August 1, 2006
In my first week at the Hilltop Hermitage, I contemplated the qualities of a free man, the most important part of the foundation on which freedom stands.
Next time, I pondered the concept of Sustainable Freedom — freedom that lasts because its foundations are sound. Unfortunately that time around I mostly considered human behaviors that get in the way of achieving lasting freedom.
Given the multitude of historic barriers to freedom, you might think we’d have to change human nature to make freedom self-sustaining. True, we need changes. True, the task is daunting. But we don’t need to change our inborn nature. Merely our perceptions.
And people have done that thousands of times throughout history.
A paradigm shift, which we can help create, can lead to Sustainable Freedom.
So what’s a paradigm shift?
A paradigm shift is a sudden and rapid change of perception. Shifts occur when we view existing reality in a new way. The outer world doesn’t change. Human nature doesn’t have to change. We merely view things differently. One moment we see the vase; the next, the faces. One day, the sun revolves around the earth. The next, the earth revolves around the sun. For centuries, women are “the weaker vessel.” Then boom: “I am woman; hear me roar.”
Before a paradigm shifts, there’s often intense, seemingly immovable resistance. Shift-proponents may be ridiculed, reviled, shunned — even imprisoned or killed. Think of Galileo being compelled by the Inquisition to recant his conviction that the earth orbits the sun.
Then one day … breakthrough. Thought alters with the rapidity of an earthquake. Former wing-nuts and heretics go down in history as innovators.
To achieve sustainable freedom I believe two paradigm shifts are needed. One of these will naturally follow the other. The new perceptions are:
- The Happiness Paradigm: The greatest happiness comes not from ease and security, but from being fully engaged in life and rising to challenges.
- The Freedom Paradigm: The maximum amount of happiness is achieved with the minimum amount of government.
The Freedom Paradigm is probably self-evident to most readers of this column. It’s the paradigm we already hold. It’s so obvious to us we shake our heads in disbelief that the rest of the world doesn’t get it. But the Happiness Paradigm requires explanation.
It’s weird that the Happiness Paradigm hasn’t already shifted, because anybody who thinks about it can see that the current widespread paradigm (“Happiness comes from leisure, money, status, sex, entertainment, and security”) is as wrong as “the sun orbits the earth.”
I believe most people already grok the Happiness Paradigm from their own experience. They just don’t credit their own inner knowledge. A few simple questions bring out the reality:
Are you happier when you have nothing at all to do or when you’re building something in your workshop?
Are you happier when you’ve helped someone directly or when you’ve been told your taxes did the job for you?
Are you happier when you’ve just bought something or when you’ve just made an equivalent something with your own hands?
Are you happier when you’ve ducked out of a challenge or when you’ve just achieved something you didn’t think you could do?
Are you happier living on handouts or taking care of your own needs?
In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi shows scientifically what a lot of us understand empirically about what gives us most satisfaction. That book is worth a read (after kind of a slow start).
You could paraphrase the whole Happiness Paradigm by saying that in the pursuit of happiness, the greatest happiness lies in the most engaging pursuit.
Once you change your concept about what generates happiness, then the Freedom Paradigm follows easily. Suddenly a government peddling handouts and imposing iron-fisted, narrow-minded rules no longer looks like a friend. We can understand exactly what it is — a drag on human happiness, a barrier that tragically prevents millions and millions of individuals, rich, poor, and otherwise, from achieving what’s best in life.
Leave us alone and we’ll make the best of our own lives. Leave us alone and we’ll offer a voluntary helping hand — a hand up, not a hand out — so others can do the same. Those others in turn, newly energized and empowered, will break out of the cycle of entitlement and its accompanying lassitude, resentment, and despair, and start forging healthy relationships and communities again.
Obviously we’re far from widespread acceptance of either of the above paradigms. But then, that’s also the way it seems just before many paradigm shifts. (Dare I bring up the cliche, “It’s always darkest just before dawn”?)
But how do we get from here to there?
I told you I was going to write about Sustainable Freedom. Then I wrote one column about why we aren’t more free and another theorizing about paradigms. “So,” I hear some frustrated reader asking, “is that Claire person ever going to get down to it and tell us how we can get this thing done?”
Well, to be frank, you and I both know that nobody can prescribe freedom like a doctor prescribes medicine. But the people of the western world are due, and overdue, to shift their paradigm about the proper function of government.
And yes I do have some things to say (with a little help from my friends) about 1) how we can encourage that shift happen and 2) how we can, in some innovative but practical ways, direct, reinforce, and perpetuate the shift once the earth under the feet of government begins to shake.
Guarantees? No. Detailed how-tos? Not a chance. But hopeful practicalities? Yes.
Today I’m leaving you with one more cliff-hanger (sorry). But next time — I promise — I’ll wrap up these meditations with some practical groundwork for achieving Sustainable Freedom.
After that, it’ll be time to leave the Hilltop Hermitage and return to the hustle, bustle, and extremely bad coffee of Hardyville. Even up here, I hear rumors that the entire place has gone to heck in my absence.