crux n. a vital, basic, decisive, or pivotal point.
The nature of Man underlies everything in human society. We build the societies we build because we are what we are, including how various characteristics are distributed among us. Most of us want to be left alone…mostly. But some of us can’t abide that. They want power over the rest of us. Our demands to be left alone merely annoy them. That is the crux of the matter. The rest is merely detail.
A people accustomed to freedom – that is, to being left alone – is hard to subjugate. The power-seekers knew, after a couple of abortive attempts, that they could not simply shackle us against our will. We were too united in our determination to remain free. But by using salami tactics, they inured us little by little to a new kind of bondage. This J. B. Shurk essay is eloquent on the subject.
This put me in mind of the Three Systems of Man: what they are, why they emerge as they do, and what they say about us.
In his delightful little book The UNIX Philosophy, Mike Gancarz describes the Three Systems of Man and why they’re all we ever produce. As his elucidation of this seemingly unavoidable progression goes on for five thousand words, I shall attempt to condense it:
- Man builds the First System with his back against the wall.
An engineer has a tough problem to crack, very few resources, and very little time. That triggers his ingenuity: He comes up with a simple but powerful idea, implements it swiftly and without lace edging, and moves on to other endeavors. The First System stuns those who become acquainted with its power, performance, and ease of use…but carpers emerge to criticize the First System for features it lacks.
- “Experts” build the Second System using ideas proved by the First System.
The First System also inspires envious “experts.” Usually these are people with lots of paper credentials but no achievements significant enough to compare to the First System. They form a huge committee whose aim is to “complete” or “perfect” the First System. They take a great deal of time, consume mountains of resources, and ultimately produce the Second System: a Brobdingnagian monstrosity overloaded with features 98% of its users will never use. It’s fat, slow, and annoying…but every one of those “experts” has his fingerprints on it somewhere. They often go on speaking tours to orate about their “achievement.”
- The Third System is built by people who have been burned by the Second System.
The First System lacked a few desirable features, but it ran like a rocket. The Second System is replete with features, but it lumbers like a hippo with bad knees. The Third System emerges when a doggedly determined engineer or a small group thereof, delighted by the core concepts in the First System and appalled by their entombment in the fat and frills of the Second System, revives them and adds only the few, widely desired and appreciated features the First System omitted. In other words, the Third System is the First System showered, shaved, combed, manicured, and dressed for dinner.
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, together with the Bill of Rights, constitute America’s First System. What we endure today is a Second System from the depths of Hell.
Why do Second Systems emerge to dismay those compelled to use them? Simply, it’s the nature of Man. There will always be some men who envy the achievements of others but who have little to offer anyone. Envy, which Joseph Sobran and others have termed “hatred of the good for being good,” is a wholly destructive emotion. It expresses itself in destructive actions. And though it ultimately destroys the envious one, it can take a great toll on innocent others before then.
Most men feel envy now and then. In most cases it’s restrained and prevented from doing harm. The usual restraints are social customs, religious doctrines, and the weight of the law. But these things can falter and fail, especially when the envious succeed in rising to power.
Envy combined with power-lust can do terrible things. It’s done terrible things to our country. The clean and elegant design embodied in the Constitution, which was founded on the core principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence, has been destroyed by power-lusters’ innumerable excisions from it and accretions to it. As left-leaning scholar Leonard Levy has said, the Constitution’s text no longer matters. All that matters is what the Supreme Court has said about it in hundreds of volumes of commentary…and that commentary has largely condoned, whether explicitly or implicitly, the expansion of the federal Leviathan in defiance of the plain language of the Constitution.
The core concepts of America’s First System – sharply limited government, enumeration and separation of powers, and federalism – all militate toward a presumption of freedom for the common man and noninterference with his peaceful endeavors. They wait to be reanimated and re-energized. But our Third System is late for delivery. As with a gravid woman unable to deliver naturally when her time is upon her, birth must be compelled, by Caesarian section if necessary. Else the mother will die, and her unborn child with her.
And that, too, is the crux of the matter.
Oblique yet concise. Those who disapprove can stew in it.
LOVE that description of the Second System!
Education is bogged down in the Second System – EVERYBODY (except for those teachers who actually know how to teach their subject/grade) get their fingers into the pie.
Which turns out to be a lumpy, uncooked dough wrapped around an inedible filling. Which is forced upon the teachers, and the students and parents.
Until another ‘coalition of reformers’ gets to enact Second System, 2.0.
Rinse and repeat.
Completely off topic, but does anyone know how to upload a pic for the avatar on this commenting system? I’ve looked all over for controls, but cannot find any. I don’t like being a generic NPC blob 😉
Not nearly as uncommon as ‘lagniappe’, but ‘crux’ is another great word. And it doesn’t have a lot of parts to break down, or a hyper-technical sense to it. Just straight-up on-point-ness when used correctly.
In college, once after I used ‘crux’ in a casual conversation, someone looked at me, and said, “That’s an awfully big word, what for being so small.” And I’ve had a soft spot for it, ever since.