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Freedom's Foibles
Sunni Maravillosa

So many people seem to think that freedom is - or ought to be - easy. By this I don't necessarily mean that these individuals all naively think that we can just eliminate the state in a puff of logic. But many do seem to think there's some way the light of liberty can shine down upon everyone, informing and educating and persuading all. Even though I'm an optimist by nature, that kind of thinking sets me to laughing. Don't get me wrong; I would like nothing better than to see freedom and personal responsibility triumph, and eliminate coercive relationships among individuals. But as long as the gene pool produces specimens like Hitler, Clinton, Stalin, and Bush, it just ain't gonna happen. There are some people who not only never will understand freedom, but they'll do their damnedest to make sure no one else enjoys it, either.

In addition to those folks, freedom's got enough foibles of its own to make the battles interesting. The largest of these is that it's an "anti-concept": it is defined as the lack, rather than the presence, of certain qualities or criteria. This has several effects, two of which are most interesting to me at present.

The first is fairly well-known. When trying to communicate with someone about freedom, it's often hard to match contexts well enough not to be talking past each other. Anarchists horrify minarchists, conservatives turn away from the patriot and militia movements, libertarians and Libertarians quarrel about the role of the electoral political process, and the Objectivists often look down Rand's cigarette holder at everyone. And that doesn't address the challenges of trying to introduce the freedom philosophy to someone who's so steeped in statism that they think they are free. Trying to connect the disparate elements of freedom can be challenging as well. I imagine no freedom activist needs to read examples of trying to talk about the drug war with someone whose only issue is RKBA, or the blank stares jury nullification folks can get from activists whose passion is education reform. The issues are all related, but because of the nature of freedom, it can be difficult for even eloquent, passionate pro-freedom individuals to highlight that, particularly to individuals who aren't intellectually oriented.

The second effect relates in part to the degree of tyranny an individual struggles under. The less freedom an individual perceives himself to have, the stronger the exercise of it when he thinks he can do so without too great a cost. In other words, it's much like a two-year-old's frequent use of the word "No." Because so many things have been made compulsory by the state, when a low-risk opportunity presents itself, the self-respecting person retorts, "No! I won't."

While this phenomenon is understandable, it has particularly harsh consequences for the freedom movement. What it often means is that solid opportunities for helping a fellow traveler get ignored, perhaps because the other guy isn't exactly on the same page on every issue. Or it's a knee-jerk reaction, like the toddler in the terrible twos, simply because it's possible. Or, a minor thing isn't exactly the way other folks would want it, so they decline to help.

I'm not complaining because individuals have the power to choose - that's something that we cannot have too much of, in my opinion - my frustration is with the result. Liberty-loving activists have opportunities galore to take the battle to the statists, particularly now that Bush is showing his true stripes and many in the mainstream are beginning to become alarmed. Many times, though, this isn't what's happening; we quibble, or get recalcitrant, or become pessimistic and hunker down. Action opportunities - both educational and practical - wither, because somebody prefers that the liberty team do something "X" way, and others won't do it unless it's done "T" way. We dicker and freedom dies.

Is there a way around this phenomenon? I'm not sure. Some people are by nature more stubborn than others. As a group, liberty activists seem to be way out on the end of that bell curve (not a bad thing with the belief set and obstacles we tend to have). Given the emotional nature of the "I won't!" phenomenon, it isn't as amenable to reason as other challenges we face. I also believe that this underlies part of the broader infighting among various pro-freedom groups.

Many writers more clever than I have commented upon the veracity of "We have met the enemy and they is us" for the freedom movement. The question that remains is, are we going to continue to let our stubbornness divide us, or will we start learning to let the little things slide for the sake of achieving a larger goal and put that wonderful intransigence to a much better use?


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