Life, Liberty, and Options

The more we exist outside the system, the more creative we are.

– Beatrice Wood

News that the Ecuadorian embassy in London cut off Wikileaks’ access to the Internet is troubling, principally because of the question marks left as to Julian Assange’s safety in England. Fears that Wikileaks might have been put out of business – particularly at a time when it was making public the dark email secrets the Clinton mob was desirous of keeping hidden – were eased by a later report that Wikileaks is now operating under contingency plans. Knowing that his organization was a threat to the ambitions of those who want violent power over the rest of mankind, Assange provided for alternative means of communicating to the general public should its initial system be compromised.

That the institutional order fears having the public know what it knows should disturb all decent, intelligent minds. The political establishment is so terrified of the liberty of men and women to express ideas and information contrary to its interests that it must lock away the speakers of truth (e.g., Chelsea Manning, Assange, Ed Snowden). It also works to destroy  the system that facilitates such communications (e.g. the Internet). Ever since Gutenberg’s invention, the ruling classes have labored to keep minds in lockstep formation. Dissenters, free-thinkers, and those who pursued truth unimpeded by coercively-enforced doctrines and dogmas, have faced censorship, heresy trials, imprisonment, being burned at the stake or hanged as witches, having their brains forcibly lobotomized or chemically stupefied, prosecution for treason or for revealing guarded state secrets, or other coercive means designed to isolate the virus of free, energized minds.

But life is resilient, accommodating itself to that which will sustain its vibrancy while resisting the toxins, restraints, and self-destruction by which anti-life forces maintain their power. The pursuit of truth is one such strategy. Truth has a way of falling through the cracks of a hardened environment, much like a flower that manages to blossom in the middle of a concrete sidewalk. The survival of mankind as a species is dependent upon the energies of sufficient numbers of men and women of integrity – a quality which, as Camus reminded us, “has no need of rules” – the people to be found in Albert Jay Nock’s “Remnant.”

Our understanding of what is “true” in the world is limited by the subjective nature of that understanding. How we “know” what it is we “know” is the great epistemological question that most of us fear asking, knowing that “who” we are – including all of the conditioning that has helped to define us – will prove to be a discomforting exploration. But for minds willing to seek and speak truth to themselves, such distress may be eased by a growing awareness of the chasm separating “truth” from the “known.”

The study of “chaos” informs us that the interplay of complex systems – where three or more independent systems interact – produces inherently unpredictable outcomes. The mathematician, Edward Lorenz, used an early computer in what proved a vain effort to predict the weather. Like modern-day forecasters who can give reasonable approximations of tomorrow’s weather – although inherent uncertainties cause them to hedge their predictions in terms of percentages while being unable to say much about next week’s weather – Lorenz found that complex systems were subject to too many variable factors. And each factor was also subject to too much variation to have much, if any, predictive value. Such is the uncertainty that inheres in active systems.

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Many people are challenged by the complexity and its ensuing inconstancy. The descendants of more primitive linear-minded men and women who still believe in vertically-structured, centrally-directed systems that Edward Lorenz’s experiment has discredited, dominate the entire institutional order. From political systems, to business organizations, to structured religions and doctrinal philosophies, to academic institutions, to the mainstream media, to professional organizations (e.g., medicine, law), and other systemic categories, organizations that regard themselves as ends in themselves (i.e., institutions) have an attachment to the status quo which, by definition, carries a resistance to changes that might prove unsettling.

The fundamental distinction between free market and state regulated economic systems – a contrast most people fail to understand or appreciate – illustrates the point I am making. My 1996 book, In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918-1938, researched the efforts of business leaders in major trades and industries to curtail the volatile nature of competition. Consistent with the stultifying influences of institutionalism, the creative and competitive processes that had produced successful firms, came to be regarded, by those connected to such enterprises or industries, as threats to be controlled, if not eliminated altogether. In such ways did the business system become the principal architect of Roosevelt’s “New Deal.”

Institutionalism has its roots in a struggle between the effective forms generated by the human action, and the processes that created such entities or practices. Those who benefit from maintaining the status quo are always opposed to liberty, for change is implicit in autonomous activity. A synonym for “liberty” is “choice,” and the choice depends on individuals being free to act upon options they perceive to advance their self-interests. When your actions and mine are guided by the “property” principle (i.e., to do as we choose regarding what each of us owns, but with our decision-making ending at the boundary line that separates our property interests from one another) the quality of human life is maximized. A Libertarian Critique... Butler Shaffer Buy New $5.50 (as of 03:05 UTC - Details)

“Liberty” is a messy condition, particularly for those who wish to enjoy the status quo without having to make responses to the constant changes that help to define “life.” Believing, with Mark Twain, that “nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits,” they become obsessed with “security.” The human spirit of such persons is in a terminal state, with politicians of every franchise eager to feed these soulless minds with fears of impending disaster unless you vote for them. Not realizing that the only genuine security is to be a changing person in a changing world, they succumb to the institutionally-minded  peddlers of nostrums for further paralyzing the life-force.

While the more noticeable expressions of anti-life premises are to be found in the corporate-state sector, the virus can also be found in other organized systems. The sciences, religions, academia, entertainment industries, and intellectual foundations, are among the many realms within which voices of the institutional-chorus can be heard. Each having its own status quo interests to defend, most are committed to the proposition that “social order” (i.e., what preserves the interests of the established order) can be imposed by forceful authority. Unless an organization enjoys the benefits of a healthy immune system (e.g., a university that resists efforts to control speech), most find lockstep marching a default position. Few will be found supporting the views of the late science philosopher, Paul Feyerabend, an advocate of “epistemological anarchism” grounded in the sentiment that, in the search for truth, “anything goes.”

But the religion of institutionalism, by its nature, is wed to the maintenance of the status quo, and to the forceful rejection of heretical ideas that support liberty and change. It will take no notice of Feyerabend, nor give credence to current work in the study of chaos and complexity which inform us of the inherently unpredictable nature of all complex systems. Complexity – which reflects the architecture of life itself – has an inner volatility that makes uncertainty a constant, and the institutional order cannot abide question marks. Change occurs because life fluctuates and is not static; it achieves equilibrium only in death.

The evolutionary processes by which life developed its varied forms did not pursue a linear blueprint leading to a predictable end. Life keeps its options open, and while it discovered the creative and survival benefits of sexual reproduction, it did not abandon the single-celled division of reproduction. In their efforts to understand how we got here, geneticists are guided by the principle “cherish your mutations,” an insight we would all do well to embrace.

Those who are inclined to gloat that we humans have not become extinct, while the dinosaurs have, need reminding that dinosaurs dominated the planet for some 175,000,000 years, while our species has been around for only one million or so years (depending on which of our ancestors can be defined as “human”). A strong dose of humility would do us well. The dinosaur line did not get completely extinguished: their descendants are now to be found in bird populations, while Washington, D.C. remains a habitat for reptilian-brained creatures. Whether the human species will be able to further evolve in order to avoid the fate of our own extinction remains open to question.

With the examples provided by my children and grandchildren – who share my wife’s and my sense of the importance of the life force – I remain optimistic that the outcome of the 2016 presidential election will not be looked upon as a contribution to the history of human well-being. I have recently discovered that a major portion of my biological ancestry can be traced back to the Iberian peninsula (now Spain). This is the region in which the famous handprints can be found on walls in the Cave of Altamira. These handprints have been dated back at least 40,800 years, providing a mathematic near-certainty that some of these prints were placed there by my direct ancestors. Our shared DNA connects me, biologically, with such ancient people; the hand-prints are much more personal to me as if my predecessors were reaching out more than 6,000 years to tell me “I was here.” The Wizards of Ozymand... Butler Shaffer, Butler... Best Price: $8.38 Buy New $12.33 (as of 05:45 UTC - Details)

During the many years in which our ancestors experimented ways of thinking and creating that produced such advances in human well-being as the Renaissance, the Scientific Age, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and Western Civilization itself, our precursors gave expression to the underlying premise of pluralism: we could learn from one another’s experiences with how to live. Even the idea of societies grounded in collectivism were experimented with in the 19th-century American “communes,” undertakings whose failures helped to confirm the social importance of privately-owned property.

Creating alternative methods of producing goods was just one of the many ways in which we humans have managed to satisfy our material needs. After the factory system replaced the guilds, modifications within the factory model brought about such changes as the assembly line, open-hearth steel mills, and other forms which, seen as improvements, soon led many to view such methods as part of the status quo to be defended. There seemed to be no need to incorporate resiliency into the factory model: the assembly line was just “the” most efficient way of producing goods. Reinforced by the tenets of institutionalism, it became preferable to change the people who worked in industries, than to have the organizations change to better satisfy the oft-ignored inner needs of employees. Thus was born the profession of the “industrial psychologist,” whose function was to “manage” people by conditioning them into believing that company purposes were the same as their purposes, a practice picked up from the political arena. That these managers worked in departments known as “human resources” – human beings as “resources”? – did little to quiet the inner emptiness so many people feel for their work.

But Henry Ford’s factory model and Andrew Carnegie’s steel mills have long since been challenged by alternative thinking that has produced alternative methods of production. Perhaps sinning against the tenets of institutionalism – by accepting that a given form or practice had to be maintained – was a point of departure. Perhaps building adaptability, and flexibility into the design and thinking of every organization is the best way to resist the institutional infection; to provide it with the resiliency living bodies require in order to survive in an ever-changing world.

When I was in law practice, I had a client who owned a number of private schools for young children. When the school sought to expand by adding two more schools, the building designs were as follows: [1] for a school to be built in a residential neighborhood, the architect designed it as a home; [2] for a school to be built in a more commercial area, the building was designed so that, should that school ever close, the facility could easily be converted to a drive-in bank or other commercial enterprises. Such examples illustrate how incorporating resiliency into our thinking has practical consequences.

As I was writing this article, I read a news report of the discovery of another fairly complete fossilized dinosaur. Its mockingbird descendant that now sings to me as I finish this has an ancestry that runs many millions of years longer than does the route back to my Spanish ancestors. Those who came before us include the small mammals that managed to survive whatever it was that brought the age of the dinosaurs to an end. To them, we owe our special existence. But our ancestral trail also includes the men and women whose thinking and social practices continue to influence us. Has the institutionalized violence of political systems become so integrated into our DNA that we are doomed to a self-inflicted extinction, or can we energize a sufficient resiliency to create the options that sustain life?

Should we fail in our efforts, will evolutionary forces be inclined to continue the experiment to determine whether any species can be entrusted with conscious intelligence? (Should a new candidate be sought, I herewith nominate the dolphins!) When that day comes, will intelligent minds – be they human or otherwise – have occasion to see a connection between the fossil remains of extinct species, and the petrified systems whose lifeless remains are to be found in the industrialized “Rust Belt,” or in the dustbin of fallen civilizations and empires?