L. Neil Smith’s THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 905, January 8, 2017
Generalists and Specialists: A Tale of Two Americas
by William Stone III
Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
Metrocosm has developed a map that libertarians should analyze closely. You can find it at http://metrocosm.com/election-2016-map-3d/
It confirms something I’ve suspected due to my life experience.
I’m sort of Clark Kent. Not Superman (except in my fantasies), but Clark Kent. I’m a geek and always have been. This has not been chic until The Big Bang Theory made it so. Growing up in the 1970s, it earned you beatings.
I was born almost 52 years ago, in a small town in South Dakota. I grew up in a small city in Nebraska. Between ages five and fifteen, I spent as much of my summers as I could at my grandparents’ South Dakota cattle ranch. I hope to haul a trailer out there and retire some day. Perhaps I’ll keep bees.
I went on to a career that took me to Chicagoland for most of the 1990s. I personally ran some of the earliest commercial Internet backbone in Chicago. You’re welcome.
I can also write (barely).
Any wonder that growing up, Superman was one of my heroes? (Any wonder that he still is?)
In any case, that’s my background. It has given me insight into many different peoples in many different subcultures. None of them understand just how different they each are. Part of my self- imposed mission in life is to explain to urbanites what rural life is REALLY like. Trust me, my urban friends: you’ve got it all wrong. My rural friends have it wrong about urbanites, too.
The difference is that rural friends unreservedly acknowledge that they cannot envision life in Chicago. When one has spent a lifetime on the open prairie, it is literally impossible to imagine only buildings and concrete. In any case, I’ve long privately observed something that I think the Metrocosm chart proves: Rural life requires a high degree of generalization.
A South Dakota cattle rancher is at once a mechanic, plumber, carpenter, veterinarian, medical doctor, accountant, and something of a survivalist. This last is out of sheer necessity. In an environment that includes deadly rattlesnakes, one carries a pistol and shotshell at all times. Similarly, one learns to treat oneself for a rattlesnake bite. The nearest doctor is fifty miles away. If you’re bit, you have two choices:
1. Treat yourself, stagger into the pickup, and race to town, fighting unconsciousness.
2. Lay down and die where you are.
Rural living also requires a great deal of creative problem- solving. One has limited supplies and personnel—and no more will ever be coming. You have only what is on-hand to deal with EVERY situaion. It requires you to think on-the-fly.
For example: Cattle are fantastically stupid animals. Every morning, they bawl at the sun. Apparently their short-term memory is so bad that they do not remember the Sun from the day before Such stupidity in a 2000-pound animal leads to all manner of mischief. We once encountered a cow that was at the bottom of a ditch, totally wrapped and immobilized by barbed-wire fence. She had attempted to crawl through a fence surrounding the ditch. She entangled herself in the fence, then rolled into it. The fence remained attached to the posts at the top of the ditch.
That’s a little snapshot of rural life. The key is this: Generalization.
The rancher is a generalist. He must take care of any and all situations on his own. One of my uncles, for example, didn’t wait the hour’s drive to the hospital to be born. My grandfather delivered him in the pickup. That’s not uncommon out there. This is in stark contrast to urban life. In urban life, each individual is a specialist. Urbanites train their entire lives to know one thing. I’m in IT, for example. It’s all I know.
Could I survive this winter on my family’s ranchland? As near as I can tell, there’s about five feet of snow out there. They are snowed-in until Spring. (People on the neighboring Cheyenne River Indian Reservation are freezing to death. They’re snowed-in, too, and they live in dangerous squalor. (Sadly, no one in the US cares. Few know they even exist. It should be a national outrage. (Also, libertarians take note: the poor souls on the Res are ripe for our philosophies. I suggest massive outreach programs, starting with the Pine Ridge Reservation.) Could I survive this winter? I don’t know—quite possibly not. I know how:
First, truck out there with six months’ supplies. Maybe more: when the snow melts, the soil’s going to be gumbo for a long time after. Even after the thaw, it may not be navigable. Next, get out the chainsaw and cut as much frakking driftwood as I can drag over to the cabin. It’s heated by a big, cast-iron stove that’s been in the family for generations. After that ... well, keep warm, don’t binge-eat, and be glad I’m not trying to raise cattle in this shit. But could I survive? I don’t know. Owing to a lifetime as a specialist sitting behind a keyboard, I don’t have the physical capabilities my grandfather did at my age.
That’s the difference between rural and urban life: Generalization versus specialization.
However, there’s something deeper I’ve observed:
Generalization leads to individualism. The only person you can depend on for anything is YOU. Everyone else is literally secondary.
Specialization leads to socialism. Individuals are dependant on a vast, complex web of specialists for their survival. Indeed, the web is so vast that urbanites tend to forget that it exists at all.
I think Metrocosm’s map confirms my observations. If you look at the map, you see something interesting: The closer you get to specialization (big cities), the more you see Democrat votes. The closer you get to generalization (rural), you see Republican votes.
Here’s the problem, and why centralized government cannot work in a land area as large as the US: Rural and urban life are fundamentally different. I’ve barely scratched the surface with my observations. I have more than half a century’s worth. Legislation that works in an urban setting is totally inappropriate in a rural one. As a libertarian, I am unwilling to give up my guns in urban areas. Indeed, when I worked in Chicagoland, I often found myself in the Loop at 2am. I would not be caught disarmed in the Loop at 2am. Nor anywhere else in Chicago, for that matter. However, for sake of argument, let’s say that taking guns away in big cities is a good idea. It is most definitely NOT a good idea in South Dakota.
Rattlesnakes are deadly predators. When my grandmother was a child, their population was fantastic. It’s only due to generations of killing them off that they’re down to a manageable level. Take away a South Dakota rancher’s guns, and the rattler population will shortly explode. People will die. Livestock will die (i.e. ranchers will lose money).
Then there’s the matter of occasionally having to euthanize a cow. Sometimes they become injured in such a fashion as to become untreatable, but not fatal. We encountered a cow with two broken legs. She was beyond help, even were an expensive veterinarian available.
We had two choices:
1. Allow her to lay in pain and misery until the coyotes descend on her at night.
2. Put a bullet in her brain.
(2) is obviously the merciful choice.
What works in one culture does not work in another. I beg my liberal friends to consider this when tarring those of us in “fly-over country” as hicks and buffoons. I also beg my libertarian friends to consider: Individualism may not be able to survive urbanization. We live in two different worlds. I’m lucky to have Clark Kent-ed my way into both.
[ I will also note that country people must have considerable reguard for and love of TRUTH to survive. A life of self-deception will eventually lead to death and destruction. City people can lie to themselves about the nature of reality more (although self-deception tends to be fatal in all circumstances).—Editor ]
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