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

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tzo's picture
Columnist tzo
Columns on STR: 64

tzo now lives in your head.


Bradley Keyes's picture

I'll be saving this one, and re-reading it periodically as a reminder of what's possible, and important.

The quotes you choose were fantastic.


Suverans2's picture

You've done it again, my friend. I too have saved this one, and will hopefully re-read it periodically as a reminder of what's possible, and important. (Well said, Bradley Keyes.) Felt, at times, reading it, that you were talking directly to me. Thanks.

Paul's picture

I agree completely and have come to very similar conclusions.

' “Helping others” through the expenditure of some positive energy is a good thing, but should not be your number one priority.'

Actually "helping others" can be pretty presumptuous, implying you know what is better for others more than they do - as you pointed out with the example of "helping" an old lady cross the street.

One way I like to look at criminal human gangs, including government gangs, is as a force of nature. Government clearly exists due to a feature of human nature, so that is not so far off as an analogy. We live our lives with tornados, hurricanes and earthquakes, and might take some steps to avoid them or reduce the damage they could cause, but don't spend our whole existence in anguish about them. The same is true with government gangs.

Also, as to the difficulty of converting others, thank heaven humans are ornery and contrary. If they were so easily convinced, the next statist huckster who came along would just convert them back. Ornery cussedness is one of our saving graces, not a defect. What advances we have seen in liberty have come because certain people were ornery and wouldn't put up with crap any more.

Mark Davis's picture

Very good advice. Life is too short to waste it on waiting for enough statists to think outside the box, but long enough to make a difference where you can.

Jim Davies's picture

Tzo, you asked "What are the odds of [the state] withering away in one's lifetime?"

Negligible, of course, if little or nothing is done to help it wither. Ten thousand years of growth, with attendant poverty, misery, premature death and social distortion form an overwhelming precedent.

On the other hand if rational action is taken to help it wither, I rate the odds extremely high. That's why I see complacency as so culpable.

One factor I didn't see you reference: will it get worse, and if so how much worse? That is, if the deadly, do-nothing attitude sometimes seen even here should actually prevail, will the destructive State just remain about as bad as it is now, or will it suck humanity into a vortex of annihilation?

Put differently: is maintenance of the status quo really an option?

Suverans2's picture

With all due respect, complacency, in my opinion, is not nearly as culpable, as voluntary membership.

"To join, or support, one that would, in his opinion, be inefficient, would be absurd. To join or support one that, in his opinion, would itself do injustice, would be criminal." ~ Excerpted from Natural Law or the Science of Justice by Lysander Spooner

Paul's picture

Withdrawing from the state is only "complacency" in your eyes. If you look at how people actually learn, mostly from experience, and somewhat from observation, then withdrawing from the state is anything but complacency.

And government (that is, the criminal gang) will do what it is going to do. You have no control over the outcome, any more than you can stop a hurricane.

Jim Davies's picture

"Withdrawing from the state" is impossible, Paul.

Certainly, one can have a radical change of attitude, so that one ceases in any way to identify with it, and that's a healthy start and, yes, it's not easy. One can study, better to understand its nature, and that too is important. One can choose to have fewer transactions with it (though not to have zero transactions.) But to withdraw from it altogether would mean emigrating (no bad idea, and I've done it once) but then one encounters a _different_ state. There is no zero-state place to go. Yet.

To gut the State of all power has never been done. That's what makes our time so exciting, as I wrote in - and it's what makes failure to search exhaustively for a way to bring it down, COMPLACENCY writ large. To disparage, hinder or belittle others in that search is worse yet.

An old principle comes to mind: Lead, Follow, or Get Out Of The Way.

Suverans2's picture

Oops! Accidentally deleted this post whilst trying to use it for previewing another post.

Paul's picture

' "Withdrawing from the state" is impossible, Paul.'

Particularly when one puts oneself on the dole.

Suverans2's picture

RFLMAO Yep, Upton Sinclair was right when he said, "It is very difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it."

tzo's picture

"That is, if the deadly, do-nothing attitude sometimes seen even here..."

For clarification: Seen where? I'm not sure who you are referring to here. I assume 'here on STR.'

I think one has to be careful when criticizing others. Everyone has their own line. Even if one person is doing alot more than another, if he criticizes him for not doing enough, then he has to face the same criticism. The fact that he may be doing more is not a sufficient defense. If you want to criticize one person's line, then you have to accept the exact same criticism yourself, I would think. Calling yourself the lesser of two evils and considering that a good thing is a game for politicians.

Many 'activists' wonder why you and I aren't out in the streets with them right now getting arrested for civil disobedience. Why the 'complacency'? Or are they doing 'too much'? Are they wasting energy? Shall I judge their actions by my own measures of utility? Well, since everyone has different measures, then everyone will always be criticizing everyone else for not doing things in the manner they deem reasonable.

There is a difference between doing nothing and doing something. Those who are doing something are doing good and will find their own level of action and each level will be different. If you want a person to do less good, just tell him he is not doing enough.

And as far as the future is concerned, I have zero idea what to think as far as judging the probability of major change occurring in my lifetime one way or the other. I will do what I can within the parameters of my abilities, I will not worry overmuch about the things I cannot control, and I will enjoy my brief time on this spinning place and attempt to provide a safe and happy place for my daughter, which includes me living in the present and sharing all the good experiences with her that we can find along the way.

We are all prime targets for 'you are not doing enough' or 'you are a hypocrite.' The more I go along in life, the more I consider judging the actions of others by my own set of personal preferences to be not just a waste of time, but counterproductive and just plain silly. Of course I still do it, but I'm definitely putting myself on a diet.

Jim Davies's picture

The deadly, do-nothing attitude I have seen here, on STR, yes. The sentiment is that the task of terminating the State is so humongous as not to be worth attempting. I'm surprised you haven't noticed it. The only certain way of failing in any objective is to decide or declare it cannot be achieved.

You came pretty close to that yourself, Tzo, with your "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?"

Those odds are close to zero, IF nothing rational is done about it. Hence my remark.

The irony is that the rational method I began involves little that might be thought of as "work" or "activity", and which expressly recommends participants to take the very lightweight steps involved and _then to "live a normal life"_ pretty well exactly as you recommend in your article. Life is for living; I fully agree. If by any chance you haven't reviewed it yet, please take a look. You'd be a major asset. provides one gateway.

AtlasAikido's picture

Indeed, "When the time for performance [which includes modelling] has come the time for preparation has passed". ~ Doug Casey

Paul is right and Jim is wrong. Rand's Atlas Shrugged and Ueshiba's Aikido are all about "How I Found Freedom IN an UNFREE world" by Harry Browne. Those who look and progress incremental improvement via prototyping--in their own lives--will and can shrug off the withering life to the extent that they can and IS humanly and humanely possible.

The storm has next to zero odds of withering capability in its eye. And the odds one can find it are not close to zero. It makes more sense to stand in integrity (of than trying to wither those who are not ready. I say wither them but I also mean wither myself. That is hardly doing nothing and hardly a Despair Trap of do-nothingness.

I hold to this from Jim in this regard: To compound the chaos of the State, some people call themselves "anarchists" but openly destroy the property of, and call for controls over, the peaceful behavior of those they hate - so proving that they really favor government. So we have to recall the definition: a genuine anarchist doesn't want to rule anyone, except himself. [I do not presume to know what is best for others] We [I] love freedom - and not just for ourselves. We're [I'm],happy for everyone else to enjoy it too. Anarchy the actual word does not mean no rules. It does mean SELF RULE [using Direct Alternatives] and it is not synonymous with chaos.

By the way Jim you have already achieved what is possible. The above quote is ALL over the internet.

How I Found
in an

A Handbook for Personal Liberty

Freedom is living your life as you want to live it.
You can have that freedom now,
without waiting to change the world or the people around you.

Direct alternative: A choice available to you that requires only
direct action by yourself to get a desired result. (See also indirect

Indirect alternative: A choice available to you that requires that
you induce someone else to do what is necessary to achieve
your objective. (See also direct alternative.)

Jim Davies's picture

Harry's book is one of my favorites, Atlas. Some years after he wrote it, Harry came back from Switzerland and ran for President; evidently working rather hard to "change the world." While I now think politics is a badly mistaken way to try to do that, his was the best of all LP campaigns. Point is, he did NOT interpret his own good words to mean that we should not try to change the world.

Both perceptions are true, even though they seem contradictory at first. By inwardly recognizing that the state has no true claim upon him, anyone can immediately enjoy a key benefit of freedom - a feeling of release and joy.

But we surely both know that there will be no full freedom until the state has vanished. Then and then alone, our right to self-ownership will operate in practice as well as theory. Further, since the state will inevitably get ever more intrusive unless prevented (and quite possibly destroy mankind with its WMDs, probably by accident) it is doubly urgent to bring it to an end, if that is feasible. Feasibility is of course the key.

Imagine this: A, B and C contemplate a problem, X.

B and C both say it's impossible, it can't be solved. A, however, says "I think I can see a way to solve X."

B then repeats: "It's impossible, it can't be solved."

But C says "That's hard to believe, but let me examine your idea, test its premises and dependencies and judgments."

You'll agree, I hope, that C is being rational and B is not. Yet in this forum, there are several like B but I have yet to see a post about this from anyone as intelligent as C.

Paul's picture

"But we surely both know that there will be no full freedom until the state has vanished."

Utter rot. Jim enjoys running like a rat on a treadmill, and won't be happy until the rest of us are up there on it with him. I'm particularly amused by his tactic of getting on the dole for freedom.

Jim, what you propose is immoral. Some people want a government. That is their business, not yours. Your only legitimate business is deterring it from bothering you, or getting around it, if it tries.

Your prescription is not "full freedom" at all. It's "Jim knows better" for everybody.

Jim Davies's picture

"I'm particularly amused by [Jim's] tactic of getting on the dole for freedom." - Paul Bonneau's words, in his post above.

" accept every goodie in sight takes money out of [government] hands... while it's not the way to bring about a free society, it can't hinder." - my words, in the 2009 article* under reference. Please observe the word "not."

Withdrawal from the State is still impossible, however fervently Paul may wish it otherwise, but that mistake can perhaps be called "honest." This blatant lie, however, can be attributed only to deliberate malice.


Suverans2's picture

JD, you forgot, if one uses the highways[1], and if one breathes air, then he is accepting government goodies. Sheeesh!

You pretend (IMO) to have never seen this: "Withdrawing from the state [expatriation[2]] and withdrawing from membership in the state [secession[3]], as has been pointed out many times, are two entirely different acts."

Are you willing to state, emphatically, that "Withdrawal from membership in the STATE" is impossible? And, that not praying for, and/or accepting, member-only benefits and privileges is impossible?

[1] Highway. A free and public roadway, or street; one which every person has a right to use. ~ Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition (c.1990), page 728 [Emphasis added]
[2] Expatriation. The voluntary act of abandoning or renouncing one's country, and becoming the citizen or subject of another. Ibid. page 576
[3] Secession. The act of withdrawing from membership in a group. Ibid. page 1351

Suverans2's picture

"Are you willing to state, emphatically, that "Withdrawal from membership in the STATE" is impossible? And, that not praying for, and/or accepting, member-only benefits and privileges is impossible?"

I thought not, because to do so would be totally illogical. One may withdraw from membership in a group and waive all member-only benefits any time he chooses; his authority to do so is self-ownership, which to a rational mind, is self-evident. The number one thing that stops most individuals from withdrawing from membership, (and I can certainly understand why), you numbered, (2); "to do so even partially is enormously costly".

"If ye love wealth better than liberty..." ~ Samuel Adams

"But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions."

Suverans2's picture

" accept every goodie in sight takes money out of [government] hands..." ~ Jim Davies

But wait, didn't all those goodies originally come from your neighbor's the point of a gun? Wouldn't a person, who actually believes this, and still prays for his cut, be knowingly accepting stolen goods?

Glock27's picture

Glock27 says you are right and you are wrong. Hows that possible. Trust me, it just is. Produce a solution. That will be more fruitful than going tit for tat. You aren't going to change and neither will they. But produce a solution, something I have yet to see here. I have a solution and it is a lonely one and an impossible one. One man is not going to change the way the Federal Gov. operates.

Suverans2's picture

An old principle comes to mind: "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach", and those who can't teach, teach teachers.

    "...but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not...all their works they do for to be seen of men: the uppermost rooms at feasts...greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi[1]."

And, should anyone be so bold as to, steadfastly, disagree with one of them; he may just find himself shunned. ;)

[1] Rabbi, a title used by the Jews to address their teachers (and also honour them when not addressing them) ~ Thayer's Greek/English Lexicon of the New Testament by Joseph H. Thayer