Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Atlas Needn't Shrug, The Fountainhead Overflows...

"But there's a way out of hell. The truth is, after pondering for many long hours, I just don't believe the story in Atlas Shrugged. I believe the one in The Fountainhead. And in a following post soon, I will explain why." -Me in January

"They Burn Heretics at the Stake

The image of the stake is hard to forget. It touches us in a way that's almost primal. But it's also obsolete. Marketing has made sure of that. The same forces that taught us to drink Coke for breakfast and spend $800 on a handbag are now at work on the status quo.

Heretics are too numerous to burn at the stake. So we celebrate them."

-Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us

[Spoiler Alert - Atlas Shrugged & The Fountainhead]

In January, I wrote about the inverted stories of Ayn Rand's Dominique Francon and Dagny Taggert, noting:

"Dominique learns not to run from the world, but to live in it and ignore it. To keep her eyes focused on that beatific vision, which is more real than all the shadows crowding to block it out, which is triumphant already merely because it exists and is good.

Dagny learns she must leave the world and not offer her vision to it, lest she continue to help her own destroyers. She must refuse to create. She must refuse to let them have her soul. She must secede from society and let the blind lead each other right off the cliff of their own refusal to be fully human and use their own damned eyes."

I.

I think we libertarians complain too much.

We focus so intently on the evils we're fighting that we often lose sight of the beauty we're fighting for.

It seems that the state is relentless in its march over the corpses and writhing bodies of its victims. Every time I turn my head it seems the goons have found another angle of attack on the people of this world. How can you stop the onslaught when every day you hear of the latest conspiracy to lie, steal, or murder? When the aggressors of the state pursue each new program with such tenacity? When you know they'll keep trying and trying until that fascist medicine bill is passed, until they've censored the Internet, until they've made the whole world a battlefield and every citizen a potential terrorist to be summarily seized without charges or trial by jury?

While these things are really happening, and while they're egregious, and while they must be fought with every bit of relentless fury exercised by the goons-- these aren't the only things happening in the world. Not by far.

II.

The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the video arena — the videodrome. The television screen is the retina of the mind's eye. Therefore the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore television is reality, and reality is less than television.

-Prof. O'Blivion, Videodrome

The problem with the media is that it creates an alternate reality, one in which the aspects of reality depicted are perceived as the most important ones, because those are the ones being depicted, and they emerge as raw experience for the audience. The media you consume becomes "more real" than reality. It becomes your reality.

I've criticized non-libertarians at length for plugging into the media matrix and getting lost in a false reality, but is that happening to libertarians too? I hate the fearmongers of the statist media, but have I become a fearmonger? Are libertarians peddling (and drowning in) fear to achieve our ends? At what cost?

Sure, I think the things we're afraid of are real dangers, that you'd have to be seriously out-of-touch with reality not to find scary and threatening; while the things the uncritical consumer of state media are afraid of are usually bogus, manufactured, hyped-up, blown-out-of-all-proportion excuses for the opportunists in Washington to consolidate more money and more unchecked power in their greedy, grimy, dirty, lying little piece of shit hands.

But it's one thing to take the real threats to our happiness seriously, and another thing to spread more fear than joy. Are we? That's a subject for discussion, one I very much want to have, so feel free to tell me I'm wrong if you think we are not. But I think we are. Speaking for myself at least, I think I certainly have. I think I've been living in a warped reality full of dangers all around, and very few bright lights of joy, beauty, and love. And that's going to change now...

III.

"IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way -- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only." -Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

I'm sure every time feels like the best of times and worst of times to everyone living in it. Let's take a quick look at why this is the best of times.

The truth is, no one has ever been more free than I am. I can pretty much do anything I want so long as I don't hurt anybody. The sheer number of freedoms most Americans enjoy is a marvel unlike anything in history. The state is massive, sure. At its best, it wastes a lot of humanity's potential, sure. At its worst, it's... really bad, sure. I agree with all of these things. But let's put them in perspective.

Odds are, the police have never kicked in your door and beaten you up. Odds are, you'll never get blown up by a drone. Probably. More than likely. Yes, the TSA can go to hell, but it's amazing that we can even fly anywhere at all, and for so cheap. I wonder what it cost to cross the Atlantic 100 years ago in terms of labor to pay for the ticket, time in transit, and risks to one's health and safety. Probably a lot more than a ticket off Orbitz and a "freedom pat" (lol) or two.

Do I sound like the state's apologists downplaying the base irrationality of its abuses? Telling you to calm down, comrade, and be thankful (to the state) for all the freedoms you do have? Pssshh. If so, you're missing my point. I'm not trying to put this all in perspective to change your attitude about the state. You can still be outraged at the state. You should be. If you love liberty, I probably share your attitude about the state. I'm trying to put this all in perspective to change your attitude about you.

IV.

Yes, I feel about an inch tall every time I pay income tax to the US federal government. Believe me, I'm not doing it because I want to. If I felt like I had the choice, I wouldn't pay it. I don't believe it's a good investment for me, or for the people who Washington uses my money to harm. So I'm only doing it for one reason-- because I'm afraid.

Because I'm afraid of what they might do to me if I don't pay. I don't want the hassle. I don't want the stress. I don't want for them to take even more in retribution, or possibly send uniformed goons to kidnap me and lock me in a cage somewhere. I feel that fear acutely when I give them some of my hard-earned income. I'm very bad at pretending it's not what it is. Paying off the mafia so you can keep doing business on their turf is incredibly demoralizing.

But let's say they steal $2000 from me one year. Yes, they shouldn't do it, they have no right to, and they're only going to waste the money or use it to hurt people. Yes it sucks for me. It feels like the only reason I never have any sizable savings is because of the federal income tax. But that's false. It's not the only reason. If I got to keep all that money, would I really save / invest most of it, or blow it on more Monster energy drinks and cigarettes? I don't know.

Even better question: Who's stopping me from making $2000 more after tax dollars that year? Nobody but me. Again, I'm not saying that the stupidity-industrial complex shouldn't steal my money. This isn't to justify Washington's actions. But if I'm blaming Washington more than I'm blaming myself for having two thousand fewer federal reserve notes, then I'm wrong and I'll never get rich and I'll never be happy. Period. It's never been easier to make more money. No one's going to stop me but me.

I could spend my entire life fighting the income tax. I could pour every microgram of my time, energy, attention, and emotion into abolishing the IRS and the income tax, and I might fail. I'd probably fail. And I'd still have to pay it or face the mafia. Or I could just put that time into making more money. No one would stop me. Sure if I made more, Washington would take more, but I'd have more left over too. Regardless of how much you pay, which would you rather have after taxes, $20,000 or $200,000? Who's stopping you?

What I'm saying is: the government's your enemy, but if you put things in perspective, you're unbelievably free, freer than anyone has ever been, so if you're not as wealthy, successful, or happy as you want to be, unless your name is Bradley Manning, Aaron Swartz, Irwin Schiff, or Anwar al Awlaki, you've got a bigger, stronger, badder, more immanently dangerous enemy to fight: you.

I don't know, maybe you don't need to read this. But I'm writing it because I need to read it.

V.

They used to burn heretics. Hardly anymore. Occasionally, they do. Above, I just named one they burned with a drone strike. Two of the others are in cages and the remaining one killed himself (probably to escape the state's uncritical subjects more than the state --this podcast is a great listen if you haven't followed the Aaron Swartz story closely). But now more heretics-- people who challenge old dogmas with new ways of thinking-- than ever are leading the march into the future and handsomely rewarded for it.

The reason I don't believe the story in Atlas Shrugged is because it's clearly not happening in our world today. The state shaves its crumbs off the feasts you create, but the rest of it feeds a world full of creative people doing incredible things to make the state irrelevant forever. The state marches forward at breakneck speed, but we're sprinting outward in every direction faster than the state can hope to. In absolute terms, the state's bigger than ever, but in relative terms, we're outgrowing it by lightyears. When it does burn heretics, grab your pitchfork and fight! Keep looking over your shoulder as the state comes barreling after you, but don't stop looking forward.

Let the state have your crumbs. It can't stop you from eating the all-you-can-eat buffet in front of you. Be hungry. Be happy. Be triumphant. This chapter in history belongs to us, not them. We're not resisting the state. The state is resisting us. The gift libertarians have to offer humanity is not to spearhead a fight against the state from the front, but to act as the rear guard and watch humanity's back as they flood away from it in pursuit of happiness.

The Fountainhead overflows...