Statists Want You to Believe You’re Stupid

Statists want you to believe you aren’t smart enough to know how to solve problems. They say you have to trust the president or congress or the city council to do what’s necessary because you can’t possibly understand the issues. You don’t see “The Big Picture”* and don’t understand “how these things work”.

How convenient for them.

Erich Fromm had something to say about this vulgar lie:

“One kind of smokescreen is that the problems are too complicated for the average individual to grasp. On the contrary it would seem that many of the basic issues of individual and social life are very simple, so simple. in fact, that everyone should be expected to understand them. To let them appear to be so enormously complicated that only a “specialist” can understand them, and he only in his limited field, actually– and often intentionally– tends to discourage people from trusting their own capacity to think about those problems that really matter. The individual feels hopelessly caught in a chaotic mass of data and with pathetic patience waits until the specialists have found out what to do and where to go.” — Escape from Freedom

I see statists use this tactic all the time.

  • You can’t understand why it’s not a good idea to get rid of all anti-gun “laws” because you don’t have the wisdom and experience of the police unions, the BATFEces, the FBI, or federal judges. It’s simplistic to believe you can be responsible for yourself and that an armed populace would deter archation.
  • You can’t understand the nuances of “border security” because you aren’t an expert. You can’t just respect all property rights (including ending all welfare) and respect the right of defense– it would be chaos.
  • You’re not a scientist so you can’t understand the data pointing to Climate Change. Trust the experts to tell you what you’ll have to do to avoid this disaster they say is coming.

Statists need to make you believe the world is too complicated for individuals to understand. Otherwise, you might realize you don’t need their god to save you. So they constantly order you to “leave it to the professionals who know best“. They constantly insult you and your intelligence. They get paternalistic and condescending as they assure you “government knows best”.

Don’t be so uppity as to notice that their “professionals” and “experts” are always on the side of violating YOUR natural human rights and imposing more control over YOUR life.

Yeah, the world is complex. But if the average human can’t understand it, clumping sub-average humans together in a gang you call “government” isn’t going to magically give them superhuman abilities. Quite the opposite. I’ll trust the spontaneous order arising from the self-interested actions of free individuals before I trust the “wisdom” of monopolistic government being imposed on everyone.

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*I once worked for a business that I saw doing really dumb, self-destructive things on orders from the manager. Being a good employee who wanted to see the business thrive, I told this manager what I thought and his standard response was that I didn’t see “The Big Picture” that only he could see.

I swear I didn’t say “I told you so” every time the things I warned him of came to pass.

But I sure did think it a lot.

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The Wheat and Tares Grow Up Together: Morality and Judging Historical Eras

Is the 21st century a time of great moral progress? Or is it a time of decadence? Ask different people and you’ll get different answers. In my view, the answer is “both.”

On one hand, humans are progressing. The internet and software are breaking down barriers between people and people groups. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and other great prejudices (at least in their traditional forms) are losing their entrenched hold on the human mind. Individual humans can be freer, more creative, and more generous than ever before.

On the other hand, humans are regressing. We’re putting more and more faith in centralized governments (contrary to the lessons of the 20th century) and giving up more freedom and responsibility. We’re abandoning our commitments to friends, family, and ideas of honor and the sacred. We’re allowing ourselves to be addicted by digital stimulants from porn and video games to news feeds and notifications.

We like to be able to put simple moral judgments on historical eras, and every era presents difficulties for the person who wants to put simple labels of “good” or “bad”, “progressive” or “regressive” on any time in human history.

Jesus once told a parable which amateur cultural and historical judges (like me) should consider:

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Matthew 13:24-30

Now Jesus wasn’t talking about historical eras, but the metaphor of the wheat and the tares (the King James version of weeds) is a good one.

In any and every time, no matter how much we idealize or condemn, there is always wheat, and there are always weeds. The 16th century had exploration and cultural renaissance, but it also had religious warfare and barbaric tortures. The 19th century had abolitionism and industrialism, but it also had colonialism and imperialism. The 1st century had Stoicism and Christianity, but it also had mad emperors and slavery.

For all of these eras and all times (including our own), it does us good to remember the command to “[Let] them (wheat and weeds) grow up until harvest.” I read this as a metaphor for the wisdom of reserving blanket judgment.

We may one day be able to say that the centuries in our rearview were “good” or “bad.” But the harvest of consequence has not yet happened for the 21st century, and it’s hard to say that the harvests of the 19th and 20th are fully ripe, either. It is too soon to judge. Let time do that. In the meantime, resist the urge either to burn the fields or to swallow the weeds.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Erich Fromm on “The Authoritarian Character”

While reading a couple of days ago, I ran into a passage that resonated with me and seemed very timely:

Not only the forces that determine one’s own life directly but also those that seem to determine life in general are felt as unchangeable fate. It is fate that there are wars and that one part of mankind has to be ruled by another. It is fate that the amount of suffering can never be less than it always has been. Fate may be rationalized philosophically as “natural law” or as “destiny of man,” religiously as the “will of the Lord,” ethically as “duty”– for the authoritarian character it is always a higher power outside of the individual, toward which the individual can do nothing but submit. The authoritarian character worships the past. What has been, will eternally be. To wish or to work for something that has not yet been before is crime or madness. (Added emphasis is mine) ~  Escape From Freedom, Erich Fromm

That passage is from a part of the book where he is describing how masochism and sadism are embraced by some as a way to avoid the isolation of freedom*. The authoritarian character, as he calls it, is sado-masochistic. It seeks out ways to suffer to distract itself from the scary aspects of freedom, and it likes to make sure others suffer along with it.

I see the above traits of the authoritarian character, especially the parts I emphasized, in almost everyone who is promoting statism. You can see it in FB posts, in YouTube comments, in comments left on this blog. and anywhere a no-compromise libertarian point is made. I’ve come to recognize and expect this tack, yet was surprised to see it– and see it explained so clearly– in a book from 1941.

I don’t agree with Fromm on everything. I think he made good observations but came to an erroneous conclusion.

He was a supporter of toxic authoritarianism when he obviously– from his own observations– should have known better. Why? Maybe he was just genetically inclined that way. Maybe he wasn’t able to rise above his early brainwashing. But who knows?

You can find truth and wisdom in anyone’s words if you look, even if they are wrong about everything else.

I realize I apparently lack the brain software that makes some fear the “isolation” of freedom. Even though I usually feel isolated due to all sorts of other things, I don’t mistake those things for freedom. That’s like blaming your good health for your fear that you might someday get a disease.

*Fromm uses the word “freedom” (inconsistently, but at least part of the time) for the concept I call “liberty” but that doesn’t alter the truth of these words.

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Late Bloomers and the Benefits of Delayed Success

At a dinner party several years ago, a woman and I chatted about education and parenthood. I had just met her and when I told her about our unschooling approach to education that prioritizes self-directed learning, she was visibly perplexed. “Don’t you worry about outcomes?” she asked. Yes, I replied. I want my children to be highly literate and numerate, to live a meaningful life tied to their interests and talents, and to have a strong sense of personal agency. “Well,” she responded, “for my kids, it might as well be either the Ivy League or jail.” She was only half-kidding.

A Social Obsession with Early Accomplishments

The recent college admissions bribery scandal shows the lengths that some affluent parents will go to make sure their children get into elite colleges. But it’s not just wealthy parents who are worried about their child’s early success and college and career prospects. In his new book, Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement, longtime Forbes publisher, Rich Karlgaard, writes about our societal obsession with early accomplishment and its potentially negative impact on both individuals and communities. He writes:

What I suggest is that parents, schools, employers, the media, and consumers of media are now crazily overcelebrating early achievement as the best kind of achievement or even the only kind. We do so at the cost of shaming the late bloomer and thus shortchanging people and society.

Karlgaard is clear in saying there is nothing inherently wrong with early achievement. Indeed, we are all better off thanks to the inventions of young entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who both dropped out of college years ago to pursue their revolutionary technology companies. The downside is that now we often look to early markers of a narrow definition of success as defining a person’s worth.

How children perform at school, what kind of test scores they get, what college they get into at 18 become sought-after signals of accomplishment. Karlgaard suggests several problems with this outlook, including marginalizing highly-talented young people who may not perform well in conventional schooling and grow up with a sense of being less than their peers. He writes:

When so many people believe they are inferior based on a few narrow measurements made when they were children, society as a whole suffers.

Mounting Pressure During Childhood

More troubling is the mounting pressure on parents and children to begin this trail of achievement in preschool, depriving children of freedom and play in the name of academic rigor and triggering skyrocketing rates of adolescent anxiety, depression, and suicide. Karlgaard writes:

Excessively promoting the primacy of early measurable achievement—grades, test scores, glamour job, money, celebrity—conceals a dark flipside: If we or our kids don’t knock our SATs out of the park, gain admittance to a top-ten university, reinvent an industry, or land our first job at a cool company that’s changing the world, we’ve somehow failed and are destined to be also-rans for the rest of our lives.

Karlgaard explains that this “societal madness for early achievement” can be damaging to many children and young people. They may appear successful on the outside, but on the inside, many are hurting. He writes:

Early bloomers are in the headlines, but are they succeeding as much as the media lead us to believe? In fact, many early bloomers are suffering terribly. The pressure to achieve early success led to three student suicides in the 2014–15 school year at Gunn High School, a public school in Palo Alto, California, three miles from the elite Stanford University campus. All were good students striving for early achievement. By March in the same school year, forty-two Gunn students had been hospitalized or treated for suicidal thoughts.

Fortunately, Late Bloomers offers a dose of sanity for those of us who question the increasingly standardized, test-driven schooling model that can fuel a toxic early achievement culture, while also encouraging all of us that it’s never too late to pursue a passion, build a business, or change the world.

Late Bloomers

A late bloomer himself, Karlgaard had a hunch that there was great value in peaking later in life. His book is an extensively researched work that blends the latest findings in neuroscience and psychology with profiles of inspiring late bloomers to show that the push toward early achievement and career success may be unnecessary at best and harmful at worst.

While research shows that individuals on average have rapid brain functioning and memory skills in their 20s, it’s in their 30s and 40s that strong executive functioning skills, empathy, and level-headedness kick in, and wisdom really emerges after 50. These more mature qualities can be critical in helping late bloomers to launch new, successful endeavors and enterprises.

A primary characteristic of late bloomers is curiosity which, Karlgaard argues, is abundant in young children and is steadily eroded through what he calls “America’s early-blooming conveyor belt.” Late bloomers seem to hold on to their curiosity despite societal efforts to weaken it. They are seekers and explorers who aren’t afraid to experiment.

Quitting Your Way to Success

They also aren’t afraid to quit. Late bloomers tend to reject the myth that “winners never quit and quitters never win,” recognizing the opportunity lost when we spend our time in a job or activity that isn’t serving us well and that may distract us from pursuing our true talents. Karlgaard explains the importance of quitting to success:

As part of our obsession with early achievement, we’ve turned quitting into a pejorative, an insult that cuts straight to our sense of self-worth. And that’s not just unfair, it’s destructive. In a drive to suppress individuality and reinforce cultural norms, society has turned one of the most effective tools for self-discovery into a proverbial four-letter word.

Ultimately, Karlgaard’s Late Bloomers book is a refreshing reminder that it’s okay to slow down and move through life at our own pace, following our own pathway. Don’t let the societal conveyor belt of preschool-to-college-to-career achievement drown out your talents or derail your potential. Know that it’s never too late to begin or to peak, and that there is often great value that comes with time. Karlgaard concludes:

If we’re not forced to conform to standard timetables for success, we can—and will—bloom on our own schedules. And we can do it with a deeper sense of mission and a greater feeling of contentment.

This is sage advice, both for us to take and to give to our children.

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Don’t Apply for “A Job”

Don’t apply for “a job.” That’s too general.

Apply for a specific opportunity to create a specific kind of value for a specific company.

If you apply for something, that’s actually what you’re doing anyway. So you might as well adopt a mindset that’s congruent with the task.

Apply for jobs with the same practical wisdom you’d display when looking for a date.

Don’t let yourself sound like a desperate person who’s looking for anything under the sun. Make the company feel like you’re uniquely interested in them.

You wouldn’t go on a date and say “Oh, I’m just here because I have no friends and you were available. There was nothing about you that made me intrigued. I’m just trying to get to know ANYONE who’s willing to listen.”

You would say “When I met you the other day and you started talking about how you loved the Chicago Bulls and THEN you dropped that Eminem reference in the SAME sentence, I was like ‘I GOTTA get to know this person right here.’”

Make your pitch personal.

People like it when you’re interested in them in particular.

They like it less when you’re just putting out a bunch of feelers.

The same is true for companies.

Don’t be spammy. Be specific.

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