Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Achieving a Permanent Change in Society

I’m now on Issue 34 of “The Voluntaryist.” That's not very far at all is it? This has been a slow-moving project, much slower than I imagined at first. I’m not sure what I was thinking because I certainly did not set a specific time as an endpoint goal, but still, I thought I would move faster.

When I read these newsletters, a mere 8 pages each, there is usually so much for me to consider, to ponder, to wrestle with, to argue with myself about, that I just can’t do this project very fast.

The problem, though, is that I’m also impatient. When I have a project on my plate, I want to get it done. When I have something on my “to do” list, I want to complete it as soon as possible and check that item off the list. And yet, if a project is worth doing, it’s worth taking the time to do it in the manner that works best for me.

And so it goes. I read, I write, I think, I take a break and I go back and do it all again. This project doesn’t have to ever be completed, that’s not the point of it anyway, the point is to learn and grow in my understanding of the ideas, theories and principles put forth in this newsletter and share my thoughts here. So I plod on.

And that brings me to the feature article in Issue 34, “Does Freedom Need to Be Organized?” In this article, Carl challenges Murray Rothbard’s chiding of individualist anarchists who are traveling the self-improvement route as the means to greater liberty for society as a whole. Rothbard thinks it’s more important to work and collaborate with people on issues of common agreement. He wants us to get out in the “real world” and get things done! Rothbard wants action!

Carl is adamant that the “quiet” process of self-education and self-improvement are key to the change we want to see:
“THE VOLUNTARYIST has consistently maintained that such virtues are the prerequisites to the achievement of spiritual freedom and physical liberty. Effective and long-lasting improvement in human affairs MUST begin with the individual. Reform begins with the individual because society is never better or worse than the persons who compose it, for they in fact are it.”
Yes, if we all learn to live responsibly and do not initiate violence upon others to satisfy our own wants and needs, then society will change as a natural result of the change in individuals. This is not really that hard to get. It’s a logical argument that surely makes sense to any libertarian-minded person and yet, it is often rejected as useless and ineffective. Why?

I think people just get depressed when thinking that real change can’t happen until the individuals in society change because they look out in the world and see that we have a long way to go. I can understand why people simply look for ways to make their own lives better NOW, like perhaps the repeal of an unjust law.

People want change NOW. They want to do something to pursue greater freedom NOW.

I have not always known exactly how to respond to this desire within myself and others, but in this article Carl makes a great point that changing the individual units of society is the only way to get PERMANENT change:
“The problem that we face is not really how to get rid of the State, but rather the longer range one of how to prevent another one from taking its place.”
That really hit home for me and this point does not even have to be thought of in the full-fledged terms of getting rid of the state to be useful. We can also think about permanent change even in terms of the hopes people have on an issue-by-issue basis when working to add a new law or repealing an old one.

I recently ran into an excellent example of this in regards to the currently very hot “right-to-work” issue in Indiana. I learned that this exact battle happened before. A right-to-work law was passed in the late 1950s and repealed in the mid 1960s. And now it’s all happening again. Has progress been made? Has any permanent change occurred?

No, and it’s because the individuals within the society have not changed. Until they do, these conflicts will be infinite. People think they’ve won when something is changed through political means; they don’t seem to understand (or admit to themselves) that if they “won” a change through the political game then their “opponents” can do the same.

Yes, it requires patience but if you truly want to change society permanently, then changing the individual units is the only way it’s going to happen.

(Photo courtesy of wikimedia)


Kent McManigal said...

Carl's notion seems to fit in with the strategy of The On Line Freedom Academy

MamaLiberty said...

"if you truly want to change society permanently, then changing the individual units is the only way it’s going to happen."

And the only one who can change that individual is THAT individual. It's not ever going to happen any other way - no matter what we may do to nudge it along. :)

Formerlybrainwashed said...

I agree 100% with Carl's analysis. It seems to be a point that escapes many people's thinking. That is, that self-awareness as "individuals" is much more than mere identification. I am firmly convinced that one of the primary reasons why people would reject voluntaryism and accept statism (in any form), is precisely because their minds are conditioned to think in collectivistic terms.

What if people pursued their individual liberty - as an individual? What if others were able to learn from those individuals and gain incremental liberties of their own? Why not set an example for others to emulate, rather that setting out to save the "country?" We are conditioned to embrace the idea of the nation-state, and therefore it is a challenge to retrain our minds to pursue goals that meet our rational self-interests.

It naturally follows that if more people were living and thinking as individuals while simultaneously respecting the rights of others to do the same (basic adherence to the non-aggression principle)... Then I believe that the transformation within the broader society could be remarkable.

I think Samuel E. Konkin III does a great job of challenging Rothbard's position in his - An Agorist Primer. It was also Konkin who is said to have coined the term "minarchism" for the minimalist (aka Rothbardian) types.

Whether taking the time to pursue independent studies, interact within the market via counter-economics, educating others, withdrawing support from the political scheme through non-voting, or any other number of things... Even if no one else ever sought to follow in your footsteps, you'd still have achieved certain personal/individual liberties that you otherwise would not have via sanction and participation within the statist trap.

At a rudimentary level we exist on this planet as individuals. Lets identify ourselves as such and live in a manner that is consistent with that reality.

Formerlybrainwashed said...

I'd like to correct my improper characterization of Rothbard as a minarchist. I have corresponded with numerous minarchists who use Rothbard to defend their position. My error is in improperly attributing citations of Rothbard as Rothbardian (i.e. improperly identifying Rothbards point of view).

Debbie H. said...

I really like the way you put it Formerlybrainwashed. That was excellent!

Bill Starr said...

This reminds me quite a bit of a book I really liked called "Elements of Libertarian Leadership", by Leonard Read. Read also puts a heavy emphasis on improving society by improving myself. No-cost e-book version here.


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