If It's Natural To Be Free, What's Stopping Us?
By now, it’s probably apparent that complete liberty is more than just a political and economic system. It’s also an ethical one. It outlines a new way for people to deal with each other, not simply in their personal interactions, daily affairs, and business relations, but in the way they interpret their form of government and therefore how it interacts with and affects everyone. It’s easy to let government go on being itself—big, plodding, intrusive, even dangerous and deadly, doing things that hardly any of us appreciate on a personal level. But the State is composed of particular persons doing particular jobs, and that’s the real issue.
Lying, cheating, and stealing are not admirable behaviors. Forcing people to do things against their will is not a way to gain respect. Yet, these behaviors are given more acceptable names in politics in order to disguise their essentially coercive quality. Those in the mainstream press are accomplices in this game of doublespeak. The political news is often a verbatim press release from governmental officials. Even the information dispensed by political opinion givers is something reminiscent of the discourse in George Orwell’s 1984. Interviews with politicians and bureaucrats never touch on the reality of what individuals in government are doing to us. After all, if reporters raised awareness of this reality, they would likely be banned from political access. But being banned from access is just what reporters need in order to shake them out of their misguided practices and encourage honesty with the American public. John Stossel is about the only person in the establishment who exposes the absurd nature of governmental processes. His peers look like statist lapdogs in comparison.
Fortunately, people in America still appreciate good challengers of authority. This no doubt explains the uplifting individualistic themes, justice-oriented plots, and heroic characters of many Hollywood films. Also, the high ratings of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report reveal that many Americans enjoy a bold and satirical look at politics-as-usual and a witty skewering of those in positions of power. On some level, most Americans sense that there’s something really wrong with politics. So at the very least, we should mock it; we should laugh at it.
But, of course, we can do more than poke fun at aspects of the coercive system and at those who spend their time and energy trying to run it (and report on it). We’ve seen that in order to strike at the root of the vices of politics, to see them for what they actually are, we need to understand the nature of self-ownership and voluntarism. Such an understanding allows us to sharpen a principled ax that we can use to cut down the entire rotten tree of taxation and destroy its expansive root system of regulation.
The ominous taxation tree towers over our entire country, and over all the benevolent potential market trees and flowers. Its many branches of government reach over all of us, letting in scant sunlight. This particular tree also provides ample room for all sorts of political and legal creatures to call home. The problem is, political animals aren’t keen on coming down from a tree by ordinary pleas that they become less meddlesome, or that they should mistreat us less. After all, from their various perches, what need do they have of more sunlight? They seem to be getting plenty from the skies above, and the market below is just a necessary place where ordinary people toil for the common good of the rotten tree.
Though oftentimes it may be more difficult to reason with people involved in government, we all have the same basic needs. All of us are best nourished when we find wholesome, moral places to work. The market will assuredly accommodate everyone now working in government in ways they’re presently unable to envision. Indeed, leaving their positions will create a vastly more promising and much richer economic environment for everyone.
From our shaded standpoint in the fertile soil of the market, one might think that convincing the rest of the grounded folks of the merits of chopping down the entire tree wouldn’t be too difficult. It’s choking off our sunlight, after all, depriving us of a much better, more dynamic, and hope-filled future, both personally and as a society.
Part of the problem is that the inhabitants of the taxation tree think that they’re involved in something really important, and they continually try to convince us of this by instituting all kinds and degrees of symbiosis and parasitism in the economy. They also try to convince us of how unimportant our individual rights are. We’ve been taught that we need government and that we should want government.
Government, in fact, needs us to sanction its immoral and unjust actions, because it clearly doesn’t have enough resources and prisons (or will) to subdue a rationally disobedient populace. Without most people’s conformity and support, the whole coercive system will disintegrate. In other words, the State can’t sustain itself by brute force alone; it relies on obedient people losing sight that they vastly outnumber the State’s enforcers.
Thus, to muster support and curry our favor, government provides us schooling, grants, tax incentives, subsidies, import tariffs and quotas, privileges, assistance, programs, vast public/private partnerships, etc.—all to make it seem as if we’re part of the tree too. Government thus encourages us to sit in the tree, take in the sunlight, and heartily consume its magical fruit with blissful moral ignorance (definitely not the tree of knowledge of good and evil).
Reliance on government is part and parcel of its determination to rule over and “take care of” all aspects of our lives. As the late Harry Browne used to say (who was twice the Libertarian Party’s U.S. Presidential candidate), government is good mainly at one thing: breaking your legs, handing you a set of crutches, and then saying, “See, if it weren’t for us, you wouldn’t be able to walk!” Because of the State’s encroachment on virtually every aspect of the economy, all of us are now hobbling around on government-issued crutches.
Some pretend that their crutches are kind gifts from unquestionable authorities. To bolster this view, they assert “But government is doing many useful things!” Indeed, some people in government are involved in activities that are trying to be helpful to many people. But the key question always confronts them: What are themeans by which your organization is trying to help?
Of course, apologists of statism are quick to dismiss this inquiry. It doesn’t have legitimacy to them, because “the people” have supposedly spoken in elections, and they think the taxation tree, while in need of some pruning, is indispensable to their lives and well-being. The end therefore justifies the means, they say. We wouldn’t want a market to be lit by radiant sunlight, now would we? It might start thinking that it doesn’t need us!
Unfortunately, many of us tend to believe that our crutches don’t bother us all that much. Many of us think that if we just follow the rules and obey the laws (as if we could possibly know them all and thus do so) then our lives will somehow be fulfilling. Yet, whatever sort of fulfillment can be had by such an approach, it’s a far cry from living optimal lives, that is, lives proper to independently thinking, choosing, and acting human beings. Lysander Spooner described the nature of this regrettable situation in No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority:
The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: “Your money, or your life.” And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat.
The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the roadside, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful.
The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber. He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a “protector,” and that he takes men’s money against their will, merely to enable him to “protect” those infatuated travelers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these. Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful “sovereign,” on account of the “protection” he affords you. He does not keep “protecting” you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villainies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.
Spooner has here eloquently portrayed the psychology of enslavement of Americans. The State is the substitute highwayman in our lives. A real highwayman would be much easier to deal with; there’s no chance of being permanently duped and enslaved by him. From birth to grave government tries to deny us self-ownership and stifle our rationality. Unlike the highwayman, we seem to naturally become accustomed to capitulating to its constant demands, just as a child must capitulate to the demands of an authoritarian parent. But, of course, we aren’t children anymore. Yet are we, in a profound way, still locked into a survival mode that resembles a suffering child?
One thing’s for certain regarding this issue: It’s impossible to correct the immoral and unjust behavior of State employees by obeying them and acting as if we aren’t being victimized. Such a practice, the practice of thanking our leg breakers for the crutches they’ve provided us, or complaining that the crutches don’t fit properly, or at most wishing that we didn’t have to wear crutches, is indicative of the Stockholm syndrome. The name comes from a 1973 bank hostage crisis in Stockholm, Sweden, in which the hostages became quite sympathetic to their captors. The formal definition is as follows: an emotional attachment to a captor formed by a hostage as a result of continuous stress, dependence, and a need to cooperate for survival. Thus, the victim identifies and aligns with—essentially, excuses the actions of—his or her oppressors. The phenomenon is probably as old as humankind itself. Untold generations of children have had to cope with authoritarian parenting methods, as opposed to ones that fully respect and nurture their reasoning abilities. (In contrast, lenient parenting methods, which are without coherent structure, consistent guidance, and understandable education are arguably not much of an improvement over authoritarian parenting methods.)
America is faced with a hostage crisis of epic proportions. Even though the ransom has been paid by the victims over and over again, the captors are never satisfied. Nearly everyone is afflicted with varying degrees of the Stockholm syndrome—even though, as noted, we can at any time collectively disarm our captors. The more we trick ourselves into believing that placating our captors will keep them from destroying our lives, the more our lives (and society) become mere shadows of what they could be.
Obeying unjust laws and regulations and allowing our wealth to be taken from us is also similar to paying bribes in order to survive. Regardless of whether ransom or bribes is the most accurate depiction, such behavior will never restore our lives, our dignity, and our freedoms. Nor will it ensure our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor, to speak in the Founders’ terms. Remember, the dastardly and shameful practices of the State’s employees can’t be appeased. Further appeasement will only beget more of such practices—more of the game wherein the State’s employees pretend to be our protectors and providers, and we pretend not to be their dupes and slaves. Therefore, we must strip the State itself of its power, by exposing it for what it truly is.
Noticing The Obvious, And Judging It Properly
While evidence for the biggest crime imaginable is in plain sight, there are those who don’t want to stand up against immorality and injustice. Even though they may not be directly involved in government, they certainly tow the party line. For instance, you may wonder, as I have, why independent media tend to lean in the Marxist direction. They seem to be as blind to the coercive essence of the State as those in government—or, they’re just as aware of it, and they don’t care. Most of them probably think that if only they had the governmental tools at their disposal, then they could shape the world to their own liking. The environment would be saved, no one would be poor, there would be no more wars, everyone would have equality, the market would play fairly, and so on. What they fail to acknowledge, of course, is that the good can’t be achieved by irrational means. You can’t make people more rational by foisting irrationality upon them.
Individual rights and property are more fundamental concepts to the creation of a good world than anything else. Society is only as good as the persons residing in it, and how they treat each other. The less individuals and their property are respected and dealt with through reason, the less good can be accomplished.
The way to a better world must start with complete repudiation of a moral code that holds the sacrifice of individuals and their property as proper for the common good. By that inverted ethical standard, there can be no end to the sacrifices; soon, they consume an entire civilization, because each person who abides by this code has his or her own values to force on everyone else. Under this code, people’s values are transformed by government into endless needs, to be satisfied by those most able (as well as those less able).
From Communism to Democracy, to a constitutional Republic, the premise is the same: The able, who can be anyone for any reason, must be sacrificed to the needy, who can be anyone for any reason. This obviously creates ongoing turf wars of special interests, each vying for their day in the sun, their governmental branch to perch on—for the “good” of the few, at the expense of the many.
One may wonder when the news media will become objective about the full nature of these abominations. Clearly it’s within the average person’s capacity to report and judge events based on logical thought and evidence. One doesn’t have to drop the context in which things occur. Chasing metaphorical and literal ambulances may get people’s attention, but it also loses sight of why so many accidents are happening.
Ayn Rand wrote about the need to distinguish between “the metaphysical and the man-made.” Things don’t just “happen,” without causes. People make choices, and they take actions that may or may not have been necessary or preventable. In particular, when it comes to actions of governments and their abettors, and the ensuing negative repercussions in the world, nothing is more important than discovering how they could’ve been prevented, or at least mitigated. In other words, we need to distinguish not only what’s caused by nature versus what’s caused by human choice. We also must distinguish between human choices stemming from the unfettered use of reason versus those from coercion.
Rather than reporting events out of context, journalists and investigators need to follow the logical bouncing ball. They need to go to the causal source of any issue. That way, they can ground themselves in reality and facts, and ask essential questions that point the way to a dramatically better world for all of us.
It’s too common today for us to be exposed to only two aspects of any political or economic issue, which are merely two sides of the same fraudulent coin. Conservatives desire to have government their way, and liberals desire to have government their way. Neither of which is the correct way. Some are enamored with the idea that Republicans will take them to the promised land of low taxes, Constitutionally constrained and accountable government, law and order, and traditional values. Others are enamored with the idea that Democrats will take them to the promised land of effective and benevolent government, tolerance, equality, and progressive values. Still others are enamored with the idea that an independent man on a white horse will ride to election victory and rescue them from big, inefficient, and corrupt government—and replace it with a small government of, by, and for the People.
Few of these ideas are without some good intentions, of course. In the minds of most people, they all reflect a certain desire to make the world a better place. The folly is in their contradictory nature, in the notion that sacrificing rational values is both good and proper. On some level, most people sense this. This may be why, at base, they don’t quite trust the words that come out of the mouths of politicians and bureaucrats. Most feel that there’s something really slimy and slithery about politics, and anyone who pays the slightest bit of attention will see that it wreaks of ulterior motives. But many are unable or unwilling to pinpoint exactly why. Nonetheless, the constant antisocial activities of lying, cheating, and stealing continue to render politics guilty as charged. Our proxy highwayman is in plain sight.
Prohibiting voluntary contracts, voluntary trade, voluntary ownership, and voluntary use of property can never lead to any sort of promised land. Instead, it always leads to variations of hell on Earth. Anyone who believes that force is preferable to persuasion among human beings, or that theft is preferable to trade, should realize that one can’t logically exclude oneself from the effects.
Liberty-Oriented Values and Virtues
As stressed earlier, if you want complete liberty, you must advocate both freedom for yourself and freedom for others. Liberty must be put into proper context. So, in addition to formulating a new understanding of the nature of government, we need to formulate a new understanding of what freedom means for all humans. We need to promote beneficial values and virtues in relation to others. Values such as reason and self-esteem and virtues such as self-reliance, integrity, honesty, and self-responsibility must be incorporated into our ways of living—and demonstrated to our children.
Reason is our essential method of interacting with the world and with others. The fist, club, gun, fine, or jail cell are its opposites. Coercion is the antithesis of rationality. You can’t force yourself or someone else to think or feel differently. That’s not how the brain works. Human beings require evidence, facts, and logical identification and integration of ideas in order to make sense of things.
Disappointingly, some people believe that we ought to be coerced into doingvarious things, such as paying taxes; if we don’t, we should be forced to live in a jail cell. If we resist at any point, we should be restrained or even killed. Rather than appealing to reason, these self-contradictory beliefs and practices appeal to insanity, the loss of rational functioning. When employees of the State force others (who’ve violated no one’s rights) to do various things, the end result in society is the law of the jungle—a code of morality fit for unthinking primates. Those who enforce jungle law are much more suited to commanding troops of baboons than telling fellow humans what to do.
The fact that some people think that forcing others is the answer to their financial woes, be they social or political in nature, tells us that they don’t fully believe in the effectiveness of their own reasoning capacities. In other words, they reason that their faculty of reason is impotent, and therefore people must be forced. This necessarily diminishes their level of self-esteem.
Self-esteem involves a firm belief in the efficacy of one’s mind and one’s worthiness for happiness. The first component enables us to cope with life’s challenges, while the second provides the feeling that we’re fit for existence, that we’re “good enough.” Developing confidence in your own mind’s ability to function as nature intended—that is, rationally—and appreciating your own sense of worth as a unique human being with great potential for happiness are keys to generating and maintaining genuine self-esteem.
Integrity is tied to this, of course. If we do things that we know are wrong or don’t make rational sense, our self-esteem suffers. We are being dishonest with ourselves if we believe that what we profess and what we do shouldn’t be logically connected. We then betray our deeper understanding. If we’ve adopted values from the culture without consideration of whether they’re good for us and good for others, then we become mostly dependent on traditions and institutions for our code of morality. Like the bad political memes that infect society, bad ethical memes promote inconsistent values and virtues, which diminish our practice of integrity.
Honesty and intellectual self-reliance become doubly critical when the culture offers us ideas that contradict our ability to be rational and accept facts. Honesty entails the willingness to honor reality, to always acknowledge what’s happening (and what’s happened) rather than to ignore or distort it, or just make something up. It relies on our inherent ability to identify and integrate information, that is, to reason.
Self-reliance reflects the belief that no one can do our thinking or feeling or deciding for us. This is as it should be. No one has your particular perspective, knowledge, opinions, and capabilities. Therefore, you are in the best position of taking charge of your life, as you see fit. Others may be helpful and comforting, or they may want you to uncritically accept their pronouncements and judgments. But you are the prime mover of your life. To take charge of your thoughts, feelings, and actions means that you accept the fact that you’re a responsible person. Other people are responsible persons too. None of us is a piece of putty in the hands of others, to be molded as they desire. Even conformity to unjust edicts of authorities is a personal choice, and the more we decide to conform, the more we look like putty.
Self-responsibility reflects the belief that each of us is the ultimate decision maker in our lives. You are the architect of your actions, because you are the thinker of your thoughts. This, too, is as it should be. You wouldn’t want others to be in charge of your character and reputation, would you? That would deny others their own responsibility to themselves. Each of us is thus accountable for what we believe and what we do.
Notice that government, through taxation, regulation, and monopolization attempts to rob us of these vital values and virtues. In an utter erosion of honesty, it tells us that all is as it should be, that there’s nothing of great concern to be aware of. It discourages us from taking responsibility by trying to counteract our own will and reason, by trying to usurp our crucial decision-making ability. In an unequivocal act of incivility and dishonor, the State coerces us into taking care of others and coerces others into taking care of us. Primarily, though, we are coerced into taking care of the State. By imposing their services upon us, employees of the State leave us little choice in crucial matters of our security and the security of our communities.
Government basically destroys the opportunities for shaping our lives in the ways we truly want. It further pretends that we can’t rely on ourselves. Instead, we must rely on authorities (other selves) to tell us what to do and what not to do—and submit to them regardless of whether we disagree with their irrational pronouncements. Government diminishes our growth in self-esteem and integrity by fostering credulity in coercion and dependence on nonsense ideas. Finally, it hands us a twisted code of morality, which tells us that we aren’t sovereign and that we don’t fully own ourselves and our property.
The psychological shock waves all these things send throughout the country truly suppress the American spirit of independence and individuality. Thus, our entire population ends up with a split personality, in which people relate to others personally in one fashion (respectfully) and to others politically in another fashion (disrespectfully).
Another ethical consequence concerns the decline of social virtues that Thomas Paine knew were necessary for good communities to sustain themselves. In addition to reasonableness and honesty, they involve such things as generosity, goodwill, kindness, and helpfulness. Though Americans are still supremely generous, and give enormous sums of money and assistance to those in need around the world, the State’s system of taxation and regulation steals and wastes much of our wealth. It leaves us with a small fraction of what would otherwise be available to give to others less fortunate, or better yet, to invest in ways to help them help themselves.
Additionally, as mentioned earlier, bad money tends to drive out good money, meaning that helpful people are either prevented from helping others in need or are forced into the government’s official way of doing things. The aftermath of the levy breach in New Orleans, for instance, not only exposed the destructive policies of the Army Corps of Engineers, but also proved once again that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is hazardous to our health. The sooner Americans can divest themselves of these life-threatening organizations, the better. We will then swap the anchors thrown to us by government for marketplace life preservers.
Since accountability isn’t connected to the consumption of tax revenues, few take responsibility for how and where the money is spent and the quality of the services that are (and are not) provided. The unintended consequences of this have become case studies in mismanagement of resources and creation of unhealthy dependencies. For instance, the “War on Poverty,” like all statist wars, is mainly a war on taxpayers, using the recipients as fodder for further boondoggles. Observe the results: more misery; more corruption; and, more failure.
A rational vision of the future entails realizing the futility in promoting contradictory political ideals. If we desire a fantastically better world for ourselves and others, the only way to achieve it is to rid ourselves of subhuman ways of dealing with one another. We must look upward instead of downward when it comes to morality. Upward is the evolutionary destiny that we must decide to fulfill. With that in mind, let’s finish with an analysis of concrete ways to evolve in the short term, so that we might achieve complete liberty in our lifetime, not merely in smart discourse with friends at a coffee shop, or in our pleasant dreams, or in some future time unreachable to us.