Not too much, anyway. Not too often. It’s a process. 🙂
(This kind of turned into Joel’s Year-End Ultrapost, and there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before. Go do something more useful.)
You know what I mean. The worst thing about being a freedomista is that there are so many things to be against, you can hardly find time to be for anything.
And anyway, “for” what? Everybody with eyes open knows what’s wrong, but nobody knows the solution. I was thinking about it this morning while reading this essay on the American class system.
I could keep myself up all night and into tomorrow by listing different groups of royalty and the ways they scam the system.
…except “scam the system” is a misnomer. I am not listing defects in a perfectable system. I am describing the system.
There’s not a lot here with which to disagree, but at the same time so what? Tell me something I don’t know. How am I supposed to react to this? Outrage? How does that help?
People have, with varying levels of seriousness and sincerity, been trying out organized methods of solving the problem of authoritarianism since at least the thirteenth century. And it’s always with one of two invariable results:
a) They win and become the problem they promised to solve.
b) They lose and get slaughtered.
There are only two possible outcomes, win/lose, because it’s always the same “solution” over and over again: “Put me in charge. I know how to reform or replace the current establishment.” Sometimes the people making that claim are lying. Sometimes (even worse) they’re telling the truth. Say hello to Robespierre and bring on the guillotines. Personally, if we must have centralized authority I prefer the one we have, where they lie about reform and just leave the whole corrupt mess the way it is. There’s less blood to mop up that way.
“Oh, but there has to be blood, Joel. Do you think, as bad as things have gotten, change can come without blood?”
Yeah, but you see I’ve read a book. I know whose blood it would be, and I prefer to keep mine in my veins, thank you very much. The outcome always ends up worse. Ask the Pennsylvania farmers at the Whiskey Rebellion if they really knew what they had fought a Revolution for. And that was a relatively benign outcome. The other end of the limited spectrum is Stalin and Pol Pot. Actual freedom appears nowhere on it.
The biggest problem with being a freedom-lover is that we all still think in terms of systems, of establishments. We think we can’t be free until we tear down “the system” that has stolen our freedom – and replace it with one that doesn’t. And we know in our hearts that that second thing is a fantasy. And that’s depressing as hell.
Hell, if I knew of a solution I’d be doing it. But I have learned enough about the “solutions” that have been proposed to fear them all.
So let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we pay taxes. Right?
In my opinion there is no “solution.” And I’ll tell you something about your old Uncle Joel: I was a “radical” before I was a “citizen.” When in my mid-twenties I concluded there was no solution, I did the most tragically stupid thing, the most personally inappropriate thing, I’ve ever done. (Inappropriate for me. Your mileage may vary.)
I gave up and dropped in. I got a taxpayer number and a credit score. I got married, bought a house, climbed the corporate ladder. It was twenty years out of my life. Finally, bloated and broken, I looked into the puffy, defeated eyes of some middle-aged loser in a mirror and realized I’m not that guy. I could never do it well because I shouldn’t have been trying to do it at all.
The single thing about that period I don’t regret is my daughter, whom I love desperately and whom I have often poorly served.
Talk about being out in the cold. I had spent substantial chunks of life on both sides of the barricades*, and now had no useful belief system at all. None. Nothing.
And then came a person who would become my close personal friend, and teach me one of the most important things I could ever know, Claire Wolfe. What did she teach me?** Screw systems. Screw establishments, screw waiting for somebody to clear up the big mess and give me permission to be free. The only person who can make that decision is me. The only person who has to live my life is me, and I can’t live any other life but my own so why am I trying to live it by somebody else’s standards?
Really, whose fault is it that I’m doing that? It’s not George Bush’s fault. It’s not Nancy Pelosi’s fault. They don’t know me from Adam and wouldn’t care if they did. The only person who is actively doing destructive things to me is me, and I’m welcome to stop. Hating on the great omnipotent “they” – and calling that a struggle for freedom – has never gotten me anywhere. It’s like bitching about the weather: Great fun, but not as useful as fixing my own roof and insulating my own walls. The weather itself won’t change just to suit me.
While passively waiting for the world to change, I’d been ignoring the one person who could have a positive effect on my life.
And so I dropped back out. To the extent possible I live as though the State doesn’t exist. It’s a greater extent than some other people might manage, because I’m happily willing to accept personal limitations that would drive normal people completely over the wall. I have the luxury of living completely alone, and thus free of compromise, and I have friends who get a kick out of being enablers. Some of them read this blog. I also have finally made a virtue of the fact that I am genuinely a maladjusted, antisocial hermit type person who has never done well in groups. If you needed somebody to climb into a space capsule and make a solo trip to the moons of Saturn with some expectation of arriving there sane, I could do that. Silence and solitude do not bother me in the slightest way. People actually pay me to be out here by myself, so I can watch their stuff.
But while hermitage is a common fantasy, it really isn’t a particularly healthy lifestyle for most people and that’s why I never proselytize. This is my kind of freedom. You go find your own***.
And no, of course Freedom Outlawry doesn’t come without risk. The powers that be do not welcome antiauthoritarian lifestyles, and sometimes they bite. They may well bite me.
But the biggest mistake anybody can make – and trust me, I’ve tried them all – is to think such decisions have to be all one thing or all the other. Yes, I am a badass balls-to-the-wall Clint Eastwood lookalike who chews up railroad spikes and spits out chicken wire. I floss my teeth with live mountain lions and wrestle bears out from under other peoples’ houses for laughs. Maybe that’s not you. Okay.
But the only available alternative to that isn’t to give up, stop worrying and learn to love Big Brother. I tried that too and trust me, it sucks. Freedom Outlawry comes in all sort of different flavors. You get to make up your own. And there are challenge coins, secret handshakes and tchotchkes****!
But you will need one of these.
H/T to Borepatch.
*and by this I don’t mean left/right. I divide people by the Heinleinian criterion.
**Technically she didn’t “teach” me anything. And if you want to get on Claire’s bad side very quickly, just ask her to do so. She’s not a leader and she doesn’t accept followers.
***These stunts are performed on a closed track by trained professionals. Do not try this at home.
**** No there aren’t.
Used to be I agreed with the old saying, “Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.” These days I’ve dispensed with the first two. I’m neither a leader nor a follower. I do imitate occasionally. 🙂
Thanks for being you, Joel, and for talking with us. I’m proud to know you.
Glad you’re out there, brother. You remind we former corporate drones that liberty is possible – with a price.
“The single thing about that period I don’t regret is my daughter, whom I love desperately and whom I have often poorly served.” The fact you state it in that manner means you are probably being unnecessarily hard on yourself. I hope you still have her to love. I no longer have mine.
I’ve dropped in, dropped out, dropped off and just plain dropped the ball a number of times myself. I’m learning that I feel most balanced when I’m focused on the simple things like chopping firewood so I can stay warm again tomorrow.
Both you and Claire have been a terrible, terrible influence on my thinking and life choices.
Thank you both, from the bottom of my anarchist heart.
Joel: I’ll be filing this one next to Nock’s “Isaiah’s Job” in my own personal stable of the needs-to-be-re-read-periodically.
By which I mean: needs to be re-confronted periodically. What you’re getting at here goes beyond anything reading can do.
Thank you for that.
Good stuff, Joel. (This is Ragnar from TMM).
Wow. I think you just summed up everything I’ve been trying to put together in my mind lately, but couldn’t quite arrange the pieces. Thank you Joel.
Been trying to opt out of the system while living close to society for a few years now. I’m still working on the money thing but easy money with imaginary value is a difficult addiction to break. However I am making progress. As you say a hermits life seems a common fantasy but one has to be realistic about ones social needs. I’m a partial hermit that requires interaction at least 2 times a week. Like Clint Eastwood said “A man needs to know his limitations”
Keep it up, whatever it is.
Linked back from my place.
Thanks for the link!
What a good post – and you triggered the seeds of what may be an uberpost.
The only thing about unplugging is Trotsky’s remark: you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you. That was from a time where the Sides insisted that everyone take sides. Ugliness ensued as you well know.
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