Friday, March 15, 2013

The Wizards of Humankind

"These Boundless Wonders" is an original column appearing sporadically on Friday at, by Jesse Safron. Jesse is a writer and editor living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Archived columns can be found here. TBW-only RSS feed available here.

A couple of months ago, some fans of Beitar Yerushalaim (a soccer team from Jerusalem) staged a stadium walk-out during a match in which a recently-acquired Muslim player scored a goal. These xenophobes had also previously directed slurs towards one of the other Muslim players on the team and had even torched Beitar’s club house, presumably because of outrage at the ownership for signing the two athletes. They claimed that their team was “pure” and promised to harass the players into leaving the team and city, which apparently they had done to another Muslim player years earlier.

Now, the reader should know that I usually don’t get wrapped-up with American politics or the mainstream news, let alone the actions of some bigoted soccer fans 6,000 miles away from me. I’ve found that expending energy in such a manner is counterproductive and largely a waste of time and resources. It’s not that I’m opposed to any kind of political involvement; I recognize that principled attempts to whittle away at Leviathan can do some good, as evidenced by Senator Rand Paul’s recent and heroic filibuster of drone-lover John Brennan’s CIA confirmation and, before that, internet activist Aaron Swartz’s online campaign against backwards intellectual property legislation. However, I tend to regard markets and ideas as more powerful forces than traditional political, work-within-the-system approaches to changing existing societal and governmental structures.

So, what’s my beef with these Israeli soccer fans? My problem is with the ideas they and their actions represent. They represent Us vs. Them. They represent the zero-sum games of violent dominion and nationalism. They represent the flawed notion that, when something disdainful (however rightly or wrongly perceived) exists, a clinched fist - in its various manifestations - provides a solution.

One of the many reasons I prefer markets to political action is that the latter tends to divide people by race, creed, religion, income, ideology and whatever other factional demarcation you can imagine. Politics jaundices our perception of our fellow man and makes otherwise decent, bright human beings regress into primitive, tribalistic automatons. It’s also very degrading; the political power structure and mainstream propagandists make people believe that their actions don’t matter if they aren’t political in nature, and that the important things in life are connected to the collective, not the individual. Before last November’s U.S. presidential election, I told a family member, who works at a home improvement/appliance store chain and happens to be a republican (and at the time had a Mitt Romney poster in his front yard), that he and the company he works for had done more to improve the lot of society and create happiness for people than Romney or any other politician ever had or ever will. He looked at me as if I was wearing a straight-jacket.

But it’s commerce - not the Political Class - which improves, strengthens and fulfills us, and which does so in a genuinely magical way. In Oz the Great and Powerful, a recently-released cinematic prequel to the classic The Wizard of Oz, Oz (James Franco) comes across an anthropomorphic porcelain doll who had been violently devastated, along with the rest of her family (who lived in “China Town”), by the bad witch’s flying baboons, for celebrating Oz’s arrival. In one scene, the porcelain doll asks Oz, who is a good-hearted, yet narcissistic conniver, to perform what she thinks is his genuine magic to help reunite her family. Oz sadly informs the doll that he can’t do this, but proceeds to allude to the hopeful prospect of defeating the evil witch with ingenuity and masterful illusions. He explains that his kind of magic is that of Thomas Edison (who Oz aspires to emulate and, unfortunately, was an intellectual property and patent fiend in his business affairs) and other inventors who mold the physical world in a way that defies normalcy, disquiets the status quo and drives progress. This scene is very much libertarian in nature, as Oz portrays entrepreneurship and inventiveness, and the ability to transform our world into never-before-seen realities, as a very real, attainable kind of wizardry.

The entrepreneur’s profit discovery and endless mutations, tweaks and alterations of the existing order create not only jobs and gadgets, but also the ability for anyone linked to markets to enjoy his or her leisure in innumerable ways. Entrepreneurial action ultimately connects us, allowing us to vacation or travel long distances in objects we call cars, planes, and boats, send e-mails and other information across a vast expanse of wires and satellites to practically any place on the planet, enjoy foodstuffs, music and art from around the world, or delight in countless other things that enhance civilization and our individual standards of living. Entrepreneurs improve humanity by increasing our ability to express ourselves and provide value to others. They make life fun and interesting. They inspire. They weave a fabric of passion and human spirit into every corner of the globe not entirely devastated by statism.

The entrepreneur and commerce will be found in a state of nature because they are outgrowths of human reason. On the other hand, hatred, nationalism, myopia and violence must be taught by power-hungry anti-rationalists and learned by their children and slaves. Indeed, one could say that history has been a ceaseless fight between the rationalists and anti-rationalists, between the peace promoters and the war profiteers, between the free traders and the nationalists, between the natural rights champions and the totalitarians. Right now, we’re living in an epoch with rationalist roots, but which is deteriorating into what Ayn Rand called “rule by brute force.”

Despite this steady descent, the internet has given the rationalists a major leg up. As Gutenberg helped expand and foster the Enlightenment, the internet entrepreneurs of today are helping to create a largely untouchable world of anarchy, wealth and individual freedom that is also educating billions of people around the world, and which will culminate in either a mass liberation of mankind and recognition of the nature of the State, or into world wars over which tyrants get to milk the teat of society. Let’s hope, and I suspect, that the latter will not come to fruition.

The pace of advancement on the market is such that even in a now-fascist country like the United States, the quasi-markets and limited international trade available to the public have breathed enough oxygen, so to speak, to steadily improve standards of living and wealth, despite, for example, the Federal Reserve, 80,000 pages of the Federal Register, the Sixteenth Amendment, a stifling welfare state, a surveillance and police state and uninterrupted military conflicts. If we look at the digital world, the pace of advancement is even more pronounced. The technology and scientific headway spurred on by commerce and the internet will counteract the inroads on freedom made by the State. And I believe this is already happening.

Entrepreneurs, markets, commerce and technology are connecting, uniting and inspiring us like never before, while at the same time guarding humanity against the incessant onslaught of interventionism. If this trend continues, it will be due to the eternal vigilance of the Voice of Reason, as articulated by the free marketeers and voluntarists and actualized by the wizards and magicians, as it were, comprising the worlds of commerce and entrepreneurship.