Of Castles, Dreams, and Liberty

by Sunni Maravillosa

My curmudgeon index appears to be increasing in proportion to the number of silvery strands in my hair. As that happens, I increasingly find myself reading various essays not written with humorous intent and bursting into laughter. Sometimes it takes only a word or two to elicit that response. No matter the context surrounding some words—often one of the fashionable terms that apparently are on some must-use list that I'm not privy to—I see the word, I laugh out loud, and enjoy the endorphin rush while it lasts. Sustainable is my current favorite among these words. Thus, you can imagine my reaction when Claire Wolfe wrote not one, but three sustainable freedom essays. Don't get me wrong; there are some genuinely good ideas in those articles. But the fundamental premise—that freedom is somehow sustainable over one's lifetime and into future generations—dissolves me into mirth every time I think about it.

Now that I'm over a fresh bout of giggles, let's look at this seriously for a few minutes. Imagine yourself in one of these scenarios:

After despairing of it ever happening to you, it has: you've fallen in love. And even better, your beloved cherishes liberty too! You're both so happy together it's almost scary. But ... you were preparing to go PT in eastern Europe, while your beloved has little interest in abandoning the country for the jackals to devour. Convinced that Bill Bonner and the Mogambo Guru are right, you have no interest in spending your remaining years on an increasingly steep economic treadmill in the USSA.

You've finally achieved the simple, mostly self-sufficient life you've craved. No bending over for the IRS every year, no soul-sucking job—just you and a little plot of land that provides 'most everything you need, and some trusted pro-freedom friends nearby with whom you trade for other things. But, weeks after a hazy, blackberry wine-fueled party, you discover that you're pregnant (or, if you're male, that you've impregnated a friend).

After years of excellent health, arthritis or some degenerative neurological disorder is slowly imprisoning your mind in a body that no longer effortlessly cooperates with its instructions. Scaling the hills on your property has become difficult, so your foraging—and your food supplies—have been limited. Worse, perhaps, is the knowledge that your confident manner evaporated long ago, replaced by the low, lingering dread of a fall where no one is likely to find you until it's much too late. You know it's true, but you've not been able to face it: you can't live alone any more.

How does one sustain the free life one has achieved in the face of such change? One doesn't: typically, either reality highlights the folly of such an attempt, or one's own what-iffing regarding the path not chosen reminds one that things could be much different. In each case, trying to sustain a specific vision of liberty means something important is ignored. And thus, a greater measure of freedom, or happiness, or both, could be lost.

Perhaps I'm misreading Wolfe. Maybe she simply means sustaining a love of liberty, and keeping alive one's efforts to be free. But her call to think freedom systems, among other things, leads me to think I'm not. While some part of me would like to see liberty institutionalized in the way she envisions, I don't see how that would happen, nor how it would work. And really, how can freedom become an institution or system, when it's so nebulous for an individual to grasp, let alone retain a hold? It's almost a given that each freedom-loving individual has a vision that speaks to him—a dream of a better, freer life that he works toward. Some get much closer to living the dream than others. However, there's a cold bit of reality that puts achiever and seeker much closer together than it might appear: neither has as much control over the future as he'd like. Sometimes a small act—or failure to act—can create a cascade of changes that lead one far away from one's castles or dreams. Or a seemingly minor circumstance—being in the right place at the right (or wrong) time—can open (or close) swaths of possibilities. These factors work on systems just as they do individuals.

I'm not suggesting that it's folly to try to create greater freedom in your life because it can't be sustained. On the contrary, I think it's folly not to try to achieve it. You'll never know if you could have succeeded, or found something better along the way. To think of freedom as some specific end point, that if it's reached, is to be tightly grasped in a futile effort to keep things as they are—to sustain a static state when all around you is changing—is to miss a crucial point, as well as a lot of potential. That point is simply this: Freedom isn't a target. It's a process.

Wolfe rejected a call she attributed to Thomas Jefferson for eternal vigilance for being off base and unsatisfying. I think of that quote not as calling for paranoia, or a never-ending state of red alert—that would be psychologically unhealthy. Rather, eternal vigilance is the process of questioning one's possible actions, and choosing a course that enables maximum freedom with minimum state interference under current conditions. Thus, many freedom lovers choose to cooperate with various driving permission slip requirements, so that travel is more easily accomplished, while rejecting the diktats that accompany flying. Freedom lies more in thinking about the choices available, and making an informed decision as to which action to take, than the chosen action itself. And, not surprisingly, as the Real ID Act begins to make itself felt in certain states, more freedom lovers are choosing to go without the driver's license permission slip. A free individual accepts no one's marching orders, but rather chooses his or her own course.

We are remarkable creatures. We can immerse ourselves in artifacts and information from eras long gone—ranging from ancient Greek or Mayan civilization to early 20th century technology—and yet, we somehow still believe that things as they are in our current time won't change. Shouldn't change. Even when we choose to embrace some changes, it often takes a conscious effort of focus to realize how much some aspect of our daily life has gradually morphed—for example, from a clunky box on the wall with a rotary dial, to a smaller box with push buttons, to a wireless unit that we can carry with us and which links us by satellite and can store our messages when we're unavailable. It's little more than hubris to think that the freedom each of us creates for ourselves, and adds to the world by engaging in voluntary transactions with other freedom-loving individuals, will be worthwhile to anyone outside that specific exchange. It may be, say, for its educational or inspirational value, but that's for others, not ourselves, to decide. A freedom institution, if it is truly based in freedom, is just an aggregate view of some commonly-used means to accomplish voluntary transactions. Operational details can—must, over the long term—change in order to continue to meet individuals' needs, for as long as the need exists.

Life is change. Living is changing. Freedom is best for individuals because it allows the most flexibility for dealing with the inevitable changes in our lives. Ultimately, all freedom is personal freedom; and as Thomas Paine wrote, Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it. We do ourselves, and those who come after us, a disservice if we fail to acknowledge these truths. Looking back at this country's birth—arguably the grandest freedom system attempted thus far—it's clear that a few of its founders understood this. I'm all for dismantling the state; but I'll get off the bus when others start attempting to enshrine our solutions as The One Way to Sustain Freedom Forever.

 published at Endervidualism on  8/30/2006

Sunni Maravillosa has a web site with a great blog and many other features, visit it at - http://www.sunnimaravillosa.com/