The Free Yourself Movement
An increasing number of libertarians I respect are joining what I call the “Free Yourself First Movement.”
Instructions on how to handle emergencies routinely advise people to take care of themselves first and only then to assist others; for example, in case of a rapid descent, airlines advise passengers to secure their own oxygen masks before assisting fellow-travelers. I do not believe the instruction to ‘self-prioritize’ has any egoistic or Randian connotations, e.g. “you should be your own first value and act accordingly.” Instead, it springs from the commonsense realization that, unless you take care of your own survival in an emergency, you cannot help anyone else.
A similar phenomenon is quietly occurring within some ranks of libertarianism. In response to the economic and political emergency that is our current reality — and in preparation for a deepening crisis — people are taking care of themselves and their families first. Although focusing on your own welfare and that of loved ones is a natural part of daily life, the phenomenon I am talking about is different in that the focus is entirely conscious and in specific response to an unnatural state of affairs — again, our current economic and political reality.
There has always been a strong streak of (for want of another word) “survivalism” within the libertarian movement: gun advocates, gold owners, those who retreat to form communities, doom sayers, etc. But, again, this is different…although guns, gold and community networking certainly have an honored place in the life of anyone who values independence and freedom. One difference: although the Free Yourself First Movement may be largely in response to negative conditions, it is overwhelmingly positive in its message and sometimes joyous in its attitude. In stead of fretting about the state of the world, these people try to marginalize the negatives so that the quality of their lives is not deeply impacted by what a politician does. As much as possible, they remove their lives and their happiness from state control. You need only visit Sunni Maravillosa’s blog, for example, to viscerally feel how engaged in life that engaging woman is…IMO, more so now that she has ‘retreated’ into self-sufficiency than when she was while pursuing academia. In short, rather than crying out “the sky is falling,” the Free Yourself First Movement emphasizes the positives of empowering yourself.
Wally Conger brings this topic to mind this morning. I have been thinking about dropping his blog “Out Of Step” off my roll not because of any problem or negativity between us but because he has not posted there since September 7th, 2009. Instead, I should add his new site and venture: Smashing Wage Slavery One Job at a Time!. Wally is passionate about teaching people how to escape a circumstance that is, for most people, as soul-deadening as the State itself: being tied to a joyless job by debt and habit. He quotes Charles Bukowski, “How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?”
Wally epitomizes the swing toward the Free Yourself First Movement. His old site was dominated by cultural and political commentary with sections named “Essential Agitprop.” His new site is devoted to self-help that is specifically designed to enable economic (and, so, lifestyle) independence. The swing does not indicate an abandonment of libertarian activism or ideology but merely a refocusing on how to best express the goals of individualism and freedom…and to express it first and foremost within your own life. Like emergency instructions, he is self-prioritizing. Unlike those instructions, I’m sure he would argue for self-prioritization on egoistic or Randian grounds as well as commonsense ones.
I have been feeling the same drift within myself. Arguably, I have been ‘drifting’ in this direction for over ten years now — for over twenty if you count our moving from a large city to a farm where privacy, independence and self-sufficiency are far easier goals to achieve. By moving to the farm, we took a huge step toward marginalizing the state in our lives. There are taxes and laws that are close to inescapable, of course; for example, my car is licensed. But when I wake up in the morning and step outside, the situation feels similar to that described by Henry David Thoreau in “On Civil Disobedience.” Once when he was ‘huckleberrying’, he looked up at a field and thought to himself, “Here the state is nowhere to be seen.”
I have come to the conclusion that the most radical expression of freedom is to personally live it and only then — only when you have secured yourself and your loved ones — to assist others. By “assisting others”, I mean writing political commentary, attending conferences, lecturing…trying to steer the vast ship of society one iota closer to liberty and away from its Titanic like course.