Never Going Back

Warren Meyer puts a finger on something I’ve been thinking about a lot, lately.

Unfortunately, Mr. Gore’s only goal last night was not just to rally
the TV audience to change its lifestyle.  The more important goal was
to increase the likelihood that government will compel Americans to do
what Mr. Gore wants.  And this is what makes me cringe nowadays when I
hear the term "activist."  I don’t want to cringe, because passionately
advocating for you cause, even if I disagree with it, should be part of
the rich fabric of a free society.  Unfortunately, though, at the heart
of nearly every modern activist’s agenda is compulsion — the desire to
use the coercive power of the government to force you to do something
you would not otherwise choose to do.  It is the very unusual activist
today who is not trying, whether they admit it or not, to chisel away
at individual freedom for some "higher cause."

Exactly. In just about everything I read, see, hear, discuss…there is at root an undercurrent centering on whose will gets to be imposed. The issue is very nearly never whether the will of one person or group ought to be prescribed and imposed upon others or not — only which set or mix of values to prescribe and impose, and why. Freedom, no longer a real value, is never an issue anymore. What passes for "freedom" is an illusion: it’s the prisoner’s "freedom" to choose whether go to sleep, read a book, use the toilet, or do some push-ups — all in the confines of one’s cell. And, thus, the policy-talk now and in recent years has been about "choice." Yea: a choice from their menu, not one of your own making. The entirely of the argument is: within which prison walls do you get to exercise your "freedom?"

Underlying all of it is the arrogant presumption that you know what’s best for me, or him, or her — in short — everyone. Underlying all of that is the primitive collective notion (rooted in tribalism) that people are obligated to fulfill and serve some set of "higher" values as a member of some unified body of constituent parts like family, then some ethnic group, then some religion, some neighborhood, some clan or tribe, some region, some political party, some nation. You were "born a Christian?" Oh, well, here’s the prescription for your life; what you are to serve and be. There was a time — and there still is in many parts of the world — where not following the prescription for your life handed down by privileged authorities was the equivalent of suicide.

Since such notions contemplate very nearly nothing of the quotidian life of modern man, such perennial notions are primitive, though certainly understandable. It’s equally understandable that so many today lament and wring hands over what is an equally natural pushing back by people who, like me, unequivocally reject the notion that you have the slightest authority to tell me what my "highest values" — or anyone’s — ought to be. The mechanism of guilt as a means of influence is slipping away. Ever so slightly, still, but it is slipping away.

And do you know what the good part is? The good part is that this antagonism isn’t going away. All you busy-bodies and worry-warts are fighting a losing battle in my estimation. I don’t know how long it will take, but that cat’s already out of the bag, and few who have ever tasted the guiltless freedom and authority to choose their own values — with no consideration whatsoever to the arbitrary demands of anyone else — are ever going back. This is something — really — far more profound than the (important) freedom to produce and trade, around which the debate is primarily focussed. I’m talking about looking at a whole Universe, and without the slightest sense of foreboding or guilt, freely picking your own values for your own sake to begin with — without a single thought to any sort of obligation, tradition, custom, or belief you don’t freely and enthusiastically embrace.

Hell…daily…even fewer are paying attention to you. Why should they? What do you offer? Listen: if all of your so-great ancient traditions — traditions that arise from contemplation by men who didn’t even have the luxury of toilet paper — can’t compete with an iPod, color TV, xBox, or dreams of a guy’s first car and his first date, how terribly great can they be? Oh, that’s right; the dichotomy again. Such "profound" values are of a "different part" of reality (and thus oh-so-conveniently insulated) to compare them to — so-called — "material" values that, somehow, seem to offer lots of people more of what they desire.

But I also don’t mean to be mean. I fully understand that ideas exist that are crucially important for human beings to apprehend, and on the surface, they often don’t seem appealing or all that important, especially to the young and unformed.

Well, I’ve got news for you: the world is a changin’ and it’s a changin’ faster and faster, and if you want to get your ideas across, then you really, ultimately, have no choice but to compete with the iPod, or, in some years hence, a fully 3-D virtual-reality environment or whatever happens to be happnin’.

It aint gettin’ any easier. It’s going to get harder; much harder.

Thankfully, I have no real desire to participate. See, I really care not if everyone or everything is going to hell or not by your standard of values and I sense that more and more people are taking life at the same stride. Sure, I’m perplexed by how so many lead what I consider meaningless and shallow lives, by my particular values. But I’ll tell you something: I have one hell of a lot less fear surrounding their choices in values than I do in the propensity of certain others to impose theirs on me.

And before you get started: make whatever case you want that certain values chosen by some are destroying this, that, and the other thing. I get that there’s a grain of valid concern here and there, but mostly, it’s just more fire & brimstone preaching, same as it ever was.

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