On Bullets and Belly Laughs

Some time ago, a (strongly!) conservative reader posted a comment that’s still back there somewhere. He commented not on any particular post, but to criticize the whole premise of the blog. How could I say the answer isn’t bullets? Did I think the Evil Socialist Obama would yield to my devastating laughter?

I don’t believe I replied back then, since he didn’t sound like he planned to hang around for an answer anyway. But this morning I’ve been thinking about that, and a couple of points come to mind.

First, I don’t give a damn about the Evil Socialist Obama. Oh, I quite agree that he’s a socialist – his prior associations make that clear if nothing else does. But what difference does it make? Was Bush a radical individualist?

The precise individual politicians make no difference. Bush was not preferable to Obama. Clinton was not preferable to Bush – less deadly, more entertaining, but not fundamentally preferable. You can go back up the list as far as you like, taking time out for a nice argument about the virtues of Reagan, and never find a soul on it you’d really want leading – or ruling – you.

The highest hurdle for honest-hearted people is the left-right false dichotomy. Leftists are socialists, and socialists are bad. Everybody knows that. So anything in opposition to the left must be good, or at least less bad. And since the only way to combat evil socialism is to vote and contribute to campaigns, you need to confine your efforts to the opponents that have some chance of winning and keeping (or driving) the socialists from power. Therefore the only alternative to the Left is the Right: The only alternative to the Democrats is the Republicans.

It’s a lovely little theory, elegant in its simplicity. I imagine democrats and republicans getting together and laughing about it regularly over evening drinks. It has worked so well.

But where does it really get you? Sure, Obama is a socialist. Granted. Was Bush any less a collectivist? His emphasis on the list of rights he wanted to curtail, and controls he wanted to impose, was different perhaps. But the list itself wasn’t different at all. Did Obama get the “Patriot” act repealed? Hardly: Under his administration the DHS and TSA have thrived, but Bush started them. Difference?

Now: as to the bullets and belly laughs thing. My anonymous complainant took issue with my suggestion that we’re not gonna be shooting our way out of this. I suspect he’s a young man, possibly between fifteen and twenty-five. And I don’t say that as an insult, because that’s what I thought at that age. In fact I’ll go ahead and admit I was pushing thirty before I started to let the fantasy go – I’d seen it before then, but it took a few years to get past the cognitive dissonance. Basically, I started waiting for that spontaneous revolution to begin when I was in my teens, and look at me now. I don’t get carded anymore, that’s one good thing about getting old.

Granted that I did a few ideological flipflops along the way: I was a leftist before I was a right-winger, and didn’t stay right-wing for very long. And when I finally said to hell with both your houses, it left me drifting. Wouldn’t have voted for Carter OR Ford, but what did that leave? Nothing. Beyond the left-right false dichotomy, I couldn’t make out a thing. In fact it took a while before I even began to suspect that there was anything else. It took a while to learn that, in the context of this sort of discussion, there are at best three kinds of people and none of them are left or right. Those three groups are:

Those who want to rule
Those who want to be ruled
Everybody else.

And my personal experience with that third group was almost negligible – it consisted of myself and a very few other people I’d met. That was pretty bleak. But then, nobody promised that reality would involve either unicorns or showers of Skittles.

So I said “Screw it!” If the situation is that hopeless, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die. And I dropped the whole thing with a dull, sodden thump. I entered the system, got a real job, got married, joined the middle class. Spent twenty years as Mr. Suburban Man – and ended up right where I’d started. Isolated, alone, empty of useful beliefs, ready to perform that last act of 12-gauge fellatio.

And then it occurred to me, the epiphany that probably literally saved my life.

It was a gradual thing, as epiphanies go. Took place over the space of a couple of years. When the marriage and the safe corporate job fell apart, pretty much simultaneously, I did the usual thing. The conventional thing. I tried for other jobs in my field, but I’d gotten kind of grizzled and cynical and threadbare by then. Couldn’t compete, couldn’t attract the attention of recruiters. I took whatever work I could, and it led me further from my accustomed field. Closer, if the truth be told, to the types of jobs I’d done when I was young. Relations with the ex deteriorated, to the point where keeping her happy was no longer much of a priority. And it occurred to me that…

I don’t have to do this.

It was a fleeting thought, at first. Showed up at odd times, usually when I was down on the world, feeling sorry for myself.

It’s not as though I have anything to lose.

I’d just get a flash…

Nobody can actually stop me from doing whatever I want.

Frightening, after all that time. The notion of ‘whatever I want.’ Because I didn’t know what I wanted. It had been quite a while since I’d even wondered. Certainly nobody else had ever asked. Terrifying, to have no direction; even a hopeless one. I’d had no direction before becoming Mr. Suburban Man and I had none after, but during that phase I’d at least known what I was for. Make the bucks. Hold the job. Keep the wife happy, keep the wheels on somehow, day by day. Hanging on in quiet desperation may be the English way, but it’s not an exclusively English occupation – I can testify to that.

And now it was all gone. Leaving me with…what?

Whatever I want.

So what the hell did I want? By that time, all I wanted was an end to the turmoil. That was the only thing I could identify as an active want, and the thought grew that maybe I was free to work toward that goal somehow. Awfully damned vague goal, but it was a goal.

What did I want to do, though? What I really wanted, what seemed attractive to me, was silly and utopian. I wanted to join a bunch of people – almost any bunch of people – who thought the way I did, so that every thought wasn’t a struggle. So that every self-serving action wasn’t a blow against everything everybody around me believed in and worked toward. I wanted to be free. Free of what, exactly, wasn’t even terribly important. I wanted out of this.

That’s a young man’s plaint, but it was as though that twenty-year interlude hadn’t even happened. I didn’t recognize the angry, bloated middle-aged man in the mirror. Didn’t even know who he was – and I didn’t care. It was time to dump him. Somehow.

It wasn’t quite that simple, but that was the beginning. To find peace – “freedom” or “happiness” seeming an unattainable goal – I needed to dump that bitter, beaten fool. The world would certainly not change to suit me. But maybe I could change to suit myself.

But what’s all this got to do with freedom? Not a Damned Thing. At least, not in the sense people use the word, the sense in which freedom will come when the world changes and the statists are driven out and we all live under our own vine and fig tree and there is no one to make us fear. That world ain’t coming in my lifetime, or yours. So what? It’s not about what the world does. It’s about what I do.

And it has everything to do with freedom. Freedom won’t come from without, because the world just isn’t wired that way right now. Those first two groups are too strong and numerous and entrenched. So what? I don’t care what they do anyway. The only thing I can control is right in here. I can’t bring myself freedom, in the objective sense of creating a free world. But I can change the way I react to the world’s chains. I can stop buying the bullshit, and just go ahead and live no matter what they want. And if the way of life that steers me toward isn’t right for most people, fine! Other people need to find their own way, because only a damned fool would look to the likes of me for answers.

Nobody else can make me free. Not elections, not revolution, not spiritual enlightenment. Only I can make myself free. And when I am free, I am free regardless of my circumstances. In a hundred-room mansion or the dankest dungeon, I am free if I am free. Nobody can put those chains on me but me. I did it once, by accepting that nobody was going to save me from the chains but failing to see that didn’t mean I had to wear them.

And so, to the extent I can, I live as though “they” didn’t exist – except to have a laugh at their expense, from time to time. Will that bring down Leviathan? Oh, I’d love to believe so – but I doubt it. He’s a big fella. And maybe it’ll even lead to trouble – I’d be stupid to predict that it won’t. It already has, a little bit, and I don’t know what the future holds. But then, maybe it won’t. Either way, I’m free-er than I was.

Hey, it works for me. I don’t recommend it, necessarily – at least not my particular flavor of it. It can get cold in the winter. And if somebody else has a better idea, I’m all ears. But don’t come to me with talk about elections or revolutions, ’cause I’ve been down both those roads and I know for a fact they go nowhere.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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9 Responses to On Bullets and Belly Laughs

  1. The Old Man says:

    Think I detect some Lazarus Long in your screed. Always a good man to listen too, even if I went more to the Kettle Belly Baldwin side.

  2. Joel says:

    LL? Naw, I don’t think so. Haven’t read any Lazarus Long stories in a long, long time – The Wise Old Man wasn’t my favorite of Heinlein’s recurring archetypes.

    Still – I HAVE read them, we didn’t disagree on much, and he was an aphorism-happy sunovagun. So it might be that some of them stuck, and I just filed off the serial numbers over the years.

  3. MamaLiberty says:

    Indeed…that’s pretty much the conclusion I came to just before I left California. Just wish it hadn’t taken me 58 years to figure it out. 🙁

  4. Anonymous says:

    Maybe in theory you are right, maybe. But we live in reality and right now the reality is the socialist policies are killing us. The socialist polices that Johnson and a Democrat congress implemented set the stage for our current enormous national debt. We can’t ever pay it back and soon the interest alone will bankrupt us if the social spending doesn’t do it first. So theory is good sitting at the bar drinking beers trying to impress the guy in the next seat but reality bites the big one. Our reality better change and I am all for hope and change right now.

  5. Joel says:

    …we live in reality and right now the reality is the socialist policies are killing us.

    You’re missing the point. Socialist policies are killing the country – its power and prestige, the dominance of its economy. They bid fair to kill people who depend on the country. All true. But are they killing you? They’re not killing me.

    …our current enormous national debt. We can’t ever pay it back and soon the interest alone will bankrupt us if the social spending doesn’t do it first.

    Who’s this “we” you keep talking about? Did you rack up that debt? Were you even consulted?

    Don’t identify so personally with an administration and a bureaucracy that doesn’t give a shit about you. They’re not the country. If you stop thinking in terms of projection of power and international politics, you’ll find it really doesn’t matter what they do. Politicians don’t make you more powerful on the world stage when they seek that power for themselves.

  6. Anonymous says:

    In my agedness I have an appreciation for Joel’s approach. That wasn’t always the case.
    I was all full of vim, vigor and the rage for revolution for a while. Then the actual smell of rotting human corpses was introduced to me and that made an impact.
    Actually seeing that 50%(and climbing) of the voters have a vested interest in statism via social services and the other 49% have a vested interest in ….well….statism, via control of the behaviors of the others down to a really petty level ends in the inevitable result of all democracies.

    The voting in of your statist versus the other guys statist ends up traveling the same dead end road.
    The only way I could maybe hope to explain why is Iloilo Jones’ essay on the “Power damaged mind”.

    Revolutions rarely end in there being actual freedom.
    Just a lot of dead.
    Voting results in the power damaged mind Iloilo talks about.
    Joel’s approach works. He neither feeds nor aids the beast and he isn’t hurting anyone doing it.

    And for that he has my thanks.


  7. KurtP says:

    I pretty much agree with what you have to say here Joel.

    Kind of OT, though was the bullet/belly laugh that got you started.
    When I saw that description, I was reminded of the Saul Alinski idea of ridiculing your opponent to make him smaller.
    I know it would certainly p1ss off a certain thin skinned godlet in DeeCee if he heard someone laughing at him.

  8. John B says:

    Joel, One a these days, we gotta hang out for a weekend and discuss the difference between the villain, the hero, and the anti-hero.

    My self, if I wanna slay dragons, I’ll dress up in a cranberry velvet tux, and tell them jokes.

  9. After the last question is asked about a contradiction, and the contradiction still exists, there are other questions. Find them. They are already in your mind. Ask more questions. There INHERENTLY is the reasoning-based, peaceful process to efficiently resolve every contradiction or arrays of contradictions that humans can create, by design of their creation and the human mind.

    It has always been known by those who just patiently ask a few more questions.

    Respectfully, DougBuchanan.com

To the stake with the heretic!