August 15, 2006
NOTE: This one’s quite a bit longer than usual. You might want to grab a cup of coffee and a croissant before plunging in.
It’s a simple fact. To become free and stay free, we need to shift our cultural paradigm about the role government should play in our lives.
Only with a new way of thinking about happiness and government’s role in it do we have the opportunity to create Sustainable Freedom.
Change the concept and millions can suddenly, easily perceive that government is not their friend. Change the concept and millions have opportunity and inspiration to look in the one place freedom is actually available — in ourselves.
Tapping free-people power
Fortunately freedom lovers are uniquely equipped to give that cultural paradigm the final shove when the moment is right.
We don’t have numbers, true. At the moment we’re often marginalized as wing-nuts, throwbacks, or amusing cranks. But we do have two key weapons and one potential one that few of us truly appreciate. They are:
Together these characteristics give us a so-far untapped capability to become inspirational and practical (not political!) leaders.
Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
We tend to pigeonhole that statement as pertaining to political activism. But it goes far beyond. Think of the many small groups of people who’ve had enormous influence on culture or belief. The French Impressionists, for instance, were a tiny group of artists — a dozen or two. Yet they altered the entire Western art world forever, blowing away iron-bound conventions and giving birth, for good or ill, to modern art.
Think of “amusing cranks” like Robert Goddard who played with rockets back in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. People considered them laughable — until they gave birth to the space age.
Think of Jews and gays. Each of those groups constitutes about three percent of the U.S. population. But look at the enormous cultural influences they’ve exerted. Jews have contributed mightily to American entertainment, cuisine, language, and scholarship. Gays have heavily influenced the arts, entertainment, fashion, and more. In both cases, their influence far exceeds what anyone might predict from their numbers.
Now look at freedom-seekers. We tend to be above average in intelligence (sometimes way above). Entrepreneurial. We create wealth. We create ideas. We create products. Our individualism makes us stand out in a crowd — which is often uncomfortable. But the fact that we’ve had to forge and defend our own identity means we’re likely to be less gullible, less malleable, less likely to fall for whatever load of propagandistic or fashionable crap is being peddled.
It means that we have had to develop strong core selves. People with strong inner cores are natural influencers and inspirers. Others may not always like us. They may find us inconvenient and uncomfortable to be around, since our very existence challenges their premises. But many of us are nevertheless the kind of people others turn to in a crisis.
We are every bit as impressive a cultural phenomenon as Jews and gays.2 Numbers? Who needs ’em? Well, we’ll need ’em later — and we’ll use our inspirational and practical skills to generate them. But they’re not necessary for starters.
Big government looks more powerful today than ever. But the ideas that prop up big government are weak. Tired. Moribund. The notion that a bunch of ordinary fallible people, locked in far-away bureaucracies or barging into our castles in ninja suits, know more about what’s good for us than we know ourselves is simply an absurdity. A fantasy. A wet-dream for power lovers and a nightmare for people who truly want to achieve satisfying lives.
Already, solid ideas that can replace this evil fantasy are being forged. The ideas for a new freedom reach back into history, inward into spirituality, outward to community, forward into technology. The philosphical and practical preparations for freedom are being made. The groundwork is being laid.
Much more needs to be done. But despite the darkness of these days, freedom creators have already made a bright beginning whose power may only become clear from history’s perspective.
Preparing to drive the shift
But “history” doesn’t have to mean 100 years. History is rushing upon us.
You know it; I know it. A day will come — possibly within the next decade — when the U.S. version of big government will collapse under its own weight, just as the Soviet version of big government did. Unlike the Soviet government, which took nothing but the credibility of Communism with it when it fell, the U.S. government — dollar-provider to the world — is likely to take other governments with it and lead to major disillusionment with government-as-usual.
At that moment, we have the opportunity to reveal the pro-government fantasy as bankrupt financially, morally, intellectually, and philosophically.
At that moment, the paradigm is ready to shift.
Remember, even mainstream prognosticators are now beginning to predict that the government will soon have to either do much less or tax (and inflate) much more. They’re making that look like two awful alternatives. We on the other hand, own the best and truest answer: “Life for all of us can become better as government does less. Look, we’re doing it this very minute.”
So what, specifically, can we do to get the momentum rolling?
Begin with our own lives (as a lot of us already have), then work our way outward. Lay the groundwork now. Have a little patience. And be ready to push when the ground starts to shift. Five things in particular:
1. Take the Happiness Paradigm to heart. Live with the understanding that the greatest satisfaction comes from being fully engaged in the world and meeting personal challenges.
When we do that, we’re happier and more confident of being able to make a difference. We’ll live larger. And thus we’ll also stand as an example to others, which is where the world begins to change.
As more adopt the Happiness Paradigm, fewer have use for the current “Government is our friend” paradigm.
Yes, this seems like a slow, iffy way to lay freedom’s foundations. It is. But when the paradigm supporting big government starts to fall, this alone puts thousands of inspirational leaders in place.
2. Practice living the ideals of a Free Man. Expect the best of ourselves and others and we’re more likely to get it. We’re also more likely to inspire others around us to develop their own freedom-sustaining expectations.
Remember: Real freedom isn’t merely an intellectual concept. Real freedom is a lifelong style of behavior.
Again, I know. Meeting Free Man ideals seems both very large (when we’re stumbling through our days) and very small (when we think in a linear way about how much, or how little, a single person can accomplish). But as with the Happiness Paradigm, we become stronger. We are better equipped to lead by example.
3. Practice (and share) freedom technology. Okay, you see what’s going to happen when the governmental house of cards collapses. Millions don’t. Probably most of your neighbors don’t. We often fear what those self-blinded millions might do — to us, to our gulches, our food stocks, our preparations — on the day the politician byproduct plops into those whirling blades.
But what if, instead of dreading, we encouraged development of freedom skills and even built freedom-enabling community businesses? True, at this point not many are interested. So you don’t tell your neighbors, “You must do this because the world is going to end tomorrow!” Instead, you introduce a class in gunsmithing, form a food-canning work-group, or start a neighborhood-based business because:
“It’s a great chance to get back to basics.”
“Simple living saves the environment.”
“Community self-support empowers everyone.”
Yes, once again, this seems like such a small thing! And it is. Even more discouraging, we can expect conditions in the country to keep getting worse as we strive to make these tiny improvements on a local, even neighborhood, level. Because things do get worse for a while, as predatory dinosaurs weaken from their wounds.
But once again, when bad times come (whether they come in dramatic TSHTF fashion or more quietly, in spreading depression), you have created a network of people who are more freedom-ready.
It doesn’t even matter if the people joining you share your politics or philosophy. In fact, talk politics only discreetly. People can become friends of freedom first by doing. Some may never share our ideas — but they’ll still be better capable of acting autonomously, which is essential. And many may make the crucial philosophical connection that enables them to go on to be inspirational and practical freedom-sustainers.
4. Agitate with ideas — and with subtlety! Freedom lovers are idea factories. We write articles, post to discussion groups, give speeches, grab lapels. And why not? We have provocative ideas that work in the real world.
On the day our neighbors finally “get” that government doesn’t work, they’ll be ready for something that does. And it’ll be largely up to us to make sure freedom is the idea they try (as opposed to simply fleeing from the present mess to some different crackpot notion of big government).
Our biggest problem is the abovementioned lapel-grabbing. And insistence on all-or-nothing agreement. Hey, if you do that, cut it out!
The keys are:
- Find out what moves somebody
- Establish common ground on the thing that matters to them
- Toss a practical, freedom-enabling idea at them on that subject
- Give them time to consider it
- Show by example that the idea can work, or at least show by example that you’re the kind of person whose ideas do work.
Some of us will do this on a small scale — simply giving a gift of new ideas to our neighbors. Others will do it large, with speeches or books. But again … doing it in the right way at the right time can enormously magnify freedom’s persuasive power.
5. Think freedom systems. Freedom systems are the technologies, institutions, and communities that enable people to deal with each other in a structured, but also a voluntary, way. They are the glue that holds societies together without the interference of government.
In our present world, government has taken over in many areas where freedom systems could do a better job. For instance, government dominates identity documents (which is by no means as natural a development as we often assume). But government dominance steals our privacy, where freedom-based systems could be created and marketed with privacy protection as a feature to attract potential customers.
Some freedom-enhancing “social glue” can be recaptured only after government is thoroughly out of our way. But there are some systems we — that is, the very best and brightest among us — can develop, or begin to develop, now.
With a lot help from a friend who must remain anonymous for the moment, I’m thinking things like this:
- Anonymous digital payment methods (technically possible, but derailed)
- Cyberspace marketplaces (already well on their way)
- Trust systems to enable strangers to evaluate strangers in commercial transactions or social networking (similar to the very non-invasive eBay community ratings system, but much more layered and sophisticated — without being invasive)
- Digital ID for use online without destruction of privacy
- Community-based businesses
- Non-governmental mediation and arbitration services
- Privacy-respecting banking
The great virtues of these systems are: 1) They don’t require their users to be full-flown libertarians before getting involved; 2) They make it hard, unnecessary, or undesirable for government to insert itself; and 3) They reinforce and perpetuate, and therefore make sustainable, freedom-enhancing personal choices. (Not to mention they can potentially make some entrepreneur very successful.)
Take anonymous payments, for instance. Even people who just adore government still like to hide their private doings and escape outrageous taxes. So anonymous pay systems have a large built-in market. A self-interested, non-political market.
Take sophisticated (but privacy-respecting!) systems for determining how trustworthy an individual is likely to be in a transaction with strangers. The EBay community already does this in a primitive fashion, but more is possible. Sellers, buyers, and anyone making contacts online benefit by having such a system. Again, users don’t have to arrive as full-fledged freedom lovers. Once they do enter, however, the system itself rewards — and therefore helps sustain — honorable Free Man behaviors and discourages dishonorable ones.
So what if many of the users couldn’t care less about freedom? They patronize freedom-enabling systems for their own selfish benefit. The systems grow. Similar systems are created. And future users are, without coercion, directed automatically into a whole complex of freedom-enhancing behaviors.
Freedom becomes built in to society’s institutions.
Now it’s very true that, as any developing freedom system threatens the hegemony of that staggering tyrannosaur in DC, government will try to co-opt it, legislate against it, or come down on it with a herd of jackboots. Yes, this will happen. In some sad cases, the onslaught will be successful. Some people will suffer.
In other cases, Our Glorious Leaders (who, remember, tend to have less grasp of technology than your great granny does) won’t even recognize that some freedom-enabling system is a threat — until it’s too late.
As mentioned earlier, the dying tyrannosaur doesn’t go down without a lot of flailing. But then what happens? As the beast roars and strikes out, the people with the most smarts and the most money get sick of being threatened and (enabled by technology) they move offshore. It’s already happening. Someday the stream of expats and PT multi-millionaires will become a mighty river.
Some small country — maybe in the Caribbean, maybe in the South Pacific, maybe in Europe — sees opportunity in all this fleeing wealth. Its own best and brightest people look at the U.S. and say, “You know, The Big Superpower can still thunder and threaten, but it ain’t what it used to be.” So instead of being cowed into submission (a tactic the U.S. has counted on to control would-be financial havens) the people of this little country set up a truly private banking system. No government registration numbers required for customers. No totally unnecessary “know your customer” privacy-raping procedures. No reporting to any snoop agency. No handing customer records over without a valid court order. Customers’ financial doings are — what a nineteenth-century concept! — solely their own business. This lovely banking system is accessible at first only to the billionaires and multi-millionaires. But gradually it’s services expand to us mere mortals.
Or defying the odds, the little pirate country makes itself the defiant home to the anonymous digital payment system and refuses to reveal the identities of the system’s users — because it can’t, but also because it sees profit in protecting privacy.
Countries that try that now tend to get beaten down. But when shift day nears … one little country could defy the odds, prove that big government has weakened … and there there earth goes, shaking under our feet.
And that — in a very small nutshell — is the condensed version of how I believe we can restore freedom when the time is right, and how we can make it sustainable once we win it. I’d like to give more detail, but your coffee, croissant, and time have probably already run out — as has my editor’s willingness to put up with me. With a little help from my friends, I’ll write more about this subject, with more detail, in another medium.
But the main thing is:
Freedom has a chance of enduring next time if it’s not imposed by law but born through inspiration, integrity. Freedom has a chance of enduring if it rises from the real individuals who have to live it. Freedom has a chance of enduring if working free-market systems automatically reinforce everyday Free Man behaviors.
Is this concept glamorous? No. Dramatic as a Glorious Revolution? No. Guaranteed to happen? No. A magic bullet? No.
Does it give us one central point we can all rally round, one big effort lead by a handful of guerrilla generals? Does it give us flags to fly at the head of our column? Nope. But then … isn’t that concept of organization part of the paradigm we’re trying to replace
We must be our own, and our neighbors’, leaders. Ironically, we must be leaders who enable our neighbors not to need and not to crave leaders.
Is Sustainable Freedom difficult? Yes. Iffy? Yes. But perhaps the best long-term hope we have.
Next week: Back to Hardyville.
1 Major tip of the hat to Joel Simon for pointing my thoughts in the direction of style.
2 Kinda makes you wonder what a gay Jewish freedom lover could accomplish. :-)