Personal sovereignty

People hardly ever make use of the freedom that they do have, like freedom of thought.
Instead they demand freedom of speech as compensation.
-Soren Kierkegaard

The term, personal sovereignty, emphasizes a fundamental premise: Your body belongs to you exclusively. It's your property to do with whatever you want as long as you don't infringe on the property rights of others. Acts commonly considered self-destructive or eccentric are within the prerogative of the owner. In short: nobody owns you.

That may seem self-evident, but it doesn't get much respect from the types who think they know what is best for you. All's fair in reason and gentle persuasion, we learn by communication. On the level of deceit and coercion, it degenerates into a slave master mentality, the benevolent dictators so prevalent in our political society. There is no objective standard of measurement for where the line divides, we have different thresholds.

It takes a conscious effort to minimize being enslaved. This doesn't mean moving to a log cabin in Wyoming; I live in a heavily populated area. It doesn't mean dressing in a motorcycle jacket and wearing ear rings; I dress conventionally. It doesn't mean you have to be self employed; I work for a major corporation. In fact, I don't do anything that would draw attention, nor do I have reason to. But I do take a strong interest in blocking out what doesn't interest me and in maintaining my privacy. The objective is to keep as much distance as practically possible from those who have nothing positive to offer.

I found a book that addresses some of these issues. Its title is Big Fat Liars: How Politicians, Corporations, and the Media use Science and Statistics to Manipulate the Public by Morris E. Chafez. I have some marginal differences because I think he sometimes he falls into the trap he warns us about. But with that qualification, I've discussed the important points with a mixture of verbatim copying, paraphrasing and additional comments.

He argues that those in positions of power, who pretend to be concerned about our interests, are really interested in serving their interests. It's an assault on our personal freedom. For as Benjamin Franklyn famously argued, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." The term pecking order was drawn from the observation that chickens peck for dominance. Human pecking takes different forms.

The fallacy of overgeneralization can be found in any textbook on logic. It is committed when one draws conclusions about a small group of cases and applies them to the great majority of cases or worse, all cases. Sorting out specific cases takes time, cost and effort, which is why overgeneralization is so commonly committed. On most occasions we don't have the resources to master the fine details, so we generalize. This is okay when we are conscious of it and make it clear in communication.

The down side is that it's a widespread practice because so few are conscious of it. When they have an agenda of overriding importance, overgeneralizations serve as an ideal for absolute control. The result is that there is a substantial number of people who do not believe that there are such things as objective right and wrong. For those who crave power, it is a means of consolidating more power. When it is abused, it is a means of social control, bigotry, coercion and many other social ills, especially in politics.

The psychologist Abraham Maaslow achieved fame through the observation of certain hierarchical needs: basic survival, safety, belonging and esteem, the approval of others and ourselves. The fifth and highest is self-actualization, the desire to make the most out of our lives. They are like steps in a ladder; one cannot get to the higher levels without satisfaction at the lower levels. It gets more complex at the highest level because we face more conflicting choices.

One essence of self-actualization is self-respect. Self-respect is something you give to yourself and whose circle of influence is limited to yourself; it does not come from thinking of yourself as a wounded minority. It is often confused with the good feeling one gets from belonging in a group. Self-respect is confidence in making our own choices and following them through. Self-respect is the recognition that no one knows you as well as you do. It requires honesty and bearing responsibility for your decisions. Most of life's decisions involve the lesser of two evils. The way you make decisions and handle responsibilities is a measure of self-respect-respect for yourself and respect for others.

In my experience, self-respect doesn't come automatically. It takes a long time to weed out the negative thoughts and the disinformation that encapsulates us. Government schools have been emphasizing self-esteem on the premise it will make them better functioning adults. Baloney! Self-esteem is built on accomplishment which improves with knowledge, experience and thinking skills. The emphasis on self-esteem makes for adults easy to manipulate by corporate, religious and government institutions. It fits into a pattern of them working together to deny individual uniqueness by viewing people as a generalized group.

One of those catchwords I've seen used ad nauseam is "society," as in what is best for society. There is no such homogenous group. Even with the level of conformity we see around us, human needs and desires are too unique and varied to be generalized that way. It's a convenient term for a collection of people, but it is meaningless when meant to imply to an entity that thinks and behaves as one person.

No two people are born exactly alike, not even identical twins. We react different to stimuli. Much of our life is random. We meet people by chance. We see things from a self interested point of view. Our values are affected by our experiences, by our monetary means, but our jobs, by our spouse, by our family and friends, etc. As much as we try to plan our lives, they rarely turn out as we had hoped. These are the things that make each of us one of a kind.

There is enormous pressure on us to cast off our uniqueness and be like the crowd. We are not solitary creatures who can deny our social needs. We seek the approval of others and this sometimes takes on the form of wanting to be like them. As children we learn by imitating. Such imitation is separate from finding the qualities in others we find admirable and seek to emulate; it is imitation to gain acceptance. The difference is between the inward ability to look and be appropriate in a wide range of situations, and latter is in following the crowd.

All things being equal, teenage years is the hardest stage in life. It is a time when experience is not up to the most difficult decisions that affect the rest of your life. You don't know where the road leads. Change involves risk. It involves a loss of safety, one of those hierarchical needs mentioned above. It can be painful at times. There is a higher risk of rejection. There are discomforts to endure when you feel at odds with the crowd around you. Following the crowd offers the most immediate comfort, but it is a one-size-fits-all approach. If you stick to the individualist approach, you'll eventually work out a system that is customized for you.

As the Bible says, God created man in his own image; we try to play God by trying to recreate the people around us in our own image. Sometimes they are for altruistic reasons; sometimes for selfish reasons. But it seldom works well. It is a trait worthy of weeding out of our mindset. It cuts out so much unnecessary tension and wasted time.

Why do we do it? At the basic level we long to be part of a group. We have clung to groups since our earliest days as a species because it provided companionship, safety, or the illusion of it. On the flip side, we want others to be like us. We might think we are special or superior in some way, or it may come out of laziness. It is easier if others adjust to us rather then we adjust to others.

The author C. S. Lewis observed: "Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

Our tendency to encourage others to be like us takes on a greater power and danger when it is indulged by institutions. It is their nature to tell others how to live. The part of society as manifested by the media, by government, by lawyers, by clergy, by corporations, and by plain old busybodies has decided that your point of view is not valid and must be changed-changed in a way that serves their interests. For institutional convenience, it is far easier if there are no exceptions, if everyone is identical. Organizations cannot afford to market to individuals; there are so many people that it is impossible to market to anything except groups. There is also the conceit that the group is more knowledgeable and wiser then the individual.

All of this feeds on the idea that there is one right way people should be alike, that there are ideals of thought, belief, appearance, and behavior that should be attained even by coercion if necessary. But this assumption of ideals is erroneous when applied to individuals. It doesn't benefit us; it benefits the institutions that employ it. Of course they can't state their real goal: influence. Their advertised goal is helping us improve our lives. Our desire to be part of a group comes from our hierarchical needs described above as "belongingness." We have to be willing to override our own knowledge of what is good for us in order to conform to the group. In doing so, we cede power over ourselves to the group, be it politics, religion or the latest fad.

The uncritical willingness to abandon our very right to think for ourselves is bad enough. What makes it worse is that our institutions are so often wrong, either deliberately or by accident. Worse still, is the tendency of power institutions is to keep accumulating more power if unchecked.

You alone have the power to stop it. It begins by keeping your own council and making your own judgments rather than accepting the prepackaged ones served up to you. It includes recognizing that your judgment may not be the same as that of your neighbor or someone across town or across the country-and that both judgments may be perfectly valid.

It means having respect for yourself and having respect for others as well. And recognizing that "one size fits all" often means "one size fits all equally poorly."

Over the last several decades, the convergence of powerful institutions-government, academic, scientific-and broad and pervasive news media have created new gods: the god of statistics, the god of correlation equaling causation, the god of science. Their theories have taken on the mantle of fact and the assumptions built into policy. They are presented as scientific proof, but they are commonly wrong. I've noticed this phenomenon often. One area I am especially aware of is pharmaceutical medicine. Patent medicines yield high profits; natural medicines don't. Patent medicines are toxic; natural medicines are not. I cringe when I see how pharmaceutical medicine is commonly accepted as civilization's path to health and longevity when it's killing over 100,000 people a year in this country alone.

Evidence supports the idea that that the real goal of the environmentalists is to keep you from using energy at all. Their real complaint has to do with your standard of living. The lowliest among us has or has readily available, a standard of living higher than that in most of the world.

On the global warming hysteria, earth has been showing signs of warming in recent decades (so has Mars). When we read in the mainstream media of the "certainty" or "scientific consensus" behind the theory, that warming is caused by the burning of fossil fuels, hold on to your wallets. Predicting future weather patterns is too complex to be fit into computer models. Nevertheless, we hear modern civilization is destroying the world and only global governance can save us. Free people are inherently self-destructive; to save them from themselves, they must give up some freedom to the experts. At bottom it means you don't know what is good for you but experts do.

Strictly speaking, "disease" is an infectious or a metabolic condition. The psychiatric profession has taken that word and applied it eccentric, disruptive or violent behavior. This is discussed in more detail in The Manufacture of Madness. To hear lawyers, sociologists, psychologists and their media lapdogs tell it, the typical American today is a weak and timid person, nothing more than the sum of his/her "trauma."

This scam traces back to early religion when it was first taught that there was a devil that tempted people to do things they were powerless to stop. Of course, only the church could save you from temptation. Alcohol experts push the disease model of alcohol addiction by emphasizing the helplessness of the drinker over the drink. They have acquired a vested interest in persuading others of their powerlessness in order to obtain power over others for themselves.

One has to be on guard when information is presented as scientific. The scientific method has earned a positive reputation from the technological improvements that arose from it. Objectivity is central to its success. It requires that one accumulate evidence without prejudice and try to induce a plausible theory. Too often it is done backward, with the result settled upon and then experiments cobbled together to support the foreordained conclusion.

A recent collection of statistics taken from autopsies, shows that the degree of misdiagnosis has not been reduced to any significant degree over the past seventy years, despite many wonderful diagnostic tools.

Correlation is easy to establish; causation, very difficult. But researchers, the news media, and the legal profession have come to use the two almost interchangeably. This makes minor discoveries seem big, minor stories into headline grabbers, and law firm coffers bulge. It happens because we allow it to happen. We allow it to happen because we are urged to-by researchers, the media and lawyers.

There is very little having to do with human existence that can be proved, and a great deal that can almost be proved. Those things that can be proved, get their proofs from scientific examination and understanding of the mechanics involved, resulting in an experimental recipe that produces repeatable results. Statistics can provide proof only when everything being measured is accounted for.

While most generalizations are probably overgeneralizations, correlations involving humans are just that; an attempt to take a limited body of data and to project it over an entire population or some subset. I find the worst abuse is in the mainstream economics profession. Their heavy emphasis on statistics to estimate future human behavior is not reliable. Global warming models suffer from the same flaw. They don't and can't accumulate enough data to make reliable weather predictions, not to mention the lack of computer power to process that much data. Statistics have their uses, but they are often put to use in ways for which they are not suited.

Anything can be abused in life, and science is no exception. The worst part of the ugly triumvirate of lawyers-media-science is the prostitution of science. We know that lawyers tend to be shady and news people a little dim, but scientists are supposed to seek truth within the limits of their testing procedures. Scientists can be bought; welcome to the real world. One reason is because about half of government research is government funded. They're for hire as expert witnesses on both sides of trials. Scientists with evangelistic background are leading the cause to make religion seem more scientific. And then there are those with a political agenda.

Chafetz's criticism of lawyer abuses covers familiar territory. Some of the cases he finds fault with I'm not as sure. But there is no argument when he says law in the U.S. is being transformed. It is no longer a search for truth [if it ever was]: It is now a process of recruiting victims and making excuses for culprits. It is becoming a process of devising ingenious ways of vilifying parties with deep pockets, hiring expert witnesses who will play along, and carefully selecting jurors who lack the skills of critical thinking.

Objective information is often difficult to find. Whenever someone tells you what is right for you, they are also telling you that you do not have sense to figure it out what's right for yourself. Those who seek power over you do so by claiming that you are not bright enough to have power over yourself. In essence, they are treating you like a child. When they absolve you of responsibility for your actions and place the blame elsewhere, they are treating you like a child.

All around you there are forces seeking to prod you along toward actions and beliefs that you probably feel deep inside are wrong. These forces make it easy to go along with the crowd and difficult not to. It might help you to remember that when the crowd has dispersed, you will be there to live with your actions and beliefs just as if you were the only one who took or held them. Marketers of all sorts are out to get you to part with your dollars/vote/influence as quickly as possible, leaving you to repent alone in leisure. From all directions we are encouraged to give in to whim.

The world, for its own convenience would shape us as it wishes. It is for us to maximize control over our lives.

Related Books

How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne

Why Government Doesn't Work by Harry Browne

Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk  by Peter L. Bernstein

Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do by Peter McWilliams


These are old classics. They are not outdated because human nature hasn't changed.

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles MacKay

The Crowd, Study of Popular Mind by Gustave Le Bon

The methods of mass deception

None dare call it censorship