Freedom in Mind

Chapter 13
You Can't Get There From Here

Out in the middle of nowhere, the filling station man looks at the address you show him, and says, "Yeah, I know where that is. But you can't get there from here."

That old joke laughs at illogic. Not knowing how it can be done doesn't mean it can't be done. There are people who don't get the joke, though. "Sure," they say, "it would be nice to have lower taxes, and more say in how I live my life, but we both know that it will not happen, because it can't be done." In other words: freedom would be nice, but you can't get there from here.

When you think about it, you begin to wonder if anybody gets the joke. "Theoretically," they say, "I can see that force should only be used in self-defense, so the government shouldn't be able to order you around. But there's no way to put that theory into practice without destroying the safety net and creating havoc." In other words: freedom would be nice, but you can't get there from here.

"Sometimes," say workers wistfully, "I dream about actually getting all my pay to spend on my family. But poor families come first, so I know it won't happen." In other words: freedom would be nice for my family, but you can't get there from here.

"I know," say producers, "I could make better products at lower prices if those government bureaucrats would get off my back. Fat chance of that, though." In other words: freedom would be nice for production, but you can't get there from here.

You can't get there from here because you have to have regulations, or else everybody would do bad, right? Wrong. In order to live in a cooperative society, you must be capable of self-regulation. No law can get you to work on time, or make you concentrate on the job, or make you think up ways to increase your output. No law can replace your judgment about work rules in your factory, or enforce your determination to make the best product on the market. Coercion can make you pretend to do things right, but only your own free will can make you actually do things right.

You can't get there from here because we have to have equality, so you have to hold some people back and give others a push, right? Wrong. Goofing off can never be equal to hard work. The only way to persuade people not to goof off is to let them see how unequal that makes them. People are equal when they have an equal chance, not an equal result. There is only one way to give everybody an equal chance: set them free.

You can't get there from here because that would require logical steps, one after another, and we've ruled out logic, right? Right! It's as if the filling station man meant to say that you can't get there from here without a boat to get around in. What gets you around mentally is the ability to reason logically. Reason is the method of self-regulation. Without it, freedom is the freedom to self-destruct. Those who give up on reason have given up on freedom, so they don't want to get there from here.

Another school of thought says, "You can get there from here, but why bother? We've got some freedom, and it's enough. Don't be greedy." If that argument sounds good coming from a politician, imagine it coming from a mugger: "I'm cleaning out your wallet, but not your bank account. You've still got enough. Don't be greedy."

When people urge you to settle for self-ownership part of the time and slavery part of the time, they are playing a trick. To see what it is, imagine the filling station man saying, "I know where that is, but I won't give directions, because you're better off just staying here."

That would be outrageous. He wants to substitute his choice for your choice. So does the mugger. So does the politician. If the amount of freedom you enjoy is not your choice, but somebody else's choice, then you have no freedom at all. You are a slave with privileges.

In a non-coercive society, people who wanted to live a closely regulated life could choose a gated community with all the rules and regulations they could want. If they got tired of it, they could move out. People who wanted to work half of each day for the poor could freely choose that labor of love, and try to persuade others to join them. If a family emergency arose, they could shift their labor to handle it. If they choose for themselves, they own themselves. If not, they are owned.

Suppose that you choose to live where pets are forbidden, but then sneak a cat in, and a parakeet, and a gerbil. You agree to the rules, and then break them anyway. Have you not thereby made the case for coercion? If people make unreasonable choices, then how can they expect to be allowed choices?

That's a slaveholder's question. Those who own themselves make all their choices, whether somebody wants to allow it or not. They make the good choices. They make the bad choices. They benefit from the good choices. They suffer from the bad choices. Those who suffer a lot might decide to learn better methods of making choices.

The defiant rule breaker ends up on the street holding a cat, a parakeet, and a gerbil. Coercion was used in the eviction. That is, force was used in self-defense. The absence of self-regulation is the absence of reason. If you cannot deal with people by reason, then you have to defend yourself.

In getting from a coercive to a non-coercive society, step one is obvious: master self-regulation. By learning to reason, you learn to make good choices, so others will never be justified in using force against you in self-defense. Confidence in your thinking habits will mean confidence in your choices, and the refusal to let others make your choices for you.

When you are master of your mind, you are the sole owner of yourself. You need help in defending your right to life, but no help in regulating your life. Reason takes care of that. You choose to follow reasonable rules. You reject efforts to force somebody else's choices on you. You listen to persuasion, and resist coercion. If you live in a coercive society, you are ready to change it.

For step two in getting from a coercive to a non-coercive society, ask yourself this: is a non-coercive society one in which the government forebears coercing the citizens, or one in which the citizens universally refuse to be coerced? Whose choice is it? If a government, with its monopoly on force, has the choice to go beyond the defense of rights, but chooses not to, then the society is coercive but nice about it. If, on the other hand, a government, by law, cannot choose to do more than defend rights, then the society is non-coercive as long as the citizens hold their government to the law.

In our country, then, step two is: hold the government to the law. Do not let the government treat wealth as loot, property as privilege, personal choice as deviation, or self-medication as crime. If your representatives like coercion, vote them out. Then, if necessary, vote out their replacements. If the government you hire goes beyond defending your rights, fire it.

If the citizens of a voting society master self-regulation, then they will as a matter of course fire coercive government. So step two follows inexorably from step one, and the directions for getting from here to freedom are easy to say: learn and teach self-regulation.

Is that utopian? If so, raising kids is utopian, and curing addicts is utopian, and running a business is utopian. The whole idea of raising kids is to regulate them in such a way that they learn to regulate themselves. When kids learn to get themselves up in the morning and off to school, they learn how to hold a job. When they learn to reason with people instead of punching at people, they learn how to live in society. When they learn to think and act long-range instead of spur-of-the-moment, they learn how to be prosperous and avoid chaos.

A problem drinker is one who has lost the ability to regulate his drinking. He can be physically kept away from the sauce, but he can only be called cured when he has learned to keep himself away from the sauce. It is the same for any addiction. The cure consists of establishing self-regulation.

Your boss may spy on the employees, read their mail, check their time, and test them for drugs. Hope for profits, however, depends on something else. Profits don't come from avoiding losses, but from figuring out how to do things better and cheaper. If employees pretend to obey all the rules, while they goof off, then the business fails. The regulation that counts is self-regulation.

There is nothing utopian about self-ownership and self-regulation. They are basic to the nature of a being who does not survive by using his nose, or his fangs, or his wings, but by using his mind. Since nobody but you can operate your brain, no amount of slavery is ever natural. Self-regulation is natural. That's why countries with some freedom get prosperous, and countries with none stay poor.

The truth is that if your fellow citizens are not capable of regulating themselves by reason, then no amount of coercive regulations will help. To see why, imagine someone pointing a gun at you and ordering, "Think straight, or I'll shoot."

Obeying a regulation is not like obeying a cop. The regulation does not say, "Raise your hands. Turn around. Put your hands behind your back." It says, "Excessive overgrowth causing a fire hazard or encouraging rodent infestation is forbidden." Usually it says something like that in ten pages. The more it tries to explain itself in exhaustive detail, the more confused you get. Your only hope is to reason it out. What amount of overgrowth would reasonably be called excessive? What amount would be a fire hazard? What is the difference between overgrowth and undergrowth?

To obey any regulation, you have to first figure out what standards it is based on. If you agree with those standards, then the regulation is unnecessary. If you do not agree with those standards, then coercive regulation substitutes other standards for yours. In that case, obeying the coercion consists of pretending you agree with alien standards. Obeying edicts is a skill you have to learn by using your reason.

Coercion is based on the premise that you don't reason for yourself. But if you don't reason for yourself, then you can't figure out how to obey edicts. That's why no amount of coercive regulation is ever enough. New coercion tries to straighten out the mess produced by the old coercion. When rules and regulations are freely agreed to, they make cooperation smooth and productive. When they are coercive, they work in reverse.

No matter how many ways you put the argument for freedom, it comes out the same: slavery is unnatural for a reasoning being. Whatever the degree of slavery, the type of slavery, or the alias of slavery, it stunts your life, disrupts your society, and defies your reason. The only rational way to deal with slavery is to get rid of it. The only rational way to deal with the slavery of forced labor is to get rid of it. The only rational way to deal with the slavery of regimentation is to get rid of it.

If you think that some regimentation is fair, and some stolen labor is justified, then you need standards for those terms. Is "fair" what a bureaucrat decides, or what you decide? Is "justified" what politicians decide, or what you decide? Do you set the standards, or does some slave-master set the standards?

If you set the standards by using reason, then regimentation is fair for criminals only, and slave labor is justified only as punishment for crime. If coercive government sets other standards, it is treating voters as criminals. It is saying that you cannot be trusted.

Those who argue for coercion use that as their final and unanswerable argument: people cannot be trusted. People cannot be trusted to pay for government, or to take care of the needy, or to refrain from criminality, or to mow their lawns. People are not ready for freedom, because they cannot be trusted.

One way to clinch the case for freedom would be to let that argument refute itself. Fortunately, that is easy to do.

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