And so our “awkward stage” continues.
The awkward stage is that excruciatingly, endlessly frustrating phase in which tyranny, brutality, and bigotry against freedom grow ever more oppressive but the oppressed feel powerless to act effectively on a large scale. Moral though it may be to string lawless, dictatorial rulers up on lamp posts, it isn’t what good people do — at least not until provocations and deprivations exceed endurance.
Yet without effective options, we good people find ourselves ever more bound and restricted. In the 25 years since I opened 101 Things to do ‘Til the Revolution with my infamous remark, even many of the alternative actions outlined in that book have been closed off to us or become too needlessly dangerous to advocate.
What was petty and amusing monkeywrenching a quarter of a century ago is now “domestic terrorism.” What was honest questioning or investigation is now “disinformation” and cause for cancellation. Merely stating biological facts or traditional beliefs is now “hatred.” What was once angry protest or trespassing is “treason,” with all the draconian threats and lack of due process that implies. And let’s not even talk about surveillance systems that outstrip the wildest dreams of historic tyrants.
One thing for sure: Although we are still in the limbo of that excruciating awkward stage, we’re in a far more advanced and precarious condition. Crucially, more of us now understand that not only is our freedom being attacked; so is the entire cultural, intellectual, philosophical, and ethical ground on which freedom is built.
Whether Our Betters “merely” intend to lead us into another centralized, Sovietized, unworkable, and ultimately failed “expertocracy” or will end up driving us farther, into a new Dark Age, remains to be seen.
But there’s one ray of light shining through their centrally planned catastrophe: More of us finally understand that we must act individually and in small groups to avert or mitigate disaster and to preserve what we must through a potentially bleak future. Even better, we understand that we can do that. We have the tools, the knowledge, the spirit, and the determination. We can’t fix global or national politics. We can’t confront and beat back oligarchy. But we can take charge of our own lives, families, and communities.
Prepping and homeschooling are no longer fringe activities. People are saving everything from heirloom seeds to classical literature. Self-sufficiency has become a thing. From alternative construction models to home generators and sawmills to beekeeping and home brewing and fermenting, millions are adapting to the political threats and the cultural dilapidation by taking their lives and their families’ lives into their own hands. Post-lockdown, millions are saying NO to the job culture and yes to self-determined forms of work. After being badly burned by “experts” they’re beginning to say YES to their own life experiences and no to received institutional wisdom. Young men are giving up corrupted universities for lucrative, hands-on trades.
This runs across the entire political spectrum, but it’s certainly a roaring trend among freedomistas.
And here’s one thing I’ve noticed. These days, when freedomistas talk about retreating or gulching or focusing exclusively on our local communities (or if you’re a Christian, considering Rod Dreher’s monastic Benedict Option) our activist friends probably don’t react with sneers.
Not so long ago, our own might-be allies called us defeatists. Many activist types accused us of giving up or giving in because we were no longer engaged in politics. They cried that if we just rallied behind their plans we could change the system. Freedom would win if we just quit being such selfish losers and joined them in their lobbying/letter writing/marches on Washington/electioneering/petition signing/whatever. They insisted we could restore freedom if we just added our numbers to their collective efforts.
If we told them we’d been activists ourselves (possibly for decades) and had left all that behind because it was a false hope and a diversion of energies from the real cause of building freedom, likely they’d tell us we just hadn’t done our activism right and all we needed was to join them and do more, more, more, more, always more of the same.
Probably some people still believe that. But we don’t hear it as much. Our fellow freedomistas or fellow upholders of various Western traditions may disagree with our approach — but because this is now a cultural battle, not merely a political one, they understand where we’re coming from and why we’re doing what we’re doing. My impression is that many of the people who once sneered at us “retreaters” have now seen wisdom in joining us — even though their activist spirits remain very much alive.
That’s a pretty big change, all by itself.
Like many vital changes throughout history, it happened, and is happening, unheralded and unremarked. But think of the implications. We now have a vast, decentralized, reality-based invisible resistance all across the land. It encompasses Christians and atheists, liberals and libertarians and conservatives, traditionalists and radicals, rural folk and disaffected urbanites, the political and the apolitical — all united (without any formal effort at unity) in the plain-facts understanding that established systems (political, medical, legal, educational, and more) are too broken to reform and that we can and must and will route around the damage.
Talk about big. Culturally, that’s about as big as it gets.
Gulches, communities, retreats, solo hermitages, and Dreher-style monasticism are NOT forms of defeatism. They are sensible recognition that conventiional options that promise change in the direction of political freedom aren’t viable. “Retreats” are a shifting of energy to activities and mindsets that preserve personal and cultural freedom against the inevitable ravages of politics.* For that, they work. They simply work.
But in the future, they may become more. They can be not only havens of freedom, but can become bases from which to mount effective actions in the outside world. They can be the places that finally enable a useful symbiosis between those who aim to live their freedom and those who actively fight for everyone’s freedom.
We’ll talk about those specifics in part II.
* I’m not saying or implying that all freedom-oriented political efforts have been useless. On the contrary, recent political efforts by gun owners have brought us — to my amazement — constitutional carry in 20 states (if Gov. Abbott in Texas ever gets around to signing the latest bill). That’s remarkable. But those efforts have been local (state, not federal). You might also consider cannabis legalization a step toward freedom. I do. But that was also another cynical means for states to raise tax revenues. And the big question is: How much more free have we become overall, especially at the federal level, while savvy activists focused their efforts to produce these remarkable, but highly targeted, results?