Sean Parr
The state as the forest
By Sean Parr
October 8, 2018

Much has recently been written on the supposed unparalleled divisiveness of the current cultural landscape. It's likely that a degree of hyperbole has been attached to such descriptions, perhaps owing to a bit of chronological snobbery (our divisiveness is more divisive than the divisiveness of any other era – or, indeed, of only a few years ago). In any event, it seems now that those on the left have laid this tribalism at the feet of Donald Trump; the result of an amalgam of his policies, his slipshod rhetoric, his ethical dubiousness, and his sometimes blind-eyed supporters.

Those on the right have identified the Thought Policemen (Police Persons?) as the locus of the present animus: the victim-groomers who occupy academia and the intellectually stillborn who organize disruptive tantrums while important people speak.

There's even been one essay which presented American society's rejection of the objectivity of moral values as the genesis of the tensions with which we are now bedeviled (if we reject the existence of Evil, we must then demonize something – why not those with whom we disagree over issue x?).

There is perhaps some truth to each of these proposals. We must however resist the inclination to view the irritants that these proposals decry as the forest rather than merely the trees; we dare not misdiagnose these symptoms as the illness itself.

Would it be beneficial for the President to at least mildly filter what occurs to him before he slovenly articulates it to the American people?

Perhaps. Though a loud and annoying percentage of Americans tend to greet with ire anything the man says because they are parent-aged children – all grown up, but hardly raised.

Could the President's admirers attempt to possess a modicum of perspicacity?

Absolutely. Government spending and tariffs (tariffs, for goodness sake!) don't become laudable simply because they're proffered by a man whom the left despises.

And what about the left?

Is the right correct in pointing to them and to their terrible PC-tyranny and redistributive economics as the engine of our collective resentment?

Almost certainly. These people are so backwards as to what's moral and effective that it's reasonable to assume that their poisonous positions owe less to confusion about the direction in which we ought to be heading than to complicity; to ideations of deliberate destruction.

However (to exhume the lede), if the left- and right-proposed origins of the currently observed hostility are the trees, what, then, is the forest? Well, that pitiable honor goes to the state, for it is the context in which the relationship between people with non-aligning perspectives becomes by necessity adversarial.

Why's this?

In short, because we've permitted the government to become so obtrusive and so seemingly necessary in the satisfaction of our wants that we have unwittingly made it the sole arbiter of whose needs are to be met. Nowadays every problem boasts a government solution. And so long as this silliness prevails, and so long as resources are limited, it means that we must fight. Back-and-forth using the government as our Muscle.

By way of explanation, the state claims a territorial monopoly on invasion. We, as individuals, may not force other individuals at bayonet-point to sponsor a prizefight between two strangers, or to prepare a meal for a neighbor. We may beseech voluntary donations for such, but if we physically compel assent then we understandably find ourselves guilty of a criminal act. And yet individuals who have jobs in the government are not thrown into the Big House for forcing other individuals to bankroll the supply of arms to Ukraine, or for deigning to inform a baker with whom he must associate and what he must do with his own ingredients on his own property.

Members of the state may do, members of civilized society may not do.

If, then, a citizen has a need that he cannot meet by economic means (or will not meet by force for fear of jailtime), he will approach the government which, compliments of its monopolization of aggression, will decide if this need shall be met by political means. Where the law was intended to be the substitution of just collective forces for just individual forces, it has become the substitution of violent means for voluntary means.

It becomes almost a competition then for government support of one's own program:
  • We need free education!

  • We need military installations overseas!

  • We need subsidization of healthcare costs!

  • We need protective tariffs to secure national labor!
"But, alas," said the French commentator Bastiat of government, "that poor unfortunate personage... knows not to whom to listen, nor where to turn." It seems the case that whoever barks more loudly for their view, irritates more thoroughly, distracts more solidly, or demonstrates more violently is likely to attract the favors of the state. And by vying for government "resources" we make enemies out of each other where we might otherwise simply be folks with different takes on the matter.

Consider as an example the foolishness going on with how we refer to one another. Believing that we must use non-gender specific pronouns is lunacy, and rightly perceived as objectionable, but it becomes an injustice only when the coercive power of the state is enlisted to help secure this imbecilic end.

Either side may argue that there is nothing more undermining of society than the ideas or positions of those with whom they dissent. But this is not so. Those ideas or positions reach their full catastrophic capacity only when coupled with the battering ram that is the state, the apparatus of which partisans on both sides are wont to solicit in order to enforce or lend legitimacy to their collectivist notion of how society ought to be organized.

Bastiat described government as "that great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to exist at the expense of everybody else." If fingers could be snapped and, just as soon, government could indeed be reduced to nothing more than a fiction, the tumult in which we're presently engulfed might soon subside and our disagreements, lacking the weight that would transform them into vitriolic divisions, might secure a chance at being resolved with reason and civility.

And if you can't see the truth of this then it's because you're a racist and probably mean to poor people and animals or whatever.

© Sean Parr


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)