by Brad Nelson
America was built upon the idea of living your life within the confines that you build for yourself. Puritans. Quakers. The Amish. Mennonites. Frontiersmen (and women). The entire smorgasbord. America was a magnet for those looking for the freedom to live out their lives without undue interference.
That’s what’s particularly troubling when government today tries to reach into the most private and intimate confine of all — the family — and presumes to tell people how to live. Yes, it’s a tricky balance when it comes to things such as child abuse. But the nutty Left eventually trumps up these charges so that “abuse” becomes such things as including a toy in a Happy Meal.
But even more basic than the family is the individual. Short of being born Siamese twins, that’s our inherent nature. It’s the most basic and most important unit of all. And the West was a grand stage for the individual. A person may have looked small on that stage, but that made his or her achievements all the more noteworthy. This basic yearning for freedom (even if that included danger) gave voice to the now increasingly foreign notion of “Live Free or Die.” Such memories and realities are rekindled by the art form of the Western.
Spawning some of these thoughts is the original four-part miniseries, Lonesome Dove, starring Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, and Robert Urich. It’s a terrific example of a Western. And considering that this was originally made for TV, that’s quite an accomplishment. I was even inspired to buy it on Blu Ray.
Lonesome Dove veers towards the realism end of the spectrum. No, there is no Deadwood-like language in it. But it’s still gritty. And I don’t necessarily want to live quite that free (I would miss indoor plumbing too much), but that’s our heritage as Americans.
I read recently that there’s a book that posits that Americans have (via natural selection) more of the “get up and go” gene in them. After all, those Europeans who immigrated to America were not the stay-at-home pansy boys and girls. They were the ones with itchy feet and who didn’t mind taking big risks. There’s probably some merit to that argument, although the gene pool is so spread out now, I doubt that such a trait hasn’t been watered down to nothing, if it ever did exist in a purer form. For example, they fairly recently outlawed throwing Frisbees and footballs on the beach in LA County. Does that sound like John Wayne is still in the gene pool? Live free or don’t get hit in the head with a Frisbee?
A recurring theme in any Western worth its dust is the need for some people to escape the stifling conformity of civilization where there are usually far too many rules and where most opportunity has been locked up and wrapped up in layer upon layer of convention and red tape. But inevitably, as new lands are discovered and then settled by the freedom-loving pioneers, these lands (and the people themselves) are tamed to some degree, and it’s women and the law that do much of the taming. When you watch the truly harsh and sometimes barbaric conditions of a gritty Western you might well agree that much of this taming is good.
But we’re now entering the other end of the spectrum where there is no Wild, there is very little free, and nearly all the masculine traits have been wrung out of the culture. Rugged individualism is commonly demonized these days by the nancy-boys of the Left, including Obama and the Democrats.
Before socialism, before the “Progressivism” of Wilson, and FDR’s “New Deal,” we Americans had found a comfortable balance between being settled and being neutered. A man might get married and “settle down,” but he still depended upon himself (and his gun) to defend his family and his property if need be. And, most of all, if there was anything that needed to be taken care of, it was something he would do for himself. It wasn’t very long ago that people declined any government assistance out of a sense of honor and personal dignity.
But we’re losing that. We’re being neutered, not settled. It’s doubtful that outside of a few Mama Grizzlies such as Sarah Palin that a modern American would ever write the words “Live Free Or Die,” let alone understand them. We rush headlong into the arms of conformity, daily trading just a little more freedom for security. And when we do so in increments like this, we may never notice the accumulated results of this continued bargain until one day it shocks us that some crank wishes to ban toys in Happy Meals or — god forbid — they cancel an NFL game because of snow.
I think there is a difference between being civilized and being neutered. In fact, one of the great themes of the Western is the clear sense of right and wrong, particularly of the little guy coming up against the big guy, and a man’s willingness to stand up for what is right, no matter the odds. On the other hand, very often the civilized trappings of a nice suit disguise evil intent. In fact, in a typical Western, many of the bad guys are the nice-suited, slick-haired, silver-tongued sophisticates (what Thomas Sowell might call the intellectual set). It’s the rustic, but brave and true, individual who usually opposes them. It’s moose-hunting Sarah Palin vs. the Snidely Whiplashes of the Barack Obama types.
In a Western (and quite often in real life as well), the Truth cares very little for how much dust you have on you or how purty you look. One of the most civilized attributes of mankind is to stand up for what is right, no matter the outer trappings and no matter how many in the human herd “moo” to the contrary about something, safe in their conceit of being more civilized simply because of their outer apparel, not their inner rectitude.
This is the appeal of John Wayne and the Classic Western in which a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do even if he is covered in dust from a long day’s ride. Contrast that with today wherein we’ve become a nation of belly-rolling moral cowards who flinch at even the thought of being politically incorrect.
The typical Western is set in the great outdoors under big skies. This is appropriate because, contrary to popular belief, “civilized” is not the same thing as living in a city. In fact, some of the cities of the world are the worst and most brutal places on earth. Think City of God in Brazilm or parts of any number of American cities. Ironically, in most of these cities they have harsh gun-control laws and yet the murder rates are usually high. One of the lessons that the pansy types didn’t learn from the Western is that every man or woman ultimately needs to be his own sheriff. There is great power and goodness in self-defense and the willingness to do so.
The conceit among “Progressives” is, because they spend so much time building monuments to their own sense of moral superiority, that they are therefore morally superior. But nothing could be further from the truth. Cities tend to turn people into animals unless we are very careful. It was Thomas Jefferson who said “When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.” Think about that. It was Old Europe that the adventurous and freedom-loving Europeans who came to America were trying to escape. And now we’re building that here with all its faults.
But I’m not down on cities. Cities are also typically the jewels of civilization. But the problem is, a man disconnected from the realities of life will begin to believe strange things about how the universe works and about what is possible. They may even begin to believe they know so much that they have to right to tell you how large of a soft drink you can buy.
Contrast that to farmers who are connected to the rhythms of the earth, who know that to eat you must kill something, and that a .0009 increase in global climate is the least of his worries. But city folk tend to be free to believe all sorts of nonsense because a city is, to a large degree, an insulated bubble. And it’s a bubble that breeds not only overcrowding but a sense that man is the master of all things.
Such delusions feed every “Progressive” conceit and their misguided notions of remaking life in a way that is perfect and that is free from any harsh realities. That is a heady, self-congratulatory goal. This is why the “civilized” beltway establishment (both right and left) have a visceral and extreme dislike for Sarah Palin who is more of a “man of the soil,” to put it in olden terms. She tends to puncture the naive and heady delusions of the urban Utopianists.
The conceit of “Progressives” and establishment Republicans is that only they are truly civilized and everyone else is a hayseed. And the world is, of course, full of some pretty primitive hayseeds. But most of the worst atrocities of the last two centuries have been fueled by the conceits, bad judgment, and primitive motives of those at the reins of supposedly High Civilization, not your typical “hayseed” who believes in freedom, self-responsibility, and being left the hell alone by government.
The Western as an art form (and as a reality of history) may be our best way of reconnecting with our non-nancy-boy past where right and wrong were more than just words on a TelePrompTer.