Friday, March 19, 2021

The Only Question That Matters

By David Burns

In the quest for human freedom, for liberty, for the absence of rule through coercion and violence, there is only one question that matters, and it is quite very simple.  The question is "Do you want human freedom or not?"

Notice that I did not ask, "Do you want human freedom so long as certain constraints are placed on economic activity that you think might lead to negative outcomes?"  

I did not ask, "Do you want human freedom so long as certain cultural norms are maintained through the limiting of population movement across various geographical boundaries?"  

I did not ask, "Do you want human freedom so long as no child is left without a state approved education?"

Nor did I ask, "Do you want human freedom so long as people in your community can be restricted from purchasing substances known to cause altered states of consciousness?"

Unfortunately, most people don't really want human freedom at all. What they really want is freedom for themselves and constraints on everyone else. In other words, if you ask someone if they want freedom, they will say yes but with tons of qualifications. They have to qualify it. But what you will find out when you drill into those qualifications is that your average person believes they aren't really subject to them.  They are restrictions for everyone else, but not for them.  

Take for instance a simple example, price gouging, setting aside the question of whether price gouging is real or just a helpful price signal for us to reduce our use of a scarce resource.  Let's assume price gouging is widespread in the cartoon fashion understood in modern discourse: evil crooks making a quick buck by raising the price of a needed item during a crisis.

Do you support freedom even if that means people can engage in price gouging?  Most people will answer no. They say they want freedom, but people will price gouge and something should be done about it. Something that of course limits freedom.  But if you ask them if they would engage in price gouging when presented the opportunity, very few of them would answer yes.  This is how they trick their mind into believing they are free when they are not.  They say to themselves, "Well of course I am not subject to the constraints placed on others because I would never engage in such behavior in the first place. Therefore my freedom has not been constrained in any way."

This is how people trick themselves. If you doubt this, there is a wonderful book called "They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-45", which might be of some interest to you. People can even trick themselves into believing they are free as they sullenly shuffle along a grocery store line while wearing a double mask.

People put all sorts of qualifications on freedom because the average person simply does not believe they are part of any of the supposed negative forces they are trying to curtail. It's as if human nature applies to everyone else, but not them.  There are all sorts of psychological phenomena at work that help with this trick: pride, jealousy, anger, hatred, etc. Look at the justifications of mask wearers, the pride in their voices as they inform you of how it's their duty to help reduce the spread. Pride has its roots in fear and this example should expose that clearly.

Notice that it's all negative emotions that make us want to limit freedom. There's nothing courageous, peaceful, nor loving in clamoring for regulation of a business we know nothing about. Sure, people can really pat themselves on the back for it, but when we examine their reasoning it's all about fear. Fear of other people's greed, fear of losing our own jobs due to some corporate activity that we don't understand, fear of what might happen to our standard of living if there was some disruptive market force that caused an economic calamity.  

How about the War on Drugs? I want to be free, you say, but some drugs are so bad we can't possibly allow them to be exchanged in our society - exchanged for our labor, our hard work, our savings. Of course, you won't take those drugs. You have pride and you are responsible. But what of the neighbor? And what if one of these drugs are introduced to your children?  Notice that it's always fear that is the root of the anti-freedom sentiment.

Other people cannot be free because I am afraid of what they might do.

Go ahead and say it out loud, so that you understand entirely your predicament, the human predicament.
Now, do you want human freedom or not? If you can answer this unequivocally, yes, then you will desire it no matter what. And you truly will be intellectually freed.  Never again will you fall victim to the fearful messages that are constantly bombarding you, reminding you why "you can be free so long as you allow these restrictions on others..."

When you learn to ask the question the right way, "Do I want human freedom or not?", without any qualification, things will happen to you. You will stop watching the news. One day you will be watching the news and you will notice that the emotion they are constantly triggering in you is fear.  And you will decide I don't want to be afraid anymore. I want to be free, without qualifications.
Learn to ask this very important question. Ask it every time there is a war, or a virus, or an economic crisis, or anything else you are told is the important "problem of the day."  Do I want to be free or not?  If you find yourself saying, "well I wanted to be free, but the stock market crashed and we must need stronger regulation", what you are really saying is, "Other people cannot be free because I am afraid of what might happen to me because of a stock market crash."

Make sure you are honest about it. If you are going to perpetuate the unfortunate human condition, please be honest with yourself about the reason you are doing it. You are doing it because you are scared.

You can be more than that. And humans can be free.

David Burns is a Network Security Engineer living in Virginia Beach, VA


  1. How is it that a "network security engineer" can write a piece that is probably more important and insightful than anything that 99% of PhDs in US universities or 99% of US editorial boards could ever write?

    1. That's because computers don't tolerate BS. Lying to oneself will simply result in systems which aren't working. This tends to instill intellectual honesty in engineers.

      Not so much in academia which by and large is about writing papers which are only read by other academics. The academia degraded into cliquish circle-jerk game since settling on publications and peer reviews as the measure of scientific output.

  2. Fantastic stuff. Reminds me of Paul Rosenberg's insights at .
    Truly, the worst problems imaginable by the fearful, anti-freedom Collectivists, that supposedly would be visited upon a libertarian society, utterly PALE in comparison to the horrific hardships, setbacks, and misery given us by government intrusion and interventions.

    1. Excellent point!! This was one of the most succinct and relevant articles I’ve read in a while. I’ve long believed that most people don’t truly value liberty, even though they think they do. I’m definitely sharing this article for those more open-minded individuals who can be honest with themselves and critique themselves.

  3. Amen! And this is the problem I pondered in my heart while I sat in the community meeting last night and listened to their plan to take the local R party back from RINOs. I want rid of the old boy network but I also wanted to ask why is your identity pro-Trumpers? When will you decide to be simply pro-freedom and have real conversations about Trump's decisions or specific policy from the lens of freedom? The 'good' guys are driving me mad!

  4. Brilliant. I let this loose on twitter. Shadow banned for sure.

  5. Truth to power is always the simplest preposition.

  6. The essay is a good first step. Liberty is not liberty with all the qualifiers people insist on. And these qualifiers are often motivated by fear. But the essay opens a Pandora's box of issues. What do people understand to be liberty and what do they mean by fear? There are answers to the liberty question but fear comes in an almost infinite variety of personal intensity. I have watched fear increase as the non-liberty people I discuss liberty with begin to realize what I mean by liberty. The awful fear of the independent judgement required of them. The fear of taking responsibility for their actions based on their judgements. The fear of their possible failure or worse the failure of others that might harm them. I see the fear in their eyes as it overwhelms and I can do nothing to mitigate it. No matter what voluntary solutions I offer, the fear is in control. This is a complex psychological issue unique to humans. The reasoning ability that makes them human has not fully informed or integrated their emotions. Emotions which offer them the ability to respond with common sense solutions to situations that require quick decisions (sometimes simply do no harm). But if introspection and thought has not preceded to the point of accepting yourself as competent to deal with life than fear will remain and sometimes become dominant. I see no answer to this psychological weakness other than the chance that evolution will favor rational humans.

    However, our current situation is not completely dire. Empirically we have made much progress in human wealth and well being. And this progress appears related to our growing ability to be reasonable. Although there are some exceptions, humans are generally not acting like baboons. Progress is sometimes slow and painful and does not proceed at a steady pace. Setbacks are to be expected. It is good to discuss and learn from essays like the one from Mr. Burns and to continue to push back against fear with the understanding that "the worst problems imaginable by the fearful" are unique to each individual and very real to them.