The Road to Compassion and Freedom

Exclusive to STR

May 7, 2007

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Freedom has been fading in America for more than a century – in America of all places, where "freedom" is the national slogan and where enormous personal freedom (relative to most times and places) characterized the nation's beginning.

This increasing lack of freedom in America has brought forth the natural response of a freedom movement, including the Libertarian Party, market-anarchist groups and websites, and other pro-freedom organizations and efforts. For decades now, thousands of people have worked to interest others in freedom and to help them understand what freedom is and why it is important.

By now, we can no longer avoid the truth: this pro-freedom movement has failed. America is nearing a tipping point, where the formal institutions and rules designed to protect human rights no longer function effectively.

History makes the danger of this situation very clear.

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Why has the freedom movement failed so miserably? Put another way, why has the market rejected our offering?

Perhaps the product is not as desirable as we think it is, or perhaps we are doing a poor job of marketing.

There is a third possibility, however: perhaps we have not understood our product accurately or completely, and thus have been promoting a damaged or incomplete version.

If that is true, then it is no wonder we have failed in the marketplace. We should fail in the marketplace, until we bring the product up to spec and learn to promote it properly.

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Expanding our market share, as it were, is more important than with most products; history shows that lack of freedom is incredibly dangerous. Even aside from the increasing dangers, we need very wide public support if we are to oppose tyranny effectively.

Indeed, any plan without a realistic approach for dramatically increasing public support will fail, and that failure will likely have catastrophic consequences. I question whether there is still time to create the necessary support, but without success at that task we are certain to fail at our primary goal.

We are trying to get the system to allow us our freedom – yet the purpose of the system is to prevent freedom. Clearly, we will need help from a great many people to succeed – to get the 'authorities' to allow even a small subgroup of people their freedom within the greater sea of tyranny.

Best of all would be to bring so many people to our side that tyranny itself cannot stand. Even for a lesser victory, we must reverse the current situation, where the great majority of people do not know about us, or do not understand us, and either way do not support us.

Without an understanding of what people want and need, and of what freedom actually means, we risk not only failing but actually being counterproductive. We risk making things worse instead of better – as, indeed, we seem to have been doing these past several decades.

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The freedom movement has proceeded from the assumption that 'freedom' means nothing more than lack of interference from government, and that people want this freedom by definition.

Those assumptions may be wrong. Indeed, I believe they ARE wrong, and the poor results of our efforts support that opinion.

I have already suggested that our understanding of 'freedom' may be inadequate. Since we have apparently been marketing something most people are not interested in, it behooves us to at least understand what people ARE interested in. It behooves us to consider what people actually want.

To encourage thought on those issues, I have three questions for you:

First: what kind of world do you want?

In particular, I am encouraging you to see and especially to feel the 'better world' you hold in your heart. Be daring. Go deep. What kind of world do you want? What kind of world do you envision as an Earthly Paradise ? You'll need to see it in some detail, and to have a strong sense of what it feels like to live in this world, for the exercise to be useful. This is something I would like you to reflect on not only today but every day.

We will never succeed at interesting others in our vision of a better world until we have both a solid intellectual understanding of that world and a deeper, more profound emotional sense of that world. Seeing this world with emotional depth gives rise to a sense of loss, and a sense of longing for a world that should be.

You have that world within you. Find it. Get familiar with it. Spend time with it. A passionate and emotional understanding of the world we are made for – which requires freedom – is one of the keys to advancing the freedom movement from obscurity, to interesting curiosity, to upcoming minority, and eventually to success.

Without the passion, nothing happens. Without something to BE passionate about, we have less than nothing. And 'freedom' as we have defined it, is NOT something that most people are passionate about – for good reason, perhaps.

'What kind of world do you want?' is a question that people can and will be passionate about, if you can get them to take it seriously. And for that, you'd better have something real to offer. I will discuss that "something real" later in the talk.

Second: as a way of expanding your answer to my first question, consider also the world you want your children and grandchildren to grow up in. What sort of world would give them the best chance for the best possible lives?

Third: what else, beyond the non-initiation of coercion, is necessary for such a world?

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The Nature of Freedom

Freedom involves more than being left alone, or we'd all go off into the forest as hermits and be done with it.

Living as hermits would be quick, simple, and do-able yet, clearly this is NOT what most of us want.

Here is what I want, personally: a healthy society.

Naturally, any healthy society must be free. Use of initiated coercion would never be conceived, much less condoned, in a truly healthy society.

Yet a healthy society would offer much more than mere lack of government interference.

A healthy society (or world) would include the necessary elements to encourage, protect, and sustain the division of labor and honest free-market activity. In such a world, people would feel a connection with each other, for one thing. A healthy society would include the compassion necessary to encourage even the poor, the sick, the disabled, and the disadvantaged to support the social order. A healthy society would be just and humane as well as free. That does not mean everyone would be equal in wealth, any more than they would be equal in height or beauty or athletic ability. It does mean that concern for one's fellow man would be deeper and more widespread than one sees today. A healthy society would include widespread emotional health as well as freedom from coercion.

More on this later, after we talk about paradigms.

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The contest between freedom and tyranny is an epic, world-changing struggle, and will be fundamentally a contest between paradigms. As I have already suggested, the freedom movement has failed so dismally because the paradigm it uses is broken and incomplete. If we want success, we need a new paradigm. First, some thoughts about paradigms in general:

* The term 'paradigm' is vague and often misused, and has therefore developed a negative connotation. You'll need to look past that to see the power and usefulness – indeed, the necessity – of paradigms to our task.

* Paradigms are tools of perception, not coercion.

* A paradigm is a framework for understanding, constructed from widely-shared assumptions, theories, examples, and beliefs. Paradigms give meaning to diverse sets of data, guiding action in useful ways – or in less-useful ways, depending on the accuracy of the paradigm.

* Paradigms are decentralized, potentially very long-lived, and extremely powerful; they are the perfect tools for changing a vast, emergent system like human society. Some paradigms – certain religions, for instance – have been at work for thousands of years.

* Progress is made in part by refining existing paradigms and by occasionally replacing current paradigms with newer and more usefully-accurate paradigms. These are potentially seismic events; superstition vs. science, for example. The framework of science is more closely aligned with reality and has allowed huge progress for that reason.

* Paradigms work by harnessing the natural creativity, intelligence, and energy of millions of people. By not forcibly imposing a single plan, many plans and approaches may be taken. By not creating a centralized bureaucracy, a paradigm fosters the sincere, diverse efforts of many people.

* A new and more accurate paradigm makes things visible that were previously not, even if they were in plain sight. A good paradigm adjusts one's vision so that 'things make sense' in a way that is both satisfying and useful.

* Details may obfuscate rather than clarify until a paradigm makes proper sense of them.

* Until others adopt our paradigm, THEY WILL MISPERCEIVE US in ways that will often seem bizarre. It is not possible to correct this with detail alone; only by helping others to see the broad sweep of the paradigm itself will we make real progress.

* This leads so something I call "blinding by paradigm." Some relevant examples and details:

  • The political left/right paradigm blocks one's view of the fundamental element of coercion/non-coercion. Coercion is a given, so it is essentially invisible.

  • Marxism makes it difficult to see "compassion" as possible without government action (i.e., without coercion).

  • Modern libertarianism makes it difficult to see any need for love or emotional health; "freedom" is supposed to stand on its own, regardless of anything else.

  • The duality of love and freedom is obscured by both Statism and libertarianism. Classical liberalism was better balanced, because it understood that reducing government power was important largely for reasons of compassion.

  • The split into left/right – including, at the extreme, Marxism versus libertarianism – has been a disaster, giving a huge boost to unhealthy, coercive statist power.

* Unless we ourselves are using an accurate paradigm and understand it well, we will waste time and effort working towards the wrong goal.

* On the other hand, perfection is not necessary – in paradigms, or in most other areas of life (sports, science, etc). What is needed is a dramatically improved level of useful accuracy, not an unattainable perfection.

* Adopting a new paradigm generally requires repeated exposure to it; the resistance to such global change in thinking is very strong, especially (as in our case) when powerful feelings and much wealth and privilege are bound up in the old, inaccurate paradigm.

* Here's an interesting and amazing fact: A single paradigm can solve many seemingly unrelated problems. Example: the paradigm which grew up around the germ theory of disease (neither perfect nor complete, please note) gave scientists, doctors, nurses, medical innovators, parents, and eventually EVERYONE a way to begin solving the problem of hundreds of different diseases that had previously been seen as hundreds of different problems. The single tool of an accurate paradigm did what centuries of work based on faulty paradigms could not. Result: a doubling of average lifespan since 1850, based largely on reduction in death from infectious disease. Infectious disease has not been ended, but billions of people have had longer and better lives because a new way of seeing the problem was developed and successfully promoted. If you want a tool that can actually change the world, look at paradigms.

* The paradigm currently used by the freedom movement appears to others as cold, heartless, and skewed in favor of oil companies, the rich, Halliburton and other large corporations and special interests, in part – but only in part – because people do not understand that government power enables and encourages bad corporate behavior. There are other reasons this paradigm is unattractive to the public, and the most important is this:

The freedom movement itself has failed to promote or even to understand the integrated nature of love and freedom.

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Love and Freedom

"All men are brothers and each man is free."

– Rose Wilder LaneThe Discovery of Freedom: Man's Struggle Against Authority, 1943

Love and freedom may be seen as two sides of a human duality, much like yin and yang. Emphasizing one over the other causes problems because an imbalance means that at least one side is below the healthy, optimal level. High levels of both love and freedom are necessary for a healthy society.

We require love because we are all one. We are all connected. We are all brothers and sisters, and love is what we were born for. Yet we also require freedom because each of us is a separate and unique individual. We have our own thoughts and talents, our own preferences and desires. This natural diversity among individuals makes life interesting, makes the division of labor and even life itself POSSIBLE, and brings surprising strength to the group.

Early America focused on freedom at the expense of love; Marxism focuses on love at the expense of freedom. As a result, neither is a good example of either love or freedom. Consider two well-known flaws of the early United States :

First, slavery was allowed in some of the states. Second, American Indians were sometimes mass-murdered, their land was stolen, and the survivors were forced onto reservations.

In both cases, the target groups were not being treated with love or compassion.

It is equally clear that in both cases, the target groups were being denied freedom.

Love requires freedom. One cannot enslave or murder someone while treating them with compassion. Loving someone requires and includes allowing them the rights of life, liberty, and property.

Likewise . . .

Freedom in human affairs requires love. Because people often see 'freedom' as merely a lack of coercive interference, it is easy to miss the human element here. But we are human beings, not inanimate objects, and humans have needs beyond lack of coercion. In addition to personal needs for love and connection with others, the market, the division of labor, and society itself require widespread emotional health (the foundation of love) to function well and to prevent a drift towards fraud and coercion. Love is the lubricant and anti-corrosive for a free society.

A widespread and severe lack of emotional health ensures a nightmare, no matter what the original political situation.

Nazi Germany is perhaps the best-known and most-studied recent example of emotional damage leading to epic tyranny, in this case including genocide and a world war. How could a civilized, well-educated, industrialized nation rapidly become a horror almost beyond imagining? One key reason (of several): widespread and severe mistreatment of children, as documented by Dr. Alice Miller and others. A nation of repressed, angry adults treated with coldness and cruelty throughout childhood and trained to obey without question will never remain free or civil for long, no matter what political or social structures are originally in place.

Compassionate treatment of pregnant mothers, newborns, infants, and children is an absolutely key element in improving the world. Neurosis is a form of un-freedom more powerful than any political dictatorship, and adults shackled by high levels of emotional damage, and who were not respected in their own childhood, are not only unlikely to respect others – they will often be angry enough to enjoy hurting others. If we want a sustainably free society, we need to see to it that emotional health becomes more the norm, and neurosis – finally! – fades away from the world.

The freedom movement is an advocate of and a tool for creating a new and healthier world or it is nothing at all.


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Glen Allport's picture
Columns on STR: 111

Glen Allport co-authored The User's Guide to OS/2 from Compute! Books and is the author of The Paradise Paradigm: On Creating a World of Compassion, Freedom, and Prosperity.