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Freedom’s Bane

It is almost axiomatic that rural voters vote red, and urban voters vote blue. Single women are much more likely to vote for Democrats, while married women are more like to vote for Republicans. And I think there is a single, profoundly important explanation for all of it.

Insecurity.

Rural voters know how to fix things, and get things done. They depend on themselves, on their families and communities, and in their faiths. Their bedrock is a sense of self, and the people upon whom they know they can rely in times of need.

Urban voters, on the other hand, live in a dehumanizing world, one in which people are treated like cogs. Mass transit, apartment buildings, clogged freeways… urban citizens do not rely on people – they rely on systems, on institutions. And institutions do not give us a fundamental sense of security. Institutions, whether orphanages, public schools, or hospitals, do not provide the kind of human companionship that exists in a close marriage, a loving family, or a supportive community. No bureaucracy can give you a heartfelt hug. Single women in cities vote blue because even a governmental promise is better than no promise at all. Insecurity is the reason people trade liberty for security/safety – and inevitably lose both.

Insecurity on the individual level does far more harm than merely incentivizing us to vote for Democrats. We erect walls to protect ourselves, and those walls prevent us, in turn, from living our lives fully. In a marriage, insecurity makes it hard to fully commit, because we are afraid to truly open up to another person. Born of insecurity, hookups first replace and then preclude real relationships. Insecurity makes us desperate to belong to something – practically anything. Insecurity feeds the LGBT craze, the need for tattoos, the desire to participate in mass hysteria events, to join the mob and share in the outrage of the day.

Insecurity then is a massive impediment, stopping us from growing, from reaching our potential, both as individuals, as groups and even as nations. Because the fruits of insecurity undermine every facet of a good society. Insecure people need other people to validate their own decisions. They gossip and put down others, using words or other forms of bullying. And insecure people live their own lives with self-imposed limits, afraid of those leaps into the unknown – from marriage to new ventures – that may well fail.

I came around to this point of view while looking at a biblical concept, known as tzaraas (mistranslated as leprosy). Tzaraas is something that only happens to insecure people, as a direct result of acting in such a way that curtails individual ambition, and harms the fabric of society. Tzaraas occurs to only two people in the text:

Moses spoke up and said, “What if they do not believe me and do not listen to me, but say: G-d did not appear to you?” … And the Lord said furthermore to him, ‘Put now thy hand into thy bosom.’ And he put his hand into his bosom: and when he took it out, behold, his hand was tzaraas, like snow. (Ex. 4: 1-6)

Moses was punished because he was insecure both about the people, and about his own ability to convince them! Given the opportunity to change the world, Moses demurs. G-d responds by directly punishing Moses’ self-doubt.

The only other case of someone contracting tzaraas in the text is when Miriam expresses both racism (in her criticism of Moses’ foreign wife), and insecurity about her own relationship with G-d:

Miriam and Aaron spoke concerning Moses on the matter of the Cushite woman that [Moses had married]. … They said, “Has G-d spoken only through Moses? Has [God] not spoken through us as well?” G-d heard it.

G-d calls Miriam and Aaron out, and explains why Moses has the position that he does. Then,

As the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam stricken with tzaraas like snow.

Miriam had slandered her brother and his wife. But she also expressed her own deep insecurities about her own position in the world. The fact that it happened not to two random people but instead to two of the three leaders of the entire nation, tells us that insecurity is not limited to the general populace: leaders are insecure, too. And when they are, that insecurity threatens the entire fabric of a society.

The leading symptom of tzaraas is a breakout of a color – white. The word for “white” is first found in the Torah as the name of a certain character, Lavan (the origin of the word “albino” BTW). Lavan’s key personality trait in the text is basic neediness: he rushes toward rich men, he tries to bring everyone into his home to enrich himself, and he consistently works to never let people leave (both Rebekkah and Jacob manage to leave only under considerable pressure to remain). Lavan is insecurity incarnate, a person who openly seeks the validation of others, his own aggrandizement, and is terrified of losing anything – whether a goat, a daughter, or his idols. Seeking attention for its own sake is a poor proxy for real success or real respect from others. Worse than that: when we act in needy ways, then we invariably limit other people, putting them down while we try to boost ourselves up.

By identifying Lavan with tzaraas and the errors of both Moses and Miriam, the Torah is telling us in great detail (Lev. 13 and 14) that we must always be alert to the risks of thinking too little of ourselves. After all, we are all created with a divinely-gifted soul – should we really be aiming low? The key is that thinking more of ourselves and our own opportunities and responsibilities leads to a profoundly positive outcome: if we are not insecure then we can invest in turn in other people, building them up instead of putting them down.

The Torah’s remedies for insecurity are to force a person to re-examine themselves, their position (their clothing/beged denotes their status), and their relationships with others. By learning to value our own thoughts, and the community and even G-d’s presence, we are able to gain confidence in what we are able to achieve.

We are not here to be passive. We should not be mere pawns on a board, or cogs in a machine – that way leads to society and everyone in it being institutionalized, no more able to think for ourselves than an automaton in an assembly line.

All of that said, I am genuinely stumped as to how we could best address this societal rot, the widespread insecurities that lead to so many of the problems in our world today. How does one help a confused and sad person find a productive path forward? How do we help people to help themselves? This is not about giving people money or stuff – we need to change the way people think.

The Torah provides a model for how to address insecurity: rely on others for the diagnosis; time alone to ponder; take control of our own lives, etc. That works fine if the problem is really just in a specific person, as with the cases in the Torah. But in the 22nd Century we have erected manmade impediments that make it so hard for people to come into their own. In the woke world, we have propagated Eve’s initial victimhood (“the snake made me do it!”) and made it the default excuse for everything that happens, whether that thing seems to happen to us, or we do it to ourselves, or we do it to others. Nothing is our fault. We have infantilized everyone, so, like babies, nothing is really anyone’s fault.

How do we fix it? I suppose that at least in some sense we have to make the remedy fit the ailment: fixing people requires people, not just systems or institutions. It requires time and patience and interpersonal investment. Communities and families are built with generations of investment and love. For each person, solutions require, to some degree, a leap of faith. After all, we never know that we can do something – until we have already done it. G-d calls on us to take risks, to stretch for things that seem out of reach, to never be so insecure that we need to put others down.

What we can do is remove the systemic problems that led to our current challenges: we can deconstruct the institutions and systems that have replaced families, homes and communities. We can deeply reform all government assistance programs, shifting rights and responsibilities back to individuals, their families and the voluntary community organizations that seek to do good. Across the board we need to foster and encourage the foundational concepts of helping people take back control of their own lives, helping them grow confidence from their own accomplishments. The result would be to turn insecure people into more capable, happier, and more successful – secure – versions of themselves.

[an @iwe, @susanquinn, @kidcoder, @blessedblacksmith and @eliyahumasinter work]

Comments are welcome!

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