A Cost/Benefit Analysis of the Human Spirit: The Luddites
Murray N. Rothbard Memorial Lecture,
The Ludwig von Mises Institute
March 15, 2003
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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
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!"
And neither is anyone else, nor should they be!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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
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,
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."
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
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
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’être, 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."
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."
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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?
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?
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
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:  their accumulated gold, and  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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
© 2003 LewRockwell.com