On Purpose

What should we do? I would suggest that you read a book. More than one.

A civil war is afoot. It has already begun. Lives have been lost. Property destroyed. The moment might be comparable to the aftermath of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. If that is not dramatic enough for you, I suggest reading again, or, given the level of public-school education, for the first time, about Bleeding Kansas and Brown’s attempt to foment insurrection in 1859. What came after was seemingly inevitable.

But what is the cause?

The problem this time is that slavery is the norm, not just an aberration of one part of a disunited nation. Today, it is accepted by the intelligentsia as a necessary part of life, by both Left and Right. As they say, somebody has got to do the work. Opening the borders to untrained Nigerians and Guatemalans, Afghans and Venezuelans, themselves displaced by predatory mercantilism and international power struggles, in order to do the work here that Americans don’t want to do is really not all that different than relocating millions of Tibetans and Uyghurs to work in the factories of China. Is it?

Just change the names, in good Orwellian fashion. Government-sanctioned monopolies are now involved in “free trade.” Tax breaks for the politically connected are now “incentives.” Corporate welfare is now “progressive spending.” We are just haggling over the price.

What can we do? Our lives and our children’s lives are in the balance.

We might at least talk about it. But for the most part, we don’t. Both Left and Right. Our attention is skewered by specific events: Supreme Court decisions, stolen elections, virus outbreaks, food shortages, power outages. It’s always something.

But “the truth goes marching on.”

This is not to diminish the importance of abortions or COVID-19. This is to draw attention to the context that makes dealing with those matters possible. The discussion must begin with a statement of purpose. Yours. What do you want? With that much made clear, only then can you determine what is to be done.

It would appear from much of the internecine banter of our time—banter because it is more like a series of insane insults delivered in a car while caught in heavy traffic, and internecine because the resulting accident caused by a lack of attention can be deadly for others as well as yourself—that there is little will for reason, understanding, appreciation, accommodation, or respect. Even tyrants are short-lived in such circumstances.

You may be right. Enslaving a larger portion of the population to keep a smaller portion in power is not a good idea. Assuming you are lacking dictatorial powers, the best means for achieving your goal of correcting that, unlike the method used by John Brown, is first to listen to your opponent. It might be tedious but listen. 

And read. Attempt to understand where they are coming from without making a cartoon of it. They are human beings, much like yourself, believe it or not—though less intelligent and not so good looking. Consider why they have adopted their point of view. You can argue if you like, but it would be easier to first make clear your differences. Better for both of you.

By chance, you might catch a glimmer of understanding in return. I am guessing many of those who support the corporate state are not happy in their roles as cogs in the machine. That’s what I hear, anyway. And being given a rational alternative, rather than being called names, can make a difference.

Sure, there are idiots on both sides who will damn you, whatever you do or say. Sadly, in an emergency, they might even be the ones to pull triggers and ask questions later. Maybe not. Maybe they are playground bullies and will be cowards in the pinch. Whatever, the abuse will be forthcoming.

The question is: What is your purpose? To rule? Or simply to live your life the way you see fit? 

Then you might need some facts. 

Facts are fungible, we know, so you might want to spend some time at this, sooner than later—away from Wikipedia. Read several books. Take notes. Think about it. It’s work. But if you are right, then it will be worth it. And if you are wrong, it may be worth more.

You don’t have to be a scholar. Find people who are and read them. Thomas Sowell can illuminate almost anything. Victor Davis Hanson can offer perspective on ideas as ancient as Sumer. Read the debates in the Federalist Papers. Depending on the time you have, read some of the Liberty Press classics published by Liberty Fund. They are affordable and well made. Don’t bother with the plethora of popular titles issued every year to meet the demand of the crisis du jour. They are tempting because they appeal to what matter has piqued your anger more recently, but in most cases, they only offer cheap pine for the fire, not oak. If you care enough, you need a better source of fuel, and if you don’t, well, you’ll only get the ashes you deserve.

What is your purpose? To live a happy life? Good, but not good enough, unless you are going to be a hermit. You can’t have a good life without investing in the project.

There is a reason why the Left chants things like “We want justice, and we want it now.” It is because they don’t actually want justice. They want their way. And they can’t have it now, but they can make you miserable for the delay. Think, three-year-olds. They have a purpose. Their purpose is disruption. And in the resulting chaos, they might find power. Or get a treat. Vladimir Lenin in Russia was not the first to succeed at this. Robespierre had done it in France 100 years before. It is wrong to assume the radical Left wants the best, when in fact, the worse is more productive. The opportunities offered by chaos are limitless.

The great majority of those on the Left have no real concept of those tactics. They get their history from Marxists like Howard Zinn. Their sympathies are for the humanitarian ideals that the radicals use for cover. Alexander Kerensky and the free-speech advocates of the Socialist Revolutionary Party were the first to go when the Bolsheviks took over.

If you are close to a library that still carries actual books, you might have access to some portion of The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, issued in dozens of volumes by the United States Government Printing Office—not as turgid as it may sound. It is actually written by the soldiers themselves in the form of letters and field reports. The importance is that these were the observations of the average citizens who had to face the consequences of the failures of their political superiors. They not only offer insight into the conflict but into their own minds. They were astoundingly clear-eyed and, given they were in possession of what was frequently less than an eighth-grade education, well spoken. This is what civil war is all about. It’s not what anyone could have wanted.

These volumes are mentioned for several reasons. The first is to give pause. This is what civil war does, as much as the quarter-million dead and a million wounded and more millions displaced. Are we there yet? The Left seems to think so. But I wouldn’t be marching on their command.

Another reason to read some of these is for perspective. The letters and responses through the chain-of-command makes the complexity of just one skirmish greater than anything most of us have ever faced—even in office politics. Entire battles that changed the outcome of the War were determined by the confrontation of a few dozen men at the skirt of a wood.

Only seven or eight percent of Americans have ever served in the military and fewer than one percent of us have ever faced death on a battlefield. I hear it is nowhere near as much fun as “Call of Duty.” But still, imagining a civil war, given modern weaponry, is unimaginable. Who would win?

Again, I ask: what is your purpose?

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About Vincent McCaffrey

Vincent McCaffrey is a novelist and bookseller. Visit his website at www.vincentmccaffrey.com.

Photo: Edwin Remsberg / VWPics via Getty Images