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Focus on Freedom

Beyond Anger and Anguish

Virtually all of the freedom-oriented Internet websites concentrate their news and commentary on the growing numbers of atrocities by governments, decrying the continuing losses of freedom. This attention-getting method is fine for those who are unaware of or have been ignoring the actions of governments in the past 50 years, especially that of the US. In small quantities, such news and commentary is even useful to keep more knowledgeable readers informed and actively concerned. However, fomenting anger and anguish is a dead end without the availability of resources which can be used to generate the deeper understanding of the causes of these clear injustices, which understanding is so necessary before any corrective action can successfully lead to any permanent resolution. Continuing to rant is merely "preaching to the choir", unless the audience is also being taught how to think in terms of the basic principles that will allow each individual to approach new events with the intellectual ammunition required to determine the essential fallacies underlying them.

Examining the underlying issues - the fundamental basis - of an action or an idea is an exercise that many people apparently think is unnecessary - if they have thought of it at all. Philosophers, those "who offer views or theories on profound questions in ethics, metaphysics, logic, and other related fields" (Random House Webster's College Dictionary 1991), are not necessarily contemplating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. As Ayn Rand wrote in Philosophy: Who Needs It?:

"As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by conscious, rational disciplined process of thought...or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions..."

Those that study, write, and/or teach (in institutions) on the nature of man and what is necessary for him to live are valuable in helping the rest of us focus on the essentials of issues that often are convoluted or have been made so by those who will profit by keeping the waters muddied. Even when they are found to be in error by others, the discussion that has taken place - when in public - is enlightening to those on the sidelines.

The writings of philosophical scholars, whether independent or associated with learning institutions, are not meant to be a "fast read" - even those aimed at the "general public". These latter offerings, while not filled with the jargon which allows the writers and readers of scholarly articles to "save" time by eliminating repetition of "basics" from earlier writings, are intended to be studied, not skimmed. Instead of adopting a populist approach, these deep thinking scholarly writers know that the subject - philosophy of freedom, in this specific case - is not something that is simple to fully understand at a level sufficient to improve its application. If that were the case, the vast majority of people in the world would be living in a state of liberty with the most minimal of governments, if any at all. The nature of man is not a simple subject - man is a complex entity, mentally and physically; he is not merely a biochemical computer. More than 2500 years of thought by the best intellects of the day, while improving things, have still left us far short of a solution to the problem of what system will provide a stable social structure with the maximal choice available for each individual to optimize his happiness.

Discovering the proper philosophical principles on which to base the interactions of humans in a self-ordering society must be based in part on the state of knowledge about the physical and mental aspects of man. Just like other branches of science, the study of man is a field continually unfolding. Adherence to logic is as essential a tool for uncovering the facts of reality when the subject is the nature of man as in the realm of physics. Thinking in this precise manner is a science in itself and, as such, can be learned. Everyone at every educational level is capable of improving his or her ability to think critically - the first measure needed in moving beyond the emotional states of anger or anguish on the subject of lost liberty. (The very best book I've ever read on this subject is one currently out of print, Thinking as a Science by Henry Hazlitt, the author of the later and more well-known book Economics in One Lesson. Hopefully some publisher will reissue this first book written by Hazlitt at age 21 - a real masterpiece. Used copies are sometimes available on the Internet. A website that I've recently found and appears quite useful is Resources for Independent Thinking; its list of books may be of additional value.)

When approaching the works of philosophical writers like Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand, George H. Smith, or even Paul Wakfer, readers should not expect to be able to grasp the full meaning from a cursory skim through pages that took those individuals weeks, months, and even years to produce. The subject matter is deep and the authors have treated it seriously - deadly serious - since death of the mind, if not the body, is the result of failing to fully understand the nature of man and implement the conditions necessary for the full flowering of his life. Take the time to study each point; learn to enjoy the pleasure in recognizing and following the logic of a valid argument. (George H Smith is a master at taking the knowledgeable reader along a path appropriately sprinkled with subtle humor as he points out logical errors by other thinkers who have themselves (or their followers) refused to see a fallacy in their own theory. See In Defense of Rational Anarchy.) This mind stretching experience - concentrated reading, study or "chewing" on a subject - when performed on a regular basis has the benefit not only of making the specific essay or book being read more understandable (and therefore always more valuable), but also of allowing the reader to view lighter articles with a more critical eye.

The user who has developed a certain level of critical thought will be able to fairly quickly discern the valuable information from that which is merely interesting but contains no fundamental principles. The Internet can be a powerful tool of information access to precise and detailed sources, but it can also be a flood of flotsam and jetsam. With the enormous time pressures resulting from productive activities and associations, those of us who are serious about obtaining liberty in our lifetimes, must make the best use of the hours, days and weeks in the years of our extended lives. Utilizing the internal sections of news/commentary websites which have them, or the outside links to sources providing more fundamental depth on the subject material, will allow an Internet user to "stay informed" while increasing his understanding. (Notation software may be available to some, allowing computerized note keeping while reading online offerings.) Turning off the computer and opening printed material may be necessary sometimes in order to read sources that are not available online and to contrast with them. In this regard, remember how important it is to read about the same subject from several points of view - never mind that you don't fully agree with them all. While the need for paper sources is slowly diminishing, there is still pleasure to be had from sitting quietly and reading, even while taking notes or scribbling in the margins. Whether the sources of knowledge are online or off is not important, it is what each person does in regard to them that is important - find, read, chew, digest and utilize.

We must not let anguish and anger be like stones skipped along the surface of a body of water - to end up with nothing left of their display, out of sight at the bottom. To obtain liberty we must constantly seek to truly understand the roots of the tree of evil not simply emote over the current horrors evident on the ends of its branches. When large numbers of liberty-seeking people everywhere are rational thinkers armed with the knowledge of man's nature and resultant required society, then the water in the reservoir (no matter its size) can be moved productively, not merely rippled just to return to stillness once again. Or to build on a famous quote from Thoreau: "Then there will be thousands striking at the root of evil, not as before, only hacking at the branches."