The Loop

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Lisa Miller. (My elderly mom didn’t laugh when I joked Ms. Miller ‘looks like she could have graduated from Bryn Mawr,’ my mom’s alma mater.)

In this clip, Ms. Miller argues for a return to charity, responsibility and rights. when I saw this, I was reminded of Sarah Palin speaking of solving the country’s problems by leaving it to the genius and innovative spirit of the regular Americans. Michelle Bachman has many times spoken of the country’s need to restore the values of self-reliance and personal responsibility.

This got me to thinking about the personal responsibility meme as a proposition of the Tea Party Patriots, (and their ilk.)

I went out and did some research and learned a lot. There are a variety of propositions, but these do not vary much from each other. The basic structure is unremarkable:

(1) To practice personal responsibility, one must be self-reliant,
(2) To be self-reliant one must live within their means.
(3) To live within these means, one must plan ahead to withstand what life throws at you
(4) To plan ahead, means one must sock away the funds necessary to being self-reliant,

It’s a loop. Charity figures into this ethic. When it comes about that self-reliance is stretched beyond the breaking point, this same ethic supposes the individual may appeal for help from “one’s own,’ from one’s community, from one’s church. This superficially commonsensical ethic is not without a context, for its proponents advocate its sources are (variably) found in Christianity, the ethics of the Founding Fathers, and the thought leaders of libertarianism. In noting this, I didn’t discover any writing seeking to anchor this notion of self-reliance in any actually coherent ‘thought-leading’ philosophy; (as might be found in Hayek, for example.)

Arrayed against this notional ethic is the “Other,” and this Other is characterized as anybody and everybody who has their hand out to any entity not comprised of family, one’s own, church, community. …for any reason whatsoever. Advocates of this version of the ethic of self-reliance excoriate, then, all instances of social welfare spending, whether it pays out to householder or company.

At times, this ethic’s social critique roars against other stuff too; against: the Federal Reserve and fractional reserve banking, credit cards, big government, socialists cum fascists, immigrants, the poor, the irreligious, humanism, social justice, and, modernity. Etc.

The truism, “you know how to spend your money better than the government does” underwrites their criticism of government and the popular Tea Party motto ‘Don’t Tread On Me.’ Then it gets plugged into notional ideas about the nature of liberty and freedom.

We are dedicated to the principles of constitutionally limited, transparent and accountable government, self-reliance and self-determination and free-market capitalism. (Outer Banks Tea Party)

How far can this notion be extended? You don’t have to read deeply into the copious literature of Tea Party Patriotism to discover this notion underpins conceptions for literally ending the political valency of any contravening ideas. This come to the fore as if the enforcement of self-reliance could both amplify liberty, and, at the same time dash all gainsaying. This is to suggest this brand of aspiration-for-freedom seems to carry with it, also, a demand for compliance at the end of the day on which the socialists have been defeated.

Obviously, this objective reflects a singular contradiction in terms. It seems a brutal ethic; especially when you consider how it has–on rare occasion–played out throughout history. Of course, to consider the devilish details implicit in given degrees of self-reliance–some people obtaining more margins for survival than others–is to consider how the most self-reliant can come to dominate, subject, and colonize the lesser, but no less (in these notional terms,) self-reliant.

The idealization of self-reliance does require some Other with their hands out. Evidently, for the Tea Party brethren, this is a very frightening requirement. It is the lens through which their paranoia is focused.

Tea Party Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right (February 15, 2010: NYT)

Mr. Beck frequently echoes Patriot rhetoric, discussing the possible arrival of a “New World Order” and arguing that Mr. Obama is using a strategy of manufactured crisis to destroy the economy and pave the way for dictatorship.

In New Mexico, Mary Johnson, recording secretary of the Las Cruces Tea Party steering committee, described why she fears the government. She pointed out how much easier it is since Sept. 11 for the government to tap telephones and scour e-mail, bank accounts and library records. “Twenty years ago that would have been a paranoid statement,” Ms. Johnson said. “It’s not anymore.”

Mr. Paul led Mrs. Southwell to Patriot ideology, which holds that governments and economies are controlled by networks of elites who wield power through exclusive entities like the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations.

One local group represented at Liberty Lake was Arm in Arm, which aims to organize neighborhoods for possible civil strife by stockpiling food and survival gear, and forming armed neighborhood groups.

Still, it is a big mistake to generalize about the ‘affectual’ terrain the tea party patriots travel.


(It interests me whenever there can be a thought problem such as this one: persons A and B, are in identical situations, yet A is afraid of stuff, while B is not; a subject for a future post.)

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