A Wholesome Philosophy

(Perhaps it is strange to be thinking of political philosophy and free markets at a time when Israel is crushing Hizullah and both sides of the Lebanese-Israeli border are red with blood. But I have prayed for Israel and Lebanon and the boys of the IDF, and there is little else I can do. We must not stop building in times of trouble, else nothing will ever be built.)

John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods Market, may be an advocate of healthy living and personal fulfillment, but he is no longer much of a hippy. His brief flirtation with the political Left ended soon after he went into business and experienced the power of commerce to do good. On his blog is the text of a speech he gave at FreedomFest in Las Vegas in 2004, which he has titled "Winning the Battle for Freedom and Prosperity."

While I disagree with a few particulars, his general point is one which I profoundly agree with (and have often written about in one form or another on this blog): material prosperity, while important, is only one component of a larger picture. So long as freedom-lovers and Libertarians focus only on the material, and the negative good of freedom from government coercion, the ideal of freedom will remain spiritually stunted and gain no ground in society.

This section stood out:
The freedom movement, in my opinion, needs to embrace the ideal of not just economic growth, but personal growth as well. If we use Maslow's hierarchy of needs as our criteria for evaluating the freedom movement, we see that it is primarily focused on the lower need levels: meeting the physical needs and safety needs through increased prosperity. To be perfectly blunt about it: the freedom movement is largely materialistic in its approach to life, stuck in the lower levels of Maslow's hierarchy. The higher need levels, love, self-esteem, the good, the true and the beautiful, and self-actualization, are either taken for granted or simply ignored.

Study after study shows that material prosperity, by itself, does not create happiness. We have higher needs as expressed on Maslow's hierarchy and the freedom movement needs to stop ignoring them. The freedom movement needs to consciously create a vision that addresses meeting the higher needs of Americans, beyond basic physical and safety needs.

That is the secret of the success of the Left, despite its bankrupt economic philosophy. The Left entices the young with promises of community, love, purpose, peace, health, compassion, caring, and environmental sustainability. The Left's vision on how to meet these higher needs in people is fundamentally flawed. But the idealism and the call to the higher need levels is magnetic and seductive, nonetheless. The irony of the situation, as I see it, is that the Left has idealistic visions of higher human potential and social responsibility, but has no effective strategies to realize their vision. The freedom movement has strategies that could meet higher human potential and social responsibility but lacks the idealism and vision to implement the strategies.
The general attitude that many people have is that one becomes a Leftist out of idealism, and one becomes a libertarian or small-government conservative out of selfishness. At one point I managed to convince a college friend of mine that one could indeed oppose the government for idealistic reasons… but it took a lot of effort. A large part of the problem, as Mackey notes, is that many small-government types do seem fixated on their own selfish desires. A commenter to Mackey's post notes, "I grow weary of the defense of personal vices masquerading as a defense of liberty."

You cannot simply observe a minimal level of civic decency and consider your duty done. You must constantly develop your faculties, body, mind, and soul. Some religious people understand this; so do some on the Left, though they seem to go off in bizarre directions with it sometimes. But it seems that the idea of personal development is not as popular in small-government circles, and we all suffer for it.

(Part of this disdain for personal health and development, I think, is precisely a result of their embrace by hippy-types. Through a sort of perverse logic, it is understood in some quarters that whatever hippies do must be a waste of time. While this is often a good rule of thumb, it can cause beneficial practices to be scorned as well. I suspect this is part of why Tai Chi has taken so long to catch on in America; the hippies latched onto it first and trumpeted its meditative and health aspects, while ignoring the martial arts aspect entirely. Even today, most people are surprised to learn that Tai Chi is a martial art, albeit an "internal" art rather than an "external" one.)

Read Mackey's whole speech. Think of the power of commerce, in which all parties benefit by helping each other. Commerce need not be a cold system of winning and losing; at its best, it is a formalized web of people making each other's lives better.

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