"Freedom is not merely the opportunity to do as one pleases; neither is it merely the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them -- and then, the opportunity to choose." ~ C. Wright Mills
Thoughts on STR's 5th Anniversary, and On the Path to Compassion and Freedom
Exclusive to STR
Part I: An Anniversary to be Thankful For
Five years now for Strike-The-Root.com! I’m hoping for many more, because
First, STR provides a daily dose of sanity, compassion, and intelligence. The columns by Root Strikers and writers linked from elsewhere are uniformly thought-provoking and infused with a healthy respect for the lives and rights of others.
Even the news articles featured at STR are typically introduced with short commentary that shows respect for human rights. “Other people are not your property” proclaims a bumper sticker and a t-shirt sold by STR. How refreshing it is to visit a website where this truth permeates every discussion.
Another bumper sticker from the site points out that: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” This is more than a clever saying; it is a profound and important reality, pointing to the only way this world can be saved from the tyranny and widespread emotional damage that have plagued mankind for thousands of years.
Combined with 21st century technologies, tyranny and emotional damage threaten to end our world. This trio could be a civilization-killing, even human-species-killing disaster. More people need to understand this, and STR is among the better efforts at conveying the message, particularly about the horrors of running society via state coercion – that is, via tyranny.
Coercive democracy, coercive socialism, and other such nonsense are simply the modern versions of “the divine right of kings”: fairy tales used to justify coercive rule by the power elite. In the end, a democratic or socialist tyranny is still a tyranny. The ultimate coercive-democratic institution is slavery (majority rule to its logical conclusion); the ultimate coercive-socialist institution is Communism, where those in power literally own everything, and which has been characterized by famine, mass murder (roughly 100 million murders in the 20th Century, according to the leftist authors of The Black Book of Communism), crushing poverty, vast prison gulags, and systematic atrocity as a tool for intimidation.
Lesser versions of these coercive systems are improvements in the same way that breaking one leg is an improvement over breaking two.
In contrast to political government, non-coercive versions of democracy and socialism can be healthy and positive.
In practical usage, the term “socialism” is surprisingly vague – consider the National Socialists under Hitler versus any dictionary definition, for example. In any case, I consider healthy families, communes, and to an extent even church and certain other voluntary groups to be non-coercive socialist organizations.
As for non-coercive democracy, one of the best examples – other than the market itself – is the free school movement as exemplified by
Don’t like Yahoo!? Don’t buy their services, then. That may not put a stop to Yahoo!’s cooperation with the Chinese police state, but at least you’ll no longer be supporting them with your hard-earned money.
Don’t like supporting epic crimes against humanity, like using depleted uranium weapons on people in small nations that haven’t attacked us? Well, in this case you’re out of luck. The coercion inherent in political democracy requires you to pay for the use of DU weapons and for every other horrid thing your government does, whether you like it or not and whether you voted for it or not.
See the difference? Of course you do. Plenty of other people don’t, however, and enormous effort is expended to keep things that way. STR’s major role has been to shed light on the topic, countering the pro-coercion propaganda that both subtly and blatantly infects our media, our schools, and our culture generally.
The major media could be a real help here, but the corporate-owned media1 is in thrall to Power – indeed, is part of the power structure – and is thus an obstacle to freedom, compassion, and health (yes, to both emotional and physical health).
1 The single exception I know of among large news outlets is the Orange County Register (check out their Editorial Page, which features Steven Greenhut, Alan W. Bock, and other libertarians, or their Libertarian Links). Market forces have brought occasional bright spots to even some of the heavily-statist media, however; John Stossel at ABC and constitutional scholar Judge Andrew Napolitano at Fox News are two examples.
Unlike most other sources of news and commentary, STR is consistently on the side of non-aggression, of any type and at every level. It cheers my soul to see such a positive, intelligent, and compassionate effort against tyranny and evil. STR definitely succeeds at bringing a dose of sanity to its many readers, and that is no small accomplishment.
The second (if related) reason I enjoy STR is that I love good writing, and STR serves it up for free every day. STR attracts a large and ever-widening group of talented writers who not only provide insightful coverage of topics ignored, misunderstood, or camouflaged by mainstream media, but who do it with style. Check out, for just one example, Bill Walker’s Federal Reserve: The One Bank of Sauron. Economics is famously boring and
STR also links to writers like Mark Morford who, even if not abolitionists in regards to coercive government, are nonetheless strongly on the side of life, of feeling, of free spirits and mostly-free societies. I am frequently surprised and delighted at the writing I find at STR, which provides a showcase for such work and an incentive to create it.
STR’s Uniqueness, Effectiveness, and Potential Legacy:
Thoughts On the Path to Compassion and Freedom
When soliciting anniversary essays, STR’s editor also asked that we address what makes the site unique, how effective the site has been at advancing the cause of liberty, and what we think STR’s legacy will eventually be. These three questions are strongly related and I’ll cover them in a single section:
STR’s direct, unabashed focus on ending evil in this world – check out the Thoreau quotation at the top of this page – is the site’s signature quality.
Our situation requires nothing less. STR is among the few efforts I know of that combines the necessary level of audacity (Yeah! Let’s put an end to evil, dammit!) with the intelligence, consistency, and talent to draw a sizable audience. Without an audience, of course, all this would be for naught.
There is only one other high-profile site I know of that draws larger numbers of the semi-general public to such a feast of sanity: the relatively big-budget (a guess, but reasonable given this) LewRockwell.com. Both sites are excellent, although I am nonplussed by LRC’s occasional suggestions that atheism is somehow inimical to the cause of liberty. Freedom and respect for others should be – and can be – a basic part of life regardless of one’s faith.
Likewise, I don’t care what creation theory or myth someone believes; my grocer can surely believe in creationism or Darwinism and still be a good neighbor, a loving parent, and an honest businessperson.
Examples to the contrary can be found in any large group; it is one’s level of emotional health combined with one’s understanding of the evil nature and dire results of initiated coercion – not one’s religion – that makes one a good neighbor or otherwise.
That is among the most important points in this essay, and it is meant for the freedom movement as a whole – or for any group hoping to move the world towards more health, compassion, and freedom. Not understanding this truth has divided natural allies from one another and stunted progress towards ending evil – so I will restate it below:
An emotionally healthy person is naturally respectful of, empathetic towards, and (usually) pleasant to others.
Intellectually, someone who understands the evil nature of coercion (rape versus consensual sex, armed robbery versus working for money, tax-funded government programs versus voluntary groups and methods) and who sees the dire results of coercion even when used “for a good cause” – Marxism or the drug war or child protective services or protection of the food supply for instance – does not get confused into promoting coercive government of any flavor.
Unfortunately, “emotional health” and “intellectual understanding” are not firmly attached to each other, perhaps because they rely largely on different parts of the brain. This is one reason why people of good will can support the coercive state, including the worst tyrannies (Cuba, for instance, or the
This factor – the neurological separation of the foundations for rational thought and for compassion – means that the freedom movement in general (including STR) would be more attractive to people if it explicitly and consistently made clear the connections between love and freedom.
In addition, the freedom movement would be far more effective long-term if it focused frequently and particularly on the need for love, compassion and respect early in life. “Sensitive dependence on early conditions” means that a human being (a complex system if there ever was one) gets a sense of connection to others early in life – or not at all.
Why does that matter? Because love and freedom require each other. Love and freedom are in fact two sides of a duality in life; where one is weak, the other is diminished and endangered.
Denying someone their freedom, for example, is the opposite of loving them; murder, slavery, and kidnapping are extreme examples, but any use of coercion harms love.
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. Furthermore, without enough love in society (without enough emotional health, if you prefer), no social or political structure can prevent evil from blossoming. When large numbers of people in a society are without a sense of connection to others, taking unprincipled advantage of one’s fellow men and women (or worse) soon becomes the norm.
Consider also that the market requires and functions via love and respect. A healthy, honest market involves people dealing with each other on a voluntary basis, without coercion. Participants must respect each other as human beings for this to work; nothing, including laws, can long prevent criminal misbehavior among a group that lacks a widespread sense of empathy, compassion, and respect. Without love, it all falls apart.
Where does the love come from?
Once again: from the earliest time of life. People get a sense of compassion and connection to others during infancy and childhood, or not at all. This is why religions have failed: telling adults to “Love thy neighbor” has limited effectiveness. If you have to be told to love your neighbor, you probably can’t.
The freedom movement has failed for precisely the same reason.
Widespread freedom will absolutely require that far more infants and children be treated with love, compassion, and respect for their own freedoms than is the case now.
Children require freedom at least as much as adults. We all require freedom because each of us is a separate and unique individual. We each have our own thoughts and talents, our own preferences and desires. Yet this natural diversity among individuals brings strength to the group; here again, we see the cohesion of love and freedom.
When your uniqueness is denied, you feel disrespected; being part of the whole is not the same as being a cog in a machine. Children who grow up being disrespected in this fashion (by parents, coercive schools, misguided social programs, and by the constant assumption that they are not full human beings) are unlikely to become free and responsible adults. They are unlikely to feel deep respect for, or connection to, others. They will also, in many cases and for good reason, be depressed, miserable, and angry. (For an article by Dr. Vincent J. Felitti on the huge Adverse Childhood Experiences study – which provides stunning details and statistics on how strongly early life affects adult experience, behavior, and physical as well as emotional health – click here to download the PDF. Highly recommended; you will be amazed at the findings).
To sum up this line of thought:
Love includes both a sense of oneness with others and respect for each person as a unique, free, and self-controlling individual.
Freedom (in the human sense of the word, as opposed to how a physicist might use it regarding planets or particles) includes and requires essentially the same thing: respect for others (including widespread intellectual understanding of coercion’s evils) combined with a widespread sense of connection to and compassion for others.
Improving the world will require both love and freedom. That is, it will require society-wide (and eventually world-wide) improvement in emotional health – via better treatment of the young – and wider understanding of the need for, and benefits of, non-coercive social structures – which must replace coercive government structures of every type.
I’ve gone on at some length about that because (returning to the questions suggested by the editor)
Once again, this is not a criticism of STR alone: I believe the entire freedom movement, and indeed every movement aimed honestly at truly improving the world, has this same problem.
Communists, for example – and here I speak of regular folk who support the idea of Communism from misguided but honest belief, not of the mass-murderers who have run every Communist nation – would have had, over the century or so that they’ve been active, a very significant and positive effect in the world – if they had understood the evils of coercion as well as they understood the need for more brotherhood and compassion in life. Absent that understanding, however, the efforts of millions of Communists and Communist sympathizers has mostly brought forth murder, atrocity, famine, and other evil.
The balance was wrong – is wrong – in the Marxist paradigm. All love and no freedom does not work, and never will.
The opposite mistake – all freedom and no emphasis on love – is just as dangerous, just as self-defeating, as we have already discussed.
The classical liberal movement of the 19th Century was better balanced in this regard, and as a result worked to better ends; Thoreau himself, along with Herbert Spencer, Lysander Spooner, Voltairine de Cleyre, and others were products of the time. So too, however, was Marxism, which dishonestly and to horrifying effect cornered the franchise on “compassion” in political thinking.
It is time to take back the banner of compassion and brotherhood from those who would impose their version of comradeship at gunpoint. For half a decade, Strike The Root has been among the truest advocates of replacing coercive systems with voluntary, non-coercive methods. The editors and writers for the site are also clearly in harmony with the need for more compassion in the world.
My challenge to those who write for (and edit) Strike The Root – and for everyone who reads these words – is this:
Spread the word that love and freedom require each other; that love and freedom are, indeed, two sides of the same coin.
When you do this, remind others that love’s healing power is far weaker than its power to prevent damage in the first place. In other words, preventing emotional damage is the only method that works to improve a society’s overall emotional health; fixing the damage later in millions of neurotic adults is not a viable option. Thus, better care (more human and humane, not simply more high-tech) for infants and children will be a key ingredient in any long-term success we might have. Ending the damage to children caused by government is certainly one of the necessary tasks we face; with 262 million (yes, over a quarter-BILLION) murders by government in the 20th Century, imagine the emotional damage inflicted upon children who lost a parent, or a sibling, or an aunt or uncle, or a friend or teacher to whatever sociopathic regime “ran” their nation. Let us not forget the effects of war (in addition to the figure above, astonishingly enough).
If advocating better treatment of children in the service of free societies seems too future-oriented, consider that the Libertarian Party has spent 34 years to get to where it is now – which is, essentially, nowhere. Had the LP put as much effort and resources into supporting the rights and needs of infants and children, then A) a large number of healthier adults would now be among us – an extremely good thing in and of itself, B) Americans would have had a reason to become passionate about the Libertarian Party, and about the freedom movement generally – in the same way people became passionate about the false movement of Marxism, and C) millions of people would understand the link between love and freedom who today do not.
In short, the LP would have accomplished something powerful and positive.
I point this out not to slam the LP (of which I am a lifetime member, mostly for their educational efforts), but because if we do not learn from our mistakes we will surely repeat them.
We don’t have time for that. We either save the world now, or wish later that we had.
What will STR’s legacy eventually be? The same legacy we will all have: either a free and compassionate world, or a radioactive cinder floating in space – if we are lucky. If we are not so lucky, we may live to see Orwell’s famous prediction come true:
But always -- do not forget this, Winston -- always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- for ever. -- 1984
If we want a better outcome, we need to take Thoreau’s insight seriously; hacking at the countless “branches of evil” while ignoring the root of the problem is no way to succeed. Success therefore requires us to understand what the root of the problem is, and to attack it directly.
We have been confused about “the root of the problem” because it involves two distinct-but-intertwined human qualities – individuality and connectedness – that are mostly comprehended by two separate levels in the brain.
The root of the problem is a combination of widespread emotional damage and a lack of understanding about the evil nature and dire results of coercion. Love and freedom require each other – indeed, they are the primary yin and yang of human life – and they must be balanced and at high levels for a healthy world.
Fixing the problem requires us to increase both the level of emotional health in society and to improve the typical understanding of freedom. Rigorous non-initiation of coercion is necessary to protect and foster love; in turn, love is necessary for the workings of a free society.
Love’s genesis and foundation lie in childhood and infancy (and even, really, in the womb). This makes the compassionate and respectful treatment of children, infants, and pregnant mothers every bit as important as reducing government coercion.
Love and freedom. We’ll have both, or we’ll have neither.
Even were it possible, would you want only one or the other?