Changing Minds

by Jim Davies

 

[Editor’s Note: During early June 2006, one of my subscribers put me in touch with Jim Davies, author of The On Line Freedom Academy (TOLFA). TOLFA is a web-based series of study lessons devoted to expounding the free market. I was so impressed with Jim’s work that I asked him to write an article about his background and the events which led to the creation of TOLFA. The On Line Freedom Academy reminds me of Bob LeFevre’s Freedom School. Although there are some differences, its basic outlook is voluntaryist, and I highly recommend it to my readers. As Jim writes, if each one of us can convince one person that freedom works, both morally and practically, we will all be that much closer to achieving freedom in our lifetime.]

In June 2006, I launched “The On Line Freedom Academy” or TOLFA, at www.tolfa.us. It has the modest aim of changing the minds, over a period of a little over two decades, of 268 million literate Americans. It has the potential of changing our society from one where many decisions are made under compulsion, to one in which all decisions would be made voluntarily – that is, changing our society from a culture of force to one embracing voluntaryism.

It will do so one by one, with every graduate or “full member” bringing to the Academy from among his circle of friends at least one new student per year. Thus, membership doubles annually; since 268 million is 2 to the 28th power the job would take 28 years if there were nobody starting but me. In fact there are quite a lot more than me already, so the job will be complete within the decade of the 2020s. If on average members bring more than one new participant per year, we might even see that free society start during the decade of the 2010s.

One key underlying assumption is that people generally are open to reason, and that’s what Carl Watner has asked me to explore in this article. What, exactly, changes minds? – and more particularly, he asked me, what caused my own mind to change; what brought me to this point, of launching TOLFA? These questions are very good, because it may be that peoples’ positions are formed and fixed by meansother than reason – for example, by emotions such as fear. Politicians, certainly, are expert at playing on emotion and prejudice (pre-judgments.) Must we emulate those creeps? I, for one, hope not.

And I think not, too. Pols “fool most of the people, most of the time” by lies and appeals to emotion not just because those tricks do, alas, work – but also because if they resorted to reason they would have nothing to say. There are absolutely no votes generated by announcing “I am here to steal from you to pay to brainwash your neighbor’s children in my institutions.” It’s a real turn-off, when stated plainly, truthfully and reasonably. So instead he disguises the truth and speaks just of his noble and selfless wish to see “our children educated” and leaves unspoken all those pesky financial and moral details.

But we freedom-seekers do have reason on our side. When we think it through, we can see government for the fraud that it is. We can start with the undeniable premise of human self-ownership and reason through to the inescapable conclusion that government needs to be totally eliminated from human society – not just for the evil it does, but primarily for the evil that it is. That is where TOLFA leads its members, and that is our great strength. All we need is to know that minds are receptive to reason.

Mine was – eventually. Presumably, since you’re reading this, so was yours. Here’s what happened to me.

I was born in England, am fairly bright (for neither of which I can claim credit), rather shy (for which I accept no blame), and of parents with a good work ethic. That’s the hand life dealt me. It’s not a bad one, and I have been very fortunate. By age 12, I remember having decided to be an atheist – and somehow I got there by reason, for there was no pressure or emotion driving me that way, that I can recall, but it was probably my first big decision. At 13, I made a second, namely to follow my parents’ sound advice to attend boarding school, which certainly led me to a first class education including a Cambridge degree.

But I move too fast: at 16, still at school, I underwent a religious conversion, after which for 18 years I was a Christian. That too was a very big decision with lots of implications but I’d say it was not based on reason. My shyness had left me somewhat pummeled at boarding school so when I encountered a very warm, friendly environment of kindly Evangelicals who wanted me to join them it wasn’t hard to respond; I didn’t consciously go against my intellect or violate reason, it was just that reason played no part in the change and my atheism kind of melted away. If it had (had there been someone present to remind me that this or that premise I was hearing was unsupported) I can’t say how my decision might have gone. But there wasn’t.

So for a couple of decades I buckled down to an interesting and successful career with IBM and to raising a family and preaching on occasion in the local chapel. Government was, as far as I knew and was interested, just “there” like the weather; it was a fact of life. I was definitely Conservative rather than Socialist – I could see that clearly into the political arena, and voted that way at elections – but I had no interest in taking further part.

In 1972, however, I asked myself a question and pressed it rather harder than I ever had before: “How do you know that Christianity is all true, objectively?” The usual answer was that the Resurrection was a proven fact, so I checked again and to my astonishment found that it was not proven at all! – that a natural, possible explanation for the empty tomb does in fact exist. Details appear at http://takelifeback.com/oto/stone.htm for those interested. I ran the finding past several theologians of high repute and none of them had a coherent answer – so I left the Christian world; without regrets, for it had been a pleasant pair of decades with many good friendships formed. But now I knew that it was all actually no more than a benevolent fairy tale.

That however left a vacuum: what purpose, from then on, was to excite and color my life?

I felt liberated, and so was inclined to an interest in freedom. In 1976 I was astonished to learn from a BBC broadcast of a visiting Milton Friedman that there was a whole dimension of economic freedom of which I’d been unaware, and obtained (by having to order it, from a bookstore that had never heard of him!) a copy of his CAPITALISM AND FREEDOM and just lapped it up. I’d also for long been an admirer of the American style of life, so when a chance came in 1978 to move with IBM to New York, I grabbed it with both hands.

Then in 1979 I found myself waiting 45 minutes for a tank of gas, and did not understand why; for I had learned that queues (I didn’t yet know to call them “lines”) formed only in Communist countries. At Cambridge I had read some Economics, heavily influenced by that well-known alumnus John Maynard Keynes, so I was not wholly ignorant of the subject. when I searched high and low in the NY TIMES and TIME and NEWSWEEK but found no credible, comprehensible explanation whatever, I knew something was up.

Then I saw a full-page ad in the TIMES, placed by the Libertarian Party; and I filled out the form for more info.

It came, a few weeks later, with an elegant explanation for the gas lines based on government retail-price manipulation and foreign policy, and once again I was lapping things up and was introduced to a whole library of magazines and books which I bought and devoured and it all made perfect sense! And although not qualified to vote (as a mere resident alien) I played an active part in the LP of Connecticut and later of New Hampshire.

This last quarter century has therefore been the most exciting of my life – understanding more and more about freedom and enjoying the company of freedom seekers, and trying to spread news of liberation. It has been my high privilege to meet a few of the really great pioneers in the movement, like Murray Rothbard, David Friedman, Harry Browne, and Anthony Alexander.

I came fairly quickly to see that partial pregnancy is not an option – that is, that “minarchism” is plain silly. That perception has deepened and hardened over the years. Rather later, however – the late 90s – I reached another key decision: that politics was not the way to achieve a free society. I doubt if it was wrong to try (probably the compromises Rothbard made, to try to unite a political movement, were worth trying) even though logically it makes little sense – but in fact it clearly will not work, so the point may be moot. The LP has striven mightily for three and a half decades, and has totally failed to break through. Further, dogged by lack of success, it has morphed into an outfit which Rothbard would hardly recognize, with more and more compromise of principle in a desperate attempt to gain recognition and votes. So I have quit politics, and have been trying to figure out what is needed to replace it – that is, how it is possible to end the Age of Government and so enjoy real freedom.

It surprises me somewhat to find no such “strategic plan” anywhere. I never found one, even, in the LP! There were and probably are great-sounding Plans to Gain More Members or to Restore Revenue, but there was no grand strategy for getting from here to there; no road map, showing key steps to be achieved, with dates, and how and when government will implode as a result. Not in the Party, and – worse yet – not even outside it. I knew from my time in IBM that if you don’t have a plan for achieving something, you certainly won’t achieve it! (You may not achieve it even with a plan, and for sure the plan will need to be modified as you go along; but without a plan, you never even start.)

So I figured that since nobody else had done it and I saw the need, I might as well cook up a plan myself, which I called The On Line Freedom Academy. It provides a credible, reasonable, peaceful way to achieve a zero-government society within a single generation – not of course by force, but simply by the withdrawal of all the support without which government absolutely cannot survive. Go join!

So there you are; a rather long and rambling tale of one person’s search for liberty. Did I get here by emotion, or by reason? – ten thousand times, BY REASON! There was only one key decision in my life that was not based on reason, and it led me on an 18-year digression into religion. At all the other major turning points, I went where reason led me.

I often wonder, though, whether I would have reached my present understanding and purpose much sooner, if some reasonable person had reasoned with me earlier in the tale. Suppose someone had pointed me to something similar to TOLFA while busy with sermon prep? I have to say no; probably I’d not have been receptive. At that time I had no inkling that I was less than free already, and could have shown some proof-texts to explain. I knew that Socialists did deplorable things, but knew also that governments had been instituted by God so must in the end be obeyed; so any anarchist bearer of good news would not have kept my attention long. Like government, religion is a powerful twister of the mind and destroyer of reason and open inquiry; that was just not the right time, for me.

Suppose though that Anthony Alexander had crossed my path, back in ’76 as I finished reading CAPITALISM AND FREEDOM and given me a copy of THE MARKET FOR LIBERTY to which he contributed; would I have lapped that up too, and moved directly from a bland and unthinking acceptance of Statism into hard-core anarchism, without my 20-year excursion into Libertarian politics?

I don’t know how to know for sure, but I certainly hope so and cannot think of any reason why not. Anthony would have had to sit with me for quite a while, to lead me through the steps of reason that inevitably produce the conclusion that government is 100% a myth and a fraud, but I do think that at that time (1976) there were no obstacles in my mind that would have prevented him succeeding. Give or take a year, therefore, it seems to me that I’d have saved a couple of decades, had such reasoned help been available.

By the wonder of the Internet, reasoned help like that is now available, with TOLFA’s interactive Q&A, to millions – completely free of charge. My own story suggests though that timing is vital – that the offer must arrive when the person is ready to use it – and that’s the other strength of TOLFA, for in every case it will be drawn to his attention by someone he knows and probably more than once over a period of several years. That means he will eventually encounter it at or near the very time he is ready to consider what it says, just as I was back in 1976. And so I foresee we are going to have a very exciting pair of decades, and that our goal is, at last, now within reach.