It's a strange thing that so many people unquestioningly doubt, even oppose, anything that they can't see, that they can't count on with absolute certainty, or especially, that lacks the approval of authority.
New and useful things, as we've all observed, begin as things that can't be seen… things with no evidence, no substance, and usually no pedigree. Name your convenience and it probably began that way.
But let's move past older historical examples and simply jump to things that have happened in our own times:
Where were personal computers a generation or two ago? Only in the dreams of a few hyper-technical types. It was a business grown mainly in garages and similar spaces.
Where was home schooling a generation or two ago? It was the domain of cranks at best and child abusers at worst. (Or so it was proclaimed by an enthroned and worshiped educational aristocracy.) And yet homeschooling delivers superior results.
Where was the Internet in 1990? First it was unknown, then it was a silly tool of "nerds," then it was a threat to all that is holy (yes, New York Times, some of us remember), and only later, a worldwide infrastructure.
Where was encryption in 1990? A regulated munition… a sequestered weapon… until a small group of cypherpunks set it free.
Where were digital currencies in 2000? The supposed haunt of the worst criminals on the planet. And now… well, now they're hated only by people skimming from violence-backed currencies and those who think they've missed the boat.
Those of us of a certain age have seen all these things enter the world. Things that were utterly without substance, existing only as ideas in disrespected and belittled minds.
So then, where are the utility, efficiency, and safety in "staying with what's been proven" and ridiculing the new? Blown away is what they are. The voice of authority is the voice of paralysis and petrification.
Yes, some old things remain lovely, and some new things are stupid. But opposing things only because they are new… smothering them in fear and the implication that unauthorized things will be punished… "paralysis" and "petrification" are not overly strong terms.
Progress always begins from mere ideas… from unapproved ideas and usually from opposed ideas.
This is why I am committed to parallel societies, to decentralized economies, to a voluntaryist ethic and a civilization built around our abilities, not around our fears. I know that good ideas can become reality. I've seen it over and over. You have too.
Moreover, none of the things I believe in are entirely new. Humankind has had decentralized commerce many times. It has enjoyed voluntaryist ethics and healthy societies.
I've heard people say, "You can't beat the system," or discouragements to that effect, for a long time, and it simply isn't true. Yes, the system uses plenty of force and likes to make examples of people who threaten its legitimacy, but where are the great pharaohs? Where is "the Great" Alexander? And where, for that matter, are Napoleon and Mussolini and a hundred other "indomitable leaders." They're gone, along with their ruling juntas, their court intellectuals, and their acquiescent subjects.
So, you can beat the system. It may take time, but the system always crashes and burns. The only question is when.
And in our quest to build a voluntaryist civilization, we have one tremendous example: the proto-Christians and decentralized Christians of the first few centuries AD. And let me point out that this was a long time before what people think of as "the Church."
Nor is this really about religion – it's about people who believed in and were devoted to a better set of ideas. Ideas opposed by the greatest power ever seen on the planet: the great Roman Empire at its height.
But in the end, Rome crashed and the new ideas triumphed, wiping away the Roman model altogether.
Here's how the great historian Will Durant described it:
There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won.
There is no reason we can't do the same thing. I don't know how long it will take or how much turmoil we'll have along the way, but I can tell you that building a decentralized world based upon the Golden Rule is very definitely possible. But we'll need to work for it.
We can build a better future or we can "play it safe." Which will you be more proud of when you're old?
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The novel that helped put the crypto revolution into high gear.
Comments from readers:
"Of the twenty five or so people I worked with last fall, all of them revered A Lodging of Wayfaring Men as a bible. They referred to the house and their community effort as a Lodge. We all felt it was modeled on the Free Souls."
"Actually, I am somewhat at a loss as to how I might explain how I feel about this book other than to say what a great mind to write such an awesome story!"
"I'm an Old guy and find that Rosenberg has captured many Real-World truths in this novel. I wish the Millennial Generation would read this novel and consider the concepts and rationale presented here."
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