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I remember when I was younger: I thought I had the world pretty well figured out and that I could handle pretty much anything it threw at me. Lots of adults told me things like, "You'll see; it isn't as easy as you think," or "It's easy to be idealistic when you haven't really lived in the world". When I heard that kind of talk, I mostly wondered what they meant with their ominous intonations (my smartass side wondered where they thought I was living). As it turned out, I didn't have the world figured out, mostly because I hadn't been exposed to a lot of ideas, including the freedom philosophy. But that didn't stop me, or even slow me down any. I figured that I'd learn as I went along, and I have. Even so, combining what I knew then with what I know now, as an adult with two kids of my own and lots of "living in the world" under my belt, I still don't know what those people meant.
I had a lot of grand plans when I was a teenager--I thought I'd change the world somehow. I also strongly believed in the power of one person to make a difference. Most young people have similar ideas--it's so common that people refer to the "idealism of youth", meaning the optimism and energy that young people tend to have. Some adults look at it as na´vetÚ--an innocence that comes from a lack of experience. The freedom philosophy tends to bring out the idealism in a lot of people, too. Its simplicity, power, and the rightness of the cause make it easy for a person to think that it'll be easy to persuade others and help build a better, freer world. People tend to look at we adults who call ourselves "libertarians", "free-marketeers", or similar pro-freedom names as idealists, or again, as na´ve. So, if you're a young person and you're into freedom, according to the "conventional wisdom" you're really na´ve and idealistic, and just begging for disappointment when you grow up.
Well, I don't agree with the conventional wisdom!
Not everybody loses their idealism as they mature--Don Lobo Tiggre and I are two examples of people who haven't. Sure, we have difficult days, days when the road to freedom looks dark and difficult, but overall we're very optimistic about what we're doing and that we're making a difference. So don't let the old farts wear you down, or intimidate you! You can be a happy, idealistic adult, even if you don't see such people around you. The conventional wisdom may be true, but if so, it's true for conventional people, not those who really want to make the world a freer place. It's your choice whether you want to be conventional or not.
You'll be told that you're being unreasonable, that "things aren't done like that", or that freedom is impractical/immoral/impossible (take your pick). I suppose Thomas Edison was unreasonable in thinking that he could light up the night with his light bulb, that Ford's idea of manufacturing his cars was impractical... Some people thought that adult drinking was immoral (during Prohibition), and that putting a man on the moon was impossible. So much for those limitations... You can decide whether they'll apply to you or not, in your quest to live the life you want.
Right now some people view our situation as dark days for freedom. Increasing gun control worldwide, and increasing attempts to control people in lots of ways, can make it seem like we're losing. That might be possible, but I don't think so. More people are seeing--up close and personal--how the state is destroying lives, and are reacting against it. Even if they never read Ayn Rand or von Mises, they'll never fully trust the thought police again; that means they'll at least be sympathetic to our side, if not helpful to us. What we're seeing, I think, is the death-grasp of the nation-state, all around the world, to try to hold on to the power it once held. This system of government has just about run its course and, like most dying things, it's struggling to stay alive.
Do I know what will replace it? No... But you can be damn sure that I'm working as hard as I can to try to make whatever comes next a much more healthy, pro-freedom society. Some people choose to focus on the negative right now and become cynical; others see the lemons and get their juicers, to make lemonade. As for me, I'm gonna make lemon pie! Freedom hasn't been given a real test as far as I can see in our recorded history, so no matter how pessimistic others might get, I'm not giving up on it, and neither should you.
Each attempt at creating a more free society has been more successful than the previous one. The most recent experiment, that of the United States, began promisingly--if you were a white male--but because of various design flaws was doomed to failure. On the bright side, though, out of that attempt came a greater understanding of the value of freedom for all individuals. Because of that, I think the next attempt will be much stronger, and much more free for every individual who chooses to live there.
Freedom is the birthright and the natural state of every human being. We are born as free beings, and as we grow our parents--and our society--begin to shackle us, in the name of "civilizing" children into mature adults. This isn't only unhealthy, it's wrong--a person can be raised to function well in society without having their rights trampled, but few parents seem to realize this, and no society I know of encourages total individual freedom. It's the way we're designed to live, though. Why else would a baby take such delight in each new exercise of freedom--from controlling the mobile swinging above his crib to those first tentative steps to the first words read by himself? Why else would that same person resist attempts to clothe him when he enjoys being naked, or to put him to bed when he isn't tired, or to force him to share toys with another child? Raising a child to be a mature, responsible adult doesn't have to be limiting of his or her freedom.
You can make a difference in making the world a freer place. You can contribute to the ideas of freedom, like Rand or von Mises did. You can become an entrepreneur or a producer, rather than a wage slave. Or, you can simply live your life as freely as you can. You can refuse to give in to those cynical adults--and there will always be some around you, it seems--who will tell you your dreams are foolish, impossible, or misguided. Even if you get some things wrong, and have to make a mid-course correction, never lose your enthusiasm, and become one of those worn out, beaten adults.
It can be challenging, but one concrete way to counter the cynicism and wear from the rest of the world is to do something--even if it's just one small thing!--every day to remind yourself that you are, in fact, free. Small daily acts--whether it's speeding a little bit, or filling out the form that 'requires' black ink with purple ink--can be powerful reminders of your individual sovereignty. Set larger goals that are geared toward creating more freedom for yourself--getting out of the traditional enslaving job routine, for example--or that help teach others of the value of freedom.
If you choose to have children, do everything you can to raise them as free individuals. If you have parents who aren't freedom-respecting, think about the things they do that you hate--that limit your freedom--and try to think of ways to avoid doing the same things to your children. Invest the time and effort now into thinking about what a loving, freedom-enabling parent might be like, what she or he might do, so that when children do come along you'll at least have some ideas to go on. Without doing that, it'll be easy to fall into the pattern you experienced with your parents--trust me, I know this well--no matter how much you think you won't.
Enjoy your life! This life is your only one, and there's tons of things to see and do. Make big plans and work to make them happen. Each day, drink deeply of the beauty of living your life as a free person, in control of your choices and future--it's very difficult to become stodgy and cynical if you can do that. When you make mistakes, or have painful experiences, acknowledge that they, too, are an inevitable part of life, and do your best to grow and learn from each of them. Don't let them permanently scar you--instead choose to accept the pain and use it to improve the person you are.
Ayn Rand was right when she distinguished the path of human life from that of other animals. She characterized other animals' adult lives as being basically circular--repetitions of creating and rearing young--and said that our lives are linear. My interpretation of this is that a healthy person continues learning, and growing, and improving him- or herself throughout life, and is always striving to be better. I also think that each generation has the possibility to improve the human condition--by creating greater freedom for individuals, and greater opportunities for individuals to interact in freedom. The best way to do that is to never lose your idealism and love for freedom--be unreasonable, be impractical, be stubbornly optimistic in working for it--to always keep your "na´vetÚ" alive!
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