I am finding the ongoing changes in and challenges to my thinking interesting, and sometimes even amusing. To be clear (and repetitive, I know), I have been a science-oriented person as far back as I can remember—wondering about how things work and how to test ideas and wanting proof for everything. I still consider myself a scientist, even though I have not worked in that realm for years ... yet the way some individuals apply scientific theories is problematic for me.
Yes, that’s where I am again ... I have lots of ideas brimming in my mind, but something doesn’t seem right about addressing any of them here right now. Not entirely sure why, but I trust my intuition, so there it is.
Anyway, over at Check Your Premises, Francois Tremblay has posted on one of the issues I’m pondering. So, while my tongue is tied, some might find his posts on The True Self, Seat of Love worth considering.
Well, Joey has offered his final thoughts in our conversation, at least for now. I for one feel some sense of relief, because the thing had started to sprawl across several blogs as well as subjects, and it was getting too large for me to keep track of it all! A few pointers to some of the participants (links are to their latest contributions to the discussion, as of this writing): FSK’s Guide to Reality; David Gross at The Picket Line; and Kent McManigal. While I have much to say on each of the topics we’ve tossed around, I have neither the time nor the inclination to try to do them all justice in this sitting. Instead, I will mention that a primary raison d’être for my part of this blog is to explore these issues; and I encourage any interested invididuals to explore the archives here and elsewhere for previous ramblings on the subjects. All I’ll offer today are some general observations in response to what I perceive to be Joey’s central themes.
Yes, I continue to dwell on the “Is all fun profitable?” idea. It occurs to me that part of the reason I have difficulty with responses like Brad Spangler’s is that it’s based on something that may be ineffable for as long as humans exist: a way to objectively define, quantify, and calculate relationships among concepts including “profit”, “fun”, “cost”, “risk”, and “happiness”. I could go off on many tangents from that observation—and I may still, in future ramblings—but for today, I will simply say that I am unconvinced that an economics-based analysis is always the best course.
Many individuals have asked me to share more about my walkabout—a two-week sabbatical from the world over the 2003 holiday season. As I’ve already written about some of the results of the trip, I suspect what they’re wanting is a different perspective, or perhaps some more personal insights. As that experience was a very personal, powerful one, I do not care to reveal more details to the world at large. However, upon gaining some perspective post-walkabout, I find that I would like to share a bit more about an unexpected but highly valuable insight from it.
I had wanted the walkabout for two reasons: as a vacation from my work and family responsibilities, which although enjoyable had begun to weigh heavily upon me; and to have sufficient time and peace for some long-overdue introspection. It wasn’t until I returned home that I realized I had given myself another, possibly even more-needed break.
That break was from the incessant cultural chatter that is virtually impossible to escape. I don’t watch television (except for rare times when I join my children while they're watching something) and don’t listen to radio. However, I do a huge amount of web browsing, and much of that requires trolling the mainstream news sources for material for Freedom News Daily. I hadn’t realized, until I returned to it, how corrosive a thing that is to me.
I began to notice more cultural corrosives after that discovery. Even a relatively benign thing like shopping exposes one to many social or cultural stereotypes and expectations, many of which are misguided or downright unhealthy. If one is at all observant of one’s fellow humans in one’s midst, that too can set off any of a number of negative responses.
So much of the world is inimical to individual liberty. So many of us who have devoted our lives to expanding freedom are little understood, and often valued even less. Sometimes that’s true even among those who would be our allies but for hubris, dogmatism, or any other self-defeating silliness. Add to that the unceasing stream of bad news from the world at large—goodbye privacy; more war, more bloodshed, and less human decency on almost every continent; more coin flushed down the bureaucrat and regulatory commodes—and it’s amazing we who cherish freedom aren’t burning out faster than we are.
But we are burning out. I’ve teetered on the precipice again, just a few short months after my soul-cleansing walkabout. I’ve seen many others making comments that suggest they, too, are walking the razor’s edge. What can be done?
I don’t mean drop out in the Thoreau-esque style of living a hermit’s life—at least, not at the beginning. What I mean is to drop out and take a break from life’s pressures and challenges, in order to refocus on yourself. Many freedom activists get so caught up in the perpetual cause that they seem unable to disengage until they do flame out. That’s sad. It’s also unnecessary.
While the effort to advance liberty is a noble and highly worthy cause, it is also a never-ending effort. Too many of us seem to forget or ignore that hard reality, often at our own peril. How free are we if we enslave ourselves to the ideals of liberty? If we take on too much and therefore render ourselves less effective, we end up working against ourselves and our allies, no matter what our good intentions might be. As long as one is committed to working for that cause, one must keep in mind the necessary balance between the cause and one’s own personal liberty—and one’s well-being.
Drop out of the culture and drop out of civilization as much as possible. Drop out of activism too. Then, tune in to your own rhythms, your own needs and desires, hopes and fears. Chances are you’ll discover, much as I did, that the path you’ve been treading is not a healthy one for you—not one you intended when you set out. Only after you recognize that will it be possible for you to set it right, and re-plot your course. That will in turn help you regain your sense of purpose, and very likely your ability to enjoy your own freedom.
We all need balance and focus in our lives. Sometimes those things seem to come only after a hard lesson, such as a burnout. But there’s a difference between the burnout that incinerates the soul and the cleansing fire that instructs, “Hey, wake up! What you’re doing isn’t healthy for your head!”
For me, I can only take so much fire, whether good or bad; I found that I needed to escape, in order to see a way clear of the smoke billowing in my mind. An escape may work similar wonders for you. You may require months of solitude to regain the precious insight to your soul—or it may take you just an afternoon in a hammock. Whatever works for you—as long as it does work—is what’s important. You may discover that you want to rearrange your life and priorities; you may discover that you’ve been on the right course all along, but moving at a pace that doesn’t suit you. You’ll almost certainly discover that you have more choices than you think you do—and you’ll likely find that by consciously thinking about those choices, then making informed decisions, your enjoyment of life will return.
I don’t claim any great insights into the meaning of life, but I do think that a fundamental element driving human action is the desire to be effective. To be an effective individual, one must first know oneself. Only then can an individual choose a path that will allow him to be genuine. And only when a person is able to be so honest with himself will he be able to create authentic, fulfilling consensual relationships with others.
The world is amazingly interconnected via the internet, and becoming more so each day. The possibilities for happiness—as well as for misery and pain—are legion. As tempting as it may be to get, and remain, plugged in to all that connectivity, it is vitally important to first connect with yourself.
So, do it.
Then tune in to the best friend you can ever have—yourself.
I am perhaps the last individual in the U.S. older than 10 to have seen the first installment of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, The Fellowship of the Ring. That wasn’t by choice, but rather of necessity. Having acquired first a TV, then a decent VCR, and now a copy of the movie, I have at last seen Jackson’s rendering of Tolkien’s tale of the nine who set out for Mount Doom, to destroy the One Ring of power.
Knowing I was unlikely to see the movie in the cinemas, I didn’t pay much attention to the hype running up to its release, nor did I read any reviews, which often contain too much information and thus are spoilers. It’s been years since I read any of the Tolkien books, although I have read them multiple times with much enjoyment. I came to The Fellowship of the Ring with few expectations, and ready to soak in Jackson’s vision of the story. While I have the inevitable quibbles about some omissions and changes, the movie delivers the essence of the story with remarkable clarity and emotional punch. What surprised me most about watching The Fellowship of the Ring was my reaction to Boromir’s death scene. It was a highly charged account in the book, one I remembered well, yet the depth of my response to its portrayal in the movie seemed inappropriate. Why had his fall affected me so?
Jackson does a truly masterful job, and actor Sean Bean, who is compelling as Boromir throughout the movie, is perhaps at his best in the death scene. But my response was not due to the superb crafting of the scene, but rather a thought I had upon first seeing it—one that returns to me every time I see it: there are few individuals I’m aware of in the pro-freedom movement who would likely be so valiant. As far as I can tell, we have at best very few sons of Boromir.
I’m not talking about Boromir’s courageous fighting, battling vainly to protect two of the hobbits from the orcs even as the orc leader shoots arrow after arrow into his body. Nor is it his unflinching stance when the leader takes aim at point-blank range that I refer to. In the scene immediately prior to the battle with the orcs, Boromir has unsuccessfully tried to take the One Ring from Frodo. Its power began weaving its spell on Boromir from first sight at the council in Rivendell, and ultimately led him to confront Frodo. When he realizes what he’s done, Boromir is horrified. He calls out an apology to Frodo, but it is too late. Frodo has gone, and the Fellowship has begun to break up. Boromir immediately recognizes that he has done wrong, and it is his attempt to set it right, to his last breath, that leaves me near tears every time I see the movie.
Some Tolkien scholars have interpreted much of the Lord of the Rings in terms of religious themes. Thus, according to some who ascribe to this view, Boromir’s actions are explained by a need for redemption, of setting things right before he dies. But Boromir can’t do that: the Ring is being carried away, unbeknownst to him, even as he fights the orcs. Indeed, his actions have set in motion a series of events that needs to happen—the Fellowship of the Ring needs to be broken up—for good to triumph over evil in Middle Earth.
Boromir’s heroism is ultimately much more simple, and noble to my mind, than that. He is human. It’s no small part of his heroism that he rises above his human flaws in the last battle of his life. Rather than sitting and thinking, or whining and playing the victim, he battles bravely, in part to counter his perceived failing of the Fellowship and his comrades.
How many libertarians would follow in his steps? I can think of a few men whom I can envision doing so, and maybe one woman (no, not me) ... but sadly, I see no more than that in my fairly wide circle of friends and acquaintances. The freedom movement seems to spawn individuals of talk and analysis rather than action. But there comes a time when talking, philosophizing, and analyzing are for naught; there comes a time when the only thing that will make a difference is taking up one’s chosen weapon, and making the best stand one can in defense of one’s principles. Many seem to pine for a John Galt to appear among us—but there are, and never will be, no such individuals. We are human, with frailties, flaws, foibles, and fears. That isn’t to be denied, nor is it to become an excuse or a copout. We can choose a nobler course.
Near the end of the movie, Frodo recalls an earlier conversation with Gandalf, after Frodo expressed the wish that “none of this” had happened to him. Gandalf replied, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.” With the USA PATRIOT and Homeland Security Acts pressing upon us, challenging times are here—and likely to be present for some time—for those who cherish liberty. If ever there was a time to test our mettle, it is now. We can choose not to give in to our inevitable human weaknesses, and instead choose to fight the fight of our lives for a cause we believe in. We can do as Boromir did. The question is: will we?
Do you have a mental disorder? If you answered “no” with little thought, you may need to reconsider. According to information on the National Institute of Mental Health web site, a 1993 study estimated that over 20 percent of Americans 18 and over “suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year” (emphasis mine). In the same paragraph this fact was given, it was stated that “many people suffer from more than one mental disorder at a time”.
How did “mental disorders” come to be so common? Since the first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual was published in 1952, what has been considered a “mental disorder” has ballooned. Here are some things that are currently considered “mental disorders”:
- You could have a “substance-related disorder” if you use too much marijuana, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, or a number of other substances—including many prescription medications.
- Get too much sleep? Not enough sleep? Have nightmares or sleep apnea? They’re all psychological disorders.
- Don’t desire sex much? That’s hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Don’t get aroused easily? That’s a disorder too, as is not having orgasms.
- Are you shy? Don’t like being in crowds? You could have a social phobia.
- Here’s today’s trendy diagnosis for being a nerd: Asperger syndrome.
- And we don’t want to forget the children, who can get diagnosed as having: a “feeding disorder of infancy or childhood” (essentially being a picky eater); attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; stuttering; and something called “selective mutism”—where a child who’s capable of speaking will not do so in certain situations, usually school.
The short answer—and a telling explanation in its own right—for why diagnostic categories and “disorders” have increased is insurance coverage. Insurers are more likely to pay claims for things that are diagnosable—hence, lots of things are now “diagnosable”. And while this is scary enough for the bureaucratic nightmares it implies, there are other—and to me, much more important—considerations.
Although I’m a psychologist, I’m not a clinical psychologist; I’m far from an expert in this area. My interest is very personal. I’m someone who many individuals have felt comfortable talking with about these, and other personal matters. It also happens that, according to the list above as well as certain psychological tests, I could be considered as having several “mental disorders”.
I put that term in quotation marks because, as the examples above suggest, the concept has become so stretched as to lose its meaning for me (and others, including some experts). Making so many things “mental disorders” encourages individuals to consider themselves victims—somehow unworthy of appreciation, or unable to achieve goals, or inferior in some other way. It also encourages dependencies—upon the largesse of the state for support; upon the diagnostic label as an excuse for failure or a copout from even trying; and upon that victim status as a tidy means of summing up what an individual is.
For me, the worst aspect of this “psychological medicalization” is the influence it can have on an individual who isn't “disordered” or ill in any way. Let me use myself as an example.
From some of my earliest memories, I can recall realizing that I was quite different from others in my family—and that they didn’t appreciate my differentness. I was a dreamer, endlessly inquisitive, and a tomboy. When I was in college, as a psychology major I had the opportunity to take various psychological tests for educational (rather than diagnostic) purposes. According to one widely used test, I scored “deviant” (meaning outside the statistical norms) for introversion, and “borderline deviant” for masculinity. A retake of the revised version of that test just a few years ago gave essentially the same result, but added the possibility of “problems with authority and authority figures”—no doubt picking up on my individualist-anarchist principles. From the list above, I could have: caffeine substance-related disorder; sleep disorder; social phobia; and if I were a child today I would be very likely be diagnosed with “selective mutism”.
That’s seven disorders, without even breaking a sweat.
Despite all those possible “disorders” I am a highly functioning, responsible adult living a fairly contented life. I have never let them influence my actions, in large part because by the time I was in college and took the first test that labeled me as “deviant”, I knew that I was different—and I knew that was a good thing. Even so, it was a difficult struggle for me to come to terms with being different. There are many others who never do, and who lack the understanding of “mental disorders” to know how meaningless that term can be.
Many individuals close to me have confided (or demonstrated) their own differentness. Some, like me, have come to value them, while simultaneously realizing the challenges they may bring. Others seem troubled by them and seek to hide, deny, or “fix” them in some way. That, to me, is the real tragedy of the bloating of “mental disorders”.
Some of the most creative individuals in our history are those who’ve danced at the edge of normality. They include Vincent van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edvard Munch, Mozart, Syd Barrett, Cole Porter, Kurt Cobain, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, T.S. Eliot, and Emily Dickinson. Will today’s culture produce a powerfully haunting writer like Mark Vonnegut, or are we doomed to white-bread entertainment because those who dance at that edge feel so marginalized they don’t dare draw attention to themselves? With today’s children being forced into social situations (as a treatment for Asperger syndrome) or forcibly drugged so they stay in their seats at school, dare I even hope for a better future? It’s very hard to do so.
Several individuals I know who are “different like me” already self-censor in various ways, or have expressed concerns about his or her “disorder” (often self-diagnosed based on popular reports, rather than tests or mental health consultations—not that those are necessarily more accurate). Parents confide fears about their children’s futures while trying to force them into stultifying, safe categories.
Every time I see something like that happen, I cringe. The wonderful individuality that makes humanity so rich and fascinating shrinks a bit more. Because of a fear of being marginalized simply for being different—a fear that is sadly justified—an individual’s potential is limited. The world is dimmed for a loss, the scope of which we will never know. That’s infinitely more tragic than trying and failing.
Don’t let your unique light be needlessly sacrificed to the cult of conformity—to those who would marginalize some of the best things within us.
I have always loved to travel. My parents often told me about my great enjoyment of a trip to the upper Midwest taken when I was just three years old—I don’t know whether I’ve reconstructed things from their recollections, or if they’re genuine, but I’ve a few wisps of remembrance of immense bridges and lots of water from the trip through Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. By the time I was old enough to consider it, I was yearning to get out of small-town Ohio and see some of the world. It took decades to accomplish that, but I have, yet wanderlust still pounds in my blood.
As I got older, I became fascinated with not just the places, but the people, too. That’s a big part of why I became a psychologist, but even so, the academic interest has never exceeded the intensely personal interest I have in humans. By “intensely personal” I don’t mean busybody nosiness—I simply mean an interest in the unending variety and creativity of human creatures. As a teenager, I read Richard Bach’s Illusions, and much of it resonated with me. One of the more powerful elements was Don Shimoda’s attempt to teach “the reluctant Messiah” of the profound differences between individuals—I’d thought a lot about that years before reading the book, and grokked its importance then. This was the first time, as best I recall, that I confronted the reality that other individuals didn’t recognize that truth. I think that I had also begun to realize that freedom and tolerance are the essentials for creating a happy, healthy person and life, although it was (again) to be many years before I realized the full implications of my youthful philosophical ponderings. Having recently returned from a walkabout to the Arizona desert, doing a lot of thinking and observing (both within myself and of the areas I traveled to and through), I’ve been powerfully reminded of the glorious diversity of humankind.
From the cold, frozen Midwest, my companion and I traveled south and west. Breakfast was typically coffee and eggs of some sort, but as the temperature warmed as we neared our destination, so did the spiciness of the ingredients accompanying the eggs. Tabasco sauce was ever-present on the table, or brought with meals without needing to ask—a welcome sign that I was among people who like their food the way I do. Shapes became less pasty and pudgy—darker skin and darker, straighter hair became common. Physiques seemed to separate into “lean” and “fat”—few people appeared to exist in that corporate-cubicle in-between of couch-potatodom. The pace of life slowed. As the landscape became drier, the effort required to live in its embrace became a visible constraint—but not an insurmountable one. When we reached the small town that was our base of operations for the walkabout, I was met with another surprise. Or, more accurately, I saw it shimmering in the distance as we drove through the desert—a glimmering white sea that was not sand, not salt, but aluminum. Snowbirds fly to the area in their RVs, creating a senior-citizen city the likes of which I’d never imagined. The sound of a toddler’s laugh from a nearby table at Sunday breakfast was as foreign there as a moose call would be in downtown Los Angeles.
All that differentness, in a relatively small trip across one small area of this planet ...
The reality of Richard Bach’s message walloped me again. Each of us is different, unique. The commonality we all share may be no more than being Homo sapiens.
So how can anyone dare to presume to tell someone how to live her or his life? How could the nannies possibly conceive that their narrow little boxes can adequately hold all of humanity’s (and inhumanity’s) possibilities? How can I tell my children in good conscience that I know what’s best for them, that I know how they “ought to” live, when the times, society, and knowledge they’re growing up in are so different from when I grew up?
The nanny-ninnies can’t conceive of my horror at their prescriptions and proscriptions—but that doesn’t stop their efforts to push their ideas on others. I’m not convinced that their pleas of doing good are sincere, anyway; it’s a good cover and nothing more, as any perceptive individual can twig, even under the cover of the state-approved media outlets. Their ultimate answer, when they’re pushed to it, is that they’re protecting us from anarchy—a claim that stops many intelligent individuals, wrongly, in their tracks.
I’ve never shied away from the A-word. I transformed from confused statist to full-blown ancap in a span of days, and was much happier for it. While I’ve often pondered how to best offer my thoughts on the beneficence of anarchy to the freedom movement, it has never been an important enough issue to take up my digital pen and create the essay. Now, it would seem, I don’t need to. I came across a clear, beautiful essay that says it much better than I likely ever could. Butler Shaffer is the author, and it’s worth interrupting this ramble to read it now (or refresh yourself with it, if you’ve already seen the essay at LewRockwell.com. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
For those who didn’t bother to follow the link, here’s a paragraph that sums it up nicely, and is worth plastering on every freedom-lover’s site on the web:
“Anarchy” is an expression of social behavior that reflects the individualized nature of life. Only as living beings are free to pursue their particular interests in the unique circumstances in which they find themselves, can conditions for the well-being of all be attained. Anarchy presumes decentralized and cooperative systems that serve the mutual interests of the individuals comprising them, without the systems ever becoming their own reasons for being. It is this thinking, and the practices that result therefrom, that is alone responsible for whatever peace and order exists in society.
Terrific stuff, eh? We act in harmony with this wonderful system so much of our lives, yet even we anarchists, we intellectually-minded libertarians, often overlook or forget its simplicity, scope, and unalterable truth.
After discovering that article, I was feeling quite good. Imagine my surprise when the day got even better.
For those of you who’ve been regulars to my personal web site, friends of mine at the Liberty Round Table, or conversed with me at The Claire Files or LibertyForum [both no longer extant as such], you know that I had been having difficulty dealing with my self-imposed work and personal demands. One thing I was considering is what form, if any, my future activism should take. As I said in a temporary farewell message, I was as close to burnout as I’d ever been, and quite surprised by that. It seemed that no matter what I did, no matter how good I made Freedom News Daily, how much I wrote about the need for individuals to find their own way to “do freedom” in the way that works best for themselves, or helped promote others’ great work, it was never enough. Why couldn’t the cats, er, not herd themselves—I’m not that deluded, nor would I want that—but simply just go do it: do their own freedom without waiting for or worrying about others? Why do so many of us contrary, individualistic, stubborn libertarian types seem to be waiting for The Magic Bullet Solution to Winning Freedom Now and Forever?
My friend Richard Rieben offers some valuable insights to that, as I commented prior to my walkabout in the essay Individual and Group: A Perpetual Tug of War?. One of the most important points he makes is that any group runs counter to the interests of its individuals—simply by virtue of the nature of individuals and groups. One need look no further than the national Libertarian Party to see how trying to herd individuals to greater freedom has brought more failure than success to the freedom movement. Yet in many pro-freedom circles, especially think tanks, the focus is on “public policy”—essentially groups butting heads over how much freedom individuals ought to have, or need to have. So—back to that surprise at last—I was taken aback by the title of the essay I saw by FEE president Richard Ebeling: There is no Central Plan for Winning Liberty.
Ebeling clearly presents why such a thing could never work, and discusses how each individual can choose a course that is most effective for himself with respect to advancing liberty. Not surprising information or ideas, but terrific to see coming from a respected institute nonetheless. “No Magic Bullet Solution” and “Anarchy Works!” (as I think of these two essays) fell into my mind, which was refreshed from my time away and ready to tackle some challenges anew. But now I don’t need to tackle a couple. Oh, I’m sure I will in some form or other, but it’s nice to know—again—that my thoughts are not way out from others’ in the freedom movement. It may be irrational of me, but those two essays renewed my hopes quite strongly.
My walkabout was an intensely solitary time, despite the near-constant presence of my traveling companion. That person—one of the very best friends I’ve had (and could ever hope to have) in my life—was on a similar mission, and in part because of that we were able to be together without intruding into each other’s space. Our interactions were the epitome of a truly voluntary relationship; we worked out arrangements that suited each of us when necessary or desired by us, and left each other alone otherwise. Simple; easy; and gloriously effective. One of the unexpected joys of the journey were the vistas opened up to me by my friend’s eclectic musical tastes. I smile every time I think of a pirate plundering the grain co-ops “on Regina’s mighty shores”, or reflect on an unusually insightful lyric about relationships wound around a catchy rock melody. I’ve long been encouraging individuals to do freedom. To that I add, with the reverberation of Captain Tractor’s exuberant refrain prancing in my mind: free yourself!
Do it your way.
Do freedom. Free yourself.
Somewhat oddly, I’ve been seeing signs of increasing S.E.S.S. amongst pro-freedom individuals, even us staunch individualists. On the one hand, it might be surprising that such individuals fall into its clutches now and again, but on the other, it shouldn’t be: we, too, are simply humans trying to find a good way through this adventure called life.
The Epicurean concept of ataraxia means freedom from mental disturbances. Epicurus taught that such freedom is a necessary component in the lifetime pursuit of rational pleasure which leads ultimately to eudaimonia (the flourishing of one's life).
Epicurus is truly the philosopher of freedom--of the sort that most of us modern lovers of liberty seek--and the fact that he accurately laid out all of the essentials millennia ago is truly remarkable. And what are these essentials?
It figures—the day after I wrote this, I found a book I’ve had for years that will be a great help in getting my body more toned in fairly short order.
A topic that comes up often in the counseling I do is forgiveness. That was a serious part of my hospice work as well, and I've learned much about it over the years - both in my work and in my personal life.
We all have a complex mixture of experiences, old hurts and misunderstandings, resentments and fears. Most of us have at least some serious trauma - physical and/or emotional - from our past, and most fear such trauma from future events as well.