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What we’ve lost

Last spring I sat down to create a third edition of The Freedom Outlaws Handbook.

I knew major updates would be needed, particularly in the areas of freedom technology and privacy. Eleven years had passed. Tech changes. Ventures fail. Laws tighten. Rarely, laws loosen (but it does happen). I was prepared for that.

I wasn’t prepared for devastation. But devastation confronted me as I attempted to revise item after item. Mere rewrites were futile. Mere replacements didn’t exist.

Site after site, option after option had disappeared. Sometimes they’d merely disappeared, broke, obsolete, unable to deliver on their promises, or neglected because they didn’t produce enough for their owners. Perfectly natural creative destruction. Perfectly common in a rapidly changing world.

Other times, businesses had been shut down by the feds, their creators arrested. Or entrepreneurs shuttered operations because government threats or diktats created unacceptable risks. Services (both online and offline) that were shiny new in 2007 had been rendered useless by advances in the surveillance state. Independent websites had been consumed by megatech, and thereby put in service to the omni-marketing state.

And nothing had replaced them. Or where there was a replacement it was either offshore — because the U.S. is so hostile to privacy — or the replacement was known to be compromised.

After a few hours, I put the project aside.

I returned to the book a couple months later, this time with a hopeful plan. I’d reduce the 179 action items of the second edition back down to 101 (from TFOH’s predecessor book). I’d be more general about tech, focusing on tips to help people find the latest freedom options while avoiding pitfalls. I’d recommend fewer specific sites and businesses. I’d talk more about freedom in the real world. Etc. etc.

But when I sat down this second time and began deleting page after page after page of the manuscript, things looked even more bleak. It wasn’t only in the online world and the privacy realm that we’d lost so much. It was everywhere.

It’s now clear that no one will ever halt the surveillance state (or even temporarily push back against it as Congress did in the 1970s), and that even the most hopeful forms of privacy tech are either compromised from the get-go, too complicated for Ordinary Joe and Josie to use, or (worse) both. It’s also clear that Joe and Josie either don’t care or have given up. Allegedly “private” tech businesses are either working jointly with government or are themselves so controlling, so patronizing, so political, and so all-seeing that they’re more malign than Big Brother.

It was too depressing. I couldn’t face a project that — in the name of celebrating rowdy individual choices and taking charge of our own lives — would put me in the doldrums for months and not be as good as its predecessors.

Unless something radical changes, there will never be a third edition of TFOH. I didn’t even have the heart to tell Mason-Marshall (the new publisher of my old books), who’s probably finding out by reading this column (sorry, Oliver).


Charles Hugh Smith reminded me this week of what we’ve lost in the real world — from functioning markets to social mobility to perspectives on entitlement.

I don’t agree with Smith on all his points. Some things he values, like trust in institutions, I think we’re better off without — because institutions rarely deserve the trust they’re given. He also identifies these losses as occurring in the last 10 years, when really our social devolution has been going on far, far longer than that.

But there’s no denying it; in the last decades we’ve been losing, not gaining.

Of course there are some positives. There always are. Tech has brought us 3D printing, whose value we’re barely beginning to see. A couple of Supreme Court judgments have supported our rights to keep and bear arms. The constitutional carry movement has done awesome things. States and individuals are finally becoming rational about cannabis (though I fear the liberalized laws are just as much about bread, circuses, and new tax sources as they are about individual rights). Despite its more loathsome effects, computer technology continues to do amazing things for us, including enabling us to connect with each other.

And even where things look the most bleak — healthcare, for instance, or higher education, or that poisonous secretive uber-government that pulls the strings of the elected/appointed government we imagine we have — those seemingly dire straits can signal good on the horizon.

Because when systems can’t be reformed, they break. Because governments can only grow so topheavy before they topple. Because frauds eventually get uncovered. Because omni-surveillance leads to data overload that enables cagey people to slip between the cracks. Because when we can’t trust institutions, we must learn to trust ourselves and our neighbors once again.

So for all that we’ve lost, we’ve also gained. It’s just that much of what we’ve gained isn’t readily apparent or isn’t pretty. It also isn’t for the weak or the stupid. (And in some ways at some times, we are all weak or stupid.)

There’s still plenty of freedom out there to be had. There always is. There always must be.

But it’s harder now and getting harder yet. Much of it’s going to be found only through struggle. I still hope that’s not the struggle of overt war. But struggle it will be. Struggle or retreats into the better kinds of tribalism and other parts of the world descend into the worse kinds of tribalism.

I gave up on a book because this is no longer the time or place for that book. I don’t give up on us or our freedom. But the days of easy answers for creative individuals — if they ever existed — are no more.


  1. Comrade X
    Comrade X July 31, 2018 11:23 am

    Sad but true.

    I think it was Jefferson who once talked about the natural order where government expands and liberty recedes.

    So maybe this can be looked at as just being the natural order of things just like all things come to an end for example; republics they don’t last forever and have always ended in tyranny. I don’t expect any difference for us either.

    So if you can’t do nothing about it, why worry, just be happy with your life, love those who love you (that goes for out 4 legged friends too) and make the best of it.

    In the end we all are gonna be dust in the wind but let’s be happy dust at least.

  2. Georgia
    Georgia July 31, 2018 4:57 pm

    So, as resources for self liberation decreases, monkey wrenching and preparations should be increasing. go heavier on those or print leaflets. The list grows shorter as rev. grows nearer

  3. Jim B.
    Jim B. July 31, 2018 10:45 pm

    Hmm, the slippery slope is getting steeper.

  4. Ron Johnson
    Ron Johnson August 1, 2018 3:31 am

    I just read Senator Warner’s proposals for a government takeover of the internet on Then I read your assessment of electronic snoopery. Not a good way to start the morning.

    More and more, I see pen and paper as the future of what freedom of expression we have left.

  5. Pat
    Pat August 1, 2018 4:10 am

    Ron Johnson said, “More and more, I see pen and paper as the future of what freedom of expression we have left.”

    As do I. It’s a sad day when the future must turn backwards in order for freedom to move forward.

    If prepping and gulching are the methods we need to maintain our freedom, perhaps a book on “101 Ways To Communicate With Your Friends” is also needed.

  6. Thomas L. Knapp
    Thomas L. Knapp August 1, 2018 5:17 am

    Sounds like the next project needs to be OK, Shoot the Bastards Now.

  7. Jolly
    Jolly August 1, 2018 5:41 am

    I think it should be noted that the surveillance state seems to be aimed squarely at The State itself right now. Just look at the FISA warrant against Trump, and the text messages of the FBI agents, and the almost daily revelations of corruption and abuse by government flunkies at all levels. The rumors that everybody up-and-down the government hierarchy is compromised in one manner or another from Chief Justice John Roberts to individual ( leaving office in droves ) congress critters, to prosecutors, etc..

  8. Steve Watt
    Steve Watt August 1, 2018 12:44 pm

    the other day a woman pulled up to the house and said she wanted to see T. When she finally got in to see her, we found out why. Seems someone had called and was “worried” about her. Nothing to find here and T was happy as she should be so the woman left but they HAVE to come back later and check again. Land of the Free, my butt when someone can just call, without giving me my Constitutional right to confront my accuser and the State starts poking about MY business.

  9. JdL
    JdL August 2, 2018 5:31 am

    “I don’t agree with [Charles Hugh] Smith on all his points.”

    I lost respect for CHS when he published which includes such gems as “Those bleating about ‘free trade’ are simply pushing a Darwinian strategy that benefits them above everyone else.” It’s hard to imagine more profound economic ignorance masquerading as knowledge.

    Things have indeed gotten worse in the last decade. On the 4th of July I heard no mention of the ‘F’ word (freedom) on the MSM but there was endless glorification of America’s murderous military. Everyone scrambles to get as much as possible from the government gravy train. $20 trillion and climbing gives new meaning to “Another day older and deeper in debt.”

    What they can’t take from us is our knowledge of the rightness of standing against their attempts at control. Our thoughts are free, even when very little else is.

  10. progunfred
    progunfred August 2, 2018 4:15 pm

    I’m still waiting for ‘Back Into the Grey Zone’ or whatever you’re going to call it. I saw the snip at Patreon. I’m hooked again…

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