L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 132, July 30, 2001
"DING DONG, ...!"
The Free Mind
by William Stone, III
Special to TLE
"How do we become free?"
This is a question that gnaws at the minds of libertarians everywhere. It has consumed much of my political thinking since I first agreed that no human being has the right -- under any circumstances -- to initiate force against another human being, nor to advocate or delegate its initiation.
I've finally come to the conclusion that freemen don't try to be free. They simply do it.
Fifteen years ago when I was a communist actor (as if there were any other kind), stage movement classes were part of my training. One of the main foci of these classes was physical relaxation. The theory is that if an actor holds physical tension, it interferes with the ability to effectively communicate a role. My classes, therefore, taught breathing exercises and progressive relaxation.
One of the things you discover after breathing and progressively relaxing is that you can't "try" to relax. If you sit there, trying mightily, all that happens is that you get more tense.
However, if you don't "try" to relax, kinesthetic memory eventually kicks in. It informs your conscious mind that, "Hey, you're holding your shoulderblades together!" You can then use your conscious mind to let go of that muscle group.
I've never successfully explained how to just "let go" of a muscle group. Kinesthetic memory is like that -- just ask anyone who's spent time lining up a front and rear sight. It's experiential rather than intellectual.
One can't "try" to relax. You just do it.
Freedom is exactly the same.
Freedom is, first and foremost, in your mind. It's a way of thinking and approaching life at all times. It's any individual waking up one morning and saying, "Starting today, I'm free. I'm going to do what I want to do, short of initiating force against another human being."
The problem is that life constantly throws up barriers. Usually it's in the form of some autocratic toady saying things like, "No you don't, either! You're driving faster than I like, so give me some of your money!"
In a world where everyone woke up and said, "Today, I'm free," the toady would hear a guffaw of laughter as the freeman left him in a cloud of dust.
Unfortunately, the majority of people wake up with the slave mindset. They say to themselves, "Today, I'm going to do what I like -- as long as some autocratic toady approves."
This puts freemen in a difficult position. Make no mistake, we absolutely have the option to drive off -- or (considering the reaction that driving off is likely to engender in the toady) drawing our sidearm and shooting him between the eyes. Unfortunately, if we do this, the slaves won't lift a finger to stop other toadies from putting us in prison -- or the morgue.
However, unlike slaves, freemen have the choice. Slaves have no choice other than to do what they're told.
Some day, a critical mass will be reached. Enough people will wake up and decide to be free that we can just laugh at the toady. That day isn't today. Therefore, if you're a smart freeman, you take out your cash, pay up, drive on, and speed up as soon as the toady is out of sight. You don't have to like it, but being short of cash is better than being short of your life.
The question, then, is not "How do we become free?" We're already free. We just want to be able to laugh and drive on. How do we get to that point?
Some people think the way you do it is to form political parties dedicated to things like the Constitution. While well-intentioned, these people have a basic misunderstanding about the nature of power. They don't realize is that even if they successfully got into power, they would find the temptation to use that power coercively is too great to resist.
I consider myself something of a Non-Aggression Principle philosopher. I'm probably as ethical an individual as you'll find. Nevertheless, I'm under no illusions about my ability to resist the temptation of power. It's vulgar, but I'll tell you what would happen were I suddenly made President:
For the first six weeks -- if I was really lucky -- I'd resist the temptation of the yes-men, toadies, beaurocrats, and hangers-on. However, after enough money, gifts, and women were thrown at my feet, I'd take the money and gifts and let the women blow me.
Once I discovered I could get rich and satisfied with impunity, it would be downhill from there. In short order, my enemies would start disappearing with a few words to the right people. As Machiavelli noted, "Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely."
I'm probably giving myself too much credit. It might not take two weeks for me to become corrupt.
Anyone who thinks they're free from power's corrupting influence is simply unaware of what power is. For those who've thankfully never witnessed power firsthand, let me provide a real-world example from my own experience:
Power is attractive teenage girls standing around a stage door in miniskirts and tube-tops in a frigid Nebraska winter, breathlessly hoping for an opportunity to blow anyone connected with the rock concert they've just attended.
I've seen the teenage girls, by virtue of working backstage for touring rock bands -- and no, I never gave in to temptation. On one occasion, however, as I was loading a semi trailer after a concert, I watched my crew chief take one of the girls back to the crew bus, ostensibly to "meet the band."
Unfortunately for her, the band had literally left the building before the house lights came up. I know, because at the end of the concert, I was standing in the wings waiting to start breaking things down. From my vantage point, I saw the stage lights go down. The band quickly left the stage, walked past me, and out the stage door. Through the closing door, I watched them get into their limo. I turned back to the stage and watched the house lights came up.
Fifteen minutes after she went into the crew bus, the girl came stomping out, disheveled, swearing and screaming at my crew chief that, "I can't believe I gave you a blow job and the band isn't even here!"
This is what power does to crew chiefs for rock bands. If I'd wanted any of the teenage girls, I could have easily had them myself. The only reason I didn't is because I can successfully resist abuse of power on that level.
The temptations of power are multiplied by a thousand (and then squared and cubed) for individuals in politics. It's no surprise that the halls of American government are filled to overflowing with individuals with whom freemen would be disgusted to share a drink.
I tell the rock concert story often. It's more fun in person, because I add a lot of details: the crew chief's Liverpool accent, his "day calendar" with explicit photos of his girlfriend glued to each page, and so forth. I also mention the name of the band -- and yes, you'd know them if you watched MTV in the 1980s.
When told in person, someone will usually suggest that an ethical freeman wouldn't succumb to such temptation. This betrays a lack of understanding about both power and human nature.
Imagine that you could have the thing you want most in life -- whatever that thing may be. It could be literally anything. Imagine that not only could you have it, people were constantly begging you to take it from them, any time you liked. All that's required to get it is that you use the limitless power that everyone around you is begging you to use.
Ultimately, no matter how moral or ethical you think you are, you will succumb to temptation. Everyone does. It's folly to believe you're different, simply because your ethics are superior. I'm sure many of the freshman Republicans elected to Congress in 1994 felt they had superior ethics, and look how fast they became corrupt.
Ethics in absence of power is not a true test of ethics.
This is why political parties cannot make you free. Successful political parties ultimately become nothing more than havens for individuals who want power. Nothing demonstrates this better than the Democratic and Republican Parties -- though you can be sure the same thing would happen to the Libertarian Party if it ever succeeded in coming to power.
Freedom does not lie with political parties. It lies with you.
Being a freeman is something you simply decide for yourself that you are -- in spite of the toadies, slaves, and corrupt men of power.
There are, of course, toadies who think differently. They think that if they take your money, beat you, imprison you, or murder you that they own you. They're wrong. All they have is your penniless, beaten, imprisoned, dead body -- not your freedom.
No freeman want to be stolen from, beaten, imprisoned, or murdered. Unlike slaves, freemen have options. A freeman can, if he chooses, shoot the toady dead on the roadside. He can fight back when the toady tries to beat him, take him to prison, or kill him.
Some day, when enough people decide to be free, that's exactly what freemen will do.
Freedom is individual. The only thing that freemen can do as a group is gang up on a toady with a bigger gun.
Anything else that a group does in the name of freedom is just socialism in disguise.
Freemen shouldn't be concerned with the "rules" of freedom, or "working toward" freedom. The "rules" of a free society are unpredictable. Having never seen one, I personally can't imagine what a free society would even look like. I have ideas as to how one would look (L. Neil Smith's "Galactic Confederacy" books comes to mind), but these are just guesses. All I know for sure is that a free society would certainly be a surprising, exciting place in which to live.
A "free society" is simply defined as millions of individuals thinking and acting as freemen rather than slaves.
No political party or individual leader can suddenly and decisively bring about the change in mindset from slave to freeman. It is a personal decision on the part of the individual.
If freemen wish to "work toward a free society," we must abandon political parties, causes, governments, beaurocracies, and collective action. Freemen simply wake up, decide to be free, and show our neighbors what a freeman is through our actions and attitudes.
If freemen do that, some of our neighbors will decide to wake up and be free one morning. Through their example, some of their neighbors will wake up and be free one morning. Eventually, there will be enough freemen that we can laugh at the toadies -- or kill them, if need be.
Though I suspect that some of the toadies will decide to be freemen, too.
If you want to work for freedom by example, I advocate following my example: live the Non-Aggression Principle. Teach it by example, through your words, attititudes, and actions.
If it's feasible, I heartily recommend moving to a place where more people wake up free in the morning. Such places exist: in 1999, my family moved from Chicago to South Dakota. We are now surrounded by gun-toting individualist freemen as far as they eye can see.
Urbanites may think I exaggerate. I don't. The contrast between America's socialist megalopoli and "small town America" is that stark.
I'm a South Dakotan by birth. I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska (with summers between ages five and fifteen on my grandparents' South Dakota cattle ranch). I spent the decade of the 1990s in Chicago, with occasional business trips to most of the large cities in the U.S. and Canada. I ultimately got sick of the socialist megalopoli and moved to McCook Lake, in the extreme southeastern corner of South Dakota, at the northwestern edge of the Sioux City metropolitan area.
For the information of those in the megalopoli, I did not take a cut in my standard of living in order to do this. In fact, it was completely the reverse. While the Siouxland area doesn't have all the "cultural opportunities" of a major metropolitan area, Omaha, Nebraska is about 90 minutes' drive. Kansas City is another two hours. Minneapolis is four hours. The Chicago Art Institute is a two-hour flight (ten hours' drive) -- or an hour, if you fly out of Omaha.
Indeed, while growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska, I dated a girl whose mother was a flight attendant based out of Chicago. She simply tacked on an extra hour to her "commute" to fly to Chicago at the beginning and end of her shift.
As to enhancing my options as a freeman, moving to South Dakota was the best decision I could have made. My family now ignores virtually all of the toadies' rules and regulations with impunity.
That is, what little regulation South Dakota toadies wish us to endure, in a state with no income tax, legal casino gambling, and legal CCW for anyone who asks. Not that we should have to ask, mind you. And by all rights, our farmers should be able to cultivate the hemp and marijuana that grows wild on the prairie rather than destroy it as the toadies demand.
But it's better than all of America's megalopoli.
Freemen can even make business decisions that offer incentives to other freemen. As an example, look at http://www.wrstone.com/support/philosophy.
You can't try and be free. You just do it.
I have very few dreams that don't involve simple things. At present, my greatest dream is to see my daughters move out of my house gun-toting, individualistic freemen.
I do have one other dream, inspired by (and with apologies to) L. Neil Smith:
In my 60s or 70s (maybe older -- I plan to chase medical science for the rest of my life, so I could end up being around a long time), I'll sell my suburban Sioux City acreage. I'll buy a travel trailer, hitch it to the pickup, and drive to Alaska. I'll then spend several years crisscrossing North America with my wife.
The difference is that I'll be doing it while carrying my Kimber Custom Classic pistol. I'll have it holstered in a custom-made leather gunbelt much like the ones seen in 1950s westerns (altered to fit a M1911 semi-auto pistol). I'll grab my gunbelt and strap it on every time I leave my trailer -- even in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.
I'll know then that I've left my daughters a free society.
I won't get there relying on a political party or a collective. I'll get there by living the rest of my life as a freeman and showing my neighbors how a freeman lives.