Editorial - Keep Going!
Later in this issue, Joseph Rowlands asks the question: "How can the defenders of freedom work under the premise that most people are stupid? Or that people are evil and vicious? The very idea undermines the case for liberty." After dealing to this bromide, Joe concludes: "It is tempting, when nobody seems to live up to your expectations, to damn them all as evil and stupid. It must be resisted, though. It’s proper to recognize faults, but it’s unjust to ignore people’s virtues. People are generally good. We have to recognize that, and view them accordingly."
It is tempting to succumb to the "original sin" view of humanity of which Joe speaks. I often succumb to it myself. Idly surfing television channels recently, I encountered in quick succession: a human being slicing into a tree with a chainsaw, the tree having been hollowed out & another human being placed, bound & gagged, into the hollow; an alien movie replete with reptilian grotesqueries pouring out of people’s mouths; a punk band replete with human grotesqueries pouring grotesqueries out of their own mouths; a wax-haired slime-oozing televangelist plugging his upcoming show about Jesus ... & at that point I gave up. "The world," I said to myself for the zillionth time, "is fucked." (This, I might add, was before the unspeakable terrorist attacks on America.) Then I reflected on the deceit & treachery I had personally encountered over the past two years - more than in the rest of my years on earth combined - from people of whom I would least have expected it. I reflected on the ways in which I had let myself down during this period ... & I allowed myself to wallow in misanthropy. There is no decency, no sincerity, to be found anywhere, I thought; there is no hope.
At precisely this time, I began to receive e-mails from a fellow freedom-fighter, lamenting the intellectual & moral calibre, not of the world at large, but of Objectivists & libertarians in particular. He too was at the end of his tether. "It goes on and on," he said. "So many stupid mistakes. So many fundamental misunderstandings... I'm starting to question whether the Objectivist movement is salvagable. I find a few people really doing good work, and some with a lot of spirit, but they are so few and far between. I had been thinking the best strategy is rallying the troops and getting people to spread the word. Now, I just don't feel like it. Seems like a waste of time. "Does it matter if we attract more Objectivists? They just nit-pick over long-solved problems and have character defects."
Now, this was no run-of-the-mill foot-soldier, but one of those leading the charge, someone whose energy & motivation had hitherto been unflagging. It was someone like Joe Rowlands, normally bursting with new ideas & aglow with optimism. What was going wrong, I wondered, that we were both being menopausal simultaneously? Or were we actually right to be so?
In trying to revive my flagging friend, I had to remind myself of a few truisms - clichés that have become clichéd for a very good reason: they are true. One was, "Rome wasn’t built in a day." Historically speaking, the quest for human freedom is in its infancy. It has had spectacular growth spurts in the past, & there’s no reason to suppose it won’t have them again. Moreover, the recognition of the connection between freedom & respect for reason is even more novel, & the publicisers of that connection are inevitably going to be met with blank stares & nervous giggles for some time to come. The belief, inherited from Christianity, that mind & body are severed from morality is still pervasive, & has the formidable force of a self-fulfilling prophecy -- we believe we are inherently depraved, so we act accordingly. We use our magnificent minds to create television, for instance - & then pollute it morally with the most life-destructive images possible, arming would-be censors & other avowed freedom-haters with screenloads of ammunition. To point out, in this environment, that for freedom to endure, mutual respect, respect for each other’s independent reasoning capacity - rather than mutual chainsaw-hacking - is a precondition, is difficult, to be sure; but then, to quote another cliché, no one ever said it was going to be easy. Nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without effort & perseverance. The simple fact is: just as there was once an Age of Reason, we now live in an Age of Anti-Reason. Equally simply, there’s nothing inherent in the human condition that says we can’t reinstate Reason upon her throne - even if this happens to be a difficult time to be putting forward such a proposition.
"Difficult" does not mean "impossible," however daunting the odds. We can choose to succumb to despair & let the forces of darkness win by default - or we can choose to make the effort, & resolve to have fun, as Prodos does, along the way. That means, not engaging in pollyannaist fantasies, but reminding ourselves of every positive that is real out there - & in ourselves & each other - & building on it. There is already much to go on. In the New Zealand context, if I may quote from my "Reality Check" speech published in TFR 47:
"...there are so many more inside the tent than seven years ago. At that time it was just myself & Deborah. Now the magazine has a stable of about twenty-five writers from all over the world, a web site & an international reputation; it has the new Free Radical Foundation to help take it to greater heights; there is a political party promoting the same ideas, which garnered six thousand votes at the last election; there is, I’m told, a nationwide radio programme promoting these ideas also [OK, cancel this last, but I’ll be back some day]. Pro rata, I doubt that freedom-lovers in any other country could boast such an array of vehicles at their disposal. Seen in that light, the progress over the past seven years has been extraordinary."
Rome is far from being built, but the foundations have been laid. To the above we can now add New Zealand’s first-ever libertarian bookstore, an essay competition for youngsters, the first SOLO convention (all advertised in this issue) ... & there will be more yet. The recent terrorism will probably serve as a wake-up call. Reason & freedom are on the move. Yes, there will be frustrations along the way, some of them of our own making. Yes, the road "is long, and lined the entire way with annoying bastards" (Alexander Jablokov). Yes, there will be people who not only do not live up to our expectations, but wantonly betray them. But given how far we’ve already come, & how quickly we’ve done so, is this the time to be throwing in the towel?
Ask me another!
If you enjoyed this, why not subscribe?