What we found at the center of the nation

There is a destructive idea at the center of this great nation.

I mean this literally. Absolutely literally.

Vicki and I were visiting cousins in Belle Fourche, South Dakota. One of their community’s claims to fame is being the closest city to the geographic center of the United States. Since we already have a photo of our feet at the center of the universe in Beijing, China, we thought another such photo would be a fun move.

What started as just a fun travel photo turned darker at the gate.

It’s a dry, harsh country at the center. In early September, the ground is parched and cracked. The stems and seed-heads of an unknown prairie grass are about all that is showing above the dirt and animal scat.

The geographic center is actually out in a field, behind a gate and fence and not far from a tattered American flag. 

The flag is off to the right a bit.

On the way through the gate to get our photo, Vicki saw the graffiti on the red metal gate. It read:

“become ungovernable”

My heart sank when she pointed it out.

Such a harsh message in such a remote place. I still don’t understand why.

It is not the act of tagging a gate in a remote field in the center of the country.

It is a call for anarchy, and by extension, a call for decay and dissolution.

What does it mean to become ungovernable? It means ignoring and actively dismantling the structure of a nation. It means giving up on the rule of law, and of expecting that governing takes place by the consent of the governed.

Ungovernable? Consider Northern Ireland in the 1970s. Or Beirut in the 1980s. Mogadishu in 1993. Afghanistan at just about any point in recent history.

I happen to like civilization, as well as democracy and the United States. I’m not blind to the problems in our nation or the world. But at least we still have structures to try to reshape and improve the nation.

It makes no difference if the person who made the graffiti at the center of the nation was from the right, the left or the middle. Anarchy is a bad idea. If you tear something down, there’s no guarantee you can rebuild something better. 

Thomas Hobbes is a key figure in any study of how democracies work, and how societies work. For him, we need a “social contract,” a basic framework of how society is organized. A government that can prevent the “war of all against all.” 

Absent that sort of agreement, Hobbes believed, the condition of life in this world would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Hobbes apparently wanted a monarchy with a strong sovereign. But I’ll take a representative democracy any day.

Calling for and working for changes in the system of government is a part of that social contract. Calling for anarchy is a guarantee of disaster.

It’s a dry land in September 2022
No idea what this grass is. I can’t recall seeing it anywhere else. They have a lot of it, and not much else.

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