Category Archives: Freedom

Answers to Reader Questions About The Frightened Americans Post

The post about frightened Americans, generated over 500 emails, 160 comments, and 35,000 visits.

Many of you asked for the context of the post and I will give it to you, but first I want to share what I learned from your response.

Except for a small minority, most respondents agreed that we are indeed losing our freedom and that few people stand up and challenge authority.

But what is far more surprising is that the post resonated across political lines. Many people of different political classifications responded – Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives, Capitalists, Environmentalists, Socialists, Communists, and Fascists.

While almost everyone lamented our loss of freedom and the apparent cowardice in the face of oppression, the most interesting thing is whom we blame.

The Republicans blame the Democrats
The Democrats blame the Republicans
The Liberals blame the Conservatives
The Conservatives blame the Liberals
The Socialists blame the Capitalists
The Capitalists blame the Socialists
The Fascists blame the Socialists
The Socialists blame the Fascists
The Environmentalists blame the Capitalists
The Capitalists blame the Environmentalists

Can you accept the possibility that all of them are right? Imagine the implication of that. We are all trying to take each other’s freedom away because we have our own agenda, but the law of unintended consequences takes over, and we all lose our freedom. Is it possible for us (the human race) to stop trying to control others and become more accepting of one another?

You asked what inspired the post
1. A conversation about a victim of a botched no-knock police raid, her problems with PTSD, and how she has lost all trust in the system.

2. A story about K-9 police conducting a random sweep of our local public High School while the kids were in class. What really needled me was how they searched six lockers because they smelled like tobacco. When did we decide to violate a teenager’s civil rights because her locker smelled like tobacco? This is police state insanity. If we don’t speak out about these small violations, why do we believe we will have the courage to speak out about the big violations?

3. My office mates and I had a lunch conversation about the fun we had with Lawn Darts as children. Everybody at the table had played with them. Later I realized – our parents clearly saw that Lawn Darts were dangerous, but they trusted us and accepted the risk, something too many parents refuse to do today. Many parents believe they can eliminate risk without eliminating freedom. How will our children learn that responsibility is the cornerstone of freedom when we don’t trust them with real responsibility?

4. My recent immersion into the writings of Alan Watts, Timothy Leary, Robert Pirsig, and Brad Warner reinforced just how insane our laws have become. Allan Watts talked about how young people in the 1960s were criticized for taking risks, but he countered the fear saying almost everything that is fun, creative, or worth doing is risky. Our attempts to eliminate risk result in more fear and paranoia not health and safety. Can’t we allow our young people to be brave explorers and stop conditioning them to be fearful automatons? Reading about and remembering the 60s, 70s, 80s, put our current situation into context. In daily life, the change seems subtle, but if you compare today to the past the loss of freedom is dramatic and it isn’t working – even with the recent growth in Minnesota’s prison population, people do not feel safer. As Nneka wrote at the Balanced Life Center, we can be safe and free. When will we realize that we need to be responsible and conscious if we are to have both?

You asked for details about the no-knock raid in which the police removed a school teacher from her home:

Our local paper reported the incident.
The article doesn’t have first hand accounts of the raid. I heard those while listening to people in the community. The repairmen told the police it was a misunderstanding before they entered the home, but the police still raided the home! There was no cause for the action and there was no recourse for the victim. It’s baffling.

I didn’t list the details about this event simply because I knew it would destroy the flow and readability of the original post.

With the recent events in Virginia, either we can sink deeper into fear or we can view this tragedy as an opportunity to stand up proud and free showing courage in the face of terror. I pray we do not overreact. Attempting to find a rational answer to this insanity is like arguing with a drunk. Our rational minds are wired to make sense of events. And as we try to make sense of senseless things, we will find there is no sensible reaction to madness. Reaction to madness usually leads to more madness. We could work toward eliminating madness, but is that possible? Isn’t that like working to eliminate the nighttime because we prefer the daytime?

When did America become a nation of frightened wimps?

It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority – Benjamin Franklin

When did America become a nation of frightened wimps? When did we cross the line from courage to cowardice? Was it sometime in the 1990s? After the Oklahoma City bombing? After the Columbine shootings? After 911?

When did we decide to allow the police to smash into private homes without knocking and identifying themselves? Recently, in the suburb I live in, a special police force dressed in black Nazi style uniforms busted into a suburban home without warning and dragged a school teacher out of her house with an automatic weapon at the back of her head. They forced her to the ground, handcuffed her, and hauled her away while her neighbors watched. They did it without a warrant and without consequence. Why? A misunderstanding. That is precisely why we need checks in place, to avoid misunderstandings and abuses. The police chief said, “When we realized it was a mistake, we all had a good laugh.” If a group of unidentified men dragged his wife away at gunpoint, I wonder if he would still think it was funny.

When did we decide it was okay to strip search an old lady at the airport because the pin in her hip set off the metal detector? When did we decide it was too risky to take a cup of coffee on an airplane? When did we decide it was reasonable to make a nursing mother drink her own breast milk to prove she wasn’t a terrorist? When we impose such extreme levels of security, haven’t the terrorists already won? Haven’t we willingly given our freedom to the government and the terrorists in the name of security?

When did we decide it was okay for policemen in combat boots with German Shepherds to patrol High School hallways?

When did we decide to allow routine police roadblocks? Why weren’t we outraged?

When did we decide it was too dangerous for our children to ride their bikes to school?

When did we decide it was okay for the government to seize property without a trial, without due process, at the whim of a government agency?

When did we decide that our government had a right to the fluids inside our own bodies? Or a right to the very breath in our lungs? When did we decide that it was the accused’s responsibility to prove they hadn’t been breaking the law? When did we decide that drug testing High School students was reasonable? Hell, why is it reasonable to drug test anyone – ever? Why would anybody, for any reason, have the right to invade your body without your permission?

When did we decide to give 10 year prison sentences to adolescents for having sex? Was it before or after we decided to put them in jail for smoking cigarettes and drinking beer? If my memory serves me correctly, when I was a teenager, almost everyone I knew either was doing it or wanted to do it. Why did we make what is biological and natural, criminal?

When did we decide it is too risky for 20-year-olds to drink but reasonable for them to kill and die overseas? Does that make sense to anyone?

We’ve justified every one of these injustices by claiming that it was necessary to preserve health and safety. I say bullsh!t. What is the point in being a safe slave?

I think we crossed the line somewhere between 1984 and 1988, around the time we outlawed lawn darts and every mini van in America had a ‘baby-on-board’ sign. While lawn darts and baby on board signs may seem trivial, they were warning signs of a mass shift in American values – a shift away from freedom and liberty as predominant values to health and safety as predominant values. There will be no end to the loss of freedom if we believe being healthy and safe trumps all else.

I believe there was day when most Americans accepted that life was risky. They accepted that bad things can happen to good people. They accepted that risk was an inherent part being free. They didn’t need a new law or government program every time something bad happened.

It is sad to watch our freedom slowly disappear in front of our eyes with so few people taking action.

But I have hope. I sense a shift. Something is blowing in the wind. I can smell it. I can feel it. I can see it in young people. A move away from authoritarianism – like the people that run The Free Talk Live podcast, one of the most popular podcasts in the world. The Free Talk Live podcasters make no apologies and pull no punches in their love of freedom. They tell it like it is.

He who gives up freedom for safety deserves neither – Benjamin Franklin

What I Learned From a Homeless Man

Something strange happened last night.

I did something I’ve never done before.

I’m going to tell you the story, even at the risk of sounding like a pious, sanctimonious, braggart (which of course, I am). There’s value in this story – somewhere.

I spent the evening at the Minnesota Wild/Calgary Flames NHL game in Oracle Corporation’s luxury suite eating catered food, drinking free booze, and hobnobbing with friends about ice hockey, technology, and business – all on Oracle’s tab. For me, it was a gift, for which I paid nothing.

As I left the game, I walked alone through a park, among a sea of thousands of hockey fans, when a homeless man appeared and asked, “can you spare a few dollars?”

I ignored him, like I always ignore panhandlers and continued walking.

Then I heard a woman shout, “Get a job.”

I took a few more steps and I stopped.

I turned around.

It hit me
An awakening…
An epiphany…
A visual and intuitive understanding I can’t put into words…

I stood still in the center of the park, for what seemed like several minutes, soaking in the whole scene, without an auditory thought in my head, as if I was shocked into a standing meditation. I watched the people flow by the man, who stuck out like a dead head in a river of clones.

I almost burst out laughing, but restrained myself for fear that people would find out I am crazy.

Then I reached into my pocket, pulled out a few dollars, walked up to the man, tapped him on the shoulder, and handed him the money.

As I was taking a shower this morning, I asked myself, “Steve, why did you give that man money?”

Not because I felt morally responsible
Not because I felt guilty
Not because I felt he needed it
Not because I felt pity for him

I gave that man money, because I admired him.

America's Drunk Driving Dilemma

An article criticizing MADD made it near the top of Reddit a few days ago. I found it thought provoking.

It reminded me how dysfunctional, unreasonable, and imbalanced Americans are about alcohol use. We have built ourselves a ‘catch 22’ conundrum of which there is no escape until we change our values.

Let me explain the problem.

America has had a problem with drunk driving since Ford perfected the assembly line. I know it is a serious danger because I’ve lost young friends to drunken driving accidents. So what’s the answer? Today we continually increase the severity of the laws, strip away individual rights, and arrest over a million people per year. Is it working? MADD says it is, but critics say it isn’t. It depends on which statistics you wish to believe. I personally believe our current strategy is a failure and we could do better by trying to change the American values that lead to the drunken driving dilemma.

Here is the conundrum of conflicting values:

  1. People shouldn’t drink and drive because it’s public safety hazard – No argument here, except to say that the laws and methods America uses stop drunk driving are becoming increasingly draconian and it’s time we take a look at our entire value system regarding alcohol.
  2. Americans rarely drink at home because they believe only alcoholics drink at home. This is a widespread belief. When I was 17, I naively asked a guy who was sitting next to me at the bar why he paid $4.25 for a shot of Tequila when he could buy an entire liter at the store for $10.00 and drink it at home[1]. “Only alcoholics sit around the house taking shots of Tequila,” He replied. I didn’t understand the logic then and I still don’t. Many casual drinkers believe it is better to take three shots at the bar after work and drive home than it is to take three shots at home. Some of you may argue that Joe Six Pack shouldn’t drink three shots anywhere, and you may be right, but the argument is Pollyannaish. People have always consumed alcohol and they always will.
  3. Few people want a pub within walking distance of home. I’d love to have a pub down the block where I could sit around in the evening, drink a few beers and visit with the neighbors like people do in Europe. Do you know what would happen to me if I tried to open a bar in my neighborhood? People would think I’d gone mad. I’d be the neighborhood pariah. In suburban America, we zone bars in commercial districts far away from residential areas so we can protect children from the evils of alcohol. Applebee’s (one of the biggest restaurant chains in America) tagline is “Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar,” but I’ve never seen one in an actual neighborhood, they are always in some big mall or commercial district next to a Wal-Mart or something.
  4. In most places in America, mass transit is worthless. Post World War Two American development was built around the automobile. In most American cities – most people – cannot get to a pub without a car. I’ve never been a proponent of mass transit in America, but I must concede that a comprehensive mass transit system would significantly reduce drunk driving and it may be cheaper and more effective than our current ‘get tough’ strategy.

The problem in summary – While most Americans believe you shouldn’t drink and drive, they also believe you shouldn’t drink at home, but most of us can’t walk to the pub or take mass transit – yet we still drink. Isn’t it obvious why we have a drinking and driving problem?

I’d like to know what you think about this issue, especially my non-American readers. How does your nation handle the problem?

Australia is a big wide-open country like the US. How do Australians handle this problem?

[1] Please don’t ask me what I was doing in a bar at 17, that’s another blog post

Do you know the Philosophy of Human Freedom?

Do you know the Philosophy of Human Freedom? Watch this.

When I started this blog I promised myself I wouldn’t write about politics. I changed my mind and I need to tell you why.

American political discourse is negative because American political discourse is about personalities not ideas. The easiest way to crush an idea is to trash the messenger. Debunking the idea is much harder because it requires people to pay attention. Most political blogs attack opponents and try to destroy people and I can’t stand the thought of using my blog to destroy other people. I want this blog to serve other people. So I decided before I started blogging that this blog wouldn’t be political.

I changed my mind because we ask political leaders to solve most of our big problems. As I consciously examined these problems, I discovered that our political leaders will never solve these problems because we can only solve these problems by changing the way we think. So how do we change the way we think?

Some people believe the best way to change the way people think is at the point of a gun. Continue reading Do you know the Philosophy of Human Freedom?

Why I am No Longer a Republican (and never was a Democrat)

Steve at a Campaign ParadeLet me tell you why I am no longer active in either mainstream party.

I was a Republican activist most of my life for one simple reason – I believe we need to reduce the size of government and its intrusion into our lives. I was what Andrew Sullivan (my favorite political blogger) coined a South Park Republican.

Hell, I was so into it – I even ran for the Minnesota State Legislature.

If you’re a small government guy like me, there are countless reasons to be disenfranchised with the current Republican Party – wiretaps, suspension of habeas corpus, the drug war, the ‘terror’ war, massive government spending, unprecedented debt, and on and on… Continue reading Why I am No Longer a Republican (and never was a Democrat)

Why People Believe Money is the Root of all Evil

#1 False Belief: Money is the root of all evil
First – I know this is not the actual quote. But I believed the misquote and internalized it. I am not alone. The words people choose indicate they have internalized a similar belief. The phrase I hear the most is ‘filthy rich’. Politicians use language that leads me to believe they understand millions of people have internalized this belief too. When a politician says that she is going to “fight for you the working family that has no voice”, I cringe. I’ve been there and lived working class life. It’s irresponsible to exploit people’s envy and misguided belief that they are powerless and dependent. We are all powerful and independent! Everyone of us! I wish a politician would say this instead – You are powerful; every one of you. Stop looking outside of yourself for money and power. Stop waiting for something or someone to come along by chance and bestow money and power upon you. You already have money and power; it is inside of you. You just need to release it into the world. Don’t look to me to do that. I can’t do it for you. Only you can do it for yourself. – I’d vote for that politician.

To give you an understanding of how I acquired the belief that money was evil, I need to give you some context. I spent my teenage years in Bloomington MN, the largest suburb of the Twin Cities. It was and still is an economically diverse city.

Today I reject most social labels, but for the sake of illustration and history, I will use these generalized social classes:

  • Poor
  • Working Class
  • Middle Class
  • Rich

In my formative years, I viewed the world through this social lens. I didn’t understand it at the time. But looking back, I can clearly understand my myopic view.

Poor people lived in welfare projects like this:
The Projects
Or apartments like this:

Working class people lived in houses like this:

Middle class people lived in houses like this:

Rich people lived in houses like this:

I know all of this is relative, and we were all rich by worldwide standards. All my ‘poor’ friends had three TVs, cable television, and a fridge full of Mountain Dew and Budweiser. But that’s not my point. My point is the above social construct was embedded in my sub-conscious and I perceived clear boundaries and differences.

I was working class. My family may argue that we were middle class, but based on where and how we lived, I’d say we were working class and I identified with other working class kids. My wife said I could have titled the last post (10 Things I Wish I had Never Believed) – The 10 Great Working Class Lies. But I thought the beliefs transcended basic class constructs. But essentially, she was right.

Many adults and kids in my life used terms like these:

  • He’s filthy rich
  • That house is a waste of space, can you imagine the heat bill
  • He’s got money coming out his ass
  • Whadda ya think money grows on trees
  • He’s got money to burn
  • It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven (I know… I know… It’s misquoted…chill out)
  • How much money does a person need?
  • He could use twenty dollar bills for toilet paper
  • Republicans are for the rich
  • Democrats look out for the workin’ man
  • What a bunch of Fat Cats
  • F***ing cake-eaters
  • There so rich they think their S**t don’t stink

My favorite was, “I wouldn’t say they’re rich, I’d say they’re comfortable.” You could use this one to acknowledge someone was doing well financialy without applying the pejorative term – rich.

I could probably think of a lot more, but I’ll spare you. In working class culture, if you didn’t work hard for your money, people implied something was wrong with you. If you had great wealth, you were either a spoiled brat or a crook. It would have been shameful, embarrassing, and insulting to be called rich. Right now as I write this, I can feel the shame associated with the idea of being rich.

Another thing adults told us – America’s going downhill, you are going to be the first generation that didn’t have it better than your parents. How depressing is that? That’s like saying – you don’t have a chance so don’t be too disappointed when you fail. I heard this repeated at school, on TV, at church, and at home.

Now imagine it’s 1982. Half your friend’s dads are unemployed (national unemployment is at 10% and interest rates are 16%). The country is at the end of the first wave of mass de-industrialization. Your family is pinching every penny, and it’s the first quarter of 8th grade…

Setting – 1980s public school science classroom…

They paired us up in science class alphabetically by last name, so my science partner was Amy Olson. After a month, I noticed that Amy hadn’t worn the same clothes twice. So I asked her, “What’s up Amy? You haven’t worn the same clothes all year. How big’s your wardrobe?”

Amy said, “Oh, I don’t have a wardrobe, I get new clothes everyday.”

In disbelief I said, “What!? You get new clothes everyday? Who the hell buys all your clothes?”

Amy replied, “My mom’s personal shopper.”

I said, “You gotta be freaking kidding me. A personal shopper!? What do you do with your clothes once you’ve worn them once?”

Amy said, “We give ‘em to charity.”

At that point, I hated her with a deep gut felt hatred. I remember the moment in HD and 5.1 surround. I can feel twinges of hate and disgust as I write this and it scares me. I asked the teacher to move me and I never spoke to Amy again. So Amy, if you ever read this, I’m sorry I hated you and I no longer hate you. Please forgive me.

That same year a kid said quite innocently, “I’m going to the Caribbean for my spring trip. Where are you going for your spring trip?”
I responded, “Go F yourself – freak.”

A few years later another kid got a new Porsche 911 for his 16th birthday. Working class students ran keys down the sides of the car in the high school parking lot until he quit driving it to school.

You’re probably thinking – what were kids that rich doing in public school? In Minnesota, twenty-five years ago, most of the local private schools had the reputation for taking the public school rejects. If public school expelled you, you’d land in Catholic School. It’s the opposite today.

This was life for me twenty-five years ago. I can only imagine what it is like for kids today.

Like many of those around me, I suffered from Zero-Sum thinking. The more money one person has the less someone else has. Zero-Sum thinking creates a hostile social environment and a feeling of helplessness. Zero-Sum may be true in a Kleptocracy but it isn’t true in a free-market. In a free-market, your creations grow the economic pie and everyone benefits.

Over the years, this internalized belief has manifested different ways. I found it impossible to be happy for someone else when he succeeded in making money. I always thought he sold-out, did something crooked, or just got lucky. But the worst part was, I believed other peoples successes were at my expense. The belief stopped me from doing anything creative. Why be creative? It might lead to wealth, which is evil. So I sat around miserable, driving a delivery truck, and wondering why the world kept changing and I was still the same.

My awakening was slow. It took years of work to drop the belief. Sometimes I still feel the anger, hate, and insecurity when I see someone else succeed. But today, I usually recognize those feelings, acknowledge them, and consciously tell myself that someone else’s success is an opportunity to share in their joy and learn how they did it.

Today I frequently see the belief manifested in this question:

How much money does a person need anyway?

It’s a fallacious question. In Minnesota, you don’t personally need any money. I could quit my job, leave my family, and stay at the Dorothy Day Center in downtown St. Paul. The charity would feed and clothe me and give me shelter at night. If they didn’t do it, the government would. Since you don’t need any money, what is a better question to ask yourself?

How about this…

What do I want to accomplish with my life and how much money will it take?

Aim, think, and plan for that number, even if it’s a billion dollars.

Believing money was evil led me to act horrible and feel terrible. I believe millions of people still hold this belief today and it binds them in the chains of servitude and criminality. The envy this belief creates results in hatred, anger, crime, and a host of financial and social problems.

By hating the wealthy, I thought I was fighting evil, but I wasn’t – I became evil.

Steve Pavlia has a great post about why making money is not immoral.

Read the 10 part series on the 10 things I wish I had never believed:

#1 Why People Believe Money is the Root of All Evil
#2 Why Getting a Good Job isn’t the Best Way to Earn Money
#3 The Secret Great Leaders Know About Emotions
#4 Success is 99% Failure
#5 10 Tips to Secure a Management Position without a College Degree
#6 Always Question Your Doctor – Three Stories Why
#7 How the Public School System Crushes Souls
#9 Give Me 3 Minutes and I’ll Make you a Better Decision Maker