Every Man A Lord

I was born with a healthy distaste for authority.  Or an unhealthy one, if you think about the white hairs I must have given my elementary school teacher.  To my poor parents it just seemed as though I never outgrew the “Why?” stage.  On the contrary, I overgrew the “Why?” with other considerations like “Taking in account that this economic model always causes issues, why do you think it will work?”  Or “Yes, but why would you think that, given the movement’s philosophical underpinnings?”  Or a thousand other questions that somehow always managed to come up when they told me to clean my room or do the dishes.  

(And you should not fear I went unpunished.  You see, I eventually had kids.  Yesterday night we had a philosophical discussion with the younger boy, in which most philosophers of the 20th century and not a few of the 18th were invoked, as well as half a dozen physicists, on the subject of “why you really need to buy another suit.  This one has been packed wrong a dozen times for the robotics competitions, and it looks gross.”  The gist of his argument?  He likes the suit.  What Hume and Locke have to do with this, much less Niels Bohr is something that evades my poor understanding.  My hope is that eventually at least one of them will have children.  And they’ll be exactly like them.)

When I came to the States I discovered that among the many posters that littered teachers’ and counselors’ offices, there was always one that said “Lead, Follow, or Get Out Of The Way.”  There might also be another, which would not be considered incredibly politically incorrect, and it said “The problem with this tribe is too many chiefs, not enough Indians.”  

Needless to say I absorbed all this, as I absorbed other bits of seventies culture, by reading it, chuckling and forgetting it.  (Okay, bell bottoms didn’t make me chuckle, they made me fall on the floor laughing.  Who knew they’d be revived?  But you know what they say about fashion, the first time is comedy, the second is tragedy.)

It wasn’t till much later that I came to think “What is wrong with getting out of the way?  WHY should I either lead or follow?  Aren’t these people able to find their own path and form their own followers if they want that?”

And much later, I realized that, in politically incorrect terms, Americans as a tribe ARE a nation of chiefs and not enough Indians.  But then the question becomes – what are ENOUGH Indians?  Why are Indians needed anyway?  (And please take this in seventies parlance.  No, I’m not talking about inhabitants of India or Pakistan.  Geesh.)

This occurred to me yesterday when I was writing my piece.  It might not be quite obvious to other people who have never lived out of the country, but we are, as a rule, an unusual people.

Take nine eleven.  Or even more so, take the great power failure in NYC and most of the Eastern regions in… was it 2003?  With electrical down and transport down, most large cities in the world would have broken down in total chaos.  Instead people walked home.  On nine eleven, common citizens pitched in to help strangers.  Some died for their pains.

Yes, there was also Katrina, and other pockets of what I would call “Learned helplessness” – though a lot of it is still exaggerated by our press.

But beyond the disasters and the horrible situations, Americans are different in every day life.  Look, guys, despite all the years of everyone telling us we should leave things to the experts, you can go out on any spring day and see normal citizens fixing and building their houses practically from scratch.  You can still find people repairing their own cars, despite the newfangled computers and stuff.  And let any issue appear, you see common citizens noodling over it.

You won’t know how rare this is, unless you’ve lived abroad, particularly in a place not in the anglosphere.  Reasons of class, reasons of expertise, reasons of learned helplessness, keep ordinary citizens waiting for the “authorities” and the “experts.”

This is the companion piece to my piece yesterday.  As RES pointed out in the comments “What I have I keep,” can also mean “What I have I defend and maintain.”  In the last Pratchett book to reference that motto, that is exactly what it means.

And in America, as long as each of us believes we own ourselves, as long as each of us – or a significant majority of us – believes it is right to keep what we have, what the goofy critters at the top do doesn’t matter.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not going into politics, because what’s the point? But I’ve seen the way a government can bring a country to its knees.  Portugal in the seventies, for instance.  And in some things for which we do need the jokers, like common defense, we can – heaven help us – die from their goofiness.

BUT in general, the American pattern is “When people at the top screw up, go around them.  Find another way.”

Again, the perfect example of this is publishing.  It had been dysfunctional for several decades, but when it became lethally so, at a level that affected not only writers but readers who couldn’t find anything to read…  People found another way.  Mostly techy people did, though I’ll note self-published by the old means was well on its way up long before Amazon.

They went around.  The people at the top still haven’t recovered, and are still screaming “Too many chiefs, too many chiefs.”

I submit to you that at another point in the process, this is happening with bureaucracy and government too.  And it will happen with medicine, if it’s centralized to such a point it becomes utterly dysfunctional.  Medical engineering will come along and make medicine unimportant and quaint.

Part of this is what the tech guys have been up to, of course – the technologies that allow the individual power they’ve never had before.

But it starts before that, in the American psyche, with the strange idea of a government created and authorized by the people.

Lead or follow?  Oh, please.  I’ll get out of the way and take care of me and mine in this little pocket over here.  You zanies do whatever you think you should.  After all, you’re free citizens.

And being free citizens means taking your own path, and recognizing no authority greater than your own conscience.  It means finding solutions around all the “leaders” who are trying to direct you.  It means asking “WHY?” (Though I submit when it comes to ratty winter weight blue suits you should leave Hume and Locke alone already.)

Being free citizens means ascribing to yourself the privileges and responsibilities of noblemen in former ages.  “This much is mine, and this much I’ll care for and maintain and defend.”  And not just possessions, but friends and neighbors (yes, even the annoying ones with the weird political signs) and yeah, a few genuinely helpless creatures, like orphan kittens.  If it’s yours, you look after it.

No wonder regency romances, fantasy and even some of the science fiction that makes it in America is all about Lords and Ladies.  We are a nation of Lords and Ladies with very very few peasants.

And that is what I like about us.  When we’re all Lords and Ladies, no one gets to lord it over us.  Oh, they might think they do, but no such luck.  We are everyman a nobleman.  Or an ungovernable rabble, if you prefer.  Either is fine by me.

So, carry on, milords, miladies.  What is yours, you keep.  Keep it well.

83 responses to “Every Man A Lord

  1. I like the sound of ‘ungovernable rabble’ – makes me feel all toasty-warm inside!

  2. He likes the suit.

    Simply tell him the suit he likes will last a great deal longer if it is not his sole suit.

    • My kids HATE shopping. I KNEW I should have had a girl.

      • That does not necessarily follow. Not all girls are automatically ‘girlie.’ The Daughter has a distictly hunter mode to her clothes shopping – the other day she was out to take down a rain coat and rain coats was all she looked at. OTH at a yarn shop or a fabric store it can take hours…

        • My girl rarely likes shopping, too. (Though she’s magpie enough to gravitate to the pretty dry-clean-only dresses that are NOT suitable for wearing anywhere but fancy restaurants or for picture-taking.) I think the most interest I’ve gotten out of her in shopping was bra-hunting.

          And books, but that’s not shopping. That’s books.

          • And books, but that’s not shopping. That’s books.

            Well, DUH.

            As to attraction to high maintenance clothes, that is a lot easier if you are not the one who has to arrange for and do said maintenance.

            • heh. I begin to get the feeling I’m not such an oddball as I thought… It’s nice to know there’s other people like me 🙂

            • Funny how they start paying attention to things like “Dishwasher Safe” once they start having to do the dishes, and how “Dry Clean Only” gets noticed once they’re doing their laundry.

              • I’ve gotten the kid to notice Dry Clean Only… But that doesn’t stop her from mooning over the sparkle, little magpie that she is.

        • No. That’s how I shop, also. BUT the boys are OUTRIGHT resistant. I need a tranquilizer dart gun just to drag them away from the computer.

          • The Daughter found that you can shop on-line. Not that she wishes to spend that much time shopping for anything other than books, yarn, books, beads, books, findings, books and, yes, books.

            This message was approved by The Daughter who adds: Occasionally she will shop for clothes, as, online, you can find for girls that are not pinlk.

      • I hate clothes shopping. Hardware stores, on the other hand … at the local family-owned hardware store I patronize they *recognize me* and greet me like a long lost friend. Sigh. (You can never have too many tools.)

        • *waves hand at sister-in-hardware* You never know when you’ll need that odd in-between size.

          • Oh, I wish we all lived in the same town. There would be a fun group. We could get into all sorts of weekend projects. I would like to enclose my top balcony for an office, for instance…

            • hmm… over at Ace’s they have periodic ‘moron meetups’ for commenters who live in the same general area as each other (not that I comment at Ace of Spades. I lurk. occasionally. and sometimes run away.) Point being you could try something similiar.

            • That *would* be fun! And when I get the Multi-dimensional Closet operational, we WILL live in the same town! (for transportation purposes, anyway)
              My hardware store is great. It features a bunch of Old Coots that are very handy for advice because I have an Old House and they understand its quirks. Did you realize some people don’t KNOW what glazier’s points are??? (mumble mumble kids today mumble)

            • Did you know that those sections of stores that are devoted to plumbing are full of all sorts of strange odds and ends that make lovely bits in steam punk jewelry?

        • Oh. I’m one of the “old guys” who wait outside Ace as it opens. 😛 I buy tools and “weird hardware stuff.” My older son loves THAT type of shopping even though he’s the “adult supervision” — as in per household rule “you cannot under any circumstances” you being me “Be allowed near a store where they sell paint, tools, hardware or wood without adult supervision.” Robert was adult supervision at three.

        • You can never have too many tools.

          Yeah, that’s what the politicians say.

        • Hardware stores, on the other hand … at the local family-owned hardware store I patronize they *recognize me* and greet me like a long lost friend. Sigh.

          Hm. Did you ever mention if you’re married?

    • My thoughts were more along the line of ‘he likes the suit? What is wrong with him that he LIKES wearing a suit?’

      • Maybe it’s a Mad Scientist suit?

      • er. Both my boys wear button downs EVERY DAY. The older one wears a tie every school day. Apparently it gives his professors fits. (Shrug.) You knew it would come, right? The backlash?

        • I see no problem with a nice dress shirt, they are comfortable, even the silk ones, but slacks or suit pants? no thanks. And the only way you’ll get a noose around my neck is if I’m in chains already, I’m certainly not putting one there myself.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            I used to wear slacks a whole lot. I liked them, for long pants, and hated jeans. Jeans, I found, were rough, and the cloth felt heavy and stiff enough that I disliked how it hampered moving my legs.

            This changed when I started spending time at a machine shop.

            Employment wise, I wear what I need to for office work, and I wear what I need to for dirty work.

  3. Thanks – this one made me smile. I like it that we are a land of lords and ladies especially because many of my ancestors came to America for economic and religious freedom. (psst – some of my ancestors were lords in the old land too).

    I had a friend of mine who is from Portugal and now lives in South Africa. She finds the Americans weird. I wear that label proudly.

    BTW when my hubby and I came home from Germany and I was extremely sick with my disease, my brother brought us into his home and we lived there two years until we could get back on our feet. Now that is taking care of your own.


  4. Paula Handley (aka Mystik Waboose)

    Having read both articles, I must agree. The husband & I have always been very firm believers in “We take care of our own”, whether it is possessions or people. And we will defend against all comers. I remember the big “power outage”, that was an “oh well, we’ll just deal” situation. Got a few days off work, bought dry ice for the freezer and discovered that you can grill just about anything. And I’m convinced that the reason my oldest & his wife are putting off having kids is they fear the “parental curse”. He was quite a hellion as a youngster, so he knows what could be coming.

  5. I am sure this is very interesting and thought provoking, but as it looks to be rather late in the day before I will have sufficient leisure to digest it properly I request i be eamiled all comments as they are posted. Thank-you.

    • It would have been funny if you had written this and then forgotten to check the box to notify you of new comments…

  6. BobtheRegisterredFool

    I remember reading The Prince and thinking, ‘One might think this had no use for an American. But, due to the nature of our form of government, we are all Princes by this set of criteria.’

  7. It wasn’t till much later that I came to think “What is wrong with getting out of the way? …

    I’m not quite sure I understand your interpretation here. I see no implication in the “Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way” quote that getting out of the way is somehow wrong. As I read it, if you’re not leading or following, you’re obstructing, so you should get out of the way for people to move on. In fact, that quote is usually used when someone is obstructing progress on something and the person saying it wants them to move aside so they can get it done.

    • Kate Paulk

      Well, there you have it. The presumption is that leading and following are the desirable traits, and those “in the way” are nuisances – which is one of those things that can be true, or the person in the way is preventing the lemming-like rush for the cliffs of doom. Or anything in between.

      Would you prefer we who don’t lead or follow to sit back and munch popcorn while we watch the slow-motion wreck, or to do our best to stop it?

      • But that’s not what the quote is talking about. It’s not a question of someone intentionally standing in the way of things, it’s more about when you’re trying to get something done, and someone is bumbling around, doing his own thing, but interfering with everyone else. Certainly there is a place for taking a break from the daily grind and not doing anything particularly constructive, but it shouldn’t be done in such a way or location that it impedes someone else.

        If, on the other hand, you’re trying to stop something you think is bad, why would you do it by causing people to slow down because of apparent indolence? Why not announce your intent? Or, if it is your intent to cause people to see the problem by virtue of their slower pace… well, then, you should expect to receive their ire, yet with the expectation that the eventual satisfaction will be worth it.

      • I OFTEN do that last Kate. And then my conscience wakes up…

      • If the lemmings would just run over the cliff themselves without trying to take me with them I would be more than happy to get out of the way.

    • I interpreted “get out of the way” as “you’re useless, so go away.” Actually obstructing can be VERY useful.

      • Eh, that whole “shopping is un-male” maxim goes right out when you take a guy shopping for computers, stereo equipment, tools & hardware, cars, guns & rifles or whatever. Guys can make the most shopping-happy fem look positively hasty when you get them shopping for the right thing.

        • ??? This was supposed to post well up above. The comment i wanted to post here was to be:

          The Framers certainly thought obstruction a useful thing.

        • I love my kindle because it saves me trying to kill myself with a sharpie to escape boredom while the guys are in a computer store.

          • While The Spouse and The Daughter can read just about anywhere, I sadly cannot. I have been known to find a less trafficked spot in such stores as I have less interest than they where I can knit while I wait.

  8. A quote that I copied out of an otherwise forgettable book, from a chapter about reading and writing: “I am a Besotted Reader, often lost, as I was last night, in a book. In a world that sometimes seems evil and hard, I consort at will with strange and brave and noble men and women. When I read history I am conscious of the aristocracy of my forebears: my marvelous heritage. I come of an ancient and notable family: I am of the Human Race.” (From The Countryman’s Year by David Grayson)

    Americans seem to have imbibed a lot of that spirit. Five years ago the town where I lived was hit by a tornado (no fatalities) around midnight. By the next morning, a volunteer coordination center sprang into being and people flooded the town with supplies, food, water, and labor. By the second day after the storms, the worst of the damage had been cleared away; people’s belongings were safely out of the hardest-hit houses; and a damaged school had been cleaned up and cleared out, the computers and books and other materials safely stored away. All without any governmental bodies requesting anything aside from “if you want to help, please go to this place and sign in and out for safety’s sake. And drink plenty of water.” Not many leaders, not many followers, just a bunch of people doing what seemed to be the right thing to do.

  9. Sarah, that “I don’t need a new suit, the old one is still fine” is purest New England gentry. He got it from his father’s genes or picked it up somehow from his dad’s behaviour. A man from New England old money will very often be seen wearing a very old, very high-quality suit that’s starting to fray.

    • I wouldn’t object to that, Charles, but this one is NOT high quality. It’s what we bought him when we thought he might grow out of it in two months.

      • *remembers back* I know that it took dire action to get me away from the first Big Girl Dress I ever wore, just because it meant that I was a person that Interesting People (adults) would talk to.

      • captainned

        Take it from this Vermonter: It still fits. That’s all I need.

  10. Incedentally bellbottoms do have one purpose, they fit over boots, I remember back when I was in high school peg legged pants were the fashion. Since I always wore boots I was pretty much stuck with Wranglers as the jeans of choice, since they were about the only brand that made bootcut jeans at the time. I’m not sure which came back into fashion first, boots or bellbottoms but if you drive by a school nowadays you’ll see a plethora of both. (And no I don’t wear bellbottoms still, like so many things they start with an advantage and then take it to such a ridiculous extreme it is unrecognizable)

    • I put my boots on over the jeans. Eh.

      • Pancho was a bandit boy
        His horse was fast as polished steel
        He wore his gun outside his pants
        For all the honest world to feel…

        Down here in Texas, wearing boots outside one’s cuffs is regarded as bragging about how expensive the boots are. There’s a dispensation for girls, especially if the boots are brightly-colored (usually pink) and covered with bling.

        Real ranchers have a pair of relatively inexpensive Justins or Luccheses, bought off the rack. They’re highly polished and used for formal or semi-formal occasions like going to town to see the lawyers. The $1000+ customs are worn inside their jeans while mucking out stalls, feeding the critters (in the rain), and building fence. Why? Because they fit, and are therefore comfortable for long periods of work.

        • See, I wore a raincoat that fell just below my knees. If the boots met the raincoat, it meant I could keep dry. You knew it would be something practical with me, right? Porto is called “little London” for its climate, which is either rainy and cold or warm and drizzly. I hear there are days of beautiful open sun. These usually happened during Student Week, when by tradition I wore my black suit and square (wool) cloak. Also black. The rest of the day devising ways to keep dry worked.

          Also they made me look hawt.

          What? I’m FEMALE for the love of bob.

          • See and I almost pointed out that wearing your pants inside your boots allowed water to run down your pants and into your boots, but you effectively ixnayed that before I even brought it up.

        • On the ranch, wearing your boots outside the pants was a sign you expected to be dealing with a lot of bullshit during the day.

          Make of that what you will.

  11. Sorry, BC, but cowboys wear remarkably narrow-leg jeans over narrow riding boots, and the last time I saw my nephew Dan, he was wearing Navy bellbottoms over low top military dress shoes.

  12. Considering the fact that my normal attire used to be slimfit Wranglers ( I currently own only 2 pair, one black, one light gray, in case I need to dress up for a wedding or something, I hate slacks and refuse to wear a suit) I would have to disagree, they are very tightfitting in the thighs and down to the knees, then they are straightlegged (wrangler terms it bootcut) from the knee down, so they fit generously over boots.

  13. My folks are ranchers.

    A lot of our family lore consists of things like: (major holiday or holy day), we had to (go do day-plus thing).
    Even simple days, cows eat every day.

    The problem with too many chiefs is you have a lot of folks saying the cows need to be fed, and nobody willing to actually do it.

  14. Sarah: The Boy needs to be taken to the cleaners – literally.

    As to “lead, follow, or get out of the way”, may I quote Captain America himself:

    “Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — ‘No — *you* move’.”

    (Some of you would do well to remember that next time you get into an argument with me…. >;) )

  15. Why are Indians needed anyway?

    We get to own casinos.

  16. One of the many reasons I love L Frank Baum’s original Oz series is that they are so American in attitude, and Dorothy is the essence of that. I remember, in the third book, when told she’s going to be introduced to a very haughty princess, Dorothy says, “Well, I’m an American and I reckon that’s as good as any princess.” Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series has a lot of the same attitude – it’s the common people who are the real strength, and the wiser kings recognize it.

    On the flip side of this, I read one of the many stories from the first Chicago World’s Fair in 1895. They invited a European princess to attend, so they could have big fetes and grand dinners for her. Only she kept sneaking out in cognito and headed for the beer hall at the fair. She was amazed that women could do this – that young women, in Chicago, could hold jobs and be independent and walk out alone. She sounded quite envious.

  17. Speaking of bellbottoms, the other day in Boulder I saw the cutest little teenager — late teen, maybe a freshman at CU — weaging hiphugger bellbottoms and a tube top.

    It’s a style I’d love to see encouraged, but I thought I was having an acid flashback.

  18. Outstanding, Sarah. If I’d written this it would have become a screed, with lots of 4-letter (badly spelled) words and far too many exclamation points. You done good, Milady.

  19. I spent almost 30 years in the Air Force. There, leadership was not only taught, but expected as one advanced. During most of my career, decisions were expected to be made at the level where they would be implemented, and the only thing you bothered the officers with was things that required going out of your section to solve. Again, a very American thing: ANYBODY could be a leader who had the talent for it and a bit of training.

    My unit blew away an entire NATO tactical evaluation exercise in 1988, with the highest score ever achieved by anyone. I was the only member of the team over 30, including our officers. The Europeans were dumbfounded. They can’t understand that at all. They also have a huge problem understanding our individuality, and the sheer size and diversity of the United States. Most Europeans do one thing well, and that’s all they care or try to do. Being able to do a dozen different things, and many of them well, confuses them.

    “Lead, follow, or get out of the way” was popular in the military long before it made it to schools or college campuses. It simply meant “do what you can do, or stay out of the way of the people that can.” Depending on the time or circumstances, I’ve done all three.

    I’m also a resident of Colorado Springs, and I HATE to shop … 8^)

    • decisions were expected to be made at the level where they would be implemented

      In my years of experience in business one lesson I have taken away (usually from its not being applied) is that whenever possible authority and responsibility should go together: those responsible for something should also have authority to do it. Otherwise things tend to go badly.

      Assign responsibility without authority, or grant authority without assigning responsibility: either way, it will not go well.