Everything’s Hopeless–So What Should I Do?

Q: Here’s a topic for your commentary. How does one keep his spirits up while living in an utterly suicidal culture on the brink of economic and societal collapse? Where can one find hope, in the real sense of the term, when his country is run by mindless hordes of barbarians intent on destroying everything of value that ever existed? What motivation can one have to work to improve his standard of living when the economy he lives in is centrally planned by an economic terrorist and pathological liar whose only function in life is to print the currency into oblivion? Where can one find inspiration in a world dominated by liberals after he can no longer stand to argue with people whose “thought” process consists of evading the self-evident?

A: I place this question under the category: “The Question That Is Intended to Answer Itself.” It’s kind of like saying,

“How am I supposed to be positive when absolutely everything is completely and inevitably negative?”

There are two ways to respond to this question. One, accept its premise — that everything is inherently and irreparably negative, will never change and can never change. However, operating on that premise makes any attempt to answer the question foolhardy at best. If we’re all doomed, then why bother to answer the question, or even ask it for that matter?

The second way to respond to the question is to challenge its premise. Challenging the premise gets to the more fundamental issue: When human beings behave irrationally, and allow themselves to be victimized by tyrants and fools, are they forever doomed to do so? The best way to investigate is to study history. History is filled with examples of both foolhardy tyrants, as well as periods of relative rationality. You have the Dark Ages and the Enlightenment, as well as everything in between. Even in today’s world, you have fundamentalist and barbaric Iran, stubbornly Communist (and starving) North Korea along with the nations who are far more reasonable, free and productive than that.

All of this points to the fact that human beings have free will. They can choose what to do, who to listen to, which battles to fight and which battles to leave to others. The thing about free will is that it’s always subject to change. Human beings (as a group) can evade important issues for decades or centuries — and then reverse course when they’ve had enough, just as individuals sometimes do in their own personal lives. They can also get lazy, sloppy and corrupt about principles, as most Americans have. There’s no way of predicting when the behavior of large numbers of people will change, or whether it will happen. But the possibility always remains.

It’s considered Pollyanna to think, “All will be well.” That’s true. There’s no guarantee that all will be well in your lifetime, from a freedom and economic prosperity point-of-view. At the same time, there’s no guarantee that it will always be the opposite, either. It’s hard enough to predict the actions of one person, much less millions or billions. There are also shades of gray. This isn’t to imply there are no principles. But when you assume that every single policy of the government is destructive, you’re mistaken. Governments sometimes lower taxes and ease up on restrictions, making commerce more rational. Former dictatorships sometimes loosen up, just as free countries where freedom of speech dominates sometimes become restricted. Freedom and slavery are absolute-sounding terms, and they refer to principles which are objective and absolute — but in practice they more often refer to dominant or minority trends. You don’t have totalitarian slavery on Monday and complete, unfettered freedom on Tuesday.

The thing that leaves hope for the United States, and societies like it, is that most people want and expect prosperity. They expect and demand policies that result in improved standards of living for each generation. They expect today’s computers and telephones to give way to better ones in a decade, a year or even a month. They expect medical care to stay as good as it already is, and to keep improving. They expect things to always be getting better. When things don’t get better, they see it as a problem. All of this is rational, and all of this keeps the “flame burning” for something more rational to come along.

Was Barack Obama the answer? Obviously not. Things have only worsened under his watch. People may still reelect him, but that won’t be due to his own success — it will only be due to the spectacular lack of any alternative whatsoever. Gas prices will go up, taxes will probably go up, innovation and economic growth will probably stagnate — and, if so, people will demand answers as to why. They remember times when things got better as a matter of course. What went wrong in America to change this? These are the times when more fundamental questions are raised. They are the most dangerous times, the times when humans have collapsed into despair and dictatorship; but they are also the times when the fight for freedom is renewed and lives to be enacted another day.

It’s true that the liberals and the socialists are in charge. They dominate academia, the media, and the government. They ignore, intimidate and when possible persecute anyone who disagrees with their ideas. Liberals in politics, media and academia are a mean, intolerant and controlling bunch, and they have their fingers in just about everything that goes on in society. For a century or more, whether you have Republicans or Democrats nominally in charge, it’s for the most part the policies of liberalism and socialism that have won out. But liberalism and socialism aren’t delivering the goods. They never did. It was always capitalism and freedom that did the job, including for the welfare state programs paid for with the taxation (and borrowing) of private dollars.

Capitalism and freedom never completely disappeared from America, nor from the West more generally. But they haven’t been allowed to function, either. Liberals and socialists have been very skillful at unfairly blaming all the ills of the world on freedom and capitalism, and attributing all the good things that happen to government. The end of child labor? Liberals credit that with government. Of course, government couldn’t enforce such a law if capitalism hadn’t brought the standard of living to a point where people could let their children stay home without starving. Socialized medicine? It’s the same thing. If medicine hadn’t been advanced by the innovation of science and capitalism, there would be nothing to socialize. Social Security? The private market, depressions and all, could put more in our savings than this bankrupt and politicized social program. But nobody dares question it. Liberals ignore inconvenient truths and label as racist, hateful or otherwise evil anyone who raises a perfectly logical opposition to their dogmas. Nothing that liberals and socialists label “unfair” strikes me nearly as unjust as the beating capitalism and individualism have taken at the hands of our long-time cultural establishment.

In the end, most people want and expect prosperity. This has always been true, and it’s truer than ever after the relative freedom and capitalism of the United States created what it did, in its first 250 years or so. People don’t have to listen to reason, and they certainly can keep on doing the same stupid things over and over, expecting different results and calling it “change.” Human history suggests that eventually this cycle will stop. The Dark Ages did not go on forever. Sadly, neither did ancient Greece, the Renaissance nor, apparantly, the awesome, original republic of the United States. 

Today and in the future, reform need not take centuries. With so many people living in advanced societies with so much to lose, it remains possible that mass numbers will turn against the form of government we have come to adopt, once they’re more clear that government has been the problem, not the solution. I cannot say it WILL change any time; but it can change any time. If it doesn’t, people are going to lose everything they have. A loss on that scale has never occurred in human history. Information and ideas spread more quickly than ever before. Perhaps the same will happen for economic and personal liberty, once its time arrives again — as it will.