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“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”
— Thucydides

“A civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.”
— Jean-François Revel

Where do we go now?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Given the way Bill Whittle’s extraordinary “Silent America” essays saved me from isolation and despair years ago, it should have come as no surprise that a series of new videos from Bill was the first thing that gave me any reason for hope after the re-election of Barack Obama in November. More than that even, Bill’s words and ideas in these videos made me feel unexpectedly energized about the prospect of a way forward. Watching them is no small time commitment, but neither is saving our beloved USA, and I can vouch for the fact that Bill doesn’t disappoint. His sober but undaunted thinking seems like exactly what we need now.

I started with “A New Beginning…”, the November 7, 2012 episode of Bill’s semi-regular video podcast, “The Stratosphere Lounge”. In it, Bill advances a big-picture idea that looks beyond the process of politics-as-usual that has repeatedly failed us, to postulate a tectonic cultural shift that may now be possible: American citizens voluntarily contributing to the building of parellel private-sector institutions that will put their sclerotic, unsustainable government counterparts to shame by the comparison of results they produce. There’s more to it than that, and Bill explains and motivates his idea in much greater depth than I can hope to effectively summarize, so by all means give this a watch if you can.

Bill’s thinking seems to me to contain echoes of Virginia Postrel’s “Dynamism”, with a key idea being emphasis of decentralized, voluntary initiative in diverse and numerous laboratories of innovation over attempting to shape the future through rigid central planning.

The book Bill mentions in this video, “The Starfish and the Spider”, is available on Amazon, by the way.

If you might only find time to watch one of these videos, I’d probably suggest starting with “Where do we go now?”, Bill’s talk at the November 12, 2012 Hancock Park Patriots meeting, which is followed by an unmissable Q&A session (OK, OK, that makes two videos) in which Bill demonstrates how an effective President of the United States would handle key issues and address a press corps that actually did its job and asked tough questions:

As I remarked and quasi-summarized in my Twitter timeline after watching “A New Beginning”:

Bill’s is a big dream, but dammit, everything worth having in this country was built by people who dreamed big. It can be done!

Focusing only on the next election is the trap we keep falling into; it’s how we keep losing ground. It’s the best our opponents can hope for. Progressives/Alinskyites have a long-term plan that has changed the culture over decades. That’s the game we need to play, but there’s more…

Our existing cultural institutions — education, entertainment, space exploration — are lost. They are tied to a sinking Leviathan of a state. Our only hope is to build voluntary parallel institutions that outshine them, that will show by comparison what miserable failures they are.

The good news: Culture leads; government only very slowly reacts and follows and struggles clumsily to adapt.

Our present centralized government is born of the Industrial Revolution, a by-gone age. It’s unlikely to survive the next big paradigm shift. It’s ossified, rigid, slow-moving, and economically unsustainable. The future requires dynamism, adaptability, decentralization.

Progressivism’s idea of “Forward” is the dinosaur in the room. It’s rigid, coercive, glued to theory that doesn’t flex when reality defies it. Think of all the technological revolutions that have blindsided us in our lifetimes, that few saw coming, and the impact they’ve had. Things we’re incapable of planning for end up mattering the most. Progress is what happens while Progressives are busy making other plans.

Anticipating what might be the next wave is hard enough. Trying to engineer a rigidly defined future is a losing battle. Dynamism wins.

So many genuinely smart people know just enough to think they can engineer the world. If engineering has taught me anything, it’s humility. Solvable problems have to be very tightly constrained, conditions for solving them clearly defined. Reality can ruin your whole day.

We know what doesn’t work, or works clumsily at best and seems doomed to collapse under its own weight and inertia, but what’s the alternative? What are the practical mechanics of a way out? Building parallel private-sector institutions whose success puts their government rivals to shame.

The crux of Bill’s idea: Pay your taxes. Write that off as gone, lost. Forget it. Budget some of what’s left to help build something better.

It’s a grand and vague idea in some respects, but I do believe with the right approach this can work. Government can’t compete with private sector dynamism.

I stand by that assessment, and I have hope we’ll find that some variant of Bill’s ideas on this will provide a real and achievable way out. If you yearn to reclaim our future as I do, by all means please give Bill’s latest work a hearing.