A colleague and too-infrequent correspondent of mine in the freedom movement has, for as long as I've known him, signed his emails with the line "Only interested in freedom". The first time I saw it, my immediate response was, "Well, duh!!", but over time I've come to appreciate some nuances inherent in the phrase. At the risk of sounding like a purist who wants to herd the cats, I've been finding myself wishing more liberty-lovers would adopt the line and its implications.
Anyone who's been in the movement for more than a day knows that we are often our own worst enemies. Far and above all the divisiveness separating Objectivists and Libertarians or anarchists and minarchists is the human tendency to put our own personal interests or desires ahead of freedom. Thus one can find examples of individuals who say they're anarchists supporting laws that coerce individuals into certain behaviors, or that prohibit nonfraudulent, voluntary transactions. In recent conversations with individuals, I've been surprised by emotionalism that often appears to be guiding their thinking, and the negative responses to even hypothetical situations that would challenge the world they want to see.
My recent time in the southwestern desert reaffirmed and refocused my commitment to the freedom movement. I discovered that I am, at heart, "only interested in freedom". To me, that phrase has become a simple metric against which to measure any plan: will this increase individual freedom or decrease it? If it's the latter, I'm against the plan.
I had no idea how unpopular such a simple thing could be.
If no one takes an extreme position for freedom and considers the possibilities, how will we know that our progress is truly that? Without a vision of total freedom to guide our day-to-day choices and thinking, it's all too easy to be sucked into the quagmire of today's unfree systems. I'm not arguing for a utopian solution, nor saying that a Grand Unified Plan for Freedom must be spelled out in excruciating detail before we act. Considering the "impractical extremes" that some libertarians dismiss is essential to our cause, and to our progress. So, for me, thinking about what kinds of justice services might be offered in a free society is just as important as opening individuals' eyes to the current sham of justice under the so-called "rule of law".
I'm only interested in freedom. That means that, as far as I'm able (and fortunately, I've a number of good friends who help me when my thinking gets muddled), I don't let personal preferences cloud my thinking about freedom.
Thus, though I despise physical or psychological abuse, I do not advocate more laws to help solve those problems. There's no "solving" something that is part of human nature (which is an animal nature, after all), and I firmly believe that we'd see far fewer cases of infanticide, fratricide, and related horrors in a free society. Similarly, while I don't use many mind-altering substances, I see no reason why my preferences ought to dictate what any other responsible person can do in the privacy of his own home.
I long to see truly free markets. Consumerism has been an evolving process for millennia -- why on earth should we think that it would stop simply because some don't like the thought of "big box stores" replacing smaller-box stores? Farmers used to sell their wares from their farms, or haul them to markets in the nearby towns to sell; then merchants came along to do that task. Then, "Mom and Pop" stores were largely swept aside by supermarkets that were able to offer greater variety and better prices, largely due to technological innovations and economies of scale. Wal-Mart is carrying on the proud economic tradition of supplying consumer demand -- something that I won't shed a tear over. I'm happy to shop at Wal-Mart because they offer a lot of what I want -- decent merchandise at low prices. When I want something special, or a higher level of customer service, I patronize a specialty store, and happily pay for getting what I want.
Zoning regulations that are thinly disguised protectionism for some special group or cause, laws that create artificial scarcity or monopolies, prohibitions on how an individual can earn a living -- they're all cut from the same statist cloth, and I want nothing to do with them. This has apparently horrified some self-proclaimed freedom lovers, for I've been called amoral and disloyal, among other things.
I'm only interested in freedom. What that means is that I don't care what anyone thinks of me, and I don't much care what anyone thinks of my ideas unless he or she can show me -- with clear, reasoned arguments free of loaded definitions -- where I'm wrong. If your view will help get us to a freer world, then I'm all for it. I don't care if I'm right or if I'm wrong -- I just want freedom.
What that means, though, is that no appeal to public good, general interest, or some other group-based outcome or situation will hold any truck with me. Individual liberty is always usurped under those banners. Far too long have they flown, keeping creative, innovative individuals in the thrall of the collectivists who would steal their labors for the benefit of others, under the guise of "public welfare" or some other convenient fiction. It is precisely this sort of horridly misguided justification of the theft of others' time and labor that has enabled and encouraged the statists to continue to steal from each of us, under the guise of "doing good".
It is not good to be a thief -- which is what everyone becomes, whether she wants to or not under the state's programs of welfare and other "services". It is not good to be the recipient of stolen goods -- which is what everyone becomes under as widespread a system of looting and redistributing that we see in the United States today.
I'm only interested in freedom. I'm not interested in dredging up all history's mistakes and seeking retribution for them -- there are too many, and no innocent parties among adults. I'm only interested in the past insofar as it sheds light on failed solutions, so that we may find better ones to light our way. Patents and copyrights try to create artificial scarcity -- where, thanks to technological advances, none need exist in most areas. A state-supported monopoly is a monopoly of the worst sort; thus I embrace the changes that are coming to creative endeavors that seek to shrug off these outmoded monopolies. The change is going to be chaotic, and likely very difficult for many, as they adjust to the reality that their preferred way of earning a living will not suffice any longer. This has had personal implications for me, as I had the goal of supporting myself via my writing. But I'm more interested in freedom than serving my short-term wants.
I welcome the future, for all its chaotic change, because I'm confident that freedom will win. There's nothing that the state need provide for us -- private markets unfettered by taxation, state-driven artificialities, or other interference can meet human needs. Indeed, they can do so better, cheaper, and much more reliably.
It's easy for an individual to say that he or she is interested in freedom -- many people profess to be, every day. But many seem to want to be granted permission to be free -- as if any state would voluntarily free all its slaves. Others agitate for freedom in some areas, while overlooking coercive measures that supposedly work to their benefit, or which allegedly help create a nicer world.
We can't break free of our shackles if we don't have our hearts firmly committed to working toward total freedom. We won't create a totally free utopia -- but we can't make as much progress as we might if we don't set our sights on the highest goal possible.
I'm only interested in freedom. What about you?
note: This essay was inspired in part by Iloilo Marguerite Jones, to whom
it is admiringly dedicated.