I’m currently reading the final book of the science fiction series Long Earth, which was co-written by the late Terry Pratchett who wrote the popular Discworld novels. Last night, I was struck by something one of the characters said.
“To realize one’s true nature is a liberation.”
In the context of the story, this was meant in the sense of realising one’s true nature as a unique individual, the one and only you. But it occurred to me that part of realising one’s true nature as a human being is learning the truth about human freedom and about the nature of society.
Doing so over the last eight years or has liberated me, intellectually and psychologically. It has corrected my previously skewed and in some regards entirely arse-upwards perspective on society and on humanity. I live a happier life having acquired this knowledge.
My outlook now is more positive than it used to be back when I viewed the world, almost by default, through the lens of the political Left. Back then, I lumped capitalism in with the bad stuff. I saw it as representing greed and selfishness. I thought of it as exploitative and cruel. I verged on seeing capitalism as a kind of enslavement. I believed my prosperity was built on the poverty of others.
This belief was just plain wrong and it wasn’t good for my mental wellbeing. I was often sad and depressed when thinking about the world. Naturally, there seemed no hope for humanity when it seemed the only way for the western world to be prosperous was to impoverish the rest of it. Thankfully, I learned I was totally wrong about that.
Now I understand that capitalism is a major force for human progress, which is enabling us to realise the dream of ending global poverty. I comprehend that capitalism is simply the system of spontaneous order that has emerged since the institution of property rights became established throughout the western world, and as such is a function of freedom. Thus opposing capitalism, in practice or in principle, means opposing human freedom. Your own and everyone else’s. That’s self and social-destruction.
Escaping that bleak, self-harming and guilt-ridden leftist perspective on capitalism and the world is a great feeling. You enjoy everything more when you appreciate the scale of the spontaneously coordinated human energy that produces it all and when you know it is mutually beneficial to everyone involved.
No more irrational guilt about the food you’re eating, the clothes you’re wearing, the trips you’re taking, the money you’re earning. You love your standard of living as you should and you are grateful to the forces of freedom that produce it. This is the benefit of learning how the world works, this is the benefit of learning liberty.
Moreover, it’s no longer a desperate struggle for me to see a reason for hope and optimism because I know prosperity comes from the creative use of human energy, which is always happening. It’s happening wherever people are free to engage in economic exchange. And I know now that progress comes from persuasion – not legal prohibitions. Everything happening outside of interventionist government but within the boundaries of individual rights, i.e. free society, is persuasion.
Back when I was a leftist, prosperity and progress seemed much more precarious, much more unlikely. Like other leftists, I thought government action was the only way prosperity and progress happened.
Thus I spent my time despairing that the government wasn’t doing this or that and wishing we could get the ‘right’ guys into power. All the while not noticing the prosperity and progress that was happening out there every day in the real world.
As you learn the ethics and economics of freedom, you come to understand the true nature of society. That society is not the result of human design, of plans made by people in government and imposed by legal force, but the result of voluntary and mutually beneficial human action – i.e. economic exchange, free speech and free association. Crucially, you realise that society manages itself better than any central authority can. This is a liberation that every person should experience.
Furthermore, you see how the things you thought were problems are actually the solutions and vice versa. Before, government action seemed to be the solution to social problems, but now you see how it makes existing ones worse and causes its own ones. Capitalism seemed to be causing poverty, but now you see how it is the only solution to poverty. To gain this clarity is a wonderful feeling. All that confusion and anxiety you once felt melts away.
Today, every politician along the traditional political spectrum, from the left of the state to the right of the state, sees problems (e.g. state control of the economy and state intervention) as solutions and solutions (e.g. capitalism or technological progress) as problems.
This is why politicians perpetually fail to solve the social problems they are voted into power to solve (but get rich whilst doing so). And why mainstream politics, which is essentially the ceaseless creation of new freedom-eroding laws, not only fails miserably to make the world a better place but also makes it worse.
Learning the ethics and economics of liberty liberates you from the hamster wheel of false hope that is mainstream politics. This is a wonderful feeling, I can assure you.
But whereas before you couldn’t see hope or progress anywhere else except with political parties grasping for state power, now you can because you know where it is. It’s out there in society, everywhere where an intervening government isn’t. It’s wherever people’s property rights are being upheld and trade is happening freely. Hope lies on the Internet and outside state education systems, where good ideas and sound economics can freely compete with bad ones and unsound economics. Hope lies in liberty.
I’ve discussed the personal psychological benefits of learning the truth about capitalism, human freedom and government action, but there is also a cost to doing so: the psychological impact of realising that you aren’t free in the way you previously believed you were; that for your entire life you’ll be subject to institutionalised and legalised property enslavement and that the state has power of life and death over you.
This is an unpleasant truth to face and it takes a while to digest. It will make you angry, sad and depressed. (And that’s okay, it’s a healthy response to having evil done to you, but avoid staying perpetually angry or depressed). You may go into denial about it. You may rage about it. Or you may find yourself longing for the contentedness of ignorance you enjoyed before you bravely pulled the state’s mask to one side to reveal its hideous face.
The key is to come to terms with the truth about your existence. Accept it as a fact but don’t ever accept or rationalise it as right or forget that it’s wrong. Whenever you feel down about your lot it can be comforting to remember that, compared to common men in every age of history, we are by far the freest.
When dealing with government bureaucrats it’s conducive to your own inner peace to explain why you’re complying. Point out that their authority over you is illegitimate because it has no ethical or contractual basis. Make it clear that you’re only complying because you don’t want to go to prison or have money taken from you.
There’s no need to shout or swear, just say it in a matter-of-fact manner. (Think about how a kidnap victim should speak to her captor in order to maintain her grip on the reality of the situation and to avoid developing Stockholm syndrome).
Once you do come to terms with the reality of your existence in a state-controlled society, then you should find the psychological benefits of understanding the ethics and efficacy of liberty outweighing the cost.
Yes, it’s tragic that our amazing society of abundance has a cancerous core of coercion, but on the plus side, it’s wonderful to know that freedom works; that free people, whose freedoms are limited only by each other’s property rights, are the greatest force for peace, progress and prosperity humanity has ever discovered.
It’s not just important to know the truth about human freedom for your own sake, but for the world’s sake. If you want to avoid inadvertently supporting bad ideas and ideologies, which I’m sure we all do, then it’s vital to know the good from the bad. That’s why it’s crucial to grasp that global capitalism is the force for prosperity, peace and progress. And not government action in the form of laws and regulations that restrict economic and social freedoms.
The exercise of state power by elected leaders towards the end of improving society is a major force for impoverishment, conflict and regression – nationally and internationally. Because state power can’t be expanded without eroding individual liberty, the foundation of everything good in our lives.