Rants of the Week
Past "Rants of the Week"
I live in two worlds, really.
My Free State Project world is populated with highly intelligent, clearthinking individuals, many of whom have their heads so far up in the clouds that they have lost touch with the practical realities of the world we actually live in.
Then there is my occupational world. In the world I inhabit some forty hours a week, give or take, there is nary an original thought or idea to be found. You're either loyal to the union, or you're loyal to the company, and in this world it is that loyalty which defines who you are and what you do and how you do it.
I have made some observations based on this unique duality that I have been wanting to share here.
On the one hand, my libertarian-leaning friends here in the fsp have a lot of really cool insights and well-thought-out ideas. They tend to know what they believe, why they believe it, and they are open to contentious discourse and free exchange of ideas. But this same dynamic tends to produce a lot of thought without much consequent action.
On the other hand, my coworkers in the real world are mostly democrat-voting union good ol' boys who drink the Big Labor Kool-Aid because that's what they've been indoctrinated into. They value unity, loyalty, and do not tolerate dissent. But -- they get stuff done. Everyone knows what they're there for, everyone knows what role to play, and they play it without question or argument.
I've just begun an interesting study into the nature of opposites. It seems to be human nature to divide and compartmentalize. While this is a natural outgrowth of organized thought, it also can lead to invalid conclusions that certain things cannot go together.
This is where homesteaders once again shine as examples of what can be accomplished by the integration of seemingly discordant concepts.
The homesteader must, for his own survival, be able to both think for himself and act on his own behalf. No one in our day and age becomes a homesteader because he has to. Invariably those who choose such a lifestyle are driven to it by some high-minded ideal, a well-defined philosophy. But philosophy does not keep the house warm in winter. It does not pull weeds, build houses, or till soil. That requires action -- hard work. Labor.
At the same time, the homesteader does not think a certain way or believe in a certain idea because someone else requires him to. In point of fact, the homesteader has rejected most of society's conventions -- he would not, could not live the independent life otherwise.
What homesteaders seem to know better than almost anyone else is that either thought or action, without the other, is empty.
First in War, First in Peace, First in Homesteading (3/30/04)
George Washington is my favorite American. He has been a huge inspiration to me. From his galvanizing influence over a mutinous crowd of military officers, to his humble decline when the popular wish was to establish him as dictator of the new nation, I grow more convinced all the time that we would not be who we are had he not been who he was.
But did you know he was also a homesteadin' fool? It's true! The father of our country was an incurable tinkerer in agriculture, animal husbandry, commercial fishing and farming techniques. Before, during and after the war, and even during his presidency, if Washington wasn't home to tend to matters himself, he was in constant correspondence with his foremen, giving detailed instructions, floating ideas, experimenting with crops and improving, always improving.
Among his many, many significant innovations: he singlehandedly invented a new method of threshing grain by building a round "treading" barn, streamlining one of the most arduous of all farm chores of the day. He built one of the first water-powered grist mills in this country. He was one of the first, if not the first, to introduce the idea of composting organic waste to be recycled as fertilizer. He was also very shrewd in the execution of his many home-based commercial endeavors. As seasons dictated, he would harvest from the Potomac either fish or ice for market, and even in his last few years of life he never tired of taking on new ventures, opening one of the first commercial distilleries in the area shortly before he died.
Washington loved Mount Vernon, loved constantly improving it and refining it, as evidenced by the conviction with which he applied himself, and had he been anyone but the father of his country, he probably would have been happy to just be a very successful farmer and businessman. But being who he was, he also felt that he was building a prototype of what could be achieved by anyone with the wherewithal to do it. He made it his mission to showcase Mount Vernon as an inspiration to farmers and entrepreneurs everywhere.
As none other than George Washington has shown, homesteading is not about subsisting among the muck and the hogs; it's about progress, innovation, capitalism, the improvement of body, brain, pocket, and the earth itself.
The Undivision of Labor (3/23/04)
Now why would any reasoning human being choose to eschew all the obvious advantages of division of labor? Isn't that what self-reliance amounts to?
Why do homeschoolers homeschool? Why do shooters reload their own cases? Because they think they can do it better. Because they want to be directly involved. Whatever it is that they want, it can't be gotten from mass production. Or maybe it's just more expedient.
The fact is there will always be those who cannot conform to a system, no matter how good the system. And guess what? Humanity needs these people. Why do we always glorify the outlaw, the renegade, the one who goes his own way when everyone else is going the long-established route? Because those are the people who change lives and take society in new directions. To steal a quote from my hero Claire Wolfe, "the mature course -- for both individuals and unhappy groups -- is to remain and confront our problems. We are to 'work within the system,' 'reach consensus,' and 'have a dialog.' This is the way to solve every problem from family hassles in Alabama to genocide in Africa.
Phooey. Freedom isn't created by consensus. Consensus doesn't produce innovation. And an important minority of the human race -- that troublemaking best-of-the-best -- isn't made for consensus. It's made for moving in directions others haven't yet discovered."
And to take a quote from my other hero -- myself -- ,
"The problem with government and religion is not that they are bad, it's that they have shifted from their proper role as servants of the individual to servants of themselves. Same with companies. Nike doesn't give a rat's ass about your feet. Nike cares about Nike. Of course that's natural. You can't prevent a company, or a government, or a religion, from developing a sense of self-interest. You just can't do it.
That's why the only solution I see as realistically viable is decentralization...it is impossible to prevent any institution from developing self-interest, [so] the next best thing is to prevent any institution from having the means to excercise that self-interest at the expense of those it was meant to serve."
Our civilization needs "worker bees" who practice division of labor at its highest level, but civilization also needs those insufferable jerks who oppose everything that makes a society run smoothly. Bees will always accuse the jerks of standing in the way of progress, and the jerks will retort that the bees are selling off society's freedoms.
I'm a jerk.
Great article that I quoted from my aforementioned hero, Claire Wolfe.
The Freedom to Not Trade (3/15/04)
As activists who passionately favor limited government, one of our core issues is economic freedom. We stress things like privatization of public services, abolition of government restrictions on trade and deregulation of industry. Central to all of these agenda items is one thing: the freedom to trade.
But what about the freedom to not trade? What if something happened and we either could not or didn't want to continue to buy electricity from Canada? Can we quit whenever we want? It was a lesson learned in a very hard way by both England and Japan sixty years ago. While the large scale import of consumer and staple products can actually promote peace and economic growth when times are good, it can have calamitous results in less auspicious times.
Try sometime to count the number of items in your home that you use every day, that you depend on, that are produced outside of our borders. What happens when we apply the principle of self-sufficiency to international trade?
It has always been within our grasp to meet our own demands for food, raw materials, technology, energy and even fuel. The past generation has seen this country shift radically from an industrial economy to a service economy. While we have become incredibly wealthy, we have also exported a significant chunk of our ability to provide our own staples, creating deficits where once there were surpluses, liabilities where once there were assets.
What are we importing from other countries that we could produce within our own borders?
One of the only market items for which we are involuntarily dependent on another nation for our supply is coffee. We are genuinely, truly incapable of producing coffee on our own lands in sufficient quantities to obviate the need for a South American market. I'm sure it wouldn't take long to think of more examples like this, but the point is we are capable of reining in our most vital foreign dependencies. Another word for this is contestability, which means that though we may buy most of a given product from one source, there is nothing insurmountable keeping us from producing our own, or at least buying from another source. As it was explained to me by Steve Cobb, it may be okay to import 100% of product X from another country A, as long as we could quickly make it ourselves or get it quickly from country B.
What political entanglements could we avoid by relying less heavily on foreign trade?
We could avoid having to keep a military presence in the Middle East to protect our vital national interests there. We could avoid the moral trap of advocating freedom for ourselves, all the while financing the international economies that prop up oppressive foreign governments.
What vital products do we depend on from other countries, and what does this do to our national security?
It is important to recognize that while we buy some portion of almost all our consumer and staple goods from overseas, we have only developed a dependency on certain particular markets. For instance, while it is true we buy cars from Germany, Sweden, Japan and Korea, we still manufacture most of our automobiles domestically. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of oil and clothing. These are industries that have moved offshore to such an extent that we can no longer possibly do without our foreign suppliers. These relationships are liabilities to our national security, as they put us on the hook for any major problems that our suppliers may encounter. For example, if we depend for our way of life on widgets, and all or most of our widgets come from Foreign Country A, then like it or not, we are their guardians. When Foreign Country A's economy goes in the crapper and all their widget factories shut down, it is up to us to write them ! a check big enough to get their economy back underway and their widget factories operating again. Worse is what happens when Foreign Country A is invaded by Foreign Country B. In such a case it is up to us to send our sons to die for foreign widgets. Even barring such an extreme case, prudence demands that we at least take a very strong interest in all the affairs of both Foreign Country A and Foreign Country B. Not to mention the expense and liability of protecting overland, air and maritime trade routes. It's also logical that every foreign item that crosses our border is a potential threat to our national security. By reducing the sheer number of those items, we make more manageable the task of screening for contraband while simultaneously saving money on customs and security programs.
What would happen to our economy if we were more self-reliant?
Over time, depending on how much government regulation we could eliminate, we could erase the trade deficit, we could create more domestic jobs in industries where real goods are being produced, we could decrease defense spending, and we could attract more highly-skilled labor and talent from abroad. Because of our affluence, we will probably always import many of our consumer goods. But both economically and politically, it may well be in our best interest to work toward keeping the majority of our staple goods production within our own country.
We used to have a trade surplus in this country. How do we get it back?
That's a very difficult question to answer here, but it starts with lifting government restrictions on domestic manufacturers. That includes getting rid of minimum wage and prevailing wage, and abolishing pro-union/anti-competition politics.
Free trade and trade dependency are two very, very different things that we mistakenly lump together. In our praise of free trade, we have almost lost sight of the second-most important principle: the freedom to not trade.
Hemp: It's What's For Dinner (3/8/04)
Personally, I can't stand pot. I mean, I'll stand firmly behind your right to smoke pot recreationally if that's what you choose to do, but I'll also be the first in line to tell you you're a moron if you use it habitually.
But hemp! Now there's a cause I can get behind one hundred percent. It's too bad for everybody that the stuff is illegal.
Now, there is already a liaison dedicated to drug legalization, and Lord knows I don't want to tresspass on anyone else's territory. But hemp presents some very, very legitimate benefits to those wishing to practice self-reliance at almost any level.
The most dramatic and amazing use for hemp is that you can run any diesel engine on hemp seed oil. It can be used in its virgin state on an engine with a fuel tank modified for its use, or it can be processed into a product called biodiesel. Biodiesel is simply diesel fuel produced from vegetable oil, rather than petroleum. It works exactly the same, in fact better than, petroleum diesel, it is friendly to the environment, and it could be a huge boon to our economy and national security by significantly reducing our dependency on a foreign essential resource. Biodiesel can be produced from nearly any vegetable oil, but very few plants can match the per-acre yield of hemp, and none can be cultivated as widely or cheaply as hemp.
Hemp can clothe you -- hemp yields twice as much fiber per acre than cotton, and it is softer, warmer, stronger and more durable.
Did you know that hemp actually does a body good? Hemp seed oil contains essential fatty acids, and it produces one of the most complete vegetable proteins available to mankind.
Now, I understand of course that there are those who want hemp legalized simply as a matter of principle. And there are others who want it legalized so they can legally get baked all the time. I just love the idea of being able to grow my own fuel and clothing.
The reason I have chosen hemp as the subject of this week's rant is because it perfectly illustrates the interlocking nature of practical self-reliance and political self-determination, two movements which have dedicated followings and significant overlap, yet seem so uncomfortable with each other. It is my awkward but cherished duty to continually point out that it is often the same spirit that drives both causes. The two causes are not exactly the same, but they are parallel. They're natural allies, like what's called in gardening, "companion planting." Certain crops grow very well together, one encouraging the other, mutually protecting and nourishing one another.
We're like carrots and tomatoes. And hemp.
A wise man once said, you don't need a degree in political science to know what freedom is.
I think on the surface, freedom means something different from each person to the next. But on a deeper level, I think freedom exists on its own, outside the imaginations of those who wrestle to define it. And that's why it's such a tricky business to attempt something as ambitious as the Free State Project.
My vision of freedom is a thirty or forty acre plot that supplies me with all I need to live, and live well. Another's vision of freedom may be to broadcast a radio show without a license from the FCC. Another may just want to run a still in the privacy of his own home.
We all have something different in mind; some of us have something very different in mind. So we don't all use the same words to describe freedom. Sometimes we argue over the words. But every minute we spend arguing over the words is a minute not spent in the service of that which we struggle to identify.
A degree may not be necessary, but it can't hurt, either. Or can it?
Why is it that when a human behavior professor talks about love it means nothing to me, but an average man or woman who actually feels love hardly has to say anything to convey a powerful message?
We believe in the Free State Project because we recognize that freedom is as basic a human need as love. And like love, freedom is its own language. It can scarcely be improved by shackling it in more words than are necessary to name it.
I don't know what it means to be an objectivist, or a georgist, or even a libertarian, for that matter. But I know what freedom is. And so do you. I'm not interested in arguing about it in a language poorly suited to the task.
Another wise man once said, well done is better than well said. Whatever form your vision of freedom takes, the best way to describe it is to live it. And the best place to live it is in New Hampshire.
Live free or die. Can't say it better than that.