Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Read First: Why I Write These Things

As you know, sometimes I like to share my thoughts on various issues. I've often been asked why I do that, and I've offered some answers that were true enough, but that did not entirely satisfy me; they seemed incomplete. I'm about to share with you three sentences (not written by me) that give, in my opinion, the perfect answer to that question.

I've mentioned that such writing is simply "something I do when I can't sleep," and that I think it helps to lower my blood pressure to get things off my chest, and I just flat-out enjoy the act of writing about these things - and those are all true. With so many important issues “on the table” right now, I want to do everything I can to influence not what people think, but rather to influence people to think in the first place....to avoid the fatal error of attempting to use emotion as a means of cognition.

That's why, when I ask you to reply to me on these topics, I often say "...don't tell me how you feel about this, tell me what you think about it."

(Why do I call it a "fatal" error? Well, for one example, that's exactly what the P.M. of Great Britain, Neville Chamberlain, did in the 1930's when he decided to try to "appease" Hitler. Millions died unnecessarily because of that error. History books are full of other examples, as are many people's lives.)

I've talked about fighting the syndrome in which people believe a certain thing because it is widely accepted; the "everybody-knows-the-Earth-is-flat-so-who-am-I-to-question-it?" syndrome. And that's a fight that I believe is worth fighting. Things don't get better when everyone passively accepts the status quo.

Although we may like to believe that freedom is the natural state of mankind, history shows that freedom is very much the exception, not the rule. In the realm of politics, tyranny is mankind's "default option," and like a default option in a computer it is what will happen one hundred percent of the time unless specific steps are taken to cause freedom to happen instead.

If you don't believe this, well, then to be honest you need to read more history.

In nature, an organism that doesn't move, or that moves in pursuit of the wrong objectives, ends up dead. The same is true of societies, cultures, nations, and political systems. If I can successfully encourage people to just not give in to inertia, and thus to resist the “default option,” I believe I'll at least have done a little bit of good in this world.

I've said that there are ideas out there that are so important to me that I want to do everything I can, within my limited ability and reach, to spread them. In effect I'm saying: "Look, I know what the conventional wisdom is on this issue. But maybe you should consider looking at it this way instead, even if just for a minute or two. Here's why I think you should consider looking at it that way, and here's what will happen if enough people do the same."

That last statement gets a lot closer to the full truth of why I do what I do.

(I want to be very clear on this: Most of those ideas did not originate with me. There are people such as Ayn Rand, Thomas Sowell. Leonard Peikoff and others whose ideas I consider vitally important. Their ideas have been a huge influence on me not only as an amateur commentator, but as a musician and teacher and husband and father and even as an IT guy, and in lots of other ways. I don't pretend to be able to think on their level - but if I can do something that helps spread their ideas, then I'm glad to do so. I think it's important.)

But recently I was reading a book about PBS by Laurence Jarvik, and I found three sentences that say it better than I've been able to say it in the past 20 years:

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In the preface to the 1982 edition of Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman described the "tyranny of the status quo." He pointed out that it is extremely difficult by intellectual argumentalone to persuade those with conventional opinions that there isa need for change, but that when a crisis occurs, circumstancesmake change necessary, and the change is "produced by experience , not by theory or philosophy." As Friedman concludes, "The actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around."
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And that captures exactly what I am trying to do: Leave some ideas lying around that may someday lead to actions being taken. (Although I’d argue that it is exactly "theory and philosophy" that lead to those ideas lying around in the first place.) I leave them lying around in your Inbox or in my blogs, and then hope like hell that two things happen:

1) You'll consider picking them up and using them when the time is right, and

2) You'll "leave them lying around" in as many other people's Inboxes as possible. I hope you'll forward this page's URL to a whole lot of folks after reading my stuff. But even if you only forward it to one or two people, I'll be appreciative nonetheless.
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Additional thoughts, a few hours later:

No matter what the justification, tyranny always boils down to one thing: The notion that some people are to be sacrificed - whether existentially, financially, or in any other way - for the benefit of others. I defy anyone to show me an alleged "justification" for tyranny that violates this axiom.

Tyranny takes many forms: there is the tyranny of the philosopher-king, the proletariat, the jihad, the Volk, the anointed, the "greatest good for the greatest number," the majority, the minority, the "will of the people," the outright dictator, the "ordained by God," and so forth.

There are governments that sacrifice the poor for the rich, and others that sacrifice the rich for the poor – and if enough people believe that those are the only two alternatives, then the entire concept of non-sacrificial societies that protect the rights of all will be eliminated from discussion and, eventually, from human awareness.

But the question "Who is to be the beneficiary of these human sacrifices?" is, at best, secondary. It doesn't matter who the beneficiaries are. No ends justify those means.

Iit doesn't matter if those to be sacrificed are the Jews or Africans or the poor or the rich or the socialists or the capitalists or the men or the women or the Gypsies or the Slavs or speculators or farmers or old folks or kids or businessmen or laborers or artists. All human life is equally valuable, which means that all forms of human sacrifice are equally evil.

The identity of the victims and of the beneficiaries is irrelevant in terms of the morality involved.

The better the ideas that we leave "lying around," the more resistant we are to tyranny.

So: What ideas areYOU leaving lying around these days?

Thanks as always...

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