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
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 means other 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
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
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.
left a vacuum: what purpose, from then on, was to excite and color my
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.
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.
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
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.