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Us, Them, and the Size of Swedish Cucumbers

A stream-of- consciousness rant indicting smart people, European bureaucrats, and nationalism.


by James Leroy Wilson
May 16, 2001

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Us, Them, and the Size of Swedish Cucumbers_James Leroy Wilson-A stream-of- consciousness rant indicting smart people, European bureaucrats, and nationalism. Conservatism is using the fact of human diversity to the advantage of all. Diversity is division, separation. There is us, and there is them, always has been, and always will be. Even better, we each belong to different groups of "us." Who I mean when I mention "us" depends on the context. I could refer to my family, immediate or extended. I could refer to my church, meaning my congregation or all members of the same faith. I could refer to my fellow residents in my neighborhood, city, state, country. Or fans of particular sports teams or rock bands I like.

The same goes for "them." "They" are not necessarily rivals or competitors, though they might be. What is most important is that they are not "us." They are too different, by definition, to be one of us. They can join us, or we can join them, by marriage, changing addresses, or conversion. If I want to join them, the choice must be deliberate, and accepted by them.

The advantage of groups, of belonging, of loyalty to institutions established by "us," is that the individual is given protection and priveleges, yet is responsible for duties and under the discipline of rules. The group bestows benefits, and demands accountability. Thus are the physical and moral well-being of the individual satisfied.

The problem with dividing the human race into groups is that the groups may have conflicting interests. But so do individuals. When there are conflicts between members of an institution, resolution is by way of procedures established by rules either written or traditional, and adjudicated by an authorized power. Which, depending on the circumstance, could be a parent, a board of elders, a chief, or a judge. Many conflicts are left unresolved, or without a perfect solution. In many such cases what lingers is the bitterness of the person whose grievances were not fully satisfied. That is frequently the price to pay: the problem is often not in the institution, but the individuals whom it serves. The number one threat to families and organized religions is people who abandon them just because they don't get their own way.

Conflicts between groups, however, range from the trivial (Bears vs. Packers) to matters of life and death (nations or nationalities competing over territory) to the most important (matters of faith). Liberty can be defined, in part, as movement from "us" to "them" and vice-versa. The tension is to tolerate that movement. It is to tolerate defections from our own ranks, from "us," by conversion through persuasion. It is to tolerate freedom, especially the free exchange of ideas that can lead to not only defections, but also institutional change. But, equally important, it is to never tolerate usurpation - to never allow, through force or fraud, the invasion of "them" into our jurisdiction. It is to never acquiesce in "their" asserting a right to control our institutions.

Putting it in stark terms that some of you lifelong Democrats can understand: What if the NCAA ruled that Joe Tiller's Purdue spread offense was the "wave of the future" and that football rules should be changed to outlaw "outdated" offenses like Nebraska's option? It wouldn't matter that in Purdue's best years it still loses as many games than Nebraska's in its worst. If what Purdue has is "new" and "sophisticated" and what Nebraska has is "ancient," and "primitive," then we must agree that Purdue has it right and Nebraska has it wrong.

Nobody will think to ask who the Northwestern Wildcats, who lost to both teams in the year 2000, would rather play again.

Liberty is truly in the balance. We may not be the wisest and brightest, but we know what is better for "us" than "they" do. It is their error, their sheer arrogance, to think they know better than we do what is best for us. Who do they think they are, anyway? A high IQ makes them self-righteous; a higher IQ makes them too scatter-brained, disorganized, and idealistic to do anything good.

You think I'm kidding? In Europe, the intelligent people have convicted an English grocer who dared sell bananas by the pound instead of the kilogram. They have bankrupted Swedish farmers whose cucumbers have proven to be "too short." And such decisions weren't even made by the consent of the governed. Unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, Belgium, decree regulations for all of the European Union, which is composed of what were once great and independent nations.

What is good in the opinion of the Brussels bureaucrat is obviously not good for those who have an actual stake in the matter. And let that be a lesson for "us." Just because something is going on in the United States that you don't like, doesn't mean that we have to create a federal solution to it. You Minnesotan, are you offended that public prayers are said at high school football games in Texas? Why? What do you care? If such a thing happens in Minnesota, you have not only the right to be offended, but the freedom to do something about it. But that pornography law in Utah, that PC code at Stanford, affects the freedom of the people of other states not one bit. Too often that arrogant nationalist spirit, the hubris based on the "City on a Hill" and shallow interpretations of the Declaration of Independence, lead us to think that anything bad anywhere in the country is a mortal threat to all of it. We make excuses, pleading economic and media integration, to justify clear violations of the Constitutional limits on the federal government. Nationalism makes every American "us," in virtually all politcally significant respects. But when political power is concentrated in one place, there is no liberty.

Our country is not like that. Utahans are different from Nevadans, who are different from Californians who are different from Nebraskans who are different from Texans who are different from Louisianans who are different from Mississippians. They each have the right and the power to make laws pertaining to the stability, safety, and morality of their own state. It's right there in the Tenth Amendment. Perhaps the most essential definition of liberty is recognizing proper jurisdiction. Because that means government knows its limits.

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