A VIRTUAL CITY-STATE
After I got my first taste of this idea, I was immediately fired up by my total misunderstanding of the entire concept.
I had thought that what was needed was to form this Remnant into a group, organize it, get some influence. Like the Netroots.
See, a little knowledge… dangerous… etc.
You cannot organize this quality. It exists subconsciously in people so varied and diffused that it is pointless to even try. Besides, so far all the Netroots have accomplished, through years of hard work advancing the Democratic agenda, is to remove one (D) beside the Senator from Connecticut and replace it with an (I). I am sure this is due to the fact that this is still the early stage of their campaign. No doubt, at this rate, they will show solid results by the turn of the century.
We don’t have that kind of time. Nor do I have the inclination or the means to try something like that, even if I thought such online politics were effective, because trying to organize people like the ones I am speaking to is like trying to herd cats.
No, the truth to improving – healing – a society where cooperation is on the verge of reverting to betrayal, is by a terribly unexciting and mundane path. The answer, I’m afraid, is to control the one thing you truly do have control over: yourself.
The way to improve society is to improve yourself. A city is made up of its citizens. The higher the quality of citizen, the more secure and prosperous and wise the city becomes.
We watch the divisiveness and mean-spiritedness accelerate as we scream and yell at each other, trying to bring our opponent around to our point of view. But the fact is, you have no control over anyone. You only control your own heart. That’s it. That’s the hand we are all dealt.
But consider that example of the one person who, by taking action first, inspires scores of others to follow on his or her heels. What value can you place on a person like that? How many people is someone like that capable of influencing?
Honor is a concept widely derided and discarded today. But honor is really nothing more than your personal credit rating. It is a statement of your character, and like credit, honor has leverage. It can move large numbers of people: elevate them, raise their spirits and their expectations of themselves. Honor and Courage and Character are beacons in the darkness; they draw all manner of people toward their light. Most people want to be good, to be brave, to be useful. They just need to be shown the way sometimes. And the only way to create such beacons to light our path is to commit to becoming one yourself.
In his exceptional novel Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield wrote of the Spartan society and ethics that led to the stand of the 300 at Thermopylae. That was an act of courage – a vision of the power of Remnant – that lights our way thousands of years later, for that stand saved Greece, and science, and reason, and with it the West and all that we have accomplished.
Regarding the source of that courage, Pressfield writes of an aged slave, who is trying to convince the narrator — a young orphaned boy in his care — not to run off and attempt to live alone in the wild:
This was the only time I saw Bruxieus truly, physically angry. He seized me by both shoulders and shook me violently, commanding me to face him. "Listen to me boy. Only gods and heroes can be brave in isolation. A man may call upon courage only one way, in the ranks with his brothers-in-arms, in the line of his tribe and his city. Most piteous of all states under heaven is that of a man alone, bereft of the gods of his home and his polis. A man without a city is not a man. He is a shadow, a shell, a joke and a mockery. That is what you have become now, my poor Xeo. No one may expect valor from one cast out alone, cut off from the gods of his home."
This idea has great power. Courage, character, honor – all the virtues – are derived and strengthened from interactions with the virtuous. Where though, today, can one go to find a community that values such things, whose cohesiveness is formed not from the same political party, skin color, sexual orientation or any of the rest, but rather solely by a determination to improve one’s own self and in doing so improving the common welfare?
If there was a city-state comprised of such people, would you wish to live there? I would! I think that would kick ass! But no such city exists, and to try to build one would in all likelihood devolve into a squabble over money in the best case, or develop into a bad case of Compound Isolation Disorder in the worst. Hey, look at me! I just invented a term.
However, we live in interesting times.
Throughout history, civilizations rise and fall. They fall for the same reason, by my reading of history: the lack of will to defend her, a cancer which starts not from the bottom but invariably from the top. A fish rots from the head, say the Russians, who ought to know. From Nero to Chamberlain, the elites evolve away from an understanding that retaliation against the lawless and the barbaric is not a vice but a virtue. They take the manifest blessings of civilization as a given and foist their own personal guilt and moral cowardice upon the entire city. They open the gates to the savage peoples who have always stood outside of progress and gentleness and culture.
It has always been this way. If you feel you see it happening now, before your very eyes, well… you are not alone. A society unwilling to enforce the laws that civilize it, that is unable or unwilling to see the advantages of civilization, a society led by the pampered, the narcissistic and the corrupt, is not long for this Earth. Our enemies look at us and see precisely these symptoms, and the symptons are worsening. Our unwillingness to retaliate when retaliation is called for – indeed, the uneasiness with the very idea of retaliation against betrayal – has them licking their lips in anticipation. They see all this decay and they are right to see it, for it is there.
One thing they do not see, however – also there. They do not see the Remnant. They do not see the power and resilience of what the irreplaceable Victor Davis Hanson has referred to as “the Old Breed.”
Nock and Isaiah believed that the purpose of the Remnant was to rebuild a new civilization from the ashes of those destroyed by their own masters. And certainly to date this has always been their main function.
But there is something different — just perhaps, something fundamentally different this time around. Because today, for the first time in human history, common people can communicate directly with one another. We are no longer dependent on spineless politicians and the jaded masters of the press to color our opinions of the world. For the first time in human history, the Remnant can reach out to each other on these gossamer threads of a world-wide web.
I believe – utterly – that this ability for the common person to communicate with other common people, this internet, will allow us to end-run the cycle of civilization. I believe it in my bones.
My friends, Western Civilization is not on its last legs.
Western Civilization is going to the stars. Count on it.
Almost home now. One last path to follow.
In The Bridge Over the River Kwai, author Pierre Bouelle describes the difference in philosophy behind the Western idea of a bridge and the Eastern one. And though I am paraphrasing liberally, he writes:
There is nothing in common between a bridge, as conceived by civilized society in the West, and the utilitarian scaffoldings which the Japanese forces were in the habit of erecting in the continent of Asia… The [Japanese] scaffolding would last a few days, a few weeks, sometimes even a few months, after which a flood would sweep it away, or else a series of more than usually violent jolts would make it capsize. Then the Japanese would patiently start rebuilding it. The materials they used were provided by the inexhaustible jungle…
…But when it comes to bridge building, Western mechanical procedure entails a lot of grueling preliminaries, which swell and multiply the number of operations leading up to the actual construction. They entail, for instance, a detailed plan; and for this plan to be made it is essential to determine in advance the section and shape of every beam, the depth to which the piles are to be driven, and a mass of other details… and this mental creation, which precedes the material creation, is not the least important of the many achievements of Western genius.
In my mind Bouelle understates the case. I maintain that all of the achievements of Western civilization are due entirely to the fact that we finish the bridge in our mind – to the smallest detail – before we build the bridge in the world.
(Interesting, too, that most British thought this superiority was racial. It was, as I have long maintained on these pages, nothing of the kind: it was exclusively cultural. After their defeat by this power of the West and their re-structuring of their society in its image, the Japanese are now arguably the finest engineers in the world.)
This seed of Western genius is the ability to imagine the ideal solution in one’s own imagination prior to the hammering of the first nail. This takes additional time and energy. It is a triumph of cooperation and long-term thinking over the short-term, fast and easy ad hoc solution. This is a way of thinking that has defined our culture. It is our golden heart. It is world-changing. It is refined genius, applied millions of times each day in ways large and small.
This City-State of Virtue we desire does not exist.
Let’s build one.
I have in my head a blueprint of sorts, based on other contructions I have seen but incorporating a few twists worth mentioning.
Since you are reading this, you already know that the internet can be a powerful and revolutionary source of news and opinions. That is happening at millions of nodes at this very instant, and it is changing the world.
However, one thing we might all agree on is that the internet is not primarily known as a font of virtues. But the beauty of the internet is the endless variety of its forms. If there are hundreds of websites devoted to gay furry amputee latex fetishes, perhaps one devoted to the idea of applying the virtues to political and personal behavior might not find the market already saturated.
I have – on my mental blueprint – the idea of a Virtual City-State. Like other online communities – World of Warcraft, Second Life, the comment sections at various blogs – it would be a place for like-minded people to meet and discuss things. But that does not help us in the real world.
What can? What can we do to make ourselves into the best people we can be? If that envelope marked “Remnant” is sealed inside every heart, yet opened only one in a thousand times, how can we increase the delivery of that all-important message?
Well, we can start by taking a look at what the founders of this Western society had to say, several thousand years ago, for they thought long and hard about the ideal society, and it was their thinking which so profoundly influenced our own Founding Fathers.
Today, when we think of virtues, we tend to think of things like prudence, chastity, modesty… pretty cold porridge. But to the Greek, the Virtues were dynamic and bold. More, Aristotle and others believed they were harmonized – that is related, interconnected, so that to not know one was to imperfectly know the rest.
They were dionethic, he said, built by rationality – the virtues of understanding of substance, science, wisdom, the practical crafts and the practical mind.
And there were ethnic virtues, built by custom – courage and temperance; the property-based virtues of generosity and goodwill; honor-based virtues like pride, assertivity and control of anger; the social virtues of wittiness, honesty and friendliness; and the political virtue of justice.
Start your video recorders, and then ask the average high school kid today to name some of the harmonized virtues. And I’m picking on high school kids unfairly, because the same hilarity would result if you’d asked me the identical question a few months ago.
But look at the list of virtues in bold above, and ask yourself how you would feel about your child if they were fluent in all these? What if the political issues of the day were discussed not by how they would advance one party or the other, but rather as they held up against the list of virtues mentioned above?
What kind of society would a citizenry so educated and versed produce?
I did a little beta-testing of this concept prior to posting this essay. I asked my regular readers two questions:
- What are you good at?
- Can you teach it?
The response was extraordinary. Some people were computer database experts. Some were architects. Some were scientists, and a lot of people – most of them – were just regular people like Your Author, who has some small skill with flying machines and who would trade that skill for free legal advice, help in selecting the best resort hotel on Maui or setting up a java-based application we might need. This Virtual City-State is, even at this very second, building itself. I pointed to a patch of earth, went out for a sandwich, and when I returned foundations had been poured and columns were going up.
It is extraordinary!
When I then asked my regulars what they wanted out of such a place, the responses were as varied as the people making them.
Some simply want a place to go and chat with like-minded people at the end of a hard day. Others want a forum where they can debate and thrash the issues of the day against any and all comers, to whet and hone their arguments and to learn wisdom from the confrontation of ideas with other ideas. Some had mentioned the idea of a Hall of Heroes, to highlight examples both past and present of the kind of behaviors that build up society, rather than the ones that tear it down (of which there is no shortage in the celebrity-obsessed main stream media.)
And me? I personally want a place where I can go to become prepared. I have had two engine failures in my first 300 hours of flight time, and they were non-events because I had rehearsed in my head, again and again, exactly what to do before the fact. Right now, if I heard on the news that a dirty bomb exploded five miles from my house, I don’t know what I would do. But I would like to know. And there are people reading this right now who know exactly what to do, because it is their business to know.
I want to hear from those people. That’s what I personally want. But this is not limited to me. This is for everyone.
Everybody is good at something. Only you know what you are best at, what you love, what you are passionate about. Can you teach it? Can you take what you know how to do better than anyone else you know and share it with the rest of us so that we might all become better people?
Not every skill may be possible to teach on the internet, but with a large enough community that mutually chips in their best skill set for the good of all, what you cannot do on the web you can arrange to do in person across much of the world.
Imagine a community that is dedicated to the idea of each man and woman improving themselves, by sharing with one another the skills and expertise they themselves have accumulated. This would be not only a forum, but a free, online, wiki-university, where members can contribute their wisdom and passion in fields ranging from Civil Defense and Unarmed Combat to Single-Malt Scotch Appreciation and Quilting. I see areas where one could get free legal, mechanical, computer or any other kind of advice; job boards where decent employers can find decent employees, and postings not only from myself but from you – yes, you there – that make sense out of the issues of the day and give us all the tools we need to go back into the world and make it a better place, through argument and persuasion, yes, but mostly through example. The amount of skill and information available to 50,000 readers of your caliber – yes you — is mind-boggling, and not using it is a mind-boggling waste.
I would like to create a virtual city where we can pool our knowledge and skills, refresh our courage, re-affirm our morality and then take those virtues back out into the world and re-light the fire of liberty, courage and reason.
We, together, can build a virtual community where people can go to be refreshed, encouraged, educated, entertained and improved. Such a place will invariably produce better citizens and better citizens make a better society.
I want to call this place Ejectia! It’s a silly name. It’s good not to take this stuff too seriously.
And I have a charming idea that the first thing you see at the Ejectia! main page is a photo-realistic, computer-rendered, empty valley. Then, when the Discussion Hall module is ready, say, a forum building appears in the valley. You click the forum to get to the discussion hall. As each new module is added, the city grows before your eyes. The seasons change with the real world, too. Over time, an endlessly expanding movie is posted, showing the slow growth and increasing complexity of the virtual city.
And this is only what one person can visualize. Eject! Eject! Eject! belongs to Bill Whittle. But Ejectia! belongs to everyone, equally. What wonders can five thousand imagine? What glorious mental bridges can 50,000 people build?
I don’t know. But I want to find out. I think that would be just damn cool. And it would all be free.
I want a place to make myself a better person. I want to be around people who want to do the right thing, no matter how short of that goal we all fall. Anyone who feels the same way is welcome. All the rest is simple engineering.
That's the plan. You in?
(If you found this thought-provoking and/or of comfort to you, you might be interested in a collection of this kind of thinking. To learn more you can click here.
Meanwhile, the really fascinating stuff begins in the comments section. Even if you have never left a comment on a blog before – in fact, especially if you have not – we all encourage you to step in and introduce yourself. Everyone has something they are good at, and no matter how mundane it may seem to you it will be of use and interest to someone – likely many someones.
Even more importantly, just leaving a word or two reinforces for all of us the central idea that brought you all the way through that thicket above: you are not alone, and we need to know that we are not alone as well.
Click here to introduce yourself, comment on this post, or just meet some good and interesting people.
If you are interested in helping us to build this Virtual City-State, the work begins here.
And welcome, friend.)