A Cost/Benefit Analysis of the Human Spirit: The Luddites Revisited

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I arrived at this conference by air. There is nothing remarkable in this by itself. Over the years, I have flown to many locations throughout the world without feeling any more of a need to mention the fact than I would to inform you that I filled my car with gasoline last week. But this is my first airline flight in almost eighteen months, and it is my sincere desire that it shall be my last for a long while. It is not that I had no place else to go during this past year and a half. I have taken trips from Los Angeles to such places as San Francisco, Aspen, Phoenix, and Tucson. But in each instance I have driven. I refuse to fly unless, as in the case of this conference, time constraints permit me no other option.

It is not that I have a fear of flying: I have always enjoyed the sensation of flight. Nor do I have any fears, after 9/11, that someone will hijack a plane I am on and plow it into a building someplace: the best security airlines now have against hijackers is the presence of two hundred or more passengers who, because of 9/11, would likely pounce on and kill anyone attempting a hijacking.

My refusal to fly is, instead, grounded in that most basic of economic explanations: it simply costs too much! I am referring not to the air fares themselves: thanks to various Internet services, one can usually find decent rates. The costs to which I refer are those that most of us, in our thoroughly institutionalized, regulated, catalogued, and policed world, too often fail to incorporate into our cost/benefit analyses: the psychic, emotional, and spiritual costs to our very sense of being by having one’s body, clothing, luggage, handbag, or other belongings subject to searches, gropings, and inquisitions by functionaries of the state. One of my credit card companies periodically reminds me that, because of my longtime usage of their card, I am entitled to "free" airline tickets to virtually any place on earth. My wife and I love to travel, but even with free tickets, having to endure such dehumanizing intrusions upon myself involves a cost that is beyond my means to pay!

I offer this as an example of how I choose to deal with what I regard as the most pressing problem now confronting mankind: the expansion of institutional power over the lives of men and women, and its corollary, the ever-continuing demeaning of the human spirit.

One of the many unintended consequences of our commercial and industrialized civilization has been an ever-widening division between the physical and the spiritual nature of what it means to be human. This division began at least as early as Descartes, whose "mind/body" dualism helped us accept such a division of our basic nature. Had we been a bit more attentive, we would have become aware that it was such spiritually driven periods as the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the scientific revolution, that fostered the discoveries and inventions that blossomed during the Industrial Revolution. Most of us have forgotten how our imagination, intuition, passions, sentiments, dreams, emotions, speculations, and unconscious forces have been principal contributors not only to finding a sense of meaning in our lives, but to improving our material well being.

It should be evident that our modern world is in a state of destructive turbulence. A major cause of this turbulence, I believe, is to be found in conflicts that arise within us, and with others, as a consequence of our accepting this division between our physical and spiritual natures. We are tearing our world apart, because we are inwardly torn apart by our refusal to live integrated lives. To express the proposition in the language of economics: our actions are producing inefficient and dysfunctional consequences because we are systematically ignoring some of the primary costs associated with our behavior.

As the study of chaos or complexity informs us, it is the nature of complex systems to occasionally shift into periods of turbulence. This seems to result from the failure of a system to remain resilient to the forces at work upon it, and the efforts to stabilize that system through structured mechanisms and practices that seek to resist change. The marketplace — operating through the pricing system — provides for continuing responses to such pressures and, in so doing, sustains an "order through fluctuation," in which no market participant can ever be assured of the stability of its position. But as those of us interested in revisionist approaches to economic history have discovered, not everyone is content to live in an "ever-fluctuating" world. As a consequence, many marketplace participants, particularly in the 20th century, call upon the nation-state to use its coercive powers on behalf of the structuring of their interests. Government regulation of trade, production, labor, product standards, pricing, and sales practices; licensing and other entry restrictions; tariff and taxation policies; and wars are among the more familiar examples.

But such political structuring has its costs, as everyone here is doubtless aware. Indeed, Murray Rothbard was one of the pioneers of modern efforts to identify the motivations and analyze the consequences of corporate-state regulatory schemes.

As a result of research efforts engaged in by economists, historians, lawyers, and students of government, it is now difficult for anyone to avoid the fact that the political structuring of modern society has generated both economic and social costs of great proportion. I trust that an elaboration of these costs need not be made here. But there is another cost that has not received as much attention; a cost which, I believe, is now being called up for payment by increasing numbers of people. It is the cost to the human spirit occasioned by the demeaning nature of the political structuring of our lives. What does it mean to the inner sense of being in each of us to have our lives subjected to restraints, mandates, prohibitions, and other controls premised upon each of us being little more than "resources" for the achievement of institutional ends?

It is these costs to the human spirit that most threaten the well being of all mankind, and to which the attention of intelligent men and women must now be directed. As Viktor Frankl observed in his Nazi concentration camp experiences, what hurt so much was not the physical pain inflicted by brutish guards, but the indignity, the lack of respect shown to one as a human being, the loss of a sense of individuality in being shorn of everything — personal possessions, even one’s body hair — that made one unique.

I believe that each of us has a fundamental need for spiritual or transcendent experiences; a need to connect up with the rest of the universe in a way that is meaningful to our innermost sense of who we are. These needs — which often find expression as emotional experiences — have sometimes been referred to as "peak experiences," or what others call a sense of "cosmic consciousness," or "an order of truths which transcends the sphere of the external sense." I will go further and suggest that this need for a sense of integrated wholeness underlies — sometimes through a highly energized consciousness, and sometimes at an unconscious level of awareness — most of what we do in life. While, as an agnostic, I am not referring to "spirituality" in its more familiar setting of organized religion, it might include that expression as well. Religious systems have prevailed, in one form or another, since the earliest known records of mankind, reflecting this powerful inner need to feel connected to the universe. But this drive manifests itself elsewhere: the sciences, poetry and other forms of literature, invention, art, the desire for learning, music, architecture, dance, procreation and the raising of children, philosophy, the enjoyment of nature, and the desire to make the world a better place, all derive from this spiritual need. So too, I believe, does that beautiful prehistoric handprint found in an underground cave in France, in which one of our ancestors appears to have reached out to us over many thousands of years as if to say: "I was here." The true believer, the agnostic, and the atheist, all desire to know the answers to the kinds of questions that are asked by students of both religion and science: where did it all come from, where is it all going, and what rules are in place while we are here?

Even men and women who define their daily pursuits as being more "practical" than "spiritual" might ask themselves why it is that they pursue wealth, fame, power, or status in their undertakings. They might discover that the satisfaction of such ends would allow them to transcend their more limited sense of self, perhaps even to extend their name and accomplishments far beyond their own lifetimes.

For a long time, institutions have persuaded us to seek our sense of transcendence through them, by being of service to an institutional hierarchy and, perhaps, enjoying power and status within such an apparatus. I recall, as a teenager, my father trying to interest me in joining the young man’s version of a fraternal organization to which he was a devoted member. Apart from the fact that my unwillingness to join almost any organization can probably be traced back to some genetic marker in my DNA, I inquired as to the purpose in joining this organization. "It’s so you can move up into ever-higher positions in the organization," he responded. "Why?" I asked. "So that you can have more authority and prestige," he said. "In order to accomplish what?" "To help bring more people into the organization," he responded. Sad to say, this reflects the kind of vicious circle in which most people find their needs for transcendence ensnared by organizations that have become their own reasons for existence. Organized religions too often leave men and women with rigid dogmas rather than spiritual awakenings; corporate enterprises often foster the kinds of identities I once heard at a business conference, wherein a man introduced himself as "I am Xerox." In his play, The Adding Machine, Elmer Rice introduces us to the dispirited employee whose greatest ambition would be that he "might sit in the gallery of a coal mine and operate the super-hyper-adding machine with the great toe of [his] right foot." And of course, there is that most dehumanizing and degrading corruption of these needs for transcendence: the state. Over the years, I have read hundreds of "personal statements" by students seeking admission to the law school where I teach. There is an almost universal theme running through these statements: "with a law degree, I will be better able to use the powers of government to make life better for people." Schools and universities have helped train students to think that transcendence can be found in politics. But politics, being grounded in coercive power over others, doesn’t allow us to connect up with others. Instead, it divides us into opposing groups and creates conflict. What lies we tell our children about political systems, lies promising young men and women the status of "heroes," while turning their minds and bodies into so much fungible cannon-fodder to be consumed in "perpetual wars for perpetual peace"; and downgrading other victims as "collateral damage." What greater indictment of the state’s contempt for the spiritual quality of all human beings than the neutron bomb, a device that only destroys people, not the physical structures, natural resources, and technologies, that are of value and importance to institutional interests! The neutron bomb is the state’s message that it tells us in every war, namely, that the institutional hierarchy has taken inventory of all its assets, and the bottom has fallen out of the market for human beings!

Far too many of us, unfortunately, have come to regard the material costs of governmental undertakings as the only ones worthy — or capable — of sound analysis. For too many economists, only those costs and benefits capable of being quantified are deserving of critical evaluation. The human costs, in terms of suffering, death, humiliation, or the diminution of the spirit, can be talked about, or acknowledged, but are rarely brought into the inquiry as a decisive factor. I recall attending a conference at which one well-known (non-Austrian) economist — and a man for whom I hold a great deal of respect — did a cost/benefit analysis of governmental behavior in general. He did not mention any of the spiritual factors that were of interest to me. I asked him how he would do a cost/benefit analysis of Auschwitz, or a Soviet gulag. He admitted that there were important costs associated with such systems, but confessed that, since they could not be quantified, they could not be talked about in any more meaningful way.

The legal profession suffers from this same preoccupation with mechanistic and material assessments of the propriety of institutional behavior. In place of quantitative analysis, lawyers dwell on such notions as procedural due process, to insist that acceptable procedures be employed before depriving individuals of their life, liberty, or property. If the "road to hell is paved with good intentions," the "road to tyranny is paved with procedural due process." There was a time when substantive due process was given more respect, but such inquiries have become decreasingly relevant in our Panglossian world.

I recall a conference, at Claremont College in 1972, at which Murray Rothbard ended up in a polite but energized debate with Harold Demsetz. Murray was insisting that moral and other philosophical values had to be given greater consideration in economic analysis than was the habit of most economists. Demsetz, as I recall, was making much the same response as the aforementioned economist when confronting my cost/benefit question. Murray was concerned with how to help young people understand that the study of economics was about something far more vivid than could be explained in terms of cost accounting. In a sentence I shall never forget, Murray said: "Harold, the young kids out there are not going to be willing to go to the barricades in defense of lowered transaction costs!"

PRECISELY!! And neither is anyone else, nor should they be!!

Some may respond that the study of economics, law, history, and other fields of human behavior ought not to incorporate emotional, spiritual, and other subjective values; that the analytical process ought to proceed from a more detached, value-free perspective. But the failure to incorporate such subjective factors does not reflect a "value-free" approach. It only smuggles into the analysis an alternative set of values that presume spiritual considerations to be unworthy of the attention of intelligent persons. Such an approach is premised on the illusion, long since demolished by Heisenberg’s "uncertainty principle," that one can observe the world in some allegedly "objective" manner. This approach further fragments us, giving us an incomplete assessment of the impact of various policies and practices on human beings. It ignores the inherently subjective nature of all values.

It is to the spirit — quite literally — of Murray’s comment that my remarks are addressed. The lives of increasing numbers of men and women have become dispirited, without a sense of meaning to be found in the well-organized madness that has produced our "normally neurotic" culture. Murray understood — as do most of us here — that life is self-directed activity, mobilized by individualized, self-seeking purposes, and that efforts to usurp such control — such as through the coercive actions of the state — are inherently at war with life itself. "Life," in other words, is inseparable from liberty, and any evaluation of institutional behavior must proceed from an awareness of this fundamental fact. ALL costs of human action must be accounted for, particularly those that cannot be measured! I will state the proposition as bluntly and as radically as I know how: I value the free market ONLY because I value individual liberty, and I value individual liberty because that condition, alone, permits the greatest opportunities for the full expression of the inner sense of what it means to be human! If one could make the case that an alternative economic system would better serve these humanizing ends, I would embrace it. But I am convinced that such is not the case; that the alternative systems others propose always seem to end up grounded in some form of political coercion. While I am willing to use philosophical reasoning and economic analysis to support my case for the free market, make no mistake about it: it is the intuitive, emotional, spiritual side of my being that impels me to embrace marketplace economics in general, and the Austrians — who are more attuned to the importance of these "invisible means of support" — in particular. I will even go so far as to declare that, because of my insistence upon liberty, I would support free market systems even if it were shown that the marketplace was a materially inefficient means of providing for goods and services, for such an analysis could only be proffered by one who was failing to include the inner costs to which I refer.

There is nothing remarkable in this approach I take to ideas. The writings of other men and women often provide useful sounding boards for the development of my own thinking about my place in the world. But, whether consciously or unconsciously, I have always judged such works by the standard of their consistency with my own inner sense of being. It was never logic nor other forms of reasoning that attracted me to one thinker or another, but whether my own spirit was reflected in their writings. At no time in my life have I found any philosopher who adequately responded to the question I remember asking myself while I was in law school. One Sunday afternoon, my wife and I were walking near the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, when my inquiry focused on this question: "why should I have to justify my desire for liberty on any grounds other than the fact that I do not choose to be coerced?" Why, in other words, did I need to rationalize my claim to immunity from trespasses by appealing to anything beyond my own will? This question was being forced up into my consciousness by my own spiritual voices that I knew were never going to be content with being repressed.

The spiritual depletion of our lives can be identified in numerous ways. The anger, violence, and depression that have become commonplace in society; school children who have had their sense of spontaneity and adventure numbed by drugs to make them more amenable to the control of parents and school officials; adults who drug themselves with legally prescribed tranquilizers, anti-depressants, or amphetamines, or alcohol, or who resort to illegal drugs in order to seek, through chemistry, what they cannot find within themselves or their social systems. Why do we not grasp the message hidden in popular names for such substances: a synonym for "alcohol" is "spirits," while various drugs are referred to as "angel dust," "ecstasy," "paradise," "blue heaven," "joy powder," or "God’s medicine"? Instead of condemning and criminalizing drug use — which only adds to the loss of control people have over their lives — intelligent people might ask why so many men and women are unable to find spiritual expression in their institutionally centered lives and look for it in ersatz forms.

Nearly thirty years ago, I wrote a law review article titled "Violence as a Product of Imposed Order." It developed the proposition that when the state forcibly mandates or prohibits behavior contrary to what individuals would otherwise choose for themselves, violence is often a consequence. I greatly expanded on this theme in my book, Calculated Chaos. Consistent with the study of complexity, efforts to impose order often generate disorder, while what appears to us as disorder reveals, upon closer examination, patterns of orderliness. The disorder resulting from state-imposed "order" can be found in increased social violence, wars, or — as is familiar to people in this audience — various economic dislocations. The disorder may also become internalized within each of us, as we become increasingly beaten down by a sense of powerlessness over our own lives, and may eventually surrender to an inner despair that finds expression as "what’s the use?" In the language of students of chaos, unless we reverse our entropic decline, unless we can rekindle the inner fire that has gone out through our neglect, we may collapse into spiritual bankruptcy. An experience I had a number of years ago provides a helpful metaphor. I attended a photographic exhibit in which a scientist was reporting his experiences in observing the eye of a mosquito under a microscope. Initially, the eye was afire with brilliant, dancing colors of orange and green. But suddenly, the eye turned black; the mosquito was dead, the fire had gone out of the system.

For any who doubt the power that the human spirit exerts over our sense of life, recall the impact of some of the visual news images from recent years: the naked Vietnamese girl running and screaming down a road following an American napalm attack; pictures of the Berlin Wall being torn down by individuals; or the photo of one of the many millions of victims of American terrorism, Elian Gonzalez, with a machine-gun shoved in his face by one of Janet Reno’s storm-troopers. Or consider that most powerful of photo images — one that hangs on my office wall — of that young man, Wang Wei-Lin, confronting that row of impenetrable tanks in Tiananmen Square. Western journalists, trained to feed off leftovers thrown into the trough by their political masters, tended to see only political symbolism in this event. But it was not the American flag or the dollar sign around which these young people rallied, but the Statue of Liberty. This man did not seem intent on overpowering the state — or even the tanks — but to make a declaration on behalf of reclaiming the human spirit. It was the spirit of mankind, represented in the form of a solitary human being, standing up to the faceless, dispirited machinery of state power, that sent a common chill up the spines of most of us. THIS was Murray’s young man at the barricades, who had more than "lowered transaction costs" on his mind that day!

This war upon the human spirit is at the core of the crisis now being faced by all of Western civilization. Modern society is in a state of turbulence brought about, in large part, by politically generated efforts to maintain static, equilibrium conditions; practices that interfere with the ceaseless processes of change that provide the fluctuating order upon which any creative system depends. Institutions have trained us to insist upon the certain and the concrete and to dismiss the uncertain and the fanciful. But creativity has always depended upon a fascination with the mysterious, and an appreciation for the kinds of questions that reveal more than answers can ever provide. When creative processes become subordinated to preserving institutional interests; when the glorification of systems takes priority over the sanctity of individual lives, societies begin to lose their life-sustaining vibrancy, and may collapse. In the words of historian Jacob Burckhardt, "the essence of history is change," and "the way of annihilation is invariably prepared by inward degeneration, by decrease of life." Will and Ariel Durant expressed the point more poetically, perhaps: "civilizations begin, flourish, decline, and disappear — or linger on as stagnant pools left by once life-giving streams." Institutions, being ends in themselves, resist change, and favor the status quo. Life, on the other hand is change, is adaptation, creativity, and novelty.

The study of complexity — which has a great deal to inform us about turbulence — tells us that there is no determinism at work dictating how we shall respond to such turbulence. We do, however, seem to have two choices: one is to continue structuring practices that allow entropy to accumulate within the system — rather than fostering processes that enable entropy to work itself out of the system — a strategy that will finally result in entropic collapse; or as a second choice, adopt more effective organizational systems premised upon an awareness of the fluctuating nature of order. In the words of Erich Jantsch, this would involve "the dismantling of social control hierarchies and strengthened autonomy of the subsystems." In words of particular interest to this audience, Jantsch adds the premise of those interested in applying chaos concepts to social arrangements: "the more freedom in self-organization, the more order!" Terry Pratchett expressed the thought more succinctly: "Chaos is found in greatest abundance wherever order is being sought. Chaos always defeats order because it is better organized."

If we wish to reinvigorate our devitalized and dehumanized civilization, why do we continue insisting upon the preservation of those structured systems that are bringing about the collapse of our once-vibrant societies? The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that we have become attached to the institutional forms which, at one point in time, we regarded as little more than tools for the accomplishment of our purposes. The "business system" with its varied corporate forms, was one such tool. We discovered that we could cooperate with one another by organizing ourselves into economic units by which goods and services could be produced and exchanged. This proved quite profitable to us, not simply in the conventional sense in which we measure success by a dollar surplusage of income over expenses, but by a sense that the overall quality of our lives was improving.

Over time, the organizational systems we had founded came to take on purposes of their own — hence, became institutions — and, because we were deriving so much benefit from their operations, we allowed our thinking to imagine that our well being was dependent upon the supremacy of their interests over our own! It should be apparent to any thoughtful person that it was our thinking and imagination that created the organizational tools; and that our well being is to be found in our continuing energized awareness and not in the perpetuation of any organizational forms we might have created along the way. In such ways do we overlook the danger that lies hidden in creative undertakings: the temptation to repeat our past successes!

Our attachment to institutional systems is manifest in other areas of our social practices: schools, whose curricula have taken priority over the learning experiences of children; churches, whose insistence upon dogmas and rituals have long drowned out the inner voices seeking spiritual fulfillment; and, what should be most obvious to everyone here, political systems which, while originally rationalized as systems for the protection of individual liberty and property interests, have become their own raison d’tre, and routinely pillage, coerce, and kill their alleged "masters." The extent of attachment and dependency upon the state can be seen in the willingness of most of our neighbors to think of themselves more as "Americans" than as "free individuals."

But if spiritual needs are central to our lives, and if institutions dominate our lives, would not these entities find it in their interests to seek to satisfy these needs? Is this, in fact, not the role that churches play in our lives? At first glance, the answer might appear to be "yes," but upon closer examination we discover that such is rarely the case. Churches institutionalized God and, in so doing, have discouraged us from seeking our own godliness. The inadequacy of institutions to satisfy our needs for transcendence is found in the fundamental distinction between individual and collective behavior. Spiritual expression — like other forms of emotional experiences — is peculiarly individualized in nature. For the same reason that only each separate person can satisfy hunger or thirst, or feel fear, love, or any form of excitement; only individuals can experience their inner being as connected with the rest of the universe. Passion is confined to individuals. Institutions are but abstractions, the creatures of human thought. But the currency of thought is other abstractions — words — and spirituality is wrapped up in experiences that transcend thought. Institutions function only through individuals, and individuals can supply such organizations with abstract, secondary expressions of inner experiences, but they can never move beyond words. But words, as Alfred Korzybski reminds us, are never the "thing" to which they refer. "The map is not the territory."

Relating all of this to political systems, a given state may, with the best of intentions, associate itself with the abstraction of "liberty." Indeed, the current Bush administration defends its repressive, statist policies as "operation enduring freedom." But the word "liberty," being an abstraction, is always less than the experience of not having one’s will violated with regard to one’s person or property. Because "liberty," as a word, is less than the experience of liberty, it must — within a legal/political context — always be subject to interpretation. The inner experiences that we associate with our spiritual needs, do not translate into anything of value — or even comprehension — to institutions. This is why, in an institutionalized world, whatever is nonmaterial tends to be regarded as immaterial.

How are we to reclaim the spiritual dimension of our nature? The answer to that question, I believe, lies in returning to the point at which we lost contact with this part of our lives, namely, when we accepted the mind/body division of our nature and, as a consequence, became attached to — and made ourselves dependent upon — those institutional forms that promised us physical security in exchange for our subservience to their interests.

What does it mean to restore our material and spiritual integrity by giving up our attachments to institutional systems? Are these just more abstract ideas with which to entertain ourselves?

To get some insight into an answer to this question, I want to revisit those hobgoblins of the Industrial Revolution, the Luddites. Because I have long defended the Industrial Revolution as, perhaps, the most humanizing period in history, you may ask what possible message I could derive from the Luddites. The word, itself, conjures up images of collective ignorance, mob destructiveness, and the dangers of mass-mindedness. For the most part, the Luddite movement emerged from craftsmen whose economic interests were challenged by the emerging factory system, and whose "machine-breaking" responses derived from the same kind of anti-competitive sentiments that were to later fire the "progressive" and New Deal eras. So as to relieve any sense of anxiety you may be feeling at even the suggestion that we revisit the Luddites, let me assure you that I am herewith making no defense of machine-breaking riots, nor am I embracing the neo-Luddite sentiments favoring the technological dismantling of modern society.

I do believe, however, that the Luddites may have been about something more than the reactive destruction of machines. I suspect there was an awareness — exhibited, today, by members of the Amish subculture — that becoming dependent upon technological systems portended an eventual loss of our sense of humanity; a fear that society would quickly become dominated by a technical imperative, in which everything, including human beings, would become little more than standardized, fungible institutional servomechanisms. The "libertarian" and "anarchist" traditions have, at their very core, an insistence upon supporting the individuality, autonomy, and spontaneous nature of each human being, and to distrust any form of organization that threatens such values. Those who question the validity of these concerns might ask how and why a nation, so long steeped in the rhetoric of individual liberty, has so easily been turned into a mass-minded collective.

The temptation of many who observe the dehumanizing nature of our modern world is to lash out at the technology that they perceive as the explanation. But to do so makes no more sense than attacking gun manufacturers or gun owners for the violence committed by those few who use guns as tools of destruction. I recall — as a child at the end of World War II — hearing otherwise intelligent people arguing that dumping military weapons into the seas would end wars. Such thinking completes the vicious circle of mechanistic thinking: humans become machinelike, while machines take on the human attributes of will, directing our behavior. It is not technology that has turned human beings into dispirited mechanisms, but our willingness to think of our lives as dependent upon such technologies, and attaching our sense of identity to the systems that produce and control such technologies.

Those who reject technology outright make as big a mistake as those who allow themselves to become attached to technologies. Each dismisses an important aspect of our humanity. We are tool-makers. The machines that we create are expressions of our nature; extensions of the human life process. To think otherwise is to fragment ourselves. The Industrial Revolution, inventiveness, discoveries, the building of skyscrapers, bridges, and other cathedrals, have all been expressions of the human spirit. We should ask ourselves: what were the inner forces that drove Edison to continue inventing? Might it have been the same spiritual need that kept Van Gogh painting and Beethoven composing? But to attach ourselves to the created forms is to institutionalize and petrify the very spirit that created them. It is to worship the structure by dissipating the process.

Furthermore, because we have created machines, they provide us an opportunity to discover a great deal about our sense of being. Have we projected onto their forms and systems a sense of how we think of ourselves? Are machines our cloned images, in which we see our own reflections? How else do we explain the machine-like ways in which we think of ourselves? We speak of getting "warmed up" for work, or "running out of gas," or being "turned-on" or "turned-off" by others; we imagine ourselves to be "big wheels" in life, or "cogs in the machine" who may, on occasion, get our "wires crossed." We suffer from "burn out," and "let off steam" so as not to "blow a gasket" or a "fuse" or become "unhinged." We speak of having a "screw loose," or "going to pieces," and resort to drugs or alcohol in order to "get fixed" and get "in gear." We speak of ourselves as "assets" or "resources" to our workplace or community, and are more likely to regard our brain as computer-like, than to think of computers as brain-like.

Those who do not understand the Amish often imagine that their resistance to new technologies arises from a sense of "evil" in such tools. But this is not the case. The Amish do employ tools, but if someone wants to consider bringing a new technology into the community, the Amish study it with this thought in mind: will acceptance of this technology make us dependent upon the external world, such that we will be tempted to change our ways?

What if you and I began thinking this way? Can our work become what farming or carpentry are to the Amish, or what architecture was to Frank Lloyd Wright, namely, expressions of our inner spirit in the material world? Rather than seeking employment primarily by the standard of how well the job pays, can we discover a kind of work that is so inwardly rewarding that we would pay someone to let us do it, and then figure out how to get well-paid doing such work?

I assume that most of us in this room have developed a strong dependency on computers — a tool that has managed to insinuate itself into our lives in recent years. How many intrusions and restrictions on our lives have we begun to accept [for example, government surveillance of our e-mail and Internet website visits] rather than give up the convenience of our computers? What if state or federal governments were to announce significantly greater inroads on our liberties — proposals I hesitate to offer even as hypotheticals, given the present propensity to elaborate upon any form of restriction — as the price to pay for our being entitled to continue enjoying this technology? How many of us, even in this room, would be prepared to walk away from these machines and return to pen and ink and Xerox machines?

Perhaps the Luddites — whose fears were machine-centered — have less to offer us in our search for the reclamation of our souls than do another group long revered by my Irish ancestors and, perhaps for such genetic reasons, by myself: the leprechauns. For those of you whose upbringing has been so destitute that you cannot even imagine the existence of these wondrous beings, and for those of you who long ago gave up your childlike assurances of the enchanted nature of the world in which you live, let me introduce you to the leprechauns. According to Irish folklore — which is the only publication of record acknowledged by these beings — the leprechauns were very industrious souls who placed great value on two factors in their lives: [1] their accumulated gold, and [2] their individual liberty. No sack-clothed ascetics they: the leprechauns loved their material wealth, and would do just about anything to keep it. If you managed to steal any of their gold, there would be hell to pay in their efforts to get it back. Many a tale has been told of these mysterious folk hiding in bushes and watching, with both sadness and anger as thieves stole their hidden treasure. They nevertheless would not reveal themselves, for the one thing they would never risk in trying to protect their gold was their liberty.

If we are to end the material and spiritual divisions in our thinking, and learn to live with a sense of wholeness that most of our lives lack, can we learn from the Amish — or, better yet, the leprechauns — how to value our material tools and other possessions without becoming attached to them? Can we understand that the greatest threat to our individual liberty has always been found in our willingness to value anything beyond ourselves more highly than we do our own sense of being? Can we end the practice of progressively lowering the price of our liberty as we negotiate for the preservation of our attachments?

Our well-organized world has become less and less relevant to the inner lives of most men and women. Those of us who have a passion for individual liberty have a wonderful opportunity to address these unfulfilled needs in ways that no others, of whom I am aware, have managed to do. When millions of human beings, throughout the world, come together in demonstrations to protest a war even before it has begun, you can be assured that the human spirit remains alive beneath the surface of events in our lives; that the inner voices that define the essence of humanity have not been fully ground down by the dehumanizing machinery of state power.

But to communicate with others as to these concerns requires a totally new perspective. How we view economic systems, or law, or the study of history, is a subset of the question of how we view individual liberty; and whether we value individual liberty or not is a subset of our attitudes about the sanctity of life itself. As a consequence, if we are to understand economics, law, history — or any other area of human behavior — with wholeness and integrity, we must learn to incorporate a spiritual awareness into our analyses. We must, in other words, abandon our fragmentary and divisive approaches to understanding the human condition. We must learn a new language, one that can translate our inner voices into our conversations with the outer world.

We have figured out how best to provide for the satisfaction of our material needs. Those at this conference understand the importance of reclaiming control over our lives, property, and transactions with others. We now need to focus on the question: why is it important to do so? Do we understand the significance of reclaiming the spiritual dimensions of our humanness? Can we learn to calculate all these factors into our thoughts and actions? Once we ask such questions with regularity, we may look to the day when the human spirit walks away from its self-imposed bondage. In that day, men and women may discover that death in service to the state is not heroic; that obedience to power does not confer meaning upon one’s life; and that a lengthened leg-chain is not to be confused with liberty.

We must begin with the awareness that abstractions — such as institutions — are spiritless, sterile entities, able to pursue their ends only through the actions of individuals who identify themselves with institutional purposes, and that the interests of humanity transcend such artificial forms. Only individuals suffer pain, dream, experience love and joy, and eventually die. Only individuals make value judgments and act in furtherance of such values. Only individuals transport, through DNA, the future of mankind from one generation to the next. Each of us is biologically and experientially unique, and liberty is the only condition in which we can express our uniqueness. If we are to discover our connectedness with the world, we must understand that what we have in common with one another is the need to protect the conditions in which the liberty of each of us can be exercised. Only as we learn to respect the inviolability of each individual can mankind hope to survive. You and I are mankind, . . . its present and its future.

We must then declare to ourselves, as well as to our neighbors, that mankind, integrated in both body and spirit, will not only survive, but prosper in this world; that life belongs to the living, not to abstract collectives, regardless of their exalted trappings or the duration of their tenure over the minds of men and women. We must further declare that the spirit of mankind is going to survive on this planet, in the only place in which it can ever be found, namely, in the autonomous and spontaneous expressions of individuals. It is time for those who believe otherwise to stand aside, as we support one another in the effort to reclaim our souls!

Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law.

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