Government is pretty darn dreary, and, in a strange way, the opponents of government mirror that same outlook on life. You need look no further than the typical news aggregator in the libertarian world. It’s mostly all factual but truly terrible. Wars, abuse, oppression, despotism, and it’s all real enough.
A focus on problems instead of solutions can lead to a sense of hopelessness and despair. Countless times I’ve heard people say to me: the idea of liberty is great but totally unachievable, and so it’s pointless to try.
But wait just a minute. In the last 15 years, we’ve seen a massive decline in infant mortality around the world. Violence is down. Income is up in places where poverty prevailed for the whole of history. We’ve seen breakthrough technologies tear down government barriers. Social networking has connected us as never before.
Why is this? It’s not because governments have gone away. It’s because markets have ascended and become more powerful than those who seek to control them.
We use tools every day that have freed us from systems government constructed — tools like smart phones, crowdsourced information delivery systems, open-source software for everyone, the app economy that massively improves our lives, and even alternative currencies made out of code.
It’s not just about technology. It is about the choices people make. Homeschooling has taken off. Companies are pioneering energy production apart from governments. Innovations in housing rental, transportation, and food delivery are straining old-time government controls. File sharing and internet commerce is racing ahead much faster than the government’s ability to control it. Private arbitration is making new inroads.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was correct when he complained that “this little thing called the internet and the ability of people everywhere to communicate instantaneously…makes it much harder to govern, makes it much harder to organize people.”
Think about the implications of this. Some people have ignored the counsel of despair and gone out there to make a difference. Rather than seeing themselves as surrounded by despotism and barriers, they have found creative solutions that are right now making government much less effective in managing our lives. These people are humanity’s benefactors. They are making the world a freer place.
This approach suggests something powerful and important. For many decades in the liberty space of ideas, people have wondered about the path forward. It is through political activism and electing the right people to office? Is it through seminars and journals? Is it through taking over the bureaucracies or universities? Or is there really no hope at all and therefore liberty-minded people should just throw in the towel?
You can make a case for all of these. But it turns out that there is a way forward that has a more proven track record. It comes through taking real action in your own life to find freedom in a new way. Liberty is not just something to believe; it is something to do. And the doing can have serious and large-scale effects on institutions and the path of history itself.
I began to keep track of such solutions-based liberty thinking a few years back. I discovered some simple tricks that allow people to make an end run around aspects of household management that government bureaucrats had completely wrecked. I found that I could hack my showerhead to bring back a satisfying shower. I could crank up my water heater to get my clothes clean. I could ramp up the water pressure to stop pipes from corroding and smelling. I could put cleaning additives to detergents to get dishes and clothes clean.
All of these solutions are legal. But most people don’t think about them or know anything about them, which is too bad because by taking simple steps you actually manage to kick the bureaucrats out of your home to some extent. You actually manage through your own actions to live a freer life.
These are small steps, but then I began to notice that this approach suggests a larger philosophical and strategic outlook. What if instead of fighting the state — through means we don’t even have at our disposal — we used our wits and intelligence to think and act our way around the structures of power? What if this has always been the way that liberty advanced, not by having it granted but rather by inspiring people to reach out and take it as their own?
The larger question: what if individual action always precedes social change? Well, look at the enormously successful environmentalist movement. Long before the regulatory agencies got involved, activists were telling people that they should make changes in their own lives. They said people should recycle, start biking, use less water, start composting, and so on. When people responded to these specific action-based items, the political system eventually responded.
So it has been in the area of labor rights, social welfare provision, mandated benefits at the workplace, and the movement against war. In every case, the social change began with specific individual actions. Activists encouraged people to sue their employers, make contracts with added benefits, go on strike, refuse to attend war parades, and any number of other things.
It’s remarkable to think that the liberty space of opinion has not really gone this direction, even though it is clear that entrepreneurship and individual action has made the crucial difference in making the world a freer place.
Actually, correction: there are conferences around the country that feature speakers striving for very practical applications of the idea of liberty. I’ve seen these myself at places like Liberty Forum in New Hampshire, FreedomFest in Las Vegas, Libertopia in San Diego, and other places. Here you will find some very creative people talking about the application of the idea of liberty to a host of areas.
At these various conferences, I’ve seen magic happen. People combine ideas to created value that is larger than the sum of its parts. People gain ideas for living better and freer lives. They meet friends and form networks of mutual concern and love. They support each other in the struggle against power. Whether they are professionals, home teachers, students, or political activists, they all benefit by being around each other.
Even in the scholarly area, intellectuals are getting more focused on applied areas of how liberty works itself out in real-time space. In politics, we are even seeing hands-on innovation with email swarms. Students for Liberty has shown masterful innovation in bringing together scholarship with social organizing to create a real sector of vibrant student activism.
What if we had a space in the cloud that is wholly dedicated to this solutions-based liberty mindedness? This is the dream (and the coming reality) of Liberty.me.
As for the technology, I’ve tracked the progress over 15 years and seen software solutions that are ever more sophisticated in allowing group engagement, publishing, networking, and outreach. In the past 18 months with the advent of affordable virtual servers, we’ve seen the cost of these solutions fall dramatically.
It’s time that liberty-minded people take advantage of these tools. That’s why we are throwing everything at this project. We want to see nothing short of a civilization in the sky where a global and expanding community can enjoy the benefits of learning and networking, not as a one-way lecture but a billion-way communication structure. It is only now possible and we’d be crazy not to take advantage of the opportunity.
That’s the vision: solutions-based liberty plus cutting-edge technology. This is a win, not only for members for the whole of humanity, because it puts the liberty agenda on hyperdrive by making it more intelligent and action-based. This is the moment. Liberty.me is where liberty lives.