I happened to be in Paris on September 11, 2001. I remember walking along the Seine and feeling comforted by the massive stone walls there, thinking about how much those stones had been through over the centuries, and how they were still standing. I thought at the time that no matter what disasters humanity went through, something solid would still remain. Today, as Notre Dame is in flames, Julian Assange sits in prison, and the Deep State seems larger and more powerful than ever, it is harder to feel that way.
I’ve been working on this essay for nearly seven years now. In 2012, following the failure of Ron Paul to win the Republican presidential nomination, I wrote a short article titled “The Revolution is Over – Long Live the Revolution!” In it, I said:”
…now it’s time to get serious about building a free society. The illusion that we can do it through the voting booth should by now be thoroughly discredited. Our focus should now be on building the society we believe in – one that is based on peaceful, voluntary interactions, where violence is only acceptable as a response to violence. The coercive system is failing, and it will only get worse. It’s time for us to get to work.”
Urban Yogini: A Superh... Best Price: $18.13 Buy New $17.10 (as of 07:10 EST - Details) I received a lot of positive feedback for that article, including several emails from readers who were eager to hear more about how they could “get to work.” I spent a lot of time thinking carefully about how to respond to them and even started to craft an article addressing the problem, but I never published it. So I want to apologize to those readers for not responding to their questions – in particular to Justin, Dustin, and Marshel. I’m sorry I never got back to you. I didn’t think I had good answers for you then. But now I think I might. Maybe not answers exactly, but some important clues.
TO DO LIST
To begin with, yes, there are a lot of practical things that we can do, tools we can use, and that people are using, to build a free society. Things like: state nullification of federal laws; secession; mutual aid; private protection; doctors and hospitals operating outside of the insurance paradigm (or underground entirely); and the two I believe to be the most powerful: Cryptocurrency, and breaking the cycle of indoctrination and training a population in obedience, through homeschooling.
But without a powerful context, these ideas aren’t much more than a to-do list. So what I’m going to try to do here is to lay out the foundation for that context, as I see it.
LIBERTY AND TECHNOLOGY
It strikes me that humanity’s movements toward liberty have almost never been deliberate. With a few exceptions (the abolition of slavery, the American Revolution, etc.) they have largely come about as a result of either technological change, or by accident of history. The decentralization of power in Europe following the fall of the Roman Empire, for example, was not part of anyone’s plan – and yet it led to tremendous improvements in personal freedom and helped to lay the foundation for societies based on the rights of the individual and on respect for private property.
Likewise, the technological leaps that have advanced human liberty the most have not done so by design, but as an indirect consequence of solving a problem. From the innovation of money, of trade, of the printing press, the establishment of due process and courts of law, to the personal computer and the Internet, each of these new technologies has been developed in response to an immediate need – and has only unintentionally been a boon to human liberty. So I suspect that any future moves in the direction of liberty will most likely come from changes in technology.
When I say “technology”, I mean it in the broadest sense possible. Not only physical and mechanical technologies, but technologies of social organization and cultural norms. This can include new ways of doing all kinds of things, whether growing food, making clothing, moving from place to place, resolving disputes, engaging in trade, or even new ways of seeing and interacting with other human beings.
Some of the most important of these technological advances include: Money; Trade (instead of conquest); Judeo-Christian values (including universalism vs. tribalism, and valuing the individual); Participatory democracy; Private property; Systems of justice and due process; The printing press; Mechanized production; The widespread rejection of slavery; Personal computers and the Internet; Strong cryptography; and blockchain technology and cryptocurrency.
Real change happens for groups of people when they start doing things differently.
HEARTS AND MINDS
Those who have best articulated a defense of freedom and free societies are for the most part not the people who created the foundations for those societies. Adam Smith and Ludwig von Mises did not propose a free-market system, which was then implemented. They simply described a system that already existed, and defended it so that others could see why it had value and why interfering with it might cause more harm than good.
I personally don’t believe that liberty is gained by convincing large numbers of people that it’s a good idea. That’s not how it has come about historically, and I am very skeptical that it is how it will happen for us. But I do still believe that spreading the ideas of liberty is worthwhile and important – just maybe not for the reasons many others in the pro-freedom community do.
It is easy to see, for example, how a population that is hostile to liberty makes it much easier for governments to trample our freedom, and one can see how a society filled with people who understand the value of liberty, and of free markets in particular, might make it much harder for it to be taken away. So there is certainly value in spreading the ideas of liberty.
SHINING A LIGHT ON EVIL
To this end, one of the most powerful things we can do is to shine a light on the things that most people seem unable to see, are conditioned not to see, or are unwilling to recognize. Sometimes it seems that everyone around us suffers from a particular kind of moral blindness: a blind spot when it comes to crimes committed by those in authority, or those with whom we identify. I wrote about this a few years ago:
There is the yoga instructor who supports forced certification – using the force of the state to prevent people from taking classes from instructors who have not been certified. There is the friend who meditates daily and espouses a life of both inner and outward peace – yet eagerly calls for the forced distribution of wealth and the nationalization of health care. And there are the many many friends and acquaintances who are willing to use force to impose their choices on other people, from banning smoking in private businesses to enforcing minimum-wage laws, banning plastic bags, and forcing food producers to put certain labels on their products — the list seems endless.
While the merits of each of these goals is open to debate, there is one question that rarely seems to come up: Whether or not the use of force — violent, state-imposed force — is justified in accomplishing any of them. It’s not that their proponents argue that force is justified, it is that they simply don’t address the question at all — as if they don’t even recognize government violence as something to be concerned about.
We live among vast multitudes of people who identify with an institution that rules over us with threats of violence, an institution that is in reality accountable to no-one outside of itself, an institution that can and does get away with murder on a routine basis. Instead of condemning this institution, as any sane person would, instead of working tirelessly to find a way to end it, most people spend countless hours and untold sums of energy in passionate debate over who is best qualified to lead it.
So this is our job: To bring about clarity as to the violent nature of the state, and to help others to understand its role in creating and/or aggravating the problems they seek to fix. To the extent that our conscious efforts to oppose and defeat evil do matter, it is absolutely critical that we correctly identify the source of the problem. Most of those around us are unable to do that, because most people identify themselves, and their own interests, with the source of the problem: the institution of the state. Our job is to shine a light on what most – for whatever reasons – are not able to see.
DIVIDED WE STAND
Another thing about technological change is that, for the most part, it hasn’t been developed by groups of people, but by individuals. Even those – such as trade, and money – that were perhaps not created by a single individual, were certainly not imposed by any top-down process, or political movement, but developed organically, by individuals interacting with one another. We will not solve this problem as a collective, but as individuals. Connected, maybe, but individuals always.
Be wary – be very, very wary – of any “solution” that involves elevating a group, or a cause, no matter how noble, above the rights and freedoms of actual individuals. Or that requires investing anyone with political power. Not only from a principled standpoint, but for very practical reasons, as I discussed here:
Here’s the thing to understand: The things libertarians want – freedom, less govt. interference in markets & in personal choices, non-interventionist foreign policy… there is no money in these things for politicians. There are no big corporations and very few rich people who are willing to pay tons of money to politicians to refrain from intervening in markets, or to keep the troops home, or to let people ingest whatever substances they want to.
…politicians have essentially two things to offer to the people who support them: 1. Power, in the form of regulatory and other control, over competitors and others who may get in the way of a particular entity remaining comfortably profitable; 2. Money. Not their own money of course – your money, and my money.
…In order for a seeker of liberty to win at this game, that person would have to compete with the campaign donations and other inducements made by military contractors, major pharmaceutical companies, oil companies – but these are all entities that have been made rich by virtue of government interventions and direct largesse. How can a liberty seeker hope to offer the same level of financial inducements to politicians as these people, when they are not also on the receiving end of the government slush?
Even more important, though, than simply avoiding the political process, is reclaiming what it has taken from us. What has it taken? Our security – replaced by crime, driven by the war on drugs and the prison-industrial complex; our peace – replaced by fears of terrorism, spawned in response to our empire’s never-ending thirst for conquest; our independence and self-supporting communities – replaced with dependence on the welfare state, and the dominion of a regulatory leviathan; education – replaced with indoctrination; free and open discussion – replaced with overt manipulation of public conversation; and civility – replaced with increasingly divisive, intolerant, and hysterical sputtering that passes for discourse.
We may not yet be able to reclaim all that the state has taken from us, but there are things we can take back. In particular, we can take back our humanity. The institution of the state, and those who play its game, benefit when the rest of us are at each others’ throats. They love it when people believe that other groups of people are their enemy – so that they don’t recognize the state itself as their common enemy. And they are thrilled beyond belief when they have an easily manipulated angry or terrified mob that they can easily turn on their own enemies. The state loves nothing more than for us to abandon our humanity and behave like animals. Why Mommy Loves the State Best Price: $19.88 Buy New $17.60 (as of 10:47 EST - Details)
So what can we do? We can refuse to abandon our humanity. We can refuse to be a part of a mob. We can insist on thinking deeply, and on getting information, before passing judgement. We can engage in civil discourse with one another, even when we disagree.
A group is deadly. A mob is stupid. A collective has no morality. If we are to stand against evil, and stand effectively, then it can only be as individuals – and individuals who recognize that other human beings are also individuals, regardless of any groups or nations they may belong to. The state, at its core, is the antithesis of civilization. If we are to fight it, the best place to start is by reclaiming civilization, and civility.
It may just be that how we choose to see each other is one of the most important things we can do for liberty: to treat each other as unique, precious, individuals, each one of us infinitely more important than any collective, or cause, or tribal affiliation. Perhaps the most important thing we can do right now is to be decent to each other.
That would be revolutionary.