Zoos are among the saddest places on earth: magnificent but confined creatures on display for gawking crowds, prevented from living out their biological destinies, fed their daily rations, and domesticated beyond where they could ever return to the wild. You have to feel pity and sorrow for these innocent prisoners; they’d flee in a heartbeat if they could.
Humans have made themselves inmates—whether of a zoo, prison, or asylum is hard to say, likely a combination of all three. Animals earn our admiration because they resist losing their freedom. Humans occasionally do too, but usually surrender theirs for promises and trifles. The promises are broken and the trifles grow more trifling as humanity for the most part gives up. Keep people amused and make sure the rations don’t stop and no outrage rousts them to try to reclaim their birthright. When they visit the zoo, the animals stare back at them with contempt.
In this country, we sing, “Sweet land of liberty,” and, “The land of the free, and the home of the brave.” We incant “freedom” and “liberty” during election seasons, but anything beyond that is considered embarrassing, bad form. A legislator denouncing a proposed law as an infringement of freedom would be regarded as a lunatic. Millions of pages of federal, state, and local laws and regulations already infringe freedom. The denouncer might be irrefutably right, but his denunciation would be irrelevant.
While wildlife should be free in the wild, coping with the risks to the best of their capabilities, humans are supposedly unsuited for freedom. Free humans might develop their own talents and capabilities, produce, exchange, exercise their rights, and engage in voluntary association and social intercourse, all unsupervised. You can argue that such activities are generally beneficial. However, there is a special class who are permitted to supervise and coerce the rest of us, to curtail our freedom. This special class ensures fairness or equality or some such thing. Who knows what might happen without them. Think of the dangers!
Just consider the concept of people deciding what’s in their own best interest. A hyphenated word lurks: self-interest. The special people are motivated by everything but self-interest, or so they say. Indeed, nobility of motive justifies their power and the destruction of your liberty. The desire to better your life is selfish, unlike the impulses supposedly animating those holding the guns to your head. After widespread surrender, few champion their right to their own lives, which is selfish after all, or challenge the special people’s moral superiority, which confers their right to hold the guns.
It might mitigate moral condemnation for liberty’s surrender if it had produced some benefit for those waving the white flag. An old bromide has it that liberty is irrelevant when people are starving. Nothing is further from the truth; it’s freedom that feeds people, creates wealth, and advances humanity. The historical record offers ample proof. It’s the absence of liberty that produces starvation, poverty, decay, destruction, genocide, and war. Here too the historical record is clear, one need go no farther back than the last century. During this ascendancy of the special people, humanity fought its two deadliest wars and over a hundred million were murdered, victims of special plans for a better world.
But somehow it’s liberty that’s dangerous. Fortunately the special people still rule, to make sure it doesn’t break out somewhere. Their reign assures that this century will challenge the last for the title: Century of Slaughter. They see their subjects are domesticated draft animals, just smart enough to keep economies running, not smart enough to challenge domestication. However, it’s been free minds and free markets, not draft animals, that have produced the wonders that make modern life modern. Welfare states are halfway houses to totalitarianism. As they grow, liberty shrinks and progress slows, stops, and reverses, the deterioration culminating in either anarchy or tyranny.
Judging from the prevalence of terms like “secular stagnation” and the “end of growth,” we are in the stop phase and reversal is nigh. People have seen their freedom shrink and have borne the consequences, although most don’t make the connection between the two. Incomes have stagnated, opportunities have diminished, life grows ever coarser, and fear of a looming apocalypse pervades the popular consciousness. Many are preparing for a future in which modernity is no longer modern, where access to necessities and conveniences cannot be taken for granted. Guns and gold are at the top of checklists, for a day when the inevitable failure of the special people leads to the inevitable tyranny or anarchy.
The discontent sweeping the planet is recognition that things are wrong on multiple fronts, although recognition of the root cause is rare. The idea that changing the hands on the levers offers solutions is magical thinking. The problems stem from granting the special people the levers in the first place. They may be replaced, but once the replacements have their hands on the levers, they’ll feel special, too. Power assuredly corrupts.
We’re closer to the real solution in the lament: “Why can’t they just leave us alone?” They—the special people—must leave us alone, it’s our moral right. Those who think the collapse will never come, or that freedom can be reclaimed without a fight, delude themselves. The craven adage: It’s better to live on one’s knees than die on one’s feet, offers a false choice. On your knees you may live to see another day, but you’ll never live to see better days. You may die on your feet, but liberty offers the only hope for better days. It’s worth fighting for. It’s worth dying for.
A novel for Freedom