By Leonard E. Read
Note – Frequent readers of BANKNOTES are aware of my relationship with Leonard E. Read and my admiration for his works during his lifetime. In the following issues I will be sharing his book, VISION, one chapter per month. It was written in 1978. What a privilege it was for me to know this great man! – R. Nelson Nash
Try to find the good in the bad.
The good is always there.
– RUDOLPH STEINER
I choose to be an optimist rather than a pessimist, as related to our present politico-economic decline—and it is not because I am unaware of the decline. My stance is based on a series of exercises begun 20 years ago, Steiner’s formula for self-improvement. This requires five minutes of concentration every day for six months—each month a new exercise.1
In the fourth month one must contemplate a different bad thing each day until he finds something good in it. Interesting and encouraging, the good is always there! And five minutes is sufficient. One among countless examples: The starling is a messy bird—bad! One day hundreds of them moved across our lawn picking from the soil the grubs of Japanese beetles; their destruction ended—good!
Now to the good that is coming to light as a result of the present decline into socialism. As Horace observed in Rome about 2,000 years ago:
Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which in times of prosperity would have lain dormant.
Here is my way of paraphrasing the above as related to this thesis:
Bad notions have the effect of eliciting good ideas which, were all serene and to everyone’s satisfaction, would stimulate but little if any mental activity. Dormancy!
Ever since the conclusion of those exercises two decades ago, I have been able to identify countless good and elevating ideas that would have lain dormant had it not been for the bad notions responsible for our decline. While I have featured this discovery—Steiner’s, not mine—in all of my lectures on methodology, the inspiration for this essay is a letter just received from an Australian friend.
Somewhat unbelievably, Australia is in a steeper decline than the U.S.A. Wrote my friend, “One of the good things about our present political mess is an increasing opportunity for me to discuss the ideas of liberty.” Were everything serene and to most people’s satisfaction in that country, there would be nothing to evoke his splendid ideas. Were there prosperity, they would have lain dormant!
To put this thesis into focus, to demonstrate how there is always something good in everything bad, imagine a man born at the beginning of life on earth, and still living! By reason of such a life span, his frequency perception would differ from ours. To use a figure of speech, he would see only the forest and not the trees, whereas, we see the trees and not the forest.
Let Walt Disney explain what I mean by frequency perception. He focused his camera on a rose planting, flicking a motion picture film every day or so. When the plant had grown and the rose had bloomed, he put this phenomenon—filmed over many weeks—on the screen so that viewers might witness the development in two or three minutes. That was a dramatic change in frequency perception.
Our imaginary man’s frequency perception would be vastly different from ours. About 35 millennia ago, he would have observed a level of humanity known as Cro-Magnon man. From that ancient time until now he would have seen only the emergence of humanity and none of the detail—just the forest and not the trees. Symbolized, it would look something like this:
To dramatize the point, put a powerful magnifying glass on this line and have a look at its interior: the detail, the trees in the forest, a look at what a few individuals have seen during the past. The interior would show evolution and devolution in a sequence, evolution inching ahead over the millennia:
That X is to symbolize the present devolutionary position, not only in the U.S.A. but world wide—no exception! It’s the mess we’re in—the bad.
This raises the question: How possibly can any good be spawned from our present devolutionary situation? It is so bad—so evil—that many individuals who love liberty do not see or even look for the good. Instead, they indulge in combative tactics—name calling, smearing and the like. Not an iota of constructive thinking! Or, if not so indulging, they give up the ghost, throw in the sponge. There is no hope; all is lost—so they erroneously conclude.
Parenthetically, combativeness is a belligerent rather than a peaceful tactic. The very essence of freedom is a peaceful way of life and so must the tactic be, that is, if we are to be blest by a return to freedom.
A peaceful tactic that works like magic? It is, as Steiner taught, to find the good in the bad. It is always there—a belief for which there are proofs galore.
Here is one among numerous reasons why I know there is always something good in everything bad. The demand for FEE Seminars is increasing beyond our ability to accommodate.
During the past year, we have conducted 23 from east to west—Georgia to Hawaii and in between. Aside from the Seminars at FEE, all have been sought by those interested in learning the freedom philosophy, not one promoted by us. What stimulates this yearning for learning? Nothing less than the bad we are experiencing! It is the current socialism that inspires a desire for understanding the freedom way of life, the bad that causes a search for the good—on the part of a few.
A few? Devolutionary slumps have quite a record of creating anti-agents—always an infinitesimal minority. But note this: On each occasion, it has been and will continue to be a matter of leadership. In every instance, one or two among the anti-agents will be up topside, “at the head of the class,” as we say.
Christianity was led by the Perfect Exemplar. He had a dozen Disciples—anti-agents—spawned by the bad that was rampant at that time in history. The turnabout in England following the Napoleonic Wars—from mercantilism to the Industrial Revolution—was led by Richard Cobden and John Bright. They had a small number of coworkers: anti-agents. The same can be said about the American Miracle. A few of our Founding Fathers led the way to the most miraculous politico-economic turnabout in all history!
Instead of lamenting the present devolutionary position, I applaud it. Why such an unorthodox attitude? Merely have a look at the devolutionary-evolutionary sequence. Each devolutionary slump serves as a springboard—an inspiration—that leads to the next evolutionary attainment. For proof, no more is required than a look at the historical record. Its instruction to us? Evolution, emergence, growth, awareness, perception, consciousness inching ahead as time goes on! Were it not for the stimulus to find the good which the bad evokes, humanity would still be at the Cro-Magnon level!
Back to the Seminars and their participants. Why are they present? It’s the bad that’s on the rampage! They have become anti-agents, searching for the good by reason of the evil.
A point that should be emphasized: Suppose you were in charge of the Cosmic Design. Would you pap feed the population— “money or favors from political office”—or would you give them obstacles to overcome? Obviously, you would choose the latter, for it is an observed fact that the act of overcoming leads to the art of becoming! Life has no higher purpose than rising to one’s intellectual, moral and spiritual potential—becoming!
Another appropriate suggestion to participants: Please note what’s going on above your shoulders that would lie dormant were all serene and satisfying. Your newborn activity is a heavenly blessing emanating from our current devolutionary position. So why not join in applauding this socialistic mess for your own sake and for freedom’s sake? It has made an anti-agent of you against the know nothings who would run our lives. Thus are you inspired to help achieve that glorious ideal in which each is able to act creatively as he pleases!
Finally, a thought worth repeating: Our present-day antiagents are growing in an understanding of freedom and its supporting virtues. It is this kind of growth, and this only, that energizes the magnetism which causes others to seek one’s tutorship. Only those who seek enlightenment can become enlightened! Thus, those who see the truly good spawned by the present bad are responsible for more and more anti-agents, all of whom grace mankind and by reason of their love of liberty!
1 See my Elements of Libertarian Leadership, pp. 156-58.