Walking through the city streets you can see advertisements adorning billboards and bus stops, shop windows and walls, sandwich boards and television screens. They are icons of freedom and the American way of life, because they represent competition. They symbolize the freedom to choose, and are themselves an attempt at influencing these choices. Through their Darwinian struggle they represent American exceptionalism, the fierce competitiveness that causes only the very best companies to rise to the top. And the best rise to the top out of their own honest and genuine superiority.
If only the peddlers of morality were so honest and genuine.
Freedom of conscience is but a dream in much of the world, and I had hoped that America was past that. However, whether it’s what we eat, whom we marry, what our children learn, or even what we say, odds are someone somewhere is making a concerted effort to use the heavy hand of the law to enforce their beliefs on the matter. Pay no attention to the arguments involving the corruption of our children, the destruction of the family, and the end of civilization as we know it. It’s all about forcing people to do what others think is best for them. Forcing them through the threat of force, mobster-style.
But I’m not going to spend any more time redundantly emphasizing how a free society should respect freedom of conscience. Instead, I’m going to point out how having a free marketplace of beliefs actually makes them stronger.
What constitutes a successful belief system? Two main things: a quality product and successful advertising. Let’s start with the product. When people choose a religion, adopt a belief system, or decide on a moral behavior, they do so with some expectation that their new way of life will benefit them somehow. No one thinks that “doing the right thing” will be bad for them, especially not in the long run (including into eternity). Therefore, it is in the interest of a religion or other belief system to keep its core beneficial aspects, like staying healthy, treating family and friends with love and respect, and being a good citizen. The practice of removing one’s own genitals with a rusty knife to appease the Goddess Killjoya, on the other hand, exhibits significantly less mainstream appeal.
The second refining fire of belief systems is the advertising conundrum. How can we spread awareness about our beliefs? How can we convince people that we have found the meaning of life? Can we successfully sell our medieval age belief system to a modern, educated, and scientific populace? Can we sell our advanced and deeply reasonable system to a sensationalistic and brain-dead people? Will our adherents be able to feel pious and morally superior to everyone they meet? And finally, most important of all, can our belief system be used to pick up girls or impress new acquaintances at the coffee shop, even if they haven’t had time to see our new failed screenplay, read our unpublished novel, or attend a concert by our unsuccessful band? It’s these kinds of questions that push a religion to the max, and leave standing only the most successful concepts of morality.
But the morality cartel would change all that. Aren’t buying the state-sanctioned philosophy? They’ll break your kneecaps. Don’t want to play along with the clergy’s idea of right and wrong? Get ready to wake up to a bloody horse head in your bed. Try to start promoting a competing belief system? Brace yourself for a drive-by shooting. The tragedy of this mafia-style approach is twofold. First, it stifles innovation and evolution in beliefs and customs, tragically leaving in place detrimental and barbaric practices. Second, it subjects dissenters to great oppression and harm. People will always have free minds, and a statist theocratic society can’t change that. All it can do is persecute the unbelievers.
As soon as a law is enacted on purely moral grounds it paves the way for thousands of other morality-based laws. Then, before you know it, you’re living in a totalitarian society where you are punished for every choice you make that is independent of what a select few think is best for you. Punishment that could involve losing your life, which is certainly not what is best for you. Don’t let the morality cartel win. Take a principled stand against every attempt to infringe on the right of others to a free conscience, or you will find that very few will cry when you lose the right to your own. I certainly will not.