Time to Turn the World Around

Sunni's picture

Long past time, actually, but all who venture here know that. All who’ve ventured here over the years also know that the drumbeat I’ve marched to most consistently has been that of personal liberty, as contrasted to economic and political freedom, although as I recently observed, they cannot always be neatly categorized.

When I first got online and began exploring pro-freedom sites, I was very fortunate—I somehow came across Greg Swann. His ideas and the words he chose to convey them were oxygen to a sputtering spark inside me. If I have helped anyone understand the importance of individual liberty, if my words have helped bring eudaimonia to another’s way of being, then he deserves credit as well.

Today—not at all coincidentally—Greg has released a new book, Man Alive! It is short, it is available in its entirety at that link, and it is another heady hit of oxygen.

I have much more to say about the book and how it has affected me already, but that can all wait. For now, I want to thank Greg for—yet again—creating and sharing something that has resonated with the very fiber of my being... and again, at an enormously critical juncture for me.

Please, go read Man Alive! It truly is that important. I welcome any comments, questions, and/or observations you care to make in response.

Not my cup of tea

"Love your self" is correct. There are many very good and witty one liners. I really liked those.

Then there is the rest of it which is, sorry to say, ridiculous.

His self-regard number line is a useful concept, but he is completely wrong to believe that people who do evil, such as enslaving others, move negative on it. Sociopaths, and unfortunately, I have know a few, most certainly do not.

His statement that "a slave is a volunteer" is complete nonsense. Unless, of course, you take the Humpty Dumpty approach to the definition of words. In which case anything is possible.

His statement that "in the long run, each one of us gets [...] exactly what he has earned and deserved" is also false. The evidence for that is all around us.

There are several other statements in the book which I view in the same light.

Somewhat entertaining writing, a few gems, mostly junk. Sorry.

A reply from Greg

I’m posting it for him since new registrations seem not to be working at present.

Then there is the rest of it which is, sorry to say, ridiculous.

Typically, thoughtful people will quote the matter they disagree with, rather than issuing undefended blanket statements based on characterizations of the arguments. There are two good reasons for working this way: Second, to convey to readers looking in that the subject at issue is being debated fairly. But first, so that the person raising the objection can be sure that he actually has an objection. Generally speaking, "debate" by characterization of the points in dispute is a form of the Straw Man Fallacy.

... he is completely wrong to believe that people who do evil, such as enslaving others, move negative on it.

Where would someone who does something atrocious start any particular iteration of the number line scenario? How about -10,000 or so? What kind of relative motion should we expect to see from there? Not much. This does not mean that person loves his self more after taking an abominable action, which would be the implication of this quibble.

Sociopaths, and unfortunately, I have know a few, most certainly do not.

This is a good example of how people can worship pain instead of pursuing their values. There is still more here that I plan to take up in a post at SelfAdoration.com.

Much more importantly: The world is at least 98% normal people, and at least 90% decent people. Focusing on 2% (or less!) of the population is the Fallacy of Special Pleading — intellectually useless, except possibily as a palliative for self-awareness of past vice: "At least I'm not as bad as him!" At a minimum, you missed the entire point of the book.

His statement that "a slave is a volunteer" is complete nonsense. Unless, of course, you take the Humpty Dumpty approach to the definition of words. In which case anything is possible.

I said:

Suppose I show up at your house with a couple of my henchmen. We grab you and lock you up in shackles. We frog-march you back to my place and jail you in my basement. In the morning, we take you over to my neighbor's house and compel you to do his yard work — for which service he is willing to pay me a princely sum. He doesn't pay you anything, nor do I, but I do provide you with food, shelter and clothing — "Do not bind the mouths of the kine that tread the grain" — along with all the locks and chains you can stand. That is rent-seeking in its naked essence. I am providing none of the economic value. You are, albeit at my command. But I am collecting all of the "rents" for the value received.

That's slavery, of course, and every form of rent-seeking is simply a more-attenuated and more-complicated form of slavery: I profit from the economic values you own or produce and you do not. We are apt to think of slavery as being a two-party transaction — you work on my land — rather than the three-party trade described here. But Caesar's friend Crassus went all of this one better: He went into the slave-improvement businesses. He would march the captives of his conquests back to Rome, and, rather than sell them for chump change as mining or galley slaves, he would have them trained as carpenters or masons and then he would sell them for much higher prices as skilled tradesmen. That's the spirit of capitalism — economic value added by the application and cultivation of human capital — in the service of a life of crime!

And I have no doubt that you understand thoroughly that my conquest of your person and my selling your labor for my profit would be crimes. Whether you are willing to accept — yet — that every other sort of forceful intervention into a putatively free economy is also crime — filigreed felonies committed by thugs in thousand-dollar suits — is your business. The world will run along on its current vector of motion, at its current pace or still more quickly, until that pace is slowed and the direction ultimately reversed. That could occur slowly, by means of repealing legislation, though nothing like that is happening now. Or it could happen quite rapidly, in a national or global economic collapse. You don't have to accept any part of this argument, now or ever. The human mind is always free to call rocks trees and house-cats vegans, irrespective of facts. But a vitally important law of economics can be expressed in these simple words: If something can't go on forever — it won't.

But what of the morality of our hypothetical slavery scenario? If I should enslave you, that would move the marker of my self very far to the left on the number line of self-regard — wouldn't it? Using the Calculus of oss, we can see that my evil would move your marker leftward, too, although not as far. But you cannot rationally claim that you would love your life just as much or even more if you were graced with the opportunity to see and feel — and remember forevermore — your body in chains. As above, you could make such an absurd claim — just not rationally.

But could there be another moral evil, committed by you, that would be worse for your own self-image than seeing yourself in chains? How about seeing yourself cooperate in my evil scheme? If my minions and I capture your body, you have not taken any affirmative action in self-injury. If we chain your limbs and then essentially carry you to my basement, with your toes barely scraping the ground, you have not volunteered to be imprisoned. But when you actually undertake to do the yard work — even though you are under duress, coerced by violence or the threat of violence — at that point you are not simply being despoiled, you are participating in your own despoiling, are you not?

Do you care to dispute that claim? Do you quake with the need to quibble? There is a bright-line distinction between being pushed around and pushing yourself around in behalf of your despoilers. A captive is a victim. He is being injured through no fault of his own. But a slave is a volunteer. He does not volunteer to be enslaved, but by the self-initiated actions he takes in his despoilers' behalf, he becomes morally-complicit in his own despoliation.

No one likes to think about this. You always want for it to be some other guy who done you wrong. But just as you were responsible for your own past spasms of mindlessness, it is you and no one but you who has forged the chains by which you are bound.

Do you still want to say, "Yeah, but..." I hear that particular thoughtful construction all the time. The "yeah" is a concession, and the "but" is a quibble. But what is really happening any time you consent to participate in an evil action — any time you go-along-to-get-along? If we were to invert the question Socrates asked you before, acknowledging that either response requires a Calculus of Loss, we could instead say, "Which would be worse for your own self-love, now and in the future: To inflict an injury upon another person, or to have an injury inflicted upon yourself?" Are you willing to concede that there is third factor in play — voluntarily inflicting an injury upon your self — and that this is much worse for your own immediate and on-going self-adoration?

The slave-master has it all much worse, of course. He bellows, "Do it or I'll kill you!" — but this is simply his unthinking confession of his own impotence, his concession to his own unexamined conclusion that he is unworthy of the fully-human life. Brutes surround themselves with the trappings of luxury in order to delude themselves into believing, at least for a few precious seconds at a time, that they are getting something of value in exchange for their progressively more squalid self-loathing. But they have to drown their minds in liquor or drugs or indiscriminate sex or compulsive gambling, because they can never silence the screams of that five-year-old child within, that child who knows with perfect certainty what is just and what is unjust, who knows without having to be told that no one can live a life of Splendor while pursuing Squalor.

But what of your self? Why are you cooperating with the slave-master, and is there any limit to your cooperation?

We all know that slavery is abominable, a vile and vicious practice, indefensible on any grounds. And yet we may not know — or may know but do not want to admit we know — that many, many slaves, throughout human history, have clung to their captivity and vehemently resisted manumission — freedom. And while you may want to insist that you would never prostrate yourself like that — begging to be chained, begging to be abused, begging to be despoiled — precisely what is it you are doing when you sign your tax return? When you mail in your property tax check, paying, over and over again, so that the brute of the state will not confiscate the land you allegedly own? What are you doing when you show up, hat in hand, in one government office after the next, begging for permission to stay alive for one more day — so that today's earnings can be expropriated just like those of the day before and the day before that, on and on for every day of your life?

There are a lot of different things I can say, when I meet people, to find out if they are still capable of thinking with the clarity of mind of any normal five-year-old, or if they have walled up their minds in some dank dungeon of mindlessness. This is one of my favorites, a truism that sorts the sheep from the shepherds from the living minds just like that:

Every time you lick a stamp, you're kissing the master's ass.

"Say WHAT?!?"

There is obviously no reason for mail delivery to be a state monopoly, no reason but mindless tradition and the inertia of thoughtless habits-of-mind. And there are obviously many good reasons for every sort of communications business to be handled by free-market enterprises. And yet you kiss the master's ass with every piece of mail you send or receive, and the master rewards your obedience by piling vast hordes of unkempt, slowly-meandering union men on your shoulders, paying them at least five times what their skills and abilities are worth and conferring upon them million-dollar retirement plans — to be paid for by your hard work. You may have to subsist on oatmeal and ketchup when you come home for the last time from your working life, but every functionary of every branch of the state will be doing just fine — at your expense.

And you glance at me briefly and then you look away. You smile weakly and you shuffle your feet and you look this way and that and then you say, "Oh, well, you know..." I do know, alas. I live just as you do, half-free, half-slave, smiling and shuffling and trying not to notice too mindfully when I find myself begging — again — for the privilege of living my own life in my own way. I want to live, and so I volunteer to live as a slave. I want to have a nice home for my family, nice things for my wife, good food for us and for our pets. And so I kiss the master's ass again and again — and so do you. I don't care how much money you make or don't make. I don't even care if you yourself are a government functionary. If you are not living off the land — completely "off the grid" — as a feral human being, you are complicit in your own despoiling. You are a voluntary participant in your own enslavement.

And isn't that a dainty dish? Just now, government functionaries at all levels of the state are desperate to figure out how much more wealth they can squeeze out of you — how many more sweetheart deals they can bilk you for, how many more lavishly-paid "jobs" they can give to their friends, how many more votes they can buy from grasping welfare slaves with your income. Here is the question they should be asking themselves: What will you do when you have had enough of being bilked and milked and pushed around?

This is a true fact of your nature, a statement of ontology, an undeniable, inescapable manifestation of being irrespective of what anyone thinks about it:

You are indomitable.

You cannot be caused to take any purposive action by anyone or anything but your self. Philosophy begins with ethics — "What should I do?" — but the purpose of all those bogus arguments of moral philosophy is to conceal this fact from you: To gull you into believing that you really are being unavoidably compelled to cooperate in your own despoiling. To delude you into thinking that your complicity in your own enslavement is not a consequence of your own freely-originated, completely-voluntary choices — instantly reversible — but is instead some magical mystical mandatory manifestation of metaphysics: God's will or the spirit of the age or the consent of the governed or the needs of the needy or the glory of the state or the historical inevitability of one-world socialism or the sacred social compact or the divine right of kings or the purity of the race or the practical benefit of uniform law — or simply the bad temper of the slave-master, hung-over from yet another night of trying to drown his misery with liquor you paid for.

That belligerent slave-master knows — with an icy dread that will never, ever stop churning through his guts — that you are not really a slave, that you are not doomed to a life of servitude that you can never escape. He knows it beyond all doubt, and that's why he is always holding a gun to your head — always threatening you with fines or jail or torture or death. He hopes and prays that you don't know it — and he pays his shamanistic "philosophers" to keep coming up with newer and better rationales for this palpable irrationality, ever-more-unintelligible justifications for the vicious injustices upon which his life depends.

You've been taught your whole life to worship the state with a devotion no church ever demanded. Where the church asks for ten percent of your income as a gift, the various branches of the state take half or more. But they have you so cowed that they don't actually have to take it — you're a volunteer slave after all. The motivation behind your voluntary participation in your own despoliation is fear, not worship. You recite all the most popular patriotic gibberish, but what gets the checks signed and the senseless regulations obeyed is your dread of being arrested, publicly shamed, chastised by a judge dressed up in a high-priest's costume, locked up like a slave.

Did you notice that the state — sacred and noble, according to you, or at least according to the propaganda you imbibe and then regurgitate mindlessly — behaves just like that bully on the playground? When you capture his attention, he captures your person, ignominiously "perp-walking" you in the public square, slandering your name and your reputation, trying you in the court of public opinion long before you ever have a chance to defend yourself. He demands that you attack or be attacked — betray your neighbors or be betrayed by them — and all of the mindless "citizens" look on with their faces frozen in a smirk of faked scorn, each one of them secretly delighted that it is you and not him who has the bully's attention for the moment.

Is this really what you would choose for yourself, if you could choose how your relationships with other people are to be managed?

I am not admonishing you to storm the Bastille. I promise you I won't be doing that, not today and probably not ever. I don't love being a slave, but I doubt that I will enhance my future self-adoration by becoming a martyr. We got into this mess by pursuing a vector of mindlessness over the course of centuries, and we can only get out of it — albeit perhaps only after the collapse of the whole insane house of cards — by applying our minds to reality, by reversing that vector and moving human civilization rightward on the number line as far as we can as quickly as we can, by finally living up to and embracing our responsibility to be the philosophers our nature commands that each one of us must be in order to lead the fully-human life. For my own part, I'm not interested in solving every one of the world's problems immediately. This cannot be done. The world can only be changed one mind at a time, and so my objective is simply to persuade you to think carefully about human indomitability, where, until now, you have thought about it carelessly — or not at all.

No one likes this argument, but it is logically unassailable.

His statement that "in the long run, each one of us gets [...] exactly what he has earned and deserved" is also false. The evidence for that is all around us.

I addressed the unhappy consequences of vice in Chapters Nine through Eleven. The discussion of the Backstory game is particularly apposite — learning how to identify habituated philosophical errors in peoples' physical appearance. I also detailed the happy outcomes that result from good behavior.

My take, and I don't know you from Adam, is that I dealt with you very thoroughly, sight-unseen, in the latter third of Chapter Seven. It is certainly easy to infer that I can play Backstory with remarks posted on the internet, as well. I have no desire to quarrel with you, but this comment looks like male display behavior to me. I suggest you reread the book as many times as necessary, for at least a week, before you say anything at all in response to this comment. If you can't resist firing a shot right back at me, do you suppose this will add to or diminish your own future self-adoration? Who will you soil most? — and who will come clean easier?

Somewhat entertaining writing, a few gems, mostly junk. Sorry.

This is incorrect. Inlookers: I would be very grateful if you would talk Man Alive! up at other weblogs you visit. To my knowledge, this is the first book ever to identify human nature as it really is, and, in consequence, it offers very valuable insights on a host of never-more-exigent moral, political and survival issues.

Thanks for the post, Sunni, and my apologies to you for this little dust-up. On the plus side, my response is a good example of how to fight an intellectual battle without playing the other man's game — a topic that is addressed in Chapter Ten.


Very interesting, and it gave me some new talking points for the many "self ownership" discussions I have.

Long ago I came to the conclusion that one can not rationally love others, or help them, if one does not love and help oneself first. You can't give what you don't have.

Recognition of one's self as the ultimate authority AND responsible entity for one's own life seems essential for liberty OR justice.

His answer for predators of all kinds was quite clear to me.

Thanks for that book recommendation

I don't like reading books, even short ones, on my computer. It took me a couple of days to read it all, but I read it. (See, I am still around, and I value your posts on whatever subject you feel like writing about. The fact that I actually read something that long on my computer shows how much weight I give your opinions.)

I think there's a lot of good advice and insight in that book. Some of those things were things I had already noticed subconsciously, and I'm glad he brought them to my conscious attention.

I don't think I quite agree with all his remarks about sex, but that may just be me trying to justify my own evil ways. ;) (TMI Warning: Is it possible to "cheat" on someone you don't have a sexual relationship with but who demands you also not enter a sexual relationship with anyone else? Or with someone who reluctantly maintains a sexual relationship with you while suggesting you find someone else to "bother"? And suggests this for 10 years until you actually do it? In my mind, no. But I think he might disagree.)

Worth the read

Greg seems to be a bit full of himself, but that's part of his point, isn't it? This being the first book ever to define humanity as it is? Well, it's certainly a book that speaks the truth and rather well.

I have quibbles and at least one serious disagreement - like Rand, he has this idea that there are circumstance under which there is no choice but to exterminate an individual ("dispatched," Section 11) - but I am comfortable recommending this book in general as a primer about how our minds work and have been despoiled, often voluntarily.

I would be curious how the women here feel about the terminology of Fathertongue, which he clearly believes (being that which separates us from animals) is superior to Mothertongue. I'm just thinking there must be better words to make the same point.


"The purpose of government is to defend the shores, deliver the mail and stay the hell out of my life." - Lee Sherman Dreyfus


Doesn't bother me. Might well be a better way to put it, but I don't get hung up on gender words.

Yes, he seems to be rather impressed with himself, but then... so am I on occasion. I don't hold that against him. :)

I enjoyed the book and will re-read it when I get the opportunity. Too busy writing my own just now... two of them at the same time, as it happens.

No terminology issues here

I would be curious how the women here feel about the terminology of Fathertongue, which he clearly believes (being that which separates us from animals) is superior to Mothertongue. I'm just thinking there must be better words to make the same point.

I’m sure there are other words that could have been chosen, but in all honesty, issues of sexism never entered my mind. But then I have never been a feminist, so take that in context.

Now that you have pointed the terminology out to me, I still don’t feel hurt or diminished by it; to me, Greg has simply identified a very important but often overlooked way of thinking about our communications using a fundamental metaphor. While he may think one is superior to the other, in my mind both are equally important for healthy functioning. Difference alone doesn’t imply a hierarchical structure in my mind, if that makes any sense.

Thank you

Just wanted to thank you for highlighting Greg's book. My short review of the book is here: http://freetheanimal.com/2012/05/man-alive-a-survival-manual-for-the-human-mind.html#comment-134001