Over 2,000 years ago, Archimedes understood the importance of leverage. “Give me a long enough lever and a place to stand,” he said “and I will move the world.” Leverage multiplies effort, it maximizes the effect of each intended action. Most of us are familiar with the concept. We’ve used a hammer to pull out a nail, or bent a spoon to launch a pea across the room. Actually, we use levers every day. Our own bodies are full of levers that allow us to exert physical power over the world around us. Our muscles originate on one bone and insert on another, turning each joint into a fulcrum of action. If we suffer injury through misuse or neglect, our leverage decreases, and our ability to affect the world around us is impaired. In a very real and concrete way, our health is the lever we use to move the world.
We are used to thinking of health as an end unto itself. We work out, try to eat right, get enough sunlight, salt, water, sleep and so forth in order to be healthy. To be healthy may be the goal at first, but soon we are asking, “healthy for what?” What is the purpose of health, if not to be able to do all that you want to do? This is personal agency.
I believe it will help you have a better life if you understand and remember at all times this cause and effect link between health and agency. If you want to accomplish something, you must make yourself healthy enough to do it. I’m not just talking about physical health, either. Life is more than just a physical proposition. It takes mental, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual effort to make a good life.
We are also used to thinking of health in connection with sports. Athletes train to be able to do the few simple things that they need to do to score points and win games. This makes sense to us. Now, notice that life is basically a game that we are playing together. How can you expect to perform at a high level in any part of the game of life if you do not train regularly and rigorously? You have to build muscle memory, reinforce valuable thought patterns, and forge healthy emotional attachments to the things that bring you closer to your goals. This training creates health, which leads to agency—the power to exert your will. If you want to create the life you desire, you have to be healthy enough to do it.
Let’s take this a step further, and talk about how health and agency relate to liberty. Health is the integrity and resilience of body and mind, and health generates agency. Agency is the power to get things done, to act on behalf of someone or something—in this care, yourself. Liberty is the ability to exercise personal agency within a larger society as an equal among equals, without being restrained by someone else’s power. Without strong personal agency, there can be no true liberty, because it takes strength to defend the position of equality before the law. It takes strength and a vigorous exercise of agency to prevent yourself or others from being taken advantage of by people who are strong. Since you cannot have strong personal agency without health, you cannot have liberty without health, either.
Let’s go another step further. The history of the world after the writing of the Declaration of Independence shows that liberty is the foundation of abundance. Abundance creates the opportunity for greater health among more people, which gives more people more agency.
Health ➡ Agency ➡ Liberty ➡ Abundance ➡ Health
Here is the danger, though, because not everyone uses their agency to establish liberty. Some people much prefer to play the game of tyranny. Tyrants seek to make people unequal in power, with themselves on top. They want to live easy and feel powerful by taking advantage of other people’s work. They use their agency to create unequal relationships, and entice or bully people to enter into them. Once they have leverage over people, they use it to establish external constraints, to compel other people to work toward the goals of their own choosing. Here’s the catch, though: it’s hard to contain people who are capable and practiced in the use of their own agency. It’s hard to control people who enjoy vibrant health.
Therefore, tyrants have to make a trade-off if they want to gain and maintain control. In order to make subjects of people, tyrants have to dumb them down, foster bad habits, indulge sloth and weakness, and encourage vices that keep people from actualizing their full potential. This is not an optional arrangement for the would-be tyrant, it is a necessity. Above all, tyrants need people who are easy to control. They can’t handle a city, or a state, or a nation of lions. They need ASSes who can be led: people who are Addicted, Stupid, and Sick. In the end, they get the control they want, but they are surrounded by idiots. Tyranny is a societal death spiral that continues until it collapses under the weight of its own sickness, its own weakness, its own stupidity. Unfortunately, this can take a long time, and cause a tremendous weight of human suffering along the way.
The tyrannical pathway looks like this:
Agency ➡ Control ➡ Tyrannical trade-off ➡ Suffering ➡ Collapse ➡ Rise of new powers (new agency)
This tyrannical trade-off is important to understand, because it is the reason why free people can still win against tyrants who have more resources at their disposal. People who seek to create liberty will naturally find their way over time to live in good health. They will have AIR to breathe: the Agency to enact their will, the Integrity to coordinate their actions with their desires, and the Resilience to endure hardship. As a result, free people are more agile, stronger, more creative, more likable, more persuasive, more confident, and better at solving problems. They will continue to move effectively even when resources are tight and information is limited. This is the natural advantage of liberty, the hope of freedom-lovers everywhere and everywhen. This is the key to our success.
If you doubt this connection between liberty, agency, and health, I invite you to take a look at the topics that liberty-minded people regularly discuss on their social media accounts: natural health, strength training, stoicism, healthy diet, public speaking, homeschooling, etc. They talk about the things that a healthy person can and should be doing to have a greater impact on the world. They talk about not being fooled by liars, not being addicted to vice, not staying sick for life. They talk about being lions and having the personal courage to stand up for liberty. Meanwhile, what do the tyrants peddle? Stay home, stay safe, take drugs, listen to the experts, live in a fantasy world.
You are an intelligent, emotive, creative physical and spiritual force in the world. You have power to exert your own will through your body, through your words and deeds, and through your relationships. You have an obligation to yourself and to the world to be healthy enough to express your will with wisdom and power. As Mr. Peterson says, it is an ethical crime for you to be weak. Not only should you be physically strong, but you ought to develop an emotional habit of confidence, a mental habit of study. You ought to reconcile yourself to God and seek out the higher purpose of your life. In short, you can and should be healthy. You can and should be a source of power and strength to those around you—especially those who are weaker than yourself. This is virtue. This is life. This is liberty. This is happiness.
“Give me a place to stand and a long enough lever, and I will move the world,” says Archimedes. Your health is your lever. Liberty is the place to stand. Go move the world.