For my own part, I am convinced now more than ever that another aspect of the debilitating isolation felt by the Breiviks of this world is the loss of subsidiarity. Burke’s famous passage regarding the “little platoons” neatly captures what’s missing in the average city in Europe and America. Those little platoons served as spandrels between the lone individual and the apparatus of the state.
A nation comprised of political units which scaled upward from the individual to the family, from the family to the community, and so on up to the level of the state allowed a coherence and cogency to the conversations had within each political unit. The spandrels between these political units gave the Breiviks of this world a humanly scaled conversation space—a means of talking with someone other than themselves. (It is characteristic of both the evil and the insane that they should favor conversations with themselves over and above conversations with others.)
Such conversations can give both positive and negative feedback to the larger units in society. In our multicultural world conversations tend to be restricted to inoffensive, pretty platitudes. Taken to its argumentum ad absurdum, multiculturalism silences the expression of dissatisfaction. Where conversation—even prejudicial conversation—is allowed, the subsidiarity knows the mind of its membership in a way that allows engagement with the good and the bad.
In the absence of such conversation, the sociopath makes plans and society remains oblivious to the fact.
– Kenneth Bickford, Guest Essayist on What’s Wrong with the World
Dear Mr. Bickford,
I can only hope you bother Paul Cella more frequently for a chance to publish your work, as your guest essay is one of the best pieces of prose I have read all year. I urge everyone who stops by my little blog and doesn’t visit What’s Wrong with the World on a daily basis to RTWT.
I was particularly struck while reading the piece at how rooted I am in my neighborhood here in Chicago and how I think that in this little corner of a rather large city (the location, after all, of the horrible career of H.H. Holmes…have you read Larson’s wonderful book about those awful crimes called The Devil in the White City?…if not, I urge you to get it immediately as it is a remarkable book that reads like a novel) has achieved a very well-functioning “little platoon”.
A couple of quick stories to illustrate what I mean — my daughter was at a friend’s house the other day, just around the corner on the next block over and came home excitedly to announce that a “creep” had been spotted by one of her friend’s neighbors (a young eighteen year-old women) who started asking this 18 year-old neighbor a bunch of inappropriate questions. The neighbor was smart enough to duck inside my daughter’s friend’s house and soon the police were called, a report was made, and word spread throughout the neighborhood. We were not afraid to have an unpleasant conversation about who should and should not be asking questions of high school girls. So we are not immune to the horrors of a big city in our little corner, but we have a well-functioning network of neighbors who look out for one another and will do what it takes to protect our young from creepy strangers.
My other younger daughter has apparently caught the entrepreneurial bug, as a different neighbor stopped in his car as I was walking my younger daughter home from a friend’s house (we can actually walk to neighbors homes! or ride bikes!) to tell me that he was impressed with her “greeting cards” and bought one from her the other day. This is after she set up a lemonade stand in front of our house (which is a good location as it is right near a park) earlier in the summer with a friend and they each cleared $5.00 profit. I happen to know this guy who stopped to tell me about my daughter’s budding business skills, only because when I used to take the train to work, he was the one guy who was always running at the last minute to catch the train (right by house, which is also along the way to the train!) So we got to talking one day and I found out that like me he works for the city and was always running late because he liked to help his wife with their newborn.
These two relatively banal stories are ultimately the daily, weekly and yearly interactions with neighbors and friends that make up a successful community — or my little platoon on the northwest side of Chicago. I, my wife, and my children are enmeshed in these interactions with people who for the most part are married, have stable homes, care about the neighborhood and their neighbors, and care about one another. We all love this place and I think love to call it home. This is where my kids will grow up and unlike ABB, the young boys and men in the neighborhood (like the girls) have lives full of activities, wholesome friendships, sports, and in many cases an active religious life (especially the teenagers who attend Catholic high schools).