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How to make the brains run on time


Let 'em eat steak...

by Greg Swann

Here's a great way to lose an argument.

First, find yourself a typically unfocused collectivist type. Invite him to whine about whatever it is that he thinks is vitally important--the poor, racial or sexual bias, the environment, exploitation of cute and cuddly animals, TV violence, cyberporn or the starving millions overseas. We can predict with absolute certainty that, whatever the issue, the solution proposed will be more government. So, bright spark that you are, you proceed to tell our unfocused wretch that liberty is far better than statism at addressing the issue under discussion.

Which is true, of course.

And thus: you lose.


Because you're playing the other man's game. The reason humans must live in a condition of liberty is not because permitting us to be free is a good way to deal with the poor or racial or sexual bias or the environment or animal abuse or TV violence or pornography or even the problems of the starving millions abroad. The reason humans must live in a condition of liberty is because this is the way we are made. I might chain my dog or permit him to run free, but I am not anyone's dog, and there is no one who can righteously claim dominion over me. This is our argument, this and dozens of variations on it, and this is the argument we must make to every unfocused Napoleon who comes shambling down the boulevard.

We cannot tell him that our eggs are just as tasty as his. First, he won't believe us, since you can't make his favorite omelet without breaking heads. Second, he won't believe that we believe what we're saying, since he knows that we're individualists--egoists--right down to the yolk. When we tell him all about the wonderful benefits individual liberty offers to the collective, we sound to him like what we are when we speak this way: frauds.

Frauds not because what we say is untrue, but frauds because we would be exponents of liberty even if it were not good for the poor or the environment or the huddled masses yearning to play video games. We would be for liberty even if it were worse than statism. We are not in this to make the trains run on time, and selling our immense values by dressing them up in a way we hope will be attractive to the sworn enemies of freedom serves only to make us look like salesmen.

And bait-and-switch salesmen at that. Because the only thing they're buying is the one thing we refuse to sell. The particular "vitally important issue" is completely unimportant. What matters is more government. What matters is chaining that dog, breaking those heads.

Not to make the trains run on time, not to feed the poor, not to shield children from the pornography they can't read anyway. What matters is power for its own sake, and any issue will do, so long as no one can make a convincing-enough case for solving it with spontaneous, voluntary human action. Religion and monarchy were devastated by Gutenberg, so Marx invented the horrors of the exploitation of the poor by the people who were making them rich. Marxism was exposed by television, so scads of wretched Napoleons are in a frenzy searching for the new grail, the unanswerable question, the "vitally important issue" for which chaining all of humanity forever is the only possible solution.

That is what they want, that or fates even worse, and there is absolutely nothing to appeal to them in the great big grab bag of libertarian benefits. We have nothing to offer them, nothing but our surrender, and the whole ragtag, unfocused lot of them are united in their steadfast aversion to the one thing we seek, human liberty.

No compromise is possible between people who have antithetical objectives, and we lose every time we attempt to engage them on their own turf. We cannot play the other man's game, not without losing our own goals.

But what about our own game?

A vexing question comes up once in a while, and I may be the wrong person to answer it. The question is this: what if, in a condition of total or nearly-total liberty, people starve?

My knee-jerk reaction is almost comically libertarian: it would be wrong of me to stop them, if that's what they want to do.

Those of us who seek to beard the unfocused lions have a different knee-jerk reaction: the market and private charity will provide.

I don't know if I buy that. It's possible that people will line up for the honor of handing out breadsticks and cans of soup, but I know I won't be among them. I am free enough with my money, when I have any, with people whom I think are deserving of a break, but I am explicitly and adamantly opposed to indiscriminate charity. Moreover, I think a person would have to be a pretty exotic flavor of stupid to manage to starve in a land this abundant; no interest of mine is served by subsidizing stupidity. And finally, starvation--and vice generally--is a self-correcting malady if left unmolested. Pain is nature's gentle way of letting you know there's a flaw in your thinking.

So: what if people do starve? So what? The man behind the curtain in that question, and in every other imponderable "what if", is that there might be a good reason for chaining all of humanity forever.

There isn't.

They damn us because bad things can happen in a free society. It's true, and it's no use countering with all the good things that can also happen. We make the trains run on time--in order to brag about it in our advertising. We feed the poor--as an unintended consequence of bidding up the price of their labor. We protect the environment--as a means of protecting our own property values. We make unrelenting war on unreasoned sexual and racial biases--to reap the benefit of undervalued labor and untapped talents. We find ways to mediate peacefully among seemingly intractable competing interests--for the sake of our own profit. We do everything they claim to want done--and they damn us for it.

And they damn us yet again because innocent people can be hurt in a free society. People can starve. They can drink or drug themselves to death. They can be injured or killed in crimes or accidents. A person can work and work and yet never achieve some desperately sought-after goal. And if I let him run free, every now and then my dog is going to leave an unwanted deposit in the neighbor's yard. It happens.

But our response should not be any form of the expostulation, "Yeah, but..." When they tell us about all of those awful, horrible bad things that can happen we need to ask, "You mean, bad like a crematorium? Bad like a slave labor camp? Bad like a planned famine? Bad like 150 million political murders on three continents?" And then it will be the collectivist's turn to say, "But, but, but..." And he'll mean it. They don't want Naziism or Communism. They just want bland old familiar welfarism. At which point we must ask, "Oh, you mean that liberty poses such potential terrors that it's worth it to forevermore confiscate half or more of every dollar produced by every man, woman and child alive?"

We can say what we want to them, really, because we have no hope whatever of persuading them of anything, ever. But we ought to mind what we permit to escape our lips, I think, for our own sake. We make the brains run on time, and if we leave them free to starve, soon enough the poor will learn how to be free to thrive. But if we whore egoism to the egoless we will give them nothing they want, and yet we will destroy everything we have in such glorious abundance.

We are free because we must be. Not because we should be or want to be or are ordained by god to be. Not because our liberty is the wellspring of all the wealth humanity has ever produced. Not because that accumulated wealth is a treasure no one man could ever produce--or steal--on his own. Not because leaving us alone will produce more for everyone else or even for anyone else. We are free not for the collective, not for utility, not for practicality, not for beauty or divinity or dignity or art. We are free because we cannot be otherwise, ever, no matter what. We are free because we cannot be chained by anyone without our consent.

And how do we consent to our own enslavement?

Simple: all we have to do is play the other man's game...

Greg Swann doesn't let his dogs run free. He does, however, have a lot more to say on this subject at Janio at a point.

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