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How Can You Laugh at a Time Like This?

Bruce Madison

No. 18

What if everybody...?

May. 1, 1995

Gypsy & Willy - The Original Libertarian Bloggers It was a rainy day in late 1968 on our commune in Central Oregon. The driveway to our farmhouse was "paved" with clay and gravel. When it rained, the road got very slippery and this day someone had driven one of our cars into the ditch blocking entry and exit from the farm.

The "boys" sat around for a while discussing just how we were going to extricate the car, deciding first which tractor to fire up, then what chains etc. we would need to pull it out, etc. Suddenly, someone had a bright idea. Since there were twenty people sitting around waiting for breakfast, this seemed like enough muscle to simply lift the car from the ditch. And that is precisely what we did. Everyone present, including the kids, went out to the driveway and simply picked the car up, by hand, and set it back on the road.

Of was experiences like this that heavily influenced my political thinking at the time. If people working together can so easily accomplish tasks like lifting a car out of the ditch, what could we not accomplish in the more serious tasks of life with the same level of cooperation?

It is just this notion, "What if everybody...?" that lead me and a whole lot of other "liberals" astray during the sixties. Entranced with our experiences of accomplishment when groups of people all pulled together, we falsely extrapolated these events to include all manner of political problems. It was easy, sitting around blasted on pot, to imagine stopping the war in Vietnam, curing racism, eliminating poverty and establishing world peace, if "everybody just would...". You fill in the blanks.

After the inspiration of the car lifting event, we were to experience many, many bitter lessons about cooperation and communal efforts during the few years the commune survived. After we discovered just how difficult it is to achieve long term political agreement and cooperation, those of us who were entranced with the stories coming out of the Soviet block (and I confess that I was one of those), began to wonder just how in hell the Russians and Chinese did it. Of course, as time passed, we found out the truth. They simply lied about their failures and concealed or excused the underlying fascist nature of their societies.

We, however, learned it all the hard way. As time went on, we experienced many political crises. That is, there were many times when significant minorities disagreed strongly with the majority. Our "solution" (it turned out to be a non-solution) was to discuss the issue until consensus had been obtained.

The first time this procedure failed, really failed, was over the issue of dogs. Yes, you read that right: dogs, canines, pooches, mutts. many people brought dogs with them when they joined the commune. In addition, most of these dogs had "papers" and thus were theoretically valuable property with money making possibilities. So, at one time, we found ourselves with 28 pedigree dogs with (at least) 28 masters who did not wish to part with them.

Now, it may be true that pedigree dog puppies are worth a bundle. The offspring of a golden retriever father and greyhound mother aren't worth a nickle. Ditto for dachshund mother crossed with poodle father. Cute, but worthless.

Furthermore, 28 doggies in a group are not a crowd, but a pack. And dog packs just love to hunt wild animals, like our neighbors sheep and cattle. The swift members of the pack, the greyhound types, would run the animals down and the rest would tear them to pieces. Just a nice afternoon of doggie fun and games.

So we discussed which dogs to part with. "Not mine!" was the almost universal outcry. To make a long story short, many people left the commune over this issue, with their beloved dogs. The commune finally settled on keeping just one dog, a golden retriever name Mellow Yellow who just happened to know each and every individual who lived in the commune. But, it took weeks to hash this seemingly trivial issue out and it nearly destroyed us.

As time went on, there were other matters to deal with. Each time we could not reach consensus agreement in a reasonably short time, someone either left in disgust or was expelled (in disgust), for every group has a least cooperative member. Let's read that again. EVERY GROUP HAS A LEAST COOPERATIVE MEMBER. Also, every group has a smartest member, a stupidest member, a fattest member, a thinnest member, etc. If you keep expelling "trouble makers" who will not or can not agree with the majority, you quickly end up with a rather homogeneous group. For each time the least of something departs, he or she promotes the next least to the hot seat of being least.

And we did this. Over and over again.

Another curious thing happened. As time went on, our consensus decision process came to be dominated by fewer and fewer people. Not only were our overall numbers decreasing, but the number who wished to participate in the political decision making process of the commune was decreasing even faster. It soon became clear that we were becoming a dictatorship! And it all happened so "naturally."

Sound familiar? Each national election for who knows how long has had a decreasing number of people participating. Every four years a smaller percentage of our people believe that it is worthwhile to cast a vote for the men and women who will lead our great nation. So, they say the hell with it and let you control freaks and do-gooders have your say. You elected George Bush and Bill Clinton in rapid succession. Were the nay sayers wrong?

I blame it on a combination of liberal good intentions mixed with conservative notions about control. Liberals try to do good and almost totally neglect the problems associated with carrying out their good deeds. Let's just say that they do not understand the idea of unexpected side effects. Conservatives, on the other hand, stress control, of the individual and of the state. They do not understand that shit happens.

I will chase these notions a little farther in future essays. Talk to you later.

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