"You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him." ~ James D. Miles
The state has grown too big and powerful and conversely the individual appears small and powerless. Libertarians of all stripes can debate endlessly on why this has come about and where we should ideally be instead. When the question of what to do about it comes up, there is typically a moment of silence and perhaps a chuckle or two coupled with some frustrated cynicism. After this moment of consideration passes, a barrage of suggestions usually follows involving the premise "If only everybody would (do what I think they should), then things would straighten out." The "If I were King for a day," type of solutions reveal the statist mindset that is so difficult for us to overcome in looking for solutions to the problem of state control over individuals. I suggest that if an individual really wants to be free then they should begin to act free themselves; that is, choose to be free.
The popularly held notion that the only way to free individuals from state control is to give (vote for) some good and wise person (typically like what everyone believes themselves to be) absolute executive power over the state apparatus in order to set it right. This solution appeals to the human desire to "do something." These types of solutions are not only not the answer but the root of the problem. Obviously there is still a state, but now you have given it more legitimacy and power with your support. This is why voting (even for politicians promising to "fight for freedom" such as Libertarian Party candidates) is really counter-productive. Working within the system means to become a part of the system. When you go into the voting booth, the only meaningful significance that your action will have is to show that one more person supports the state.
It is self-defeating to fight tyranny by becoming a tyrant. To suggest that if certain books were required reading or that nobody was allowed to watch TV news or we should shoot all the lawyers or any such suggestion must require the use of force. This is wrong. You can not do right by doing wrong. When you vote for someone to be in a position of state power, from Dog Catcher to President, then you are supporting state power. If you really want to be free then the first thing you must do is stop voting. This is as liberating as it is simple. Like smoking, it may not easy to quit. But try it and you will feel better knowing that you didn't help elect the idiots telling everyone how to live their lives.
If you still have a hard time because the guy who wants to take 49% of your income beat the guy who wants to take only 47% of your income or the guy who wants to invade Iraq beat the gal who wants to invade Yugoslavia and think you could have "made a difference," then chill out and do the math. If voting makes you proud because you get to "exercise your right to vote," then you really need to get a life. Giving food to a hungry person, medicine to a sick person or shelter to a homeless person is something to be proud of. So is coaching a little league team, picking up the dry-cleaning for your wife and reading to your child. Having cast a meaningless vote for a wannabe political hack is no reason to puff out your chest.
Next try to pay as little taxes as possible without going to jail. This is probably easier to grasp than the first suggestion. Starving the beast by saving more of what you earned from the greedy fingers of fools backed by violence is pretty straightforward. I do know a communist from New York who once angrily chastised me for seeking ways to minimize my taxes, suggesting that I should "be happy" to pay whatever taxes the wise and benevolent democratically elected representatives deemed appropriate. But I think most people will "be happy" to save more of their hard-earned income. This can be accomplished with paid counsel to guide you through the labyrinth that is the tax code or simple barter with tradesmen and goods providers. Seek and ye shall find tax write-offs as well as free-trading partners for goods and services. Rental properties have proven to be a good source for both. Even small actions can be fulfilling and path-breaking towards greater networks and insights.
More subtle actions include matters of conscience. For instance, when you buckle your seatbelt, recognize that you do so out of care for your own safety, not because of terrorist threats from billboards and radio ads to "click-it or ticket." Avoid airports, train stations and places with metal detectors, attack dogs and attack persons because they are simply too oppressive to the human soul. I use to fly to Miami or Pensacola from Orlando on business, but now I drive because I refuse to be herded like a cow. If you don't want to feel like a cow, then do not put yourself in positions where you must act like a cow.
Purposely act to help your fellow humans with kindness. These acts can be giving time and resources to friends, family, neighbors or even strangers. Show your family, friends, neighbors and strangers how to act free and be kind. Join private organizations with members who have similar goals. Speak about liberty with conviction and expose tyranny with calm resolve. Give books as gifts and seek discussion with interest in the views of others. Free association, strong family ties and good will in the community all diminish and undermine the power and legitimacy of the state. The state is thus shown up to be unnecessary, unneeded and unwanted when people act free.
Liberty is about peace and love. Tyranny is about force and hate. The power of truth must shine brightly through the darkness of individual souls before it can manifest itself in collective organizations. Focusing on the collective before focusing on the self is a fool's errand of futility. Every person has the power to make choices that will affect change in themselves. These day-to-day choices can be done in the spirit of love or in the spirit of hate. Actions of love spread as surely as do actions of hate. How each individual chooses to act is up to each individual. The sum of these acts is society.
Dreams about everybody waking up, coming together, rising up, dropping out or whatever can never be realized by force or fiat. There is, however, the outside chance that inspiration can move enough men's souls such that liberty as an ideal can advance toward more universal acceptance by the collective. Although short-term trends may not look good, long-term trends look great. We may not be able to directly influence all of society at once, but we can immediately influence our own actions and hopefully inspire those close to us to do the same.
To give and to forgive are individual acts that promote liberty. Liberty cannot prosper where people choose the ways of force, hate and violence, only where people chose the ways of love and peaceful persuasion. The individual question each person must ask is whether they want to be part of the problem (the use of force and state control) or part of the solution (the use of peace and individual control)? Rejoice if you have already chosen the path of peace and spread the word. Give others confidence in the knowledge that they are not alone in rejecting the use of force and its agent: the state.
Seeking the peaceful life of liberty is like seeking love. If you are looking for an outside source for spiritual inspiration, then you shall seek them forever becoming more bitter and frustrated in the process. To look within yourself as a source of peace and love is to find joy and fulfillment. To give and forgive is the basis of freeing one's inner spirit. Spreading this spirit to our realm of influence is within each individual's power. Peace begets peace and violence begets violence. This is why those who live by the sword shall die by the sword and the meek shall inherit the earth. These self-evident truths do not require the sanction of supernatural constructs to be powerful within individuals or society. To reject them out of fear is all too human.
It is difficult to be peaceful in the face of violence and to love when surrounded by hate. This is why the "dark side" is so easy to follow and seeing the light takes so much courage. The light can appear blinding and the fear of force is often debilitating. Still, each individual has the power to act free and with courage may choose to be free. Using force does not require courage as it is a cowardly way out for those who have no faith in truth, peace or love. So have the courage to choose to be free and allow liberty to prevail in society. Be free.