Are we in a civil cold war?

Omicron, a recent variant of COVID is popping up around the world. There are already fears about its implications. Will the vaccine be effective against it? What will the effects on shipping and supply chain concerns be? It seems the COVID saga will never end. As governments flail about trying to get “control” of something they cannot, we are stuck on this Ferris wheel of fear and pseudo-science.

As though that isn’t enough, inflation is ratcheting up, despite the government trying to tell us it’s not real, or at least, it’s very temporary. Will years of politicians putting us ever more deeply in debt finally catching up with us? How bad is it going to get? How will it affect me or my children?

Civil discord is terrible, at least on a national level. There is so much vitriol, so much hatred. We must be mindful of everything we say, for fear that it will be misconstrued. Based on thoughts quite innocuous but genuine, we risk being categorized, put into a box, and labeled. With so much division and polarization, it raises the question, are we in a civil cold war, and if so, could it escalate?

With so many questions – so many fears – it may seem impossible to know what to do. I hear, sometimes in jest, “buy ammo”. While that may be good advice, I’d like to offer my thoughts in an entirely different vein; we must re-engage our little platoons.

In his book, “In Pursuit: Of Happiness And Good Government”, Charles Murray, (and Edmund Burke before him), referenced the concept of “little platoons” in discussion of the various personal communities we each have. These communities, or platoons, include your neighborhood, your church group, your dart league, your work team, the folks that hang out at your local cafe or bar, your extended family, your civic organization, and any other group of individuals that share something in common. In my opinion, these little platoons are the key to a happy future.

For decades, such personal communities have slowly waned in significance. In my parent’s day, for example, fraternal organizations were the rage. The Eagles, Moose, and Elks, the Knights of Columbus, the Masons, and several others were a prominent part of people’s lives. They provided a means for human connection. But connections like these, whether our local neighborhood, church, or organization, have weakened, and in many cases, disappeared.

I see two very insidious reasons for this. One is technology. Why go out to hang out with friends and meet new people, when there is that really great series you need to finish on Netflix? Why put in the effort to spend one authentic hour in-person with a true friend, when you’ve already spent 10 hours this week with 732 “friends” on social media? We are allowing ourselves to live in a virtual world that is void of meaningful relationships. As we rack up ever more “friends” and “likes” we become more alone. To whatever degree tough times may be ahead, this virtual world we create will be of zero value, and our alone-ness will become shockingly real.

The other reason for the gradual loss of meaningful relationships the little platoons provide is the ever-greater role that government has taken in our lives. The little platoons provided an important network for people. It made sense to be part of a group whose members looked out for each other. It provided one a safety net in bad times, and allowed one to be a safety net for others during good times. Such a system necessitates charity and responsibility – two very important parts of being a well-rounded person. As government has continued its encroachment, we have come to expect that it will take care of our problems. We no longer need to be charitable, because “we pay taxes for government to do that”. We no longer need to be responsible, because government will save us from bad choices, spreading the cost to millions of people we don’t know.

Straying ever further from our little platoons, we become more alone. My solution to the perceived loss of civility, to the rancor, to the fear for the future is to connect with little platoons. Step away from the TV and computer. Dramatically constrain your intake of political “news”. Meet people. Say hi, and strike up a conversation. Don’t base your conversations on political ideology, and avoid political litmus tests. It isn’t impossible; Trump and Biden needn’t be mentioned as part of a “Where are the fish biting?” or “What kind of spice do you put in your meatballs?” type of conversations.

If we focus on building relationships, we will be better, happier people. Plus, in the case of a Zombie Apocalypse, real people are more likely to aid us than social media “friends”.

Becker is the founder and leader of the Bastiat Caucus of the North Dakota Republican Party and has represented District 7 in the House since 2013.


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