Confessions of a Former Statist

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When I was young and in the process of forming my perception of the world, like most children, my exposure to ideas was limited. My parents, my teachers, my neighbor's opinions expressed through their children, and what little I may have heard on the news basically defined it. My parents were dyed-in-the-wool Democrats, my teachers were Catholic nuns, and my neighbors were working-class. And you all know about mainstream media ' like everyone they disseminate information through a filter of one kind or another.

My parents were very responsible people ' they never collected welfare or any other kind of handout. They paid their taxes and tithes, never took anything that didn't belong to them nor expected anyone to do anything for them. Yet, they lived through a lot of trauma that probably kept them from feeling completely safe in the world.

They both grew up during the Depression. My maternal grandfather died when my Mom was 13. She quit school and went to work, buying food for the family and her first toothbrush; it was 1933. My father's father was a hard-drinking Irishman, so he didn't fair much better. They lived through WWII, Vietnam and the Detroit riots.

Even though my Dad almost always had a steady job, there was an unspoken but constantly underlying fear permeating our family that something bad could happen at any moment. I believe that these things generated their need for a 'higher power' of government in case of emergency. On the heels of the McCarthy era, they made it clear to us kids that communism was bad, but somehow the nanny state was good. They were convinced that there was a big difference.

As I got older and became more aware of the uncertainty of adult life, I remember identifying with their attitude. What if something bad happened to me? Who would help me? I feared no one would, unless they were forced to, so, in this case force must be right. Ergo, the adoption of my parent's viewpoint that government as the only viable safety net was conceived and nurtured in me too.

On an even deeper, unconscious level, it's comforting to think that someone else wants to be responsible for you, and if that someone is a nameless, faceless bureaucracy, so much the better. It requires no humility or personal obeisance from you, at least not at first. Better yet, it seems to cost nothing to anyone but the very rich who can most afford it. Why shouldn't they be required to share? These are childish notions, ones that don't give way to reality easily, if ever.

Often people I meet look like adults, they have grown up bodies, but quite often they haven't actually matured internally. I can understand why; growing up is a painful process. Over the years I've read a lot of self-help books and spent a whole lot of money on therapy to provide myself the environment I needed to mature. Somewhere, I read that every child has the right to feel safe in the world and immediately I knew that this was true. I wanted more than anything and still do, to be free, and I suspected that a sense of safety was part of it.

When I was no longer primarily my parent's child, I set about doing whatever was necessary to make myself feel safe in the world. I took self-defense classes, I learned to shoot a gun, I studied history to know what to expect in the future. I learned to tell the truth about myself, what I wanted and how I wanted to be treated, whether or not anyone around me liked it (usually not.) I learned to take healthy risks, follow interests that were discouraged by the worker bees around me and to constantly challenge what I thought about myself and the rest of the world. I learned that I could change my place in it any time or many times. I learned to dare to make a fool of myself and laugh at my blunders. I learned that government can't make anyone safe. 'Government kills. Governments kill.' (If you've seen this written on some bills in circulation, you might just have yourself an original sample of my writing!)

Do you think the Iraqi children feel more or less safe in the world since we declared war on that sovereign nation which never attacked us? Money is power. Perhaps if we had handed over the 200 billion war dollars to the Iraqi people instead of to the Halliburton people, they could have overthrown Saddam themselves, if that's what they had wanted to do. At the very least they could have secured themselves in other ways. (Not that I am at all in favor of robbing one person to give to another.) As it is now, there is little chance that the children of Iraq who do survive the horror that has become their existence will ever have the chance to know what it's like to feel safe in the world. People who don't feel safe are hardly capable of making conscious choices such as peace. Rather, they must keep fighting, ratcheting up the coercion level, because it's all they know.

Although the need for a 'Plan B' has never quite left me, the morality of the use of force to achieve social goals has. I know now that I am safe in the world. This doesn't mean that bad things can't happen to me. However, a confident, fit person (and/or one who looks potentially armed) doesn't make for an easy mark. I am a capable, prepared woman, and if harm comes to me, help is available for the asking from people who care about me, or sometimes even perfect strangers.

There are a lot of good people out there in the world. They don't usually work for the government, but they're out there. We're out there. So next time you find yourself recoiling in horror in the face of a seemingly hopeless or particularly obnoxious statist, remember, he's just a scared little kid who's probably never felt safe in the world and proceed gently. He'll get the idea that he's at least safe with you. We can't bring peace to Iraq by shooting and torturing, but we can make peace right here at home, first in our hearts, then in our homes and then out in circles like a pebble tossed into a pond.

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Retta Fontana's picture
Columns on STR: 53

Retta Fontana is an atheist, anarchist, baker, potter and parenting teacher.  Children are her favorite people.