What the Independent Individualist means by freedom is real freedom for real people in the real world, right now.
Most people really do not want freedom. Most people want security. They want guarantees, assurances that nothing will ever go wrong, that they will never be hurt or disappointed, that everything will always be what they like and what they are used to and they will always be happy. In this world there are no guarantees, things always go wrong, there are always changes and disappointments, and those who seek guarantees are never going to be happy.
But those who really do know what freedom is, who want to live their own lives, who want to be responsible for themselves, succeeding or failing by their own choice and effort, who do not want anyone else "looking out for their welfare," (or requiring them to look out for anyone else's), do not usually find freedom in this world.
Many understand, the only thing standing in the way of individual liberty is other men, and those other men are usually the government. The main threat to individual freedom is government interference in our lives and businesses. Government is not the only thing we lose our freedom to. Many enslave themselves to other individuals and organizations, but government is the only thing we lose our freedom to that we do not choose ourselves.
If we are going to be free, it is the government we must free ourselves from. Most freedom lovers understand that, but what they do not understand is that they are not going to change the government, make it less intrusive, or limit it in any way, but that is the very thing most freedom lovers are trying to do, and the thing they spend their time, energy, and emotions on. No one is going to make themselves more free by fighting the government or changing society.
In a recent article [not so recent now, this was written in 2004] an Objectivist described his vision of a free world. I have summarized that vision as a world where everyone lives their lives as free individuals, exhibiting the following attributes:
- Dedicated to their own personal happiness.
- Focusing on their own lives and their enjoyment of it.
- Not expecting others to take care of them or make decisions for them.
- Practicing the virtue of independence.
- Learning to count on themselves and trust in their own abilities.
- Never trying to live other people's lives for them.
- Living by the trader principle.
- Never seeking the unearned.
- Thinking for themselves, and making their own judgments.
- Realizing their lives are precious, not wasting a minute of them.
- Knowing their life belongs to them, and no other.
There is no question that a world comprised of individuals who all had those values and lived by those standards would be a wonderfully free world. As a picture of the ideal world, it is excellent. It would certainly be a world any individualist would like to see, but we know that is not the world we live in, and it is not about to be that kind of world in the foreseeable future.
The article describing the ideal society was posted to an Objectivist forum, and most of the comments to the article expressed the idea that to achieve that ideal, it ought to be the goal of those seeking freedom to first make their society a free one. There was only one lone, very wise, dissenter.
"Sure, it would be nice if everyone dedicated himself to his own happiness. That would make the pursuit of my own happiness all the easier. But mankind will never be rid of its malefactors, so just how much angst, if any, should I rationally generate over the failure of others to make themselves happy?|
"How rational is it to wish for a world that will never be? Especially when the good life is available to me if I take the world as it is, understand the obstacles as they are, and then change what I can actually change for the better?
In fact, that is exactly what this particular individual, whom I know personally, has done. He has actually done all those things listed as the attributes of the truly free, not by making his community, or country, or the world free, but by making himself free.
One would have expected among a group of Objectivists who claim to love freedom above all things that this man and his accomplishments would have been applauded, but just the opposite happened. Like a bunch of altruist/collectivists these "Objectivists" excoriated him, accusing him of being a slave and advocating oppressive government, implying he had no right to seek, much less achieve, freedom until he had discharged his responsibility to seek freedom for everyone.
It does not occur to such idealist Objectivists, there is not one thing they are doing that is going to make the town they live in more free, much less the country or the world, and if anyone is going to see freedom in this world, they are going to have to secure it for themselves. Below is my response to that discussion. I have changed the name of my free friend to Felix.
"One thing that is certain, you are not going to change the minds of 280 million people in the next few years, and right now most of those 280 million think the government is the solution to all their problems. If by, "fighting," you mean attempting to change the way things are and the way they are going, I would like to know how you intend to do it. How much of my time and effort, which I would otherwise dedicate to living my own life for my own "selfish" purposes should I "sacrifice" for the sake of some cause which has almost no possibility of success?|
"Why should someone who is doing all of the things on our list of things people in an ideal world would do, sacrifice some of those things to some other cause. Why should Felix stop living for his own happiness, focusing on his own life, expecting nothing from others or allowing others to make decisions for him; why should he give up his self-reliance and independence, and refusal to change (live for) other's lives; why should he stop living only as a trader, thinking for himself, not allowing anyone to waste a minute of his precious life pursuing someone else's idea of a way to save the world? Doesn't his life belong to him? Who the hell is anyone else to tell him he's not living it right?
"There are no purposes higher than individual purposes. There is no cause or value that supersedes the causes and values of individuals. Now this may come as a shock to many Objectivists, but the purpose of your life, or anyone else's life, is not to make the world an ideal one. The purpose of your life, and every individual's life, is to enjoy it. Every moment any individual wastes pursuing some scheme to make the world, or their country, or their state, or their neighborhood, an ideal one, is a moment wasted in the pursuit of the purpose of their own life.
"Now here is a secret. If everyone in the world lived their life as Felix lives his, you would have your ideal world.
For this I was presented a moral analogy to teach me: "that we should act in order to meet our life-term, society-scale self-interests (which, upon reflexion, turn out to be the rational self-interests found in the context of a human lifespan)." There was an attempt to explain what that actually means ending with, "it will not involve NOT BEING CONCERNED AT ALL, as Regi and Felix seem to claim."
So I pressed on.
Not concerned with what? Harebrained schemes for making the world free?|
Now, tell me this, are you going to change the government, are you going to change the minds of most of 280 million people, or are you going to bring a revolution in our time? If none of these things, exactly what scheme do you have in mind, and what is it actually going to accomplish?
Ayn Rand was very impressed by the following:
"God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, courage to change things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."
She said of it:
"This remarkable statement is attributed to a theologian with whose ideas I disagree in every fundamental respect: Reinhold Niebuhr. But—omitting the form of a prayer, i.e., the implication that one's mental—emotional states are a gift from God—that statement is profoundly true, as a summary and a guideline: it names the mental attitude which a rational man must seek to achieve." [My emphasis]
"Most men spend their lives in futile rebellion against things they cannot change, in passive resignation to things they can, and—never attempting to learn the difference—in chronic guilt and self-doubt on both counts." [The Ayn Rand Letter, Vol. II, No. 12 March 12, 1973 "The Metaphysical Versus The Man-Made"]
If you are waiting for society to learn Objectivism, for a new political administration, or any Objectivist program to succeed before being free, you will never be free. If you want freedom, you can have it, now, in this world, but no government or movement is going to provide it for you.
Do you really want to be free? Or do you just want to continue complaining and rebelling against that which you cannot possibly change, resigned to living under growing oppression while patting yourself on the back for at least, "being concerned."
I know that was harsh, even ruthless, but I am beginning to think that is the only thing that will wake up some good people. Those are good people I wrote those things to, rational, objective, and freedom loving people—sometimes good people become so filled up with their ideals (which we all must have), they tend to be unrealistic.
[Note: If there is anyone with an insatiable desire to verify the facts presented here, the original forum thread referred to is still available: the original article here, "An Objectivist World, and
all the comments are here."]
You and I, who want to be free without waiting for the government or society to change, need to know what practical freedom is. How can we free ourselves?
The Autonomist's Notebook provides some explanation of the meaning of freedom in a practical sense under "Freedom and Liberty" and its "Commentary", and under "Freedom of Speech" and its "Commentary", which anyone truly interested in freedom may read.
For the purposes of this article, I'm going to describe freedom by means of three characteristics:
Individual - Freedom pertains only to individuals, and pertains only to that ability of individuals to choose. No matter how "free" a society is, if an individual is not free to choose and act on those choices, he is not free. No matter how repressive a society is, any individual in that society who manages to make his own choices and live by them is free.
Responsibility - The free individual is responsible for all his own choices and actions and all the consequences of them. The free individual cannot evade that responsibility or attempt to foist it on others without surrendering some or all of his freedom.
Reward - The free individual enjoys all the benefit from all his profitable choices and actions. An individual who is prevented from keeping and using, as he chooses, all of the product of his own efforts is not free.
This article is the beginning of a series that will present practical methods, concepts, and tools for achieving a free life in this world today. There are some things you must know from the beginning to do that.
[Note: This article, written in 2004, was followed by at least three more addressing the practical means to freedom, before the site was brought down by hackers.]
What is Freedom for You?
The first thing you or I must know, before we begin our pursuit of personal liberty is what that actually means for each of us. If freedom is being able to make choices and live by them without any restriction or interference from others, we have to know what choices we want to make. What do you want to do? To be free, you only need to be free to do what you want to do.
Here, you must be very careful. There are things you cannot do that have nothing to do with freedom or oppression. Remember, the only restrictions on freedom are other men. But if you were the only person in the world, you would be free, but you could not do just anything you wanted to do. You could not do the physically impossible. You could not do what you do not have the ability or resources to do. You cannot do everything you want to do, because, if you are normal, there are more things you will want to do, than in your lifetime, you will have time to do. Be realistic.
In determining what you want to do, you must discover what you really want. There is nothing wrong with learning by observing what other's do, but it is a great mistake to assume because someone else enjoys doing certain things or living a certain way, you will. Everybody is different, and no two people will succeed at or enjoy the same things. Think for yourself.
Other people's lives and freedoms are not your concern. Most other people do not want to be free anyway, and those who think they do, seldom achieve it or make any effort to be free. Your freedom depends only on your being able to do what you want to do. Once you know what you want to do, you can attend to the business of eliminating or working around whatever restrictions might be in the way of your choices. Don't worry about restrictions that "might" be there "if" you wanted to do such'n'such, if you really do not want to do that anyway. Concentrate on what really matters to you.
Yes!. You can change your mind, and most likely will, as you learn more, develop more abilities, and mature. You must always make your current choices in the light of all that you know now, considering the consequences of every possible choice, even the fact that you might change your mind. The method by which you achieve freedom, however, will be the same for any current or future choice.
Freedom is Expensive
Freedom is not free! The price is risk and insecurity. Actually there is no more risk or insecurity in the life of an independent free individual than in the life of anyone else. The difference is the individualist recognizes the reality of risk, embraces it as an element of adventure, and knows exactly how to deal with it.
Not all your choices will be right ones. You are going to make mistakes. All our choices have consequences; if we never made any mistakes, the consequences would all be good ones. In real life they are not all good ones. There is only one way to deal with the consequences of our wrong choices. Pay the price, learn what can be learned, move on, and don't make the same mistake again.
We know we are not infallible, that we cannot predict everything, so there will be bad consequences and surprises, but we can prepare for them. These possibilities must always be factored into our choices. Some methods of preparing for the unknown are obvious, like insurance. Others require alternative plans, and reserving resources in case "the worst happens." Prepare for the worst, but work for the best.
As free individuals, supporting ourselves by our own efforts, whether that is some individual creative work, sole proprietorship, or running a huge off-shore manufacturing or service business, there is always a cost of doing business. Even if we eliminate all the artificial costs thrust on us by government, the measures taken to do that will themselves cost something. The fact that governments exist (and always will) and that they must be dealt with in some way, just as the fact of disease has to be dealt with in some way, does not mean we are not free. The existence of governments is one of those things that cannot be changed, learning how to work around them and protect one's self from them is part the cost of doing business, and part of the cost of being free.
Old time smugglers used the expression, "paying the squeeze." It was the bribe that was slipped to the customs agent or boarder guard to look the other way when moving something illegal in or out of a country. It was considered a cost of doing that business, which would otherwise have been more expensive, dangerous, or impossible. There was also a kind of justice in the fact that a private individual, however disreputable, was getting the money, and not the government. Some people think of taxes as, "squeeze," while doing everything they reasonably can to reduce them, some are easier and safer to pay then to fight. It depends on what freedom is for you.
There is another cost of freedom that is almost unavoidable. I will mention it again under privacy; it is the social cost. If you become truly free, most people will neither understand or appreciate you. You may have to give up social relationships that you thought were important. But consider this, how important is anyone to you who resents your freedom.
Freedom is the greatest single value you will ever achieve. It is, for human beings, life itself. You cannot expect the most valuable thing in your life to come cheaply, or easily.
Freedom is Independence
Every dependency is a chain that limits your freedom. To the extent your choices or actions depend on anyone else's choices, actions, or agreement, you are not free.
This fact is often wrongly confused with trade. A trade is a transaction mutually agreed to by both (or all) parties. When I buy products at the local grocery or hardware store, I am not dependent on either. I can buy those things somewhere else, or not at all if I choose. Obviously I cannot buy them if nobody offers them for sale, but that is not a dependency. I can still produce them myself or hire someone else to produce them for me. The fact that they are available in stores only broadens the horizon of my possible choices.
If I have a friend who owns a grocery or hardware store, but I do not believe he has the best prices, I am free to shop elsewhere. If our friendship is threatened by my shopping elsewhere, and I choose to shop at my friends store for the sake of that dubious friendship, not because I judge it to be in my own best interest, that is an act of dependency; because my choices are dependent on what my friend thinks of me, not on my own objective judgment.
Independence also means financial independence. To the extent you are financially dependent on any other individual or organization you are not free. Indebtedness may be the one thing, especially in our age, to which more people surrender their independence, and therefore their freedom, than anything else; although, religion, tradition, and so-called family obligations, run close seconds.
There is confusion on this point too. Some people think of an employee is financially dependent on their employer. No doubt this is frequently the case, but it does not have to be that way. The relationship between an employee and employer is, or at least ought to be, a trader relationship. When I worked for an employer I regarded the employer as a customer to whom I sold my service (work) in exchange for the salary paid me. I am sure few of my employers regarded our relationship in that way. Most employers really do believe employees are financially dependent on them. Those employers who attempted to test that theory with me, however, simply lost my service. There were always employers (potential customers) willing to pay me more for those services.
The fact that you must do something productive to secure wealth is a reality that does not make you dependent. It is another of those things you cannot change, a requirement of your nature. It is one of the things you must be free to do, and you must do to be free. Learning to distinguish between what you must do and those needless dependencies, obligations, and "duties," that are mistaken for things you, "must do," is part of becoming free.
What is the point of freedom if you are going to entangle yourself in endless financial and personal obligations and commitments to demanding social relationships that leave you no time or resources for doing anything you want to do. If that is what you intend to do, you do not need freedom. You do not need freedom to enslave yourself.
Freedom is Privacy
If you are going to be free, you are going to be an oddity, a radical, a misfit, because your values and concerns and the way you live your life is going to be different from the way most people live theirs. Because most do not want to be free, they do not understand those who do want to be free and resent, or even despise those who manage it.
You do not have to hide your values or how you live (although you will definitely want to hide some of it from some quarters). Neither should you flaunt it. Your life is a very private, personal, "nobody-else's-business" thing. Except for those you choose to make a part of your life, and those to whom you choose to share your intimacy, privacy is one of the most important aspects of being free.
Ayn Rand said, "Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men." ["The Soul Of An Individualist," For the New Intellectual, Page 81]
If the degree of privacy enjoyed by individuals is the indication of how civilized a society is, our society and our world are becoming less civilized every day. Not only is every aspect of our lives monitored, recorded, and mostly available to anyone who cares to look and our personal privacy invaded by every government agency ever thought of, people themselves have very little sense of privacy. There is nothing anyone thinks, or says, or does, these days, they do not willingly display for the whole world to see in public, on television; and, as though we hadn't seen enough, on their Internet WEB pages and BLOGs.
It's Your Life And Your Freedom
If you want to live happily and successfully in this world you must be free to think, and choose, and act on your own best reason. Like everything else of value in life, if you want to be free you must earn it, you must make yourself free. No movement, no social of prolitical plan will make you free, only you can make yourself free.