Disasters and the Response of Lovers of Liberty

Libertarian Commentary #16-19A  by Nathan Barton

This incident should be of great interest and closely watched by a whole raft of folks. A massive wildfire has forced evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alberta, as reported by CBS News. “The entire population of the Canadian oil sands city of Fort McMurray, Alberta, has been ordered to evacuate as a wildfire whipped by winds engulfed homes and sent ash raining down on residents. More than 80,000 residents have been ordered to flee after an earlier order that had applied to almost 30,000 people, mostly on the city’s south side, was extended to tens of thousands more as flames continued to make their way into the city Tuesday. Residents were panicked. Highway 63 is the only road out of the city and flames jumped the road.” I attended a Homeland Security conference (read, Emergency Management) and this was a topic of interest during the conference this week.

Why is this important? First, it is as large a number of evacuations as we’ve seen for anything except hurricanes in a very long time. Second, it is a Western (as in Western America) city filled with a whole bunch of hardheaded people in a land and a business that doesn’t get along well with much of government. Third, it is isolated and with limited access – especially given that “fleeing into the wilderness” is the last thing you want to do (even in a panic) when wildfire is the danger. Fourth, it is a well-known threat: wildfires are common from Alberta clear down to Texas and on into the Mexican States. And the “urban-wildland interface” is real, growing, and a major source of problems with fire. Fifth, this is going to happen again. And again.

So watch and learn. Are you a homeowner? Learn to protect your home from all the threats: not just the fires but the rats that won’t evacuate because of the opportunity to loot, and all the other threats. Are you a parent? Learn to protect your children and to prepare them to be prepared. Are you a business owner or operator? Learn to prepare and respond. Are you a volunteer? Learn the skills and the needs and the places and situations where you can make a difference. Above all, remember that you can not help anyone else if YOU are not sound and somewhat safe and prepared to protect yourself and your family, your property, and your circumstances.

Which is why it is important for those who love liberty to think about and prepare for what can go wrong. It may be a major natural disaster, such as the Fort McMurrey Fire. Or the flooding a couple of years ago on the South Platte in Northern Colorado. Or a tornado as ravages SOME urban area and many rural areas in the South Central US each year. Or hurricanes or blizzards or ice storms or earthquakes. Or even ash fall from volcanic eruptions.

Or it may be a disaster which ONLY hit your immediate family or neighborhood: and fairly small in the way of things: deer-car accidents (my family has just had two in two weeks: both vehicles totaled but no one (except the dead deer) injured, but in one case 20 miles from the nearest town with services, and in the other case more than 50 miles. It might be a flooded basement, it might be illegal dumping of something nasty on your property. It might be a local power outage or a microburst wind storm or a failed retaining wall. It might be a medical emergency, such as a friend whose 15 year-old kidney transplant failed: she is only in her late 30s, but… Or many other things.

Too many people – including those of us who love liberty – depend on government to bail us, our families, or our communities out in times of trouble. Indeed, we expect government to PREVENT these calamities. Most of us do depend to some degree on family ties, and this (even in an era where families seem to crumble with distressing frequency and little warning) is not a bad thing – indeed it is good.

But not all libertarians, not all lovers of liberty, have family that is both able and willing to come to their aid. Especially not when somehow the government is PART of the trouble. And most families, especially these days, have quite modest resources available.

Which is why it is important to recognize that individual liberty, that personal responsibility, that freedom in society demand that there be cooperation – VOLUNTARY cooperation. And that is possible only with communications, and with an idea, an attitude that I (with my religious worldview) have to call agape and phileo, Greek words referring to so-called unconditional love (goodwill) towards others, and to brotherhood, brotherly love. These are not JUST concepts of “christianity” but cross cultural and religious barriers. I have known many lovers of liberty who rejected the very concept of God, but still displayed both agape and phileo in their daily lives. Agape is sometimes described as “a sacrificial love that voluntarily suffers inconvenience, discomfort, and even death for the benefit of another without expecting anything in return.” That is true, in so far as it goes. But it is tied to the idea of honor, the ability to look at one’s own face in the mirror. And it is ultimately selfish, knowing that (whether you want to call it providence or karma), doing a good deed for someone without expectation of any benefit directly or indirectly from that person helped will ultimately result in someone helping US in our time of trouble. It is, to use another biblical reference, a “Good Samaritan” effect.

How does that apply in the real world of mega, big, and little disasters? In the business world, we call it networking, establishing and maintaining a network of associates and friends and mentors and proteges who can call on us, and we can call on, to get ideas, find sources, give sources, and even buy and sell. The idea has been around since Abraham moved to Canaan. And since a bunch of snooty, stuck-up Puritan refugees staggered off their tiny ships in Plymouth Bay, and other groups of fortune seekers swaggered off their ships at Jamestown and Saint Augustine and Vera Cruz.

It is why liberty can work; because enough of us recognize we are all in this mess together. If not today, then tomorrow. It is why we race out onto the street to grab the child of who knows, walking into traffic. Or even why we spend hours trying to find the owner of that lost kitten or stray puppy. It is why we stop to help the person with the flat tire or the broken-down car or sitting on the side of the road on their pack with their thumb out. Because we know that person, that parent, that petlover, could be us tomorrow or next week or next year.

So we establish contact with each other, we volunteer to pick up the litter in the next block, as well as our own. We show up to help the gal down the street petition the homeowners’ association or township board to leave her alone. We watch our neighbor’s house when they are gone, and “wander over” with our jacket pulled back away from our pistol when we see someone strange running around their place. Not just because we know (or hope) that they will do the same, but because it is the right thing to do, for anyone except the most extreme of evolutionist or other bigot or most fanatical of religionist.

And by creating and maintaining that circle, that informal and unorganized set of connections (which may over time be formalized as some sort of cooperative association or interest group or “CERT” (Community Emergency Response Team) or even a congregation or a grange or a union), we create a community that doesn’t NEED to depend on government – indeed, that may need to confront government and groups of less peaceful, more aggressive, and less ethical attackers. Especially in time of crisis and disaster.

Think about it, please: it takes more work – but the work is worthwhile. Even fun. Friendship often is. Voluntary assistance is always better than someone with a wild, sick idea of “mandating” things.

Mama’s Note: Excellent advice, Nathan. I would replace the word “selfish” with self interest, the gentler side of the survival instinct. “Sacrifice” is usually accompanied by false guilt and the mental/emotional manipulation that is counter to the natural and righteous self interest of the individual. Any actual “sacrifice” must be the free choice of the individual, not those who would own/control him or her.

All that is really needed for a free and prosperous society is freedom. Voluntary association (including freedom not to associate), a truly free market. The vast benefit of negotiation instead of legislation and litigation. The empowering and humbling reality of self defense and voluntary cooperation for mutual defense, especially for those in our midst who are not capable of self defense.

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
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