How to Avoid Going Mad
This past July, I abruptly and unexpectedly found myself joining the ranks of America's unemployed. I scrambled like a lunatic to market myself and network, forsaking all other projects – including this site - for two weeks until I secured new employment. Then, with a future start date secured, I took another two weeks to enjoy the end of the summer with my school-aged children. The work that had become the focus of my life for the last three years took a back seat to just relaxing a little, and appreciating the good before me.
When the kids returned to school and I settled into my new position, I noticed a strange thing. The world hadn't ended. The nation hadn't collapsed. Life had gone on just as horribly without my published observations as it did before them. I was gripped by a new anxiety. I began to wonder whether any of this mattered. Did it really make a difference? Had I been wasting my time? Was I having an effect at all?
I’m fairly confident that many of you are having those same thoughts. Does it matter? Is it inevitable that our freedoms will be voted away by others? Are there “good guys” out there? Is there hope? And I’m sure those thoughts don’t just pay a fleeting visit to your mind as well, but rather ricochet endlessly through your subconscious, driving you perhaps just a little mad.
It’s not just you
I get it, completely. For many of us, our nation has become a doppelgänger of its former self (or what we always thought it to be). Our supposedly representative government breaks its own laws with impunity, not even bothering to lie particularly well about the fact, and all but shrugging its figurative shoulders when confronted. Regulatory and law enforcement agencies target citizens for political reasons (or sometimes, it seems, simply for the hell of it), and no one seems to care beyond using it for temporary political theater.
On the rare occasion that it makes it to a hearing, it’s treated like a sporting event – citizens watch to keep track of which side scores more points, but we all know it will go no farther than that. No one is held accountable, much less punished. Rarer still, when governmental malfeasance is brought before our judicial system, we have courts which literally say, “That’s pertinent and well-documented evidence – but we’re not going to consider it.” Courts of law make ruling based not on documented facts, but on what they think government defendants “intended” with their actions. The highest court in our land declared that it was perfectly legal for the federal government to force us, under penalty of law, to purchase a commercial product whether or not we wanted it.
Many of us, meanwhile, live with the skin-crawling knowledge that our government is obsessed with obliterating our privacy. That, while they can wave their hands and cover every official wrongdoing with mutterings of how “secrecy keeps us safe,” we must be treated like “terrorists, pedophiles, or criminals” if we take steps to keep our personal lives personal, no matter how mundane the details may be. Our phone calls and texts are intercepted; our movements are tracked; laws are passed requiring social media sites, internet providers, and now even anti-virus companies to gather and turn over details of our activities, all without need for warrants or even suspicion. It’s all “just in case.”
We speak out and condemn this, only to be confronted with the next frustrating bafflement: no one seems to care. Our fellow citizens seem unaware of this violation and, when we attempt to educate them, we’re oftentimes met with blank stares or, worse, some weak justification. “Well, I don’t have anything to hide anyway.” “Yeah, it can seem creepy – but if it keeps us safer….” You want to bash your head – or theirs – into a wall. How can they not see? If they see, how can they be okay with this? Why aren’t thousands rioting? Why isn’t Washington burning? What planet am I on?!?
You start to rack your brain, trying to figure out a way to reach people, to wake them up, to change things, to fix this. And the frustration builds until you start to go a little mad.
Don’t Go Mad
The madness-inspiring frustration is completely understandable, but it certainly isn’t going to help anything and just degrades the quality of your life. But, for anyone who sincerely cares about the erosion of our freedoms, it’s not something you can just shut off. It touches every aspect of your life. You can’t unsee it.
But you can come to grips with it. You can put it in perspective. You can accept and remember a few key, if unpleasant, truths about the situation we’re in and the way life – especially political life – works.
I’ve always said that if I had all the answers, I’d publish them in a heartbeat. Sadly, that’s not the case here. I don’t have [insert trumpet blast here] “The Answers™” all bundled and ready to go… but I do have some thoughts that have helped me regain some equilibrium, and will hopefully help me start being productive again.
They’re not all pleasant. In fact, some of them are tough pills to swallow. But I believe they’re accurate. Take them for what they’re worth.
Understand the reality
- Many people simply don’t have a clue. You’ve very likely had some personal experience or have read enough data to recognize a sea change in our country. And you’ve probably found at least a few people, in person or online, that express the same feelings, derived from the same experiences or sources. It’s easy to then make the leap into thinking that “everyone knows” and will share your concerns and outlook.
Well, they don’t.
However average you may feel, you are one viewpoint in a sea of thousands. Most people (get in the habit of calling them “normal people,” if that helps) simply don’t pay attention. They are – not without justification – getting on with the business of living their lives. They don’t look beyond their commute to work, what they’re having for dinner, whatever family drama might be going on, and what they’ll do with their time and money this weekend. Anything beyond that scope simply doesn’t register on their radar.
Picture rising above your neighborhood, taking a five-thousand-foot view of your surroundings. Envision each person, in each dwelling up and down your street. Then think about this: The thoughts that cause you so much frustration and concern have likely never occurred even once to any of these people.
It can be a punch in the gut to acknowledge just how much of a minority you are in, but it solves much of the puzzle of why there is no groundswell of grassroots resistance for you to embrace.
- Many people simply don’t care. It’s the sad truth. While humanity is a glorious miracle, human beings are often short-sighted and selfish. Accept it, then get over it.
They may very well have caught wind of some of the same stories but see anything related to law and government as “political stuff – and I don’t follow politics.” Or perhaps they follow along to a point but shrug and say, “I can’t change it, so why bother paying attention.” Or perhaps they’re “politically tribal,” caring only that “their team” is calling the shots and assuming that means no real harm will befall them (and, conversely, that people they don’t like will suffer).
You can attempt to educate them until you’re blue in the face, but it won’t matter. They’ve made up their minds on the issues, or they’ve made up their minds to willfully ignore the issues. Either way, you’re probably wasting your time. Your passion will only make the former dig in further out of defensive aggravation, and the latter back away slowly and label you a loon. If it’s a strategic move to provoke an opponent or stampede a herd, so be it. That’s on you, Sun Tzu. But accepting that most people simply will not be swayed takes a lot of pressure off.
- Some people do care – about stopping you. Robert Heinlein wrote, "Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire." Many of the people you encounter are neither uninformed nor apathetic – they are diametrically opposed to you. They aren’t alarmed because they believe that our society is headed in the right direction.
They aren’t “bad” people. They aren’t stupid. They aren’t evil, or bought, or cowed, or broken, or brainwashed. They’re just wired very differently from you. What you see as intrusive oppression, they see as welcomed order and security. What you see as liberty, they see as barbaric and frightening anarchy. They believe it is government’s role in society to provide comfort and security for all citizens, and that all things we need for a productive and fulfilling life should flow from a central authority apparatus. They want humanity to be controlled.
These people are found throughout our country, spanning all social and economic spectra, represented by both major political parties. They are just as sincere and motivated as you, and what you cherish and promote, they find to be a threat to their core belief system and their way of life. You stand no more chance of changing their minds as they do of changing yours. And there are a lot of them.
- “Like-minded” does not mean “identical twin”. Congratulations! You’ve found a small group that is aware of what’s going on, and actually gives a damn. In fact, they want to help you push back – and they’ve got some ideas.
Only those ideas include repressing someone else’s “bad rights” to preserve “the good ones.” Or they want to open with a prayer and you’re an atheist. Or they complain – bitterly, and at every opportunity – about how none of this would be an issue if not for “those damned Conservatives/Liberals” in the Capitol.
There are no heroes, only people – fundamentally flawed, often biased, occasionally hypocritical people. The same sheriffs in Colorado who turned out in numbers to proudly testify against gun laws in order to defend citizens’ Second Amendment rights later turned out in number to proudly testify in support of civil asset forfeiture laws, perpetuating the violation of those same citizens’ Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights.
If you find yourself in a group that agrees with 100% of your positions 100% of the time, you are either lying to yourself, being lied to by them, or the recipient of a modern-day miracle. If you accept someone as an ally, that means accepting all the things you don’t agree on. You don’t have to abandon your beliefs or compromise your integrity, but you absolutely cannot expect that people who just happen to agree with you on x will also support you in y and z.
You must be willing to accept help from “good enough” matches.
- There is no end game. The current level of government intrusion in our daily lives is unprecedented in this country. That makes it seem like something shockingly unexpected and abnormal. It’s not.
American exceptionalism is already a part of our national ethos, and both our technical advances and lack of wide-scale, widespread violence have given us the delusion that “we’re different.” Yet, human history from the dawn of Western civilization to our modern age would argue against the odds of that. It is filled with the same repeating pattern of overreach and tyranny, and we are not immune.
Don’t believe me? It’s not as if it hasn’t been brought up a time or two.
"Corruptissima republica plurimae leges. (The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.)" Publius Cornelius Tacitus, 69 AD
“Men are so simple-minded and so controlled by their immediate needs that he who deceives will always find someone who will let himself be deceived.” Niccolo Machiavelli, 1532 AD
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Voltaire, 1765
"Watch out for the fellow who talks about putting things in order! Putting things in order always means getting other people under your control." Denis Diderot, 1796
"If you absolutely insist on draining the taxpayer dry, well and good; but at least do not treat him like a fool. Do not tell him: 'I am taking this money from you to repay you for what I have already taken from you.'" Frédéric Bastiat, 1851
"Off goes the head of the king, and tyranny gives way to freedom. The change seems abysmal. Then, bit by bit, the face of freedom hardens, and by and by it is the old face of tyranny. Then another cycle, and another. But under the play of all these opposites there is something fundamental and permanent — the basic delusion that men may be governed and yet be free." H.L. Mencken, 1921
Humans are social creatures. Where we congregate, we organize. Where we organize, we develop rules and a hierarchy. Where such social structure develops, some humans develop an unhealthy – usually for others – fondness for control. You are working against human nature and history. That is not to say that shouldn’t try, but you need to be realistic about the scale of your efforts.
Stop wasting efforts
- Know who you’re talking to. For argument’s sake, let’s accept the above and that our society is made up of: people who don’t know; people who don’t care; people who care but not about the same stuff, in the same way, or to the same degree; and you. Does this sound like a scenario that would allow for a “one size fits all” explanation of your position? No matter how distilled your thoughts or how much sense it makes to your small echo chamber of friends, it will be confusing to some, nonsense to still more, and absolute anathema to many.
There is not a single, unified audience. You cannot use a single, unified communication approach. Learn to differentiate and to recognize your audience. Have a version of the points you’re trying to get across translated and ready to go for any level, and any perspective. Remember that the people you are addressing are people and varied even within a small group. Listen to understand how they speak and think, then mirror – not mock - their style to be heard by them. Be honest, be respectful, but above all be observant and able to adjust fire until you’re on target.
- Lower your expectations. Here is my downer of the day for you: You’re going to die before this is made right. You’re not going to see it. In fact, you don’t even rate the Moses treatment – you won’t even get a glimpse of the promised land. Get over it.
This is a Herculean task and, if you devoted your entire life and life’s savings, you still wouldn’t get it done. It’s been going on for decades and those who want to continue on this course – including many of your own fellow citizens - will be working against you, and outclass you in both manpower and resources.
You alone are not going to turn it around in ten, twenty, or fifty years. But even the tiniest chip in the wall will prove that it’s not impervious and can give others hope to scratch at it further. Do your small part and be an example on which the next generation can build. If you can do more, all the better, but if you expect more, you are setting yourself up for many sleepless nights, a lifetime of missed opportunities, and a guarantee of feeling like a failure on your deathbed. Let it go, and be satisfied with every small victory you score.
- Plan for failure. Know that you are going to lose. A lot. Debates, arguments, elections, court cases, any type of fight you feel is worth picking. If you accept that likelihood, you can stop being distracted by the fear of future failures and the disappointment prior losses. More importantly, you can start to incorporate them into your longer strategy and identify ways to use them as leverage.
The inclination by many is to dismiss talk of failure as pessimism, but that’s a foolish mistake and a waste of resources. Fight to win every time but game out how a loss could unfold. It may sow the seeds for future – and larger – victories. Record the debate you will lose, because it may provide a sound byte or admission that is damaging to “the other side.” Introduce evidence into court cases or an amicus brief even if you are certain your case will be dismissed, simply so that it is on record and can later be referenced with some legal gravitas. Learn to master the idea of a poison pill so that every loss on a major front undermines the defense on a more subtle one.
This is combat. Every loss is an opportunity to probe your enemy and learn more about their tactics and resources – but not if you’re sulking or too shocked to take notes.
- Support your local liberty. We always seek the dramatic finish, the grand slam home run, the glorious coup de gras in which we single-handedly blow up the Death Star. But, as we’ve established above, that’s not how this works. You need to adjust your sights. Find something smaller and closer.
“Let everyone sweep in front of his own door,” wrote Johann Von Goethe, “and the whole world will be clean.” The same holds true for preserving our freedom. There is a trickle-down effect for every bad law. You may not be able to stop the flood at the source but you can build a dam before your door, your block, your city limits.
Be a gadfly. Make a statement with your actions. Call people out on their hypocrisy. Embarrass them. Write to local newspapers and comment on every online story you can find. Check your Secretary of State’s website and learn how to form an issue committee.
Use encryption for every communication, no matter how trivial or mundane the topic. Attend your city council meetings and ask pointed policy questions. Organize neighborhood meetings and encourage people to demand answers. Educate people on the concept of jury nullification. Give them a taste of being in control of their own lives. Show them they have the option of saying, “No.”
If you cannot make yourself a bigger fish, find a smaller pond – then make some waves.
Keep Your Perspective
- It’s better than drowning. The onslaught seems endless. Headline after headline, law upon law, abuse upon abuse. After a while, it’s natural to feel that it’s pointless, that resistance is futile. You’re overboard in high seas, and the waves just keep on coming. All you’re doing is treading water. You’re no nearer to land, you’re exhausting yourself, and you know you’re not about to command the tides to be still.
Okay. All true. Points taken. But what’s your alternative? No one is coming to rescue you and you might not be making any forward progress, but are you prepared to simply fold your limbs… and sink? Because that is your only option to continuing your struggle, however weary and frightened you may be. And once you let that ocean take you and you sink beneath the waves, there is no hope of changing your course.
Your choices are tread water or die. Don’t quit.
- You may be lonely but you’re not alone. I’ve made some pretty sobering statements in the preceding paragraphs but this is where I point out the silver lining. You are in the minority – but it is not a minority of one, and we are all chipping at our own section of wall.
We fight. In 2013, with no prior political experience, I joined six other novices to bring about our state’s first punitive recall of a sitting legislator. Over the last year, hundreds if not thousands of citizens from Washington to Connecticut have engaged in open civil disobedience of laws they feel violate their Constitutional rights. Last month, citizen activists convinced the councils of two Colorado towns to decline Housing and Urban Development grants rather than surrender their zoning autonomy to the agency under a new “Furthering Fair Housing” rule.
Read that last bit again. Citizens convinced their city governments to turn down money in order to maintain their independence.
We fail - and we keep coming. The lawyer suing the Department of Justice and ATF was handed a defeat by a Federal District Court, based on convoluted procedural gyrations. Last month, he filed paperwork in Federal Appellate court, insisting that this case be heard. Starting on November 3rd, ProtonMail became the target of an extended denial-of-service attack that shut down their site – and hundreds of other businesses, collateral damage in the fight to end communications privacy. As of this writing, the attack continues - but they are online. They scrambled to upgrade their hardware and hire expert consultants to counter the sophisticated attack, both moves paid for with private donations which came pouring in to the tune of about a thousand dollars an hour.
You are not alone and we are not going away.
- Remember to live. I can throw another thousand words under this heading but I shouldn’t need to. It’s a simple concept. Don’t just defend your rights, enjoy them. Be involved, but not consumed.
Pick a point in time. This past week; in the midst of the Warsaw ghetto uprisings; during the darkest moments of the Dark Ages – choose any period you want and you can be assured that life went on. People laughed as well as cried. Babies were born. Children took their first steps. Loved ones took their last breaths. People witnessed sunrises that painted the sky with such beauty that it left them speechless. They stared at the majesty of Creation and were willfully, joyously humbled.
In 1775, John Adams wrote to his wife that “[l]iberty once lost is gone forever.” But the same is true of the wondrous, normal moments of our lives. There can be no more important battle to fight than the one for personal liberty, but take time to remember why you are fighting it. These moments do not wait. They do not linger. They are memories a nanosecond after they occur. Be there for them. Be present in them. Remember to live.
No Warranty, Expressed or Implied….
And so, that’s it – the thoughts that helped me gain some breathing room and quieted (somewhat) my anxiety. It does matter. It all matters. And, if done right, it absolutely makes a difference.
I can’t guarantee that you will find those words and observations helpful or even comforting but I hope you do. Because we need every single one of you in this fight, if future generations have any hope of regaining what has already been lost and what now stands in jeopardy. And you cannot help if you have lost yourself.