Thursday, January 31, 2013

Intelligent Curiosity

The desire for a better environment will always be an aspiration of persons who are maturing as human beings. Maturing persons are those growing in awareness, perception, consciousness. In a word, they are in a life-long search for Truth; they are, as we say, “possessed” of what Aristotle termed intelligent curiosity. This exclusively individual trait, if sufficiently cultivated, is, in my view, the only kind of cultural environment from which an improved society can ever flower.

  One of the best descriptions of intelligent curiosity I have seen or heard or read is a painting, the “School of Athens,” done by Raphael before 1509 a.d. It is in the Vatican. But in better condition today than the original is a remarkable replica painted by Waller.1 Depicting about sixty characters—Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Ptolemy, Euclid, to name a few—the artist has captured that passionate spirit of inquiry which distinguished these people. When seen, studied, and apprehended, the impression remains to haunt and elevate the mind of the beholder.

  It is my belief that this intelligent curiosity, on a scale found in the historic record only now and then, makes credible Edith Hamilton’s observation:

    This full stature of greatness came to pass at a time when the mighty civilizations of the ancient world had perished and the shadow of “effortless barbarism” was dark upon the earth. In that black and fierce world a little centre of white-hot spiritual energy was at work. A new civilization had arisen in Athens, unlike all that had gone before.2

  People are forever groping, as if in the dark, for some panacea that will insure a good society. Yet Raphael, looking backward 2,000 years, put his finger on an important key: intelligent curiosity! He perceived what so many of us miss, perhaps because he himself was an important figure of the Italian Renaissance, another “little centre of white-hot spiritual energy.” Conceivably, it takes an oversoul to recognize his kind, a Raphael to know a Socrates, an individual steeped in intelligent curiosity to discover that single and elusive path to a good society: intelligent curiosity.

  “Ask and Ye Shall Receive”

  A society of remarkable quality—for all its defects—got under way in this land of ours. The explanation? The phenomenon of our politico-economic ascendancy, the cause of which has had our best minds guessing for the past century—such achievements as dignity of the individual; man’s right to life, liberty, and to the fruits of his own labor; the freest market the world has ever known; a government substantially limited to securing these rights, invoking a common justice, and keeping the peace; an unprecedented burst of creative energy—these blessings suddenly tumble together, make sense, become intelligible in terms of this one spiritual assumption, the pursuit of truth—that is, intelligent curiosity!

  For a confirmation of this point, merely reflect on your own reading of early American lives. Madison, Jay, and Hamilton were but three of the well-knowns among hundreds upon hundreds who, above all else, were passionately in search of what is right. If they weren’t literally heeding the Biblical injunction, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,” they were at least paraphrasing it: “Seek ye first Truth, and rightly report and stand for what is perceived.” What about the promise “and these things shall be added unto you”? Never more than in America has mankind had such an affirmation of the rightness of this spiritual assumption.

  Variation Leads to Progress

  Is there anything mysterious about the assumption that the pursuit of truth is the genesis of a good society? Yes, of course. If the pencil your child uses had the intelligence to write its own story, it would repeat, “Only God can make a tree.” It would then add, “Since only God can make a tree, I insist that only God can make me.” Then, could the pencil carry these assertions to their logical conclusion, it would pronounce, “Only God can make a good society.”

  If one can accept the mysteries of life as the facts given, then a good society as the flower of intelligent curiosity falls within human comprehension: the little wisdoms, the tiny enlightenments that result from the individualistic pursuit of truth spontaneously and mysteriously configurate as do molecules to form protoplasm, or a tree, or whatever. They coalesce as do infinitesimal human creativities to make a pencil, or a jet plane, or any other product—provided they are free to flow!

  Through Trial and Error

  Do you mean, some will ask, that you would risk such a precious possession as human freedom, without which a good society is impossible, to men pursuing truth in their own random ways? Why, some men might mistakenly conclude that state socialism is consonant with truth. My own answer is that I shall trust freedom and expect a good society from no other arrangement or form of human activity. We should ever bear in mind two facts: (1) Individual freedom comes into consciousness as a prime human value only in the presence of light; the “dark ages” aptly characterizes its absence. And (2) light or enlightenment is generated only when the spirit of inquiry is turned on. Anyone who expects the emergence of the blessings of freedom without exposures to intense inquiry and light has, to say the least, misread history.

  Intelligent curiosity must not be misconstrued. It is never to be associated with the kind of idle curiosity that kills cats and, most particularly, not with the kind financed by funds forcibly taken from others. This latter accounts for sputniks, moon shots, mis-education—freedom gives way to authoritarianism, light dims into darkness, the environment changes for the worse.

  Intelligent curiosity is as individualistic as thought. It is as sensitive as intuition and requires meticulous husbandry; any prolonged inattention and it is gone forever, never to be recovered by the individual. Like any faculty, it atrophies if unused. Its hallmark is the incessantly probing mind, examining into what’s right and just. Its companion is integrity, for intelligent curiosity cannot and does not live with inaccurate reporting of what one’s conscience dictates as right. Freedom and a good society appear to be the fruits of intelligent curiosity and one wonders if they can ever be had without it.


    Good methodology! How important it is! Indeed, I am convinced that if all of us were employing the right methods we would do away with most of our ideological controversy. For were everyone concentrating on self-improvement, there would be no meddlers among us. And without meddlers there could be no socialism. So let us try to clinch the argument for personal upgrading. . . .

Deeper Than You Think - Digital Book

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Natural Way

The text for a radical idea that deserves deep reflection was written by the late Albert Schweitzer:

    A new public opinion must be created privately and unobtrusively. The existing one is maintained by the press, by propaganda, by organization, and by financial and other influences which are at its disposal. The unnatural way of spreading ideas must be opposed by the natural one, which goes from man to man and relies solely on the truth of the thoughts and the hearer’s receptiveness for new truth. . . .1

  Dr. Schweitzer affronts the foibles of the day; for our contemporaries spend millions on propaganda, promotion, publicity, and advertising—“unnatural” means for creating sound public opinion, according to Schweitzer. In order to investigate the means he considers “natural,” we must contrive a word picture of our predicament. In the broadest generality, it looks like this to me: There is arrayed on the “unnatural” side untold millions of persons. The world has never known an army with as many officers and footmen. The “natural” side, however, can barely muster a corporal’s guard.

  But these two sides are not geographically squared off against each other with a few persons here and many there. So intermingled are they that, except as we may hear their talk or see their writing, we cannot tell one side from the other. There is nothing in physical mien or uniform or insignia or political label to distinguish them. They ride on the same trains, fly on the same planes, work in the same offices, live in the same homes, listen to the same preacher, play on the same teams, defend the same flag, vote for the same office seekers. Indeed, the very same person will be on one side now and on the other a moment later. How, then, are we ever to discern which is which from such a melange as this?

  The two sides are to be distinguished by tiny, invisible entities that take root in the minds of men: ideas and beliefs. These determine how men act, make them what they are, fix the side they are on. Some of these invisibles are deeply and stubbornly embedded; others come and go willy-nilly but, actually, their absence or presence is decided by the mind’s affinity for or antagonism to them. Being extremely sensitive to the mind’s hospitality, no idea or belief ever takes root unless the welcome sign is out.

  The method an individual uses to spread ideas is determined by his attitude toward ideas and people. Unnatural methods of dissemination proceed from unnatural ideas; natural methods grow out of natural ideas. In short, persons will try to spread ideas—good or bad—in ways that are consistent with the good or bad ideas they hold. The tumbleweed has no choice as to how it spreads its kind; neither has an oak tree; neither has an idea. Each has to obey its nature. Man, however, is free to choose the ideas he will accept or reject.

  The above, of course, demands an immediate distinction between natural and unnatural ideas. How is the one side to be known from the other? The answer seems obvious: natural ideas are those that are consonant with Nature or Truth; unnatural ideas are antagonistic to what is real and true.

  Truth Comes from Seeking

  But, the skeptic will inquire, who has the effrontery to claim such wisdom? A sound question indeed, for no one can be said to behold Truth in its pristine purity. This, however, no more means that Truth should be discarded as an intellectual lodestar than that any out-of-reach ideal should be dismissed as a guide to reason. Let us put it this way: whatever one’s highest conscience dictates as right may not in fact be Truth, but it is as near an approximation to Truth as one can achieve. This is the human being’s Truth—the best he has to work with. To reject the individual’s Truth as a means to thinking, simply because it may not be the whole Truth, is to allow no credence to conscience—the soul adrift.

  Thus, the best I can do in defining natural and unnatural ideas is accurately to report what I perceive them to be. I discover, however, that natural ideas are infinite in number and variation and, therefore, beyond my powers of definition. Natural ideas, it turns out, can be known to me only as that infinity of ideas which do not fall within the unnatural category. What, then, is the unnatural?

  It is contrary to the Cosmic Scheme—to Nature, to Truth—for any human being to be cast in the image of any other human being. Any person who believes it is his role to make over others into a likeness of himself is harboring what appears to be the basic unnatural idea. For this idea is the genesis of and is fundamental to countless day-to-day practices that show forth in political and private actions—man lording it over man not only temperamentally but, more often than not, forcibly. I shall not comment on the ways this idea extends itself, the above being sufficient to clarify Dr. Schweitzer’s thesis.

  It is often inferred that man plays God when he tries to cast others in his own image. What we must realize is that not even God “plays God.” As Hans Denk (1495-1527) phrased it, “God forces no one, for love cannot compel, therefore is a thing of perfect freedom.” But man is so radically free that he can deny and contradict his Creator. He is free to behave unnaturally. This is precisely what he does when he aims at controlling the creative activities of others or when he attempts to make the ideas and beliefs of others carbon copies of his own ideas and beliefs.

  Love cannot compel! The observation is relevant to this discussion and comes clear if, instead of regarding love and affection as synonymous, we think of love as enlightenment. This is the inference I draw from the companion beliefs, God is love and God is light. For me, this reasoning at least reduces metaphysical language to earthly comprehension, to communicable terms, to dimensions from which a conclusion is crystal clear: enlightenment is obviously an attracting, never a repelling or a coercive, force. A natural idea, therefore, cannot be coercive, repelling, compelling. Only an unnatural idea can so qualify!

  Now the rub, the rude awakening to all who apprehend and heed Schweitzer’s counsel. We come face to face with the shocking fact that every time we employ unnatural ways as a means of downing authoritarian ideas we add fuel to the authoritarian fire we would extinguish! For this unnatural way of spreading ideas originates with and proceeds from the very same unnatural idea that gives rise to the authoritarianism we decry. For instance, when we argue with and try to convert the socialists—try to cast them in our image—we can be likened to the pot that calls the kettle black. When we lament that “we are only talking to ourselves,” we are in an authoritarian frame of mind: assuming enlightenment on our part and ignorance on the part of others. The inference is that we’d better set straight these poor, benighted souls. When we fret about an inability to insinuate our ideas into the consciousness of others, that fret stems from the unnatural idea which bedevils the world.

  The above explains, to my satisfaction at least, why authoritarianism has been gaining by leaps and bounds even though millions of man-hours and millions of dollars have been spent to combat it. The anti-authoritarians have, unwittingly, been employing authoritarian methods and, thus, siding with the authoritarians. Of course, no one employs only the unnatural way of spreading ideas any more than anyone resorts exclusively to the natural way. No one is ever wholly consistent. This is why the same individual is now on this side, now on that. But, assuredly, the unnatural idea and its corollary, the unnatural way of spreading ideas, is the vogue of our time.

  Wait to Be Called

  The natural way, counsels Schweitzer, is private and unobtrusive, goes from man to man, and relies solely on (1) the truth of the thoughts and (2) on the hearer’s receptiveness to new truth.

  The unnatural way, as we see it all around us, is mass and not private; it is obtrusive to the core—in effect: “Believe as I do, Stupid!” The seeking of Truth—learning—is rejected in favor of displaying an arrested growth, that is, peddling what one has learned. The hearer’s receptiveness is not simply ignored; it is defied!

  The two ways are as different as the brainwashing of a propagandist and the introspection of a Shakespeare or Goethe; the difference between demanding and offering; between “ramming it down their necks” and making available; in short, the difference between repulsion and attraction.

  The natural way should be more readily accepted and practiced than the other: it calls only for the improvement of one’s own understanding and clarity of exposition—a possibility within the reach of many. The other calls for making over others—an utter impossibility.

  But the natural way is unpopular because it fails to satisfy our common itch “to do something.” Fie on improving me, run our notions; why, I’m only one person—too minor a project and, besides, what’s the need of it? Give me, instead, mankind to repair; that’s the kind of an intellectual giant I am. All of which reminds us of Napoleon whose own family drove him to distraction, though this in no way shook his confidence that he could manage humanity.

  The natural way of spreading ideas calls for more than ridding ourselves of name calling, propagandizing, telling others what to think and how to act, and other obtrusive activity. It suggests that the soul be cleansed of any such notion, for it is clear that we can no more improve another person than we can alter the heavens above. That other person, even as you and I, controls his own improvement which, of course, is encouraged and made less difficult if our own standards are such as to induce emulation. This power of attraction is the sole power we possess for the betterment of others. We should be eternally grateful that this is a fact of life; were it not, all the insanities and inanities of earth could be insinuated into our own minds!

  Turn the eye inward, counsels Dr. Schweitzer. Quit trying to make carbon copies of others; give them, rather, something to copy. Seek Truth above all else. Then, instead of obtrusively, destructively, unnaturally shoving, each may concentrate his efforts on pulling—attractively, fruitfully, naturally!


    Let us try, now, for some further refinement in our search for Truth. . . .

Deeper Than You Think - Digital Book

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Political Way

Action at the political level is not to be disparaged, much less condemned, at least by those of us who believe in a formal agency of society as a means of keeping the peace. Keeping the peace involves a legal codification and enforcement of the taboos, the thou-shalt-nots. Inhibiting and penalizing such destructive actions as fraud, violence, predation, and misrepresentation is one way we have of invoking a common justice. In theory, if not in practice, we rid ourselves of destructive activities that our creative activities may find full expression.

  Intelligent statecraft—the fine art of politics—is prerequisite to maximizing creative activities. Good citizenship in an open society requires at the very minimum an understanding of government, its limitations and potentials. Its limitations, and its potentialities, are prescribed by its nature: organized police force. Clearly, such organized force is in no sense creative but only prohibitive. A good citizen must understand what should be prohibited to insure to all citizens equally an open field and fair play, that is, to maintain a situation in which there is no special privilege for anyone.

  Those who believe that a human being has a right to his life must, if they be logical, also acknowledge the corollary right to sustain life, the sustenance of life being the fruits of one’s own honest labor. This is the concept of private property. The fine art of politics is knowing how best to preserve private property against marauders, innocent and malicious, foreign and domestic.

  Having acknowledged the importance of intelligent political action, I suggest that it is more the intelligence than the political action, per se, that matters. In other words, I do not share the popular notion that political action leads to an intelligent societal situation; it probably is the other way around. By thus inverting cause and effect, millions of Americans insist that political action is fast, sure-fire, and practical, and argue that self-improvement is a slow, tedious, passive, impractical alternative. “We want action,” they cry, as they throw themselves into the political arena to the exclusion of personal upgrading.

  Political Paths to Nowhere

  This confusion in the ranks of those who oppose socialism and favor freedom has dire consequences. For when they succeed in electing one of their number to political office, they happily bask in their accomplishment and exclaim, in effect, “Well, now that job is done; bring on the next problem.” The chances are that nothing whatsoever has been accomplished; indeed, the societal situation may very well be worsened by what has happened.

  If running true to modern form, the successful candidate doubtless avoided any mention of ridding society of such socialistic measures as medicare, Federal urban renewal, payments to farmers for not growing peanuts, the post office, and so on. His tactical credo is to let sleeping dogs lie and, above all, keep away from anything controversial; keep the eye on one thing only: how to get elected! And in these circumstances, the new officeholder, regardless of how sound his personal views may be, is absolutely helpless. The thinking on which all societal change is predicated hasn’t been altered one whit; nothing has changed but the name of the officeholder. Better that socialism continue to parade under socialism’s banner than under the aegis of our own political priests. But more damaging still is the disappointment of those who have given their all to the empty victory. Once they realize their failure, they give up the ghost and join the growing ranks of the pessimists and do-nothings. All because they haven’t been able to discern what is really practical. Those who put the emphasis on political action are impractical to the core, assuming that results are the measure of practicality.

  Following the Crowd

  There is one simple fact to keep in mind: that which shows forth on the political horizon is nothing more than a reflection or echoing of whatever the preponderant leadership thinking happens to be at any particular time. If the winning politicians are advocating and standing for socialistic programs, count on it, the preponderant leadership thinking is socialistic. And when the time comes that those in high office are standing against all invasions of private property—standing for the open society, and willing exchange—one can be certain that the preponderant leadership thinking is libertarian.

  What’s topside politically can be likened to a thermometer. The former registers the preponderant leadership thinking; the latter registers the temperature. If you don’t like what the thermometer registers, you increase or decrease the temperature; you don’t monkey with the mercury. And if you don’t like the politicians and what they stand for, you alter the thinking; you don’t toy with the personalities, that is, not if you wish to be practical.

  It isn’t difficult to see why politicians merely register the preponderant leadership thinking. With rare exceptions, those who offer themselves as candidates for public office have getting elected as their objective. I see no reason why they should aim to be defeated. Now, regardless of their personal views, what can they stand for and get elected? They cannot go beyond what the preponderant leadership thinking will support.

  To illustrate: I honestly believe that TVA and mail delivery, for instance, should be turned over to private ownership and operation, that labor unions should be divested of the right to use coercion in any form, that medicare, compulsory social security, and a host of other socialistic programs should be abolished forthwith. Were I, at this time, to run for office on a frank and candid representation of these convictions—and I wouldn’t run otherwise—my defeat would be assured. But suppose the preponderant lead-ship thinking were to do a turnabout and to parallel my thinking; then my election would become possible, if not probable. Clearly, the thinking is what counts.

  The above explains why we should not give much weight as to how candidates present themselves to us privately. To know what we are going to get from them, once in office, we need only observe the public image they portray prior to election day. And if, to get in office, they will represent themselves to voters as something other than what they are, we can be certain that they will even more corrupt themselves to stay in office. Officeholders are rarely able to conduct themselves in a manner superior to the public representations that put them in their seats. Yes, they can and often do become inferior, but the thinking they championed while campaigning chains them down to it.

  Bring Better Ideas into Play

  A good society depends on good individuals, rather than bad ones. That seems self-evident, and equally evident is that individuals act in response to what they believe—the ideas they hold. Thus, it would seem to follow that the state of society is but a reflection of the underlying ideas. If we do not like the current socialistic turn of American society, the only practical first step toward correction is to bring better ideas into play. This ought to be our top-priority project.

  There would be no point in highlighting the above truisms were it not for this fact: Most of us who complain about the trend in the U.S.A. toward all-out statism insist, quite impractically, on looking for improvement through political action. For example, such activities as “organizing right down to the precinct level,” getting out the vote, and other forms of political contention and competition are at the action level. This action, we must bear in mind, is but the reflection of underlying ideas; and a reflection is utterly incapable of improving itself. To expect real and lasting improvement to originate with political action is like hoping for a lie from one’s mirror. It is obvious that actions—which are, after all, reflections—cannot be bettered except by improvements which precede the actions.

  I act in response to what I am. The I-am is the idea side of me; the response part is the action side of me. Thus, each of us is at once an ideologist and an actionist. If we give no attention to improving the I-am part, we are likely to be low-grade ideologists indulging in low-grade actions.

  It is extremely difficult for any of us to become aware of, let alone acknowledge, our own shortcomings. We quite easily, often unknowingly, slump into an egocentric rut: We ourselves have rectitude and knowledge aplenty; the faults lie in the world around us! Getting out of these ruts requires changing ourselves; it demands the flexing of imaginative and intellectual faculties which, if long unused, are stiff and hardened. Achieving cerebral activity, once “calcification” has set in, is painful and dreaded exercise, at least at the outset. Having completed their “education,” few have any stomach for the self-improvement venture; not many have what it takes to get off the dead center they are on. This is why countless persons look for solutions to social problems at the hopelessly futile political action level, and why they repeatedly offer the excuse of “not time enough” to labor at the meaningful, practical, ideological level!

  When an individual arrives at the point where he realizes that “the proper study of mankind is man,” and that the best man to work on is himself, then he has staked out the area, if nothing more, in which he can fruitfully labor. Man as thinker will take precedence over himself as actionist—which is to say, he will get the horse where it belongs, ahead of the cart!

Improvement of ideas requires a growth in one’s spirit of inquiry. The tools are study, contemplation, humility in the sense of freedom from know-it-allness, reaching out for that which is not yet understood, the kind of reading that’s “above my head,” a mind freed from dead center and unafraid to peer into the unknown and, above all, an indomitable, conscious, prayerful effort to emerge intellectually and spiritually. Ideological improvement is hitched to the eternal search for truth and is on a plane much higher than action and distinctly separate from it. One is substance, the other, shadow.

  When we can get it into our own heads that we can play no part in bettering society except as we begin the process of self-improvement, thus attracting others to draw on what we have in store, we’ll be off dead center—and not before.

    Logically, we should next reflect on the most natural way to spread ideas on liberty. . . .

Deeper Than You Think - Digital Book

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Origins of Power

The political authoritarian exerts over our lives a coercive power which distinguishes him as ruler and us as subjects! Of what is it composed? From whence does it come? Why, as so often claimed, does this kind of power corrupt the wielder? The wise shun rather than seek it. Why?

  First, let us identify the authoritarian. His archetype plainly emerges from the double-barreled definition of socialism: the state ownership and control of the means of production (the planned economy) and/or the state ownership and control of the results of production (the welfare state).

  In the planned economy the authoritarian organizes and controls important sectors of our lives by forcibly imposing restrictions on individual free choice. These restrictions bear such names as wage, price, rent, interest, credit, production, and exchange controls.

  In the welfare state phase of the socialistic formula we find three archetypes: the looted, and those who share the spoils, plus the authoritarian who does the taking and the conferring.

  Controls are simply forcible interferences with individual decision-making, the negation of free choice. We refer to “governmental price fixing of cotton,” for instance. This terminology evades the real issue. It isn’t the bale of cotton that suffers the interference; it is the grower, the ginner, the trader, the weaver, the consumer. Interference with personal choice!

  We can clearly identify the authoritarian as one who coercively interferes with the creative side of people’s lives. Of what, then, is such authoritarian power composed?

  Individual liberty itself is a power; it is the power to choose, the power of personal decision. But since no man gains liberty by denying it to another, it follows that individual liberty is a voluntary, noninterfering power.1

  One Chance in Millions

  The authoritarian’s power is a substitution of coercive decisions for voluntary decisions. For instance, his power to spend our income is evenly matched by our powerlessness to spend it. When he can set our wage, or fix our hours, or whatever, we are not at liberty to arrive at wages and hours by voluntary procedures. Were we at liberty to offer our own goods and services as we please, the authoritarian would be powerless in these respects. We can deduce from these observations that the authoritarian’s power, while not a one-man exercise of voluntary powers, is a one-man exercise of a coercive power made possible by the loss, for whatever reason, of voluntary powers. It is, in fact, a transmutation of varied voluntary powers of the many into a unitary coercive power. In this sense, coercive power feeds at the expense of voluntary decision-making, freedom to choose, or, shall we say, individual liberties.

  This proposition can be expressed as a theorem: the coercive power of the authoritarian increases as individual liberties decrease, and vice versa. The reason for the precision of this power teeter-totter is the infallibility of the transmutation: whatever power of decision the authoritarian has over the people is precisely matched by the people’s voluntary powers that have been ceded or expropriated or, in any event, transmuted.

  Whether individual liberties are more ceded than expropriated is anyone’s guess. Most persons are no more conscious of liberty than of the air they breathe; thus, liberty is rarely prized and seldom defended, except in instances of sudden constraints. Let the authoritarian suddenly outlaw the eating of bread, and the people will rise in wrath, claiming an affront to their liberty. But if the authoritarian installs programs which will eventually diminish what we eat by an oblique and a gradual approach—inflation, controls, paying farmers not to farm, and workers not to work, et cetera—few voices will be raised; hardly a person will sense any loss of liberty, any more than one senses each day that he is older than the day before!

  Our failure to prize and guard what we take for granted doubtless accounts for the easy transmutation of individual liberties into the coercive power of authoritarians. The avidity for coercive power on the one hand and a careless, inattentive husbandry of individual liberties on the other—a passionate desire meeting little resistance—gives this unfortunate transmutation more the appearance of an osmotic action than of voluntary surrender or expropriation. The desire for coercive power can hardly be called expropriation. Nor can our inattentiveness to freedom of choice and individual decision-making be described as a voluntary ceding of these powers. We might as well call it a transmutation of voluntary powers into a coercive power and let it go at that.

  Variation Has a Purpose

  If we will keep in mind that the authoritarian’s coercive power is a transmutation of individual liberties and, in this sense, has its roots in voluntary powers, we will see why it is appropriate to refer to “origins” rather than to “the origin” of coercive power. For individual liberties are infinitely varied! Each of us is unique as to creative potentialities and, thus, each of us uses his liberties in unique ways. No two uses of liberty are identical; your choices and decisions are never precisely the same as mine; there are as many variations of individual choice as there are human beings and, thus, as many origins of coercive power.

  This fact of variation gives a clue as to why coercive power corrupts the wielder: he substitutes for that liberty uniquely required for his own growth and development a coercive power which he erroneously fancies is for our good. This corrupts him in two ways. First, this inattention to his own evolution must lead, sooner or later, to his devolution; and, second, he makes a fool of himself. By the wildest stretch of the imagination, he cannot in any single instance make a choice for you or me that will mesh with our unique requirements.

  Should I Live Your Life?

  This latter point reveals yet a third and even greater corruptive influence. Forget the millions the authoritarian attempts to stamp in his own image and, for easier analysis, turn to a you-and-me situation.

  Just suppose that I coercively impose upon you carbon copies of choices and decisions unique to my requirements. This would, unquestionably, spell your undoing. Now, if we can demonstrate how this would spell my undoing, we shall discover how the exercise of coercive power leads to “third degree” corruption.

  When I make choices and decisions unique to my own requirements, I get a play-back on any mistakes. This is highly instructive, for when I must bear the effects of my follies I often learn not to repeat them. But when I make choices and decisions to cope with your requirements, each decision likely to be wrong, you are the one who gets the play-back. And, as long as my power remains coercive, you are helpless to correct me regardless of how much instruction you receive from the play-back. It is obvious that I will go uninstructed as long as the play-back comes to you and not to me; there is no influence to swerve me from my errant ways; my coercive power shields me from the effects of my follies. What greater corruption than to remain forever wrong! Herbert Spencer put it this way:

    The ultimate effect of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.

  The wise do not seek but always shun coercive power. Christ refused political power; George Washington rejected the offer of kingship. Many knowing individuals have done likewise. The wiser the individual, the less will he corrupt himself!

  The Prospects Examined

  The question arises as to the prospects for liberty on the Coercion-Liberty teeter-totter. Will voluntary powers rise, causing a matched decline in coercive powers, or what?

  In the first place, it is unrealistic to expect a marked diminution in the desire for coercive power; indeed, this desire gives every appearance of being on the increase. Robert Ardrey, in what I believe to be an accurate assessment, calls ours “the Age of the Alibi . . . which seeks fault anywhere but in oneself, and damns it as immoral to do otherwise.”2 A person who thinks of all others as faulty cannot suspect the same of himself; he is led to believe in his own omniscience; all would be well were his way to rule. The number who aspire to this role, who crave the power it confers, are legion. Those disposed to liberty can derive little, if any, comfort from the coercive side of the action.

  But what of the other end of the teeter-totter—the resistance-to-coercion side of the action? Short of a happy accident or an unimaginable breakthrough in human mentality, it would seem that liberty’s ascendancy is at the mercy of those few who can, by sheer rationality, portray the practicality and idealism of this abstraction—with the same vigor that most of us will defend against all comers our plot of ground or the bread we bake.

We must ever keep in mind that liberty is not like our plot of earth, or a morsel to be consumed. Liberty is as nebulous as respect and as intangible as intuition or thoughtfulness or spirit, and, withal, as indispensable as any quality of the soul, for it ranks as a reality along with life itself, life-growth depending upon it. Liberty can no more be sustained by physical might, which we customarily associate with defense, than can an insight, a thought, a silent prayer. Liberty’s sole defender is the highly advanced mentality, this state being within the potential reach of an adequate number. The answer to the question, will they arise to it? will probably be found in the answer each of us gives to the question, will I try to arise to it?

  Men may, in their thoughtlessness, believe they can do without liberty; they simply are unaware that liberty is indestructible; and that the only question is, how much of it will each recognize, appreciate and, as a consequence, possess?

  It seems reasonable that liberty’s chances are enhanced as more of us recognize that the corruptive, coercive power which plagues society is first a take-over and then an in version of individual liberties—yours and mine; that this evil we loathe has its origin in the ramshackle shape of our own intellectual and spiritual ramparts. With this recognition, it becomes plain that the required defense—resistance to the take-over—rests not only on prizing our liberties but on understanding and clearly explaining why, by all that’s good and just, we should embrace them with the same fervor we do our lives.

    When an individual settles on a way of life that appeals to him—be it shallow or profound—he becomes interested in its adoption by others. Deep-seated convictions usually are accompanied by an urge to “do something.” More often than not, the first impulse is to engage more actively in politics and “elect the right people to public office.” . . .

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Concerning Self and Others

Poles apart are the philosophies of egoism and altruism. A specious case may be made for each, and both points of view have gained followers among those who believe that there is no alternative but to favor one or the other.

  Egoism: “Away, then, with every concern that is not my concern. . . . My concern is neither the divine nor the human, or the true, good, just, free . . . but solely what is mine. . . . Nothing is more to me than myself!” Here we have the credo of the exclusive “I.”1

  Altruism: This is at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum. There is no “I” in its vocabulary, nor any concern, whatsoever, for self. The right to exist for self is denied; one lives, thinks, acts for humanity, that is, on behalf of others. Here we have the credo of the all-inclusive “they.”2

  Borrowing a phrase from the Bard of Avon: “A plague o’ both your houses.” For I wish to argue that egoism is no more or less valid than altruism, that neither one squares with enlightened self-interest.

  Concern only for others or no concern for others are alike heedless of the fact that man is both a social and an individualistic being. Man can no more exist wholly social—as a hive of bees—than he can live in isolation. Henri Bergson observed: “Vainly do we try to imagine an individual cut off from all social life.” He insists, quite rightly, that there is a little of society in each individual.

  Others Influence Our Lives

  If we are right in assuming that there is a little of society in each of us, implying that there is a great deal of distinctly individualistic quality in each person, one’s concern for others and one’s concern for self would, logically, have to be apportioned according to one’s dependence on society and to one’s dependence on self. Obviously, a complete and accurate division of these two dependencies would be voluminous, if not impossible. Yet, we can, by simple economic illustration, support the claim that each person should, to act intelligently, look to others as well as to self. We can demonstrate that the individual is faced with twin dependencies which means that concern for others, as well as for self, is appropriate. In short, it can be shown that survival depends on others and self, warranting a dual concern.

  To illustrate: Creation, insofar as man has any hand in it, begins with tiny ideas and perceptions—intellectual and spiritual energies—flowing through the minds of individual men; that’s their exclusive routing! Here is a prime dependence that warrants a deep concern for the perfection of self, the individual being the source, the originating point, of all human creation.

  However, these creativities, as they emanate from any single mind, are no more than infinitesimal fragments and, by themselves, are meaningless, utterly inadequate to compose any usable wholeness. They’re no more than “trillionths,” and might be likened to thumbnail-size pieces of a jigsaw puzzle which, in its entirety, would be the U.S.A. Wholeness, as manifested in the artifacts by which we live and advance, is in each instance a social phenomenon, the product of the individual coupled with an enormous “otherness.” An individual’s creativities are meaningless except as they unite or configurate or coalesce with trillions upon trillions of creativities flowing through the minds of other individuals since the advent of human consciousness. For instance, a jet plane or a pencil or whatever is inconceivable without the discovery that harnessed fire and without the countless ideas, perceptions, and discoveries that have taken place since that event. Here, also, is a prime dependence—others!

  Creativities flow from single minds; without these we perish, so let’s have a deep concern for the single mind—mine!

  The extent to which the realities we live by are the products of others can be put in perspective by the owner reflecting on the imperceptible part he has had in the car he drives, or the bread he eats, or the plane he rides. Without others we perish, so let’s have a deep concern for their being at their best.

  It becomes clear that having a concern for others is as much in one’s self-interest as is concern for self. Indeed, I am coming more and more to believe that a concern for others, be it founded on the real as contrasted with the specious need of others, leads to the development of self.

  We shall, however, let concern for self stand as self-evident; the balance of this chapter has only to do with a concern for others.

  A Misplaced Concern for Others

  As I view the current scene, concern for others is on the rampage but it is a concern for a need that requires more self-than-other fulfillment, that is, the massive concern we witness is a misplaced concern. For, never in the history of mankind have such fabulous sums been dispensed to all and sundry, at home and abroad, and in the name of need. I am referring, primarily, to the dispensations made by government: tens upon tens of billions collected by force or the threat thereof and handed out willy-nilly and, to a great extent, even urged upon persons, communities, “distressed areas,” and foreign governments. I insist that this hodgepodge—it isn’t a system—is unrelated to an intelligent concern for others. For one thing, a political collective can no more fathom the subtleties of need than can a brainless computer. Such a collective is, by its nature, an impersonal structure and, thus, incapable of being personal. These others to whom we refer are individuals, even as you and I, and a concern for them, to make any sense, has to be intimately personal. It is arrant nonsense to dispose of a concern for the need of others by lumping them into mass: humanity, society, areas, governments, the needy, workers, businessmen, farmers, the aged, and so on. These terms are but recapitulations, the language of the altruists.

  While collectivized salvation, as evidenced by governmental extortion and largess, is way out front in its enormity, we note the same trend toward impersonalization on the part of private and voluntary collectives. Merely observe how we tend to dispose of our sense of obligation to others by turning it over to an organization—with some cash, of course. In short, we toss overboard the sensitive, spiritual, rewarding, and upgrading experience of personalization by the executive gesture of writing a check!

  Understanding What Is Needed

  Why this drift toward impersonalization? Why do we apply division of labor tactics to a concern for others, clearly no more applicable than to a concern for one’s relationships with his Creator? Why not be done with the latter by giving some committee a check with instructions to look after the matter? It would be just as sensible as delegating to government or to a private agency the task of looking after one’s concern for the need of others. Why this deviation from the personal practice of concern?

  Perhaps this malpractice originates with a misunderstanding of what constitutes need. By and large, we have become so materialistically oriented that we think that the only need others have is a dollar need. This is, in fact, among the least of all needs. My guess is that our 90,000 millionaires have about as many needs as do any like number in Appalachia! To misconstrue the need of others must lead to a misplaced concern for others. What, then, is the crying need of our times? This becomes plain if we will take note of the kind of people we are becoming.

  If you want to know the “kind of people” a person is, so goes the counsel, take him camping or fishing or, better yet, get him slightly inebriated. Under any of these conditions the true self breaks through the thin, “civilized” veneer. But these things are not necessary for a revealing insight. Simply observe how we act in traffic during any rush hour! No other animal will behave so unconcernedly, not to say viciously, among its own species.3 Here we have real selves showing through. While the veneer of superficial manners hides these egotistical traits in most other relationships, the real selves remain the same, nonetheless.

  The Golden Rule

  Let’s stay with our traffic behavior to highlight what the crying need is in so many present-day relationships. Once we see what the need of others is in this situation, we can adjust our concern to fit the need, and project the practice it dictates into all human relationships and occupations and activities.

  Item: I observed a worker, heavily laden with tools, waiting to cross a one-way road. His plight went unheeded by driver after driver, even though accommodation would not disadvantage following drivers. Then one appeared who slowed to a near stop and waved the worker across the road. Never have I seen a person’s face light up more; he fairly glowed with appreciation and, assuredly, his appraisal of the human lot went from pretty low to very high. It is a fair guess that his own thoughtfulness of others was given a renewed vitality.

  But, even more important, reflect on what happened to the driver by reason of that exercise of a concern for the need of another. This use and flexing of the faculty to be kind is as necessary to the making of a soul as is self-responsibility. For thoughtfulness can, indeed, be regarded as a faculty, requiring exercise, as does any faculty; exercise strengthens as neglect brings on atrophy. This little incident, the likes of which we observe all too infrequently, improved the lives of two persons which, in turn, bettered the human situation. But observe how personal it was! It is also important to note that the worker and the driver were, still are, and probably always will be unknown to each other, as well as to me, the one who just happened to look up, catching a glimpse of man playing not to an audience of men for applause and glory but acting in response to a matured conscience. This is as high a guide as man can have on the earthly side of his Creator, a harmony with right principle and righteousness.

  Impoverishment of the Soul

  Our concern for others, if intelligent, must be a response to an accurate assessment of their needs, that is, their impoverishment. Clearly, impoverishment in worldly goods is much less serious than is soul impoverishment: a poverty in extensions of kindness, thoughtfulness, consideration, recognition as a significant human being—little acts over and beyond the call of legality or tradition or customary duty or fairness or even the Golden Rule. I refer to dividends of the heart that come from unknown sources and, thus, with no expectation of reward or gratitude or even a simple “thank you.” Call these what you will, they are noiseless radiations that snuff out or destroy envy, covetousness, greed, hate, lust, dishonesty, and other soul-seering attitudes. With these out of the way, the soul can grow toward its potential richness, becoming distinctly human.

  As suggested above, the greater beneficiary of this process is the benefactor. Indeed, he brings to his own thinking and willing the energizing forces of Creation. In a word, self-development, growth, emergence—life’s purpose—is aided and abetted by discerning the true needs of others, having a concern for these needs, and giving evidence of that concern by those noble actions which shy from applause, return favors, or even recognition.

  In the absence of this process—every person with his guard up, distrustful, suspicious, and so on—all education, economic or whatever, is utterly futile. Mad people are uneducable. But once under way, this process causes the beneficiaries to become benefactors themselves.


    Anyone seeking or attempting to maintain political power can best prosper at his trade if he affects a concern for others and then convinces the voters that he, given the office, will effectively minister to their needs. If we the people are not to be “taken in” by these affectations, we must know the origins of coercive power and why it is corruptive. . . .

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

What Shall It Profit a Man?

The advocate of freedom may not command others to share his enthusiasm. But he should do everything in his power to correct the widespread illusion that the willing exchange of the free market is limited to materialistic considerations and neglects the “higher things of life.”

  There was no science of economics nineteen hundred years ago—and it would take eighteen of the intervening centuries for someone to discover and describe the marginal utility or subjective theory of value. Yet, we know that at least one individual at that time had a sense of values seldom matched today:

    For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

    Mark 8:36

  The reference here is to two distinct kinds of value. To “gain the whole world” relates to economic gain or profit (entrepreneurial, monetary, material); to “lose his own soul” has to do with a spiritual or psychic loss.

  So, there are in life two categories of satisfactions: material and mental. It is reasonable to want a comfortable house, health-giving food, adequate clothing, an automobile, and what are called the amenities. And most of us today are in no danger of ignoring this part of life. It is our mental and spiritual growth that we tend to neglect as we busy ourselves making a living and keeping up with the Joneses. Preoccupation with economic profit often deflects our attention from what might be termed psychic profit.

  To illustrate these two distinct types of gain, let me relate a personal experience. An Emcee, in his introduction, alluded to “the sacrifice our speaker is making on behalf of freedom.” My response:

    Mine is no sacrifice. I prefer having a hand in replacing coercive socialism with creative freedom to having a higher-paying job or even a million or a billion dollars.

  Incredible as it may seem to some people, not all values are economic. In this particular instance a psychic gain outweighs an economic gain. But suppose my whole experience were devoid of any economic gain, that I am starving. Then, more than likely, the all-out pursuit of economic gain would take precedence. The choices a man makes for his own life are personal; they are based on his scale of values—his attempt to put first things first. Such a value judgment, of course, is subjective; only I—no one else—can determine what is or isn’t a gain for me. As explained in Chapter VII, there is no objective standard by which individual value of choices can be mathematically or statistically reckoned.

  It should be obvious that human action may be motivated by the urge for either economic or psychic satisfactions, or by both. And even though an acting individual may not always be able to fully explain his psychic motivations to the satisfaction of others, he may nonetheless be more powerfully motivated by them than by the cold logic of economic gain. And the final entry in the calculus of the market registers simply how he acts—not why. The why is a matter of his own choice.

  When the head of a family buys term or ordinary insurance to provide only for his wife and children in the event of his demise, he experiences only a psychic gain. That action can reward him only psychically, never economically. In this case he exchanges his economic gains for a psychic gain simply because he values the latter more than the former. Were this not true, he would not make the exchange. But, be it noted, this particular psychic gain, as do so many, depends on current or prior economic gains.

  Each Gains from Willing Exchange

  It has been said that you can’t give anything away. This appears to be incontestable, for in every willing exchange each party gains, and it matters not whether the gain is economic or psychic. No clear thinker questions the point in the economic realm: when the lady exchanges 30¢ for a can of beans, she no more “gives away” the 30¢ than the grocer “gives away” the beans. The lady in her own mind gains (a subjective judgment) as does the grocer. In the absence of such a dual judgment no willing exchange would ever be made.

  Nor is the element of gain or profit altered when moving into the psychic realm. When the lady voluntarily contributes $100 to the object of her interest—be it a church, an educational institution, a family in poverty, or whatever—she experiences a psychic gain, a reward, a satisfaction that outweighs the retention of economic gains: the $100. Were this not true, she would not willingly or voluntarily make the contribution. She no more “gives away” the $100 than the 30¢. In each instance she receives in exchange something she values more than the money. Willing exchanges, at the moment they are made, are mutually gratifying and, thus, we err when we think we give something away.

  The reason why so many of us, when making a contribution, pat ourselves on the back—overrate our “goodness”—is that we pay no heed to our psychic profit, as if it didn’t exist; we’re blind to it. For instance, when we contribute $10 to the Boy Scouts, we assess ourselves as all give and no take; their gain is our loss or, so we seem to think. We are, perhaps, too exclusively economically oriented. Assuredly, it was to this point that the Gospel question was directed: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world?”

  But the other side of the profit coin is attended by as much confusion, if not more. While there are many who are only economically oriented, who think only in materialistic terms, there are those who are too exclusively psychically oriented; they seek only psychic gain and with no attention whatsoever to whose economic gain is at stake. Their sense of pity blinds them to economic reality, and, just as certainly, to justice. In a word, there are countless American citizens today who experience psychic gain with someone else’s economic gains. Politicians are forever publicly patting themselves on the back (psychic reward) for the “good” they have done to millions of Pauls, often oblivious to the fact it is done by forcibly extorting the economic means from some Peters. Such one-sided individuals are to be found among all occupational categories—clergymen, teachers, business leaders, labor officials, and many others. This is a tragic error. The good Samaritan, I suspect, would not approve robbing Peter to gratify another’s pity for Paul. He used his own goods to aid the object of his compassion, not the goods of someone else.

  But despite current confusions, a moment’s reflection reveals how barren life would be were there only economic gain, that is, were there no aspirations higher than gaining “the whole world.” And suppose the profit motive consisted solely of economic gain, bereft of psychic gain. Of course, this is an impossible concept, as meaningless as one side of a coin without the other. The motivating force, essential to man’s evolvement, springs from a wedding of the two. But we must have an awareness of the ideal partnership if we are not to run amuck!

  There are, of course, many opportunities for psychic satisfactions quite apart from the economic, for instance, the kindly concern, a friendly word, the generous sentiment, the thoughtful act. Discussion of this type of psychic gain, about which there is little argument, will be omitted in order better to center attention on the type that is strictly related to the economic, the kind attended by so much confusion.

  At the outset, let us not delude ourselves that the contribution of funds for the alleviation of poverty, or the furtherance of education or religion, or whatever, is without the hope of gain. There is no less hope for a gain in such an act than there is when an individual buys equities on the stock market. The hope in one case is for a psychic gain, in the other an economic gain. And we observe many instances where the yen for a profit, psychic as well as economic, becomes avaricious, blinding, irrational, nonsensible.

  Giving Presupposes Owning

  Confining ourselves to the kind of psychic satisfaction under discussion, it is axiomatic that such gain presupposes and rests upon economic means. Thus, any attempt to experience a psychic gain that in any way frustrates economic production and reward is self-defeating. So-called welfare programs that destroy the economic profit motive must, eventually, eliminate the possibility of psychic gains. Prior to psychic gains there must be an accumulation of economic gains. The saying, “You can’t get blood out of a turnip,” applies here: contributions are never forthcoming from pockets of poverty; noble intentions must remain no more than forlorn aspirations.

  Poverty spreads in India, for instance, not because humane sentiments are lacking or welfare programs neglected, but because the way to economic gain is scarcely known. Economically, India is about as profitless as any place on earth. Psychically, it is just as unrewarding. But let us not be too harsh on India; we make our own mistakes. Our philosophers and intellectuals are no more drawing on the lessons our achievements have to teach than are their contemporaries in India.

  To illustrate these confusions, let’s take two persons and a welfare problem, designed, shall we say, to cope with a brain malady that fells 1,000 persons annually. The persons, Dr. Doakes and Mr. Roe, are equals in their compassion for the afflicted ones. But here the similarity ends.

  Dr. Doakes, a surgeon, has, by reason of experience, research, and skill, become the sole individual who can perform a successful operation. And, further, he has an understanding of how the free market, willing exchange economy functions in the work-a-day world.

  The complications of the operation are such that Dr. Doakes can accept but one patient per month. In a word, he can save only 12 lives; 988 must perish. How is this skill of his, an extremely scarce resource, to be allocated? Who of the 1,000 shall he save? Dr. Doakes resorts to the free market method; he sets his price at that figure which will bring supply and demand into balance, let us say, $25,000!1

  Mr. Roe has only his compassion to go on, or what C. S. Lewis termed “the passion of pity”; he has no surgical skills, no accumulated economic gains, and not the slightest idea of how pricing in a free market allocates scarce resources and automatically forces supply and demand toward equilibrium, alleviating poverty and distress. He accuses Dr. Doakes of being interested in saving only the John D’s in order to have an economic gain for himself. Roe’s passion for a psychic gain—the saving of the 988—is such that he will use almost any means which he, in his utter incompetency, thinks will achieve his ends, even to the imposition of a “medicare” program. This will, of course, put the 1,000 in a queue, a further burden on the single surgeon, one that will render him less able to save lives. We have here the basis of a confrontation, the kind that can get pretty mean.

  Dr. Doakes tries to explain to Mr. Roe that his high price will attract hundreds of surgeons who shortly will be able to perform the operation even better and quicker than he, and, as a consequence, the price will fall to the point where eventually it will be within the reach of all. To illustrate the free market thesis, he used one of thousands of examples, the case of the ball point pen. When it first appeared on the market the price was $13.95, all the traffic would bear, as we say. This attracted all sorts of competition. Today, ball point pens, far superior to the original, are used by countless businesses all over the country as give-aways.

  Confrontations of this sort would fade away were there a wider realization (1) that economic gains must precede psychic gain and (2) that economic gains are possible only in willing exchanges, the free market.

  In summary, the entrepreneur who would profitably employ his talents and property is obliged to give consumers what they want as efficiently as possible. But should he choose to elevate the tastes of consumers by giving them more of what he thinks they ought to have, rather than what they think, his greater psychic gain likely would be offset by less economic gain. Which of the two types of gain does he value more? That’s the only question, assuming no coercion. His choice would seem to be strictly a matter of his own intelligence.

  Now to cases: More economic profit has been made on the Holy Bible than on any other book. In our own field, the sales of Mainspring by Weaver, The Law by Bastiat, and Economics in One Lesson by Hazlitt each approach the half-million mark, and they continue to return an economic profit. But suppose that, like many excellent works, these teachings were so contrary to the common or popular point of view that their publication meant economic loss. Would this fact, by itself, warrant relegation of these books to the literary graveyard? Is the only test of appropriate human action economic gain? Were this the sole guide to correct action, then the mere utterance of an unpopular view would be taboo. Were psychic gain not also an appropriate motivation, then how could one teach a Sunday school class, or serve on the Little League Board, or loan books to inquiring students, or finance research work that may help others as much or more than one’s self, or do a thousand and one other things that are more of the heart than the pocketbook?

  Peacefully and Profitably

  From all of the foregoing I derive three conclusions:

  First, do whatever you think is right with what is your own, so long as it’s peaceful.

  Second, the profit motive—which fuels human action in the free market and functions peacefully in no other setting—operates psychically as well as economically. A psychically motivated transaction is as much “of the market” as one entered strictly for economic gains; and any “market” that accommodates but one of these motivations, and not the other, is less than a free market.

  Third, while recognizing that “to gain the whole world” is not the object of life, we also may see that charity does in fact begin at home. Helping others presupposes economic self-reliance of our own. Psychic gains—in the context as previously explained—and economic gains both rest upon the use of economic resources. Human action is both psychically and economically motivated, the ultimate satisfaction from either one being affected by and at least in part dependent on the other.


    The quality of being human is of the spirit as well as of the flesh! For man not to “lose his own soul” in satisfying his economic needs, requires a balanced assessment of economic and noneconomic needs—of others as well as of self. A political economy that stresses one to the exclusion of the other has both idealistic and practical shortcomings. . . .

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Friday, January 25, 2013

When Wishes Become Rights

Reflect on the “backward” countries in the world; the “distressed areas” in the U.S.A.; the many individuals who are poverty stricken, lame, blind. Then add all the unfulfilled desires and yearnings of nearly 200 million Americans, ranging from better food, housing, clothing, medicine, hospitals, mink coats, and automobiles to putting three men on the moon. What a field for the would-be philanthropist if all these wants were within his power to fulfill!

  Let us imagine that you have been offered a magic power to satisfy everyone’s material wishes with no effort on your part. Suppose, for instance, that you had Aladdin’s lamp and could call up a jinni that would confer any good or service on anyone you might choose to help. If you could thus satisfy desires for material things with neither cost nor effort on the part of anyone, would you be willing to assume the role of Aladdin and bestow benefactions like manna from heaven?

  Perhaps you are among the very few whose answer would be an emphatic “No!” There are those few who would immediately sense the consequences of such reckless “humanitarianism”: no more farming; the closing of all factories and stores; trains and planes coming to a stop; students no longer studying; a heaven on earth—a veritable Shangri-La! No more problems; labor passe; self-responsibility “old hat”; effort relegated to the decadent past; all obstacles overcome for mankind! These few know that when there is no exercise and flexing of the faculties, atrophy follows as a matter of course and our species disappears—all because everyone is granted riches for nothing more than the wishing!

  If this sort of magic were only half practiced, would the result still be bad? “Yes!” answered Benjamin Franklin. “If man could have Half his Wishes, he would double his Troubles.” We may infer from this that if a man’s objectives could be achieved for nothing more than wishes, no good would be served, deterioration would ensue. Struggle, earning one’s spurs, conscious effort, calling on one’s potentialities and bringing them into use are essential to survival—to say nothing of progress. This is crystal clear to a few. But not to the many!

  A majority of Americans, today, would accept the magic lamp. For it is obvious that most persons who would gratify a wish at the expense of others would more readily do so at no expense to others. Such wishers are among us by the millions, all in pursuit of something for nothing—effortless wish gratification.

  These many Americans have found their magic lamp in the Federal political apparatus, and what a jinni! Aladdin’s lamp evoked a jinni of supernatural powers; but this modern jinni is a composite of quite ordinary human beings and, as a consequence, it relies on the earthly ways of humans. Even so, we must never sell it short; it is unbelievably clever.

  Aladdin’s jinni performed only on call; it responded to wishes when requested. This modern American version, on the other hand, displays zealous initiative in that it:

  1. invents wishes for people;

  2. persuades people that these wishes are their own and, then, actively solicits their gratification;

  3. convinces people that these wishes are among their natural rights, and

  4. casts itself in the role of “helper.”

  The Myth of Federal Aid

  Mythology in its heyday never came up with a jinni to equal this.

  Golden goals for people to adopt? It was this jinni, not the people of the Tennessee Valley, that initiated TVA with its below-cost pricing. It was this jinni that conceived “social security,” the Peace Corps, and so on.1

  Further, the jinni insinuates its golden goals into the minds of people as wishes capable of fulfillment. The jinni appears in nearly every community of the nation and in many countries of the world selling its wishing wares. Federal urban renewal projects are promoted far more by the bureaucracy in Washington than by local citizens. Federal largess is urged upon the citizenry. Of course, the reason is clear enough: urban renewal is an integral part of the numerous Federal “full employment” projects required as cover-ups of the unemployment caused by other Federal policies.2

  But it would hardly do for this jinni to gratify wishes were the performance attended by any sense of guilt on the people’s part. So, how does the jinni dispose of this hazard? Simple! It transmutes wishes into “rights,” and remains above suspicion in this legerdemain. Do you wish a restoration of your decaying downtown? Very well; that wish is a right. Do you wish lower rates for power and light? Presto! The wish is a right. Do you wish a better price for your tobacco, a better job, a better education than can be had by your own efforts in willing exchange? These wishes are now your rights. As one spokesman for the Federal jinni so eloquently phrased it:

    Enjoyment of the arts and participation in them are among man’s natural rights and essential to his full development as a civilized person. One of the reasons governments are instituted among men is to make this right a reality.3

  Except in this political never-never land, it would be absurd to labor the point that a mere wish for material betterment does not create a right to its fulfillment; that is, a wish does not, in any moral or ethical sense, establish a claim on someone else’s property. Yet, transparent as is such double-think, this is precisely what is accepted by a majority of our countrymen. When the intellectual, quoted above, insists that “enjoyment of the arts and participation in them are among man’s natural rights,” he is not referring to a right to attend the opera provided the citizen can buy his own ticket; he means that the citizen has a claim on the property of others to build opera houses and to stage performances for his enjoyment.4 Labor unions with their right-to-a-job concept and businessmen with their right-to-a-market idea (outlawing competition) are dealing in the same category of false rights. Indeed, this can be said for all of socialism—without exception!

  Rights, in the context under examination, are claims. When we say we have a right to life and liberty, we are staking out our claim to them. We find our sanction for this in the self-evident fact that life and liberty are an endowment of the Creator, not of society or the collective or government.

  Claims Against Others

  But, when people say they have a right to a job or to enjoy the arts or to lower power and light rates or to an education or to a decent standard of living, they are staking out a claim to the fruits of the labor of others. Where rests the sanction for this claim? It simply comes from the notion that a wish is a right.

  The absurdity of this wish-is-a-right sanction comes clear if we reduce the problem to manageable proportions: a you-and-me situation. Do I have a just or rational or moral or ethical claim to use your income to build an opera house for me? Or to buy opera tickets for me? Or to construct a golf course for me? Or to provide a “living wage” for me? Do I have a valid claim to use your income to erect my school and staff it with teachers, or finance my church and supply clergymen?

  Most people victimized by the magic transmutation of wishes into rights will, in this you-and-me situation, answer the above questions in the negative. What escapes them is that the problem is not altered one whit by adding one person or a hundred or a million of them. And, if it be contended that numbers do matter, then, pray tell, what is the magic number? A majority? Must we not infer from this majoritarian cliché the indefensible proposition that might makes right? Once we accept the fallacy that a wish is a right which, in turn, has to be founded on the error that might makes right, we are led, logically, to the syllogistic conclusion that a wish is might. And what could be less rational than that?

  The modern jinni, however, must go on to even greater magic. For it is not adequate merely to dream up wishes for people, to sell them on accepting the wishes, and to solicit the gratification thereof. And more is required than to transmute the wishes into rights. One other bit of abracadabra is a must if the jinni’s image is to remain unassailable: the jinni must cast itself and be popularly accepted in the role of helper. To be thought of as a modern Robin Hood or as a robber of Peter to pay Paul would destroy the whole illusion.

  In any community in the land may be found people pointing with pride to some “necessity” the local citizens could not or would not finance, explaining that it was made possible “with the help of the Federal government.” Or, read at random on any subject falling within the enlarging Federal embrace and you will come upon statements like this:

    The cost of such machines is so prohibitive that no one institution or company can undertake to build one. In our country, it was only with the help of the Federal government . . . that the cosmotron and its successors were built.5 (Italics added)

The modern American jinni, lacking supernatural powers, cannot bring down manna from heaven. Being earthly, its manna is earthly in origin. Having nothing whatsoever of its own, its “gifts” must, perforce, stem from what is taken by coercion from others. It cannot be otherwise.

  Who Gains from Looting?

  The questions posed are: Do these “gifts” qualify as help? Is this jinni, in fact, a helper? Are the “beneficiaries” really helped? If we can answer these questions in the negative, we come out from under the jinni’s spell.

  Help is a social term.6 At least two persons—the helper and the helped—are implicit in its meaning. There cannot be one without the other. The extent to which one is helped is measured precisely by the nature and amount of the helper’s contribution. What is received by the one is what comes from the other. Nothing is altered by the transfer. If the helper’s help is a loaf of bread, the recipient is helped to the extent of a loaf of bread. If the contribution is a rotten egg, the other gets a rotten egg—nothing more or less! Emerson summarized these facts succinctly and dramatically:

    Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit, cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end pre-exists in the means, the fruit in the seed.

  Property taken without consent is correctly branded as ill-gotten. If passed on to another, the other receives ill-gotten property. Nothing is altered by the transfer. According to moral law, as well as the law of the land, one who takes property without the owner’s consent commits a crime. When such property is passed on to and accepted by another, the other is adjudged an accomplice to the crime.

  Property taken without consent cannot be given, for to give is conditioned on and presupposes ownership by the giver. I cannot give that which is not mine. Thus, the jinni’s largess cannot qualify as gifts but only as loot. Citizens who have been pointing with pride at their rebuilt downtown sections or at the new hospital “financed” by Washington or at their subsidized this-or-that should modify their exclamations: “See what we have done with the loot of the Federal government!”

  Loot is not help, one who loots is not a helper, and one who accepts the loot is not really helped.

  Power to tamper with the volitional faculties of others is, in fact, a dangerous possession. Nor does it matter whether this power be used to restrain these faculties, as in private or political dictatorship, or exerted to relieve the need for the exercise of these faculties, as in private or political welfarism. However strong the compulsion in most of us to modify or improve the lot of other people, if we would avoid causing more harm than good, we must confine ourselves to those aids that stimulate the renewed exercise of the volitional faculties in others. This suggests a rejection of all power to impose, leaving instead a reliance upon in-gathering or drawing power—that magnetic, attracting, emulating force, the power that derives from such self-perfection as one may achieve.7

  I must not, in picking to pieces the notion that wishes are rights, leave the impression that wishes, of and by themselves, are proper objects of scorn. On the contrary, wishes, hopes, aspirations are among the most important forces motivating human progress, evolution, emergence. At issue here is only the means of their gratification.

  We who reject illusory schemes are not denying the good life to others but merely pointing out that these political nostrums can lead only to desolatory dead ends. No good end can be reached by choosing a wrong way.

    As we uncover more and more wrong ways, the right way begins to take form. It is the greatest gratifier of human wishes ever come upon—when allowed to operate. It is as morally sound as the Golden Rule. It is the way of willing exchange, of common consent, of self-responsibility, of open opportunity. It respects the right of each to the product of his own labor. It limits the police force to keeping the peace. It is the way of the free market, private property, limited government. On its banner is emblazoned Individual Liberty.

    But what looms as the right way has, in the minds of many people, emblazoned on its banner only the sign of the dollar ($) and, thus, is largely rejected because of its supposed materialism. A hard look at this fallacy is in order. . . .

Deeper Than You Think - Digital Book

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Macro Malady

Had Napoleon been asked to sit atop the Cosmos and manage everything in interstellar space, probably he would have demurred on the grounds that such an assignment was beyond his competence. Yet, he unhesitatingly strove for a role no less pretentious: managing millions of human beings, each of whom is as phenomenal as the Cosmos itself. A master at his specialization—coercion—he was grossly ignorant of the limits of his wisdom. Knowing so much in so narrow an area, and being unaware of his limitations, led him to assume a role for which no man—not even a Napoleon—has any competence whatsoever.

  Napoleon was a “macro.” Historically, he and his ilk have been the exceptions. Most people have been “micros.” While victimized by authoritarianism, they have nevertheless been content to wrestle with social problems of the micro sort. That’s the way the past reads to me.

  Solving Other People’s Problems

  But the picture changes! Millions upon millions of people are now presuming to settle problems that are over their heads—macro problems. This accounts, in no small measure, for our headlong return to coercive collectivism. At least, this is my thesis.

  A typical case in point: A noted geneticist, extrapolating population trends, predicts that there will be one billion billion of us on earth no further in the future than the Norman Conquest is in the past—“some 120 persons per square yard of the earth’s surface. . . .”1 This, of course, is a horrendous statistic! But the nub of the matter is that this scientist has taken on a problem that’s over his head. Such would be the case even were he limiting himself to the problems of our nation at the present moment. This scientist, however, takes on the social problem of the whole world, and some centuries hence! Now, how does this biting off more of a problem than one can chew lead to coercive collectivism? Listen to one of the several suggested remedies:

    A program in which everyone is temporarily sterilized (perhaps with a substance added to water supplies or staple foods) will be necessary. This would make positive action, in applying for and taking an antidote, necessary before reproduction.

  Mass sterilization! The only way to have a baby is to apply for an antidote, a drug that will restore fertility. Who is to possess this permit-granting authority? Not the scientist; he won’t be here. The answer is that a government official will decide who is or is not to be born. Would an Abe Lincoln be given dispensation of life by this political god? Booker T. Washington? Sam Goldwyn? You? I? The geneticist himself? Shades of 1984!2

  The above, while somewhat startling and sensational, is no more far-fetched than millions of Joe Doakeses who now take on social problems bigger than they are and then turn the problems over to government for solution. Joe Doakes, who votes in favor of a resolution for the government to finance the local hospital, is in exactly the same category as the geneticist—each trying to focus on a problem that is beyond his competence.

  We Inhabit a Shrinking World

  What has brought on this rash of macro addicts? Nearly everyone trying to solve problems bigger than the would-be problem solvers? Perhaps we can put our finger on the cause of this.

  Reflect on my farmer grandfather. The social problems he dealt with—welfare, security, prosperity—were of a size befitting his mentality; he thought in micro terms—that is, he did his thinking in terms of the few individuals with whom he was acquainted and whose needs could be personally judged. Grandfather operated, for the most part, within an orbit of 7-10 miles radius; a trip to “the city,” some 50 miles away, was as much of an occasion as one of my trips to London. Frankly, Grandfather didn’t know of any “need” except what he personally scanned. His communication with and vision of the nation or the world never went beyond a stint in the Civil War, a macro event. Unless a neighbor’s barn were on fire, in which case everyone within seeing distance lent a hand, “need” wasn’t much in evidence except for the now-and-then peripatetic beggar or hobo. In his micro-vision orbit just about every family looked out for itself; self-reliance Was in the driver’s seat. These people knew each other too intimately to fool one another. Pretense seldom reared its head.

  What we should keep in mind is the fact that America’s era of micro vision broke all the world’s records for security, welfare, prosperity. Governor Bradford of the Plymouth Colony, when commenting on the results of dropping coercive collectivism, in effect the macro madness of the Old World, wrote:

    . . . any generall wante or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.

  Following that momentous decision in 1623, there has been no famine or involuntary starvation in our land for over three centuries. However, we must not, in this analysis, give too much credit to our grandfathers. By and large, our ancestors had no more capacity to think for themselves or to see beyond the surface of things than do their progeny who now people this country. Those who cannot think for themselves—ancestors, or us—must, perforce, respond to their environment.

  How the environment has changed! Replacing Grandfather’s little world of micro vision is a brand new world of television, radio, telephone, astro vision, world-wide news coverage in daily papers, magazines, books; we hop into an auto and see America; we board a jet and view the world—in a word, macro vision.

  Of a sudden—one might say, without warning—Grandfather’s progeny are constantly having dinned into their heads all the “needs” of all the people on earth. Appalachia is no less an intimate and pressing need today than was a bucket brigade to put out Grandfather’s fire. Distressed areas, backward countries the world over, foreign ideologies and isms, Negro unrest at home and in faraway Africa, all the poor farmers and all the suffering wage earners, prices for steel, aluminum, copper (the list grows), the cotton surplus, downtowns deserted for shopping centers, the threatening efficiency of the Japanese, the vanishing gold supply, the weakness of the pound sterling, getting to the moon “because it’s there,” Russian sputniks—you name it—are problems which most Americans now feel they must find solutions for.

  Grandfather had to figure out how to milk his sick friend’s cows as well as his own; I have to contrive ways to get all of mankind out of the mess it’s in; I do unless I can see beyond the surface of things and thus protect my micro mentality from being drawn into tackling macro problems.

  Those persons who cannot see beyond the surface of things—their number is legion—take on problems bigger than they are and, as a consequence, push us into the coercive collectivism of the all-powerful state. But we may never understand why this is true, why they act as they do, unless we can effect a self-induced blindness equal to their myopia, until we bring ourselves to seeing no more than they now see.3 In short, we can explain them only as we put our own vision into reverse and back up to where they are—put ourselves in their shoes.

  With this mental gymnastic accomplished, what is it we no longer see? We now cannot see any efficacious results that could possibly flow from thinking in micro terms. A leading labor official put it clearly and succinctly:

    Only a moron would believe that the millions of private economic decisions being made independently of each other will somehow harmonize in the end and bring us out where we want to be.4

  The implication here is clear. The labor official, not being able to see any possibilities in micro economics (the free market), can see no solution to social problems except through the political implementation of macro economics. That he in his blindness refers to free market see-ers as morons is only because the term is stronger than extremists, crackpots, nuts. There is nothing new or strange in this. Most of us have a tendency to regard as slightly touched the connoisseur of any specialty about which we know nothing.

  I use the labor official as a prototype only because he expresses his blindness more brilliantly than do the vast majority of citizens who are in his unseeing state. The labor official simply does not see what a few at least dimly perceive.5 However, the fault may be as much with us as with him. Free market see-ers aren’t able to throw enough light on the matter. Indeed, some of “us” entertain a doubt now and then about the free market being adequate to the occasion—mail delivery, for instance. Or monopoly, or disaster, or education. Who among “us” has no blind spots?

That Which Is Not Seen

  There is no man, present or past, who achieves more than a micro mentality. As the distinguished French scientist, Lecomte du Noüy, put it, “Man’s image of his universe is founded on less than one-trillionth of the vibrations which surround him.” In any event, our inability to recall a single see-all, know-all, individual should make this affirmation self-evident. No one of us ever sees more than a wee fragment of the whole universe, of another person, or even of the whole self.

  Now suppose a person—such as the labor official—is unable to see how ordinary mentalities focused on micro problems, if left free to act independently of each other, could possibly attend to social and economic problems. Remember, we have put ourselves in his position. Blindfolded thus, we can see no opening to the free market (micro) avenue—none whatsoever!

  What to do? Surely, there are macro problems galore. One avenue, and one only, appears open to us; a macro-solving formula. Having only micro mentalities ourselves, we don’t quite know how to solve a macro problem. So, how are micro mentalities to be made into macro-problem solvers? What’s the formula? This is the question we must, in our self-induced blindness, ask ourselves.

  Our answer? Thoughtlessly, and for the most part, we turn the macro problems over to government. But, by this process, what is it we really do? We do no more than give the macro problems to micro mentalities with but one ingredient added: a police force! Reduced to its essence, we give micro thinkers the gun power of a constabulary on the naïve assumption that this renders a competency to cope with macro problems. We add only force—not one iota of wisdom—and feel relieved by how intelligently, neatly, efficiently we discharge our responsibilities! This is the view we get when we cannot see beyond the surface of things.

  The blindfold having served its purpose, let’s remove it. The fallacy of the above course of action, and the unjustified sense of accomplishment, are immediately apparent when we distill what we have done to micro dimensions: you and me.

  Let us say that you are insufficiently secure and prosperous. What can I do to ameliorate your plight? I can give or loan you something that is mine or, perhaps, give you some helpful counsel. Isn’t it obvious that my assistance cannot be increased by forcibly imposing my will upon you? What can I do with a gun that I can’t do better without one? Nothing whatsoever! For, surely, you won’t sanction my employing this coercive means to take from others and give to you. Not in a you-and-me micro situation, you won’t. But if you start thinking in macro terms you will—as do millions.

  The Victims of Coercion

  No plague has ever destroyed or impoverished or kept from self-realization more human beings than has the macro malady. The pilgrims who starved and died during the three years after landing at Plymouth Rock were its victims. Several million Russians perished during 1931-32 at the hands of macro thinkers—not by men playing God but by men playing against God.6 Every soldier who loses his life on the battlefield dies of the macro malady—micro men undertaking macro roles.

  Any observer can see that wars, the preparation for them, and their aftermath, lead toward the total state, that is, toward more governmental take-over and an increasing number of macro problems. But only those who can see below the surface of things can see that when a people collectivize in a power organization—socialism, authoritarianism, the welfare state, the planned economy—in short, when they “macronize,” wars become possible, indeed, more than likely. Men in a free market, a people who limit themselves to micro problems—acting individually and in response to free choice—do not make war; they create and trade! Just as do the people in the abutting states of Illinois and Wisconsin, so will any people who, when free of busybodies, tend to mind their own business.

  We cannot help concluding that the macro malady is but the social and economic manifestation of a vicious circle: macro organization brings on wars, and wars make macro problems which, in turn, compel us into macro organization.

  Inflation helps to make the point. This dilution of the medium of exchange is the fiscal outcome of excessive government, that is, of macro organization. And what are the solutions? One control atop another: price, wage, rent, interest, production, exchange, all of which are macro dimensions.7

  The recent water famine on the Hudson was a macro problem that arose from macro (socialistic) organization.8 I see no point in extending the list; it is clear, if we focus the eye aright, that micro mentalities, when trapped into macro-problem solving, contaminate society with mankind’s most destructive disease: the macro malady.

  A Reason to Be Humble

  What, then, is the remedy for the macro malady; how do we get ourselves out of this vicious circle? The answer, it seems to me, is simple enough but, in our world of macro vision, difficult to put into personal practice.

  Perhaps the wise Socrates gave us the cue when he said, in effect, “That man thinks he knows everything whereas he knows nothing. I, on the other hand, know nothing, but I know that I know nothing.” The first step, it seems, is to recognize that “I”—no matter who—am a micro mentality and, thus, incapable of coping with or solving macro problems. In short, when asked how to solve macro problems, I must learn to tell the truth: “I don’t know.”

  The next step is to realize that no other person, regardless of pretensions or the amount of force at his disposal, possesses anything beyond micro mentality himself and is no more capable of solving macro problems than I am. Required is a penetrating skepticism: trust no man beyond his infinitesimal area of competence; hold him to the very little he knows.

  When enough of this kind of realistic skepticism exists, we will have no more truck with “pretenders to the throne.” Only then may we begin to see slightly beyond the surface of things, at least beyond what the afore-mentioned labor official can see: the therapeutic power of freedom. True, “millions of private economic decisions made independently of each other,” may not bring us out where he wants us to be; but this micro, free market, individual, freedom-of-choice process will bring millions of people as close to where each of them wants to be as is possible. There is a distinction.

  As stated above, the nearest approximation of the micro approach ever practiced broke all the world’s records for security, welfare, prosperity, and the release of creative human energy. The argument that this worked all right in a simple economy but is inapplicable in a complex economy does not hold water. The more complex the economy the more must the micro way of life be relied upon. For, as the complexity of the economy increases, man’s ability to manage it correspondingly diminishes. No self-respecting individual will concede to any other person the competency to manage his own creative life for him. Think, then, how absurd it is to expect a competency to direct the complex arrangement involving millions of lives!

  The micro approach—each person operating within the limits of his knowledge and competence—should require no theorizers; its record is so remarkable and profuse. Those of us who are privileged to apprehend its performance know full well that its practice will put an end to macro problems. There’ll be no more water famine on the Hudson, for instance, than there is a famine in chickens, or cornflakes, or mink coats. Only micro problems will remain: each person trying to figure out how best to improve his own little world in free and voluntary cooperation with others. Problems will fit the problem solvers and, thus, find such resolution as each is capable of. When individuals attempt to solve problems over their heads, they are in a wild and dangerous guessing game, like children trying to explain what makes the world go round, and with the power to impose on the rest of us the vagaries of their imagination. But when individuals are at work on problems of their own size, they will be at their best as problem solvers; they will, as we say, come to themselves.


    In this attempt to identify the causes that underlie cause, we can well ask, what causes the macro malady? No doubt there are many, but the transmutation of wishes into rights deserves most careful consideration. . .

Deeper Than You Think - Digital Book