Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Foot Soldier in The Long War

For years, since learning about the Saracens and Spain, I have described the conflict between Islam and the rest of the world as The Long War. I shall do so no more. The real war, the one that matters, is much, much older. It is the eternal struggle which has described all human history, back to Cain and Able (or the first caveman to force his will upon another, for you atheists). It is the struggle between two conflicting impulses present in all people, the desire to control and to be free of the control of others.

It is a war where there are no clear combatants and battle lines until it is too late, or nearly so, for those who wish freedom to prevail. It is not between religions or religions and secularism, nor opposing political ideologies, not even the conflicting philosophies of collectivism and individualism, but it lies at the heart of each of those conflicts. It is a war with many theaters, reaching into every facet of life.

As society needs authority in order to function, it is impossible for any person, perhaps even any idea short of anarchy or nihilism, to fit neatly into the side of wishing to be free from control, but all too easy for a person or idea to fall completely in the other camp. It is a nebulous struggle with most people being only unwitting participants until the point when the two sides polarize, by then it is almost certainly too late. Worse, a clear victory for either side results in a loss for civilization.

Societies need both conflicting ideals in balance, the correct balance being an issue of much debate, in order to be both free and functional. To one extreme, tyranny, the other, anarchy. Further complicating issues is a force I'll call societal entropy which favors either extreme, but abhors a balance.

Just as maintenance against deterioration in an artifact can only ever end with the ruin of the artifact, so too the maintenance of the precarious balance we call liberty. Balance or not, the struggle is a perpetual one. Historically, those societies which have achieved something resembling an ideal balance have only ever done so temporarily and only in the minority of cases. Entropy always wins eventually, but not on any timetable.

Sunday we saw the balance tip dramatically further in the favor of those who wish control. Any kind of balance in our country is in dire straits. All it would take is anything less than the absolute and fervent work of those who wish for liberty, in a nation of laws, to see our society to slide over into an authoritarian hell hole. Once there, restoring a balance is far less likely than simple bouncing between anarchy and tyranny. We have a rare thing, one we likely won't see again in our or our children's lifetimes if we lose it.

Congratulations, be you man or woman, religious or atheist, individualistic or collectivist you made the cut. You are now soldiers enlisted in fighting the second oldest war in history, second only to the eternal war between good and evil. Just try to remember, no side can be allowed to win.

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