Is Freedom Compatible with Human Nature?

People are attracted to the communist ideal, from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.  The idea that we can all contribute to a common stockpile and then take what it is that we need has this appeal that continues to draw people in.  As Christians, we are supposed to share what we have with the less fortunate.  As humanitarians, we don’t want to see our human brethren suffer from poverty and hunger.  We see that some live in abundance while others barely squeak by, and there is something in our soul that doesn’t want to see other humans languish.   Perhaps this is why the idea of sharing everything is so appealing.

The problem with communism isn’t that sharing is wrong.  The problem with communism is that it does not work with human nature.  While humans are generally empathetic to suffering, we are also driven by our own self-interest.  If we don’t see what is in it for us, it is hard to get us motivated.

As I was reflecting on this reality the other day, it occurred to me that the reason we can’t hold on to freedom is that perhaps it isn’t compatible with human nature either.  Libertarians are a very small bunch, and they have trouble attracting more people to the freedom philosophies they hold dear.  I wondered if maybe freedom just wasn’t that important to most people.

I’ve been listening to Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton the last couple weeks.  He wrote about how we have these competing desires.  It hit me that our desire for security is in competition with our desire for freedom.  Most of us don’t like arbitrary limits, so pushing for more freedom might seem like a good way to bring people into the libertarian movement.  What we often encounter is that the libertarian ideas about freedom are too extreme for most people.

Why is it too extreme?  Why is it such a hard sell?  Is it because people have grown up in a society where everything is so strictly regimented?  Is it because people lack the imagination to see beyond the vast regulations and restrictions?  Or could it be that people have a certain desire for the security that they believe the state and government afford them?  I think it is probably a combination of factors, but I think the desire for security is most certainly one of the factors.

If people desire security, and they believe the state provides that for them, then libertarians would be wise to make real world arguments to address how security can be achieved in ways that don’t involve the state.  Libertarians could also show how the state can create instability versus security, such as destroying the currency.

I think Chesterton is right, that we do have desires that need to be balanced.  I also think ideas govern the world, so we need to embrace the ideas that give us all the best chance to thrive.  Libertarians may be able to help their case for liberty being the best condition for humans to prosper if they keep in mind that people also desire security, and that freedom without security does not seem all the appealing.

Are You a Guard?

In Chapter 24 of A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn writes:

In a highly developed society, the Establishment cannot survive without the obedience and loyalty of millions of people who are given small rewards to keep the system going: the soldiers and police, teachers and ministers, administrators and social workers, technicians and production workers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, transport and communications workers, garbage men and firemen. These people-the employed, the somewhat privileged-are drawn into alliance with the elite. They become the guards of the system, buffers between the upper and lower classes. If they stop obeying, the system falls.

This would be very insightful if Zinn wasn’t so hell bent on pushing a version of morality where the only moral society is one that shares everything in common.  There are very few real socialists and communists around because the failures of this philosophy are so great.  Few people are really looking for a worker’s paradise anymore. Very few people think that human nature is compatible with such philosophies.  Unfortunately, even though people know people are motivated by self-interest, the ideas of socialism and communism are still looked to as an ideal of what is actually fair.  Since we humans are so self-interested, it is up to our moral superiors, who understand that we must all share for justice to occur, to use the hammer of the state to beat us all into compliance.

They, the people I have called our moral superiors, don’t share Zinn’s vision.  Zinn sees the establishment and the elite using the central government to keep people from realizing a better way of life.  He sees starting at the local level as the solution.

The great problem would be to work out a way of accomplishing this without a centralized bureaucracy, using not the incentives of prison and punishment, but those incentives of cooperation which spring from natural human desires, which in the past have been used by the state in times of war, but also by social movements that gave hints of how people might behave in different conditions. Decisions would be made by small groups of people in their workplaces, their neighborhoods-a network of cooperatives, in communication with one another, a neighborly socialism avoiding the class hierarchies of capitalism and the harsh dictatorships that have taken the name “socialist.”

The current progressive/liberal thinking is that change must be top down, and that we need laws at the federal level to make sure people are treated fairly.  I like Zinn a whole lot better than these people, even if I don’t agree with his socialist vision.  These top down people, these big government people, they are the guards of the crony capitalist system that lefties and libertarians decry as unjust, even as we disagree as to why we believe the system is unjust.

Know Your Enemy

Rage Against the Machine has recently captured by imagination. I get this band is leftist.  Libertarians and leftist of this variety share some concerns, some of the same outrages.   I’m going to write about some of the lyrics from their song Know Your Enemy.


What? The land of the free?
Whoever told you that is your enemy?

My reaction to this  was “heck yeah”. Ok, so my original word was a lot stronger than heck.  Then I read.  I read what the guitarist Tom Morello said.  “America touts itself as the land of the free, but the number one freedom that you and I have is the freedom to enter into a subservient role in the workplace. Once you exercise this freedom you’ve lost all control over what you do, what is produced, and how it is produced. And in the end, the product doesn’t belong to you. The only way you can avoid bosses and jobs is if you don’t care about making a living. Which leads to the second freedom: the freedom to starve.”

Seriously, that kind of thing blows me away.  It is like people can’t actually observe the world in front of them. If it weren’t for capitalism and the division of labor, we would all be living at subsistence levels threatened regularly with starvation.  Life is full of trade-offs.  People like me sell their labor and in return we are given a paycheck to spend on whatever it is we desire.  I’m not concerned too much about what is produced, other than I have a personal dedication to doing quality work.  What I care about is that I get the money to buy the things I need.  I also wonder what is wrong with taking a subservient role.  I’ve got a good deal of control in other aspects of my life, it simply doesn’t bother me that I have to do as my boss asks.  Most bosses I have had don’t ask me to do things with which I have a problem.  I know what I contracted to do, and I’m fine with doing it, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the job in the first place.  Oh I know, I’m just lucky.  Everyone else is stuck working for miserable bosses that force them to do miserable things (sarcasm).

Another part of the lyrics:

Come on!
Yes I know my enemies
They’re the teachers who taught me to fight me
Compromise, conformity, assimilation, submission
Ignorance, hypocrisy, brutality, the elite
All of which are American dreams

On the face of it, these seem like some pretty great criticisms.  I don’t know about them being American dreams, more like American reality.  The problem is that after reading what is thought about working for wages, I realize that we probably have entirely different interpretations of what we would mean by these words.  Here is my version:

Compromise – The way the two-party system continually compromise and we end up with more and more governmental control.

Conformity, Assimilation – The way the public schools churn out worker bees instead of entrepreneurs.  The way kids that don’t fit the mold are drugged in an effort to get them into the mold.

Submission – TSA, Drug War, Regulation

Brutality – Police with too many laws to enforce.  No knock raids.  Wars of aggression.  Preemptive war.

Ignorance – Schools again, putting forth a one sided narrative authored by the government.  Complete ignorance on economics by most of the nation.

Hypocrisy – Politicians on both side, doing the same things while pretending they are different.

Elite – We might agree on this one.  The rich who exercise more control over the government than the rest of the citizens.  Our remedy would differ, I am sure.

My take away from this is that no wonder it is hard to have effective dialogues in this country when the same words mean entirely different things to different people.  Another takeaway is that it is also difficult when we can see some of the same problems and have such radically different ideas on the causes and the solutions.




Parenting Alex Lifeson

A recent article in Freeman call What is “Libertarian Parenting”, discusses how libertarian ideals do not transfer well to family life.  Horwitz makes the case that authoritative parenting is most likely to produce kids that “value and sustain liberty.”  My parenting style would qualify as authoritative as described in this piece.  Through personal experience and a lot of thought, I arrived at my parenting style, and I feel I am doing what is best for my kids.

The other day, I ran across this video of an exchange between a young Alex Lifeson and his parents that got me thinking about parenting again.



It appears to me that Alex Lifeson had some fairly permissive parents.  From the conversation, it sounds like his parents pretty much let him come and go as he pleased.  They obviously love him, and took the time to talk to him about using drugs and having a baby out of wedlock, but young Alex admits that he did these things despite their warnings.

This led me to wonder if there would there have ever been Rush if Alex Lifeson would have had authoritative parents?  Lifeson is immensely talented.  I think his parents even commented that he was talented during the exchange.   Would he have been able to explore and expand on his talent if he had to be home in bed by 10 o’clock every night?  Could that have waited until he was older or would his creativity been squashed by more rigid structure?

One thing that really impressed me about Alex as a young man was his discussion of what he wanted from life.  He knew.  Driving a big expensive car and a conventional job were not It for him.  He wanted to do what he enjoyed, play music.  He discussed with his parents just how he could make money from it at the beginning of the clip.  I think that is kinda awesome, to have something you love doing and to be able to make some money at it.

While I like that aspect of his personality, I’m troubled by the child out of wedlock and the apparent disassociation and animosity towards the child’s mother.  Perhaps if his parents had taken a stronger hand, that could have been avoided.   Teen parenthood, out of wedlock parenthood, is something I want my kids to avoid, and I will act accordingly to do my best to prevent it.  Kids are serious business, and actions that could lead to their creation should be looked upon with the most serious of attitudes.

Back to my questions.  Would Alex Lifeson become who he did and bring so much enjoyment to so many people had he had a stricter home life?  I guess that is not answerable without an alternate universe to observe.  I can see that a discussion of it would be very Monday morning quarterbacking.  With just this little glimpse, I don’t have much to go on exactly how the family worked.  Therefore I am not going to speculate on the Lifeson family anymore.  Instead, I will postulate how you can encourage creativity and talent development without letting your teens run wild.

I think probably the best way to approach your kids talents and aspirations is to first take an interest in them.  Then, as they pursue their interests, be by their side as they begin to negotiate the more adult world.  Let’s say, you do have an aspiring rock musician on your hands.  You would go to their shows, you would be kind and interact with the people with whom your kids are coming into contact.  At some point, you would want to back off, but it would be after those critical teen years.  Of course for that to occur, you would have to have a trusting relationship with your child.  If your children regard you poorly, they are far less likely to share their interests and aspirations and more likely to reject your involvement.

Rush: The Band, not Limbaugh

I am on a huge Rush kick right now.  I just can’t get enough.  I started listening to  them a couple of weeks ago, after pretty much ignoring them most my life.  How could I be so unaware of just how awesome Rush is?  The guys I knew in high school all listened to Rush.  My husband loves Rush, and he says Neil Peart is the best drummer ever.  Somehow, I was just not into them.  I know a ton of Rush songs just from listening to rock stations, but I was only hearing them without true appreciation.

What would lead me to start listening to a band I was well aware of, but never into? First, I heard Tom Woods talked about Rush, but still I dismissed them as a “guy thing”.    Then, I read a  Reason blog that mentioned how Rush wanted Rand Paul to quit quoting The Trees in his speeches, and commented that Neil Peart had gone through a Randian phase and how some of his lyrics were influenced by Ayn Rand. The libertarian lyric hook got me listening.  I love lyrics, especially ones that make sense and/or tell a story.  Rush generally make sense, add to that the utter rocking out of their music, and I am hooked.

I really dig the diversity of their lyrics.  There is fantasy, political commentary, life on the road, life as a star, love songs, and life advice.  I’ve only been listening to the stuff released in the 70’s and Moving Pictures.  I’ve yet to explore their later releases.  My two favorite songs currently are By-tor & the Snow Dog and Something for Nothing.  The musical battle in By-tor & the Snow Dog blows me away.  I am awed by the theme and intensity of Something for Nothing.

I know some people that can’t get into Rush because of Geddy Lee’s voice.  I get that it is different, but I don’t find it grating like other people.   Even as I had not been into Rush in the past, I did at least admire the intensity with which he sings. When he sings Peart’s lyrics, it comes across as genuine.  It is like he is Peart’s mouthpiece to the world.