Thursday, October 22, 2009

Courage and Freedom

America, our national anthem tells us, is the "land of the free and the home of the brave". Is this true? Are we really free? And how many of us are truly brave (or courageous)?

Courage, according to Ayn Rand, "is the practical form of being true to existence, of being true to truth." Courage is an aspect of independence, of placing nothing above the rational judgment of one's own mind. While I suspect that most people would claim to be "true to truth", even a cursory examination of current events reveals appeals to emotion, an evasion of facts, and demands that individuals suspend their own judgment.

For example, opponents of the Ashby High Rise have lobbied the city to forcibly stop the developers from proceeding, claiming that such coercive measures are necessary to "protect" their neighborhood. Our leading mayoral candidates have echoed the call for "neighborhood protection". Yet nobody has bothered to define the term. Instead, they shout "neighborhood protection" as a mantra and we are supposed to understand the meaning of this invalid concept. Hiding behind undefinable bromides, a noisy gang has insisted that its judgment be imposed upon the developers.

Or, consider the unending claims that Houston needs light rail in order to become a "world-class city". Apparently, leading the nation in job growth isn't "world-class", but having more riderless trains crashing into automobiles is. Evading the actual facts, advocates of light rail offer some futuristic fantasy while demanding that we sacrifice our money today.

And what of those who continue to press forward with plans to bring invasive land-use regulations to Houston? They claim that they oppose zoning, and just want "planning". They think that by calling a putrid pile of dung--zoning--a rose it will in fact become a fragrant flower. Using verbal gymnastics, they claim that government control of our land will protect our rights.

If one examines the political landscape in Houston one sees few signs of intellectual independence. All one sees are the same stale ideas, repackaged in the vernacular of the moment. One does not see principled politicians explicitly stating their goals and the means of attaining those goals. Instead, we get vague generalities intended to warm our hearts and numb our minds.

When courage is vanquished, freedom will soon follow. When the judgment of individuals is sacrificed to a gang of home owners, the property rights of individuals will soon be sacrificed as well. When the alleged welfare of the collective--the city--supersedes the actual welfare of individuals, the rights of those individuals will soon be dispensable. When individuals cannot pursue their own values without interference from others, they are not free.

Freedom--the absence of coercion--provides the individual with the social conditions necessary to act on his own independent judgment. Without independence in thought, independence in action is impossible. Without courage, freedom is impossible.

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