On the Nature of Our Servitude


We are not free

I do not expect much difficulty in convincing you that you are not a free person. Any regular reader of this blog would likely accept the proposition without argument. But for those who don’t, consider that free people could never be forced to bail out an entire industry, like we were with TARP; and free people would not tolerate the mass counterfeiting of their money - as we have with QE; and free people would never be forced to pay others to spy on them and invade their privacy - as we are with the NSA; and free people would not be imprisoned for non-violent activities - as we are by the millions in the drug war; and free people do not go to war to serve the vanity and/or pocketbooks of a select few - as we have for the Neocons; and free people don’t let a few busybodies decide how and in what manner they can earn a living - as we do with government licensing. In light of this and much more one really has to wonder how anyone could still believe we are “free”.

No, we do not live in the “land of the free”. You are not free, dear reader. Neither am I. Accept this unpleasant truth. Try saying it aloud: “I am not free.” If you are like me, doing so generates some anxiety. You might hear a protestation arise from deep in your subconsciousness, the product of years of indoctrination. “What?? NOT FREE!!? What is this bs?! We are supposed to be free! We were promised that we would be free! We grew up believing in freedom, didn’t we? And now you say we aren’t?! What the hell? Surely you are mistaken! What happened? Everything we know was built on the idea that this country, America, was different, that here people were free! That was the deal! You know? Land of the free!” It is an unfortunate fact and hard to accept. But however hard you have to struggle to overcome your illusions, the fact remains: We are not free. We are slaves.

Each of us learned two things as children: 1. that freedom is the best thing in the world 2. that we are free. The hard truth that the second is false, does not invalidate the first. Freedom should still be our ambition, it’s just going to require more work than we had anticipated. Let us study the problem of our enslavement, get to the bottom of it. Only then will solutions present themselves.

Our enslavement is to bad ideas, not bad people

When a person first realizes that he is a slave, he naturally assumes he has a “master” or “masters”. He sees the systems of control that enslave him, and is certain that someone or some group must have constructed them. So, he begins to look around. He wants a target, an outlet for his anger and frustration. But his search yields no satisfactory answer. He cannot identify the person, or group “behind it all.” As time passes his search becomes more desperate, and he becomes more vulnerable. Every irrational fear in his unconsciousness seeks to project itself onto to some unseen evil villain. In his compromised state of mind, he is apt to latch onto one or other elaborate conspiracy theory. Into a shell of a theory, he pours his fears. He imagines a cunning devil, of immense power, evil, and mastery who has devised the state for satanic, diabolical ends.

But believing that some evil conspiracy is the source of our enslavement is foolish. A person doing so misunderstands what we are up against. The root cause of our enslavement is not so much bad people as it is bad ideas. Our conspiracy theorist makes the far too common mistake of personifying bad ideas. Bad ideas support and perpetuate the state. They are used to justify the increasing encroachment on our liberties. But bad ideas do not have intentions. They are not evil. They are merely wrong. This is not to say there are no conspiracies, nor that there are no bad people. But conspiracies are transient, and bad people eventually die. Bad ideas are our real nemeses. They last.

Once a person comprehends this fact, he has taken an important step closer to freedom. Instead of chasing phantoms, he can now properly orient himself towards his real enemy. He begins to withdraw the negative emotion that he has projected onto those in power, emotions that could cloud his thinking. He begins to survey the problem clinically. He changes how he sees himself. He is no longer seeking to find and slay a master. Now he is a scientist seeking to understand and cure a disease, or he is an engineer attempting to solve a problem. His enslavement becomes an abstraction. This is not to say that he forgives those who exercise power, or excuses what they do. He continues to hold them responsible for their actions. But at the same time, he realizes that their guilt or innocence is inconsequential to his fight for freedom. The actors interest him only as part of his broader contest against their ideas. To him, they are specimens who have become hosts for these ideas, and he wants to understand why.

Certain bad ideas, srideas, prevent us from being free:

If it is true that some bad ideas lead to our enslavement, it might be helpful to label them. I propose we call them socially relevant imaginary ideas or shortened: sri-ideas or srideas. The name comes from a term in mathematics: imaginary numbers. Imaginary numbers are numbers (such as the square root of -1) that cannot exist in reality, but are nevertheless able to be conceived, somewhat, by the human mind. Similarly, imaginary ideas are concepts that cannot exist in reality, but are nevertheless able to be conceived, somewhat, by the human mind. Srideas are a subset of imaginary ideas - those that are relevant to other people. Examples of srideas include “social justice”, “the social contract”, the state or society (as an agent), taxes (as distinct from theft), and positive “rights”. Srideas include any imaginary ideas that deal with ethics, what’s “right”, justice, and the use of force against others. In short, any imaginary idea that would be involved in the justification for the state would be considered an sridea. It is these (false) ideas that require our attention.

Every liberty activist will recognize srideas. We spend our lives fighting them. They seem to swarm around us. We find them everywhere: on the radio, music, movies, tv, newspaper articles, and in the minds of others. They show up, uninvited, as obstacles in our conversations. They seem impervious to reason, and we can never seem to understand why people continue to hold them.

A person who believes in srideas lacks a fully developed reasoning faculty. The existance of srideas indicate a mind, or section of a mind, that has either never been subjected to reason, or has been deliberately insulated from reason. In the minds of children, srideas are normal and healthy. They serve as mental “place holders” - sign posts that say “Here, work is yet needed.” As the child matures, he naturally questions, and replaces his srideas with real ideas. Just as a child’s baby teeth give way to permanent teeth, so srideas give way to real ideas. In this normal developmental process children replace their srideas with rationally justifiable positions on issues of social relevance. Their positions become accessible to reason, able to be questioned, and changed in the light of better reasoning. This is how a rational mind becomes mature. But all too often in today’s world, this healthy process is arrested. All too often, adults hold on to their srideas, refusing to question them. What causes this developmental arrest? Is there an effective therapy?

Healthy adults hold positions that are accessible to reason

A healthy, rational adult, has outgrown all his srideas. Or, to be more precise, has made all of his ideas, imaginary ideas, and any vestigial srideas, provisional: They are subject to be changed in light of better reasoning. Such a person (like, I suppose, most readers of this site), does not wrap his self-worth up with the correctness of any particular position. Instead, he establishes very clearly that reason governs all his thoughts. For each of his positions he can articulate the chain of reasoning that led him to it. If any of his presumptions later prove to be incorrect, or if his reasoning is shown to be faulty, then he will change his position(s) accordingly. His positions are all strictly subject to the dictates of reason. For him, life is a process of rational discovery. Everything is questionable, and reason is his ultimate judge. Most importantly, he is indifferent to the opinions of others.

But a developmentally arrested mind is full of srideas, and other imaginary ideas. Such a mind is not obedient to reason. In fact, it is at war with reason. It is not willing to change its srideas, not willing to subject them to reason and replace them with real ideas. One part of the mind has taken over the rest, and has chosen to cordon off its srideas, to remove them from the reach of reason. Maintaining this wall between the mind’s srideas and reason, consumes a lot of psychic effort and energy. The part of the mind that holds the rest in bondage must be bolstered by something more powerful, on balance, than the instinctive draw of reason. That force is the same force that each of us obeyed as children: It’s the opinion of others.

This is the critical point. An immature mind seeks the approval of others. The mature mind seeks approval only of its own reason.

Freedom will only come when we voluntary “enslave” ourselves to reason

The need for approval is the greatest of all human ambitions. All others are derivative. Wealth without community is a vacuum. Power without purpose is a prison. Intelligence without meaning is lonesome. Fame without acceptance is infamy. All secondary ends are means to try to achieve approval from a sort of highest tribunal. But approval of whom, exactly? What agent renders that judgment?

There are different viewpoints. Religious people see “God” as the highest judge. The clergy, by interpreting the bible, approve or disapprove of particular acts and people. But many people are unbelievers. Some turn instead to the state. For them, the state apparatus anthropomorphizes the “will of the people”. They believe that as long as the politicians have ruled something “legal”, that thing is acceptable, and if they rule it “illegal”, it is not. But reasonable people reject the state as well. We look to reason for our standard. Not God, or the state, but the best argument decides if something is acceptable, and should be approved. Since our final and highest judge is reason, we think those people most obedient to reason should be our judges.

But, where are they? The church clergy speak out and render judgment. The politicians make laws and their judges pass judgment. But where are the great voices of reason, condemning the state, the srideas, and the fetters that keep us all enslaved? Why do those among us who have replaced their srideas keep silent in the face of those who haven’t? Why don’t they stand up and begin to rain down a righteous judgment?

I think the explanation is that there are few reasonable people who are willing to pursue reason “all the way.” They maintain an illusion, one hidden sridea, that they refuse to reconsider: They believe that in this corrupted world, they can become wealthy without compromising their reason. Their desire for wealth makes them timid, and willing to compromise with injustice. They fear the consequences of speaking out against the state, or even reconsidering the supposed premise for its existence: “Just let me keep what I have, and I won’t say anything!” So they keep quiet, they pay their taxes, follow the instructions of the state, and count their assets. They stop pronouncing their judgments, thier voice is not heard, and everyone remains in bondage.

In short, very few people are unwilling to compromise. Reason instructs us that our primary priority must be gaining our personal political freedom. It tells us that all of our ambition and creative energy should be directed toward that end. Everything else is a distraction. Only after we have gained our freedom, can we concern ourselves with any other area of life. Liberating ourselves from the state should be the “only game in town.”

Of course, many people think about the “free rider” problem. They don’t want to be the only one to abandon a materially comfortable life to enter that invigorating battle of ideas. But reason has an response to this as well: There is no other way. We cannot force our values on anyone else. We are masters only of ourselves. Each of us should take the initiative, and trust that others will follow our example. It’s the only path toward freedom.

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