"And what is a good citizen? Simply one who never says, does or thinks anything that is unusual. Schools are maintained in order to bring this uniformity up to the highest possible point. A school is a hopper into which children are heaved while they are still young and tender; therein they are pressed into certain standard shapes and covered from head to heels with official rubber-stamps." ~ H.L. Mencken
The World Beyond My Time
Column by Alex R. Knight III.
Exclusive to STR
Some time ago, I wrote a piece here on STR about some of my experiences as a practicing alcoholic, and how my initial years of substance-abuse denial are directly analogous to the philosophical position of Statists. And I’m about to come out of denial again.
In the 22 years now that I’ve been aware of it and involved, the libertarian movement has grown dramatically. In 1994, almost no one even knew what the word meant. Today it’s household – even if, like so many other terms and labels, gross misconceptions about its actual definition run amok . . . even amongst the initiated.
I speak now to those who, wishing to dissolve any ambiguity whatsoever about their understanding of libertarianism, feel most comfortable referring to themselves as voluntaryists (voluntarists), libertarian anarchists, free-market anarchists, freed-market anarchists. In other words, those who carry libertarian philosophy to its ultimate conclusion: That in order to be both intellectually and morally consistent, the State Concept itself must be unilaterally rejected in favor of non-coercive provision of goods and services as the sole means by which a truly free society operates. Individuals must be 100% in control of their own lives and property 100% of the time – except to the extent that they have willingly, explicitly, and contractually entered into any form of alternate agreement. Correspondingly, such individuals should be 0% in control of anyone else’s life or property – unless of course as the executor of a contract in any such aforementioned arrangement. In short, a stateless, voluntary world, absent any form of political governance.
Now the sorry truth. It's not going to happen. Not in our time; the time of anyone reading this at date of publication. Not barring a miracle that would make winning Powerball look like winning a coin toss.
Not in 10, or 20, or even 50 years. Seventy? Eighty? One hundred and ten? Perhaps a different story. Perhaps. But not in our time. The insistence upon having--the demand for–government (the initiation of violent, coercive force in order to attempt to affect a given socioeconomic outcome) is simply too high among 99.9%+ of the population. It's going to stay that way for decades to come, at least. Perhaps even if the Big Economic and Social Collapse continuously predicted in so many quarters happens. Maybe even especially if it does.
I’ve seen and heard a lot of urgency over the last several years about the importance of civil disobedience, outreach, debate, various upstart projects and how we can get to a zero government society by next month or next year, if only we’ll just push that much harder and devote a little more of our energies and time to the effort.
You can push as hard as you like, and if that’s what truly makes you happy, I certainly don’t want to try to stop you, but the reason I now feel no particular sense of urgency is because current – and foreseeable – conditions don’t really warrant it. Post to social media all you want. Make videos. Launch websites. Do broadcasts. Print out and distribute newsletters. Publish books. Talk to people incessantly. All good stuff.
And all of it running up against the stalwart inertia of the human mind.
Consider history, and its progression so far: From the cradles of “civilization,” through the Middle Ages, not much credence was lent to the concept of the individual. All importance and authority was vested in both Church and State. Most human beings saw themselves as mere cogs in those inscrutable machines. Since the Renaissance, however, the steady – if not always consistent – trend has been towards greater secularism and recognition of the individual. The extent to which this attitude has thus far refined and developed in any concrete sense was the American Experiment with its Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and corresponding Bill of Rights. I might add Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations too. That was all from 1776 to 1788, give or take. So in 228 years, then, nothing of any widespread accepted nature has arisen to replace this failed (and still failing further) socioeconomic gambit. This is certainly not to say that nothing ever will – if anything, again, history shows a continual progression towards greater and further emphasis on individuality – only that nothing thus far has in almost two and half centuries. Most prior phases (Renaissance, Reformation, Scientific Revolution, Industrial Revolution, etc.) have taken at least this long in between each other to arise. You might postulate that these extensive time frames have been rendered obsolescent and unreliable as indicators due to the presence of modern communications and transportation technologies, but that doesn’t account for what hasn’t changed, and I’ve already made mention of it, of course – the human mind.
Jim Davies has a great idea in The Online Freedom Academy wherein, if one does the math, virtually everyone in North America might be exposed to the ideas of Voluntaryism within a couple of short decades (TOLFA was founded in 2006), and the final collapse of the State then happens during or around 2030. The problem as I see it – and personal experience has confirmed my view – is that the average person will only endeavor to learn something new if they see an immediate, tangible application to their daily life. The carrot on the stick only looks attractive when it means a high school diploma, a college degree, a better-paying job, an easier life right now. They will study, to some extent, with such a self-imposed gun to their head, under such conditions. But not otherwise. There simply isn’t a wide enough swath of humanity who fall within the TOLFA purview both intellectually, and in terms of attention span (and of course the two are generally interconnected). True, there exists a plethora of other voluntaryist media online and elsewhere . . . but these same people will not pay attention to it. Not while sports are on TV, and video games are available, and Hollywood gossip abounds, and pizza and beer are in plentiful supply. People want effortless fun. And they want it right now, this moment. Not some pie-in-the-sky philosophy they only half understand, and don’t even believe in anyway – especially when it means that “free” government “services” go bye-bye, and most of their friends will think they’ve gone weird and stop calling them.
This mean average of human conduct will not change. Not in the, say, 20 to 35 years I can expect to remain alive. If you’re old enough to be reading this, then probably not in your time, either. That is the most likely probable truth, no matter how distasteful you may find it. No matter how much you may wish to bury your head in denial, and try to prove me wrong. For the record, I hope you do prove me wrong. But I don’t think you’re going to. And I wouldn’t want to see you unnecessarily waste a lot of your valuable time and effort attempting to do so.
Strangely, this all brings us to a not half-bad place: Once we accept (or at least learn to live with) this state of affairs, things actually get easier--in a sense. There's a lot of freedom in just that act of letting go, believe it or not. More than you realize when you begin to put activism--as you may be presently practicing it--on the back burner. When you do away with any sense of urgency. When you face reality.
We're going to be living--in all total likelihood--under State coercion for the rest of our lives, in one form or another: Taxes, laws, cops, paperwork, bureaucracy, government-monopolized services, inflation, increasing tyranny.
But we can try to have fun--and pretty much just say to hell with everything else, frankly. Pursue personal goals, artistic endeavors, love affairs (or just plain sex), good food, good friends, good times. We can continue not voting, finding ways of doing things that minimize taxes (and in some limited cases, avoid them altogether), and ignoring politics and the system it perpetuates.
When I feel like speaking my mind on a topic, I write and publish an essay. I make a small stipend monetarily, knowing that ultimately a few thousand people will read it, and I go on my way, feeling expiated. If someone wants to engage in a discussion, I might revisit such subjects then and there--especially if I'm talking to another Voluntaryist--but if not--or if they seem even slightly hostile to it--I’ll get on with my day and my business. My life and time and talents are too precious and they are finite. So are yours. Stop wasting them.
Am I giving up? I haven't "given up" so much as--like that drunk coming out of denial--I've acknowledged reality. We can keep adding to the number of people who hear our ideas and set an example by virtue of our conduct, but that's about all that's going to happen in the next, say, 40 years, at least. At which time, under even the most optimistic of circumstances, I will almost certainly be dead. Meantime, I can stack, and prep . . . and live, and love, and learn. The world you and I seek to create is beyond my time – and yours too.
Unless you’re reading this somewhere up ahead, in the far future, long after the publication date you see at the top. You might already be living in a free world . . . or be within very close reach of one. If so, know that I was glad to have helped, if only on my own terms. It was next to utter futility in my lifetime, you see, to do much more than spread truth to the very few who would listen. Realizing this, ultimately, I chose happiness over bitter struggle. Resignation instead of continuing remonstration. Self-development, rather than attempting to enlighten others. Nothing less was consistent with realizing, for myself, what freedom I could.
And the end result, in the progression of things, was the same anyway, wasn’t it? Just not in my time. Not here. Not now.
I found the only way I could to live with that; the only way that made any sense to me. This may sound like a valediction, but I hope and trust that it is more a vindication of my reasoning.
I wish you the very best.