Our Long Search for Lasting Wellbeing

I have a friend who is always posting interesting and provocative things. Not provocative in the “transgender bathroom” or “Russian conspiracy” sense, but articles and thought pieces that don’t often get a lot of play in our one-size-fits-all, lowest-common-denominator, loser-take-all social media debates. Economics, philosophy, other ways of thinking about things, of looking at things – new discoveries that are testing what we thought we knew.

Alternative government – or I suppose governance is a better word.

Truth is our post-modern world doesn’t fit very well with the modern, Westphalian “nation state”, does it? These rickety things that we first set up 400 years ago to stop 100 years of war, and that we turned into massive service delivery institutions funded by theft for the purpose of redistribution – “public economics”, as some call it. It sure seemed like a good idea, yet nevertheless the possession of the gun allowed these institutions to keep slipping away from, oh let’s call it “the consent of the governed,” and in the process their original function, to “(…) secure the blessings of liberty”.

Not to say there isn’t a role for “public economics”, at the local level at least. And that some can even make this work.  There’s an article that’s going around which posits that the reason for the rise of the west – starting in Europe and continuing on in its perfected form in America – was competition between small states. There was not one great emperor (at least not for very long) and individual states like Belgium and England and Scotland and Bavaria competed against each other for the best minds, the greatest technological advancements, the most sacrosanct set of rights, and the best legal systems. All measured against that one immutable and irrefutable fact – well-being. “A life more abundant” like the Bible says.

Sort of makes the case against the EU, doesn’t it?

“Well-being.” But what happens when the building blocks of “abundance” are no longer locked into geographical considerations alone? Property moves from China to Venezuela and back to the United States. Free speech in the internet age echoes around the planet. Religion, the choosing of our own faith – as faiths expand and compete – run up against the totalitarians. And what happens when people feel more of an identity to their faith, or their global organization (like the UN or Google) than they do to the shires of their youth? Oh, sure that’s what the commies thought – I know. One big trans-national empire of misery. It’s what the Islamists think too, “The sun shall not set on our beheadings.” And hasn’t the nation state always been the defense of a people against another people; our freedoms against their gulags? I suppose, until something goes wrong and things go quickly “rouge”, and then – well then things sure do get ugly.

The 20th century was ugly.

At any rate – like I was saying. Massive, administrative, trans-border ‘government’, as designed to defend our nation states – and their enshrined ‘rights’ – has started to seem a little irrelevant, archaic; at least so says another of my friend’s articles. “Society is past the point of being governed. We no longer need a president to function as a healthy society. In fact, the idea of central bodies of government ruling over differing classes of people is just absurd. We are all just too complex for a ruler! At least, this is what a recent report suggests.”

This is the challenge of our time, I suppose. The lessons of history – looking backward to our great conservatism that the progressives call ‘prejudicial’ – are that only at the local level can we reduce the waste and abuse that spins out of control in a downward spiral as civilizations age. Incidentally, economists call this “moral hazard”. For the know-nothings, “Moral hazard is a situation in which one party gets involved in a risky event knowing that it is protected against the risk and the other party will incur the cost.” Sound familiar? Every decision of the last eight years comes to mind. Of course local action by engaged citizens acting as “government” only works if built upon a set of principles, what the Declaration of Independence called “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”. This is hard, because it requires agreement that these laws exist – and the progressives don’t. Which brings us full circle to acting locally – at least those of us who do can go to our own places, built by our own natural laws, and prove ourselves right through our prosperity and well-being.

If they were only to let us.

Which makes it somewhat ironic that progressive’s recent attempts to cement our hard-won well-being were about the opposite – using government as a club, acting nationally (and supra-nationally when they could) but divorced from the “laws of nature and of nature’s God,” against all history and wisdom. Which served to create a new, amoral global elite who were themselves border-less and unaccountable and corrupt. Only they are surprised at the “rebellion”.

My second novel, “The Burning of San Porfirio” is sort of a dystopian exploration of post-socialist no-longer-viable Venezuela. “A modern day, secular pilgrim’s progress” it has been called where the main character Pancho Randelli wanders the wasteland in search of lasting peace while being tempted by different models of post-government governance; as he seeks an answer to the eternal question, “How do we build a system that will prove prosperous and enduring?” He visits tiny agricultural communities, communist camps, cities clean and serene and totalitarian, and even self-governed villages built in the trees. Through it all, the answers escape him – until he realizes in a flash that it is not really in the answers that well-being is found and preserved, but in the ceaseless questioning.

“It must always remain only an idea.” Pancho said “Something we are striving for. Else we ourselves will become complacent and hand its enforcement back to those who think in groups – to a government that we will create and, at first, control – and as the lazy among us use the first shortcuts we put in place to their own benefit, our civilization will die, just like it has countless times in the past.”

Porfirio Cover

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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