The Danger of Freedom

I like Star Wars. It is a compelling story with interesting characters and an emotional message. Beneath all of the entertainment, however, lies a message of warning that many people just don’t internalize because all they see are the flashing lightsabers and cool spaceships. It is a story of oppression by a government who claims to be providing security, and the people willingly give themselves over to it. When people see hard times, it becomes easy to give over control to someone else who claims they can take care of the problem for us. The truth is that no one can solve your problems for you. You have to do it.

Human beings crave freedom. It is a fundamental part of our existence. The ability to choose our own path and shape our own future is one of the most powerful dreams a person can have. Western society has been formed around the idea that a person is a free individual who has the right to choose. Our governments have been formed around this central concept and everything in our lives is shaped by it.

Unfortunately, human beings are also filled with fear, and this manifests itself in a strong desire for security. That same freedom that we so crave is often a source of anxiety because we fear the possibility of failure or privation or even death. We are equipped with a powerful survival instinct, and it usually serves us well, but sometimes it can get in the way of the higher ideals to which we strive. When push comes to shove, our instincts usually take center stage.

It has been said that freedom isn’t free. It has a cost. Part of that cost is certainly the blood and sacrifice paid by those who came before to provide us with a world where freedom can flourish. Many have paid the price for the lives we live now, and most of us respect those sacrifices and salute those who came before. The problem is that while we respect it, we don’t really understand it, and because we haven’t experienced what they had to go through, we don’t value it as much as those who came before. It isn’t until we are forced to go through what they went through that we truly understand the value of what they have given us.

We always struggle to reconcile this dichotomy inside us. We want our freedom, but we don’t want to pay the price that comes with that freedom. It is always preferable to have someone else deal with the problems that come with making a society free, and the ideas that emerge from that line of thinking invariably lead to socialism, and then communism. It is because we don’t want to deal with the dangers of freedom that we eventually lose it. We aren’t willing to live with risk, so we give up our freedom a bit at a time hoping that it will result in a safer community, all the while not realizing that it’s all a lie.

The world isn’t a safe place, and it never will be. To believe that anyone can provide you with a safe place to live is foolish. Our history is rife with incidents of riots and violent protests, many of which were in places where the people believed they had safe communities. It only takes a moment to go from order to chaos, and what will you do when the systems in place are inadequate to respond to unfolding events?

It gets even worse than that. Setting aside random acts of societal violence against cities or governments, what about you as an individual? We trust in our police to provide us with justice, and that is the right thing to do. When someone wrongs us, there must be a price paid for that act, and we rely on our police force to investigate and bring criminals to justice. The problem is that it is very unlikely that the police will prevent the act in the first place; they almost always arrive after the crime is committed. It is very rare for the police to stop something bad from happening to you. The national average for police response time is 18 minutes following a 911 call. Even if it were only five minutes, we can imagine what can happen to us in even such a short time, and that assumes you ever get the chance to call the police anyway.

The lie of big government is that it can somehow mitigate all of these dangers and provide us with a free and open society with none of the risks that freedom entails. This is false. When people are truly free, there is an inherent risk that some of those free people will do something horrible. When we allow people to do what they want, some of them are going to want to do evil things. It is the danger of freedom.

So what do we do about it? Lock everyone down in the futile hope that it will prevent some of us from doing bad? How much government does it take to stop all bad things from happening? Is it even possible? I believe that history has shown us that there is no way to prevent people from doing bad things when they decide they’re going to do it. Criminals will always find a way to get around whatever laws we put in place. It is only those who wouldn’t do bad things in the first place who actually abide by the rules. They aren’t the ones we have to worry about.

If we understand that no government will ever provide us with security, then we have to start moving our goals toward the other end of the spectrum. The more we allow government to interfere in our lives, the most danger we expose ourselves to. This instinctively feels wrong, but when you think through logically to the end, it is the only conclusion. Even putting aside the conspiratorial ideas that the government itself will do something bad to you, which historically it does, big government can never protect you from even the most basic dangers in life. Why would we trust our safety to it?

In the end, we are all responsible for our own lives. Our survival ultimately rests on us. When we trade our personal liberty for a false sense of security, we get neither freedom nor security. Our founding fathers understood this, and we should remember it. If you think you can sit back and enjoy the luxury that has been provided for us without paying the price for it, you are sadly mistaken. We ignore the advance of false security at our own peril.

So if we already know the problem, what do we do about it? Take to the streets? Put on our tin foil hats and gather in dark rooms to obsess over conspiracy theories? Join a cult? No, none of those things are helpful. As Americans, we live in a country that allows us to make new choices and change our way forward. All it takes is a little bit of effort and a little bit of reason to find the way to overcome this false doctrine of security. The power lies in that piece of paper that we all have the opportunity to mark when a new round of elections come around. It is the first cost we must pay to ensure our own freedom. If we are too lazy to pay that small fee for freedom, then our procrastination will lead to far steeper costs in the future, and we will deserve the bondage in which we find ourselves.

The power lies with us. Don’t waste it.

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Oppression Via Taxation

I can’t really complain about my current income level. I make a pretty decent amount of money, and compared to most of the country I make a fairly envious amount of money. Compared to most of the world, I am in the top 1% of earners. I could never legitimately complain that I don’t make enough money and I wouldn’t stand around grumping that I should be making more. It would be disingenuous.

However, I will complain about the mentality my state government has adopted regarding how it treats the money its citizens earn. Rather than finding ways to encourage us to become more productive, it finds ways to make us resentful of any success at all by siphoning away the money we make so it can redistribute it to others. I’m all for being charitable, but what right does the government have to force me to be so? Why can’t I choose where my charitable contributions are deposited?

The state of California re-imposed the healthcare mandate in 2020. At the time I found out about it, I was mildly annoyed, because I felt that it was still far cheaper to just eat the penalty rather than pay for health care all year. With insurance premiums of $300-500 per month, that’s several thousand per year and it just didn’t make sense to me to pay that much for a service I never use. I haven’t had any health insurance at all for several years now and it has never been a problem. Sure, I would be out of luck if I had a catastrophic health problem, but we all take risks and I’m personally not a fan of wasting money on a maybe. If it happens it happens and I’ll deal with it when it comes. That’s my responsibility, not yours.

When I received my W2 a few days ago, however, I started filing my taxes and found out it was too early to file my state taxes via the service I use. No problem; I’ve reached the point in my career where I don’t get returns anymore, so I’m in no rush to pay. Still, knowing there was a penalty in my future due to the mandate, I wanted to find out how much that was going to be. The state website has a convenient penalty estimator, so I plugged in my information and the result was splashed on my screen: more than $1,300!

I am completely outraged that the state of California believes that it has the right to charge me more for a state program than the federal government was charging in penalties for a nationwide program. The penalty for me back when the federal mandate was active was less than $1,000. I was expecting the California penalty to be something around $500 because generally the numbers on my state taxes are quite a bit lower than the federal number, but I was completely shocked to find out how much I’m actually going to be penalized for not purchasing a service I don’t want.

When did our country become a place that compels you to spend your money on things you don’t want? I am aware that we have been taxed from the beginning and that it isn’t completely voluntary, but most of the things that comprise the significant part of our taxes paid are for services that benefit us directly. We pay taxes so that we can have a military force to protect us from outside threats. Our taxes pay for infrastructure like roads and traffic lights and bridges. It helps us find a little more security in our police forces and firefighters and even emergency medical services. We pay our taxes and, in return, we receive something for our money.

The healthcare penalty is completely different. It punishes you for not participating in a system. It takes your money regardless of whether or not you receive any benefit. The money I will be losing this year is a complete loss; there is nothing gained for the money I will pay. The cry of the colonials in 1776 was “taxation without representation“. Today the cry should be “taxation without compensation”. It is just as bad because it amounts to legalized theft.

We have reached a critical point in our country where the government has become convinced that it has the right to impose whatever rules and extract whatever money it deems necessary to achieve the goals that the people in charge choose to prioritize. It has been building for decades, but to my knowledge this penalty idea is completely new. It represents a fundamental shift in the way that the government involves itself in our lives. It is a dangerous precedent.

It used to be the American dream that even if you were poor, you could someday become wealthy if you worked hard and made the right decisions in your life. Within a generation or two, a hard working family could rise from poverty into the upper middle class, or even millionaire status. It was the goal of every American to make more money so they could provide a better life for themselves and their families. Because of the way taxes have changed, more and more that just isn’t the goal.

For a large portion of my life, my point of view has been to avoid making a large amount of money. Partially, it is because of the amount of work required to make that kind of money. Time is far more important to me than being rich, and most of the people in the upper echelons of earning work 60-80 hours per week. I choose not to do that. Even if I ignore that, however, the other part of that decision is the knowledge that the further I climb up the income ladder, the more the government is going to take from me. I put in twice the work and only get back a fraction of that back in income. It is a system of steeply diminishing returns.

This is the problem of ideological taxation. Rather than being a system that provides basic services that everyone benefits from, it pulls money from people who work hard to give to those who don’t. This is an altruistic goal to be sure, but it ignores a fundamental part of how human beings work. We always perform a cost to benefit analysis when we decide what we are going to do. There is a certain amount of cost we are willing to pay to achieve a certain goal. When the cost exceeds what we are willing to put up with to achieve that goal, we stop pursuing it. Only truly obsessive people will continue pursuing a goal with no regard to cost, and they are an extreme minority.

So what does that mean for everyone else? When people start to realize that they have to put in more effort to receive less reward, they stop producing as much. It just doesn’t make sense to continue working hard if the money you earn is increasingly taken away from you. As more and more people start deciding that making more money just isn’t worth it anymore, they stop working hard and producing what it was they were producing. When production starts falling off, the economy starts suffering and prices go up. When prices go up, people at the low end can’t afford what they could before and begin needing assistance to survive. The government steps in to keep people from falling, which forces an increase in taxes. More taxes further decreases the benefit of hard work, which further reduces production. It is a feedback loop of negative returns.

It is a struggle for me to understand how anyone can defend this idea that taxing those who perform well to bolster those who don’t is a good idea. It makes sense on the surface that helping others is good and right and something we should do. I don’t think any reasonable person would disagree with that. It is the method in which it is being done that is objectionable. Perhaps if the government didn’t cram charity down our throats, more people would be willing to be more charitable on their own, and this is evident in the multitude of private organizations that provide charitable benefits to those in need, but when you steal our money it becomes not only more difficult to even have the ability to be charitable, but it also forces us to become more selfish because we have less available to us to maintain the life we want.

Will this post make a difference? Certainly not. No one knows me and, even if they did, this problem is bigger than one person making a statement. Our country, and specifically my state, has reached the point where the people just accept what the government tells them to do. I personally will be leaving California as soon as I am able to. This won’t free me from the federal government, but it will allow me to extract myself from a place where the government has reached such an oppressive level that it feels perfectly justified in taking my money without giving me anything in return. I can’t abide such an abusive relationship and will not tolerate it any longer. As beautiful as California is, it isn’t worth what it has come to cost to live here.

I truly hope that at some point the people will rise up and stop allowing the government to abuse them the way that it does…not with violence or rioting, but by voting the people who do these things out of office. The unfortunate truth is that the majority group tends to be the more quiet group because they have had things the way they want for a long time and they don’t really notice the small changes moving things against what they want until it’s too late. Until the oppression truly starts affecting their daily lives, they aren’t bothered enough to raise their voices in opposition. I believe that time is coming soon, but not soon enough for me. I will not stay to live under that sort of oppression.

Good luck, California. I wish you the best.

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A Life Wasted

I’ve spent most of my life just cruising along and doing whatever seemed right at the time. I avoid conflict and tend to be pretty lazy. Like most Americans from my generation, I was brought up to believe in patriotism and self-sacrifice, but that instruction came from a generation who didn’t really believe in what it was preaching. The current state of American politics today displays that very clearly. You can’t really put it on one specific political party, because one side actively works to unravel the fabric of what America was intended to be, and the other refuses to stand up for what those ideals were intended to accomplish.

For nearly 40 years I have sat on the sidelines, refusing to participate in the argument because it just didn’t seem worth the effort. I’ve never been a very confrontational person, not because I’m afraid, but because I tend to not like wasting my time and effort on things I know won’t change. It always seemed that there were better things to do with my time than try to convince someone that their viewpoint is wrong. When someone has come to inhabit an idea and choose to live their life in that house, you’re almost never going to bring them out of it. That goes for any ideology you might think of. We tend to go all in on belief systems.

As I get older, though, I’m starting to feel this need to put my thoughts out into the world. I look back on my life, and while I have done some pretty amazing things, I feel like my contribution to our country is sorely lacking. I spent more than a decade of my life in military service, and while I realize and accept that this is a positive contribution to our society, I’ve never felt it lived up to my potential as a human being. I suppose I could go out and volunteer for things, but I just can’t bring myself to go that far, so maybe dipping my toe into the arena of advocacy for personal freedom is something I can do to make a real and meaningful contribution to society.

I used to say that I am a Libertarian, and that’s mostly true, but like a lot of things in my life I’ve come to realize that I don’t want to put a label on myself. Once you’ve decided to put the moniker of an organization next to your name, you’ve railroaded yourself into a certain way of thinking, and more and more I’ve started to believe that this just isn’t a healthy way of looking at the world. It’s much better to have principles that you accept as the truth, and form your opinions with those as the starting points.

So this forces me to think about what principles I believe in. When you discard the templates and actually have to start thinking about these things on your own, how do you know what makes sense and what doesn’t? Despite what many people think, very little of it is intuition. Most of it will spring from logical thought. That doesn’t seem to make sense at first glance, because we would tend to think that truly logical thought would bring us all to the same conclusion, but when you really look at logical thought, you start to understand that logic in and of itself can never provide a single answer to any question. It is a method to get from one point to another, not a perfect formula that provides the most pure answer possible.

So before we can start down this journey of logical thought to reach a rational conclusion, we have to start with some very illogical processes. Logic will help you take the journey and find the destination, but only you can choose where the starting point is. For example, if you want to get to Los Angeles, there is a logical route to get there, but that route completely depends on where you start from. If you’re in San Diego, then you take Interstate 5 north until you get there and it’s very simple. If you’re in New York, though, then the route is much longer and far more complex. The destination is the same, but how you get there is completely different. So it is with life.

So what is the destination? I think most people would agree that it is a state in which we are filled with joy. Because we are individuals, what that means is different for each of us. No matter how much we have in common, we are each unique and we each have a different idea of what a purely joyful state would be. Joy is the destination of every human being, regardless of creed. What creates that joy is unique, but it is the one thing we universally have in common. No one wants to exist in misery.

Now that we have a destination, we have to identify our starting point. For me, it is the idea of personal sovereignty. If we are all unique, it doesn’t make sense to me that we should be promoting ideas that encourage “group think” or force people to act or live in a certain way. Like most starting points, this is a personal belief and while it does have some basis in logic, it requires that I make a decision based on what feels right to me. I can’t ignore the fact that there are aspects of humanity that are heavily influenced by social constructs, but when I pare all of those things back and look at the core, I see a world of individuals.

So now we have a starting point and an ending point. If we being with the idea that we are each individuals with our own ideas of what joy is, and the universal goal of all human beings is to attain that state of joy, then we must start applying logical thought on how to get the most people into that state of being. Many people think that by removing certain obstacles we can usher in an age where joy is maximally distributed to the largest number of people. Others think that it is the overcoming of hardships that bring us joy. The truth is far more complex than that.

I’ve spent a lot of my life thinking pretty hard to get to this point. My upbringing helped me arrive at the starting point, but upon reflection I agree with the principles that our country was founded on. It is clear that we as people fail utterly in our attempts to embody those ideals, but I believe that they are pure. Certain truths are simply irrefutable, not because you can’t come up with an argument against them, but because the way we are as humans causes those ideals to ring true in at least some part of our being. I can’t believe that there isn’t a single person in the world who doesn’t at least partially agree with the idea that a person should be able to choose their own path.

The title of this blog post is “A Life Wasted”. It may be more harsh than is warranted, but for a long time now I’ve felt like I’m just existing. A person needs to feel like they’re doing something with their life, and maybe this is something I can do that will take me into the next phase. It is my hope that this will somehow turn into a place where meaningful discussion takes place and perhaps makes a difference in someone’s life. At the far end of the journey, perhaps it will grow into something that makes a difference in the country, or even the world. That is the dream, but for now I’ll be content with just putting my thoughts into writing and hoping it sparks something in whoever is reading it.

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