from The Psychology of Liberty
by Wes Bertrand © 2000, copylefted 2007


Freedom—An Intellectual Issue

Historically, markets changed appreciably when knowledge and technology expanded and relatively less coercive political environments emerged. The progression of the sciences also served as an important catalyst in this process. The growth of market economies, and thus the division and specialization of labor, opened a wide variety of areas for people to make a living.

In an advanced market system, individuals did not have to provide for all of their own needs. They could develop expertise in what most interested them (or at least in what they thought was available). So, the trader principle solidified. With the creation of wealth also came the resources and time to dedicate to tasks normally of less concern: academic or intellectual tasks. The intellectual pursuits arose fairly recently as a worldwide dimension of human undertaking. Prior to emergence of advanced economies, neither the wealth nor the demand for a professional group of thinkers existed. Most abstract thinking was done by a select few such as clergymen or members of governmental or aristocratic establishments. Now, however, a great many people are able to make a living by studying, interpreting, and distributing ideas. Fields of work such as the human sciences have been thoroughly established in our culture.

In any age or culture, people hold a given set of ideas about what human relationships entail. For example, they have ideas about what kinds of behaviors are permissible or expected. These ideas are usually in accordance with the predominant intellectual views. Such ideas are developed—or at least systematized and made explicit—primarily by philosophers. They are then propagated by intellectual centers such as universities. They transmit through society in many ways: literary works and movies; television, print, and Internet media; primary and secondary schools; community institutions and organizations; and the whole political arena. This transmission of ideas influences the trends in society’s general ideologies.

Clearly, we live amid the ideas of the culture. As we mature, we can be influenced heavily by these intellectual factors—as well as family factors. Children learn a great deal by watching others act. When we are young, others are the main frame of reference by which to judge what personhood is all about. We form a philosophy from these experiences and influences, a system of ideas that represents our views of life. For instance we develop knowledge about morality and human relationships. However, we may never actually recognize and define this as a philosophy. The level of awareness we bring to it can vary considerably.

Typically, philosophical premises are not understood explicitly by the young. A generalized, vague, and sketchy system is formed in childhood and adolescence; it may or may not be reflected on as one matures to adulthood. Many factors affect whether philosophical premises are made entirely explicit. In general though, the more a person wants to differentiate assorted ideologies, the more he or she will succeed. Discovery and application of beneficial principles has to be kept a priority.

Every person uses some form of philosophy in order to make decisions and exercise judgment. Philosophy assists to guide one throughout life. The opposite of being philosophical is, of course, being lost in particulars, concretes, and derivative issues, unable to relate them to principles, unable to make things comprehensible.

So, either one can make one’s philosophy explicit and integrate the terms involved—or one can hope for the best in what one has absorbed from the culture (and family).80 We can accept, implicitly and mostly unwittingly, whatever system is offered in our surroundings. Like the rising and setting of the sun, “cultural osmosis” happens effortlessly.

Yet, if we do not shine the light of logic on a particular philosophy, chances are high that we will not think much about it. Even though we may use it almost reflexively, the philosophy will remain more or less implicit. In this process we can reach many subjective, illogical conclusions. The pitfalls definitely are not small in number.

The explicit integration of logical philosophical premises necessarily fills in the blank spots of cognition and interpretation about the world. As we have seen, logical philosophical premises are needed in order to properly think, judge, and act—that is, in order to live independently and happily. Granted, in a culture of capitalism, implicit acceptance of the dominant ideas would not be as harmful as today. However, only an explicitly defined logical philosophy would enable one to think in terms of principles and, therefore, to use one’s best judgment. Indeed, immersion in the reality of a capitalistic society would make it virtually impossible—outside of being a total recluse—to not have at least a rudimentary understanding of the culture’s philosophy.

The human conceptual faculty attains mental health by seeking logical clarity. And only with a high degree of intellectual independence can human beings maintain a society with objective laws. We are quite fortunate that key logical philosophical premises have already been identified. In the past, humans lacked the incalculable advantage of this philosophical knowledge. Yet, even though mental growth and political progress were more difficult, the striving for logical clarity by active minds continued.

As noted, discovery of philosophical truths depends on the current hierarchy and context of knowledge. In some instances, though, the mind of a genius may discover that which other active minds had difficulty discovering (which is simply the nature of genius and of human discovery). The task for human beings in any age is to recognize truth when it is discovered and appreciate valid knowledge when it is presented.

Yet, most fields of work usually involve specific tasks and reality-based problem solving—and little philosophical reflection. Since an advanced civilization comprises an extremely complex set of interactions and tasks, individuals plainly can only focus on a particular area of expertise. After all, a specific career represents an embodiment of the fullest use of one’s mind and ability. It consists of ever-progressing work and achievement.

Most people attempt to find a balance between routine tasks and more creative ones, depending on their present values or stage in life and their basic intellectual capacities (and oftentimes the current economic and political conditions). One’s occupation is naturally a matter of personal context, preference, and values.

Individuals in this country and around the world who realize that nothing will get done without effort must be saluted. They perform tasks that keep civilization alive and prospering. They build high quality products, conduct dignified commerce, offer superb services, and do incredibly demanding tasks. They also establish the pride and piece of mind that come from pushing one’s mind and body to the limit on whatever job needing done. A strong work ethic contributes to the accomplishments in so many sectors of the economy. The list is practically endless: the vast service industry, the various construction and repair trades, engineering, agriculture, textiles, natural resource production, high tech fields such as computers or aerospace, and so on.

Obviously, it is impossible for a person to be a complete master of many (or even a few) vocations. We have only a certain amount of time to experience, think, integrate, relate, perform and practice—all the while, never losing sight of two goals: achievement and happiness. Under these circumstances, many may figure that so long as they are productive in their own work environments, everything in society will turn out for the better. As a result, they may conclude that people in other areas of specialization, such as the intellectual pursuits, have their own set of problems and tasks to deal with.

The intellectual fields, indeed, are occupations in which philosophical thinking is more common. However, from the standpoint of a rational human being, in any occupation, philosophy is indispensable. A human being has a need to be a complete organism of thought and action. A man should be both a man of the mind and a man of action. A woman should be both a woman of the mind and a woman of action. A person who acts should do so based on principles made explicit and verified through the process of logic. A person who thinks should do so based on the observable implications of ideas, rationally identified outcomes, and logical deduction and inference. In truth, a society of thinkers should be a society of doers; they should be one and the same.

With capitalism, a minority of people would never think for the majority and determine their ideas. Certainly, the intellectual professions would still exist, but they would strive for more clarity. They would recognize the various contradictions, fallacies, and non sequiturs that are undercutting our civilization and affecting people negatively. The denial of objectivity is the flawed foundation on which our culture rests.

An illogical system can only continue to flourish by appealing to ignorance, apathy, or fundamental self-doubt. That one can think and judge for oneself and that one can act competently in accordance with thought and judgment becomes de-emphasized within such a system. Laypeople may even tell themselves that self-doubt is warranted, because surely groups of professionals in a complex society know more than the individual—surely a panel of “experts” knows best—surely the collective is a better judge of reality and what is good for a person than that person.

Irrational values stem from irrational motivations, both of which prosper in a psychological climate where aspects of pseudo self-esteem replace self-esteem. Of course, the culture or society per se does not maliciously create this situation (i.e., no great plan exists to destroy the beauty of human existence). But adults do have the choice to maintain certain levels of unawareness. They also have the choice to nurture the rationality of the child or to discourage and short-circuit it (which may echo their own childhood history). If they choose the latter, then in certain respects the child may begin to think that adults (and later as an adult, just other people) understand things that he or she cannot understand, know things that he or she cannot know, perceive things that he or she cannot perceive. In subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways, a child may be led to believe that others will always know more than he or she; others are better equipped to judge aspects of reality.

When nations of productive people quibble over only the effects of various intellectual doctrines (rather than the logic of the doctrines themselves), they fail to break out of a flawed mold of collectivistic thinking. Their social milieu can become one in which any significant form of independence is shunned, and obedience and servility to the group is praised, like in all the tribes of yore. Such social systems encourage millions, actually billions, of people to follow the given context. The performance unhealthy and even life-threatening tasks is considered customary. In all the frantic or anxious productivity, few ask if frustration and unhappiness have to be intrinsic to material progress.

With genuine productiveness, mental progress must occur. Obviously, just pretending to understand the nature of one’s predicament does not fulfill the unabated need for clarity. Simply working hard does not satisfy a rational being’s need to be aware of its internal and external surroundings—and this noticeably includes the political context in which one is working. Even though our capacity for self-delusion is endless, we can never fool the real inner-self—the one emanating from childhood that initially demanded rationality and comprehension of its surroundings.

Today, those who choose a profession of abstract thinking and contemplation—those who deal with philosophical ideas—bear a great responsibility. They must respectfully consider the moral implications and practical outcomes of their theories. Regularly, they have suffered the same troublesome effects of the ideas that afflict everyone outside their profession. Irrespective of the type, the mistaken or misguided premises currently in operation have definitely done their damage—more than most people realize.

The best rectification, consequently, would be to start over with the guidance of reason and the method of logic. This, of course, entails contesting very entrenched ideological (and emotional) systems. Nevertheless, such a rectification provides a vision of heroic individuals that hold no higher values than truth, self-esteem, and a concomitant society of blissful and benevolent progress. In the end, nothing in the universe is worth the cost of sacrificing preeminent values.

The interpretation and implementation of ideas by active minds is something we need to see in society. Rather than becoming further distanced from reality and from our true identity, we need a philosophical mindset grounded by reason and rooted in reality. Implicit in such an attitude is a set of ethical premises. These premises foster a better relationship with ourselves and reality—and by extension, with other people. So, the third branch of philosophy, ethics, is the main topic to which we now turn.

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