The Muddle of Liberty

by Richard Rieben

In the 1990’s, I researched and formulated a concept of liberty that was intended to apply to the human being anywhere, regardless of cultural background, education, or prior political condition. It was “philosophical” in the inherent meaning of that word: in regard to being appropriate for the human condition, to optimize the quality of human life regardless of preexisting beliefs or values (i.e., culture).

Perhaps I confused the issue somewhat. As a philosopher, I considered the variegated cultural condition of the human being (historically and in various parts of the planet). As a philosopher, I considered the affect of liberty upon various cultures, beliefs, and values. As a philosopher, I also wanted to know why we've been so hell-bent on avoiding liberty, historically, continuing into the present time.

Thus, I did not merely say: this is what liberty is, this is its form, and this is how to achieve it – a ready-made blueprint for guaranteed political liberty.

Such a blueprint may or may not be possible, but as a philosopher, that wasn’t my goal. I wanted to understand what it was, but I also wanted to understand how and why we have prevented ourselves from achieving it. Also to understand its potential impact on the way we are (in any culture). In these explorations, I examined what human beings are and what is appropriate to them, qua human beings. In situ, praxeologically, real-time, around the globe.

From the vantage of someone wanting liberty – plain and simple – this exploration appears overdone and muddled. People who want liberty do not care to consider “what they are” qua human being. They do not want to ponder what is “appropriate to their condition.” They do not want to waste time examining their cultural proclivities and contradictions. They just want a practical plan. Now.

In 2001, I wrote a condensed version of “what liberty is and how to achieve it.” In that book, still the philosopher, I continued to muddle the issue with examinations of why we don’t get it, don’t want it, and fail to understand it.

I concluded that, due to our cultural/religious/political beliefs and values, we are programmed to subvert all attempts to establish liberty on this planet. People willfully choose slavery over liberty, repeatedly and knowingly. This condition is neither an accident, nor a misunderstanding.

True political liberty would trash the culture, change people’s values, and cause them to doubt (question and assume responsibility for) all of their beliefs. It would not do any of this by force. It would remove the reinFORCEment of such things over people. It would leave them, individually, free, sovereign and responsible for their own values, beliefs and actions.

The coming civil war in the United States will be disruptive, yes. But not as disruptive as implementing true liberty. The difference is only that one will degenerate into lower rungs of hell, and the other would establish a common ground upon which to build. It wouldn’t build upon historical documents, religious beliefs, or other chosen values, but upon what everyone holds in common by virtue of being human.

Were I to formulate such a common human base, as a philosopher, I would research, historically and around the world, to determine what is universally appropriate to the human condition – as applicable to a peasant rice-paddy farmer in Thailand, as to a suburban science teacher in Seattle.

Individual values and degrees of technological affluence are irrelevant to the fundamental principles of liberty – and to its application. If we need the Internet – or even electricity – in order to effect liberty, then it is not “liberty” that we are pursuing. If such technologies are integral to our application, then we are most likely in the “liberty resistance movement.”

This kind of muddle (i.e., precise thinking) makes people turn away from liberty solutions, and not just due to the inconvenience. In a way, I agree. It is complex. It is complicated by programmed values, cultural conditioning, beliefs, and our sense of our own individual reality qua human being – our place in the universe. A program for liberty is not as complicated as understanding the roots of our resistance to liberty. A program for liberty blows-off chosen values as irrelevancies. It says neither yea nor nay.

Be a Christian if you must. Or a Buddhist. To the political program of liberty, it is all the same – and irrelevant. You have rights in regard to your individual sovereign human condition. Rights that do not vary from person to person, country to country, culture to culture, or religion to religion. Your humanity is universal. It derives from you, qua human being. It is not just Americans who are born with “inalienable rights.” It is the same for a child born in Bangladesh, Bangkok or Baghdad.

In the fact of your humanity, you are no more and no less than any other human being – anywhere. In your humanity, you are not superior to nor inferior to a peasant farmer in Thailand or a science teacher in Seattle. In the fact of your life, and its value to you as an individual, you are equal to everyone who has ever lived – and, upon this basis, equal in your rights.

If my objective, as a philosopher attuned to what is optimal for the species (not perfect or utopian, but most appropriate to our nature qua human beings), were to shake up your philosophical programming, to eliminate war, hate, exploitation, deceit, treachery, corruption, slavery, poverty, disease and a host of other human-chosen and culturally perpetuated ills, then I would recommend full political liberty. Bring it on!

I would not, however, recommend half-measures. I would not leave in place corrupting contradictions designed to derail liberty with the passing of time. I would not leave contradictory anti-liberty elements in order to “soften the blow” of liberty to the masses. I would not leave any part of it vaguely up to “technology” or the “free market,” in an era when both of these are functional puppets of a slave-state culture. I would not indulge in either wishful thinking, nor in thinking that people “can’t be trusted with freedom.” (A major concern for ending slavery in all ages.)

A program for political liberty is this simple:

  • Establish boundaries of individual sovereignty, applicable to all human beings, without exemption.
  • Design self-operating, local mechanisms for securing those boundaries equitably and equally from person to person, without exceptions (e.g., citizen run courts; i.e., self-government – no more).
  • Enforce those boundaries on the basis of human self-interest; that is, reciprocally, where the self-interest of any one person equals the self-interest of any other person (i.e., solely in regard to these commonly held boundaries which protect each and all, equally).

I do not think it is a lack of understanding. I do not think that people are muddled by complex philosophical presentations. I do not think there is a flaw in the concept nor in the program of liberty.

I think the failure to achieve liberty reflects an intentional commitment. A choice.

Perhaps it is no more than saving face. Of not wanting to come right out and say you are anti-liberty, pro-tyranny, pro-slavery. That would be unpopular. Better, perhaps, to simply hang the whole thing up on abortion, or home schooling, or governmental invocations of somebody’s “god,” or homosexual marriages, or public nudity, or recreational drugs, or gun regulation, or increased security from “terrorists.”

Or to hide behind some non-aggression pact of “the non-initiation of physical force” – as though this hallmark of libertarian wishy-washiness actually signified anything in regard to political liberty. (Indeed, any pre-Christian version of the Golden Rule – or even the Hippocratic Oath – would have greater significance to liberty, though hardly any more relevance to achieving it.)

Or try to reverse-engineer liberty by focusing empirically upon the mechanics of a free-market (which is a consequence of liberty, not a cause), as do the Austrian heirs to Marx’s mechanical focus on economics as a prescriptive model for sociopolitical frameworks. Empirical scientists are data junkies, with a narrow grasp of human life beyond their syllogisms. The more they strive to fit humanity into utopian boxes, the more they prove their ineptitude and the inaptness of these reasoning tools for such tasks. Philosophy requires stringent allegiance to reason, far greater in scope than the empirical tools of physical science.

None of these complications are anything other than obfuscations. Muddying the water. It is not a matter of “holding back the tide of tyranny.” It’s just plain muddying the water. Intentionally. While the tide comes on in.

I could, in an article titled “It’s the Libertarians, Stupid,” empirically detail how, where and why libertarians are the worst enemies of liberty. But, as Ayn Rand noted 40 years ago, liberty is not an empirical equation. It is a philosophical understanding; it bypasses the academic empiricists using reason and common sense. It does not hit people over the head with blunt empirical factoids, because human life does not reduce to empirical data.

Understanding liberty – and the psycho-cultural permutations of why we have so intransigently run from it for the past couple millennium – is undoubtedly complex. It takes a large mind (and soul) to absorb so much willful, malicious evasion on such a panoramic scale, and resolve the human-caused contradictions.

But applying a program for liberty? It’s as simple as 1 – 2 – 3 ....

And, in the recesses of your humanity, you already know this.

Unfortunately, that’s not what people are seeking. They are seeking excuses – ways and means to obfuscate liberty and avoid it. And they are stunningly successful in this endeavor. Rand termed such people “evaders.” Today they are institutionally networked and extraordinarily committed to evasion. A whole phalanx of them, across the entire political spectrum.

Every time you join a club, association, institution, think tank, political party, or organization, especially those purporting to be “libertarian,” you are in the vanguard of the resistance to liberty – of those most committed to evading liberty by every scientific, technological, military, financial and empirical means known to humankind.

Every time you attempt to achieve “liberty” using the institutional, traditional tools of your culture, from within the framework, via the present system, by means of “proven” political methodology and process, in association with others committed to similarly familiar methods, processes, or frameworks, then you are acting to sustain and perpetuate tyranny (perhaps with delusions of moderating it into a more “liberty-friendly” condition).

Liberty is as simple as 1,2,3 ... but it is completely different from any political system you have ever experienced or studied, totally different from any of the resultant cultures of non-liberty societies (all of them, throughout history), and not even the same language as what you are used to hearing and using in reference to “things of a political, social, or moral nature.”

People who describe themselves as “libertarian,” and then, in the same breathless moment, describe their involvement in approaching elections, or analyze the latest events in Iraq (which will shortly match exactly the conditions in the U.S., Fallujah for Fallujah), are in the forefront of the movement to evade liberty.

The reason is a kind of cowardice. Fear of the unknown. A resistance to solutions “outside the box.” An unwillingness to think. Laziness. Evasion. Group programming. A fear of standing alone, doing one’s own thinking, and asking, “But, what if none of it’s true?” An unwillingness to question the answers repeatedly; and to embrace doubt as a solid companion on the rugged road to certainty.

Evasion describes a united sense of weasely squirming when confronted by the blatant contradictions of what one has been taught for one’s whole life. (“But we are modern, educated, enlightened and scientific!” – No, you are backwards, diseducated, benighted and lost upon the altars of empirical superstitions and tribal chantings.)

Against the contradictory nonsense that is blithely accepted as “common knowledge,” runs an undercurrent of fear that everything they have ever learned or grasped is false. Rather than running forward, toward whatever truth or light they can find (for they have been diseducated into believing there is no such thing as truth or reality), they hedge against the warm, clan bodies of their fellow slaves, and grope for comfort in their darkness, rather than for light from an “outside” world that is nothing like what they have known, a real world that’s never even heard of Plato.

What keeps them stuck is not the method of coping (evasion), nor the most common emotion (fear). They lack courage to go forward – alone. They do not really believe liberty is possible, nor that they can know, with any certainty, that it is even valuable. They are programmed by the group to remain within the circle of the group, and if they cannot influence their group to budge toward freedom, then they will huddle in slavery with their fellows rather than ostracizing the group from themselves, and striding out to meet the dawn of reality in an unknown and unfamiliar landscape.

I could say they lack knowledge, but this is not true. The contradictions are too vast and too intolerable for a human mind to abide without shutting itself down. They know they are living a lie. Even as they hope that someone else will pull them out of the darkened shaft, they also know that the only way out is through their own choice and effort. They are struck dumb with familiarity, dependence upon the group, and personal cowardice. And wish it were not so, while every fiber of their being trembles with evading the kind of choice that would change it, at once and forever.

Hie thee to a natural space with no evidence of humanity as far as the eye can see. Arrive alone and under your own power, by foot, bicycle or row-boat. It can be a desert, forest or a strip of ocean beach. Look into the vastness of it ... its unknown potential ... and wander apace, if only mentally, therein to its opposite reaches where you will find a people unlike any you have ever encountered, with no empowered institutions, no police, no bureaucracies, and each person sovereign and free. As they are wise, and seeing that you are filled with harmful, destructive nonsense in every aspect of your mind, carriage and morals, they will turn you back. You are not welcomed there, for you are contaminated.

And there you are, stuck between what you “know and believe” and what should be your human condition, but one you have not earned admittance to. Will you go back? Or will you stay in the wilderness until you become human? It is common clan thinking that you would strive to become acceptable to the group of humans you wish to join. But you will only be “acceptable” to human beings when you no longer need to “join” any group, when you are free from the conditioning of groups; when remaining in the wilderness is perfectly acceptable to you; when you are no longer lost ... in the wilderness ... but are at home in your self on the planet earth, a child of the stars and the moon and God – and subordinate to no one.

published at Endervidualism on  June 8, 2004

Richard Rieben was a world traveler, house remodeler, and sometime author and philosopher. The thesis of his manifesto, Reciprocia, is, briefly: “Sovereignty is the base; reciprocity defines how to make it work.” Aside from harping incessantly on the theme of liberty, he led a fairly normal life in middle America, where he was much bemused by the natives and their peculiar morals.