Recently I encountered a quote culled from Henry David Thoreau's journals in which he remarked on the sawyer, who after wisely investing in a two-man saw could do the work of several men equipped simply with axes. The sawyer then hired a man to assist him -- offering higher wages than competitive employers, offering lower rates to customers, and performing his job more efficiently, perhaps. The sawyer took time to contemplate the most sensible way to pursue his career and improved his lot by using his own ingenuity.
I can imagine a bunch of early cave dwellers diligently performing a sun dance ritual so the sun might cure their meat faster. These industrious clans folk might have been angry with the lazy fellow who was sitting and playing with sticks and stones - just before he discovered how to create fire. Similarly, it's easy to imagine a group of primitive hunters armed with rocks, perilously laboring to kill an infuriated mammoth to feed their tribe - whilst a lone independent-minded "lazy" curmudgeon idly "wasted his time" carving the very first spear. Societies have always been fortunate to have such innovative wastrels, but often seem unable to appreciate or respect them, or to leave them be as individuals.
Over time, various tribes might have begun to derive a lesson from experience - instead of casting out the occasional social dissident or dreamer, declaring him to be "shaman" or wise man of the tribe. That was probably an unwise move, in that it indulged the dreamer rather than challenging him and his power began to subtly corrupt him. A dissident needs to be a critic first and foremost of his own prejudices - deprived of that essential exercise, once others begin gullibly looking to him as a sort of oracle or leader he might get away with all sorts of foolishness. He might start to consider his every whim to be wise simply because he's capable of acting on it or others encourage him to do so. I remember the old children's game, "follow the leader" - I suppose it's politically incorrect now if not illegal, since it might have some genuinely educational potential for the children.
It seems likely that many of the cleverest primitive men might have been shunned or even cast out by their communities or tribes for refusing to go along with tradition. So it was, perhaps, that a tradition of individualism began long ago - and perhaps a number of those independent minded men began to band together and establish advanced societies. It may be that such bands of freedom loving men and women gave rise to legendary early golden civilizations, such as Mu or Atlantis. Being familiar with the unintelligent tendencies of cultures they'd left, such forward thinking peoples seem likely to have been reclusive - to have retreated from conflict with less sophisticated brethren, preferring to associate with and procreate amongst other thinking people like themselves.
America was born as a rough-hewn society of individualists, rebels and dreamers. So the idea of early America is painted in old history books, and the popular imagination. What went wrong - how has the dream of independence fallen so far that today the pettiest and most blatant forms of tyranny appear to meet with popular acceptance?
Modern day politicians are often dreamers of grandiose schemes, which they seek to superimpose on the daily realities of folk they consider beneath them. That's the dirty little secret inherent in political thinking; one does not seek to interfere with the choices of one's equals, or treat other adults as if they were ignorant children, or dictate terms to one's superiors. Political solutions are espoused by people who think themselves fit to impose their beliefs and preferences onto others; that's often referred to as "collectivist" thinking, although it strikes me as highly divisive thinking or "us VS them" thinking. Of course, one person's "us" is inevitably "them" to someone else, and "them" always means "me" to somebody or many bodies.
Politicians dream dangerous dreams; dangerous because they may become realities for many innocent people. Politics offers the individual the wherewithal to mind OPB (or Other People's Business) - and given the wherewithal and the presumed right to meddle in the affairs of others, few people are sensible enough to refrain, even though it sets in motion a deadly domino game of "tit for tat" consequences. Witness the outrage of any genuinely downtrodden minority in action when the carousel lifts their horse toward the brass ring of political power -- it becomes a means of revenge on the old oppressors until the formerly oppressed become the new oppressors, and the former oppressors become the newly oppressed.
I suspect "we the people" have unconsciously aped the foibles of more primitive human ancestors, additionally separating contemporary dreamers and "shamans" into opposing classes - the few who happen to be born into ruling classes, VS the many who aren't and who are therefore likely to come into conflict or disfavor with the rulers of the day by questioning or disputing the "authorities." The former have the power to throw the latter into jail or discredit them, and the complacent herd learns what the "authorities" wish them to know, through schooling and news media, and through control of the "higher professions," and increasingly the lower ones. The herd is kept corralled by means of regulation and law enforcement, threat and intimidation, imprisonment and punishment, tethered by reins disguised as purse strings, and spurred by the invisible rider that rides relentlessly upon all of our backs. Oddly, few seem to object to the elephant rampaging over America's population even as we try to hide from it like so many ants under a carpet.
Dreaming and thinking are harmless pursuits - yet they're often astonishingly effective and productive uses of time. There's a deceptive element at work in the minds of people who resentfully point at the dreamer and accuse him of doing nothing. There's another deceptive element in the credulous thinking of people who proclaim him wise simply because he's a dreamer, or noble because he's a dissident - and in offering him power, rob him of the motivational instinct to test his knowledge or doubt his own veracity.
"To do" is human, and thinking allows humanity to rise out of mud huts by dreaming of better architecture. When dreamers become foolish and acquire power, pyramids arise --instead of quiet suburbs and thriving communities where individuals may live to freely pursue happiness. Pyramids may be one of the wonders of the world, but why is it that people consider them a source of wonder? Perhaps because the lesson of the pyramids hasn't been widely learned… as a monument to the capricious and self-serving whims of tyrannical rulers, they're worthy of wonder. Why might it require slave labor to build the pyramids, and why do free and independent men prefer to build cabins in the woods?
I tend to worry more about those who are all action and no think than about those who are "all talk and no action." It takes a great deal of power behind talk to render it harmful, in a broader sense than the chance that a hearer might feel insulted or hurt by it. What does concern me is refusal to respect forethought - the obstinate human tendency to begrudge the thinker his time to think, to insist that action is always superior when in fact it's often the reverse. Writing is an action - it's the product of thought and requires physical effort, and it's often mightily effective if not immediately rewarding as a form of labor. Some labors require love and patience… I suppose the ancient hunters might have laughed at the efforts of the first agriculturists because their harvests didn't appear immediately.
When politicians ask people to sacrifice freedoms, I suspect that's because they've got ambitious monuments to foolishness to build, whether those be great stone pyramids or making mounds of toxic dust out of exotic civilizations overseas. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of world history is the fact that human societies never seem to learn simply to let the dreamer and the dissident be. Demonizing him and deifying him appear to be equally destructive tendencies - leave the poor guy or gal alone with the liberty and responsibility to make the best of himself, because anyone else will make too much or too little of him.
Dissidents and dreamers don't build pyramids - that endeavor requires kings and slaves, and imbalances of power. It's why workers should never trust a ruling class to represent their interests, and why free people should never surrender their arms. Liberty begins with maintaining respect for others who may be different, and people who surrender that respect may have already defaulted their liberties to the only kind of people who'd ask for such an ignoble sacrifice as the surrender of freedoms - aspiring tyrants.
published at Endervidualism on 7/14/05