Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"You will be assimilated; resistance is futile"

Palousitics contributor Michael O'Neal had a must-read column about liberal collectivism in last Saturday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
First there was Rev. Wright, but I thought, "Knaves on both sides of the political nave say goofy stuff, so we can't really pin any of that on Obama." Then there was the link with Weatherman bomber William Ayers, but I thought, "Well, gee, it wasn't like Obama was knocking back shots with the guy at Hooters."

No, what did it for me was this statement by Obama: "Our individual salvation depends on our collective salvation." Just eight words, but a trenchant summary of a sociopolitical philosophy that crystallizes the distinction between liberals and conservatives. For conservatives are more likely to take the opposite (and correct) view: that our collective salvation depends on individual salvation. Conservatives believe that the nation can achieve and sustain greatness only by liberating individuals to strive and reach their potential, without the coercive hand of government and haughty elites who believe that only they know the route to the Promised Land.

Since the Magna Carta, the trend line in the West has been the struggle for democracy. Through the American and French revolutions, to the end of slavery, to the liberation of the peoples of Western and then Eastern Europe, the goal has been to wrest power from the hands of those who arrogate to themselves the belief that they know best.

Yet in the West, democracy is fraying, and one is left wondering how long the great experiment in democracy, with its emphasis on the individual rather than the collectivity, can last. Tolerance - highly touted today - for the individual is waning, for individuals can be so annoyingly ... individual. Tolerance applies to my point of view, not that of my neighbor, who ignores the wisdom of the elites. The European Union routinely sniffs at the will of the people, expressed through the democratically elected governments of its member nations, and imposes the judgment and will of a faceless Soviet-style Eurocracy. In Canada, "tolerance" - a value of the collective - trumps the value of freedom of speech - an individual value. The result is statements like this from a member of that nation's ham-fisted human rights commission, which mercilessly hunts down and punishes any kind of perceived "Islamophobia": "Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don't give it any value." Or this from The Atlantic magazine: "The First Amendment is a peculiar and quite possibly outdated feature of the American political system, along the lines of, say, the electoral college or the District of Columbia's lack of congressional representation."

We see this notion - that we're to yield liberties to the collective - in ways large and small. People who claim to be "pro-choice" support ordinances proscribing the use of plastic grocery bags. The global warming scam is at bottom an effort to cajole us into relinquishing our liberties to the Borg, who claim to know better and want to achieve "collective salvation" by telling us what to drive and where to set our thermostats (unless, of course, you're an elite liberal whose yearly utility bills are 10 times the national average). Organizations such as the Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development try to impose the will of a collective on the choices of benighted shoppers - those annoyingly individual individuals.

But there's hope. I had a conversation with a woman who lives near Sandpoint. She's an immigrant, but interestingly, not from an impoverished Third World hellhole. She's from picture-postcard-pretty Switzerland. Puzzled, I asked her why she would move from her beautiful, safe, peaceful, affluent homeland and settle in rough-around-the-edges north Idaho, where, rather than Alpine vistas, we see stacks of discarded tires and rusted '69 Corvairs parked in backyards.

Her response was instructive. Yes, she said, Switzerland is ordered and neat. So is Disneyland. Neighborhoods and city centers are pretty, trains run on time, and the nation's warts are hidden away from tourists and people on sabbatical. But all this comes at a price. You're constantly being watched. Neighbors watch you. Local authorities watch you. Behavior is dictated by codes and laws both written and - more oppressively - unwritten. The pressure to conform is enormous, and stifling. When I first came to America, she said, yes, it was messy, raw, unruly. It lacks the old-world sophistication of European cities, with their cobblestones, caf├ęs, and cappuccinos.

And for the first time in my life, she said, I felt free.

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