Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Pioneer Paradox, or the Cowboy Contradiction

A rather odd one, this time; please bear with me.

I have found myself thinking more and more about a certain contradiction at the heart of many human activites-- what I might call the pioneer paradox, or the cowboy contradiction. I've come up with this name because cowboys and pioneers (as in "pioneer spirit") seem to embody this contradiction.

The whole romance of the cowboy and the pioneer is that they are thrusting out into the unknown, into a rather lawless world where a man's only bosses are hunger and danger, where life is tough in one way, but free and easy in another-- a man can safely expectorate into the spitoon without much fear of social disapproval. A world where men are men, and where life is there for the taking.

But what did the cowboy and the pioneer leave in their wake?

Development. Farms. Towns. Streets. Family fortunes. Law and order. In other words, all the things whose very absence makes the idea of cowboys romantic.

I think the same idea applies to the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs figures of this world, all the college drop-outs who eschew shirts and ties and build vast business empires clad in Bermuda shirts, huddling in computer laboratories all hours of the day with other wacky, free-spirited visionaries, living on take-away pizza and coffee.

Do they build empires of wacky, Bermuda-shirt wearing executives who skateboard into work whenever they feel like it and work till the wee hours, in between games of Nintendo?

No, they produce more and more glass and concrete cubes where more and more cubicle slaves pass their lives in mortgage slavery.

Or take inveterate tourists, or-- as they like to consider themselves-- people who are passionate about travel. They see themselves as cosmopolitan, open-minded, adventurous. They seek places "off the beaten track" and that aren't "touristy". They shop for souvenirs of actual, indigenous art.

And, to cater to their appetite, more and more books and websites and magazine articles reveal the latest "unspoiled" village or beach or valley, which soon becomes a tourist hotspot, and whose inhabitants are soon making war-masks or woven sweaters or mosaic patterns for the tourist market.

I think this principle applies, too, to liberal or left-wing nationalism. I don't understand the weird hybrid of patriotism and Marxism that Sinn Féin have embraced. I understand DeValeran protectionism, ruralism, and traditionalism; I understand the internationalism, liberalism and futurism of a thoroughgoing communist.

But how can the liberal nationalist, who sees national liberation as an end in itself, but longs for his country to become "outward-looking", "progressive", and "pluralist", not see the contradiction in his own position? Does he not see that, when the political struggle has succeeded and his country has attained its own government, his whole political philosophy has negated itself? There is no longer any reason to be a nationalist. Soon the currents of history, with his full approval, will wash away all trace of his struggles and passions; the patriotic ballads fade away, to be replaced by the honking of fancy cars and the blare of rap music.

The same applies to liberalism in general. Liberals strives for the emancipation of groups, such as Muslims or travellers or ethnic minorities, whose entire culture and survival is threatened by liberalism's own inexorable logic.

I think the Pioneer Paradox applies to many things in life, and makes us stop short (when we perceive it) and see so much of the controversies and causes around us as self-negating.

But one place the Pioneer Paradox doesn't apply is in a church. That is one cause that never becomes obsolete, one well whose waters will never leave us thirsty. In the contemplation and love and worship of God we find what the world is always restlessly searching for; that which is complete in itself, and is its own justification, and can never be exhausted.


  1. Maolsheachlann have you ever read the 'Lost Revolution' by Brian Hanley?

  2. Is it about the Worker's Party? I haven't read it but it is in the house-- my father and my brother (a confirmed Marxist but one who agrees with me that liberal nationalism makes no sense) have both read it and mentioned it a good few times.

  3. You should read's excellent for explaining the historical background of SF's development from traditional nationalist to leftist.