Friday, July 04, 2014

Independence: It's what makes liberty possible

I don't write on this kind of topic often, but for 4th of July I'll make an exception.

A young child is a dependent: they need other people to get their food and keep them safe. And because someone else takes care of them, someone else also tells them what to do: You can eat this but not that, you can stay awake this late but no later, you can not use certain words.

Governments have routinely claimed that same kind of power over their subjects, viewing them as dependent. Sometimes they stacked the deck so the people were dependent who could have taken care of themselves. In time, some of the people realized, "I could take care of myself if the government weren't standing in my way."

America's experiment was independence: giving free rein to the people who believed, "We can take care of ourselves." This land saw immigrants from all over the world who took up the challenge of independence: people who believed in themselves and were willing to take some risk, who believed the average person has the ability to take care of ourselves. (The famous communist slogan, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need", only works if the average person can meet the average need, with a little margin to spare. America took that premise and showed that a controlling, micromanaging government is really unnecessary when things are done right.)

Our country's early days showed genuine independence. I'm fairly sure some of my great-grandparents built their homes with their own hands. I know that at least two of my grandparents grew their own food, as they grew up on rural farms. They did not live like that because the whole system had collapsed, but because "the system" that we depend on wasn't even there yet. They knew how to take care of themselves. And when we take care of ourselves, it's not the government's business what we do with every detail of our lives, or every dollar we earn. Independence is what makes liberty possible.

Many people are worried about the loss of liberty in America. It's a legitimate worry. But the reason it feels like a trap -- like we can't see the way out -- is because we have already lost much of our independence. While my ancestors built their own homes with their own hands (and didn't have to go into debt for it), these days you're hardly allowed to build your own home. Government agents will line up to demand fees and permits, and claim the right to tell you whether your plans meet their standards. And while 150 years ago the average person probably knew how to build their own home, in our days of "better education", people generally don't know how to provide for their basic needs of putting a roof over their heads and food on the table. All this is progress, supposedly. People even make jokes about not having a "green thumb": many people are so poorly educated about things that matter that they cannot grow a plant successfully.

I'd encourage those of us who are worried that the government has claimed too much power, or worried that "the system" will collapse, to take a real stand for liberty: work for independence. (People mock that idea as backwards and rustic, all the while lamenting that the world isn't more "green" or "sustainable". It would be more green and sustainable, if everyone knew how to grow a plant.) And if the government is involved in arranging for your health care, how long is it before they gain the power to tell you what to eat and drink, since they are responsible for your health? In the end, the only thing that makes liberty itself sustainable is independence. And independence means taking responsibility for our own lives.

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