LXII – Unchaining Liberty

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My
two most recent articles — "What
Is Anarchy?
" and "Save
the Universe!
" — struck nerves with a few readers of admittedly
libertarian persuasions. While some critics offered valid, intelligent
questions, a number reflected a common attitude best described as
a fear of unsupervised life processes. It is this fear that leads
far too many self-proclaimed champions of liberty to remain what
I call "umbilical cord libertarians." They enjoy playing
around with ideas of liberty, but are terrified by the existential
implications of living without some external supervision. While
desirous of expanding the range of their own decision-making, they
insist on retaining the state "just in case."

Friedrich
Hayek addressed what he called the "fear of trusting uncontrolled
social forces." Many of those who criticized my views on anarchy
and environmentalism, reflect this fear. Some suggest that, in the
absence of state regulation, there would be a total breakdown of
social order, with looting, killing, and violence running rampant.
One reader went so far as to point to the "widespread looting"
that took place in Iraq as evidence that "anarchy and property
rights cannot peacefully coexist;" a statement made all the
more remarkable by the fact that such behavior followed days of
heavy bombing and shelling of Baghdad by forces of the American
government! For the state to systematically create widespread
destruction and disorder, and to have that offered as evidence of
the failure of anarchy, represents the kind of twisted reasoning
we have come to expect from the White House!

Others
suggested that it is the fear of punishment that causes us to obey
state rules; that coercion would continue to exist even if there
were no political systems (a point I had made in the first article);
that an anarchistic society could not "work" because most
people would not be prepared for it; and that something called "human
nature" would preclude such a system. Such thinking presumes
that it would be catastrophic for individuals to exercise complete
control over their own lives, but quite reasonable for the state
to enjoy a monopoly of such powers over the lives of us all in order
to define the purposes and limits of human action. Such a view is
underlain by a contradiction rarely addressed in political philosophy.
It assumes that the same men and women who are not to be trusted
in the management of their own affairs, will suddenly be
transformed into selfless servants of an alleged "public interest"
when cloaked with the mantle of state authority! Such faith can
be maintained only by minds unburdened both by a study of history
as well as an awareness that the self-interest that invariably drives
us all is a force only to be trusted in the hands of private individuals,
and never in coercive collectives.

Critics
of my more humorous swipe at politically-driven environmentalists
were quick to suggest that I had a calloused view of nature (as
though I had no interest in maintaining conditions conducive to
life on earth). One very thoughtful reader told me that "nature
is to be cherished" because it "is our most direct connection
to the divine spirit." Others pointed to the need to control
those (particularly corporate enterprises) who dump industrial wastes
into rivers or pollutants into the air, activities that constitute
trespasses to property boundaries.

Those
who insist upon the existence of the state in order to protect people
from murderers, thieves, and rapists — a function that even the
most powerful state apparatus in history has failed to adequately
perform — or to protect nature from private decision-making, reflect
Hayek's concern. We are conditioned through the schools, the media,
the state, and other institutions to fear our own autonomy, and
to transfer control over our behavior to external agencies. Schools
instruct us in what we need to learn; churches define and guide
our spiritual quests; the media informs us what we need to know
and what actions we should take; the state prescribes, in the smallest
detail, the propriety of our conduct, and punishes us for any deviations.
We have been well trained in the proposition that others will
take the responsibility for our behavior, and that our only role
is to conform ourselves to these mandates.

This
conditioning is reinforced by periodic episodes of fear generated
by institutional authorities, who inform us of dangers we face from
seemingly endless sources. We have learned to not only fear others
(e.g., murderers, child-abductors, terrorists, racists, polluters)
but our own capacities for self-direction. The ease with
which the state, after 9/11, was able to mobilize the fears of millions
of Americans into a mass-minded frenzy supportive of unprovoked
war and unrestrained police powers, is testimony to the symbiotic
relationship between state power and individual weakness.

Fear
puts us in conflict with both others and ourselves. This is how
political systems prosper: by promising to regulate and reconcile
the conflicts generated by divisive, political thinking! We have
been conditioned to define our sense of responsibility by our willingness
to participate in this conflict-ridden enterprise; to employ our
energies on behalf of political solutions to political conflict.
By our so doing, we become the very problem we believe we
are working to overcome.

We
deplore the crime in society, and call upon the state to tax and
police our neighbors in order to end such violence, unaware that
the forcible policies of the state produce violence. We despise
bigotry, and call upon the state to punish those who judge others
by their race. To bring about such ends, we create "affirmative
action" programs and, in the process, become racists ourselves.
In the name of respecting the sanctity of human life, we insist
upon capital punishment for murderers, a practice that further degrades
human life. We have a new respect for nature, and call upon the
state to take action against those whose behavior violates our sense
of environmental propriety. We thus put ourselves in conflict with
our neighbors and, in so doing, diminish the mutual respect upon
which a peaceful and orderly social environment depends.

Is
it possible for us to break this cycle of social conflict in any
other way than for each one of us to withdraw our energies from
the process? Can we discover the creative power of change that comes
only from within each of us? So consistently has our thinking been
embedded in notions of collective power, that most of us are unable
to imagine anything so bold as a self-directed form of living. We
forget a basic truth that should be evident to any libertarian versed
in economics: life functions at the margin. We are born and
we die individually. All learning and creativity take place at the
margin between the known and the unknown, the established and the
novel. We derive our understanding of the world through marginal
changes and deviations from the norm (geneticists have a saying:
"cherish your mutations"). The study of economics employs
marginal utility analysis, and addresses the effects of marginal
changes in prices. Even the protection of our lives and property
from criminal acts — a function we delude ourselves that the state
can perform for us — ultimately depends on our individual defenses
against the criminal. Most importantly, perhaps, is the need for
each of us to remember that only the individual is the carrier of
life on earth.

One
of the common themes that runs through readers' responses to my
articles is the sense that, while our individual thinking must change
if we are to live in peace and liberty, there is little point in
focusing upon such methods as long as others remain attached to
statist thinking. "I will not change if others do not,"
would be a succinct way of encapsulating such responses. Their inquiries
usually go on to ask: "in the meantime, what can we do?"

What
such readers fail to grasp is this essential point: the only way
to bring about such changes is to return to the source of the violence
and repression that afflicts us: our individual thinking. The query
"what can we do?" usually comes down to the question "what
can someone else, particularly someone in authority, do
to change all of this?" The answer is very clear: there is
nothing anyone else can do to end our self-destructive attachments
to statism. Because such change originates, marginally, only within
our minds, you and I are the only ones who can bring
that about. But to do so requires us to confront and break out of
the mindset to which we have been conditioned.

I
am fond of quoting Carl Jung on this point, because his writing
focuses upon the psychological transformations that must occur if
we are to transcend the fears and the violence that are tearing
apart our world. He states:

if
the individual is not truly regenerated in spirit, society cannot
be either, for society is the sum total of individuals in need of
redemption. I can therefore see it only as a delusion when the Churches
try — as apparently they do — to rope the individual into some social
organization and reduce him to a condition of diminished
responsibility, instead of raising him out of
the torpid, mindless mass and making clear to him that
he is the one important factor and that the salvation
of the world consists in the salvation of the
individual soul.

Jung's
message underlies my previous two articles to which this one is
addressed. Our freedom is inseparably tied to the responsibility
we have for both our thinking and actions, a connection that
goes to the question of control over our lives. It is only
in a system of privately owned property that
such qualities coalesce. Individual liberty is a social condition
in which each of us enjoys unrestrained decision-making over what
is ours, while peace arises from the practice of individuals
limiting the scope of their decision-making to the boundaries of
their property interests. The anarchistic system of which I write
is premised upon the self-ordering nature of private property: I
do as I please with what is mine to own and control; I control my
actions so as to refrain from extending my decision-making over
what is yours. This is where we must begin our inquiry into
such offenses as victimizing crimes and environmental pollution:
they are intrusions upon the property interests of others; they
are trespasses, the failure to respect the inviolability
of boundaries.

It
should be evident that a system of private property fosters responsibility.
If I, alone, control my actions, I, alone, am responsible for what
I do. This is not a moral proposition, but a causal one, in much
the same way that we can say a tornado was responsible for destroying
Uncle Charlie's barn. But to be responsible is to be accountable,
particularly to the harshest critic we face in life: ourselves.

Most
of us fear this sense of responsibility, which is why individual
liberty is such a troublesome proposition to so many people. Walter
Kaufmann has written of "decidophobia," the fear of making
decisions. If we delude ourselves that we have no control over our
lives, then we cannot be held responsible. And if we are not responsible
for what we do — even to ourselves — then we must be the victims
of other people's decision-making. Is it any wonder that men and
women who, having smoked cigarettes for fifty years and developed
lung cancer, now want to sue the tobacco companies for the consequences
of their own actions, or that alcoholics seek damages from distillers
for their cirrhosis of the liver? A recent news story told of a
man who brought suit against his local cable television company
for turning himself and his family into television addicts! Do you
not see the connection between the continuing diminution, by the
state, of respect for privately-owned property, and the rise of
the "victimization" industry?

If
we are to live in peace and liberty, our efforts must be focused
upon the only factor within our control to change without generating
conflict with others, namely, ourselves? Those who profess
such values, but then declare — at least implicitly — "I will
not change if others do not," express a convenient way of avoiding
responsibility for their lives. After all, what will cause others
to change if those who verbalize their support for liberty are
not prepared to do so in their own lives?

Such
changes must include a willingness on our part to examine our fears,
particularly the fears of living in a world of autonomous social
forces; fears of ourselves and others. We might begin with a healthy
skepticism of those who seek to extend their power over our lives
by a daily introduction, via the media, of new hordes of bogeymen
waiting at the city gates to invade our lives, and whose intrusions
can be countered only by extended regulatory authority over our
lives. We might then lose our innocence about all political systems
and see them for what they have always been: mechanisms by which
self-anointed elites control the lives of the rest of us.

To
those readers who, despite my clear expressions, continue to ask:
"what can we do?" to reduce statism in our lives, let
me offer one minor contribution each one of us can make to this
end: whenever you see a news story or hear a politician addressing
some "social issue," insist that such issue be redefined
for what it is, namely, an invasion of a private property interest.
Clarify in your own thinking and that of your friends that "taxation"
does not involve an "allocation of society's resources,"
but is an act of theft, by the state, of private property;
that the "war on drugs" is a war against self-ownership;
that all forms of government regulation of economic activity involve
attacks upon the private property of some persons for the benefit
of others.

As
you begin to clarify your own thinking, you may find yourself increasingly
attracted to methods of handling disputes with others in ways that
(a) do not involve the use of state coercion to accomplish desired
ends and, thus, foster the social peace that comes from respecting
the inviolability of others' property interests; and, (b) extend
the range of your capacities to manage your own life and its inherent
problems.

To
the aforementioned environmentalist who spoke of the need to cherish
nature, bear in mind that mankind is also an expression of nature's
wonder, and needs nothing so much right now as the removal of those
restraints that compel people to become what they do not choose
to be. Try respecting the "divine spirit" as it manifests
itself in your neighbor by respecting the inviolability of his property
boundaries. If it is your desire to save the kangaroo rat, or a
wetland belonging to a farmer, show such respect by negotiating
with him, voluntarily, rather than calling upon the state to
coerce his obedience to your vision. In so doing, you may end up
not only preserving a species or a wetland, but humanity itself.

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