Friday, January 30, 2009

Three Aspects of Liberty: Awareness

In the previous two essays, I demonstrated how America regressed to a pre-Revolution state that might conceivably seem familiar to the Tories who once enjoyed the unrivaled security and prosperity of George III's empire. In those days, as in other times, intellectuals turned the wheels of revolution and advocated their brand of back-to-nature philosophy in the form of John Locke's Natural Law.

But if freedom has since lost its meaning, as I claim, why is there so little outcry among Americans who still pay lip service to the ideal of liberty? It is tempting for me to say that this is because prosperity, or "way of life," feels so much like our notion of genuine freedom that we can't make a distinction. Certainly that would be a form of ignorance indeed. But the citizens of George Washington's era also enjoyed relative prosperity, yet they rose up against their government. What made the difference?

Our word "liberty" comes from the Latin word liber. When used as an adjective, liber means "the quality of being free" or "lacking restrictions." When used as a noun, liber means "book."

In order to be Liber, a person must be aware. A man who does not examine premises, test his faith, or think his own thoughts cannot expect to become master of himself or of his destiny. Such people would be perfectly satisfied with no real responsibilities and with infantile dependency upon artificial social systems. On the other hand, free men and women are prepared for liberty through literacy and education. A true liberal education is designed to prepare its students for the hard responsibilities of freedom. To be truly free, we must become generalists: "A classical definition of a liberal education is that you know everything about something, and something about everything." 1

A friend of mine recently brought to my attention an article published by the ACM entitled The Five Orders of Ignorance.2 In this article, Phillip Armour lays out the orders of ignorance as follows:

0th Order Ignorance (0OI)— Lack of Ignorance. I have 0OI when I know something and can demonstrate my lack of ignorance in some tangible form.

1st Order Ignorance (1OI)— Lack of Knowledge. I have 1OI when I don’t know something and can readily identify that fact. 1OI is basic ignorance.

2nd Order Ignorance (2OI)— Lack of Awareness. I have 2OI when I don’t know that I don’t know something. That is to say, not only am I ignorant of something (for instance I have 1OI), I am unaware of this fact.

3rd Order Ignorance (3OI)— Lack of Process. I have 3OI when I don’t know a suitably efficient way to find out I don’t know that I don’t know something. This is lack of process, and it presents me with a major problem: If I have 3OI, I don’t know of a way to find out there are things I don’t know that I don’t know.

4th Order Ignorance (4OI)— Meta Ignorance. I have 4OI when I don’t know about the Five Orders of Ignorance.

What should become the central pursuit of a society that is interested in the principle of liberty, considering that liberty can only be secured in an atmosphere of general awareness? Who among us, in addition to heeding our life's calling, should not be engaged in the career of liberty? To be free, we must be educated.

"Ah!" Some might say, "But we already put such a tremendous emphasis on education in America! We understand this requirement for freedom!"

Do we?

Eric Hoffer wrote that "it stands to reason that the central pursuit of a society attracts and swallows individuals who by nature are meant for other careers."3 He also claimed that "the best of our literature, painting, sculpture, music, etc. has not come from our schools."4

So what is the central pursuit of our society, if it isn't liberty or even individual fulfillment? It is the quest for efficiency and innovation; to compete with foreign powers in a global marketplace. Instead of providing us with the liberal education that will prepare us as free men and women, our schools are designed to provide us with the security of good jobs -- to maintain America as the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world.

In short, we are a massively illiterate people. Yes, we can read the words and (arguably) follow the instructions, but as individuals we no longer own much knowledge or remember first principles. We have traded knowledge for minutia and principles for privileges.

It all comes down to leisure. When I say "leisure," I do not mean that form of largely useless entertainment that we have come to associate with leisure in modern times. In fact, the contemporary idea of leisure is partly to blame:
A great media metaphor shift has taken place in America, with the result that the content of much of our public discourse has become dangerous nonsense... Under the governance of the printing press, discourse in America was different from what it is now -- generally coherent, serious and rational... under the governance of television, it has become shriveled and absurd. 5
The truth is that a rational sort of leisure is actually the solution to the problem.

For instance, Hobbes said that leisure is the Mother of Philosophy.

Eric Hoffer taught that leisure is required for a person to grow and mature; time for leisure enables one to leave the juvenile madhouse of constant activity and continual change (this comes from a man who spent many of his leisure hours reading Montaigne and Dostoevsky among many, many others).6

The Mormon religious Utopian and savant, Hugh Nibley, derided the American "work ethic" as pretentious, greedy, and distracting: "Those very popular how-to-get-rich books, which are the guides to the perplexed of the present generation, say we should keep our minds fixed at all times on just one objective; the person who lets his thoughts wander away from anything but business even for a moment does not deserve the wealth he seeks. Such is the high ethic of the youth today. And such an ethic places us not on the level of the beast but below it." 7

The British engineer, C.H. Douglas, ruminated about the 15th century laborer who was "able to maintain himself in a standard of living considerably higher, relative to his generation, than that of the present time."8 It turns out that Christopher Columbus' contemporaries somehow recorded far less time working in the fields providing for themselves than we, in our mechanized and automated age, spend in the office working for someone else.

In contemplating the eight pathologies of character that mass-schooled students consistently demonstrated during his thirty year tenure as a public School Teacher, John Taylor Gatto attributed it to either schools or television. "It's a simple matter of arithmetic, " he wrote, "Between schooling and television, all the time the children have is eaten up."9 The leisure hours of our youth are filled up with equal portions of Global Economy and entertainment.

Gatto traced the blight of modern public schooling to an infancy where fathers had been removed from their homes by a new mass-production industry, from the resulting broken families and moral vagaries that would be put right by a reinvented American State destined to become, like James I, Father of the People; and from roots in the Prussian school system originally designed to churn out professional soldiery that would reign on the battlefields of the Napoleonic wars.

If mass urbanization and industrialization constitute the first great American Tragedy, then the resulting idea of public schooling is a close second. In a system designed to produce efficient workers for a global mass-market economy, we lost the process we needed to become prepared for the unique and individual responsibilities of liberty. Those lessons require moral, character, and mental education that our schools, and now our communities, are no longer equipped to give us. We live, for the most part, with fourth order ignorance.

"Character," Helen Keller once told us, "is not developed in ease and quiet." As of January 28, 2009, and with the sum of $819 billion imaginary dollars, the United States Government (We the People), made an attempt to restore ease and quiet and to defer the development of national character for another day and for another generation. For the time being (it is widely hoped), instead of going home to our families and communities, we will return to our jobs and to our economy and to our silly schools.

Because in America, ignorance truly is bliss.

1. Donald Knuth: A Life's Work Interrupted (CACM interview with Donald Knuth by Edward Feigenbaum), Communications of the ACM, Volume 51, Number 8, p35

2. The Five Orders of Ignorance, by Phillip G. Armour, Communications of the ACM, Volume 43, Number 10, p19.

3. The Temper of Our Time, p.98

4. Ibid. p.38

5. Amusing Ourselves to Death (20th Anniversary Edition, 2006), by Neil Postman, p.16

6. The Temper of Our Time, ch. 2

7. "Work We Must, But the Lunch is Free", Approaching Zion, 1989, by Hugh Nibley, p. 236

8. Quoted in "I Fear No Peevish Master," by Anthony Cooney; Beyond Capitalism and Socialism, 2008, p.17

9. Dumbing us Down, 2nd edition, 2005, byt John Taylor Gatto. p.28

Friday, January 23, 2009

Three Aspects of Liberty: Choice

Freedom is predicated on the presence of alternatives in the economic, cultural, and political fields. Even in the absence of tyranny, freedom becomes meaningless where there is abject poverty, political inertness, and cultural sameness. -- Eric Hoffer
It is beyond argument that an increase in security coincides with a decrease in possibilities. Security, by definition, is a regulator of risk. Risk is reduced by eliminating potential paths of action, and with them, unknown and potentially hazardous future consequences.

In the computer industry, security is about locking down systems. A secure network is one where ports are closed or well-policed. Well-secured companies restrict their employees' computer activities. At a bank, it is not uncommon for employees to be denied access to instant messaging, to certain internet web sites, and to configuration and software settings. The approved activities are permitted and the forbidden activities are denied through the application of electronic policies enforced by a central governing Information Technology group. The result is that security is greatly enhanced. The risk of infestation by malware is reduced or eliminated. Sensitive data are safely stored where they cannot be accessed by prying eyes. Productivity is generally improved. It could be argued that security is good for business.

Security can benefit the individual as well. If a person decides to eliminate risky behaviors such as alcohol consumption, the abuse of food or drugs, sexual licentiousness, and so forth, he may well expect to likewise avoid the adverse consequences that such behaviors can cause. Security can be had in adopting a positive work ethic and assuming responsibility, in fulfilling duties and in practicing trustworthiness.

Security is the antithesis of freedom. A well-worn quote is attributed to Ben Franklin: "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."

If security is such a desirable quality, why must it be at odds with liberty?

In fact, liberty itself requires a certain type of security. Garrett Hardin understood the principle, which he called Hegelian in nature.1 But our founding fathers also understood it, and this is why they reluctantly allowed the Constitution to be amended with the Bill of Rights. It was to be understood that these Rights did not come from the Constitution itself, but were intrinsic human rights that needed to be secured by a limiting of risks presented by excessive government power. So, in order to be free, a type of limiting security must be practiced.

Sometimes security comes as a reaction to fear. We fear death, pain or suffering and we desire to avoid these possibilities.

Eric Hoffer wrote that "It is in the city that man's lusts and fears have free play, and dehumanization spreads like the plague... We savor power not when we move mountains and tell rivers whither to flow but when we can turn men into objects, robots, puppets, automata, or veritable animals."2 As city-dwelling automata, our choices are largely predetermined for us.

For example, building codes are a type of urban security. We will be safe from fire and poisonous gasses because we have installed arc-faulting circuit breakers and special chemical and particle detection alarms. Specific artificial materials must be used with certain ratings and in particular quantities and configurations. This results in safer communities and sturdier buildings that can better withstand disasters.

Earlier this month, a group of Old-order Amish families entered into a lawsuit against their Upstate New York town. The town had refused to grant these families permission to build their own homes without first obtaining specific permits. 3

The Amish said that they would be willing to pay for the permits (since permits also serve as a source of revenue to the city), but were unwilling to conform to some building codes that required engineered materials or electrical wiring. Some of the construction requirements were not compatible with the unique beliefs of the Amish people.

These building codes don't just make us safer and more secure, they also intrude into the separate lives of a religious people who can no longer practice their religion without breaking the law. Liberty and freedom suffered.

Does it make sense to require building codes in dense urban residential zones? Eminently so. Does it make sense to enforce these same codes on self-sufficient rural Amish communities? This is tyranny.

Sometimes security comes as a result of political or professional jealousy, or from the fear of losing a lifestyle or material wealth.

On February 18, a committee will convene in Salt Lake City to hear the case of a group of professional medical practitioners who desire to outlaw the natural birthing process.

Although humans have successfully given birth to children for perhaps millions of years without any medical bureaucracy, this group will require every baby to be born in a room that is sterile only in its ambiance, and in the presence of professionally trained medical staff.

Upon entering the world, the first experience our children encounter will be that of steely needles and burning synthetics coursing through their veins. All of this will be for the sake of security; that no woman or child should suffer or die from a natural birth.

It all has the flavor of professional disdain for natural and alternative health options. Perhaps these professionals are losing too much business to those despicable and pretentious upstarts who know nothing of the One True Path of modern medical practice.

These builders of Utopia will take away our pain and wipe away our tears; and so they will make us empty. We will have no landmarks in our lives against which we may measure any joy, which must fade into a gray contentment and the dull yearning of the soul.

Is it possible there are hills that nature or God demands we climb alone or become forever the less for having been carried over them?

The plans of true believers for our lives may well be better than our own when judged against some abstract official standard, but to deny people their personal struggles is to render existence absurd.4

Liberty comes from within, and so must security. Security is the result of virtue practiced, not of entitlements enforced. We would do well to adhere to the principles of liberty envisioned by our Founding Fathers, in applying the tenets of security wisely and sparingly. Unfortunately, security has become the pursuit of our nation.

1. "It is the newly proposed infringements that we vigorously oppose; cries of 'rights' and 'freedom' fill the air. But what does 'freedom' mean? When men mutually agreed to pass laws against robbing, mankind became more free, not less so. Individuals locked into the logic of the commons are free only to bring on universal ruin; once they see the necessity of mutual coercion, they become free to pursue other goals. I believe it was Hegel who said, 'Freedom is the recognition of necessity.'" From "Recognition of Necessity" in The Tragedy of the Commons, by Garrett Hardin, 1968.

2. The Temper of Our Time, Eric Hoffer, p38

3. AP article, 1/6/2009 1:10:51 PM MST, Amish sue over upstate N.Y. town's building rules

4. The Irony of the Safety Lamp; The Lure of Utopia, from The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Three Aspects of Liberty: Independence

America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbears, and true to our founding documents. - Barack Obama

Liberty was the vision for America and the charge of our political philosophy. It was not given to us by our forbears or by the government they created, rather it was defended and advocated. Liberty is a universal intrinsic property and Right of all men that can only be taken away by injustice or by indifference.

Where there is independence, choice, and consciousness there is also liberty.

Independence is the first aspect of liberty.

Thomas Hobbes would have categorized "independence" among the same pile of nonsense words inhabited by "free will." He would probably point out that universal independence is an absurdity and cannot be demonstrated anywhere. Perhaps early theologians sensed this uncomfortable fact when they re-invented their god sans parts or passions, without substance and without being, but finally independent! I suspect that if you were to order a cheeseburger without parts or passions, you would end up with exactly the same thing as our third and fourth-century churchmen: Nothing.

Let us admit that there is little room for "pure independence" within our universe. Being itself demands a hierarchy of dependencies before creation is possible. Existence depends on matter, energy, properties, and laws. Outside of these boundaries, ontology, epistemology, and philosophy all become paradoxical, self-contradictory, and illogical.

However, if we place the idea of independence within a certain context, it becomes a very useful and natural concept. The independence upon which liberty is predicated belongs to a natural human domain. It is not infinite and absolute.

For example, Free people enjoy healthy bodies unhampered by sickness or addiction. Dead or sick people are less free to choose and to act than healthy living people. Thus, freedom itself depends in part upon health and wholeness.

A healthy body requires clean air to breathe, fresh water to drink, wholesome food to eat, and adequate exercise. A healthy body also depends on property, such as clothing and shelter. Physical property requires skill, knowledge, and tools to cultivate and create.

Infants depend upon parents to care for them; children and parents require family relationships in order to thrive. Local community and professional associations are important to secure stability and prosperity for all. To all of this, we must add a sense of spiritual fulfillment, a sense of purpose, and a sense of calling that humans need in order to be genuinely happy.

This web of dependence, far from being the enemy of liberty, is a natural and organic phenomenon. Indeed, wherever these fundamental and natural dependencies are infringed, it is liberty that suffers.

But it is possible for dependence to become artificial and complex, extending beyond or replacing the natural dependencies found wherever artifice is not imposed.

Instead of healthy food and exercise, a person may become dependent upon synthetic drugs and medical procedures.

Instead of depending on his own property for comfort and shelter, a person may come to depend on abstract money and the property of other distant and unknown people.

One may depend on virtual friends, committees, and political parties instead of parents, families, and communities.

Instead of relying on self-command, rely instead on the moral hazard of "technologically preempted" consequences. Choose results instead of actions.

Instead of personal skills, require the skills of impoverished aliens or invisible foreigners.

Unions replace local guilds, power and hierarchy replace common interest; sinecure and management replace actual productive work.

In the place of spiritual fulfillment, put insatiable consumerism and recreation.

Where there was once purpose and calling, there are now citizens ready-made by their government, not to follow their own dreams, but "to meet the demands of a new age."1

The test for independence is simple. Do individuals and local communities have all that they need to be self-sufficient? If not, then they are not Free. Where artificial, distant, and abstract dependencies have been introduced, the individual's influence and capacity for working out his own good and directing his own destiny is greatly reduced or eliminated.

Imagine if some or all of our artificial infrastructure were to disappear, including long-haul trucking, fossil fuels, synthetic drugs and contraceptives, artificial foods and materials; utilities, transportation, and so forth. If we were left thus, only to ourselves, to the care and skill of our neighbors, and to our own productive property, would we live or die? And if we live, could we thrive and progress on our own? This is what independence is all about. It exists at a national, local and individual level.

Our forbears envisioned an independent people, not a people dependent on distant strangers, complex processes, abstract systems, or bureaucracies.

Have we been faithful to this ideal?

In the next essay, some words about choice.

1. From Barack Obama's inaugural speech, January 20, 2009

Friday, January 9, 2009

Truth that is Pitiless and Pity that is Untruthful

The recent political elections provided a great opportunity to look into the nature of disagreement and argument in America. Have you ever wondered what is at the root of these differences? Our tendency is to adhere to the opinions we have been given, to live our scripted lives. Those who disagree with us are mysterious at best, and dangerous or threatening at worst. Let's examine the invisible premises that divide us.

Generally speaking, there are two schools of thought in America when it comes down to the ideas of Rights and Liberty.

Actually, "school of thought" is an interesting phrase in itself. In this case, the word "school" comes from scole, the old Dutch word, not from the Greek skhole. In other words, schooling is what fish do when they gather in tight groups and follow each other around. I could also argue that the modern implementation of our other word "school," which is theoretically based on the older Greek word for a place of learning, has come to better represent what fish do than anything remotely academic. But that is a topic for another essay.

What are the two schools of political thought in America?

The first major group of people call themselves conservatives. They believe themselves to be the heirs of a true and ancient legacy, faithful stewards of God's own politics. They are marching toward a glorious and righteous Zion. These are the Religious Americans. To them, God is the author of prosperity, and riches bestowed reflect a measure of God's approval and blessing. We associate these with the political "Right."

The second group consist of the self-styled progressives, or liberals. They identify themselves as intellectuals (just as Eric Hoffer described them) and believe that they are advancing the great work begun in the Age of Reason. They are marching toward a grand and secular Utopia. These are the Licentious Americans. To them, if there is a God, He is a god of tolerance and equality. We associate these with the political "Left."

The Catholic scholar, Dale Ahlquist, wrote the aphorism, "truth that is pitiless and pity that is untruthful"1 to describe the spirit of these two groups. I think it is the best description for them that I have ever read.

Truth that is Pitiless

The religious view of liberty is that action can rightly be constrained by taboo. Divine law, revealed through Holy scripture, teaches unquestionably where Rights begin and where they end.

According to the Religious Americans, the United States Constitution grew out of the Judeo-Christian tradition that is recorded in the Holy Bible, thus America must be a Judeo-Christian nation and her Rights are the God-given Rights of the Bible. Preserving liberty is therefore synonymous with preserving religion and religious freedom.

How is this liberty to be preserved? By incorporating into religion a certain reverence for the soldier. In an ironic twist, the religious will put his faith in the arm of man, in the mighty military with its fearsome guns and bombs; the biggest ever! To the conservative, a strong military is a central plank. Righteous Coercion will be the means of conservativism; it does not itself belong to the tradition.

Perhaps these conservatives forget how General Washington's cruisers sailed under a banner that had the words "Appeal to Heaven" on it, and how the Founding Fathers desired to never have a standing army if it were possible. The mistrust of military power is a central principal of sane living, but that is a topic for another essay.

To the Religious American, proof of freedom can often be found in his bank account. He may admit that his particular view of "economy" is not exactly God's view, but that it is the closest we imperfect mortals are likely to ever get. In a logical equivalence, all property has a monetary value, thus Freedom means having plenty of money.

But this wasn't what George Washington thought, or John Adams. David McCullough tells us how appalled the British and Hessian troops must have felt after landing on colonial soil. "The Americans of 1776 enjoyed a higher standard of living than any people in the world. [...] How people with so much, living on their own land, would ever choose to rebel against the ruler God had put over them and thereby bring down such devastation upon themselves was [...] incomprehensible."2 To the Founding fathers, wealth was more than riches and property more than money.

In argument, the religious' language is full of saccharine glurge, patriotic platitudes, inspirational slogans, and lordly pronouncements. He is wont to cast his pearls before the swine, appealing to authority little respected by his opponents; and so his discourse is met with scorn and derision.

Sadly for the Religious Americans, the original American Theory is more Locke than Moses, more Jefferson than Jesus. Though filled with reference to deity, the Founding Documents encode more of the philosophy of men than of God. How could freedom of religion be truly guaranteed if political philosophy was grounded in a discrete religious tradition? Whose god is not a jealous one?

While the Founding Fathers would likely agree that the Rights of man look very much like a particular set of rights that can be interpreted from holy scripture (John Adams is often quoted for his saying that the U.S. Constitution is best suited for a moral and religious people), they would argue that Providence had revealed these Rights through Nature and Reason.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke more accurately when he recently referred to an America that was formed upon ideas of "positive secularism."3 Unlike our modern secularism, which seeks to establish its own fervent beliefs as the supreme religion of the land, the positive secularism of the founding generation was theoretically friendly to all religion.

Pity that is Untruthful

This brings us to the modern secular, or licentious, view of liberty. The licentious view of liberty is summarized in the ukase that whatever I do, if it does not harm another individual, it is my Right. Individuals are free to behave as they please, so long as the behavior does not infringe on the Right of another person to do the same. Beyond a certain egalitarianism, no morality shall be legislated by anyone anywhere. This creates entire classes of minorities who must now be endorsed and welcomed by all with open arms, in spite of any differences. Tolerance now means acceptance.

Philosophically, this thinking is more Rousseau than Locke; more Robespierre than Jefferson. This has the flavor of the French Revolution, an anti-establishment, anti-corporate, anti-association, acutely individual philosophy. It embraces back-to-nature ideals: the human being, living as an animal, can do no wrong. "Wrong" (according to Rousseau and Hobbes) can only be defined once we get civilized. At the root of this system, there can be few or no intrinsic inalienable Rights at all, only as prescribed by the social contract -- perhaps a necessary evil.

Even so, Licentious Americans tend to incorporate the inalienable rights of the Founding Fathers into their worldview: Rights are an enumeration of instincts. Dignified with the language of Thomas Jefferson, this new philosophy says that the things we feel like doing are natural to us, thus we also have a Right to them.

It is a mistaken interpretation of Jefferson's Natural Law which was distilled from the likes of John Locke and Adam Smith; and, although Rousseau and Hobbes both developed coherent systems, they are not the American system.

Indeed, of the licentious, Adam Smith wrote that "a system of natural philosophy may appear very plausible, and for a long time be very generally received in the world, and yet have no foundation in nature, nor any sort of resemblance to the truth."4

Like Hobbes, the licentious are masters of definition. They are the fathers of "political correctness." The licentious re-cast all of the arguments into their own terms so that their opponents are obliged to hopelessly make a case for their own ideals using newly redefined language. The licentious are sophists.

Licentious Americans further confuse science with reason. They wrongly believe that scientific inquiry is an extension of the practice followed by the Natural Law philosophers. They forget that science merely quantifies objective experience and allows us to make concrete statements of fact (mostly reliable). Science does not give us meaning or reveal value, and it never will.

In general, the licentious make poor philosophers and poor theologians. Their application of science to ethics, politics, and religion is often arrogant and sophomoric. It substitutes psychology for philosophy. All action is deterministic and fatalistic; we are a product of our genes and are therefore absolved from blame or guilt. There is no good or evil -- code words for subversion.

Unfortunately for the licentious, American liberty precedes the social contract. It does not live or die with its definition, codified in legal documents. It comprehends more than just life. Liberty is not an enumeration of instincts. Liberty is not truth made.


The jealousy between the licentious system of the left and the religious system of the right fuels much of the argument in America today. What has been long forgotten is the positive secularism of the American Founding Fathers.

In the next essay, I will write about the concepts of independence, choice, and awareness that I alluded to in the previous essay.

1. Beyond Capitalism & Socialism, Part of this Complete Breakfast, by Dale Ahlquist, 2008. p.33
2. 1776, by David McCullough, published 2005. p.158
3. In-flight interview of Pope Benedecit XVI, by Father Lombardi, April 15, 2008.
4. The Theory of Moral Sentiments, "Of Licentious Systems," by Adam Smith, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004; originally published 1759. p.423.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Non-thought of Received Ideas

John Taylor Gatto once pointed out "what the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called the non-thought of received ideas."1 I've thought about this phrase considerably in the years since I first read about it. In this age of information excess, even our ideas are not our own.

It is evident that American attitudes toward politics and the principles of American Democracy are derived primarily from Television and Internet sources, mostly crafted at the hands of PR specialists or pundits who recycle the traditional party lines of major political or social groups of the day.

We wear other people's opinions like we wear fashion. While it's possible to feel strongly about such opinions, feelings do not make them ours. We must understand not only what we believe, but why. We own ideas through the process of thinking - even when those ideas originate somewhere else or coincide with the ideas of some other person.

Do we hold principles because of tradition? Because we "identify" with them? Because they resonate with us? Then we are a part of the non-thought of received ideas, simple threads in the tapestry of our culture.

Are we Free if we can't think for ourselves? Then what does it take to become Free?

The tiers of Liberty are independence, choice, and awareness. More on those later.

1. What Really Matters, by John Taylor Gatto, published in Natural Life Magazine, November/December 1994.