Meet the new boss

© Anyaberkut |

Moms through the ages have advised their kids, if you can’t think of anything nice to say, just don’t say anything. I think of those moms lately when the political ads come on. And here we are, Election Day, and I can’t think of anything nice to say.

I should stop there, shouldn’t I?

My political evolution has had four steps so far, four “a-ha” moments.

The first was in the fall of 1978, when Lee Sherman Dreyfus was running for governor of Wisconsin. I was there, a young reporter, when he said something along the lines of, “Government has three duties: Defend our shores, deliver the mail, and stay the hell out of our lives.”

The second was in January 1981, when newly inaugurated President Ronald Reagan said, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

The third was in the fall of 1992, when I had a chance to interview Andre Marrou, the Libertarian candidate for president, and he told me both political parties want to be our parents: Republicans want to be the daddy, and Democrats want to be the mommy. 

And the fourth was in the summer of 2008, when I was writing about another election with an impossible choice between two men who wanted to run my life, and an epiphany stopped me in mid-thought. That was when I wrote: “Freedom is not about having the right ruler. Oh, wait, yes it is. Freedom is understanding that I am the boss of me.”

I included that essay, “An election party where nobody came,” in my book this summer, Echoes of Freedom Past, in which I wrote about reclaiming and restoring freedom in a time when no one in government seriously wants us to be free. In that moment I realized that freedom is an internal thing, not something imposed from the outside.

It’s a liberating thought, quite literally. It’s why the results of today’s election may trouble me but will not send me soaring into extreme joy or sinking into extreme despair. That’s the theme of the second book I released this year, the one where I point out that, if you hang onto the realization that freedom means you are the boss of you, it’s going to be all right.

The Eye of Sauron

© Andrey Kozlov |

Just for fun, let’s say you find yourself in possession of a vast cache of documentation showing the depths of evil being perpetrated in the world. People need to know about this, you think, for the good of humanity. 

You realize that the truth is not pulling back the curtain to reveal the wizard is really a fumbling and incompetent but ultimately well-meaning old man. You learn that the truth is pulling back the curtain to reveal that Sauron or Voldemort has been in charge, and a darkness is settling over all the world.

Do you say to yourself, “People have to know this; I have to share this information”?

Careful before you answer: That’s what Julian Assange did, and he has not been a free man for more than a decade. The dark forces of the world have made it their mission to destroy him.

A long time ago the cartoonist and wise man Walt Kelly had his character say, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” What if we wake up and find that our rulers have indeed made us into the “Great Satan” our adversaries claim us to be? What if we find that we have lost our way? And, by “we” and “us,” of course, I mean the rulers of the land where we live.

What if the whole idea that we even need to have rulers is “the big lie”? What if we taught our kids how to self-regulate?

Individuals band together in small groups in order to achieve a certain purpose. These groups of neighbors — call them companies, churches, villages, towns — tend to grow larger and larger, and even though the idea was to work together, the group loses its neighborliness once it expands too far. The individual neighbor gets lost in the Mass.

The adversaries of freedom all seem to go by the adjective Big: Big Government, Big Corporations, Big Pharma, Big Tech. All of this Bigness started out with a small, simple, well-meaning intention, then lost its way.

I say we start over, go small, and watch out for signs we’re getting too big. And when we see those signs, avoid them like the plague. A Big plague.

We can start by letting Assange go free, go home, and – if he so chooses – go back to work.


© Flownaksala |

It caught me off guard, and I have no idea if anyone else even noticed. But it was an interesting omission.

I was at one of those events where they decided to start by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Everyone dutifully put their hands over their hearts, and the leader led the way.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”

I felt like I was the only one who thought, “Wait, what?” The event went on unabated, and no one remarked that the pledge leader had forgotten the word, “indivisible.” 

The more I thought about it, the more I thought how appropriate a mistake it was. 

Most people think the nation is more divisible than ever. For years the practitioners of practical politics have been working as hard as they can to drive a wedge between people, to the point where the phrase “civil war” finds itself on people’s lips and poll questions.

H.L. Mencken’s famous line is, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

The pending civil war is another one of those imaginary hobgoblins, and the politicians who play with that fire are hoping the populace clamors to be led to safety from civil war by, say, suspending the Constitution and rounding up all the people who disagree with the party in power. By playing with that particular fire, of course, they risk getting us all badly burned.

The best way to counter the foolishness that is contemporary politics is not to take the bait. When someone tries to divide us into “us and them,” talk about how much we have in common. And you know what we have MOST in common? Most of us are sick and tired of people who try to divide us. 

I think people in general are more indivisible than the politicians give us credit for.

W.B.’s Book Report: How to Survive Dystopia (With Your Humanity Intact)

We entered a new dark age in 2020 when governments around the world closed down economies, restricting people’s business, pleasure and their very movements, citing the danger from a novel coronavirus not, it seems to have turned out, dramatically different from other viruses that had achieved pandemic status in recent years.

The coordinated attack on our freedom was so complete, sudden and unexpected that most people complied without thinking. Of course, then more and more people started thinking, and they thought even harder when it became clear that independent thought was being systematically suppressed and censored.

Starr O’Hara’s helpful little book lays down a concise summary of what happened, along with practical ways to maintain one’s sanity and independence in the resulting dystopia. 

As I wrote the other day, I feel conflicted about introducing a book called It’s Going to Be All Right at this particular time. On the other hand, someone needs to encourage people to remain calm and think things through while alleged leaders are screaming messages of fear and loathing at us, waging proxy wars, and otherwise behaving as if they’d love to incite an apocalypse to reduce the surplus population. So I’m moving forward with plans to release my latest collection curated from this blog on Oct. 18.

In the meantime, I strongly urge anyone who is alarmed at the totalitarian excesses of recent years to get hold of Ms. O’Hara’s book — and to obtain a paper copy, as I have. It’s available as an ebook, but ebooks can be erased as if they never existed or lost if the grid goes down. They haven’t yet succeeded in burning every last book.

A study in futility?

I’m reading Purgatory Ridge, the third novel in William Kent Krueger’s series of stories set in the “Iron Lake” region of Minnesota and featuring former sheriff Cork O’Connor, who is part Irish but has some of the blood of the Anishinaabe tribe. O’Connor’s attitude toward history jumped out at me.

“History, in Cork’s opinion, was a useless discipline, an assemblage of accounts and memories, often flawed, that in the end did the world no service. Math and science could be applied in concrete ways. Literature, if it didn’t enlighten, at least entertained. But history? History was simply a study in futility. Because people never learned. Century after century, they committed the same atrocities against one another or against the earth, and the only thing that changed was the magnitude of the slaughter.”

Wow. To a certain extent he nails it there, although I don’t know if it’s fair that people never learn. It feels like folks have finally begun to realize the extent to which bullies have dominated public life through the years — or are the same tricks working year after year and it’s only the folks who pay attention who understand the game?

Mikhail Gorbachev has died, they say, and I remember a time when he was hailed as a potential hero for his perestroika reforms that opened the Soviet economy and eventually ended the murderous communist disaster that Lenin and Stalin and their successors wrought. For a while it looked like some history had been learned and some real change had occurred, but the ruling class has fallen back into the same patterns of pitting us against Russia and beating our plowshares into swords.

Will our rulers still be goading us into hating each other in 1,000 years? Or will the communications revolution, which has put us all in touch with our brothers and sisters around the world, finally show us how much we have in common, and we won’t get fooled again?

I’m going to bet on the optimistic spin and go to bed tonight believing in 1,000 years we won’t be studying war no more.

Occupy your life

(“One of these days” I’m going to begin a systematic catalog of all the stuff I have written, so that I don’t forget pretty good stuff that I wrote, and so I can find it when — when I need it? When I want to remember what I’ve written? When I’m compiling a new book? All of the above. I found this again this week, from November 2011, and wished I’d remembered it when I was putting Refuse to be Afraid: Tenth Anniversary Edition or Echoes of Freedom Past together. But I’m glad I rediscovered it now, because it is as relevant as ever.) 

I am not one of the 99 percent – and neither are you.

I am not one of the 1 percent – and neither are you.

The masses are an invention. There are no “masses.”

We are each created equal – but we are not created the same. Neither are we created as a mass. The act of creation did not produce dozens of you; it created only you (or in very rare cases, it created you and your twin, or your fellow triplets, etc. – but even then, it did not create you exactly and precisely alike).

What does this mean?

It means that no generalization can be made about any single individual. You may make the observation that most people who believe X also believe Y, but you cannot conclude that just because a person believes X that it follows he believes Y. You may collect information that most people with dark skin believe A, but you cannot conclude that the dark-skinned person you have just met believes A.

We are not part of a mass. We are individuals. We are not factory-made components. We are snowflakes, in the original sense — no two alike.

We are connected, but we are not machines – nor is any one of us merely a cog in a machine.

It is easier to deny this and turn responsibility for our lives and decisions over to a collective unit or a corporate entity, but to do so is to let our lives become less than they can be.

It is easier for me to deny your individuality and to make assumptions about you based on what group I have lumped you into, but that is a way to avoid the work of getting to know you and understand you as the unique being we both know you are.

Each of us is a singular work of art, singular in the sense of being one of a kind. Each of us has within us the potential to make art, a special art that no one else can achieve quite the same way or with quite the same perspective.

This, by the way, is why war is such a waste: Because thousands of artists and artwork are destroyed.

Echoes flies from the nest

Today is the day that my 11th book goes live. Echoes of Freedom Past: Reopening, Reclaiming and Restoring Liberty is a collection of my essays, blog posts and a short story about the subjects of freedom and tyranny, most of them from the past couple of years but also the 2008 chestnut “An election party where nobody came.”

That’s the piece where I first wrote, “Freedom is not about having the right ruler. Oh, wait, yes it is. Freedom is understanding that I am the boss of me.” The words spilled onto the page exactly as they formed in my brain: The “oh, wait” revelation occurred the moment after I wrote that first sentence.

I really enjoyed the little books that The Domino Project released about 10 years ago, books like Seth Godin’s We Are All Weird and Derek Sivers’ Anything You Want. Most of my books have been about that length — Echoes is 118 pages — and for the first time it’s also the same height and width as the Domino books. I’m pleased with the package, and I hope you will be, too.

I split my last new book, Full, into three themes: the creative process, freedom, and words of encouragement. Regular visitors to this site know I have continued to write about those themes, and I was calling this The Freedom Book until I settled on a name. I can tell you now that my next two collections started out as The Creativity Book, now tentatively titled Write Anything Until You Write Something, and The Encouragement Book, currently named It’s Going To Be All Right.

If blog post Likes were votes, I should have published the creativity book first, then the encouragement book, and maybe skip the freedom book altogether. But without freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and all those other freedoms, there would be precious little creative or encouraging activity in the world anyway. And so I roll out these words of freedom, because while they may not be the most popular of my writings, they are surely the most important.