I had a discussion a while back with one of my daughters in which I was accused of being an idealist. I asked her what she was if not an idealist and she said she was a realist. Upon reflection, the situation strikes me as being just a little bit odd. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? Aren’t the young people supposed to be the idealists, the ones who are going to make the world a better place, and older folk such as myself supposed to be the realists, the ones who just accept what is and have given up trying to change the system for the better? Perhaps I’ve mischaracterized the exchange or boiled it down too much and over simplified it, but in my opinion this needs to be done at times when dissecting such conversations in order to get a better perspective on things.
We were talking politics. More specifically, we were talking about the individualist philosophy of freedom and liberty versus the collectivist philosophy of socialism. My daughter and I agree that people should be allowed to make their own decisions in their personal lives without government interference, but she disagrees with me on allowing people to make their own decisions when it comes to their business affairs. She is of the mindset that government should regulate business activities and force people to conform to certain rigid standards if they are to be allowed to operate a business. She is also of the opinion that people should be forced to give a portion of their income to the less fortunate in society. I am of the opinion that people should be allowed to open a business without government interference and that consumers should determine whether that business succeeds or fails. I am also of the opinion that no one should be forced to give a portion of their income up to anyone for any reason and that only voluntary contributions to the less fortunate has any true meaning, at least in a spiritual sense.
Again, perhaps I over simplified things, but I expect that you get the general gist of the discussion. As so often happens in discussions such as these, the points that were being made fell on deaf ears, frustration mounted and the conversation ended before it was concluded. My daughter has a good heart and means well. She wants to help people. What the conversation boiled down to, in my opinion, was the way we look at the nature of the human animal. It seems to me that she sees people as basically evil, self centered beings willing to plot against and take advantage of others for their own gain. I see people as basically good, empathetic beings who care about their fellow humans and for the most part want to do right by them. She believes that, unregulated and left to their own devices, people in a free market would steal from others whenever possible and without remorse, and so she claims to be a realist. I would trust that in a free and open market people would deal with each other cordially and with respect and not try to rip each other off, and so in her eyes I am an idealist.
If believing in the goodness of humans makes me an idealist, then so be it, I am an idealist. But I also believe I am a realist. I see things as they are and realize we have a long way to go before mankind achieves a truly free society based on mutual trust and respect. I realize it will take some time before we can live in a society where all our interactions are voluntary and we are not forced or coerced into doing business with organizations we don’t want to do business with, organizations such as many government agencies have become in modern times. I’m not even entirely certain such a society is possible. While such a vision may sound like a utopian society to some, I would be the first to admit that such a society would not be perfect. Perfection in an imperfect world is extremely unlikely. I’m simply looking for the fairest, most just system and it seems to me that letting every individual take personal responsibility for their selves and make their own decisions for their own lives is such a system. It seems that one should be able to keep all the wealth one earns through their own labor or other honest mechanisms and spend it as they see fit. One should not be forced or coerced into “donating” a portion of their income to any organization, no matter how well meaning.
I also realize that such a society isn’t going to just spring up overnight. Such a society is not something that can be forced upon the populace. It is something that should evolve naturally and so become the norm. This is most likely to happen at a slow and steady pace. So I am a dreamer. I dream we can evolve into an ideal society. I dream that common folk will come to this realization, not some leader or an elite political class, and I dream it can and will happen peacefully as a matter of course as each and every one of us begins to understand that it is up to each individual to respect their neighbors’ choices and one would expect their neighbor to reciprocate.
Socialists also dream of an ideal society. Their society revolves around equity. They seem to believe that everyone should have equal access to all wealth regardless of how hard one works, how much in demand their services are, or how much supply for such services and labor exist. They seem to have forgotten that wealth is something created by mankind and is unlimited, not something which occurs as a force of nature and is finite. Wealth itself is not the thing that makes one man equal to another, but it is the opportunity to create wealth that makes men equal in nature. Socialism, wealth redistribution schemes and taxation in general work to destroy this natural equality. These systems reward the lazy and unproductive by giving them unearned wealth and punish the hard working and productive by stealing their earnings from them. This will inevitably break the spirits of those individuals who produce and indeed make them less productive as they begin to feel that they are being used, abused and/or exploited. As a result, the whole society produces less and its economy falters or fails. Hence the socialist’s ideal society discounts the reality of mankind’s nature.
The difference between an individualist’s ideology and that of a collectivist is mostly in the use of force or coercion, even if that force is very subtle. The difference between the idealist vision of an individualist and the idealist vision of a collectivist is one of control. The collectivist would exert authoritarian control using the mechanisms of power that the state provides to frighten individuals into conforming. The individualist would exert market and social pressures on others to show them the benefits of behaving in certain ways and to gently persuade them to pursue acceptable courses of action.
So I am both and idealist and a realist. I also remain ever the optimist. I dream of an evolution occurring in the twenty first century, and hopefully from that evolution will spring a voluntary society, a society free from any elite group that would try to control the population through the force of restrictive laws and regulations. I dream of a society where one’s imagination and innovativeness will be welcomed into the open marketplace. I dream of a society where regulations that stifle competition and limit consumer choice will be a quaint memory like the fading images of a nightmare exposed to the light of day. I dream of a time when each individual will determine for their self what path to take in life and their choices will be honored regardless of how others perceive the merits of those choices. Such a society starts to form as principled individuals continue to remain true to their principles of non aggression, personal responsibility and respecting the choices of others. Such a society grows when principled individuals remind others of the merits of these principles through example. Such a society grows from the bottom up, not the top down.
I continue to do what I can to help my dream come to fruition. It is often times difficult to get those in control to relinquish their power and let others make decisions on their own. It is therefore necessary to remind those in power that such policies are good for everyone, including those in the highest offices of government who have a tendency to try to micromanage even the day to day lives of the common folk. Reversing the tendency toward collectivism our society has shown might not be easy, but it is a worthy effort. There is strength in numbers and our numbers seem to be growing. It is my hope that those of a freedom mindset continue to speak out against authoritarian, collectivist policies of government and that their voices grow louder and more insistent. It is my hope that many more hearts and minds will be won over as they hear the freedom message. It is my hope that many others share my dream of evolution and improving not only the common man’s lot in life, but the human spirit as well.