Lessons of the Ron Paul campaign – Epilogue: I’m not Ron Paul, You are

August 9, 2008

My mother’s father was a bit of a legend wherever he roamed, and roam he did. A poet, musician, raconteur, father of nine (!), likely to pop off a soliloquy from King Lear at the drop of a hat, he was the sort of fella that was too big for the room, and it didn’t make any difference how big the room was. There’s a story of him in church, a swampwater Baptist ministry deep in the bible belt and well back in the good old days. The faithful were going on and on about “Jaysus!”, when it finally came round to him. “Why, I’m as good a man as Jesus ever was”.

Oh my! This was a man who could quote chapter and verse from the King James as well as most of the Bard’s best work. But that was the last time he attended services.

Sorry if that offends, but here’s another story. Bob Dylan had a fan / detractor who was obsessed with Dylan and all Dylan did and all Dylan stood for. This person went to the extreme of dumpster-diving Dylan’s garbage to see if he could divine deeper meanings from the leftovers of Dylan’s chicken dinner. The police had to hassle with this gent over and over; frustrated, they asked Dylan if he could “talk to the guy”.

So Dylan walks up to him, looks him straight in the eye, and says: “I’m not Bob Dylan. You are!”

Finally there is this. One beautiful day I was driving out to canvass, and I was struck so hard by the following epiphany that I had to pull over. The fact is that I came to a time in my life where I took stock of who I was. I’d been beat and broke in many ways and I needed to rebuild. I made a personal commitment to take responsibility for my life, to be the best son and lover and friend and neighbor and citizen that I could be (I’ve no children). I affirmed that it didn’t matter what others did, that I was the alpha and omega of me. And it seems that here in America in the early 21st century many folks have made that same commitment. We stepped out of the woodwork all of a sudden, looked around, and lo and behold we were not alone.

I looked in a mirror and claimed ownership of my life. You looked in a mirror and did the same. I’ve read the US Constitution many times. But never before did I truly understand the meaning of the words, “We the People”.

Peace and Freedom, baby.

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Lessons of the Paul Campaign – The Revolution was, is

August 9, 2008

We are: out of work musicians and multimillionaire software entrepeneurs… new age healers and christian chemical engineers… blind discordian perl programmers and bikini babes posing for libertarian calendars… veterans against war… halfbreed martial arts instructors… latino acupuncturists… hardcore tax protestors… anarcho-capitalist grocery clerks… austrian economists… disillusioned progressives… DJs doing freedom raves… young republicans… old hippies… cowboys… day traders… kooks… spooks(?)…

The “movement” is a collection of players so odd in their juxtaposition that it’s no wonder that stakeholding elites can only paint us as “weird”. What is one to make of a community populated by health freedom activists and Christian homeschoolers and anti-drug-war people and small-business Republicans and 9/11 truthers? It seems to the uninitiated like a random collection of oddities, hence the constant framing of us as “nuts”. It’s not just that Life Is High School and the children in charge need to marginalize outsiders to maintain the status quo. They don’t understand, and what one doesn’t understand, one fears.

And they should fear us. This is a deep Lesson of the Paul Campaign – that the revolution is perhaps more real than any of us give it credit for. It’s a lesson clearly lost not only on mainstream politicos but even to some degree on Ron Paul, his top staff, and the old clique that is about to see this thing leave them in the dust – the lesson is too earthshattering. Because despite all attempts to pigeonhole the “movement”, it defies description in terms of the Old Forms.

Left and Right are done. Democrats rally to McCain and Republicans to Obama. Libertarians court neocons like Barr and Root to run their party. Progressives and Socialists plug along, the best of them trying to keep up the “people’s struggle”, begging crumbs from their old “counterculture” brethren (meet the new boss…) who sold out so long ago. Hopelessly lost, the old-school “players” grasp at any straw they believe might get them a “seat at the table”.

It’s not that history is irrelevant; the nightmare from which we can never awake haunts us with incessant echoes from the deep dark well of the past. Indeed, the repercussions of that past are precisely what ours and succeeding generations will have to cope with. But there is a new politics forming in response to the empty offerings of the “normal”, and one is reminded of Nietszche, that is, none of these old fools even know yet that their Gods are all dead. Their bankrupt ideologies are only waiting for a push from Reality and the push is coming. Nobody is sure when. But its approach is inexorable, relentless, inevitable, unstoppable.

We are coming to a reckoning as a nation and that reckoning is going to be about the Small and the Big, the Local and the Federal, the Revolution and the Old Guard. It’ll be top versus bottom, not left versus right, which are after all mere figments of the imagination of an elite so corrupt it has even lost the ability to see through its own sophistry.

The establishment’s champions are themselves its biggest victims, drunk with power and stumbling blind in a faith-based universe built of lies wearing increasingly thin, incapable of seeing the coming storm. What they don’t know will hurt them. In their hubris they despise the rabble they must court in order to maintain their parasitic position on the host of the body politic. But that rabble, the Kinky-Carolists, the Perot Center, the Silent Majority, is getting wise despite all the dumbing down. And the team that speaks to the heart of that core populist center will go on to shape the next chapter of the American Story.

The Ron Paul campaign was a rite of passage. It revealed to the knowing initiate that the battle can be won, if only the warriors will follow the straight and narrow path to victory, veering neither to the right nor the left, balancing always on Truth’s razor edge. The campaign was a song sung from freedom’s radiant heart, not just an essay spoken from her limitless mind. The campaign was a journey, and all roads led back, and lead back, as they always will in this nation, not to the stilted polemicism of Ayn Rand, but to Twain and Poe and Melville. To an eyebrow raised in loving mockery; to a secret terror relentlessly driving us forward, or back; and, we pray, to redemption in the face of tragedy, that we might salvage a Republic from the tidal wave of History.

Because the truth is, the realistic truth is, that the reckoning this country faces will be no small catastrophe. And when the ship that is the America We Knew sinks once and for all, for better and worse, we will need to avoid the whirlpool, to cling to truth, to hope and love, to family, friends and neighbors – to community, not an abstract “society” – and live on to fulfill the promise of our forefathers.

Call us Ishmael.


Lessons of the Paul Campaign – Think locally, act globally

August 3, 2008

1 – Society vs Man

The great flaw of the modern left is that, to paraphrase Rothbard, it “seeks liberal ends by conservative means”. That is to say, it seeks the emancipation of the sovereign individual by means of empowering the old centrist agencies of hierarchical power, most especially the State. We, on the other hand, seek to achieve that same liberal end by liberal means. And that’s what makes us real “revolutionaries”, as opposed to the parade of multi-millionaires on Oprah.

There is more to the title of this piece than a cute twist on an old leftist aphorism. The reversal is not accidental. It undermines the modern left on the basic weakness of not only its self-contradictory terms but the very roots of its philosophical premises.

There is a word, “reification”. that is germane to this subject. It’s a favorite amongst Marxists and Psychologists, but let’s not allow that to put us off the term. Its most elementary meaning is “making what is abstract, concrete”. It’s my contention that this process, the reifying process, is at the heart of this nation’s political dysfunction [1].

The glorification of democracy is a case in point. It’s essential to the Establishment’s continued hegemony, as every act of the State is thus canonized as the manifest “Will of the People”. But the question of whether Das Volk really should be empowered to dictate Law according to its latest caprice is less interesting than the fact that “it”, that is, “The People”, as any sort of concrete *thing*, does not even EXIST. It is an aggregate, not a “person”, and thus should not have attributed to it a concept like “Will”. Certainly mobs have various characteristics, but to attribute to a mob the dimension of “Will” is to identify it with personal, human, will. “The People” is thus an abstraction that, in the interests of whoever wins the election, is “reified” or “concretized” into a sort of personalized demigod.

“And the people spake, and gave unto the Holy One this sacred power”. We’ve not come very far from Jehovah to Mencken’s immortal “booboisie”. To put it plainly, this is just a modernized version of the Divine Right of Kings, and it sure isn’t “liberal”, by any stretch.

Similar processes are at work everywhere. For military organizations the reification of the Nation, the Service, the Unit, are all essential elements in the building of “esprit de corps”. You, the soldier, are not real, and are of no consequence. Ergo, you must die when ordered to. The sublimation of personal identity into group identity necessary to evoke this sort of pathology in a subject can only be accomplished when there is another, greater “personality” to be sublimated into [2].

The implications of this are broad; suffice to say, violence on the scale manifest in the modern world is not possible on a human to human basis. It can only be achieved by the process of abstracting, sublimating, and then, making the abstraction concrete. Because the key result of reification is this: it ultimately devalues the basic human to human connection, thus enabling the total dehumanization of us all.

2 – Man vs Media

Totalitarians of every stripe have always made powerful use of the individual-eating process of reification. The chief tool used to implement this in the Modern Age has been the Mass Media. Whether it’s a paper owned by a Hearst, a state run radio station directed by Goebbels, or a modern media empire run by a self serving fascist like Murdoch, the relationship between Media and Power has always been more than cozy.

It’s no accident then that populist political reform is asserting itself through the anarchy of the internet. Trends in media certainly give us cause for hope, as the circulation of the NY Times shrinks and bandwidth multiplies throughout the “free world”. But a painful lesson of the Paul campaign, already noted, was that the Media itself, any media, is only a tool. Because talk, after all, is cheap.

There is, however, an Answer, as many of us discovered. For (generally) the first time in our lives, we were radicalized to the point where we got out of our chair, and went next door to talk to our neighbor (shock, somebody LIVES over there?). And, for those who were willing to “take the step”, the resultant discovery of a law well known to old union organizers was revelatory.

This is what we found: HUMAN CONTACT CAN TRUMP THE MEDIA LOCKOUT. This is possible to the degree that the targets of that contact themselves have some sense of the DISSONANCE present within the very abstraction that this self same media portrays as “reality” [3]. Not only that, we can identify real metrics, based on message content, demographics, and the like, that can enable us to maximize return on resources invested in mobilizing those who aren’t pleased with The Direction The Country Is Going. And if anything, disillusionment is on the rise – exponentially.

There’s an equation well known to veteran organizers: 1 handshake = 10 phone calls = 100 emails. It bears repeating, and constant reminding. Most importantly, in this well worn truism we can see the basic equation of grassroots activism: RE-PERSONALIZATION IS THE KEY. We need to break the reification with the immediacy of our message and proximitiy of our methods.

3 – Assymetrical warfare, Homefield Advantage

History, from Paul Revere to Gandhi, shows that “liberal”, that is, bottom up change, starts in somebody’s backyard. Fighting City Hall on their own turf is a waste of effort. Washington, DC? What can you or I do about DC, with its Trillion Dollars and Lawyers and Nukes and Intel Operatives? Most people look at that and are ready to crawl back into their cage. No, to fight ’em, you need to own the ground.

National Mainstream Media has NO REACH into your local issues. Fox and CNBC could care less about your property taxes. Further, most people are unaware and uninformed about their city council and the like. This low interest is actually favorable to dedicated activists. It enables us to have an outsize impact in off-year elections, bond issues, school boards, etc.

Hence “think locally, act globally”. A leftist starts with a global problem and seeks to implement local solutions. For instance, to combat “Global Warming”, it might be proposed at the City and County levels that we start making it hard for Joe Sixpack to drive to work on City or County roads.

By comparison, the “think local” premise seeks LOCAL PROBLEMS, and by addressing those, hopes to grow a GLOBAL MOVEMENT oriented towards real liberal values. So, here in town, let’s get rational timings for Austin’s notorious traffic lights – less time spent at lights, less fumes emitted into the air, less waste for the many economic actors in this “society”. Let’s clean up our local water supply. Let’s make sure international corporations don’t dump toxins all over us and get off by paying a fine to some Federal Agency. Revolutionary!?!

Awareness of “National Events” is certainly necessary. But to stop, say, Real ID, the right vector of attack isn’t the Federal Government. It’s your State. Worried about a Katrina-like situation in your neck of the woods? Start, now, opening up dialogue with your local law enforcement. If they aren’t responsive, use your new found grassroots POWER to remove them.

There are 400,000 registered voters in Austin. There is no question that 400 human beings willing to dedicate themselves to rendering the Real Estate Lawyers that run this town accountable could achieve those ends. Just 400 people.

4 – Freedom Cells

In some sense, the ineffectiveness of the Paul Campaign’s organization is likely a blessing in disguise. History has shown every movement with “National” scope to be ultimately doomed. What is going to happen now amongst Paulists, and is happening, is natural, healthy, and good. We’re doing Our Own Thing.

There is of course a danger in this. The dissolution of the “movement”, the balkanization of our new national community, looms as a real pitfall. But as confidence in the dollar and the United States as a corporate entity falters here and abroad, is there really much to be gained in trying to conquer the dying national power centers?

Further, this is where the New Media may save us. The internet is lousy for getting votes, but it’s great for keeping in touch with established virtual communities. The most active of us are “connected” now, and that isn’t going to change. What is going to change is the necessity to follow along with a bloated, hopelessly incompetent and self serving “National”.

No more rank nepotism, no more $30 million swirling down a political toilet. For the most active of us, this is frankly a relief. We still have the network, and we can utilize that to communicate; not order – communicate. And we can roll our own, in friendly competition, the best of us, the sharers, learning and growing, in little, dispersed cells, with no center to take down. As the problems which beset this country worsen, those who succeed in addressing them in their own locales will attract further success. And thanks to the Internet, each shot fired in this new Revolution can and will be heard round the world.

This is, at its heart, the revolution of the “little guy”. In this David vs Goliath fight, the methods need to match the message. Centralization has ever been the enemy of Liberty. Why should our movement be any different?

[1] In broader context, it is part and parcel with most of what’s gone wrong since the mid-19th century; but that’s a book in itself.

[2] Not to denigrate heroism… and the fact is, by all accounts of Those Who’ve Been There, that true battlefield heroism owes very little to this sort of conditioning.

[3] “Conservatives” advocating the dissolution of our national sovereignty, “Liberals” happily pimping for global empire… that sort of thing.