It is only an error in judgment to make a mistake, but it shows infirmity of character to adhere to it when discovered.
—CHRISTIAN N. BOVEE
Everyone’s life is marred by numerous mistakes; to err in judgment is a trait common to all of us. Who among us has not failed in some enterprise or other? But if our shortcomings are acknowledged we can learn from them! Reflect on these two bits of wisdom:
We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success; we often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery.
Exemption from mistake is not the privilege of mortals: but when our mistakes are involuntary, we owe each other every candid consideration; and the man who, on discovering his errors, acknowledges and corrects them, is scarcely less entitled to our esteem than if he had not erred.
—J. Pye Smith
My countless mistakes have led to a discovery far more important than first meets the eye. Not wishing to adhere to the mistakes—an “infirmity of character”—and believing with Smith that “we owe each other every candid consideration” are good reasons for sharing the discovery. It has to do with a mirage.
A mirage, as the term is commonly used, is an optical illusion: a thirsty man “sees” an oasis in the desert where there is only sand. However, the dictionary tells us that the word “is often used figuratively of something that falsely appears to be real”—the sense in which it is here used.
What, then, is the mirage to which I allude? Here it is: that which gives socialism the appearance of working is the freedom socialism has not yet destroyed. It is a kind of optical illusion which imputes workability to socialism; we are “seeing” something that isn’t there!
History is replete with instances of mankind seeing things that aren’t there. Progress springs from seeing, as nearly as possible, things as they really are. Generations of men and women saw the sun appear in the morning and disappear at night. This led to the notion that the sun revolves around the earth—which is why we still speak of the “sunrise” and the “sunset.” An astronomical mirage! Then came Copernicus and Galileo. The discovery? ’Tis the earth that rotates as it orbits the sun!
There was a time when the earth was believed to be flat. An earthly mirage! The discovery? The earth is a spheroid!
With respect to human relationships, many unenlightened tribes “thought” that the way to prosperity was to raid each other and take home the loot, this being the “economic” genesis of socialism: from each according to his ability to raid and to each according to his need. What a mirage! The discovery? Let each produce, compete, and exchange: private ownership and the free market!
Those in the early stages of economic sophistication tend to believe that the production of goods and services is composed solely of adventures in the material realm. No more to it than the production of widgets and gadgets. Another mirage! The discovery? Everything by which we live—from simple pencils to jet planes—has its origin in the spiritual before showing forth in the material, that is, spiritual in the sense that ideas, discoveries, inventions, insights, intuitive flashes are all of a spiritual nature.
That dinner plate of yours is inconceivable had not some cave dweller eons ago discovered how to harness fire. The car you drive or the plane on which you fly would be out of the question had not someone a millennium ago invented the concept of zero. All modern chemistry, physics, and the like would be impossible were we to rely on Roman numerals. These spiritual forces—think-of-thats—since the dawn of human consciousness, number in the trillions times trillions! Recognizing the spiritual is an absolute necessity if we are to understand the present-day American mirage.
Admittedly, the above is sketchy but may be enough to suggest a truth, namely, that all mirages are due to mistaken correlations. An example that highlights such errors: Marat, member of the French Chamber of Deputies, observing a rapid rise in prices during the French Revolutionary period, recommended to his fellow Deputies, “Shoot the shopkeepers!” He mistakenly correlated rising prices with business avarice, not with overextended government of which he was a leader. What would have been the proper action had he not been a victim of this error, as common today as then? Apologize for his wrong correlation, resign from his dictatorial post, and find a job, maybe as a clerk in a shop serving customers! In this case, he would have seen the error of shooting shopkeepers.
To repeat: That which gives socialism the appearance of working is the freedom socialism has not yet destroyed. The source of this error? The masses observe two opposite politico-economic practices developing simultaneously: Socialism advancing as never before in American history, and a plethora of goods and services no other people on earth have ever experienced. Therefore, goes the “reasoning,” socialism must be the cause of the existing prosperity! Politicians, most of whom unknowingly espouse socialistic doctrine, claim the credit; and the masses, who are just as thoughtless in these matters, believe them. What a mistaken correlation—a mirage if there ever was one!
Those who ascribe workability to socialism are “seeing” something that isn’t there. It has no workability—none whatsoever! Socialism—state interventionism—is founded on coercion; it is “do as we say, or else!” Who are these we’s? They are those elected or appointed to political office who naively believe that all of us would be more creative were we to imitate their feeble minds. But try to name one among millions of officeholders who can force you or me to have even one improved idea, or command us to invent a life-saving drug, or discover any new thing. These poor souls deserve our sympathy for not knowing that they know not.
Only freedom is workable. It accounts for all the prosperity there is. This claim, however, is difficult to communicate and, thus, will be accepted only by those few who begin to comprehend how trillions of vastly varying bits of expertise, when free to flow, configurate into the goods and services by which we live and prosper.
An interesting aside: We rarely, if ever, observe anyone deserting the freedom philosophy. Why? One cannot desert something never possessed! Those fortunate enough to have really understood the free market, private property, limited government philosophy, with its moral and spiritual antecedents, could not, short of a psychiatric flip, desert such a blessing any more than desert life itself—life and freedom being two parts of the same equation.
Why then, in the absence of a general understanding of freedom, does freedom persist in performing miracles? The urge for freedom is a built-in habit of Americans more than of any other people; Professor W. A. Paton sheds light on why this continues to work its wonders:
Competition, it must be insisted, is not a cruel or baneful influence; it is rigorous, but neither unfair nor destructive. Competition should not be equated with misrepresentation, fraud, or any form of predatory conduct. The essence of competition is pressure on the producer to reduce costs and improve products to attract and keep customers. . . . Here is the feature of the market which provides protection for the interests of the customers. Competition represents the pressure needed to keep all producers disciplined and on their toes.
Away with the mirage. How? Limit public officials to keeping the peace, to restraining all actions destructive of human creativity, and to invoking a common justice. Then and only then will freedom abound to the benefit of one and all alike.
“It is only an error in judgment to make a mistake, but it shows infirmity of character to adhere to it when discovered.”