Personal Liberty Poll
In past articles I have examined the nature of power and division in our society and have always come to the same conclusion, that there are only two types of people: the people who want control over others and the people who just want to be left alone. However, there are also subgroups that swim within the boundaries of each end of the spectrum. Often, psychologists and self-help gurus attempt to promote the idea that the defining quality of the average person’s life is whether he is a follower or a leader. I have seen this spectrum applied to every political and social organization.
Ironically, I have heard so-called “leftists” argue that the nature of their ideology makes them more adept at leadership and that conservatives are more prone to become followers (ostensibly because conservatives tend to be more religious). I have heard the same argument from people on the so-called “right,” only in reverse. The problem is that very few people in our society understand anymore what it actually means to be a leader. Most Americans today are followers, whether they know it or not.
The concept of leadership has become ridiculously warped. Many people feel that to become a leader, one must clamor his way through the system — be it government or corporate — and achieve artificial status, which others are conditioned to recognize and worship. One cannot become a designated “doctor” without earning the correct accolades from the establishment, accolades that are essentially bought at the right price or given as a pat on the head to those who excel at parroting the mainstream consensus. The same goes for scientists, economists, political authorities, etc. This creates a professional class, a percentage of the population whose opinions are treated with immediate reverence simply because of their titles.
Others in our culture assume that leadership is measured by level of influence. Influence, however, can be stolen, rather than earned. The number of fans and followers a person retains is not a true measure of the real man or woman. Some people lie about who they are to gain popularity, while other people devour such lies because they are desperate for an icon to show them the path to an imaginary promised land. Celebrity — whether by aid of media, finance or bureaucracy — is almost always superficial.
Still other men and women believe that leadership requires empty gestures of cultural rebellion. Do our style preferences, body art, sexual orientations, musical tastes, obscure philosophical hobbies and elitist attitudes really make us different or unique? No, they do not. These things are an expression of our orientation to others, not an expression of our inner selves. One can live a life immersed in what we believe to be the wildly eccentric and still be an empty follower, devoid of originality and independence.
Carl Jung, one of the few psychologists in history I actually find useful, once said that all human beings are in search of a particular treasure, a psychological or spiritual treasure that is unique to them and makes them whole. Many people spend the entirety of their lives searching for this treasure in the world around them, rather than looking within, and they end their days feeling mostly miserable and thwarted. They look for it in politics. They look for it in religious representatives (without ever understanding their true relation to the religion). They look for it in wealth and stature. And they always come up short. This is the life of the follower, a life of endless transference in which complete happiness is always outside of oneself, somewhere over the horizon or in the hands of others.
One might ask what any of this has to do with independence and liberty? Consider the implications.
How many socialists and collectivists in the world think their happiness is dependent on your savings, your acceptance, your submission to their ideal society. How many collectivists seek to complete themselves by forcing others to participate in their philosophical fantasies? They do not look within; they look without. And if you happen to be standing in their field of vision, you might become a prop in their self-serving theater.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are many within the liberty movement who also suffer from the follower’s disease. They are the relentless crybabies on message boards screaming: “We keep talking about the problem but when are YOU going to give us a solution!?” Or they ask: “When is EVERYONE going to stand up and do something about this!?” Notice the inclusiveness of such statements. These people are always waiting around for someone else to take action, while never taking action on their own. They are followers by default of their own apathy.
What can be done to instill independence and true leadership in Americans once again? The conundrum is that such values cannot be instilled; they can only be encouraged. Each individual must make the decision on his or her own to stop looking for the world to fix itself, or them. Each individual must take the first step toward the long journey of becoming a self-reliant and self-owned human being. When faced with this conundrum, I can do nothing but make suggestions:
- Find a useful skill, something that you love, and master it completely. Try to become the foremost expert on just one thing — not to impress others, but to challenge yourself. When people assert the incredible effort required to master a skill, they grow their sense of self-worth instead of measuring their worth by the guidelines of the collective.
- Never look for traditional leaders. Always look for teachers. A real teacher is someone who seeks to make each individual his own leader through knowledge and empowerment. A real teacher has no desire to rule others, only to help others so that they do not feel the need to be ruled.
- Independence comes from self-leadership. As long as you are reliant on the system or its participating oligarchs to decide your future for you, you will never be anything more than a follower, even if the system has given you a “place at the table” and a title to make you feel special.
- If you see a problem in the world, stop asking permission to fix it! Stop waiting for the establishment to police itself. Stop concerning yourself with the actions of others and take your own actions, however small they might be. Revolutions are sparked in the minds of individuals and implemented by the hands of the courageous few. There will be no mass awakening and there will be no grand march to glory, so stop holding your breath. If there is an unrelenting evil in the world, then you must fight it if you expect anything to change. If you are the only person who recognizes it, then you may have to fight it alone.
- If you are going to lead others, lead by example. Show people how to achieve something more by building something of your own. There are far too many Americans who seek to falsely elevate themselves by attacking the solutions and achievements of others from the anonymous comfort of their computers, rather than doing anything constructive on their own merit. There was a time when Americans were respected as people of action, rather than talk. When you do talk, do so from a position of strength. Talk as someone who has actually done something worth talking about.
- Make a list of your dependencies. Do you have the skills to survive without a job? Without money? Without utilities? Without consistent aid from others? Can you live without modern comforts if you had to? Do you have the fortitude to endure great hardship? Have you ever endured great hardship, or have you avoided it your whole life? The more self-sufficient you are, the less you will need to look to the system or other people to make your decisions for you. You will become fearless, and fearless people cannot be ruled.
I believe independence terrifies some people because it requires a human being to challenge the unknown and take responsibility for the consequences if he fails. Followers trade in their mental and spiritual freedom to governments, oligarchs and gatekeepers so that they never have to face these difficulties. Sometimes, they are simply lazy. Sometimes, they lack confidence in their own abilities. Sometimes, they are just cowards. In any case, the result is the same: a life of relative ease riding the tides in a vast school of self-serving minnows but always prey to the ever circling sharks. I say don’t be a minnow; be a man.