Recently by Butler Shaffer: The Decline and Fall of ClearThinking
. . . if you believe them they will be completely in charge of their marble homes and granite banks from which they rob the people of the world under the pretense of bringing them culture. Watch out, for as soon as it pleases them they'll send you to protect their gold in wars whose weapons, rapidly developed by servile scientists, will become more and more deadly until they can with a flick of the finger tear a million of you to pieces.
~ Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793)
I don't know when I first fell in love with the leprechauns. It may have been in my youth, whether as a genetic gift from my Irish ancestors, or as a lingering sense of the enchanted nature of life so common to children. Whatever the origins, I have long been attracted to these wondrous beings, who managed to synthesize the importance of defending their property interests with their need for personal liberty. Should you discover and steal their gold, you can be assured that your life would be rendered miserable until they managed to recover their wealth. But in the course of doing so, the one thing these people would never risk was their liberty.
People who value individual liberty more highly than they do their material well-being stand in sharp contrast to most thoroughly modern men and women who find it difficult to imagine that such options have any meaning. The disparity between the two choices may be partially explained by some superficial ideas about money being the root of all evil. The Watergate years introduced us to the need to "follow the money" to discover the underlying motivations of political policies and programs. But "money" has no motivation, no will to act upon the world. Like "guns" — which shallow minds imagine to have their own deliberate, lethal purposes — money has value and importance only to minds that so value it. If you doubt this, please explain the diminished importance of Confederate currency in our modern economy. Nor do beads or tobacco continue to serve as money systems in America.
As with most of our difficulties in the world, the "why" question arises: why are so many of us willing to judge the propriety of our actions by the standard of how much money we will receive in the process? Why do we regard the motivations of the leprechauns with either amusement or disdain? Unlike a problem in mathematics, the answer does not have a self-evident quality to it.
The quality — even the existence — of life depends upon satisfying our material needs. This is why I have long regarded the Industrial Revolution as the most humanizing period in human history. When widespread deaths through starvation and disease — particularly among children — were overcome by industrialized production, our ancestors discovered the secret for resolving the economic difficulties inherent in politically-structured and restrained societies. Having learned how to live productively would understandably attract us to the systems we had created to serve such ends.
But why — and how — did such a creative episode occur? Did some proto-Keynesian philosopher-kings suddenly appear on humanity's doorstep with their complicated system of economic planning — which, of course, they intended to direct? Or did this inventive and prolific era arise because of the relative absence of such centralized controls? Was the process particularly fruitful in America because of the presence of a frontier that allowed men and women to continually move to less-restrictive territories?
But liberalizing environments, alone, cannot account for such life-enhancing creativity. What preceded our experimentation with systems for maximizing our material well-being was a major spiritual, artistic, and intellectual revolution. Johannes Gutenberg's 15th century invention of movable type initiated and/or sustained various expressions of an inner life force that greatly enhanced human understanding. The Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, owe much of their energies to Gutenberg's primal contribution to the second stage of mankind's uncovering of the powers of information.
As we are continuing to discover in ever-expanding technologies — including the Internet — there is nothing so creative and liberating as the increased movement of information. The First Amendment to the Constitution was a confirmation that the open expression of ideas and other information was essential to a healthy society. We have learned this truth, as well, from "brainstorming" sessions whose synergistic processes produce solutions to problems that no individual could have generated separately. In so many ways are we reminded of the powerful energies that inhere in life; a potency we often suppress by committing ourselves to institutional interests.
You and I are this life force — the spirit that continues to seek expression in the material world. Contrary to our divisive thinking that sees such a pursuit as a conflict between material and spiritual needs — a struggle to be resolved by a "balancing" of these supposedly competing ends – such attributes require integration in our lives. In furtherance of our attachments to institutional purposes which we have been conditioned to believe are essential to our material well-being, we have been taught to reconcile the ensuing contradictions; to rationalize our confusions; and to accept our resulting "normally-neurotic" behavior as an unavoidable problem to be dealt with through drugs, alcohol, or through watching mindless television programs. With such exceptions as are now occurring in technological innovations, the creative periods that helped to define Western Civilization are in decline. What was once thought of as "the American dream" has become a government entitlement or a winning lottery ticket!
If we are to live well — in both the material and spiritual meaning of what this implies – it is not a balancing of our contrary and disordered thinking that we so require, but an ending of our contradictory mindset. Only by integrating life-enhancing values can we learn to live with integrity.
This is where we can learn from the leprechauns. Unlike so many minds in our deranged culture that insist on trying to synthesize life-destroying insanity with social responsibility, the leprechauns live with a wholeness that is expressed with both material and spiritual passion. Our society is burdened by thinking that rejects the pursuit of "materialism" while, at the same time, degrading "spirituality" for its "impractical" (i.e., non-material) qualities. When I am challenged by advocates of either perspective, I ask the former: "who will feed, clothe, and house you?," and the latter "what is the material value of a baby?" In each instance, the response is a plate-glassed stare.
Leprechauns are not burdened by such contradictions. They are driven by both material and spiritual energies. But to these marvelous beings, the spirit is not some abstract set of ideas with which to entertain themselves, but the manner in which one acts upon the world. To them, spirit is a verb, unavoidably connected to the action necessary for spiritual fulfillment in the physical world. This is why the human spirit finds its expression in individual liberty, a system that allows one to pursue one's interests in human society. This is why "spirit," "liberty," and privately-owned "property" become synonymous concepts. The leprechauns understand this. They know that the liberty to live a spiritually-directed life, and to enjoy respect for the inviolability of the material rewards received from their self-interested pursuits, is the very essence of what it means to live well in the world.
Liberty and the fulfillment of the human spirit are qualities whose pursuits are confined to individuals; they do not translate into anything of use to the institutional order, whose interests are more focused on acquiring and controlling material values. In order to secure the participation of human beings in their schemes, institutions twist words and practices into self-contradictory forms with a superficial attraction to them. George Orwell's "war is peace; freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength" is, perhaps, the most familiar example of this. In exploiting young men and women to participate in life-destroying and dehumanizing wars, the state will resort to such slogans as "be all you can be in the Army," an ersatz appeal to personal fulfillment. Domestically, Boobus has been conditioned to think of "freedom" as the availability of 24-hour convenience stores, or getting to choose between "paper or plastic" at the grocery store — a limited choice that many cities have begun to prohibit!
Another spurious means by which the state exploits people for institutional advantage is found in the paper money system. Unlike Boobus — who remains convinced that if the money supply increases by 20%, while his salary goes up by 5%, that he is better off than before — the leprechauns have a devotion to systems grounded in reality. This explains why protection of their gold is so important to them. They are more motivated to guard their twenty ounces of this basic element than in possessing a one hundred trillion dollar bill issued by the Zimbabwe government — an "asset" that might allow them to purchase a loaf of bread!
In our politically-directed world, empty appearances prevail over substance. Institutions lack the spiritual, passionate, and other emotional qualities that are found only in life. Such artificial organizations are driven solely by materialistic pursuits; by values that can be measured and expressed in terms of numbers. In order to enlist Boobus's support for its dispirited undertakings, the established order must convince people to identify their interests with institutional purposes, and to repress the inner voices that warn them of the dangers implicit in their systemic attachments.
What courses through the veins of institutions and energizes those who identify with them are material values such as the pursuit of money. Those who give their lives over to the established order accept such purely physical rewards as money, medals, trophies, job titles, diplomas, positions of power over others, certificates of accomplishment, and other testimonials in exchange for ignoring the inner voices that insist upon their liberty to act in the world.
Leprechauns are unwilling to sacrifice the inner sense of their beings. What courses through their veins is energized spirit, that innermost power that can neither be seen nor measured. To such beings, state-issued money is simply another way to manipulate them in furtherance of purposes not of their choosing or under their control. But leprechauns are not hair-shirted ascetics. They know that their self-interests must be pursued in the material world; that their rewards come from cooperating with others for mutual benefit. But they also know that such rewards require protection from those who might resort to looting rather than voluntary exchange. Gold (as well as silver) while being a material substance of the world, is not as subject to the predations of the state as is paper currency. Unlike the practices of governments with their printing presses, the alchemists confirmed to us that there is no manufacturing process by which the supply of gold can be arbitrarily increased.
The leprechauns long ago learned how to integrate their needs for liberty and for safeguarding the wealth generated by their self-interested pursuits. Gold — not decorated paper — is the material embodiment that helps to preserve the value of what liberty and respect for property ownership has created. No contradictions to be "balanced" here. If you want to learn more from these creatures, invite one to lunch. They are all around you, if you but know where to look!
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of the newly-released In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918–1938, Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival, and Boundaries of Order. His latest book is The Wizards of Ozymandias.