"The basic test of freedom is perhaps less in what we are free to do than in what we are free not to do." ~ Eric Hoffer
Many Roads Lead to Liberty
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If there is one thing that can be found in common among members of a community defined principally by what it is not, it can only be that none arrived at their current position in quite the same way. Just as atheists know that there are a million ways to lose one's faith in the divine, libertarians know that faith in state authority is equally fragile. In fact, it is more fragile, because the state tends to make mistakes more often, and more obviously.
I was once a normal child, just like everyone else. Well, not quite like everyone else--more like every other nerd. I went to a Montessori preschool. In kindergarten, I would leave every day at the same time to have reading classes with the first graders. I was an obvious pick for the smart-kids caste, so that is where I ended up. Unfortunately, there is only so much freedom to learn that a public school can allow. I was still tied to a curriculum, and burdened by busy-work, and tested ad nauseam.
Well, I toed the line, and graduated, and dutifully moved on to college, where I did more of the same, except expending less effort. One summer, I got a real job, moving boxes onto pallets in a warehouse. Not caring overly much for that, I opted to take a university internship the next year. Unfortunately, this moved me closer to permanent ties with academia that I cared for, and I backed off, opting to scrape up some real cash in the real world after graduation.
And then, once I landed the new job, the flea started biting.
Every paycheck, there was that reminder: FICA, Fed, State. Every month, I would get bills in the mail, from the power company, the phone company, the landlord, cable, broadband, and insurance. If I wanted to, I could go look at the meters, and verify that yes, indeed, I had used so many kilowatt-hours of power, so many therms of gas. I had watched television from one little wire, and held conversations over another. I made bets that I wouldn't wreck my car, or anyone else's, that month. And I signed the checks and mailed them in. But every month, I ended up paying an invisible bill, that I could never see--one that I could never verify. Around the start every year, I downloaded tax forms, and printed them out. Not a big deal, of course, I had done it before. I got a little from the warehouse, and a little from the university, and the government was fine with letting me keep most of it.
But it turned out that in the real world, making real money, you really have to hand over a really big chunk of it.
Well, screw that! If I can check my own electric meter, I ought to be able to check my government meter, right? So I started to actually read Title 26 of the U.S. Code. That's the portion that covers the Income Tax, among other things.
I had trained in school to be a computer programmer. My idea of "code" was to break down complex procedures into steps small enough, and simple enough, for a machine to perform. The "code" of federal law seemed structured around the opposite principle: explain simple procedures in language complex enough to make any human confused. I concluded that the law was overrated. If all of it was like this, then it was really just lawyers and judges calling the shots and pretending it was all according to fair and uniform laws.
In my investigation, I came across some odd sites on the Internet. They claimed that the tax code was all bluff. And they linked to sites that said the whole government was bluff. I thought to myself that this could not possibly be truth, but if it wasn't, then where was the flaw in their logic? I became an avid reader of on-line conspiracy theories, and of news stories that never saw print, and of columns critical of the government. I visited Free-Market.net before it collapsed, and I even won one of the monthly drawings: a $300 gift certificate to Laissez-Faire Books. Well, what a haul! I read $300 worth of liberty, and it was worth every penny.
In the next election, I voted for every Libertarian candidate on the ballot. And then nothing changed. None of them got elected. They didn't seem to care. Instead, they threw a party, celebrating their totals, some reaching as high as 4% of votes cast. I was immediately disillusioned with anyone that would celebrate such a pathetic showing for offices as important as ward dogcatcher. I went back to the Internet.
I decided that all the people out there that were complaining about the flaws in the system had all made one critical error: they still believed in the system itself. They still thought that men that could break the law with impunity would still somehow choose to obey it. They thought that the law would protect them, and that voting made a difference. They were enslaved by their most deeply-held beliefs as surely as if someone were holding a gun to their head, insisting all the while that they were free.
But with that realization came the fear: If there were nothing preventing the government from destroying me, how can I stop them if they try? Well, you can't, so do what you can to ensure they do not try. Make yourself invisible and insignificant. But then, will they not simply destroy someone else? How can I stand by as they pick off people like me, one by one?
That is now the ethical question that weighs heaviest on my mind. Shall I hide from evil, or shall I fight it, knowing that it could destroy me? And in the end, I can choose neither. I hide as well as I can, and I fight as well as I am able. And I talk, and wait, because there are many ways to liberty, but once you find it, there are few ways to turn back. The more brutal and dishonest the state becomes, the more new recruits arrive. Every time someone gets shoved out of line, they have the choice of struggling back to the columns marching in lockstep, or wandering off to find liberty. And no matter where they go, they will find it, because that's what liberty is: doing things your own way.