Reposting and reprinting

September 15, 2000

Strakon Lights Up

The Daily Subversion

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I went grocery shopping this afternoon at the little store in my Indiana town, and when I got to the checkout counter, a veteran seventysomething clerk was monitoring a newbie somethingteen who was learning to run the scanner and cash register. The trainee was actually doing a good job — now and then you do run across a prodigy — but she had some difficulty cramming the last couple of items into what I was praying would be the last bag. When she finally succeeded, I said, "Good! The fewer bags, the better."

I'd purchased $31 worth of groceries, enough to make five bags bulge and strain at the seams. I had not, of course, ridden my time machine to the store ca. 1970, when $31 was good for a whole trunkful of groceries. It's just that grocery bags, like so much else, aren't what they once were.

"I hate these flimsy tiny little miniature plastic bags," I said, not for the first time. "I first saw 'em on the East Coast, and it wasn't long before they made their way out here."

The elderly clerk said — not in the way a convinced enviro-Stalinist would say it, but with a sort of weary roteness — "It's to save the trees."

It was, I'm sure, only What She'd Heard and What She Was Supposed to Say. I must have detected also a bit of Now, I Myself Don't Necessarily Believe That Crap in her tone, for I found myself launching into today's installment of the Daily Subversion. "Oh, sure. Remember when McDonald's used to package their sandwiches in Styrofoam? They had to switch to paper in order to 'save our petroleum resources.' They're still using paper. I guess it just depends on which brand of political correctness is being served at any given time."

With that, I left. I don't know what the effect was, if any, of that microscopic skirmish of ideas. After I was safely out in the parking lot, maybe the seventysomething clerk advised the somethingteen, "Always just smile and nod at whatever he says. He's the town crank. Do whatever you can to keep him happy and get him out of the store as quickly as possible."

Even if that's what happened, I'm going to keep observing the Daily Subversion. It's all I can do in my role as normal person and nobody little-townsman — as opposed to my role as Strakon the eccentric nobody writer, where I try to dig a little deeper. And it's easy enough, though if you want to practice the Daily Subversion, you do have to be willing to sound like a crank to those who won't or can't listen. But you don't have to go out of your way to imitate a crank.

I try to sound like an average, fed-up American screwee who has gotten wise to the game but has somehow kept a sense of humor about it all. It's good to keep the tone light and the sermon tight. In the encounter I described, my sermon was probably not as tight as it should have been. In fact, maybe I should have let the enviro-contradiction stand without that final generalization about political correctness. You have to use good judgment about how much to say where, and it helps to be nimble. I am not naturally quick on my feet, disputationally — I'm a congenital ruminator — but even I have gotten better with practice.

Pointing out Minitrue's contradictions and making fun of them for a few seconds may give you about as much bang for the buck as you're going to get at evanescent venues such as the grocery counter. I do think that many folks we encounter in our daily routine remain alive to contradictions — especially if they've never been to college and been instructed by the regime's fogmeisters that A is not necessarily A.

In addition to judgment and nimbleness, to efficiently nail contradictions as a small-scale guerrilla subversive you need to be armed with some historical memory — rare enough these days — enlivened by some healthy skepticism. Skepticism doesn't seem to be all that rare, but judging from their overall behavior as good, reliable subjects, a lot of people must only be pretending.

Nailing contradictions doesn't always work. No tactic always works. Sometimes the contradictions just fluff their feathers and fly away unharmed, even though you know you tagged 'em good with a load of Number Six shot. Special factors can interfere, ethnic factors for example.

One of my co-conspirators is fearless in upholding logic and hunting down contradictions, even to the point of raising hot topics and discussing them at length with his coworkers. During George W. Bush's Bob Jones "crisis," two young Jewish women my friend works with were all up in arms about the BJU policy against interracial dating and mating. My friend pointed out that the Bob Jones policy resembled the ethnically exclusionary beliefs of various Jewish sects, whereupon his colleagues replied indignantly that that's not the same thing at all because that's their religion!

Try as he might, my friend couldn't make the women see that racial-separatist beliefs of the Christians at Bob Jones or elsewhere might have religious roots, too, as far as the respective believers were concerned. He was left with the impression that, to his coworkers, whatever Christianity (ugh!) might be, in any of its variants, it certainly wasn't a religion, like Judaism.

At dinner parties I normally feel comfortable in expanding my sermon a little, especially when provoked, although I still try not to break the crockery or make the soufflé crash. In such settings, you can sometimes take a run not only at little contradictions but also at Big Lies themselves. I was dining with some friends recently when one, a high-school history teacher, started interrogating me about my being a libertarian. First we had to slog through all the usual business about how I could be a libertarian and at the same time a foe of the Libertarian Party, but once we were done with that, he asked me how libertarians would handle "national" defense. Didn't take long for World War II to come up.

"But Germany and Japan pledged to conquer the world," my fellow diner said. I said that I hadn't been aware of any such pledge, but that I, too, or anyone else, could make such a pledge without having the slightest ability to fulfill it. I then trotted out an old anti-interventionist cliché, knowing well that it wouldn't be a cliché to my friend: "Hitler couldn't even make it across the English Channel."

I also mentioned that libertarians would have left the two great totalitarian monsters, Germany and the Soviet Union, alone to fight each other to exhaustion and stalemate; and I commented how infuriating it was as a student of history to find the West's "statesmen" putting on a big show of surprise and outrage when the victorious Stalin, whom they had massively subsidized during the war, gorged himself on half of Europe after the war.

Now that's a good example of gauging one's audience. If I'd said that to someone like historian David Glantz, he would have shot back that my short-sighted "isolationism" would have put the Red Army on the English Channel by 1946! Glantz thinks that, once they got going, the Soviets were simply unstoppable; he says the outcome of the war turned not on the contingent result of battles but on the "overall correlation of forces." I would have been able to return fire, but it would have been a heavy artillery duel and would truly have put the crockery at risk. I've stumbled into such duels over dinner plenty of times, and I've usually regretted it later.

Instead, my friend asked, "But what would libertarians have done after Pearl Harbor?"

"Well, there are some important things libertarians wouldn't have done before Pearl Harbor," I said. "We wouldn't have fought an undeclared, illegal naval war in the Atlantic, and —"

"The embargoes against Japan — steel, oil, and so forth," my friend interrupted. "No embargoes!"

Ah, when it succeeds, the Daily Subversion can be sweet. It does help when the guy you're talking to is quick on the uptake. Now, by "succeeds," I don't mean that my friend magically turned into a libertarian and anti-militarist. Outright, immediate conversion is not the aim of the Daily Subversion. When I say I succeeded, I mean that I managed to nudge my dinner companion to make at least one connection he wouldn't otherwise have made. In future, will he let his students in on the existence of a dissident school of thought on World War II — one expounded not by exotic Nazis but by bona fide good-guy, freedom-loving Americans? Probably not. But he certainly wouldn't do so if he'd never encountered it.

Figuring my job was done, I immediately collapsed the discussion by making a joke that segued straight into some harmless topic. I might mention that my friend's wife, sitting between us, had been staring straight ahead all this time, her jaw tight, and I could see her patience at all our weird talk was wearing pretty thin. You have to have a sense of timing and proportion. (Kenny Rogers said it better.)

No doubt I'm preaching to the choir when I propose the Daily Subversion as something we can all try if we feel inclined to try anything. But my congregation (if you will) has always consisted mainly of choir members, as well as fellow ministers of subversion. I figure I preach to the choir a lot, but the only alternative is to abandon the church to the pigeons. In any case, I know I often neglect good opportunities to prod non-choir members and start them thinking in directions they might not otherwise go. I wouldn't be surprised if others neglect some opportunities, too.

But is the Daily Subversion worth the effort? The results are often, or even usually, incalculable. However, nudging your fellow subjects is certainly better than writing "your" member of Congress and trying to convince him of anything. You don't feel as if you need to take a shower afterwards. And as for voting ...! That's more like the Yearly Obeisance. We anti-statists want to be good citizens, too; we just need to identify a kind of citizenship that's right for us. The Daily Subversion may be it.

September 15, 2000

Published in 2000 by WTM Enterprises.

A related observation by Strakon.

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