I started claiming I was a socialist when I was 14, to yank the chain of the guy who sat in front of me in homeroom. It was the the Reagan years, which were reflexively “Go USA!” the way we are now but lacking the bitter edge. Our social-studies class that year was Civics, so I knew what I was saying, but in real life I wasn’t especially interested in group political endeavors. I’m still not. I profoundly understand how critical politics is for everyone, how engaging in political action is essential for thriving communities, and it still makes me itchy to contemplate my being part of that engagement.
It’s an unfortunate lack, and I routinely check in with God in case I’ve been ignoring a call to action in that direction. So far? Not that I can tell.
In a way, the closest I’ve come to mission work was when I was in my twenties, working with techie-types. It was nothing like classic mission outreach, no ‘least,’ no ‘lost’ involved. What it was, was arguing. Stubbornly arguing against the ‘common wisdom.’
See, at the time (and likely still) most engineers were inclined to libertarianism (and/or Objectivism). A variety that boiled down to: leave me alone to do my thing because I know what I’m doing and I do the right things; I’ll leave you alone to do the same. As my father once pointed out, anarchism… but without explosives.
My stance? This is a fundamentally naive understanding of humans, and it’s astounding that people who prefer evidence-based information can cling to it buckle and thong.
My colleagues kept telling me that what they had was a rational approach. I kept pushing back that it was irrational in how it assumed that everyone would simply act smoothly together for collective goodness, when there’s an extremely limited number of historical examples of that happening.* Far more often the record shows collusion to maximize a few individual benefits, when there’s any collusion at all. Hey, I taught preschoolers and led Brownie troops—collective goodness is learned behavior, and has to be practiced often.
Occasionally I wonder whether, in that sub-culture, the philosophy is appealing because it requires low amounts of interaction. Working together is messy, and involves managing both differing priorities and divergent feelings. And while priorities might be amenable to adjustment by debate, feelings aren’t. They have to be handled with a different set of tools, ones that are frequently unfamiliar to the inhabitants of TechWorld.
I remember frustratedly arguing that feelings were not irrelevancies, but facts that had to be addressed just like thermal bounds or electrical resistance. At least I was able to teach that at home!
Well beyond this post’s scope and my energy are the additional sorts of strategies, practices, and tactics that support one’s abilities to work together in groups to make good things happen for many people. My experience is that it’s not appreciably more strenuous to cause good things to happen for many than for just my one-self…though it may be more time-consuming. Still, speed is often overrated, and I think it’s hard to have too much goodness laying around.
I believe that no one is an island. The tech-bro mindset assumes that island-ness is not only possible, it’s preferable. I’m still not seeing it. What I see are 50-year-old swimming pools crumbling away in weed-strewn parks, and children thinking, “Ain’t nobody praying for me.” I see bridges coming undone, roads falling away, and still those that have resources keep folding arms and shaking heads, saying, “Somebody should pay for that, but not me.”
Why not you? Why not me?
*I couldn’t find the fantastic article I remembered my brother-in-law showing me—I think it was in the Atlantic—but I did find two other evidence-based articles discussing what happens when that libertarian/Objectivist philosophy fully flowers in real life: