The Interrelated Failings of the Free Market and Free Speech


It has been the go-to battle-cry for every side in most any debate. It’s a trump card to call upon when logic fails—a tacit threat laid down gauntlet-like in order to challenge the values of an opponent when one cannot intelligently defend their own.

Right-wingers, left-wingers, libertarians, economists, racists and fanatics—all will appeal to the defense of their freedom when all else fails.

Fools, one and all.

We explored the topic of freedom recently in our article ‘Libertarians are Starry-Eyed Idealists’ (Link). At that time, we talked about the definition of freedom, and the counter-productive and false narrative of ‘unlimited freedom’. Today, we will explore our assumptions about the realities of freedom in two of the places it is most ubiquitously championed: the market, and the media.

‘The Free Market’. You can just feel your heart swell at the very mention of it. It’s like a unicorn in that way. That way—and that it’s entirely imaginary. The model of a free market describes a situation in which all can compete to buy and sell goods at the best possible prices. Products compete against each other as well—with the greatest value winning out in the hearts of consumers. It allows for flourishing competition, and inspires the best from all who participate.

It’s a wonderful dream, but little more at this point. The markets we have now are not free in any defensible sense—they are controlled by enormous corporations who funnel money upwards to their owners at the expense of affordability, quality, and consumer safety.

They are far too big to ‘compete’ against any tiny upstart with a head full of decency and common sense. They buy and sell market rights, strangle out competition, and throw down patents as defensive bolsters against growth and ease of access. There is no freedom or competition—only the surreptitious motives of greed and dominance. Prices for medications are needlessly inflated, housing markets are intentionally crashed, banks prey on the ill-informed, and corporations use their power to change laws in their favour and dodge enough taxes to wildly improve the state of the nation for all. The rich get richer, the poor stay in servitude.

So much for a free market then.

So how about the media? Surely this bastion of free knowledge, this fountain of informed citizenry has some tangible claim to freedom?

Sadly, not so.

As discussed in Sheldon Wolin’s (Link) impeccable book ‘Democracy Incorporated’, the media has followed a similar trend to the market.

In the past, ideas functioned much as they did in a truly ‘free’ marketplace. Many ideas were circulated, and the ‘best’ (as defined by open and informed discussion) became the most ubiquitous and popular. But in a world where media messages are controlled by the same mega-corporations which control our markets, the corporations are the ‘sellers’ of ideas, and we the consumers can only choose from the prescribed ideas they are willing to sell us—just like the current marketplace.

We see it everywhere—from the crooked nature of the 2 party political system, to the subversion of dissent via thousands of media companies being owned by only 6 corporations (Source). It is the death knell of free-thought. Ideas and options—from what laundry soap to buy to who to vote for in a general election—all fall within the pre-defined scope chosen by the corporations which have seized control of our marketplaces, our media, and our political system.

These multi-national corporations are the sole, uniquely ‘free’ participants in our society, and use this to put constraints on every system they see fit. Each of these effects the other—we are less informed (thus less able to vote), and more desperate (thus more eager to spend).

It all falls together quite nicely—it’s an effective market, even if it’s a far cry from free.

In book two of ‘The Analects’ (Link), Confucius speaks about rightful duty in governing people—stating that only a government which promotes and models good conduct and duty can ever expect to have loyal citizens. Surely, our current government can boast of having none of these.

We are left to fend for ourselves against powerful parties that would see us starve if it served to increase their bankrolls. Governments and corporations have merged—and the leadership of the people is no longer administered by informed citizens with nobles intentions, but rather by the whim of the rich and powerful—motivated only to increase those traits at all costs.

This must be remedied.

Freedom can only come when the people of the world take back the power which has been denied to them. To put in place good and honest leaders who seek the betterment of society as a whole is the only means of fighting back. We need not greed, but charity. Not a hunger for power, but a love of peace. Not clever deals, but honest intentions.

Then, and only then, can we hope to call ourselves free.

-Brad OH Inc.

Beers by the Bonfire

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green DesklampPerhaps it’s not quite as classy as Bourbons by the Fire (Link), but no one will catch the callback anyway. Besides, this isn’t the time for pomp and flair.

For the last year I’ve been in a sort of fugue state—drifting listlessly, waiting for my sense of purpose to descend upon me from on high. It hasn’t happened yet. But here I am. I’ve awoken to find the world a bit darker. The moment for high-minded philosophies is now past us.

To a man, we seem to focus on the lies of the next—we have no time for our own misunderstandings. It’s a bitter march, but we press onward—focussed only on the failings of the other.

Our options have dwindled, our reason hangs by a thread, and the only choice we have left to us is which of two futures we want the least.

These days, we have the greatest and easiest means of communication the world has ever known. We can pass information across the globe in the blink of an eye, and connect with like-minded strangers at the click of a button. Yet we squander this—debating the inane and pressing the irrelevant. The pawns squabble amongst themselves as the King stands exposed.

Piece by piece, we give away what we should hold the tightest. We do so willingly—with the unrestrained vigour of those possessed by a sense of righteousness, yet blinded by a cloud of distrust.

The fire crackles in front of me, as it always has. We’ve been sitting around such fires since before we were us, and likely debating these same sorry shortcomings. They’ve always been with us…the doubt and fear and self-loathing that drives a society to turn in upon itself for fear of what is beyond.

The beer is still cold, but it offers little comfort.

I think about what it might take, to turn this course around—what it might look like to see the world as hopeful and promising once again. The innocence of youth is unattainable now, and knowledge is easier gained than forgotten. I settle for another swig of beer.

I keep telling myself there is plenty of room on at the fire. If not, you can always build it bigger and back the chairs up. There is always plenty of beer. But the mood grows uneasy, and we’re all suspicious of each new guest.

I’d been told that the world was rich, and could provide for all through the bounty of human cooperation. It turned out no one really believed that. Worse, perhaps they do, but simply choose something else.

Greed—it is a sorry bonfire indeed when one man claims all the beer for himself. So what does it say about a world where we hoard our own and let the extra rot—we cling miser-like to our entitled notions, then act appalled with the bitterness of the hated ‘other’.

Surely the way is clear enough, and the rest is all just fanciful distraction. The answer has always been the same—we say it in songs and debates and prayers and art, we define ourselves by our commitment to it, yet live daily as if it were but a child’s dream—silly and irreverent.

The fire is warm enough for all, yet it leaves only ashes behind. If you stare into it long enough, you can lose sight of all the rest. The darkness beyond vanishes into black, and the world is nothing if not the fire before you; your current comfort—your own personal salvation.

Damn the rest.

Fuel, fire, and beer. Security, comfort, and distraction. They’re all you need.

I take another long swallow. Then another. The beer is getting warmer, and has grown flat. Still, it does its job—soothing my nerves and steadying my shaken will.

The fire spreads slowly out around its base—cleansing the old, consuming everything in its path.

It’s a twisted scene to be sure, and it is no difficult thing to become lost in the mire and confusion as lies spill from every side. It is a hard thing to act decisively when inundated with doubt, and we all sit around this fire, blinded by its light and shackled to its fleeting warmth.

Those we look to for safety have turned on us, and those from whom we would seek direction have failed. On every side, we are constrained by justifiable fear, and this alone is often sufficient to breed the inaction necessary for such a terrible course to hold true.

My beer is running low, and the fire dwindling to embers. The cold of night encroaches upon my refuge, and I let the can fall from my hand. There is no more comfort here.

Tonight, the retreat is over. Tomorrow the fire burns anew. Will it serve only to ward off the chill of the outside world, or will it rather set ablaze all which can no longer stand? Will it burn away the fear and doubts which hold us in thrall? Will it set to light upon the tinders of decency and virtue which still smoulder in the hearts and minds of all decent people?

Tomorrow alone will tell. I will be there, beer in hand. I will be ready.

-Brad OH Inc.

A Treatise on Love and Letting Go

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green Desklamp

I know you’re hurting. I know you can’t talk to me about it. Hell, I can even understand why. So I’ll just leave this here, in case you ever need it.

I’ve learned a few things over the years, and maybe they’ll give you some comfort, if not guidance.

It’s a funny thing, love. Its ambiguity clashes with its ubiquity in the most confounding ways sometimes. It’s why you’re hurting. It’s why I’m hurting. It’s why neither of us can go to the other for comfort. It’s even why I’m being so painfully surreptitious this very moment.

Of course I love you. That’s why I’d never ask you to say it back. Not anymore. It’s why our suffering—so unified in source—must nonetheless remain sundered: why we talk in platitudes. It’s why my very presence before you, day after day, is a lie. Lying because of love…that may be one of the older lies in the proverbial book.

Yeah, love is funny like that.

But I’m not the only one hurting, and this isn’t about me.

I want to talk about the hard things—not offer shallow advice. I want to help you, even though you do not ask it; perhaps precisely because you do not.

It’s been said that love is a battlefield (Source). I think there’s some truth in that. I also believe, however, that the vast majority of people misinterpret this to a terrible and unforgivable degree. There is a key distinction to be made here: fighting for love, vs. fighting with love.

Too often, desperate lovers confuse the two. In fact, I half suspect that many relationships spend the greater part of their time doing the latter—raging against the inevitable. They hurt each other in the process of course, but in the moment it seems justified. When we love, we naturally forsake all other reason—for love itself is an act of faith, and requires little in the way of logic or objective measure.

But when we fight against a failing love, we are not defending our vision of the future, but rather doing a violence to the cherished past.

I hope that gives you some context. I hope it helps you understand your options. Further—perhaps foremost, if I’m honest—I hope it explains why I did so sorry little in the way of trying to change your mind.

I’d fight to hell and back for a love that’s fighting for it right by my side. I’m certain you would as well. But if lovers are not fighting together, then any effort on either part is not fighting for, but fighting with.

I would not fight against your will, for I know that in all the great love stories, the lovers are fighting great odds, but ever in harmony with one another.

They are on each other’s side.

It was the Montagues and Capulets who sought to sunder Romeo and Juliet—never their doubt of one another. Nor indeed would Luthien forsake Beren upon his quest—not even into hell, nor death itself.

I’m not sure at the present moment what I hope you’ll take from that. I don’t even know for certain what you’re dealing with.

Love really is funny like that.

Nonetheless, it’s all irrelevant.

I’ve thought so much since that day, and I’ve come to some important conclusions about my role and purpose. It started with the simplest of questions: what now? That proved to be less simple than I’d initially thought.

It’s been a long time, after all.

As far as I can see, my only duty now is to be the best friend I can, since that is the only role left to me. Let me be clear on this point—that is because of love, not in its spite. I will be there, but never demand to be. I will be absent when that’s what’s best, and there the moment you need me. I’ll be a sounding board, a support, a shoulder to cry on…an unsolicited piece of advice on an obscure blog.

I’ll be whatever you need…even if that is nothing at all.

At this point, I have no idea if I’ve been helpful here. I don’t know what you need. I don’t know that you’ll ever read this, or if you’re even in need of any such counsel. If not, then I suppose my job is done, or never existed. That’s ok. That may even be the best possible outcome to all of this.

I realize, in hindsight, that I have spoken more about myself than you. It goes with the territory—with my lack of context, my drought of knowledge…my desperation to remain relevant in some small way. It’s selfish I know, to insist on serving in spite of the congregation’s absence. To define oneself by one’s relation to others is a listless and impotent struggle.

…The death throes of desire.

So what now, my dear? Where do we go from here?

I don’t know where you’ll end up. Neither do I know exactly where I am going. Nevertheless, I can tell you where you will find me, if ever you need to. I’ll be right where I’ve always been—it’s the only place I know.

I guess that’s the funny thing about love…it’s a special sort of madness.

 -Brad OH Inc.

The Fight Against Hatred

purelyspeculation‘Sit down and shut up.’

Too often, it seems like the most prudent advice. In a world so chock full of contradicting thoughts and overt hatred—how are we to parse out truth from nonsense and be sure we take the right stand? It’s no small task, and all too frequently the safest bet seems to be sitting on the sidelines—unwilling to take a stand one cannot fully commit to.

In our recent article, ‘Why You Should Seek Contrary Friendships’ (Link), we discussed the importance of expanding our social circles in order to enhance our understanding of the world and diversify our own perspective on life.

But sometimes, this proactive effort falls short in the face of modern reality. While growing ourselves and seeking higher understanding is undoubtedly among the keys steps to squashing hatred in its tracks, it isn’t always the most expedient.

Some deem it best to bow out if they are not directly involved, but this is misled. It is incumbent upon any decent man or woman to endeavour always to speak out in the name of what is right, even—or especially—when doing so seems the most difficult path. It is precisely this individual fortitude of character which empowers the world as a whole to take a stand for decency, while it is the lewd and cowardly act of sitting impotently on the fence which enables hatred to take root.

So let it be known: when it comes to the condemnation of hatred and intolerance, inaction IS a stance, and silence DOES speak.

When we witness acts of hatred or intolerance, it is the duty of anyone who values virtue to speak up loudly, to call it out by name and make clear that there is no place for such atavistic atrocities in our world.

It may not stop such vile acts forever, but it will certainly make a difference to the present victim.

What about the long term, then? Is it a reasonable goal to eliminate—or even substantially reduce—the hatred so malignant in this world, and if so, what will it take?

Certainly, to seek its total elimination seems perhaps over-ambitious. But if we are to effectively enact its reduction, the best strategy may be the concurrent elimination or reduction of fear.

Yes, fear is most often the driving force behind hatred: Fear of the unknown, the foreign—the strange and the different. Fear of anything which makes us step back and experience the world outside the comfort of the familiar. After all—that which is different presents us with a sudden and startling awareness of our own unlimited options—and that can be a lot to handle for the simple-minded zealots most likely to cling to such divisive rhetoric.

The above may seem like a hateful or derisive over-simplification in and of itself, but I don’t think it’s far off base. Hatred is bred from fear, and fear itself is most often the product of ignorance.

The ultimate goal then, can only be education. Not teaching people WHAT to think per say, but rather teaching them HOW: How to think critically. How to evaluate facts. How to consider other perspectives.

As discussed in the article cited above (Link), it is by the constant challenging and re-evaluation of our own innate assumptions that we learn to better understand the views of others. Without this, we are left to blindly fear the dark—assuming that only terror can be held beyond the short sight-lines of our own stunted knowledge.

It must be clear however, to any thinking person, that such assumptions are faulty from the start. Few indeed are those who would willingly seek chaos over comfort, or cruelty over kindness. All sides of every debate must follow this same advice—to learn about the other, to understand their fears, and to evaluate with reason and unbiased ration their own contributions to the present state. We must seek to unite in our common truths, rather than draw lines in the sand over perceived differences.

Then, and only then, can we hope to live in a world less fraught with hatred and disdain, and embrace instead a future of understanding and opportunity for all.

-Brad OH Inc.

Sea of Lies

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green Desklamp

I listen ‘cross the open sea,

The wind comes faint but clear,

The message I have longed for still,

I seek but do not hear.

The clatter of the steamers,

The bouncing of the dories,

Confused and contradicting voices,

All telling different stories.

I strain amidst the clamour and din,

To sort the idle chatters,

And parse them out and crack the code,

And hear what truly matters.

The voice is there, the words unformed,

Hang on the winds gale,

And promise me to someday share,

The end of my own tale.

That quiet beneath the roar,

The plodding maelstrom,

Tugs unceasing at my mooring,

And lures me far from home.

But still the promise lingers,

From deep beneath the fray,

An island out amid the waves,

Upon which I might stay.

-Brad OH Inc.

One Tin Soldier

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green DesklampI’ve never had any real talent when it comes to music, which might cause one to think that music class in elementary school was a squandered opportunity for this particular writer. Not so.

I always appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the creation of music—and had the opportunity to experience a great deal of fresh sounds and bands, which fed more naturally into my deeper passion for story-telling and metaphor.

I recall one moment in particular, likely around grade 2, which stood out to me as an exciting introduction to the incredible narrative potential of music. My small class had filed into the music room, and sat in a semi-circle upon the cold, carpeted floor. There, we waited in silence as our teacher played us an old song, ‘One Tin Soldier’, by ‘The Original Caste’ (Link).

The song tells the story of two different kingdoms—one on a mountain, and one in the valley below. The people of the valley have heard legends about the glorious treasure kept by the mountain people, and demand the mountain kingdom surrender their riches immediately. The mountain folk welcome the valley people, and offer to share all they have. Needless to say, this proves insufficient for the violent valley tribe—who slaughter the mountain people and take the prize all for themselves.

When the battle has ended and the mountain people all dead, the warriors from the valley turn over the stone to reveal their prize—a simple proclamation of ‘Peace on Earth’.

The chorus of the song—repeated throughout—brings home the terribly apt message for us kids who may still lack the nuances of literary interpretation. It says:

‘Go ahead and hate your neighbor

Go ahead and cheat a friend

Do it in the name of heaven

You can justify it in the end

There won’t be any trumpets blowing

Come the judgment day

On the bloody morning after

One tin soldier rides away’

These lines reverberated loudly through my child-mind, and continue to do so to this day. They are a poignant reflection on the folly of using God to justify atrocity, and seemed a sacrosanct truth to my youthful and naïve little brain.

I admit, it still feels like it should be as self-evident now as it was then, and I should expect to look around and find the lesson here to be well and thoroughly applied all around the world.

Sadly, this certainly isn’t the case. To the right and the left, every side of the political debate calls upon the name of God to justify their vitriol and hatred—encouraging increased violence and tighter control to continue their war against the dreaded ‘other’.

This ‘other’ of course, is on a holy and justified-from-on-high mission of their own.

It’s a strange situation—that the entire world stands ready to tear the throats from one another all over the assumed intentions of a God who has up to this point made no clear endorsement of any of this childish bullshit.

Where does this leave us? A sorry state, to say the least. With everyone feeling justified for every vile thing they do, and trumpeting the name of God about as if that undoes the sin of their actions, there is little room for somber reflection or moral consideration. When we self-justify by appealing to a greater power, we thusly strip ourselves of the responsibility of our actions.

God is never an excuse to act unjustly—and it is an especially cowardly and desperately ironic excuse to attempt.

Again, the lyrics come to mind.

‘You can justify it in the end…’

Good luck with that.

We will, before this age ends, be faced with many more bloody mornings no doubt. But at the least, let us face them with self-certainty and personal empowerment. Let us act for ourselves and our own values—with consideration and compassion for all others. That—and that alone—is acting in the name of God, no matter what name you choose for him.

All else is the purview of Tin Soldiers—hollow and blood-soaked—who ride away with hopes despoiled and fates long-sealed.

-Brad OH Inc.

Why You Should Seek Contrary Friendships

purelyspeculation‘Socially Constructed Realities’ (SCRs) are the assumptions we all act under subconsciously. They may be assumptions about how the world works, how people are, why we do what we do, how we should act, etc. By nature, these are formed within us due to the society and culture we grow up in.

They help us to anticipate outcomes and react quickly to key events. They also limit our ability to learn, as we often practice ‘selective noticing’—noticing things and interpreting events in a way that only reinforces our current notions, while discounting anything which challenges them.

With the internet, it is easier than ever to find groups of people who fit exactly into our predefined SCR’s—Facebook alone is replete with large groups for even the most wildly absurd types of people—Flat Earthers, conspiracy nuts, Juggalos, Trump supporters, etc. The problem with this is that by surrounding ourselves with people who operate under the same assumptions as we do, we limit our ability to have these assumptions challenged, and thus stunt any potential for intellectual growth.

Essentially, we deny ourselves the experience of other viewpoints while reinforcing the limitations of our own. This is a terrible abuse of our inherent potential. It creates greater polarity between people, leading to division, group think, and more often than not, hatred.

This is not to say we shouldn’t enjoy the company of like-minded individuals, which is of course a very important element of a healthy and balanced social life. But we must be cognizant to avoid doing so to the exclusion of all differing viewpoints—as doing this prevents our learning and growth.

Rather, we should challenge ourselves to find those with radically different SCRs, and seek (with patience and respect) to better understand them. Often, we may find this allows us to better understand ourselves as well, as it enables us to more effectively assess and challenge the assumptions driving our own worldviews.

So find those you disagree with—who challenge all that you hold dear. Question them and learn from them. Assess the assumptions that drive your actions, and consider the differing views of others. Do not enshrine yourself in the familiar, but search for the radical, the different and the seemingly absurd. This is the path to self-actualization, and ultimately, a more understanding and respectful society.

-Brad OH Inc.