Recently by Butler Shaffer: ‘I Want a Cost-Free Life!’
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
~ Margaret Mead
I was deeply honored to receive the Gary Schlarbaum Prize this past week. It was presented to me — as a "lifetime achievement award" — at the Ludwig von Mises Institute's "Supporters' Summit 2012" in Georgia. Not only am I thankful for the generosity of Gary Schlarbaum in providing this award, but it reinforces my sense of how creative change occurs in our world. I have long been of the view that civilizations are created by individuals, and are destroyed by collectives.
In our politicized world, the established order has helped condition our minds to the belief that significant social change can occur only if 51% plus of our neighbors are first convinced of the need for such a transformation. Such a mindset tends to neutralize our personal efforts, to cause us to marginalize our creativity. When I write or speak of the need for significant change in our world, I often get the response "but what can one person do about it?" On the basis of such thinking, those who insist on ruling others by violent means continue to have their way.
I remind people how the creative actions of individuals gave birth to Western Civilization including the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, the Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, among other epochs. These creative periods were largely prefaced by one Johann Gutenberg, whose invention of movable type made possible the mass printing and distribution of ideas that fostered the intellectual development of humanity. Nor can we overlook such relatively recent contributors to Western Civilization as Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and other individuals too numerous to list.
I think it is correct to say that Western Civilization has collapsed; its creative, liberating, and humanizing foundations destroyed by the collective forces of institutionalized violence. American and European countries — long the seats of Western culture — are at the end of an entropic decline. At the same time, however, I have long suspected that we are in the early stages of a transformation in thinking that is producing major changes in how we live and work with one another in society. The vertically-structured systems of centralized authority are being replaced by horizontal networks that interconnect in decentralized, voluntary ways. The Internet — which has expanded the liberating and creative capacities inhering in Gutenberg's invention — is the most visible expression of what I think of as the "unfolding civilization."
It is this social transformation that is the "terror" against which the institutional order now wars. As our world reorganizes itself into peaceful and productive systems that respect the inviolability of all persons, and relies upon spontaneous and informal processes for generating order; the political systems that now dominate mankind with their powers of death, destruction, imprisonment, torture, brutality, and other forms of violence, will lose their seductive powers.
It is in the spirit of fostering the kinds of paradigm shifts essential to human well-being, that Gary Schlarbaum so generously created this award. There are numerous other individuals working on behalf of rethinking what it means to live in society. The Ludwig von Mises Institute — along with LewRockwell.com — is one of many organizations dedicated to living in a world of peace and liberty.
I have written of the etymological history of our language, in which I discovered, years ago, that the words "peace," "freedom," "love," and "friend" share an interconnected history. Perhaps our ancestors knew what our collectivist thinking has caused most of us to forget; memories that are being restored to our minds by such people as Gary Schlarbaum, Lew Rockwell, Ron Paul, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand, and other individuals who know that men and women are capable of rediscovering what it means to live as human beings in civilized societies.
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.