Art Economics Low Politics Decline Political Theology Power Geopolitics

Orderly Queues to Nowhere

It’s a free country, ain’t it?

“Malo periculosam libertatem quam quietam servitutem."

Sometimes I just can't believe this is the same place I grew up. When I was a kid everybody recited that ancient American catechism: "It's a free country, ain’t it?" But I can't remember the last time I heard it. These days it's halfway between a joke and an insult.

I miss what it feels like to be free. To not have a pair of eyes on my back and a set of hands at my throat. I miss the days when I didn't have to remember a thousand lies to appease a thousand enemies who don't even know my name.

I miss wild places.

Some years ago I worked in several countries just outside the Imperium. I learned to love the rough-and-tumble nature of those places and the uncertainty hanging in the air. Corruption was widespread, petty crime a given, and most people I knew were penniless—but there was also an exhilarating sense of freedom there.

Authority is haphazard and arbitrary, and it pierces through the chaos at the strangest times—always when you least expect it: a sloppy police officer beats a pickpocket, a swarm of bureaucrats turn up for a shakedown, you don’t have the proper stamp...

Order is always lurking somewhere in the chaos—it’s invisible but radiates from a strange cast of characters bound together by a million unspoken rules. Everyone knows the rules. And it keeps things humming along regardless of what a piece of parchment says.

Sometimes the freedom is so thick you can taste it—it’s delicious. Other times it knocks you down and steals your shirt. Every now and then I’d grow tired of the sweat, flies, noise, and muddle, and I’d dream of hot showers, plush bedding, and orderly queues to nowhere.

I’d want some of that good ole-fashioned American comfort with a side of regularity. I'd daydream of endless rows of well-manicured lawns in the suburbs.

And yet here I am, dreaming of those wild places—drowning in creature comforts and trying to recall what freedom tastes like.

Authority is everywhere here. It stares you in the eye and glares at you from the palm of your hand.

Order here is cold, hard, and heavy, and it grips you like a pair of manacles. There’s no invisible world. All rules have been written.

The end of history.

But somehow it doesn’t stop the optimists from pining or the old folks from remembering.

All this comfort and structure and certainty came with a price, and it took endless war, a pandemic, and a cold civil war for the bill to come due. It finally showed us there was nothing beneath all those leaves of sacred parchment.

But the rough-and-tumble backwaters are still humming along, problems and all—the same cast of characters moving and shaking along. It will take more than a virus or a pointless war to defeat them. There freedom still hangs in the air—maybe the last traces of it on earth.