23-year-old Olympic cyclist Kelly Catlin committed suicide last month. Apparently her despair stemmed from a concussion she suffered as well as from an obsessive drive for perfection that she had had since childhood.
As I read about her short life, however, I couldn’t help but think about the soaring suicide rate in America, especially among young people. According to the website of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2017, 47,173 Americans died by suicide, and estimated 1,400,000 attempted suicide.
That includes young people. “7.4 percent of youth in grades 9-12 reported that they had made at least one suicide attempt in the past 12 months. Female students attempted almost twice as often as male students (9.3% vs. 5.1%). Black students reported the highest rate of attempt (9.8%) with white students at 6.1 percent.”
Obviously, suicide is an extremely complex phenomenon, with different factors playing a role in each suicide and suicide attempt. Nonetheless, every time I hear about someone committing suicide, I can’t help but wonder whether the denial of reality by the American people when it comes to the concept of freedom has played a role in the person’s death.
I’m no psychiatry expert. The little I know about the subject comes from self-help books. But based on the little I know about the subject, a denial of reality can result in severe psychosis. Merriam-Webster defines denial as “the refusal to admit the truth or reality of something.” In an article entitled “The Denial of Reality” on the website of Psychology Today, the author, Saul Levine, M.D., states: “In psychiatry the word “delusion” means a firm belief in some idea which is known to be false, and it can be a symptom of paranoia or psychosis. While the believers in the above untruths aren’t mentally ill, they do strongly adhere to their false credos in spite of clear evidence to the contrary which is presented to them, especially if based on scientific findings.”
From the first grade, American schoolchildren are taught that they are free — and that they live in a free country. For the next 12 years, the notion that they are free is pounded into their heads, including by a daily recital of the Pledge of Allegiance, with states in part “with liberty and justice for all.” By the time they graduate high school, virtually every American is absolutely convinced that he is free and that he is living in a free country. He or she has no doubts about it. It is a mindset that stays with most people until they die. Perhaps the best manifestation of this phenomenon is the eagerness of Americans to thank the troops for their service, which consists of killing people overseas to protect our “freedom” here at home.
This is where the denial of reality comes into play. The notion that Americans are free and living in a free country is manifestly untrue. This false mindset of freedom is the product of state indoctrination and propaganda, especially in the state’s educational system.
We libertarians, of course, are aware of this reality. While most of us were victimized by the indoctrination and propaganda, we have been able to break through to the truth. We know that we were lied to in school. We know we are not free. Our grip on this reality is one of the major things that distinguish us from non-libertarians. In fact, our commitment to achieving freedom befuddles non-libertarians. The non-libertarian cannot understand how we libertarians can be attempting to achieve freedom given that Americans, as far as non-libertarians are concerned, already are free.
One of the clues as to who has a grip on reality — libertarians or non-libertarians — is found by comparing the lives of late 19th-century Americans with the lives of 21st-century Americans. Keep in mind that those Americans genuinely believed they were free and that they were living in a free country. That’s not to say, of course, that, say, 1890 America was a perfectly free or pure libertarian society. It’s difficult to achieve perfection in any human endeavor. There were, for example, restrictions on women’s rights, tariffs, government-business partnerships, and land grants to the railroads.
Nonetheless, note the following differences in the lives of Americans in 1890:
- No occupational licensure or permit laws. People were free to engage in any occupation or profession without permission from the state.
- No income tax and no IRS. People kept everything they earned and decided what to do with their own money.
- No mandatory charity, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education grants, farm subsidies, and foreign aid.
- No drug laws. People were free to ingest anything they wanted, no matter how harmful or dangerous.
- No immigration controls.
- No sanctions or embargoes.
- No national-security state. No Pentagon, CIA, or NSA. No military-industrial complex. No coups, regime-change operations, foreign military bases, entangling alliances, torture, assassination, indefinite detention, secret surveillance schemes, entangling alliances, and other dark-side, totalitarian practices.
Those principles defined what it meant to be an American. They are part of the reason why late 19th-century Americans considered themselves free. Those were the principles they celebrated on the Fourth of July.
Today, Americans live under a completely different — even opposite — system. Yet, they are just as convinced as late 19th-century Americans that they are free.
Obviously, they can’t both be right given that the systems are opposite to each other. Either one group of people was free or the other is.
We libertarians understand that freedom necessarily entails, at a minimum, the principles listed above. That’s one of the reason we know that Americans today are not free and are not living in a free society. Another is that we have figured it out — that freedom entails the right to live your life anyway you want, so long as you don’t infringe on the rights of other people (e.g., no murder, rape, robbery, etc.). It also entails living under a limited-government republic rather than the totalitarian structure known as a “national-security state.”
Does any of this matter? If people falsely convince themselves that they are free, isn’t that all that matters? I don’t think so. For one thing, as Goethe pointed out, none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free. Then there are us libertarians who are inducing people to break through to the truth, which is one big reason non-libertarians resent us libertarians so much. We are like political therapists. We cause people to face reality when it comes to freedom.
Of course, a person who discovers the truth might still choose to embrace the principles of the welfare-warfare state that have destroyed freedom in America. But in such a case, at least they would have a grip on reality, which is good. The alternative way of life, one that is based on a denial of reality, is not healthy. In fact, it might well be a cause of the high suicide rates in the United States, especially among young people.