The Specter of Suffering


Jews know how to suffer. Christians don’t, although they once did. Most libertarians don’t know how to suffer either.

While there’s no virtue in suffering itself, certain kinds of suffering are unavoidable if we want to change the world. (That is, to really change the world, not just to jabber about it.)

If you run away from suffering, anyone with a pin and a threat owns you.

Let’s be clear on this: Wanting to live in a new way opens you up to suffering. If you hope to avoid it and still attain liberty, you’re kidding yourself. It won’t happen. And to make this point very clearly, I’ll restate it:

Suffering is required; if you can’t hack that, stay home.

And while we’re at it, let me give you a few more stark statements:

  • If you care more about losing money than gaining liberty, you’re not going to get liberty.

  • If truth isn’t something you’re willing to be hated for, you’re not going to get much truth.

  • Entrenched hierarchies always oppose progress. They’ll want to tear down the things we build. If we can’t accept losses and rebuild… and then rebuild yet again… we’re not going to get past tyranny.

Please understand that I’m not endorsing masochism here; I don’t expect anyone to like losing money or to enjoy seeing something they built torn down. But if a negative reaction stops you in your tracks, if fear of “something going wrong” paralyzes you, please stay home until you’re ready to pay that price; you’ll only muck things up for yourself and others.

What Do We Value?

In the end, our willingness to suffer comes back to a simple question: What do we want and how badly do we want it?

We can “want liberty” or “want truth” all we like, but the ruling systems of this world don’t agree. More than that, they have millions of people who believe they are utterly necessary and their edicts must be obeyed without a second thought.

Furthermore, many of those people can be counted upon to enforce the status quo. Being different is punished in a hundred ways and in a thousand places, ranging from the subtle to the gross.

So the question remains: How badly do we want it?

Will being insulted at a cocktail party turn you away? Will the threat of losing a contract turn you back? Is putting your time and effort into something that might be torn down too big a risk? Too big an embarrassment?

If we can’t take such risks and more, we’re not ready to change the world.

How It’s Done

Changing the world requires that we hold our ideas of the good and right above the ideas of the world’s rulers. We’ll have to do what we think is right, regardless of what the world thinks.

Whether we’re believers or not, there’s a great deal to learn from Christians back in the early days, when they knew how to suffer. Jesus, as it happens, went out of his way to prepare them for just that, saying things like, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’s sake,” and, “When they persecute you in this city, flee to another.”

The early Christians avoided suffering when they could but took it when they had to. And they did change the world for the better. (You really should read issues #33 and #70 of my subscription letter.) Rome was built upon slavery, and the Christians eradicated it, pop history be damned.

Christianity, like Judaism, was never meant to be easy. A follower of Jesus was supposed to lead mankind “into the light,” thus angering those who remain in darkness.

As for the Jews, they’ve stood apart from centralized societies for thousands of years, making the world see a humane life outside of their precious boundaries. And for that, centralizers will always hate them.

Christianity was intended to continue that same model. And in fact it did continue it for some centuries.

An Illustration

To illustrate my opening line, that Jews know how to suffer, here’s a quote from my friend Joe Katzman. I think it’s worth some thought:

Judaism is like the Blues Brothers: “We’re on a mission from God.” It isn’t a safe mission, but it’s ours. Think. Adapt. Make your mission happen. Get back up. Keep. The. Faith. Oh, and you’re probably gonna be chased. A lot.

Those who wish to be better than the enforced status quo will have to start thinking like the early Christians once did, and as many Jews still do. We’ll have to transcend the specter of suffering.

* * * * *

If you’ve enjoyed Free-Man’s Perspective or A Lodging of Wayfaring Men, you’re going to love Paul Rosenberg’s new novel, The Breaking Dawn.

It begins with an attack that crashes the investment markets, brings down economic systems, and divides the world. One part is dominated by mass surveillance and massive data systems: clean cities and empty minds… where everything is assured and everything is ordered. The other part is abandoned, without services, with limited communications, and shoved 50 years behind the times… but where human minds are left to find their own bearings.

You may never look at life the same way again.

Get it now at Amazon ($18.95) or on Kindle: ($5.99)


* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg

7 thoughts on “The Specter of Suffering”

  1. Thanks for having the courage to think radical thoughts and share with the world, Paul.
    Here’s something I have to add to your fine article: Ironically, trying to avoid suffering causes even MORE suffering. Addictions are attempts to avoid suffering, by hiding in a comfort zone, or by distraction from (or numbing of) the pain of suffering. But hiding from difficult challenges only prolongs the power that the difficult thing holds over the comfort addict.

  2. Multatuli (Dutch writer, 19th century) wrote the following alphorism about suffering:
    If a grain could speak, it would complain that there is pain in germination.
    Sums it up quite nicely, I think.

  3. Suffering is required; if you can’t hack that, stay home.
    I disagree. I think columns like this serve only to drive away potential allies, by sneering at them if they don’t embrace the right amount of suffering, according to those doing the sneering.
    The world is not made up of binary groups. Everyone cares a little about freedom, some more than others. Everyone cares about avoiding suffering, some more than others. We should welcome anyone who shows the slightest interest in casting off the yoke of government, not hold up a meter to see if they qualify or aren’t suffering enough.

    1. Hi JdL,
      I understand your feelings, and I’m certainly not saying that we should push people away or (God forbid such arrogance) to say “you’re deficient if you don’t pass my test.”
      I am, however, more and more aware of the fact half-committed people have seldom done much in the world. I want people who are serious. And while their commitment or lack thereof is none of my business, I want people who face the issue seriously in themselves.

  4. In your estimation when did Christians stop knowing how to suffer and why do you think it happened?

    1. Hi Mercy,
      We have to speak in generalities here, but through the 1st, 2nd and 3rd centuries the Christians (who were often mistaken for Jews and vice versa) considered themselves “not of this world” and acted like it. As a result, power hated them.
      As “leaders” compromised with power, things began changing, and finally Christianity was merged with state power, often forcibly. (At first both the Catholic and Arian churches, then more or less Catholic only… at least in the West.)
      But, as I say, that’s in general; there are always exceptions.

      1. Very interesting; thank you for your reply. Do you have any suggested reading material along these lines?

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