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A Passion For Life by Butler Shaffer

• Lew Rockwell - Butler Shaffer

    Even the most piddling life is of momentous consequence to its owner.

– James Walcott

Why do those of us who distrust the state do so? Is it because having read the writings of others who embraced ideas of peace, liberty, and individualism helped focus our thinking? But why did we favor John Locke and John Stuart Mill over Thomas Hobbes and Niccolo Machiavelli; and why were we more persuaded by the logical reading of Ayn Rand than that of Karl Marx? When we began to modify our opinions about these and other thinkers, along with developing our own views, how and why did we do so?

I can speak only from my own experiences, and so I do not presume to comment on the processes that led others to transform their thinking. In thinking back on my evolution, I have come to the conclusion that my love of liberty is likely traceable to a genetic disposition that also includes a love for life itself. In my pre-kindergarten years, I recall feeling anger at seeing persons stomping on bugs and ants for no apparent reason. At that age, I even had dreams in which I stepped on persons much smaller than myself, perhaps causing me to begin exploring my own "dark-side." I have long been troubled by the killing of anything, including trees, plants, and other living forms. When a spider, bird, or lizard manages to get into our house, family members call for me to rescue the creature and escort it outdoors. I have two exceptions to my preference for respecting the inviolability of the lives of others: [1] when black widow spiders show up on our property, my wife does them in. The protection of grandchildren and household pets take priority. [2] I realize that life depends on the eating of other living things, which I have no problem in consuming. As an agnostic, I do not say "grace" before a meal, although I believe the origins of the practice may be traced to an expression of respect for the fish, chicken, or other being who provided us with our meal. A few years ago, some friends invited us to their home for a dinner. The husband had prepared a wonderful lemon-chicken dish, to which others shouted: "let's hear it for Scott!" I could not help but reply: "let's hear it for the chicken!"

Consistent with their rapacious natures, nation-states are inclined to use other predatory creatures (e.g., eagles, lions, snakes) as metaphors for themselves. I believe that advocates of liberty should consider using fruits as symbols of how the marketplace allows individuals to exchange their surpluses with one another to their mutual advantage. Michael Pollan's wonderful book, The Botany of Desireillustrates how such interchanges have benefitted both humans and fruits without destroying one another. Fruits have arranged to provide us with their delicious flesh that also contain the seeds for their reproduction which we transport to other regions. Recently, we humans have cheated on the bargain by insisting upon seedless fruits. I have great respect for watermelons that have retaliated against seedlessness by making their flesh more abundant and tasty in melons with seeds. Who can deny the self-regulating nature of the marketplace?

Why am I spending this much time on such matters? I am desirous of digging deeper into the question: why do I have such an insistence on the values of liberty and peace, with the marketplace and the inviolability of individual property interests as functional expressions of such values? Libertarians tend to believe that the cause of peace and liberty can best be advanced through ideas grounded in logically-directed reasoning. As a lawyer, I do not deny the importance of such a method, and use it in my own writings. But I am convinced that many of the words we put together have their origins deep within our unconscious minds. Our conscious mind, however, wants to be in control of our negotiations with the world, and thus insists upon the use of words. Ayn Rand based her philosophy on "reason," but reason can be used to "rationalize" anything one wants to do. To Rand's idea that "'A' is 'A'", Arthur Eddington earlier observed "we used to think that if we knew one, we knew two, because one and one are two. We are finding out that we must learn a great deal more about 'and'." Such an inquiry takes us into realms where words, alone, will prove inadequate.

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