Tread On Me

I saw one of those flag stickers on the back of a pickup yesterday, rattlesnake on a yellow background with the caption "DON'T TREAD ON ME." I'd been debating economics, health care, and libertarian vs. socialist outlooks with a friend, and had a little epiphany.

Don't Tread On Me seems like a good soundbite summary for a general conservative or libertarian outlook. I think of gated communities and survivalists stockpiling food and ammo in fall-out bunkers, expecting to fight off hostile intruders, seeing everyone around them as potential hostiles. You go get in your bunker and your gated community, I'll get in mine, and that's the best way for both of us to survive. If you come to my bunker asking for help, I'm sensitive about the possibility that you're taking advantage of me, so it's best if I stay independent and you stay independent.

I've read some arguments via saying that stereotypical survivalist mentality seems like it would be ineffective in the long run. You try to hoard some resources and protect them out in your country bunker. Kids and older folks in the country are inquisitive. They check out new houses going up in the old field. They see a new driveway coming off the road and they'll ride bikes up to see where it goes. Even if your bunker entrance is hidden, you're going to leave some tire tracks going up to it when you bring construction materials, tools, and all that ammo and freeze dried astronaut ice cream to outlast the coming crisis. Will you be hunting or trapping to supplement your food stockpile? Using a silencer or bow, or something that will be heard a half mile or mile away? Leaving traps that could be noticed by outsiders? You'll probably attract attention one way or another, and then they just need to gather enough nasty friends to root out your camouflaged bunker entrance and overcome your defenses.

And what if you get in a situation where you need help? You might need a doctor or someone to fix a broken tool or machine, or you might run out of some important supply. Do you know anyone nearby that you can depend on to help you, or are they hunkered down somewhere secret? Did you already turn them away when they came to ask you for help or space in your limited shelter?

A more sustainable way of surviving a crisis, even liberal apocalypse fantasies about Peak Oil or the collapse of capitalism, is to work together with your community. See them as potential neighbors who will help you and who need your help, instead of potential moochers and thieves. Instead of your nuclear family plus Aunt Bea trying to fend off the complete cast of Sons of Anarchy, you could be part of a community that will help defend any of its members getting attacked. I suppose we could keep escalating and imagine larger and larger groups of attackers, warlords with armies that would crush any communes they can. I don't know how we stop that from happening, other than trying to convince people that being part of a warlord's army is more dangerous in the long run than being part of a democratic community.

Now how could you fit that helping attitude on a bumper sticker with as few words as the rattlesnake flag?


For one thing, it evokes all the rest of the song. It's about offering help to people who need it, because we're all likely to need help at some point in our lives. Independence is good, but losing connections with people is bad. Traditionalists and Dana Carvey's grumpy old man have been complaining about this trend for decades or centuries, families getting smaller and more distant because we move far away from parents and siblings (mainly for jobs), we're bowling alone instead of in leagues, keeping a safe emotional distance from neighbors. Wouldn't it be nice if we could establish some new traditions that reversed that trend and established stronger connections between people? Or if we could just change our thinking about whether to fear other people or connect with them.

People might object to my simplistic interpretation of the libertarian or conservative outlook. They don't hate their neighbors or family. They might be just as likely as anyone else to bond with neighbors or personally offer help to strangers in need. It just doesn't show in their attitudes about government social programs because they don't trust the government to decide on those things. Unfortunately, there are more people now who seem to genuinely need help IMHO than are able to get it from charities. If it comes to the government protecting the freedom of people to hold as much money as they can legally get, versus the freedom of people to eat and have shelter and survive (FDR's Freedom from Want), I know which of those freedoms seems less important to me. (Maybe it's not an either/or situation like that.)

On the other hand, the LEAN ON ME outlook might seem naive, making yourself vulnerable to slackers and moochers and grifters and thieves. Sounds PLEASE TREAD ON ME. That is a fair point, but it works both ways. When you tell people "DON'T TREAD ON ME", are you rejecting people who need somebody to lean on? If you have to ask someone to help share your load, will you have to ask help from someone you turned away before, or someone that you encouraged to follow the motto "DON'T TREAD ON ME"?

So our attitudes should include a little of both.


I like it in that order. Initially it's offering help to everyone, carrying all the implications and explanation of the song. But it also shows you're wary of people taking advantage of you. I'm afraid the rattlesnake pretty much undermines any hint of helpfulness, so it needs a visual overhaul. Maybe keep the yellow background from the Gadsden Flag, but have Bill Withers with a guitar. Doesn't look very threatening, but he looks like he could hold his own.

Now how do we implement specific policies based on a bumper sticker slogan, in ways we'll all agree on? Yeah, right. I'll get back with you on that by Wednesday.


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