Monday, February 21, 2011

FAITH IN FREEDOM, AND THE MEANS OF CONVERSION ― A SHORT EXPLORATION

There are three things of which I am most grateful in life, and one of these is my liberation from the notion that violence has any place in the social order; self-defense is justified only in that it affirms this rejection of violence in human affairs.

For some reason or reasons, intelligence level surely not being primary among these, I have managed to see through statism and find in it only social regression. It seems that such an orientation has little to do with the crafting of strong arguments, as much as it has to do with psychology and the apt use of different parts of the brain according to specific situations.


FOLLOWING AND WILLING ― TWO SEPARATE MENTAL PHENOMENA

When I am guided by the directions of a passenger while driving, it is much more difficult for me to use my discretion in changing lanes or turning at intersections. So if the passenger is incompetent as a direction giver, my driving suffers, and it would have been better had I been of the mind to look at road signs for directions, or to use my memory, instead.

And when I am copying another’s writings, even for things I know about, it would be much more difficult for me to use my knowledge to correct any mistakes of the one I’m copying. If I am aware beforehand that such notes are wrong, I would rather stick to using my knowledge so as to write accurate facts.

It seems that I use different parts of the brain when following, and when actively choosing. For this intent and purpose, we could say that one has a ‘following’ personality distinct from their ‘willing’ personality.

I think this explains the difficulty of people’s acceptance of the idea of free markets. Most are predisposed to follow, to trust in the judgment of ‘the government,’ or the vague ‘they,’ whomever ‘they’ are. If one is not of the mindset to make their own decisions and be self-responsible, or to see individuals as capable of making such decisions, it is that much harder to shift one’s manner of action and one’s attitude regarding official and unofficial institutions, in favor of freedom.

Granted, the ‘following’ personality has its practical purpose in the absence of complete knowledge of this world (we rely on the knowledge of people of various specialties in acquiring information, whether this is about the capital of Peru or if a stock is a good buy), it becomes a hindrance to self-growth and thus society’s well-being when one’s volition is surrendered to the state, which is no more enlightened, even less so, than the individual members of a community. Hayek’s ‘spontaneous order’ rightly places economic decisions with the individual, and this is an arrangement found to be beneficial and thus followed by free society.

A lot of the efforts made towards political reform will have to focus not so much on intellectual arguments, but on understanding people’s manner of thinking so as to effectively sway them towards libertarianism.

But the very process of ‘conversion’ implies that a person is following or mimicking the belief systems of another, which is paradoxical to the concept of self-reliance and individuality. Ultimately, one either has it in him, or not, and a preacher must be able to extract this ‘it’ from the flock, without triggering the ‘following’ mode of thinking.


THE UNDERTOW OF STATISM

When one is caught in an undertow, the forcefulness can knock the breath, and the sense, out of them. This could even lead to a drowning in shallow waters. Desperation knows no reason, and in the midst of a panic, one’s wild flailing is highly inefficient.

The state, with its indoctrination in schools, with its argument by force, with its doomsday scenarios in the absence of intervention, serves to put people in a similar state of mind. The most sound counterarguments in favor of freedom have little effect on those struck by fear.

When knocked down by this figurative undertow, people are inclined to favor statism in its being a supposedly compassionate social system, as opposed to the ‘dog-eat-dog’ environment of voluntary enterprise and property rights. What is ironic is that it is precisely in a free society that the disparity between rich and poor is not so pronounced. An equitable distribution of power and to a certain extent, equitable distribution of resources, occurs. Instead of recognizing equitability as an effect of progress, statists demand it as a prerequisite.

It is not that a statist’s emotions, of compassion for the poor, are ‘wrong,’ but they are misplaced so as to grasp the most immediate means of redistribution available ― the state. The short-term solution that is the state just drags people further down.

People have to eventually learn to place faith in the ‘cold reason’ that recognizes the spontaneous order as most advantageous to people, as impersonal as it appears.

The key, I believe, is to snap statists’ automatic emotional reaction that bars them from using reason. I see this best accomplished by stimulating another passion to take the original reaction’s place. It is in this regard that those who support liberty have to raise their aesthetic awareness and find means to transmit their ideas via the arts, for instance, and not simply through logical tracts. As it is, great artists tend to use the creative ‘right’ portion of their brains even for things that require rational ‘left-brain’ meditation, making for disastrous short term-oriented statist policy.


LOSING FAITH IN STATISM[1]

In an individual, mental processes are not uniformly applied to all situations. To a certain extent, one’s use of reason is on a case-to-case basis. This explains how even deeply religious people who profess ‘faith’ may apply reason at other times as sharply as anybody else. These varying mental processes for different situations may even constitute what is thought of as ‘multiple personalities.’ The recognition of this may further bring about understanding in all sorts of scientific matters.

We can surmise that a lot of what we were taught during impressionable ages was accepted out of fear – whether the fear of the unknown, of the suffering of dying or of hellfire – creating a separate ‘fearing personality,’ whose use of reason is stunted. Ever since, the threat of these teachings not being true has become tantamount to a threat on our very organism.

Getting to the recognition of one’s biases as a result of a partitioned mind will not come about at will or by sheer ‘intellectualizing.’ Oftentimes, a ‘loss of faith,’ ‘conversion’ or any change in mental processes for a particular matter could only come about through a traumatic or deeply passionate experience, shocking enough for one to break or ‘deactivate’ the habitual ideas that surface for the situation. This principle applies to religious tenets as well as to political issues.

We thus understand the difficulty in convincing others of ‘truths’ that seem so obvious to us. We would have to provide an argument with such intellectual-emotional impact as to unseat their fears and with it their former viewpoint or ideology, the emotional attachment of which may have developed over considerable time.


CONCLUSION ― WHAT TO DO?

As hinted above, much of the process by which the doctrine of freedom is to be accepted by the populace has little to do with rationality per se, and more to do with providing conducive conditions for such an acceptance. I have mentioned the use of art, but there are surely other ways by which ‘the word’ can be spread. Humor, for instance. Perhaps you can meditate on your own and think of other methods; I’d like to hear them.



[1] This section is taken from, with slight modifications, my ‘Property rights as power’ essay, published in The new president, property rights, civil disobedience and free society. Central Books, 2009.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Funny that I should read this articular the day after I was pondering this very same hurdle.


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