to which they’ve come together in a common cause for their own local interests. Whether the hand of government is heavy enough to offset that advantage is unclear.

The above are examples of what I mean by localized apolitical privatization:

  • They operate at a neighborhood level and resist being enlarged beyond that;
  • They eschew the involvement of government in local concerns;
  • They assume private responsibility for problems currently deemed as being in the government’s sphere.

Are they perfect? No. Are they absolutely proof against governmental counter-action? Of course not. But in emphasizing community involvement and private responsibility, they bear the characteristics any approach to getting off the Mishnory road must exhibit.

Freedom requires the exclusion of government from one’s affairs. You cannot employ or sanction coercion if you want to be free; the two are opposites in every way. Indeed, it might even be a mistake to oppose government, for that requires you to shift your focus from what you want to what you don’t – and there will always be opponents who’ll strain to keep your focus there. That’s no way to get off the Mishnory road.

Finally, watch out for Smith. Successes of the sort described above could go to his head; he could be persuaded that he’s become a large enough cheese to deserve public office. His public hanging would be a most unfortunate outcome.

I await your thoughts.

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