Thursday, April 24, 2008

Hey Pal, No Soliciting

Every night when we turn on the news there are threats and evil forces surrounding us. It is Wall Street and the mortgage crisis, immigrants taking our jobs, and the disappearing middle class. It’s hard not to believe the hype. It’s hard not to believe that we are all victims of our circumstances, and that the world is hopelessly out of control and that Armageddon will come soon.

When we start to hear these hysterics, we need to employ a little skepticism. When the Wizard of Oz is spewing fire and the green vein on his forehead pulses with anger, we need to look around and see if Toto has exposed a little man behind a curtain. Fear is a tool of manipulation. The peddlers of fear usually want something from you. They want you to tune in at 10, buy their product, or vote for their candidate. We should greet these peddlers with the same skepticism that we greet car salesmen.

It is not that all horror stories are false. If the news tells me that there is a Hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, I need to watch because my life and family depend on knowing what to do. The critical test is listening to what they want you to do about it. Do they want something from you? Do they want your money, your personal freedom, your rapt attention during commercial breaks?

The more afraid we are, the more power we cede to those who want to be in charge. We feel powerless and hopeless and that only someone stronger can save us all. Beware the stench of manipulation.

Many economists now believe we are either in or about to be in a recession. Recessions are not fun, but the media blows it way out of proportion. According to the news, I should start growing my own crops and livestock to survive the coming dark ages. Many people may lose their jobs, but in reality that will only be 1 or 2% of the working population and it will be temporary. Most people’s income will continue to rise, but maybe a little slower.

Yielding to fear and handing over money and freedom to massive government “fixes” is not the answer we need. What we need to do now is what we need to do every day. We need to work hard at our jobs and set money aside for a rainy day. In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand wrote of her character Henry Rearden, “He had never known fear, because against any disaster he had held the omnipotent cure of being able to act.” It is individual action that we need not collective panic.

If we do not act, we become slaves to luck. We become objects manipulated by those in power. When it comes to life’s troubles we sometimes exhort personal responsibility, but we misunderstand it. American Heritage Dictionary defines responsibility as a duty, an obligation, or a burden. When we choose to act, the only burden is the effort of throwing off the shackles of dependence. Action brings freedom, safety, and security.

A leader or politician cannot bring us freedom. Freedom begins in our hearts and minds, and flows upward to curtail the ambitions of those who wish to use us for their gain. However, action turns to force when it moves outside of ourselves and to the coercion of others. Do not be fooled, forcing others to act is not the same as them choosing to act.

While we sympathize with their plight, the poor and the downtrodden are not victims of circumstances they are slaves to inaction. Whether it is addiction and sloth or fear and hopelessness, they have ceded their personal freedom and borne themselves into bondage. Their emancipation cannot be delivered, they must choose to take it up. We best help when we live the answers that they seek.

It is not mere personal responsibility that we need, but a new individualism. We need an individualism that recognizes personal action, not as a burden, but the narrow gate to personal freedom. We need an individualism that sneers at fear and hopelessness. An individualism repulsed by the brimstone breath of fear mongers. We do not need “enlightened” leaders to save us; we only need to act with daily discipline and contempt for coercion.

We need the audacity of Winston Churchill under the specter of the Nazi blitzkrieg. As the Third Reich roared across Europe like a tsunami, he stoked the fires of defiance in England with his call to action and rejection of fear.

“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”

Recessions, crises and corruption come and go. They will always happen, and they will always end. There will always be those who try to manipulate us into believing that we are powerless over our own lives, and that we need only to hand over our personal freedom so that they can protect us. But, the new individualist knows that safety and security can only be found in the daily discipline of human action. Declare your independence. Turn off the TV, put your wallet away, and vote for the other guy. Become a new individualist.

As always, tell me what you think.


lockmat said...

That's why I get my TV news from PBS', The News Hour with Jim Lehrer.

Brian Shelley said...

I much prefer the internet for my news. You can actually read opinions and analysis by economists and make your own judgements. It isn't as shaped and filtered by the need for a journalist to paint an attention grabbing storyline.