I have spent much of my adulthood learning as much as I can about history and about the American systems of government and economics. While I make no claim of true expertise, I think I have come to better understand our current national situation and how we came to be in it. This understanding is causing me to rethink my attitude about individual freedom.
I make no secret of the fact that I have long been convinced that universal individual freedom is the most important thing in life. I now begin to understand that what I really meant was “the most important thing in MY life”, and that many of my fellow citizens take a different view. For instance, many of them seem to put a higher priority on material excess and on momentary entertainment than on individual freedom, universal or otherwise. Others seem more focused on controlling their fellow humans while yet others pursue the irrational notion of universal equality.
This leads me to my central question… do most humans really want to be free?
Note that when I say “really want”, I am attempting to distinguish between what I will term “idle wants” — things we would take if they were available at no effort to ourselves and “real wants” — things we are willing to take risks and expend effort trying to obtain/achieve. For instance, if asked if I want a million dollars, my response would be an easy YES. There are a lot of neat things I could do with an extra million. However, if asked if I am willing to accept the risks, commitment and labor needed to attempt to acquire this million dollars, my answer is a just-as-easy NO because I am totally unwilling to give up my current lifestyle to pursue the million. So, in my manner of thinking, I don’t “really want” that million dollars after all.
The more I ponder the current state of things in our nation, the more I am convinced that most Americans do not really want to be free because they are not willing to take the risks, make the commitments, assume the responsibility and expend the effort that being free demands. Yes, most are willing to let others do all this for them, just as I am willing to accept the gift of a million dollars earned by someone else. But the comparison ends there. If someone gives me a million, I actually have it. But no one can give me my freedom. Others can make it possible but they cannot make me free without risk, effort, commitment and responsibility on my part. Furthermore, these are all continuing demands, and will continue for all the time I wish to remain free.
Our founders understood this. That is why they created a Republic based on a written Constitution. Otherwise, all that would have been needed was to win the Revolutionary War then have us all live happily ever after. (Please note that, even during the Revolution, a large percentage of our population preferred to stay under royal domination and do nothing to achieve their own freedom.)
It is true that there was a time when a person could enjoy a certain type of freedom by simply fleeing beyond the existing frontier and living a subsistence lifestyle. That is to say, by living much like a wild animal. Today, there are virtually no suitable frontiers to flee beyond and, at any rate, we humans are social animals who (supposedly) possess the skills and intelligence to live in mutually-dependent groups, retaining the freedom we require while enjoying those things that can only come with civilization, interdependence and cooperation.
Now, I sense that, at least in the industrialized West, we are forgetting how to be free. We are falling into the trap of thinking that our freedom can be provided for us by others, specifically by those who presume to govern us. Indeed, an ever increasing number of us seem to think that those who govern can provide for all our needs, even to the point of doing our thinking for us.
Surprisingly, such a thing can actually work. With my own eyes, I have watched the working of an enterprise where a large number of residents were totally taken care of, their every need seen to. They had all the nutritious food and clean water they needed. They were given prompt medical attention when required, as well as vaccinations to prevent the spread of disease. And in return, they were not asked to learn a thing, were not asked to take any responsibility whatever and were not even asked to labor in any way – other than to engage in sexual activity and to deliver offspring – offspring they were not even required to raise.
I guess to some this would describe Utopia but what I have actually described is a cattle breeding business. Yet, this seems to be the ambition of a frightening number of Americans. To be human cattle on the government ranch!
Cattle put up with their condition because they are incapable of understanding their situation – until it is too late, and incapable of redesigning it even if they did understand. But, cattle can be excused for this because, for now at least, they are also incapable of mental improvement. Not so with people. As we well know, people are capable of learning, of improving their situation. And, most still do. Yet, as a nation, we have sat calmly by an watched more and more of our fellow citizens being turned into human cattle — because they lack the will to be free — until it now may very well be too late to change the situation. And ALL of us could be dragged into the same pit, whether or not we did the things that freedom demands.
I think one reason we have done this is because we have not made freedom our highest priority. We have forgotten (or never knew) that the marvelous lifestyle most of us have been privileged to enjoy is the product of freedom – not of government.
In other words (my words), this is happening to us because too few of us REALLY WANT freedom. Instead, too many of us have been too willing to be “governed” by letting, even forcing our government to grow, to take over tasks and responsibilities that are rightly ours as individuals. Have we become so illiterate that we don’t realize that “govern” is a synonym for “control”? Do we now actually want to be controlled in every aspect of our lives? I can only conclude that many of us do want exactly that. Too many of us have apparently become willing to accept dictatorship, holding out only the hope that our dictators will be of the benevolent variety.
I have written elsewhere in this blog how, rather than being a condition, freedom is actually an ongoing process. One that requires the active participation of all those who would be free. I have also repeatedly offered the opinion that real education — being taught the basics of information gathering and critical thinking — is the only thing that could ever bring humanity to universal freedom. While I still believe this is true, I have now seen and learned enough to know that there is no way this going to happen, at least not for many generations to come. I take this position not because of the sorry state of our education system, but rather because a huge percentage of our population simply does not care to be educated, does not care to be burdened with informing themselves, with critical thinking or with responsibility in general.
Yes, our education system is a disgrace that needs to be fixed. But the history of learned humans far out dates the American education system, so that can’t be the underlying reason. When all else fails, those who really want to be educated can educate themselves, just as I did, just as millions have done.
What is missing in America is not the systems, it is the will. And, I think the will is missing because of a failure to comprehend the underlying necessity. This is partly rooted in the insane belief that freedom, prosperity or any other blessing of civilization can continue based solely on the efforts of others, not your own.
What I am leading up to, in my own rambling fashion, is the new-found understanding that universal freedom is simply not about to happen and that pretending that it is does nothing but cause problems for those who truly want to be free. Today we are actually heading in the opposite direction, toward universal control. Therefore the new question I attempt to raise is this… how can we devise a system that allows freedom for those who would strive for it while allowing the masses to be herded about by the shepherds of government? A system that allows the responsible to keep what they have fairly earned, allows them to freely establish trade and contracts among themselves, without being plundered by either the herd or its shepherds?
In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s fictional hero John Galt created “Galt’s Gulch” where the productive could gather and prosper unmolested and unseen. While that seems so very desirable, it is, after all, fiction. In the real world, there is no perpetual motion machine to generate endless power and there is no shield that will render us invisible to the herd. Besides, I doubt we really want to be that invisible anyway. Being plundered by the herd is a bad thing but supplying them, via their shepherds, for a fair profit, could be a very desirable thing. Besides, with proper supervision, some of the herd could be applied to productive tasks.
While I do not yet have any answers — in fact, do not even have many good ideas, my instinct tells me a new approach based on some combination of the British system of nobility and the Indian caste system might be a start toward the nation I seek (that is, protecting the productive from the plunderers through creation of an “official” privileged class). For sure, no position in such a society could be made hereditary and there would have to be very achievable mobility between social strata so that one could move through the strata based on one’s own efforts.
As I have often stressed, one absolutely mandatory change must be to stop those who live on government handouts from having the voting privilege. It has been truly said that a people get the government they deserve but I’m quite tired of getting the government a bunch of deadbeats deserve. And, I am even more tired of being plundered. There must be an answer and it cannot depend on the deadbeats changing their ways.
In other words, I seek a system where individual freedom – and the rewards it brings– is readily available to those who really want to be free but with no illusions about freedom, or its rewards, being free to the unwilling.
I would love to hear ideas from others — maybe from you??
Troy L Robinson