The Freedom Compass and The Political Centrifuge

In order to achieve the widest of possible worlds in which to exercise freedom, it is necessary for fiery, dynamic people to fan out on the periphery of society, and from there to draw people outward, away from the center. People who play moth to the political flame either find their wings singed, and fall corrupted from their philosophical heights, or are eventually consumed or destroyed by the flame. They also tend to draw other people in toward the center alongside them. This is counterproductive to the cause of freedom because despite the best of intentions, the political process is corrosive and divisive, and the aims of individualists are better served by pushing outward, away from this process.

Two complementary concepts apply here; rather than a mixed metaphor, together they should express an expansive one, illustrated by two different instruments sharing a common name and congruous purposes. 1: Limits are defined by circumference, and the needle of the navigator's compass is not moved by force applied at the center, but by a magnetic pull at the perimeter. 2: It is not the pivotal leg of a compass, but the outer leg, which must be adjusted outward to increase the angle at the axis and enlarge the circle.

The most profound and significant cultural changes happen quietly away from the political spotlight by the work of great and small thinkers and doers who externalize their own illuminations on the margins of society. The greater and more numerous these lights on the perimeter, the more people will be drawn away from the political center, and the freer our range of movement will become. There will always be a center, and those who will gravitate toward it; but we will not create change from within the system. In moving toward the political center, we lose the tendency to pull away from it and become caught in the centrifuge.

Those people who make the deepest impact on heart and psyche do so by following their own visions, not trying to impose them -- however benevolently -- upon others. Artists, musicians, writers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and people from all walks of life can be torches in the darkness. Celebrities fall prey to a flame similar to the political incinerator, and frequently fall from grace when they cease to mind their own visions. They may still attract crowds; but it's far easier to draw flies than hummingbirds.

The temptation to change the system from within is strong, but insidious; it leads to using the very methods which one detests. We can't forge new trails by following the main drag, or defend freedom's fortress while laying siege to it. We can't ignore the political process, but we can frustrate it by proving it irrelevant to our purposes. The more decentralized the process becomes, the more hope we have of maintaining a civilized and free society. The more people wander off and function without regard for the political machine, the less relevant it will become. It's hard to mesmerize an audience when they're ignoring Mesmer, and so much of politics is mesmerization; getting people caught up in an insane, interactive drama and convincing them that they have an essential role to play in it.

Remove the cheering sections, the somber opposition, the irate protesters, and the huddling hordes from the political spectacle, and see how long it takes for warmongering vigilantes to be recognized as homicidal madmen. Replace the credulous crowd with energized, self-reliant individuals and watch the political gears clog and grind to a halt. Reveal the soft, hypocritical belly of the dragon as he belches fire at business and consumer alike, and watch the arrows fly. Reassign the gawking news reporters and cameramen, and watch Liberty and Justice spring to life. It can't be done by greasing the machine, but it can be done if we each do our little bit to roll back the boundaries. All together, now -- heave...

Let the stars remain in the heavens, where we can aspire to them; and let the dim bulbs who would be our leading lights burn themselves out as they please. Let us pursue our own lights, wherever they may lead us; the flame of Liberty has trembled for too long. If it is not to be snuffed out entirely, let all who would be free light their own torches and hoist them aloft into the future. Let the ring of political power be cast back into the fire in which it was forged; because we know that wearing it will destroy us, and those who do wear it would drive us toward ultimate destruction under their chariot wheels.

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