A guest essay by my good friend and RF engineering mentor, Mike Veldman.
So here I sit, thinking about trying to give readers practical ideas for how to live free. I’m supposed to engage enthusiasm. Concoct creative concepts. Inspire glorious disobedience to all that’s stultifying, bureaucratically burdensome, and contrary to the way good, contrary Americans like to live.
But you know what? I just don’t feel like it.
To heck with it. Freedom’s too difficult, as readers have been informing me for years. Hey, 285 million Americans can‘t all be wrong. So I’m going to go write romance novels instead. TV scripts. Yeah, that’s the ticket, sitcom episodes.
I mean, take a look at it. What’s the big deal about freedom that makes it worth all that effort?
Freedom’s a nice luxury, of course. If you were free you wouldn’t be a dependent, a collaborator, or victim of an aggressive government. You’d be able to live and think as you saw fit, as long as you respected others right to do the same. Your life wouldn’t be dedicated to “compliance” (or else) with any old random order written by any old random bureaucrat. You’d support the causes and people you value, not the causes and people some interest group wants to force you to support with your money, your labor, and your life.
Wow, what a rush that would be.
But you can‘t do that, these days. They won‘t let you. So why even try? Look at all the reasons there are not to try!
Freedom is dull. If you want to be free you have to understand the principles of freedom. You have to read boring old documents like the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, The Federalist Papers, The Anti-Federalist Papers, Common Sense, and intellectual tomes that are thick with old-fashioned words by Locke, Montesquiue, de Tocqueville, Bastiat, von Mises, and other people like that.
If you don’t, then your grasp of freedom will never go beyond some insubstantial thing like “freedom is whatever feels good” or worse, “freedom is what the politicians tell us we have in America.” That’ll get you exactly nowhere.
So you gotta study. But face it, none of those dead philosophers could hold a candle to Danielle Steele when it comes to prose. Very Dull!
You’ll also have to keep track of laws and regulations even if (maybe especially if) you don’t plan to obey them. You have to know what’s coming at you so you can fight it or dodge it or run from it.
This means having to spot in advance when “health-care privacy regulations” are actually going to create a giant federal database with information about your hemorrhoids, nose-picking, flatulence, vaginal infections, depression, or drug abuse. Or when some teeny clause in some “moderate, common-sense” bill to “close the gun-show loophole” might end up creating a federal record of everybody who even sets foot in the door of a gun show.
Even when some politician hits your particular happy buttons – like “curbing illegal immigration” (Yeah, we gotta stop those people from stealing all those good American jobs!) – you have to be on the lookout for all for those the inevitable consequences. Consequences like national ID cards, asset forfeiture, random checkpoints, and pilot programs to keep you, Mr. or Ms. Whole-Wheat America -- not just those brown-skinned job stealing guys -- from getting a job without prior federal permission. Politicians bury that stuff deep, deep, deep down where the friendly news reporters don’t look. (And why should you go to all the bother of finding out, if people who are paid to keep watch on government don‘t? If you thought reading Tocqueville was dull, wait till you read Feinstein, Hatch, Schumer, McCain, or Feingold.)
In your private life, freedom means taking full responsibility for your own actions. I hardly need to mention what a drag that is. In a free country you’d have to pay the consequences of your screw-up's unless someone voluntarily bailed you out. (And I mean voluntarily in the old sense, not in the Newspeak sense of “Do it voluntarily or we’ll hurt you.”)
That is just not the modern American way. Playing video games is far more entertaining.
Freedom is risky, besides, and the risks are everywhere. Try exercising even itty-bitty freedoms and the jackboots can come marching right into your most private life.
If you think it’s more dangerous than helpful to vaccinate your children, the government might just take your kids away. They certainly won’t let them into school (schools you paid for with your tax dollars by the way).
Drive within a thousand feet of a school with a gun in your vehicle and you can get five years in the federal lockup – even if you don’t know the school or the gun is there. (And if great champions of liberty like the NRA, G.W. Bush, and John Ashcroft actually want the feds to crack down harder on that kind of “gun crime,” well, maybe we‘re just wrong to get so upset about it. Maybe, like our congressmen keep telling us, we really don‘t understand how things are done in Washington.)
Don’t wear a seat belt and you might go to jail. Heck, be a bad enough seat-belt scofflaw and you could get shot dead, like Timothy Thomas, that kid in Cincinnati whose shooting by a police officer was the trigger for all those riots a while back. Thomas had warrants for a variety of traffic infractions, including several seat-belt violations. Oh, sure, it’s not nice to run from a cop, which Thomas did. It’s dumb to the tenth power. But when did we end up in the kind of country where failure to wear a seat belt, coupled with a fast sprint, merits the death penalty?
Okay, bad example. Thomas was a black scofflaw in the inner city. He was “them,” not “us,” and I can just hear some law and order reader snorting, “He made the cop shoot him. He asked for it.”
Middle class white folks are somewhat safer when they try to exercise the occasional random freedom.
We can “merely” go to jail for refusing to landscape our property exactly as the Zoning Nazis demand, as golf-course owner John Thoburn did this year in Virginia. We can lose our home to – believe it or not – a provision of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, as Dianna Luppi did after she dared fight the U.S. Forest Service, which tried to make her pay for a right-of-way that had been free for more than 100 years. We can be hit with huge fines, as race-car driver and sports commentator Bobby Unser was, merely because he might have crossed into a federal wilderness on his snowmobile while trying to save himself and a friend in a blizzard.
But as long as we don’t ignore any really weird religions or express unpopular ideas, our rulers probably won’t send people to shoot us in the back for doing stuff like that. We should be very grateful to them, don’t you think?
Still, the safest thing is to comply with their rules. Assuming you can figure what the rules are this week.
Freedom is a money-losing proposition. People who truly value freedom don’t merely read about it or grouse about the lack of it. They do their utmost best to live it. And this, I must tell you from observation, isn’t an “economically viable” proposition.
For example, if you really oppose tyranny, you won’t pay to support it. That might mean working in the underground economy – which, unless you’re a major drug dealer or can catch the next big illegal trend (cigarette smuggling, maybe?), means living narrowly. For other people, it might mean choosing an Atlas Shrugged life, staying legal, but earning very little money and giving the smallest possible portion of your efforts to the state. In either case, you and your family do without while others prosper.
The people who really believe in freedom also avoid tax-funded goodies – grants, low-interest loans, housing subsidies, farm subsidies, Medicare, Medicaid, government jobs, Social Security, and all the rest.
But man, that means you lose and everybody else indulges. So, like the cynics say, why not “just get back your own”? Don’t worry about the principle of the thing. Pay up, then suck up. Big Mama DC‘s tit is there for you, too. Grabbing on is much less work, and much more lucrative, than standing on impractical principles in this crazy, old world. Get with the program, people.
Freedom makes you a freak. Us freedom-loving’ fools – and fools we certainly are – used to think that if we could just alert people to the dangers of government everybody would stand up and fight. If we could just show them the evil that lies at the end of all the claims of “for your own good,” “for the children.” “for standardization of records,” and “for public health and safety,” they’d wake up and bite and claw like tigers for freedom.
Well, the joke is on us. Turns out all that ordinary middle- and working-class Americans really want is – guess what? -- entitlements of their own. As long as they get cheap pharmaceuticals, scholarships for little Brittanie and Joshua, government contracts, grants, subsidized energy, and pork delivered to their district by willing, vote-buying politicians, they could care less about some nebulous abstraction like “freedom.”
They’ll even barter the kiddies for government perks. If you want tax deductions and credits, submit your kiddies to a federal citizen-tracking number at birth, the feds say. Here‘s my firstborn son, American‘s reply, and take my daughter, too, while you‘re at it. (When conscience-stricken parents, concerned about the life they might be condemning their child to, ask how high the tax deduction should be before it’s “worth” it to tattoo infants with a tracking number, I tell them the standard fee for that transaction is 30 pieces of silver.) You earned the money in the first place! Why should you have to sell your children to get it back? Ah, but there goes that dumb freedom fighter talking again …
If people are willing to trade freedom for goodie-filled baskets of tyranny, they positively crave tyranny when they hope it’ll hurt someone else. Sure, let’s have “sentence enhancements” for rag-head terrorists, dopers, and inner-city gang-bangers. Never mind that those “enhancements” might one day hit their own kids. That’s all just theoretical, paranoid nonsense. Only alarmists talk like that. (Who'd think that when the original “drug czar,” Harry Anslinger, was telling tales to Congress back in the 1930s about the “100,000 … Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers” in the U.S. whose marijuana smoking “causes white women to seek sexual relations” with them that someday Anslinger’s laws would be used to lock up the grandkids of all those middle-class white folks who drooled gleefully over Anslinger’s salacious horror stories”?)
Sure, let’s have all the government in the world -- as long as it’s to our momentary benefit.
Those of us folks who actually desire less government? Bunch of right-wing extremist whackos, throwbacks, gun-nut, mean-spirited, reactionary, religious-nut, hate-filled bigots.
Yep, that’s us all over. And who wants to be perceived like that? Better to go with the flow. Forget those unfashionably goofy principles. Go along to get along.
Freedom’s a hopeless cause. You know it. I know it. Every time you turn around, they’ve got some new surveillance device. Some new regulation. Some new database. Some new punishment. Geez, these days, thanks to Deadbeat Dad tracking you can’t even get a fishing license without a federal government ID number.
Try to resist these things and … well, heck, you can’t drive, can’t get a job, can’t open a bank account, can’t get a credit card (and of course you‘ve just gotta have credit cards). You‘ll end up on some enforcement agencies‘ list -- and that‘s something nobody but a fool would welcome.
We hardly need to make things worse for ourselves by fighting some big, noble loser of a battle. Right?
Anyway, how can anybody expect one person, one ordinary little citizen, to fight anything so big? It’s unreasonable. Yes, indeed. Nobody can be expected to take on an adversary as big as the federal government (not to mention all those other governments, state, county, city, regional, global, public-private partnerships and that new thing they’ve imported from Europe, the “quasi-governmental organization”). And who are we to go against what the majority wants? How can we be arrogant enough to imagine that our pathetic little efforts might actually make a difference?
Tom Paine and Patrick Henry and guys like that … well, they lived in a different time. It was probably easier for them back then.
We’ll just have to adjust. Learn to live with it. It won’t be so bad. After all, it’s all for our own good.
Okay, maybe there’s one reason to bother with freedom. Just one.
Because if you don’t free yourself you’ll be a nice, comfortable, happy slave. If you don’t fight for freedom your children will be slightly less comfortable slaves, wearing their little ID-number tattoos under their skin as they walk past the retina-scanners and body x-rays to go to work, submitting numbly as robots armed with pain rays arrest them after computers diagnose their “suspicious“ behavior patterns, stumbling through their therapeutically controlled lives. Your dependency, your collaboration, your tacit agreement with the goals of tyrants will have made it inevitable.
And your grandchildren will …
But hey, that’s their problem, right? Let the little bastards take care of themselves. As long as you get what’s coming to you, make a few bucks, don’t make waves, and lead a nice, comfortable life, who cares?
Hey, has anybody seen my copy of TV Guide?