Could You Have Answered This Question?

servitudeSome years ago I found myself at dinner with a small group of people. We had a pleasant time, but soon enough, someone brought up my “weird” opinions. I explained that I was an advocate for freedom and opposed restrictions on it.

A spirited debate followed, of course, and at one point I said something about disliking servitude. In response, one of the people at the table – a medical professional – asked:

“What’s so bad about servitude?”

At first I was shocked, because I had never heard anyone say such a thing. I’m an American boy, after all, and I grew up surrounded by at least an implied demand for freedom.

But once past that, I realized I didn’t have an answer to the question. I had always taken it as a given that servitude was bad – not only from what I had heard and read, but from what I knew in my bones. I dug within myself for a serious response to the question, but I came up dry. I had no answer to give.

I continued the conversation as best I could, and perhaps I did some small amount of good. But, as I drove home, I realized that I had a problem. This man asked a simple and essential question, and I didn’t have an answer to it.

The Answer That Should Have Worked, But Didn’t

Needless to say, I did eventually come up with an obvious answer: Being in servitude means that other people control your life, and they can lead you into disaster at any time, purposefully or not.

I saw the man again not too long afterwards and brought up our initial conversation. I gave him my answer to that first question. His response?

“I’m doing okay.”

In other words, he didn’t care. Now that really bothered me.

By all outward appearances, he was in control and successful. But, aside from work-related activities, he avoided almost every subject I brought up. He didn’t want to explore any new thought, had no measurable curiosity, and was threatened by the very idea of freedom.


The answer, it turned out, was a simple one: This man liked the idea of other people running his life for him. That way, nothing would ever be his fault, and if things went badly, there would always be someone to blame.

No doubt you run into such people all the time – your friends, family and coworkers. To put it another way, my doctor friend didn’t really appreciate life itself. He grudgingly exerted himself in his medical trade, but wanted no further responsibility. He was happy to remain as minimally conscious as possible.

Now, I don’t want to pick on the fellow too much, but he makes a good example.

People have a tendency to hide behind masks. In this man’s case, the mask was “doctor.” There’s nothing wrong with being a doctor, of course, but to limit ourselves to a single role in life – even a good one – is a big mistake. We are vibrant, creative creatures by nature. You can see this in small children, who simply throw themselves into whatever subject interests them and expect to discover the truth of it. That’s our nature too, regardless of how badly it’s been beaten out of us over the years.

Freedom and Life

The feeling of zero restraint is exhilarating. And it’s wonderful to feel your natural preference to do good, separate from the fear of punishment. But even so, what’s really important about freedom is that it allows life to flourish.

In other words, freedom is a means, not an end.

It allows life to expand and to express itself. Again, the example of the child: He or she naturally wants to explore, to know, to see, to learn… to live, as opposed to merely existing.

Freedom allows life to operate. Servitude, on the other hand, limits life to narrow channels.

The truth is that people lose their love for liberty when they lose their love for life. For this man, following rules that others set made sense – it’s a safe position. But once there, he’ll never really grow again, and he will be cut off from a lifetime of discovery and satisfaction.

What’s bad about servitude is that it prevents us from living.

Bad News, Good News

The bad news you already know: To one extent or another, we’ve all let our love of life dim and have taken ‘safe’ positions. We live in a tough world after all.

The good news, however, is that we can regain what we’ve lost merely by changing our minds. As Earl Nightingale was famous for saying:

We become what we think about.

To repair ourselves requires that we think about these things – to notice when we begin playing a role, to act on curiosity when we feel it, to stop defending our previous choices, to expect surprises and opportunities.

Try it. You’ll like it.

Paul Rosenberg

22 thoughts on “Could You Have Answered This Question?”

  1. Alexis de Tocqueville spoke about this in his 1830’s book, “Democracy in America.” He said that when tyranny comes to America, it will be in the form of “soft despotism.” The idea is to channel men’s minds slowly, so that they place the government’s chains upon themselves.

    That doctor benefited greatly from the state’s chains. The state artificially restricts the supply of doctors and thus improves his income without his needing to make effort. The American Medical Association is a cartel. It restricts the right of otherwise qualified people from practicing or doing surgery in a hospital, unless they are enrolled in the local AMA.

    Of course, that doctor does not see this practice as being despotic, but that will change as Obamacare kicks in. The state won’t seem so benevolent as his income is squeezed. But, many people under soft despotism don’t recognize their self imposed chains until events start to tighten them. The state is increasingly taking more wealth from the economy than is being created.

    Naturally, the state and its hangers-on get first call. I think it was John Kerry who recently remarked that “There is plenty of money, it’s just that the government doesn’t have it.” No doubt, Mr. Kerry will correct that problem. We people who make the money don’t matter. No wonder, with that attitude, the economy is in a nose dive.

  2. Your reference to Earl Nightengale is appropriate. Earl Nightengale is one of the great philosophers whose words could form a basis for intelligent living. Unfortunately, we, collectively, tend to embrace shallow thinking rather than substantial philosophy which is available right in front of us.

  3. “Being in servitude means that other people control your life, and
    they can lead you into disaster at any time, purposefully or not”.

    Love that tag, and it is true, however, Governments have laws that can attach any penalty penalizing all your based on your efforts,.. and they do.

    Taxation is the ultimate control. This is servitude to a government at a arbitrary level that is beyond unconscionable, and never seen in History, I think.

    Unless we as citizens, can control this, this servitude will always remain.

    Can we go into the underground economy? Can we stop paying those levees attached by (our fellow man) a democracy? How? But, I feel we have to start somewhere, otherwise all our efforts for ourselves will be in vain. Any ideas?t

    1. The more complex the system of interaction, the more places it will be subject to coercive intervention. Look at the complexity of modern communications; it is essentially impossible to exclude public criminals from extorting those who use it.

      This argues that as long as we have our “modern” standard of living we will be afflicted with a highly intrusive state just like a mutt has fleas.

  4. I recently caught myself doing this very thing, despite my awareness of the propaganda threatening my freedom. So I can see how easy it must be for someone who doesn’t even think about these topics to totally succumb to the ‘up side’ of servitude. Thank you for this post, it was exactly what I needed to keep myself on track.

  5. One of my favorite (and toughtest) professors in college put it well: “Those who do only what is expected of them are slaves.”
    At the time, I thought he was just talking about doing extra work in class. I now realize how much more that line means.

  6. Comfort is what people around me lust after.
    The frogs in the warming water have no need for awareness.
    A bitch slap is the only thing that will get their attention about the value of freedom.

  7. There is one possible, positive angle to servitude and that is when serving others is done on a voluntary basis, e.g.when Jesus Christ washed the feet of his disciples before the Last Supper. Serving others as He did freely by His own choice, can be very rewarding, and frequently gives me warm fuzzy.

  8. The income of doctors is considerably higher than what it would be without governmental “protectionism”. Prescription laws are a good example. They give doctors an effective “monopoly” over access to medical drugs. Before the creation of these laws, people were able to purchase the medicine they needed without a doctor’s (expensive) “permission” at their local drugstore. The druggist could assist them as needed drawing on his own experience. However with prescription laws the doctor was the “gatekeeper” between the patient and the druggist. Which in turn has allowed doctors to “control” their patients through the threat of denying access to medical drugs if the patients don’t do what the doctor wants by making medically unnecessary office visits and have medically unnecessary lab tests. In effect the patient is reduced to the status of an “addict” dependent upon his “pusher” for his “fix”. The legal profession enjoys the same government “protection” over the legal system. The licensed professions (and licensed occupations) thus exploit the power of government for their benefit. In effect, they are “organized workers” just like members of any powerful union. The only difference is that the professions and licensed occupations are “organized” against the rest of us, instead of just against their employer as auto workers, teamsters, and so forth are today. Writing as “” I have explored these issues in greater detail…

  9. I disagree, I think there are plenty of people who are not interested in being “in control”, but are still appreciate of liberty and life. Even among libertarians, there are plenty who voluntarily submit to others, their spouse, their employer, their friends, etc. It has to do with different personality types, not all humans are happy being go-getters. That is the great thing about libertarianism, it respects the right of people to order their life as they wish….and that may entail being a leader, or it may entail being a follower. There is nothing wrong with choice, and its disparaging to say that if one chooses being a follower that they don’t love life. I think you are right that there are some people who choose servitude/being a follower because they don’t want the responsibility of making decisions, but that is not the only reason that people choose servitude/being a follower.

    1. You equate following with servitude. Not so. A follower does so voluntarily. Servitude is imposed. So, you see, freedom gives you the choice to follow, servitude does not.

      1. I think we are using different definitions. I was using servitude as voluntary (I would slavery as involuntary) From the gist of the article, it seemed to me that he was berating the doctor for seeing nothing wrong with *voluntary* servitude, I didn’t pick up that it was “involuntary* servitude (slavery) being discussed. If that is what the author intended, I missed it.

        1. This is a fine point that needs some thought and clarification.

          My middle name might as well be “Question Authority”. All though my life I have always questioned everything. I probably questioned even more the people that I followed or who I considered authorities in a given sphere, than others. This has not harmed me in life. Often the questioning was only a mental reservation, or was designed to help me learn what the authority knew. In that sense, even though I followed at times, it’s hard to see it as a form of servitude.

          On the other hand there are people who, while following others, essentially turn off the questioning. Perhaps it became a mental habit to simply follow no matter what. That to me sounds more like servitude (along with other more obvious examples like outright slavery). And I cannot see that as defensible, as it includes the Nuremberg Defense, “I was only following orders”. Another example is cops saying, “It’s the law.”

      2. Yes, servitude limits one’s choses and hence limits one’s life quality. The problem is that sometimes one’s choice of self direction vs servitude can not be a freely considered choice.

    2. Serving the interests of a spouse (or donating to a charity) are still self-interested acts. Adopting the viewpoint of someone may be described as “following” that person, but doing so based on respect for that person’s knowledge and wisdom also seems self-interested.

      The difference seems to be “qui bono.” I pay taxes to avoid being caged, robbed, or shot by powerful, organized people in a gang. I do not, on net, benefit from taxation, nor does anyone benefit from feeding a top-down, coercive hierarchy. Sadly, crime does pay huge benefits for the criminals who rule, even as it corrupts whatever souls they had to begin with.

      1. I do agree that people how voluntarily serve others are doing so out of their own self-interest (or at least perceived self-interest.) Which goes along with my statement that there is nothing wrong with people choosing servitude. I’m not sure if you are disagreeing with me?

  10. “The truth is that people lose their love for liberty when they lose their love for life.”

    Well stated. I can say that it is, fortunately, not true the other way.I find myself lost and directionless in life because of feeling stifled and unfree. You may say that I have “lost my love for life” but I have not lost the desire and love for freedom. One day, I’ll obtain it and, if you’re assertion is true, I’ll be much happier for it.

  11. Freedom benefits others. Individuals controlling their own lives, make decisions which brings the wisdom of crowds to society. If through servitude, other make decisions for the mass of society, then this wisdom is lost. I believe freedom benefits the individual AND society.

  12. Sallust said it 2000 years ago: “Most men don’t desire liberty; most only wish for a just master.”

    BTW, physicians are creatures of memory and dogmatism. “Best practices” punish innovation and open minds. Physician training drills a dogmatic, check-box approach to the profession and while many doctors are relatively intelligent, very, very few have highly developed abstract thinking capability. Medical school admission screens primarily for memory, not inductive reasoning.

    Very, very few people reach the state of mental development necessary for thinking about highly abstract concepts. Most are very concrete thinkers (at best). Understanding the “why” of individual liberty is incredibly abstract, and thus a difficult thing to communicate to most people. It’s like describing the spectrum of a rainbow to someone who is blind from birth.

  13. “Thank you for your service”

    We hear this every day. In airports, bus stations, on the street and on TV. What does it mean? Basically, thank you for following orders, catching bullets, or destroying the lives of many innocents and unsuspecting victims, simply because you were ordered to. Without thinking too much about the legality of it, what’s wrong about it, or the consequences to you.

    That anyone should buy into this concept of service is a sick, perverse disgrace. Yet the vast majority of a country of 350 million people have bought it with little question and proudly regurgitate the slogan every chance they get. This should tell you everything you need to know about the concept of ‘service’ that exists in America today. And anyone who doesn’t see it and abhor it can only be deep in the throes of slavery. No matter how much they choose to resist or deny that truth…

  14. words of wisdom my friends, our ancestor did not spill blood and sacrifice their life for freedom only to see their descendant begging for enslavement and life long servitude. may you find the light that guide you out of your miseries.

Comments are closed.