From Waving Flags to Burning Them

**This is the first post in a multi-part series about what and why I identify or believe certain things. Ideally I will get one or two up per week.**

 

I guess the best place to start is my move away from Republican conservatism. It isn’t the most exciting thing to me at this point but it was the first domino to fall in my life. Libertarianism was my flirtation with the unknown, my pursuit of answers to questions that I had no answers to, it was a search for truth when one of the foundations of my youth showed cracks and began to crumble. After politics I began to question everything else, nothing was forbidden. Religion, sexuality, lifestyles, etc. were all open to analysis, dissection, and destruction if warranted. And really, I have George W. Bush to thank for it all.

September 11, 2001 affected us all in one way or another. For me, it lead to war. I walked into a recruiters office the morning of 9/11, the second tower had been hit but had not fallen yet. The initial hypothesis that the crash was an accident soon was overshadowed by reports of “terrorism”, a word that up until that point was something that brought to mind deserts far away from the safety of the US. The recruiters assured me this would not be war, I think they thought the idea of combat would scare me off, but I was there because I wanted to fight. I knew I was smart, school was easy for me, but I didn’t know if I had balls. I also thought war was something that the US needed, I grew up hearing about how united the country during the Cold War, we were a nation that needed an enemy or we would turn on ourselves. Better to face a backwards and inhumane “other” then be at each other’s throats. Besides, the casualties would be strangers to us. People that didn’t have the blessing of Christ on their holy nation.

With nervousness and excitement I went through Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training to be an Infantry Paratrooper. Despite my high test scores I opted for the Infantry. The training was easy, it was obviously a mind game more than anything. The Drills weren’t going to hurt us or anything, screaming eventually ends and you can only do so many push-ups before your body gives out. Yep, it sucked but it wasn’t difficult. The body molds quickly and the Infantry training was mostly memorization and becoming comfortable in the woods and/or with a firearm in your hand. Any attempt at molding me into a drone or brain-washing wasn’t really effective, partly thanks to one of my Drills who took me and another guy aside regularly to encourage us to think for ourselves and read books (books were technically contraband).

I arrived at my unit and we quickly deployed to Afghanistan. We hopped around from fire base to fire base conducting searches, setting up ambushes, and basically doing the things infantrymen do. It was really days of boredom broken up by minutes of excitement and it all is kind of a blur. While we were in Kandahar a change occurred that woke me out of the drone like slumber I had entered during the deployment, we declared war on Iraq.

Even at that time I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why that happened. Accusations of WMD’s and moral arguments for rescuing the Iraqi people from a dictator didn’t really make sense. The world was filled with WMD’s and dictators, surely there was bigger and more dangerous foes out there if the US was going to use that as a standard for intervention. As it would turn out I would end up in Iraq less than a year later.

I did what was asked on my Iraqi deployment but the seed was planted for me to question the motives and authority of the government, as well as the moral superiority of the GOP. It was enough to eliminate any prospect of re-enlisting (though I did do one year as a National Guardsman in South Carolina). I had to find another political option but wasn’t ready to even consider the Democratic Party, I was still too religious and they were all baby-killing atheist traitors.

This exploration was going on during my first year in college and I was taking a basic Political Science course. My professor said there were four basic political party philosophies: Liberals believed you should be free in the bedroom but not the boardroom, Republicans believed you should be free in the boardroom but not the bedroom, Libertarians believed that you should be free in both the boardroom and the bedroom, and Statists believed that you should not be free in either. Libertarians seemed the most in line with my current thoughts. He also mentioned that Reason Magazine was the official magazine of the Libertarian Party (I don’t think that is actually true) so I picked up a copy at Barnes & Noble, liked it, and eventually subscribed.

There were three things that Reason brought to my attention but I can’t really remember the order. First, they did a run-down of all the politicians running for President in 2008 and mentioned that in a good world Ron Paul would win. Second, they had some sort of memoir for Milton Friedman, this was my introduction to economics and I purchased “Capitalism and Freedom” because of the article. Third, they had an article about why you should be allowed to sell your own organs, this article shifted my entire way of thinking about self-ownership and the proper role of government, it was the beginning of me thinking like a libertarian.

The next few years involved jumping in head first. I volunteered for Ron Paul’s campaign and I devoured any piece of economic or libertarian political literature I could find. Milton Friedman, Hayek, Ayn Rand, David Friedman, and eventually Rothbard. By time I reached my junior year of college all it took was reading David Friedman’s “The Machinery of Freedom” and an IHS seminar and I was a full blown anarchist. My anarchy was grounded almost primarily in economics and the endless pursuit of efficiency though, I had little love or time for morality.

As I graduated college and entered the workforce in DC my hatred for the state grew but an emptiness was inside me. I needed something positive, some love, art, happiness, and community to add light to the darkness. Working for SFL helped a lot, I was able to converse with a variety of people and travel the country, and they sent me to Porcfest. Porcfest was my first opportunity to see some anarchy in action, the small voluntary community operated as much as possible without a state and served as some inspiration. I was skeptical of it growing beyond a small community in a short period of time though, it seemed that just because something works on a small tribe-level that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work on a city or state level. What good is being morally or philosophically “right” if it had no practical application in human affairs? Was anarchy nothing more than an interesting ivory-tower thought experiment? At the time I wasn’t sure, then came Burning Man.

For unrelated reasons I found myself in the basic dust of the Nevada desert under the hot August sun. Around me ran debauchery and love in every creative form. Humans exploring art, community, and many illegal substances seemed to interact like a designed and living organism, but there really was no designer. The infrastructure provided by the organizers was minimal, basically just some street signs and porta-potties, but you could find volunteers providing medical care, Rangers to provide help, bars to get boozes, massage parlors, live music, tea, art performances, classes being put on by college professors, food, and basically anything you would expect from a 70,000 person city like Black Rock City.

Part temporary intentional community and part everything else, Burning Man provided me with another example of how anarchy might play out if adopted on a larger scale. Certainly there were problems, particularly the economics of a gift economy that seems like it could collapse if it lasted more than a week in such a resource deprived environment. How long can “gifting” last when people had to drive hours to bring in more food, water, and supplies to repair structures? Still, here was anarchy with the capitalism or consumerism. While the economics seemed unsustainable the experience opened the doors to the community and love that anarchy can provide. This was a community of people who wanted no state enforcement of building codes, drug laws, or health codes, but having a reputation for being a dick, speeding more than 5mph and kicking up dust, or mooching off the community could lead you to being an outcast. That rarely happened though because everyone involved wanted it to work, by travelling from far and wide to the Playa they explicitly agreed to the principles of Burning Man.

A life changing week in the dust shifted what I believed was possible in this world, and shifted my means of accomplishing change. Before I didn’t think political action was effective but I saw no alternative. After Burning Man I saw politics as not only as ineffective but a waste of my time and energy. Surely, I would be happier and more effective if I lived the life I wanted instead of voting to get someone in office who might give me permission to be happy and free. I decided to just do what made me happy and abide by my own moral code, “don’t harm”.

Opening the door to new experiences and actively pursuing those experiences means I crossed paths with people unlike me. It was like a fog had lifted over my perception, I began to recognize the struggles faced by minorities and those whose cultures have faced generations of systematic oppression. I began to see that the government is not the only oppressor, and for some people the state can rightly be called a savior and protector. Before I had only seen libertarians and anarchists who fought solely the state. In fact, many people seemed to argue that libertarianism ONLY speaks about a person’s relationship with the government, that the philosophy of liberty has nothing to say about racism or misogyny.

If that is the case then libertarianism is doomed just from a practical standpoint. Progressives and Conservatives provide a complete world view, they not only say the proper role of government but they try to explore the best way to live. People are not going to jump behind a philosophy that remains neutral on a significant part of the human experience. A lot of people like to argue that we are somehow living during the end of liberty, that the state is so massive and powerful that every resource must be mobilized to fight it. I just don’t see that as accurate.

We are living in the freest time in human history. Things are better now than they have ever been. Sure, there are problems, and maybe the US is not holding the torch of freedom high anymore, but things are still on a good path. Even “tyrannical” programs like the NSA are facing greater scrutiny and the country seems weary of foreign entanglements. Not to mention the vast expansion of liberty as the dominoes of prohibition fall at the same time as marriage equality continues to spread. You can’t say that we are living in the worst time for freedom when people have more bodily autonomy and to associate than ever.

But, I don’t think libertarianism is limited to the individual’s relationship with the state. I think embracing liberty as an economic principle, moral guidance, and simply because it provides the best life for the most number of people can provide support in dealing with non-government issues as well. The purist form of liberty is anarchy, it is the rejection of man’s dominion over another, no “ifs, ands, or buts”. It is to say that we are responsible for our own actions and reject the use of coercion. And I believe it should be pursued as much as possible. We all will slip and fall, we are humans after-all, but freedom is something worth pursuing for practical and philosophical reasons. It makes life better for others and, for me at least, the exercise of liberty makes one healthier and happier. 

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Sexy Books

Unfortunately I probably won’t have a lot of time to blog this week. My boss is out of town, our accountant just pushed another baby out, and my office spouse had some surgery that involves her holding an ice pack to her groin for the next few days. Basically, I am the low man in the office but somehow I am in charge of this shit. There is a 50% chance I will accidentally burn the building to the ground… so yeah, I won’t have a lot of blog time.

So, instead of my regular ramblings I thought I would just list some awesome books about sex that my lovely follower might be interested in. As you probably know the subject of sex (and the taboo surrounding it) fascinates me, particularly with the increase of open relationships and polyamory that technology has allowed. I don’t really have an abnormal sex drive or anything, I just find the subject fascinating and enjoy studying it. And without further ado… here are my favorite sexy books (with my simplistic summaries):

Sex At Dawn: Definitely the most sciency of the books. The authors work against the parental investment theory that encourages human pair-bonding and monogamy. They use research into bonobos (our evolutionary cousins) and remaining hunter/gatherer tribes to argue humans are much more polyamorous than we are raised to believe. There is societal pressure for monogamy that is based more on those in power trying to control sex, but this monogamous pull may not be “natural”.

The Ethical Slut: This is the least sciency book in the series and still one I recommend EVERYONE read (seriously, I will buy you a copy and ship it to you… fucking read it). It discusses what sexually open people are and some advice for dealing with the struggles polyamorous and open relationships can bring. The authors are often funny, sometimes crass, but always entertaining. Read. This. Book.

What Do Women Want? This book is a middle ground between objective science and subjective stories. It is probably my favorite out of all the books due to it’s accessibility and tone. The author argues that the traditional story of women wanting a “one and only” lifelong mate does not hold up to scientific inquiry and it is dangerous to tell women there is something wrong with them if they desire sexual variety. The author discusses multiple studies on humans and our mammalian relatives, as well as interviews researchers and women who have cheated, desired to cheat, seek open relationships, and practice polyamory.

American Savage: This is kind of a sex book… it is a collection of essays by sex and relationship advice columnist Dan Savage. Just like his podcast it is funny but honest and there are no taboo subjects. This work is particularly personal for Savage and he discusses his marriage, raising a straight child, growing up in a Catholic home, etc. If you don’t listen to his podcast or read his column you should do that right now.

Bonus – The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers: I’m still reading this so I won’t recommend it strongly yet but so far I enjoy it. It is fascinating to me how common some form of extra-spousal relations happen in the middle class and how varied there are. Very few practitioners of “the lifestyle” participate in orgys, instead most of them just enjoy being in an erotic situation where some sort of voyeurism and exhibitionism is the norm. Some will have multiple sex partners but the lifestyle is more about being open, honest, and participating in something that helps prevent confusion, harm, and secrecy. So far I really like it. This is very similar to my personal experience in the Orgy Dome at Burning Man and intimate experiences with friends… it isn’t about sex, it is about deep honest connections where there is no taboo conversation.

On Marriage And Longterm Commitment

For the last 8 years or so I have been pretty vocally against marriage for myself. I didn’t see the point and I found it to be an archaic ceremony with disgusting historical roots in the idea that one person can (and should) own another person. Many times when I vocalize my opposition to marriage people assume that I am also against commitment, particularly lifelong commitment. While that may have been true throughout most of my adult life my views on both are evolving a bit, as I think they shoud with new experiences.

Maybe it is some fault of my own that I didn’t just accept social norms when it came to relationships, I am starting to think I have a problem when it comes to falling in line. There is a pattern in my life where I see what society offers, experiment on the extreme other end, and then find myself more in a middle ground. I rejected monogamy for hardcore polyamory and now find myself in a monogamish relationship (but still available for Ke$ha 100%). I rejected religion for absolute atheism and now find myself interested and open to spiritual ideas. I rejected neo-con big government policies for complete anarchy and find myself… well, I still find myself being a complete anarchist…. maybe not everything becomes more moderate with time.

Anyway, my evolution on marriage comes from social and political realities. The political reality is that there are financial incentives in place to encourage signing a stupid piece of paper and giving it to some bureaucratic leech. I need to decide if my desire to remove all government controls outweigh the benefits of marriage through reduced coercive taxation. It is a conundrum, less taxes is better for me and helps starve Leviathan (and save the lives of people the government often murders in jails and with bombs). There is also the social pressure, which I am admittedly embarrassed that I feel strongly from time-to-time. Unfortunately, people treat married couples with a greater legitimacy. Two people can be in a 40-year relationship but if they haven’t had a wedding and all that other bullshit they are seen by society as less legitimate than two people who met on craigslist, drove to Vegas, and got hitched all in a 24 hour period. Part of me very much wants people to recognize my love as legitimate and some people require a title to do that. To be honest, I also like the little bit of the fanfare that comes from an engagement and a wedding… not a lot of fanfare, I’m still a minimalist, but I can see the joy and celebration that would occur if I proposed at Burning Man or something.

I have also reevaluated my views on long-term (even lifelong) commitments. This change comes from my increasingly healthy personal romantic life and the examples I’ve seen in others. When I was growing up I interpreted the relationships around me as filled with sacrifice. Sacrificing new experiences, sacrificing individuality, sacrificing life for others. While that may seem noble on paper, in reality that sacrifice came off as controlling and frightening. It certainly didn’t help to have a very unhealthy engagement in my early 20’s. I am now in a very healthy (hopefully long-term) relationship with a partner who doesn’t ask for sacrifice. Instead we grow, learn, have adventures, and plan our future together. That is why I call her my partner, because that is how I see her… as my life-partner. Phrases like girlfriend, boyfriend, etc. come off as possessive to me. In the past those phrases have also represented myself defining my own existence and personality by my relationship status, something I don’t want to do again. In addition, I also have several examples of healthy relationships in my life where adventures and creativity happen, and ideas like “you shouldn’t lust, love, care about, or be attracted to other people” are seen as unrealistic and instead new intimacy is shared together.

Of course, this is just how I feel at this time. My life is an everchanging perception of reality depending on time, place, and experience. Regardless, I am very happy now and happy with the way my views are evolving. I know there may be some people out there who are tempted to say “I told you so”. These are people who said “you just have to meet the right girl”, “give it time”, “you’ll change your mind”, or “It’s just a phase”. If you are one of those people please don’t throw this in my face… seriously, there are only three or so people whose friendship I would keep if they did that. Doing so would tell me you discourage personal journeys, exploration, and investigation. If someone is heading down a path that is different than yours, especially when your path is “normal”, you are an asshole if you tell them that they will eventually come around. It comes off pretentious and degrading. If you want people to live life the way you do then live your life the best you can and show them why and how you are happy. I am happy now, but I don’t think I  would be if I blindly embraced any of my views without winding my way down a relatively unpaved road to get there.

Students For Sensible Drug Policy

Well, by time this post I will be well on my way to the Playa dust of Burning Man and letting my freak flag fly. While I won’t be able to do my regular ridiculous Facebook posts about drug policy, libertarianism, love, science, and all things Awesome, I hope that if you enjoy what I share you will take a moment and consider donating what you can to Students For Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP).

SSDP is the premier organization pushing for a sensible approach to prohibition. By focusing on students they help mobilize the next generation of leaders, encourage the adaptation of policies that actually save lives, and educate a wide range of citizens on the harm produced by such a tyrannical approach to narcotics. They have personally impacted my life in a huge way and I have agreed to match every dollar that is raised between now and the end of Burning Man up to $1000. I wish I could give more but that is what I have right now, I hope you will consider giving a few dollars as well.

I am not a staff member, board member, or anything like that. I am simply an individual who believes in their mission and hopes to see change in my lifetime. We live in a time where medicine is unavailable to veterans suffering from PTSD, cancer patients, and lives are being ruined when students make one-time mistakes. It is time for things to change, it is time for policies to reflect science, and it is time to give students the opportunity to grow and prosper. Every dollar helps.

 

Second Class Citizen

Second Class Citizen: A second-class citizen is a person who is systematically discriminated against within a state or other political jurisdiction, despite their nominal status as a citizen or legal resident there. While not necessarily slavesoutlaws or criminals, second-class citizens have limited legal rights, civil rights and economic opportunities, and are often subject to mistreatment or neglect at the hands of their putative superiors. (from Wikipedia)

I am a white male… and I am not a second-class citizen. That statement might be obvious to most people but apparently Suzanne Venker sees a war on men that is invisible to the masses. While I originally was too angry and annoyed with Venker’s post I have decided to respond as a white male who disagrees.

First (and maybe most importantly), to call men “second class citizens” is an insult to people who have endured systematic abuse and mistreatment in the past. There is no legal system that discriminates against me due to my gender. I don’t worry that being attractive will get me fired or being unattractive will prevent me from getting a job. People do not assume that I have a lower paying job in an office simply because of my gender. I don’t worry the police are going to shake me down or harass me because of the color of my skin. Venker’s statement that “the White American Male must fight his way through a litany of taunts, assumptions and grievances about his very existence” is not true in my personal experience. Maybe Venker has some scientific studies to back up her points but she certainly isn’t sharing them.

Venker states that male bashing is “rampant and irrefutable” within sitcoms and in the media in general. American men are pounced on and dads are portrayed as idiots. While there are certainly many dumb and loving dads in sitcoms it is intellectually dishonest to use this as the sole media measure as how men are treated poorly in the media. I don’t watch a lot of sitcoms but I know some do include “dumb dads” but they also tend to portray stereotypes that greatly benefit men. Parks and Recreation, King of the Hill, The Simpsons, and Modern Family all include men who could be seen as overweight with wives who are “eye candy”… I can’t think of a single instance where an overweight female is married to a fit/sexy man in a sitcom (please correct me if I’m wrong). TV is fiction, it is flawed, and it gives people fantasy versions of reality… but it is not attacking men. Men’s roles may be changing but that change is not necessarily bad or “war”.

After Venker’s two sentence no proof attack on media she starts blaming schools from Kindergarten to college. She says that curriculum are centered on girls, rather than boys (citation needed). She also takes issue with Title IX in college and gives a couple of vague examples of the negative consequences of IX. I agree that there are problems in our public education system, but those problems are not because of some sort of secret liberal attack on masculinity. The problems stem from trying to find universal solutions to complex institutional issues. We desperately need more innovation, experimentation, and adaptation to the modern age in education. We need colleges to be able to specialize and assist students to find what they are passionate about, what they can use in a future career, and teach them to know the difference between the two.

Yes, the pendulum has swung away from a hard-core “Man’s world”, and in some cases I believe things have gone wrong, but overall the changes in society have been positive. The world isn’t “Man’s world vs Woman’s world” it is “A world where we are treated as individuals vs a world where we are treated based on our genitalia”. Venker’s hyperbolic spew does nothing to make the world a freer, more equitable, peaceful, or prosperous society… quite the opposite, it only reinforces tribalism based on what is between our legs and attempts to maintain a failing, sexist, discriminatory social order.

Just Dance

Aside

EDM. Electric Dance Music. There is just something about the drop… that “womp womp womp” that has come to bring out passionate cries for censorship from the haters and bring the lovers into a nearly orgasmic trance. Recently on Facebook I posted this article, and like many articles I share I didn’t actually read it because I trusted the source and was at work with little time to slack. I’ve read it now and it does a great job talking about the history of EDM, something I know little about, but it did get me thinking about my own experience with raves and the music that takes over the heartbeat of thousands of glowing and fuzzy fans.

In truth, I don’t listen to that much EDM. I can’t tell the difference between dubstep, drum and base, trance, or whatever. I just call it all dubstep and find I prefer my music a little grimy. What I love is the community. My first rave was Beyond Wonderland and my normally introverted self was cautiously curious at the environment. Beautiful colors, sounds, and lights overwhelmed the senses. To be at one of these shows is an experience that the word “concert” doesn’t do justice. I had truly stepped into a new world where how you danced meant nothing, as long as you were being true to yourself, it was a place where strangers hugged, said hi, complimented each others outfits*, and were generally polite. I’m sure that the drug going through most people’s systems was MDMA or mushrooms instead of alcohol had a lot to do with it.

Regardless, there was a sense of community. Everyone was there to have a good time, and that often meant making friends, performing light shows, and loving your neighbor. Coming from a military world where you are trained to hate the different and see anyone as a potential enemy this was a pleasant culture shock. I felt comfortable enough to wander alone, explore the sounds and different stages, dance around, talk to girls (trust me, this is a shock), and enjoy sitting alone. It seemed to be a judgement free zone. Certainly there were drunks and troublemakers, but these seemed to be the exception not the rule. In fact, there were more problems, aggressive people, and drunks at a Lindsey Stirling concert I went to recently than any rave I’ve been to.

Unfortunately, things aren’t always peaceful. Most ravers have stories about the police doing drug busts and shutting down raves. I’ve even heard rumors of undercover cops hanging out near DanceSafe (an organization that tests drugs at raves to make sure people don’t OD) and arresting people who go to them for information and tests. In fact, Assemblywoman Ma from California attempted to ban EDM and seemed shocked when she found out it was unconstitutional to ban a type of music, so she worked to ban LED gloves and pacifiers instead. What this really is is an attempt to use the government to ban what is not understood. And the result is raves moving underground or leaving states where they feel unnecessary pressure from the state.

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Just look at those troublemakers…

If the state must exist the resources should be used to protect those that are weak, not punish those that are different. Every dollar spent going undercover to make low-end drug arrests and shut down raves is a dollar not available to investigate rapes and murders. Any person who thinks that this is an appropriate use of tax-dollars should find the victim of a crime and explain to them why the murder of their loved one or their rape should have resources taken away from it to stop an adult from dancing while wearing a fur vest. We have homes for abused woman and mental health facilities severely underfunded but we have kids going to underground parties because you can’t celebrate life in the open without fearing arrest.

I may not be the biggest fan of EDM but it is a community that has shown me love and I do hope it is here to stay. These are people who embrace peace instead of war, love instead hate, and communication over passive-aggressiveness. It is simply discrimination to punish those with legal action for celebrating a life in a way that is new or isn’t understood.

Are Politicians Evil?

No, I don’t think they are. I may be an anarchist but I am also a hippie and I think most people are genuinely good. They may operate from a different perspective and philosophy, and the results of their actions may cause harm, but that doesn’t make them evil to me.

For someone to be evil I believe they must intend harm, have the capability to harm, and enjoy harming other people. There might be better definitions out there but that is what I’m working with. It is possible there are evil politicians out there, but I don’t think the group is much more evil than any other group in our population. I think they are wrong in their outlook on humanity, the role of government (force) in our lives, and I think they cause more harm than good. But I don’t think they are evil and I don’t think they are out to murder our individual rights, I suspect the real charge should be manslaughter of our individual rights. That makes them wrong, not evil.

Most politicians seem to operate from a Hobbes (or maybe Rousseau) state-of-nature point of view on life. If a government isn’t around people will kill each other, a big brother is thus needed to keep the peace. If a government fails to keep the peace they are no longer legitimate and this encourages politicians to err on the side of security over liberty. No matter how tyrannical a government gets it is rarely called illegitimate until the point of revolution. Add to this bureaucratic institutions that need to exaggerate and keep scare mongering up in order to survive and you have a recipe for politicians who think there is a boogie man behind every rock.

Politicians aren’t evil, they are flawed human beings in the DC bubble surrounded by people, institutions, and philosophies that push them towards centralizing more power with the best intentions. There is no conspiracy theory between Republicans, Democrats, and any other group to centralized power, the institutions are just set up that very similar results will happen regardless who is in charge. In order for a president to be an exception to this they would need to be so completely sure of their own views that doubt cannot creep in regardless of how much one-sided data is sent their way, and even if that person is elected he would need a congress that is at the very least passive.

Government is an evil idea, but politicians are not evil people. They are people who are operating in an evil system that they may not realize is evil with the intention to protect those they love and make the country stronger. On the whole they will fail. for government cannot solve problems and cannot secure liberty. The state will always grow in the long run because that is what it is meant to do. Instead of railing against politicians or believing that things will be better if we have “the right people” in charge, I think our energy is better spent building communities, spreading ideas, and just enjoying the amazing opportunities of this life.