Perspectives on Liberty

It pains me to read the news, lately.

It seems like all I ever hear are reports of governments committing atrocities against autonomy and free will. It's just like a car wreck. I don't want to look, but there it is — and I simply can't tear myself away.

The United States government is growing more ugly and militaristic than I ever dreamed possible. I suppose one should never underestimate a democratic regime. We are entangled in a pointless killing spree in Iraq, based on falsehoods and ambiguous rhetoric. I am sickened by the blasé newscasts of unfathomable death and destruction, and by the irony of the pundits and spinsters babbling about how "they hate us because we're free." Worse yet is the knowledge that it won't end anytime soon, and that the carnage of this war doesn't even compare to that of wars previously fought. It's hard to think of words to describe the way these things make me feel.

These ventures must be paid for, and not just in casualties and collateral damage. Politicians are saddling us with the debts incurred by irresponsible government spending. "Us" refers to the elderly, the middle-aged, the young, those not yet old enough to vote, and even those yet unborn. No thanks to the Leviathan welfare-warfare state, it is now possible for an American child to enter this world already "owing" thousands of dollars in debt that is not even his own.

Ah, dollars. Our economy is a house of cards which threatens to collapse the minute foreign lenders realize that our money is paper and backed by nothing but empty promises and imperialistic whims. It may not happen today or tomorrow, but when it does we will feel it as surely as a ton of bricks.

We must worry about being felt up at airports and carted off to Gitmo if we object. Those of us who carry weapons for self-defense are branded by state law enforcers, academics, and the media as dangerous lunatics.

Nanny-statists wish to legislate and regulate what we may put into our bodies: foods, medicines, and substances such as tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs. We pay for expensive and futile government propaganda meant to instruct us which foods and substances are healthy and which are doubleplusungood.

Everything and everyone are to be feared. Terrorists are everywhere. A crisis looms around every corner. Government is, of course, the only solution.

Such news fills me with an overpowering sense of despair. I like to consider myself an activist. I discuss issues which I consider important with my peers. I write. I invest time and money in causes that I believe may help preserve shreds of my liberty and that of others. But I am not naïve enough to think that my actions alone can bring about any appreciable change. I know others who share my concerns. But those of us who understand and deeply value freedom in its truest sense — and are willing to fight for its advancement — seem altogether few and far between.

Alone with these thoughts, I feel demoralized and helpless. But I have reached an important realization:

Even libertarians sometimes succumb to the "sky is falling" mentality that we readily denounce in others. In the face of those who would rob us of the very liberties which make us human, we must bear in mind all of the astounding things which freely acting people have done and made.

For one, the life expectancy in developed countries like the US keeps rising. This statistic is usually cited as an example of prosperity and developing medical technologies, but I would also argue that people are not just living longer but better lives. New pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, medical devices and treatments are allowing us to combat diseases earlier and more effectively. Our quality of life constantly improves as medicine innovates. Scientists are exploring physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, astronomy, geology, and a host of other disciplines to make mind-boggling discoveries about our world.

Transportation is affordable and ubiquitous. Most people in America own cars and use them daily to commute to jobs they might otherwise be unable to access. We can fuel them relatively cheaply, and fuel efficiency continually improves. Corporations are introducing vehicles which can run on a plethora of fuel sources, from gasoline and diesel to vegetable oil, natural gas, electric power, and hydrogen fuel cells. We ride airplanes which can bring us across the globe in a matter of hours at an affordable cost. We have high-speed trains. We have all kinds of maritime vehicles from cruise ships to sailboats. Soon, we will probably be able to take leisure trips into space.

And as for leisure, we have more free time than ever before. Devices that organize our schedules and complete tasks for us afford us more time. We can increase productivity and spend more time on leisure activities. Time is money, as we all know. The prevalence of entertainment such as video games, television, movies, music, art in American society demonstrates that we no longer must devote all of our energies to mere subsistence. We can live a little.

We are also growing – rather, our waistlines are growing. While the government seizes every available opportunity to rail against the obesity epidemic (and to introduce more anti-fat legislation), the fact is that we are fat because we have an abundance of food choices, and we can afford to endulge. For most of us, our weightiest concern is trying to stay slim and not where to find our next meal. Many see this as a positive thing.

It's easier than ever for us to communicate with each other. Many Americans choose to carry cell phones and PDA's, a wide range of which are available. We can access the Internet wirelessly. Global trade is aided by the vast communications network, and it's possible to effortlessly keep in touch with family and friends across huge expanses of physical distance. We instantaneously fire off emails — for some of us, hundreds a day — to recipients scattered around the world. People from every corner of the earth are growing increasingly literate. Knowing several languages has become tantamount to success in international business. The Internet allows communities of people to come together and discuss topics of common interest, to meet, and to network. Combined with shipping technologies, it allows people from all over the world to trade with each other. It shatters physical and cultural barriers.

These marvels and dozens more are the product of simply allowing humans to act as they naturally desire — to pursue their own interests and to engage in voluntary transactions.

My intent is by no means to ignore or downplay the egregious attempts of the political classes to erode our property rights, free speech, free choices, and free will. I simply wish to remember a fact which is often overlooked. Despite the actions of the despots, we still have a cornucopia of achievements to appreciate and to enjoy. If I'm reiterating what others have said, so be it. Capitalism's bounties can't be touted enough.

Above all, there is something you and I possess that no government can corrupt: a primal human spirit that embraces liberty. This essence is vital for combating the world's cruelties and injustices. Positive things and experiences in life merely impel us to continue discussing, dissenting, and advocating for liberty in the most fundamental sense of the word.

We must remember to maintain a sense of perspective, despite the Chicken Littles of the media and the chicken hawks of the government. Sometimes we may struggle with a sense of imminent doom. But ugliness in the world begs us to be mindful of beauty. Freedom has yielded remarkable things — and they simply provide more reasons for champions of liberty to keep fighting.

January 21, 2005