State resilience begins in the psyche

Henry

A responsible society is one that does not wait for politicians to solve problems on its behalf. Such a society does the work without meekly assisting or waiting for permission. But before this practical stage can be reached, society must first believe, in the minds of its members, that it can take responsibility.

State resilience, an idea that Sakeliga for its 2018 conference, “Prospects for state-proofing business”, has created, is an exciting idea. When the Free Market Foundation also started using the concept seriously in 2023, we saw people’s eyes light up.

Those who would otherwise feel discouraged about our collective future are becoming excited about the potential of state resilience for their families, communities and for the country.

They rightly see it as a practical way to protect themselves against the immense damage of politics and state collapse. It is the vehicle through which you build a future, setting aside the pace, agenda and incompetence of the political class.

However, state resilience is more than just a sum of practical steps. It is also psychological – indeed it must begin in the psyche. Even those who get excited about the theoretical prospect of state stabilization are not necessarily already state-resistant in mind. But when the mind is not state-proof, it is extremely difficult to achieve this in practice.

Mental state resilience

How does one become “psychologically” state resistant? It’s all about a mindset shift – and here are two simple examples.

I have written before about the phenomenon of unofficial “traffic officers” in Johannesburg who abuse the commons. They continue to do so today.

Every few days, one of my fellow community members on our WhatsApp or Telegram groups complains about these troublemakers and begs the metro police to “do something” about the problem. The local councilor of the Democratic Alliance (DA) then defended the metro police and said they were “trying”.

This is usually the end of the effort – the problem simply persists.

These residents are not psychologically state-proof. They identified a problem as disruptive to their commute, and some of them expressed concerns about safety. They feel intimidated. But they sit meekly and wait for the metro police to “do something”. The DA councilor is obviously too friendly with the metro police, because anyone who has spent any time analyzing South African municipal politics, especially in Johannesburg, knows that they are not really “trying”.

The problem of these unofficial traffic officers will continue forever unless the community itself intervenes.

One way to do this is to organize the traffic officers and pay them a wage rather than letting them extort motorists ad hoc. It will also mean that they will be supervised, and that they will not (as they have been accused of) turning off traffic lights to artificially generate work for themselves.

Of course, formally, it would not be contrary to state diktat to do so, because the “traffic officers” would probably be paid less than the minimum wage. What the state’s dictates will not figure into your determination if you are psychologically state-proof – rather just how to get the problem solved despite any such obstacles.

Another way to solve the traffic officer problem is to approach a local security company and pay them from a common pool of money to place their officers at every intersection that (allegedly) shut down the unofficial traffic officers. They are legally allowed to intervene physically if they see them turning off traffic lights, because it would amount to damaging public property.

Another way to solve the problem would be to reach an agreement with Outsurance to deploy its scorers at all times. The unofficial officers did not – in my experience – interfere with Outsurance points when forwarding traffic. It will probably cost money too.

None of these ways of solving the problem will occur in the minds of those who are preoccupied with the fantastic idea that the metro police or some government agency will ride in on a white horse and solve the problem, or in the minds of those who obsess over regulatory formalities do not.

Pitfalls

Another even simpler example, applicable throughout South Africa, is the scourge of potholes.

That pothole that has been right outside your driveway for the past five years will in all likelihood still be there in another five years if your plan is to wait for any sphere of the South African government to fill it.

Either fill the pothole yourself, or pool money with neighbors and contract a qualified professional to do it. Yes, the local DA councilor is going to send angry messages about how municipal approval is needed before potholes can be fixed. But if you’re mentally state-proof, you’ll simply reply with a thumbs-up emoji.

Let the councilor worry about authorizations and formalities, and let the community worry about addressing the problem in a timely manner.

If you ever find yourself considering calling a government official to do something or fix something that could possibly be done or fixed without the government, you have not yet achieved the required amount of psychological government resilience.

To be sure, I don’t think anyone but the most ardent anarcho-capitalists can be 100% mentally state-proof. I often find myself holding the government mentally responsible for something I know it will never do – and, municipality, it didn’t matter if it was an ANC or a DA government – so I have to stop myself ” pinch”.

But it is this act of “pinching” that psychological state resilience hopes to inculcate.

Law and order

“It is outrageous to propose such a nonchalant approach to the minimum wage and municipal approvals! We are law abiding!” is a common refrain from South African citizens who unfortunately believe that we live in Norway.

By being “law-abiding” you are not satisfying some higher-order moral calling. When people think of themselves as “law-abiding”, they usually have an abstract idea of ​​”law and order” in mind. By being “law-abiding”, you are in fact simply a mindless automaton who conforms to the codified opinions of ANC MPs. Because “the codified opinions of politicians” is all that legislation is in the end.

The same applies to provincial legislation and municipal by-laws.

There is law that necessarily binds us in conscience, of course, but it is certainly not all law.

Most of the common law binds us in conscience because no opportunistic politician “made” that law – it is law forged over millennia in the fires of experience, and it has been subject to constant judicial refinement and adjustment in the light of fairness considerations, reasonableness and appropriateness.

Respecting the life, liberty and property of our fellow human beings is also a transcendent legal requirement that no law needs to “tell” us to do, but which we simply apply from the nature of living in a society with others people.

But strictly following all the rules required by the political dictates of the National Party or the ANC is not (ceteris paribus) not binding in conscience. Ceteris paribus, because some legislation may indeed be binding in conscience. What I am saying is that each law should be considered on its merits, rather than shaving all laws on the comb of “I am law abiding”.

Rather than asking if something is compatible with the codified sensibilities of the political class, ask instead if it is necessary to protect your own legitimate life interests, or those of your family and your community, and respect the freedom and property of those around you .

Get over the government

Get over the government – at least in South Africa, and at least for the foreseeable future.

As a liberal I believe state resilience (psychological or otherwise) is good in itself. Under the best of circumstances, government is meant to be a service provider, not a leader figure to be mindlessly obeyed. The law (subject to the above distinction between legislation and common law) as a transitory institution, not the government as a necessarily capricious and self-interested organization, must be obeyed.

That said, certain contexts lend themselves to legitimizing state resistance more than others. Although I think a Swede would be perfectly within their rights to engage in state-supported activities, it “makes more sense” for a South African citizen, or a Russian, or a Palestinian, to do so in practice.

Getting your mindset right is by no means the alpha and omega of state resilience. After all, this is the most impractical and amorphous step in the process.

But I argue that this is the most important and most difficult step. Once the thinking shift is really made, the practical aspects will become clearer – because the old (and extremely strong) mental block of “I’m doing something wrong” or “I owe it to society to obey the law” will no longer be there not.