The Evolution of Freedom

05/27/2013 10:30

by John Pugsley


{John is no longer with us, but we continue to carry the torch of liberty and personal freedom. We often speak of freedom and liberty in terms of the very real threats posed to both these precious commodities. For Memorial Day – a day when the country pauses to focus on those before us who fought and died to preserve our freedoms – we once again share an essay penned by the founder of The Sovereign Society, John Pugsley, in May 1999 - Sovereign Digest Staff}

If personal liberty is a natural choice, why do so many people surrender to tyranny?

I have long struggled to unravel the mystery of why the majority of intelligent, educated, successful people accept even the most irrational social customs of the society into which they are born. Why do people buy into the concept that government should solve their problems when history clearly demonstrates that the State worsens every problem that it is assigned to solve?

Most individuals go to great lengths to become model citizens. They dutifully follow the established religion of the group, the current economic system and the current political system. The majority experiences no urge to deviate from the customs, mores and taboos of the group, and strives to be politically and socially correct.

Only a small minority views convention as a curious and irrational way to make choices. Some of us question authority, ask for logical explanations of why particular rules should be followed, and, lacking a suitable explanation, do things our own way.

Why do most individuals march with the masses, while only a few of us march to our own drummers?

One close friend and colleague jokingly suspects a “socialism” gene that blinds people to the logic of the free market. He may be looking in the right area. Recently I’ve been reading a book by Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland titled Living with Our Genes that sheds breakthrough insights into the roots of individual behavior. The book is a fascinating investigation of the link between genes and social behavior.

Using DNA samples from a variety of sources in conjunction with psychological personality-typing questionnaires, Hamer and other scientists have isolated specific genes that regulate a variety of individual behaviors. Some of these bear heavily on an individual’s propensity to follow social rules, versus exploring on his or her own initiative.

Perhaps the slice of DNA most linked to the rule-following behavior in question is what psychiatrist Robert Cloninger has dubbed the “novelty-seeking” gene. The gene triggers the release of pressure-creating chemicals in the brain when the individual is exposed to a new experience. Individuals carrying this gene tend to become bored with orderliness, precision and routine, and have a higher-than-average propensity to be exploratory, to seek out new situations, new ideas, adventure, dangerous sports and unconventional pursuits. For individuals without the gene, new situations hold little reward and following routine and tradition would be more natural.

Other genes also influence social behavior. Hamer and other gene sleuths suspect a “harm-avoidance” gene that causes feelings of increased anxiety when danger threatens. The presence of the harm-avoidance gene would thus ameliorate the effects of a gene that urges one to take risks.

Of course, genes influence our feelings but feelings alone don’t determine behavior. Our feelings are tempered by our experiences and our accumulated experiences determine how our genetic propensities are played out.

How does the novelty-seeking gene help explain the mystery of why people support the idea of government control? Most people aren’t drawn to experimentation and change, and follow the dictates of custom and tradition. I would wager that this majority doesn’t carry the gene. The minority that do carry it become the engines of change in society. As I interpret the evidence, those with a high novelty-seeking score, feel compelled to experiment outside the boundaries of tradition.

Does this indicate that those of us who struggle to live as sovereign individuals are doomed to remain in the minority, and that the growing trend toward big government is the fate of mankind?

Although the majority will always support the status quo, history also teaches us that the novelty-seekers, with their experimentation, do influence the course of history. Explorers like Columbus do discover new worlds, and intellectual adventurers like Thomas Paine do alter the course of society. In social evolution, just as in biological evolution, more efficient ideas eventually win the evolutionary contest.

There are two systems evolving, biological and social. Over millions of years, biological evolution has programmed each of us to be self-interested. This biological programming seduces individuals entrusted with political power to abuse that power. But social technology is the product of an evolutionary process, as well. In their quest for safety and security in societies, individuals have experimented with various forms of governments. All forms that have evolved to date, grant power to some individual or small group of individuals. Our biological nature guarantees that individuals given political power will tend to be corrupted by that power, yet social evolution has not become sufficiently advanced to create systems of government that don’t hand power to individuals.

Fortunately, evolution has also created the novelty-seeking gene, and the novelty-seekers, scattered throughout the human population, will continue to resist the status quo. We are also individually programmed to act in our own self-interest, so we resist being subjugated by the State.

I believe our experimentation will eventually lead to the evolution of a new social system in which the concept of government will change and a new status quo will be created. The majority will still accept the customs and traditions of the society into which they are born. However, those customs and traditions will no longer exist if governments should have arbitrary powers over individuals. Rather, all individuals will be sovereign unto themselves.

In light of the recent IRS, Benghazi, and A.P. scandals, is there any doubt that the government hides the truth?