“That’s What I Know, That’s What I Am”
Mr. Kain has graciously invited me to start posting on the main page here at the League, so a more official introduction is probably in order.
Instead of writing about where I live and what I do, I thought a kind of genealogy of my political attitudes might be more helpful, and go a long way toward explaining my deeply conflicted outlook. For this there are really only two things you need to know about me: I was homeschooled for most of my childhood and I love Star Trek.
I’ll start with being homeschooled. Despite sending my older brother to public school from Kindergarten on, a place that he intuitively understood and where he excelled, my parents made me a test case for their anti-establishment philosophy on education. Despite the usual grammar lessons and math drills, I had a lot of time to draw, build with Legos, fumble around with Erector Sets, and indulge in a multitude of other creative pursuits. Hours spent reading had to be enforced, until one extended electrical outage found me sitting around the house all week with of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia; I’ve been devouring typeface ever since.
When 4th Grade arrived, I, fully believing in the value of yellow buses, afternoon recess, and brown-bagged lunches, convinced my parents to send me to school “like all the normal kids.” The first marking period was new and shy, the second was comfortably exotic, but by the fourth I dropped out. I can remember the “quiet desperation” with which I went to sleep each school night after sobbing to my parents to let me stay home the next day. I loved chicken nugget Mondays, had made plenty of friends, and learned that there are sports for everyone, and mine was soccer. But I abhorred the rigid routines that contained so much nothingness. Bells, whistles, and raised hands were a mysterious ritual. Public school, then and there, just wasn’t for me. By April of that year I was released.
During the next three or so years I read a lot of nonfiction and had my first formative intellectual awakening (of sorts) as I explored the bibliographies of Neil Postman and Ray Bradbury. Celebrating humanity, skeptical of technology, and concerned about the alienating and destructive power of large impersonal forces, they instilled in me a disdain for programs perpetrated and implemented by outsiders. Through their subversive influence, I developed my hatred for the regimented bureaucracies of school developed into a larger rebuke of all imposed routines. So when I returned to public school in 8th grade, I was completely cynical about the whole project.
So from that whole experience I came to associate imposed routine with automation, the cold machinations of both bureaucratic processing and market capitalism. My aversion to authoritarian, centrally planned, top-down public schooling helped cultivate my present loathing for all forms of distant authoritarian compulsion. Channeling Postman’s critique of modern culture and Bradbury’s luddite humanism, mine was a reactionary politics aimed at opposing the “assembly line” mentality where ever I encountered it. Now, done with school and graduated from college, I still encounter that mentality in the free market and at work. This is why my response to overwhelming market forces has usually been to support greater decentralization: break up the big banks, support small and local business, and seek ways to help slow down and balance international capital flows.
There’s this other side of me that’s always been impressed and inspired by what large groups can do together. Even if I didn’t get this liberal idealism from Star Trek (or to be more precise, Star Trek: The Next Generation), the series certainly helped reinforce this disposition. And in some ways, Gene Roddenberry’s techno-optimism actually complimented the Sci-fi of Bradbury, showing how a deeply humanistic and diverse community could breathe unique life into the titanium hull of the enterprise rather than have their own individuality snuffed out by it. The libertarian “Prime Directive” of non-interference and the neo-Wilsonian policy of interplanetary self-determination appealed to me. Here, in the 24th century, technology hadn’t enslaved humanity to the assembly line of industrial progress, but had actually liberated people from the undemocratic constraints of capitalism and allowed them to go around exploring the galaxy with limited militaristic outcomes or imperial arrogance. The search for knowledge, understanding, and self-realization was the new raison d’être. Sure, there were still problems. Not everyone in Starfleet was as self-reflective and strong-willed as Jean-Luc Picard. But with each new challenge, a clearly articulated vision for mutual cooperation and individual dignity was present. Even Data, the Federation’s one and only sentient android, was defined by his potential for compassion and free choice rather than cold logic.
And then there was the Borg, cosmic life’s greatest threat and the physical manifestation of every automated industrial impulse for the individual’s subordination to the collective. If any fiction could embody the future I wanted to live in and the principles it would be based on, Star Trek was and remains its closest approximation.
The end result is a politics full of idealistic and progressive liberal impulses tempered by the dread of Borg-like possibilities. I say possibilities because it’s become clear to me that “government” is only one of the many places that dehumanizing bureaucracies inhabit. Thanks to Rod Serling, I find unstructured communities as potentially perverse as their institutionalized counterparts. And for more reasons than can be listed here, consumer culture and the economy that shapes it have long since surpassed government as the most consequential forces in our (American) lives. That’s why a Brave New World is more troubling to me than 1984. And why, despite my libertarian skepticism, most purists wouldn’t regard me as one. In the end, what I fear most isn’t forced assimilation into inorganic collectives, but humanity voluntarily racing en masse to see how fast we can “Amuse Ourselves to Death“, and become enlistees in the ongoing iBorg revolution. Individuality and freedom face threats from many directions. But sometimes the mechanisms we use to protect these values can undermine them just as much, by prohibiting decisive social cooperation and strong community building. At least that’s how it often seems to me.
While by no means a thorough account of my political identity, hopefully this sheds some light on where I’m coming from in future posts. So without further ado, hello!