As my recent commentary clearly indicates, I live – figuratively speaking, well down the Libertarian Road. As it happens, I also live there in a more literal sense, insofar as I live on a country road with no binding maintenance agreement. Thus, periodic maintenance of the road is left either to those whimsical occasions when community spirit is given full financial and labor backing or when a mere few who want it done badly enough to carry the burden alone.
Now, there are only nine property owners on this private road…eight, really, if you exclude the one out-of-state owner who almost never uses her vacation cabin. Still, one would imagine that it wouldn’t be all that hard to build consensus with only eight parties, right?
Well, have you ever watched the stultifying consensus-building process of a typical democratic party caucus meeting? It’s quite funny, really, watching a grab-bag assortment of ideological extremists grope blindly for some small patch of common ground. It’s almost as hilarious as one writer’s observation of black-clad anarchists patiently waiting in line to use the bathroom of a deli during the now infamous 1999 WTO protests. (Yes, we’re really going to trash this place, just as soon as we take care of few private bodily functions, seriously. I feel much better now, “Let the Revolution Begin!!!”) It just goes to show you that, in real life, ideology and pragmatism are always duking it out.
So, let’s take a stab at the political process of maintaining our short little road. Some feel that it’s hardly worth the effort, the winter rains – along with heavy use – will simply create new potholes in short order. Some don’t feel obligated to fix those parts of the road that they don’t typically use. Some would be happy to fix the road, so long as speed bumps are installed to slow traffic. Others will, in the dark of night, remove the speed bumps if they are installed. (I swear, this actually happened.) Still others will refuse to take part if anyone else also refuses.
So, where’s the opportunity for consensus? If you haven’t already guessed, generally it’s to do nothing at all. You see, potholes make effective speed bumps and, by and large, there’s nothing to stop you from buying your own gravel and filling whatever offending pothole you care to fill.
Now, we semi-libertarian-paleo-conservatives might be inclined to believe that this is just as it should be. In the words of Thomas Paine, “That government is best that governs least.” And, perhaps it is, even for this little backwater gravel road. More to the point, it provides ample opportunity for us to both build relationships with our neighbors and, perhaps more realistically, our own character (and backs), if the spirit moves us to simply fix the problem sitting there in front of us.
To be sure, there are a number of unintended consequences to living this way. Generally, we tend to learn quite a bit about living without incessant whining and expecting that other people should address our concerns. More specifically, the road tends to suck.
Naturally, all these issues get much stickier when the high-speed traffic is generated by the drug-dealer in the rented house, when there are kids playing or riding bikes on the road, when you face the fact that the road was never properly graded and will never really be right without such an expensive fix, when it’s your car’s axle that’s busted, and when you become discouraged over the apparent fact that “nobody gives a damn”.
Welcome to the real world, Bucko, what did you expect? OK, maybe road maintenance agreements, like good fences, could make for good neighbors too. I’m quite certain that those living on the county-maintained road are quite happy to have us help pay for their road work.
In the end, perhaps, we just need to better understand which battles are really worth fighting and, maybe, just try a bit harder to let go of some of the more intractable and alienating issues. Democracy is fine, so long as it isn’t used to bludgeon non-conformity to a righteous death. I’m sure our Founding Fathers said something to that effect.
For the moment, I’m willing to live with a few potholes and even fill some that may grieve me. I’m not really willing to force my neighbors into filling them for me, but I’m open to talking about a more formal solution. And, today, that’s how far down the Libertarian Road that I’m willing to travel.