"Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest." ~ John Stuart Mill
Getting Down to the Business of Living
Column by tzo.
Exclusive to STR
At one time or another, we all have wished for some ability or attribute that we don't possess. If I were a foot taller, I could have played in the NBA. And so on.
Some of these wishes can gnaw at a person, but wishing for impossibilities is not living in reality. Sometimes you just have to be thankful for what you have. More importantly, all you can ever do at any given moment is take what you do have at that moment and make a plan for the future and strive to make it happen. Pining for what might have been if only you had this or that is a complete waste of time that robs useful time and energy that could actually be spent achieving attainable goals.
Consider for a moment all the people born with significant physical defects. Think about all the people who have suffered debilitating injuries. I'm sure they all wish for a regular old working body like most folks take for granted, but that just may not ever happen for them. They too, have no choice but to take what they have right now and make a plan for the future and strive to make it happen.
Many people wish that the State would go away. They resent having restrictions placed on their freedoms. They may take action designed to undermine the State, but the State has been with humanity for about as long as humanity has organized itself into societies. What are the odds of it withering away in one's lifetime?
No, it's time to suck it up and take what you have right now and make a plan for the future and strive to make it happen. Maybe the State will wither in your lifetime, but maybe it won’t. You have to work with what you have right now, and you have to consider that this may be all you ever get. You currently possess certain freedoms, and it is up to you to maximize the time spent pursuing them, and if possible, expanding their scope. That's a viable plan that everyone can implement right now.
Accept and cope with the freedom disability that you are currently burdened with. This is in fact your current reality. Do what you can to overcome it, but don’t let it stop you from doing all you can do right now to keep moving forward. Find a way to thrive even if you never manage to shake off the disability. You want to change the world by eradicating this particular disorder, but as Harry Callahan once advised, “A man's got to know his limitations.”
There can be a very thin line indeed between striving and wishing, and it probably moves around when you’re not looking. So when does striving for a realistic goal turn into wishing for a highly improbable or even impossible one? I wish (ha!) I knew.
So with this uncertainty in mind, I propose the following guidelines, set down in order of importance: One's primary goal in life should be to take advantage of the freedoms he does possess—that is, to live (to the greatest extent possible) as if there were no government. Next, one should strive to increase his freedoms whenever such opportunities present themselves. And finally, one should spend some time and positive energy helping others to move away from Statism and to embrace voluntary society.
Now what happens quite often, especially to those who are new to the ideas of human freedom, is that they become overzealous and burn much energy in the “helping others” part to the extent that they neglect the more important action items that should take priority. Many newcomers are rightfully outraged at the con that has been perpetrated on them, and they project that anger out into the world with a barrage of evangelical proselytizing.
This is all probably quite natural, but should be limited to a stage that one passes through en route to a more sustainable mode of existence. You’re in a marathon here, not a sprint.
It is indeed bewildering, frustrating, and even enraging when you first begin to discover the matrix in which you have been unwittingly entangled, and you can't believe that you fell for it for so long. Now you want to point it out to everyone in a loud voice, and you can't understand why hardly anyone cares or even cares to understand—much less will listen, discuss, and consider making actual changes.
You may have some successes, but the majority of these “conversion” attempts will fail. Miserably.
The keys to “helping others” is to not make it your life's work, and to utilize positive energy when you do decide to undertake the effort. Taking the negative-energy aggressive approach lessens your probability of success to approximately zero-point-zero. Voting is violence! Politicians are sociopaths! Troops and teachers are welfare whores! People are idiots and sheeple! These forceful verbal assaults are guaranteed to create pushback. Newton's Third Law of Motion is in full effect here.
You will notice here that you are not really “helping others” as much as you are trying to convince them by winning combative arguments with them. And he who insists on “helping” an old lady cross the street when she doesn’t want to will be rewarded with a red purse-buckle mark on the side of his face as a reward for his efforts.
That’s just how we human beings roll.
But I get it: It's new. It's upsetting. You feel you have some great secret and you just gotta let everyone else know. Now. It's important, dammit! You climb atop the moral soapbox and righteously chastise the sinners, raising your blood pressure and lowering the quality of your life.
I'm not saying you aren't correct. I'm saying you are fruitlessly wasting much energy. You may thoroughly crush all your opponents’ arguments while at the same time convince none of them. Happens all the time.
I know—the idea is that you work hard now to make more people see the “freedom” point of view, and then one day all that hard work pays off and you are rewarded with a freer society. But there has to be a Plan B in case the freer society fails to show up for the party. You are not here to sacrifice your own life and your own freedom in an attempt to increase freedom in a world that may not want freedom.
Please don’t misunderstand me and think I am advocating giving up and settling. Not at all. You are reading this because I am writing this, and I am writing this because I have decided to spend some of my time and energy in an attempt to change things for the better.
I’m also slacker enough to look into working smarter instead of working harder, and it seems to me that you set the strongest example for others by actually living out and thriving under as much freedom as you can gather up around you. This is much more convincing than any verbal arguments you may be able to put together, and you also personally benefit much more by taking this hands-on approach. And then when you do put forth verbal or written arguments, they come more from personal experience than from book theory, making them all the more powerful and convincing.
This is a pitfall of caring passionately for freedom and being politically active: sometimes you forget to live. You forget that life is not about opposing things but embracing them.
~Wendy McElroy, from The Art of Being Free
Opposing is negative energy. Embracing is positive energy. Negative energy zaps you. Positive energy energizes you. Being energized is much more enjoyable and productive, and I highly recommend it. Find the people who are willing to tap into positive energy with you and help them move toward voluntaryism. Don’t fire up the negative energy boosters in an attempt to browbeat people who refuse to budge. Shower them with some positive energy ideas with the hope that they may take root someday, and move on.
And once more for emphasis: “Helping others” through the expenditure of some positive energy is a good thing, but should not be your number one priority. You should be your number one priority. Don’t lose out on the actual freedom you do have by never even recognizing and taking advantage of it. It’s easy to lose track of the fact that it is actually there, and probably in fairly large quantities.
When I was let out [of jail] the next morning, I proceeded to finish my errand, and, having put on my mended shoe, joined a huckleberry party, who were impatient to put themselves under my conduct; and in half an hour, —for the horse was soon tackled, —was in the midst of a huckleberry field, on one of our highest hills, two miles off, and then the State was nowhere to be seen.
~ Henry David Thoreau, from Civil Disobedience
Get down to the business of living. Appreciate the spaces where the State is nowhere to be seen, and wallow in those spaces. They are all around you. Don’t ruin them by dragging the State along with you in your head wherever you go. There are times and places in your life when you are actually 100% free. Drink them in and savor them. They will calm you, recharge you, and give you some perspective.
Try to effect change, but recognize the inherent difficulties and don’t become overly disappointed with the inevitable failures. Abstain from allocating excessive amounts of your time and energy so as to deprive yourself of the freedoms you do possess. Try to embrace much more than you oppose. Strike a balance. Don’t Panic. Enjoy.
However, the government does not concern me much, and I shall bestow the fewest possible thoughts on it. It is not many moments that I live under a government, even in this world.
~ Henry David Thoreau, from Civil Disobedience