Freedom in Mind
It's amazing how many things should be illegal.
"Feeling this happy should be illegal!" says the lottery winner. "Being that lucky should be illegal!" says the loser. "This much fun should be illegal!" says the expert skier. "That steep a slope should be illegal!" says the nervous novice.
Then there are all those things that are already illegal. "That much self-confidence is a crime!" "Being that rich is a crime!" "That much attitude is a crime!"
It's just a joke, of course. Except that if you made a million dollars last year and the government is taking half of it this year, the joke sounds thin. If you are illegally happy because your factory is about to start operating, but the government changes the pollution standards so it can't operate, the joke sounds thin. If you are lucky enough to find your dream home, but the government tears it down for a freeway ramp, the joke sounds thin.
It's not a good joke to say, "Government should be illegal," because government is what protects your rights. Of course, if the government protects your rights by taking them away one by one, then the joke is on you. Government is saying, "Freedom should be illegal!"
Many people are not joking when they say, "Too much freedom should be illegal." Freedom, they say, does not mean you can "go too far." Freedom, they say, does not mean you can get too rich, too successful, too influential. There is, they say, no right to "go to extremes."
They say that nobody should be free to suck up all the money. Nobody should be free to ignore the welfare of others. Nobody should be free of paying taxes and defending the country. If freedom goes too far, they say, it becomes license.
But wait! What are the standards for determining how much is too much? Are there objective criteria, or do we just make it up as we go along? Unless we all know the standards, "too much freedom" means "freedom." Without knowing it, many people are saying quite seriously: "Freedom should be illegal!" The joke is on them, but they agree with it.
Since freedom is the opposite of slavery, "Too much freedom should be illegal," can be said another way: "Too little slavery should be illegal!" That has to be a joke, or else it is offensive. What a paradox! Say the thing one way and it's a cliché. Say it another way, and it's an offense.
The paradox can be resolved only by getting firmly in mind what freedom is, and what it is not. We know freedom is not slavery, so we can start by looking for the essential difference between being slave and being free.
Compare a slave to a prisoner. One is owned, the other confined. They have in common that they live under compulsion. Force is the essence of their existence.
When you compare them to one who is free, the glaring difference is the absence of force. Is that the essence of freedom?
Think of Cuba, a country ruled by the orders of one dictator. Cuba regularly declares itself a free country. What is Cuba's definition of freedom? That is, what is the dictator's definition of freedom?
It sounds like a silly question, because how could freedom include total control? Every day's news brings the claim that it can, though. Dictators around the world assert that they have given their people total freedom by giving them total controls. Professors and politicians declare that more freedom can only be achieved by having more controls. A free market is called chaotic, free citizens are called undisciplined, and speakers who freely say what they think are called "out of control."
If the essence of freedom were control, then it would have to be self-control, or else freedom would include slavery. So the dictator's definition of freedom confuses state control with self-control. State control is force. Self-control is the exercise of individual free will. The difference between state control and self-control is the presence or absence of force.
To explore the point, ask why slavery was abolished. At one time it was thought right and proper that one person could be owned by another. Slave holders admitted that men who can think cannot be owned by another, since their control comes from themselves. Slavers maintained that slaves were not capable of thinking. After many years of observation, that was seen as a pretence. Self-ownership of humans was admitted as a fact of nature.
That is the fact of nature that gives rise to the idea of freedom: you regulate your own actions for yourself, by your nature. If you live in a society, this fact of nature is recognized by the moral principle called individual rights.
Ours is the only country founded on the idea of individual rights. As the Constitution's Preamble and Ninth Amendment make clear, our government was not instituted to give us rights. We have rights by our nature, and government is instituted to make them secure. The Declaration of Independence does not say that the government's job is to create rights. It says that the government's job is to secure rights.
So it is wrong to say, "The Constitution gives us a right to free speech." We already have the right to speak freely, and the Constitution recognizes that right by forbidding government interference by force. The same is true of the Fifth Amendment. It does not bestow the right not to witness against yourself; it recognizes that right, and forbids government to ignore it by using torture or intimidation.
If self-ownership is a fact of nature, and freedom recognizes that fact, then the essence of freedom is the absence of force.
If coercion is force used by authority, freedom in the sense of liberty can be defined as the absence of coercion. If your freedom is genuine, then your government, once it has secured your rights, steps aside. It does not go from protecting rights to requiring performance. It does not tell you what to do, what to say, or what to think.
If a teacher or preacher says, "It is self-destructive to harbor unreasoning hatred for any man, or any group," then that is free speech stating proven truth. If a government says, "You will be punished for harboring unreasoning hatred for any man, or any group," then that is coercion. If your government says that, then it confuses state control with self-control.
If a doctor says, "I prescribe this medicine, and I think the other medicine will be bad for you," then that is expert advice. If a government says, "We allow this medicine, but you will be punished for using that other medicine," then that is coercion. If your government says that, then it confuses state control with self-control.
If a charity says, "You have a civic duty to help the less fortunate, so please give us part of what you earn," then that offers a choice. If a government says, "You have a moral duty to help the less fortunate, so unless you give us part of what you earn, we will put you in jail," then that is coercion. If your government says that, then it confuses state control with self-control.
If instead of an atmosphere of choice, you live in an atmosphere of coercion, with orders to be followed in managing your affairs, and requirements to be satisfied to stay out of trouble, then the self-control of freedom has become the coercion of slavery. If you live in an atmosphere of coercion, you are not free, even if you had a say in the establishment of the coercion. To believe that those who volunteer to be coerced are therefore free is to assume that those who commit suicide do not get killed.
It would be meaningless for a slave to say, "I'll be a slave." A slave has no say in anything. However, you can say, "I'll be a part-time slave." If part of your work earns money for something you have no say about, then for that part of the day, you are laboring as a slave does. That part of your labor is not owned by you, but by somebody else. That part of your labor is slave labor.
If you work to help out a friend, then that is a labor of love. It is your decision. If it is somebody else's decision, and the help goes where somebody else says, then that work is slave labor. For that reason, it is universally declared the depth of depravity, right? Wrong. It is often declared the height of virtue.
Working for a friend is doing what you want to do. Duty is doing what you don't want to do, but think that you should. Since you know that you should do it, why not force you to do it, in case your virtue might falter? Doing your duty is then slave labor that is good for you—no, forced labor that is good for you—no, required labor that is good for you—no, necessary labor that is good for you. No, not labor at all, but just part of your pay going into another pocket, for your own good. The claim of virtue for slave labor is that doing good for others whether you want to or not is good for you.
This book asks the question: if slavery is so bad, why is slave labor so good?
"Well!" goes the usual answer, "You don't have to call it that. Inflammatory language just clouds the real issue, which is need."
Is need the real issue, or is freedom the real issue? The argument of this book, based on the epistemological discoveries of philosopher Ayn Rand, is that freedom is the real issue, and that freedom begins as a decision in your mind. The decision is implemented by establishing proper government, and forming habits of refusing to be coerced. The decision is to think.
It is thinking that provides the self-control of freedom, because you do it individually and by right. While conscious, you are free to think, but no amount of coercion can force you to think.
Thinking operates on observations made by you. You observe differences, and find relationships. You take things apart in your mind, and put them together in different ways for different purposes. The process is called reasoning, and the purpose is to thrive in freedom.
When you are thinking, you are in charge. You choose the methods of sorting out what you see. You evaluate the results of what you do. You establish standards and judge things by comparison to the standards.
When you are not in charge, your mind is drifting. Random feelings bring random ideas to mind, and produce random impulses to do random things. Conclusions happen, somehow. To start thinking, you have to exercise your free will by taking charge.
What would it mean to be in charge of what you think, but not in charge of what you do? It would remove the point of thinking. It would pretend that your thinking is not something you do, but something separate, to be regulated separately. It would pretend that somebody else can take over the self-regulation that thinking provides.
What would it mean to operate with the thoughts of another? Merely obeying orders would not work; you would have to know the orders before they were given, when they were still thoughts. Aping convictions would not work; you would have to know the convictions when they were still just thoughts. To use the thoughts of others, you would have to read minds.
What would it mean for me to force your thought? It would mean nothing. What would I be forcing? If I order you to take things apart in your mind a certain way and no other, and put them together in particular ways but no others, how will I know that you have obeyed? I cannot force you to think; I can only force you to pretend to think.
If your thinking cannot be forced, then a life based on your thought cannot be forced. To whatever extent your life is ruled by coercion, then it is not ruled by your thought, so it is not your life. The only way to live your own life is to be free to live your own life. To say that too much freedom should be illegal would be to say that any freedom should be illegal.
If you want to live a cult life, or your parent's life, or a famous hero's life, then thinking will not help you. You cannot make another's observations, so you cannot have another's thoughts. Such a life would not be based on thought, but on pretence.
Force can easily be justified in self defense, but the initiation of force can never be justified in dealing with reason. Either freedom exists as the absence of force, or it does not exist. Partial freedom means that you are free at some moments, and coerced at other moments. That is, you live your own life according to your own thought at some moments, and a pretend life without thought at other moments. Mixing the two would be an absurdity: thinking by negating thought.
This absurdity is a common cliché. "Freedom is not license! Without force to quell our baser instincts, freedom could not exist! What good is freedom if you kill yourself with drugs? Should I be free to kill you if I choose?"
Translation: "Freedom is living at random, without thought, on impulse."
No, that is panic. If you live without thought, blindly acting on impulse, then force will be used against you in self defense—unless the panic kills you first.
To panic is to give up on thought, and act at random. A mind crippled by drugs is acting at random. A mind enthralled by mystic feelings is acting at random. A mind bent on conforming to a cult or a clique is pretending to think. A mind paralyzed by contradictory convictions is not doing anything. It is no use getting rid of external compulsion if there is no internal direction.
If you dream of having the freedom to live your own life—that is, if you dream of living as opposed to following orders—the place to start is with self-regulation, otherwise known as thinking. If you dream not just of being what you should be, but also of doing what you want to do, then the place to start is with reason. You begin gaining freedom by learning to think.
To grasp the importance of freedom, you must be able to separate reasonable actions from random actions, and grasp the antithetical relationship between coercion and thought. You must observe for yourself whether your means of survival can work under coercion, or not.
When your own mind is free to draw conclusions from observation, then you can identify the times when you are free, and the times when you are coerced—the times when you are living your own life, and the times when you are living a pretend life. You may find you can expand your real time, and shrink your pretend time. You may decide that even a government which wants to use coercion in every aspect of life does not always succeed.
If you claim that independent thought must wait for political freedom, then this book argues that you have it backwards. Ask people why they accept coercion, and demand more regulations. They will tell you, in one way or another, that they do not consider their own minds adequate to make decisions. They want to be saved from themselves. They want, instead of freedom for thinking, freedom from thinking. They want help dealing with bad thoughts and bad decisions.
When freedom becomes the right to be helped, it turns into a pretense. Instead of the absence of force, freedom becomes the presence of help. I want to be free of want, of delay, of envy, of effort. If I am needy, then to be free, I must benefit from your labor. My kind of freedom requires slave labor.
When freedom includes slave labor, people say, "Sure we live in freedom—kind of." Then they begin to say, "Sure we live in freedom, as long as we're willing to serve others." Eventually, they proclaim, "Together, we have attained at last the highest of all freedoms, and the most glorious of all freedoms, and the most moral of all freedoms: the freedom to serve!"
Or in other words, we have attained, as the pinnacle of freedom, slavery.