By: Anon Anon
A group of grown men stand around in an otherwise empty schoolhouse. Out in public, you wouldn’t be able to spot them as cohorts. They rarely wear their uniforms out in public, and they come from every walk of life. Some have dirty hands and torn dungarees. Some have meticulous spectacles and Italian loafers. In here, standing under a trifecta of flags, standing in the anonymity of their uniforms, this paramilitary squad happily show off enough pins, dangly medals, and patches to make a third world dictator lift an eyebrow.
Once everything is in place, the youth squad is led in. The boys have their own uniforms. They are a little bit different from the men’s. But a little bit the same, too. The men stand ready when the youth come in. Patriarchal traditions are passed on best when men present a united front, and these men look prepared and competent.
Ritual. Uniformity. Ceremony. Sacrifice. Brotherhood.
These are ideas that have always motivated boys, sometimes to gleeful bloodshed. Knowing this, these are the ideas that these men use to mold the minds of the youth. The ceremony starts. The rituals begin. A flag is saluted, allegiance is pledged, prayers are invoked, oaths are repeated. Next, a new round of indecipherable pins are given to select youth who have shown sufficient vigor. The youth are split by age and led apart. Small cliques are easier to control than large groups.
What authoritarian Hellhole is this? A Hitler Youth rally? A Southeast Asian secret police meeting? Some African boy-army training? No, this is America. Trump’s America. And it is happening right under your noses.
It’s your local Cub Scouts. Please buy popcorn.
Today, I am one of those men. A few decades ago, I was one of those boys. Somewhere in between I picked up Heinlein, filed my first income tax return, and decided I was going to teach myself economics by reading the stilted English of a few peculiar Austrian authors.
How’s that for some cognitive dissonance? Paramilitarist on the streets, libertarian between the sheets. I was raised Catholic, so I know how to hold two mutually exclusive ideas in my head at the same time.
But really, there isn’t any dissonance. Scouting as a youth was good for me. Scouting was something I chose to do. When I said the pledge every week, it was because I chose to. When I humped a backpack through a downpour with my best friends, it was because I chose to. When I connected with the other scouts and made a community, it was because I chose to. When I had a personal crisis and leaned on my Scoutmasters, the way any boy should lean on his father, it’s because I chose to.
And those Scoutmasters made a choice to be the man in my life when I needed it. The father that Mother Nature gave me wasn’t good for much more than introducing me to occult rock and teaching me the value of cynicism. A boy should have more than that out of a father. Fortunately, I had a very peculiar volunteer community that gave me what I needed.
Then I went to college and grad school. I focused on me, not a community. That’s OK. That’s what college is for. My engineering classes hammered home some libertarian facts – bridges fall if you design them wrong and no one can argue them back up. An A really is an A. At the same time, my autodidactic education was directed more to some classic libertarian past times. I read Rothbard and Hayek and Smith and Rand. I made friends with progressives for the first time. I learned that I wasn’t really a political conservative after all. I started voting strategically in local elections and writing in “Fuck You” for national elections. I rolled my eyes at the pledge and stayed silent when they played the National Anthem at hockey games.
I thought I was an individualist. I knew how to shoot and do laundry and cook and all those things Heinlein said to do except that bit about the sonnet. Sure, most of those skills I learned in scouting. But that was behind me. It was a ghost of a memory that only rattled a few chains when I used those skills. I had a small handful of good, deep, solid friendships with people who didn’t agree with me on anything political. I was my own man, living in the city but apart from any real community. I knew I was standing on my own beliefs and I didn’t need anyone with me. I was a libertarian. I was a lone wolf.
What a jackass.
After school, I moved to a new city, took up a new job, and got to know a few people. A very few people. I mostly lived my life alone with just my wife and later a cat and two small humans. I spent all my time in my apartment or in the office. I didn’t spend much time with anyone else. I barely knew anyone I didn’t work with. Which is OK, because I’m an individualist, I told myself. Over, and over, and over again. I almost believed it.
A few years go by, the oldest kid comes home from his government school with a blue and gold flier. “I wanna do this,” he says. Three years later, and I’m running the kid’s Cub Scout Pack. I struggled for all of seven minutes trying to decide if putting on the uniform, saying a pledge, and reciting an oath would constitute turning my back on everything I have come to believe.
No, you jackass.
You are a big hairless ape and God made you to function in a community. Didn’t you say you read your Hayek and Smith? And really, this is the ideal libertarian community. There’s no government thug making me say the pledge. There’s no qualified immunity that attaches when I put on my uniform. There’s a couple dozen families that set aside two or three hours every week to come together to form a community. Arts, crafts, and watered-down juice mix are also often involved.
We say our oath because we want to. And it is an oath to ourselves, not to some outside authority figure that lords over us by an accident of birth. We say a pledge to a flag of an imperfect country that, warts and all, is still the greatest engine for freedom devised by man. We don’t pledge to land or a nobility. We have a law, and the only enforcement mechanism is our reputation with our peers. We work together to make a wooden cars and to make a community and to make our youth better men some day.
For me, that’s as libertarian as it gets. Forget the lone wolf crap.