The problem with leaders is that we need them. Sometimes. The problem with leaders is that, with all of us humans having been born and bred into hierarchical, authoritarian structures, we monumentally fail to see when we don’t need them.
Leaders are useful. When specific tasks need to be performed. When a specific task needs driving from inception to completion, nothing beats a leader (except an excellent bunch of followers, sub-leaders, or inspired independent partners). The best leaders lead by persuasion, example, and inspiration. The worst lead by coercion and intimidation. But leaders of either sort get things done.
They get things done by getting people to do things. Which means they get other people to do things they, the leaders, want done. Or things consensus determines should be done.
When you need to design a new automobile, build an animal shelter, write a corporate policy manual, or have yourself a successful war, leadership is essential.
Leadership, on the other hand, is a hindrance to becoming a free individual.
The hardest lesson to get across to freedomista n00bs (and sometimes not-so-n00bs) is: nobody can lead you to freedom and if you expect that, you’re not truly ready to be free.
Think about it: leadership is everywhere about priorities other than those of the individuals involved. That’s not always a bad thing, of course. But it does send the message that our own thoughts, our own decision-making abilities, our own beliefs are (or should be) somehow subordinate to someone else’s. It also sends the message that meaningful action for change must always involve mass efforts — usually led by somebody else.
So we sit around and wait for some powerful leader to appear. And — heaven forbid — if one doesn’t appear, we tend to create them out of hopefulness and submission. And create mess after mess after mess.
And when it comes to winning freedom through the efforts of leaders, it’s “meet the new boss; same as the old boss.” Or worse, meet the new boss — Robespierre, Lenin, or Castro.
We are born into families. Even if we luck out and get parents who are paragons of both love and libertarian thinking, both the love and liberty-mindedness are delivered to us from a position of authority. Even if we’re gifted with parents or teachers who encourage independence, their encouragement is delivered through the human hierarchy — from above. Our parents and teachers make things happen while we’re too young, too passive, or too ignorant, to be the full humans we might one day hope to be. Even with the best of intentions, they condition us to subordinate ourselves to leaders, condition us to believe that somebody other than ourselves knows best and can do best for us.
Shrug. It’s unavoidable. If we were turtles, hatching out of eggs on a beach before lumbering our solitary way through life, unparented, we wouldn’t be so conditioned to authority. On the other hand … we have a lot fewer limits than turtles and our protective, if hierarchical, social structure helps us go beyond lives that are short, brutish and all that.
Nevertheless, one of our limitations is that nearly all of us look to (and for) leaders. Fine, if we want to build a tree-house or a government. But when it comes to freedom, that means we’re looking not only in the wrong direction, but in the diametrically opposite direction we should be.
I got to thinking about this (again) reading two of Kit Perez’s posts this week: the one I linked to over the weekend in which she announces her departure from the III% and a later one called, “What You Can Learn from Troy Hunt.”
This is a young woman who’s really getting it. From her III% post:
I don’t know about you; I cannot speak for you. But this is what I know:
- I do not need or want a king—“liberty minded” or otherwise, and I will not be part of a group of people that wants one.
- I do not need a leader to tell me how to live according to principles and self-discipline.
- I will not be party to violations of those principles, whether on a macro or micro basis; I will not affiliate with those who violate them.
- I will make a difference in my own neighborhood, my own community. I do not need a label or group affiliation to do so.
- I will continue to think for myself, to collect facts and make decisions based on those facts instead of my emotions.
In her Troy Hunt post, she goes on to talk about the largely leaderless nature of the open-source community and how the same principles can apply in neighborhoods, small groups, and individual lives.
I especially like her warning against trying to think too big. We admire hard-working geniuses who use “thinking big” to propel themselves into immortality. But for most of us, especially when it comes to thorny issues like how to free ourselves in an increasingly unfree world, thinking big is just an excuse for … you got it, sitting around waiting for a leader because we don’t feel up to solving problem x, y, or z on our own little scale.
To be free we must learn to think for ourselves and act for ourselves. These two habits — if we can make habits of them — feed off each other. Think … act … and discover new frontiers of thinking and action.
The frontiers may be limited and close to home. We may merely discover new power within ourselves to forge our own lives, more power to connect with our neighbors in creative ways, more power to accomplish small things in small ways.
Teach a friend to shoot. Form a prepper’s buying club with our neighbors. Resist a bad local law. Host a reading circle for discussing freedom ideas. Pool skills. Accomplish a myriad small, “unimportant” things — that together add up to more than was ever accomplished waiting for someone else, some leader, to tell you it’s time to shoot the bastards.
To some of us who’ve been around a while, this is just common sense and even common knowledge. To most of the world, it’s strange, new, crazy, nihilistic, revolutionary, irresponsible, selfish, pointless … and of course requires an uncomfortable degree of responsibility from ourselves and to ourselves.
Which is why there’s such resistance to the concept of being leaderless, even when it allows us to get off our mental and physical backsides and change the world.