Utopia vs. Liberty

In his insightful analysis of the Dark Side, STR writer Jonathan David Morris notes that,

"The Dark Side of the Force is not evil for evil's sake. It's evil because it believes the ends always justify the means . . . .

'It represents the undying allegiance some leaders have to their vision of how things 'should be.' Politicians consolidate power for plenty of reasons--like money and job security--but it's the belief that they're somehow performing a vital service that clears their conscience to do this. It's not they haven't got values; it's just that their values are totally messed up. They truly believe in their vision for society. This is what justifies everything they do . . . .

'These people don't see the Dark Side as a perversion of the good side. They see it as progress. That's why they choose it. And that's why some folks, sadly, choose to believe in them.

'Hey, it could happen to the best of us.'

It does happen to the best of us precisely because utopian visions, good or bad, are perceived by their believers to be worth putting into effect qua social vision . . . to "do good." It does not matter what that "good" is. It is the socially proactive concept of the good, the ideal, or a utopia itself. When it is envisioned as a social ideal ' a utopia ' then it is heedless of moral barriers or individual sovereignty. The ends self-evidently (to the believers) justify the means and, inherent to the vision, it MUST be accomplished coercively.

To achieve the same results non-coercively begins by indirection ' by not attempting to achieve a result of any particular dimension, but by starting with non-coercive premises ' e.g., Do No Harm and Reciprocal Respect ' and trusting that these are both necessary and sufficient for the subsequent "achievement" of good. It is a matter of trusting that means determine the ends, that good means will result in good ends, and that, as long as these are adhered to, no further moral justifications will ever be required.

It is a matter of trust, of reason, and of trusting in reason. Utopian visions are a breach of trust in the same way that the Golden Calf is a breach of trust. The oddly popular concept is that it is wrong to worship "false" idols, but somehow okay if you worship "correct" idols. But idolatry has the same effect whether you are idolizing Satan or Christ, communism or liberty, the moon or the sun.

An idol is "an image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed . . . . a figment of the mind, a fantasy." Idolatry, howsoever contrived, out of whatever material, is a meme that destroys the mind's capacity to perceive things in their true perspective. It begins in fantasy or illusion, and persists in aberration or delusion, including the inability to weigh, gauge or evaluate the true costs of this process to human life, human values, human well-being or human reason. It is a derailment of the mind and, in consequence, of the body (i.e., tangible, physical well-being).

Libertarians are some of the most over-the-top utopists of the lot. They reject the present utopia as too restrictive. They do not reject the idea of a utopia, they merely argue with its design. And they project a better utopia to take its place. The communists also promoted utopia ' they were honest and up-front in what they were doing, and it appealed to people. Of course, it was all bullshit, but that's true of any utopia ' inherently and necessarily. The Golden Calf is bullshit, and that's all that any utopia is. The Golden Rule or a contract of respect is not bullshit, but it is also not utopia, which is why it cannot be sold ' and cannot compete with utopias.

In conventional, utopian terms, those promoting true liberty have nothing to sell. In the design of a utopia, they have nothing to contribute, because they are not actually contributing to the design of utopia, but to its elimination ' to the elimination of the concept of utopias from the landscape ' and, though they don't even realize it, the elimination of organization qua social endeavor.

The process of eliminating utopia is not to organize for it (which is the process of creating utopia ' even as an anti-utopian endeavor). The process of eliminating utopia is the elimination of organization ' and fairy tales ' and the belief in socially contrived wins. The elimination of utopia depends upon the elimination of the contrivances of civilization.

The monuments of the past are the golden calves of organization, validating the fairy tales and demonstrating that, through coercion, we can create the wonders of the Roman Empire and all the other empires and kingdoms ' palaces, parks and productions. The achievement of cooperative monuments are not predicated upon similar social goals nor enforced association, and do not create such things. Freedom has no monuments or spectacles, aside from such prosaic things as office buildings, jet liners, electricity and indoor plumbing.

What one man can do through venture capital is hire people to create something that is profitable. It is probably true that he is creating a kind of Golden Calf, but generally in a prosaic fashion ' such as generating electricity, effecting distribution of goods, providing transportation, or manufacturing shoes. But his creation is not a social endeavor, despite the financial support it may garner in the market, despite its usefulness, and despite its appearance of being a kind of Golden Calf monument or utopian order.

It is only because of the fairy tales that people are taught, that they continue to perceive his money-making endeavor as the equivalent of a socially organized achievement ' merely one that has been achieved through non-coercive means. But it is something altogether different, bearing no resemblance to such things. The privately built Great Northern railway line of James Hill is nothing like the railways and highways of Empire. It is the mixed economy, based upon coercion, that convolutes the two. Moreover, to attempt to sell liberty on the basis that it can produce such things ' utopian ends ' is to sustain the fairy tales of utopianism ' the delusion of the appropriateness (and sanctity) social goals.

Private endeavor are not social ends, regardless of appearance to Golden Calf worshippers. The reason they do not appear previously in history, is that people have persisted in the belief that they are social-clan goals ' and are intended in that fashion ' and can be taken over by force and run by force, since the social utopia is the justification of their existence, according to the worshippers. Private individuals have no protection against this utopian delusion.

William Vanderbilt's famous line, "The public be damned!", is ' taken in context ' the exact philosophy of private enterprise . . . and of liberty. The social/public welfare is of no concern to and not a function of political liberty. Its sole concern is respect for the sovereign autonomy of the individual. (Of course, if you scrupulously adhere to this principle, an explosion of social benefits will come into existence 'in material goods, infrastructure, morality, and goodwill ' but this is ENTIRELY a parenthetical aside, and not in any manner the purpose, intent, design, goal or justification of liberty. It should not even need to be mentioned, except in reference to the rigor of the law of consequence: means determine ends.)

A private railway line is not a consequence of social organization, nor is it in response to social organization. It is built strictly to provide transportation of goods and bodies in exchange for a price. It exists solely for the purpose of making a private profit on the operation. It has no social purpose or plan, aside from respecting the rights of others to participate or not, freely and voluntarily. If it is successful, fine. Then it makes a profit. If it is not successful, then it was a miscalculation upon the actual needs of the market for this kind of transportation (at least in the manner in which it was provided). The "social good" is not any measure of its worth, value or sustainability. This is not a social service, nor a social organization, nor a social utopia. The private infrastructure, where it exists at all, is not designed to create a perfect society, nor to enable people to be able to have wins, nor to be part of anything "bigger" than themselves.

Unfortunately, with the utopian fairy tales still in place, then people do think such things. With the mechanisms of coercive utopia-building in place, then people not only think such things, they also nationalize such private operations (if any are so foolish as to come into existence). It is only in frontier areas where no coercive mechanisms exist, that private individuals will make the effort to create such things . . . and that private capital will be willing to venture.

Utopia rules this world in the same way that the Golden Calf does. The Golden Rule counts for nothing stacked against the Golden Calf; a contract of man's rights counts for nothing against the fairy tales of utopia. Our endeavor upon this planet derive from the fairy tales that we are taught about life by our societies, and all of these are utopian by the nature of our coercive sociopolitical base ' we have no other history on this planet. Liberty is not utopian; it is the absence of utopia. And this flummoxes everyone.

In terms of its material standard of living, bounty of creativity and spectacles of affluence, liberty surpasses all utopian visions. But it is made of different stuff, built upon a different premise, geared to different ends, and all of the social benefits are unintended byproducts of the premise. They are not intentional, are not engineered to these results, are not planned, are not organized for, are not utopian. It is, socially, a better path in terms of material results, but the material results are not the goal of it. If you are arguing the material or social results of liberty, then you are arguing to utopists who are only seeing this from the vantage of the fairy tales they have been brought up on . . . all of which are based on coercion. And they will be anticipating that they will be able to coercively "consolidate" the gains of liberty after these have been realized (as has happened repeatedly throughout history).

The fact is, however, none of the material or social results of liberty are guaranteed, precisely because they are not planned for. Creating liberty, based upon a contract of man's rights or the Golden Rule, may result in an extended period of stagnation. Possibly for several generations. It may take that long to get the utopian "gunk" out of our social programming. It may take that long for people to be able to trust that their efforts will not be coercively nationalized for some utopian plan. It may take even longer than that for people to overcome the historical meme of utopia.

Even if you were to achieve liberty ' which is the absence of utopian social organization ' there would be numerous private efforts during the transition period that would persist in sustaining the existing utopia. This would be done non-coercively, but would persist as long as there was a profit in it. It would become a fantastical tapestry of the cultural history of the world, against a background of kings, empires, wars, corporations, conquests, governments, art, power, ideals and untold luxuries . . . all of which people of a certain lineage would regard as "civilization," and they would persist in this aristocratic crap for centuries. Possibly, through their efforts, they would be able to overthrow liberty, once more. Utopists usually win out over freedom precisely because they are better storytellers ' bullshitters ' liars ' manipulators ' illusionists.

People who attempt to sell liberty as utopia will only generate greater coercive utopia, just as people who attempt to sell the Golden Rule by means of the Golden Calf will only generate greater worship of the Golden Calf (and less practice of the Golden Rule). The Golden Calf drives out the Golden Rule; utopia drives out liberty. Selling liberty AS utopia ultimately destroys the meaning of liberty in people's minds. Hence the track record of the libertarian movement has been an unprecedented loss of liberty at an unprecedented rate. (The predictable consequence of trying to change the system from within the system, using the same tools ' principles and memes ' of the system.)

Liberty, like the Golden Rule, is an inert principle of nonaggression. Do No Harm cautions the Golden Rule; Respect the Rights (sovereign autonomy) of your neighbor cautions liberty. These are not proactive, social principles. They do not advocate action, only inaction: Restraint. Thence, if one is to do anything, these principles only restrain such activity to non-coercive, non-harmful, respectful action. Sheesh, how're we gonna get to heaven if we merely forbear from clubbing our neighbors over the head and stealing their Cheerios? How wimpy. We cannot build an empire on such principles, nor create a utopia.

Moreover, such principles seem very unlikely to result in the kind of material affluence that we are accustomed to receiving by coercion. All of history and all of civilization and all of our training, indoctrination and programming insist that we cannot leave such utopian goals to fate ' that we must aggressively (and, yes, coercively) pursue them.

Because the simple fact is that liberty is not designed to achieve them. It is merely designed to leave people free to do whatever it is they want to do. And what if nobody wants to provide you with transportation to Florida ? What if nobody wants to manufacture shoes or telephones? What if nobody wants to deliver your mail? Or distribute oranges or Cheerios or tins of tuna?

Are you thinking of those little old ladies who depend on reliable social services (like supermarkets and transportation)? Whatever is to become of them? Or are you thinking that you, in consequences of living in utopia, have become little old ladies, incapable of surviving upon your own responsibility? Whichever is the case, it doesn't really matter. Liberty is not utopia ' and does not care about little old ladies or you. It is not a social civilization/organization. It is the absence of same. What will fill the void? Liberty doesn't know; doesn't care.

When it comes to utopian social benefits, liberty is not irresponsible, it is inert. And people who are truly selling liberty are not trying to sell you how liberty is going to solve all your problems. Because it won't. Do anything. Liberty is not a warm fuzzy. It is not going to take care of you. All it's going to do is leave you alone. Completely alone. Completely to your own devices. Completely ' at liberty. Like it or dislike it, liberty doesn't care. It is not about caring, it's about respect. Period.

Of course there are byproducts of this condition . . . like the difference between 18th Century China and 20th Century America . . . but these byproducts are not guaranteed, and they are not generated directly BY liberty. They can't be predicted in any fashion because there's no plan, committee, institution or organization . . . just individuals doing whatever they want . . . doing no harm and respecting the rights (sovereign autonomy) of everyone else. Ha! Will it fly? Will it even get off the ground? No idea whatever ' it might, but, then again, that's not WHAT it is designed for. It's not designed to DO anything, except respect the sovereign autonomy of individuals.

Liberty is the dullest, boringest, and most lackluster principle ever imagined by homo sapiens, which is probably why we repeatedly leave it in the dust. We would rather have utopia, as promised, and guaranteed by arms (even if it is always a bullshit delusion). We would rather have a shimmering Golden Calf to worship, than a dull Golden Rule to practice.

Why? It is not an inherent failing of the species; it is the inherent consequence of our cultural indoctrination . . . the meme manipulation [memepulation?] by illusionists and priest-craft. And that's all it is. When we attempt to use these same tools to promote liberty or the Golden Rule, then we simply tarnish them with the same brush, according to our internalized needs for such foppery. (We say our "values, standards, and civilization" as though this were saying something other than "foppery.")

Civilization is an addiction . . . and, like most, it is degenerative. We do not become more self-responsible, robust and healthy as we become more civilized. Quite the opposite. Civilization is a utopian pretension; it is the presumption of slaves to regard their chains as decorative bracelets and anklets; moreover, as status symbols. Moreover, as they are degeneratively weakened by such chains, they become increasingly dependent upon them ' slavery is their salvation (which is the plaintive cry of all drug addicts, patriots, and other utopian idealists 'if only we could have a bit more, things would be just fine).

Liberty may result in many social benefits and great material affluence. It MAY. But it is not predicated upon such results. Nor may it be "sold" upon such results without obliterating the distinction between liberty and utopia. Because the results are not predictable nor guaranteed, all such liberty salesmanship is phony-baloney bullshit. The same sales pitch for utopia is more honest because, based upon coercion, they can achieve some of their promised ends. What they don't advertise is the cost ' of slavery, poverty, and the obliteration of solutions possible in a free market; moreover, they don't exactly promise affluence for all, only for those higher up in the power structure ' and this they do achieve, even if it is only relative, since everyone, even the rulers, are poorer in consequence of choosing utopia.

Liberty isn't predicated upon such results, nor can it be sold upon such results. It can only be sold on the premise that it is right, just as the Golden Rule is right. It can only be sold on the law of consequences: means determine ends. The material results are unknown. Moreover, they don't matter . . . they're irrelevant. If everything becomes much worse in terms of material benefits in consequence of liberty ' and it probably will for a long stretch ' it is still irrelevant. Liberty doesn't have any promises to hang its hat on . . . it promises nothing. The future is unknown (the future is also unknown in utopias, but there are lots of promises to hang hats on).

The biggest problem, historically, is what to do when things turn rosy under liberty? Because that's when the utopianism will kick in ' and kick liberty in the butt . . . "consolidating" the bennies at the point of a gun. This is not a recent phenomenon; the uSA is not setting historical precedent. Nor is it a consequence of technologies, such as television, WMD or computers. It is a direct consequence of "having it good," and transmuting reality into utopia, and attempting to force things to stay "good" (and repeatedly failing in that attempt).

Of course, utopianism only kicks in if it has been operating in the background all along anyway, which it has. The American worship of European royalty and culture has been an embarrassment to liberty lovers for 250 years, but this worship has converted our universities, governments and religions into high-gear utopia generators and brainwashers. This includes the European corporatization of America 's free enterprise system well over 140 years ago, converting private, free enterprises into government lackeys on the European model (utopian ideal).

There are few images broadcast in the uSA which are not geared to utopia ' not in any media, including the internet; not in any movement, including the libertarians. Everything is subverted. The only possible exception is the X-generation grunge movements, which were intentionally repulsive ' but even they were picked-up, sanitized, and marketed, so I guess nothing is exempt. But, if you were wanting to "sell" liberty, that might be the best place to start . . . it may have to go a bit deeper than body piercing, however, and be motivated by something other than conformity. I'm not saying liberty is repulsive, but from the conventional, brainwashed utopian perspective it probably does look repulsive. Instead of catering to that perspective, you'd be better off, Xer-style, challenging it ' by embracing grunge.

Liberty is a cold, unfeeling, heartless bastard. Its indifference is palpable. It is savage and uncouth. Rustic, primitive, and uncivilized. If you remember all those derogatory remarks that the upper class and intelligentsia of Europe directed toward Americans throughout the 19th Century, you'll have a good grip on the "civilized" view and feeling toward liberty. Now, all you have to do is duplicate it exactly, because that is exactly the "civilized" view that permeates the popular media today throughout the planet, led by the Americans.

In 1964, Ayn Rand published a book titled, The Virtue of Selfishness. Why the blunt title? "For the reason that makes you afraid of it," she responded. In 1964 this intelligent defense of selfishness was a major kick in the teeth to the bastions of altruism (coming unexpectedly out of right field). But her "me-generation" audience missed the point, and embraced the silliest, material aspects of "selfishness" while clinging to altruism, and wanting only more spoon-fed utopian fantasies. We now think of 'selfishness' as having two meanings ' one okay, the other not. Liberty , another word which should strike fear into the hearts of altruists, tyrants and slaves, has long been similarly neutered from its uncivilized roots. As noted above, liberty is viewed as just another utopia with altruistic undertones. Though we resist its realization with vague yet potent trepidation, we've muddled the meaning to such a degree that we no longer even realize how much we have to fear (to lose, to gain) from consciously identifying liberty.

In his recent STR column, Putting Some There, There, Thomas L. Knapp makes the siren call of the Golden Calf: "People may riot or rise against something they hate spontaneously, but they'll only build something they can envision and desire."

Knapp notes that, "if freedom is to prevail, someone is going to have to create a vision of it around which those billions will rally . . . . Wanted ' one utopian vision, hold the pickles." He links to a 1987 speech, Unanimous Consent and the Utopian Vision, by illusionist/novelist L. Neil Smith, who says, "What Libertarians lack, in their hearts and minds, what they fail to communicate to others, is a vision of the new civilization they intend creating." And then Smith goes on to describe his vision ' a world so repugnant I'd sooner die than live in ' which should be all the "proof" one needs to understand why and how liberty has deserted us so completely during the "libertarian watch" of the past 40 years.

It is true that we need communication, definitions, and an understanding of our own memes, perhaps mostly to understand how it is that we resist liberty so fiercely ' '. . . the reason that makes you afraid of it.'

Liberty is (and perhaps will always be) what grunge once intended to be. A rejection of utopia. An assault on your values, memes and philosophies of altruism. A rejection of the Golden Calf, of irresponsibility, and of fantasy-induced stupor.

Meanwhile, I will note that the remnants of liberty slipped away while the presumed liberty-fighters were fantasizing about utopia. It no longer shocks me the huge number of these people who have no idea how to use the tools at hand (e.g., constitution, courts, juries, laws) in the uSA to defend themselves, protect their sovereignty and live without government interference. The fantasies they spin are apparently ones in which individuals are not responsible for defending themselves, so utopian are these that the only defense they would ever need would be a gun. This is very suggestive of an opium den "organization" for liberty. I would say that freedom has not been usurped in the uSA , it has been let go, surrendered ' and without a fight. Keep on dreaming of utopia . . . soon that dream will be your only recourse; your only 'reality'; and you will have the government you deserve ' the 'brave new world' that Huxley described so well, anticipating your willing stupor.

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Richard Rieben's picture
Columns on STR: 14

Richard Rieben was a world traveler, house remodeler, and sometime author and philosopher. The thesis of his manifesto, Reciprocia, is, briefly: “Sovereignty is the base; reciprocity defines how to make it work.” Aside from harping incessantly on the theme of liberty, he led a fairly normal life in middle America, where he scouted for silver-linings. His internet articles are featured at TakeLiberty.com.  He passed away sometime after 2005.