What Matters to Me - an Update
By way of introduction to my new subscribers, refreshment for those who have been on this journey with me a little longer and a reminder to myself.
If I keep silent my conscience won’t leave me alone.
~ St. Francis of Assisi 1219, before pleading with the crusading soldiers to lay down their arms (from Thomas of Celano ”The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul”)
Since migrating this letter to Substack on the 1st of April, I have been surprised to see how quickly the readership of subscribers has grown, and am grateful for the increase in attention. Who wouldn’t be? Thanks to some very specific support from a few friends with vastly more experience and reach in these media than my own, for which I am also deeply grateful, a significant number of new readers have signed up for Pitchfork Papers, most of whom are anonymous to me apart from the often cryptic semiotics of their email address, which tells me nothing about them.
Whilst I can’t change that - other than through a heartfelt request to reach out to me by way of introduction through the welcome email generated on signing up, to which I will always respond - I can perhaps complete my side of the bargain by introducing myself or at least introducing what matters to me and how that will substantially influence not only what I write about but the perspective from which that observation and reflection will take place.
At the top every Substack author’s page is an About section which tells you, unsurprisingly, what the letter is about and what you can expect from it. Often readers miss this important signposting, so in case you haven’t read mine, here is a link to it. What follows is a more personal description of my particular prism.
Here is what I believe to be true
Freedom requires skillful critical thinking;
Strategic brilliance is birthed by understanding natural systems;
Happiness is revealed by appreciating what is real;
Business intimacy fosters flourishing;
The language of numbers reveals powerful stories;
Compassion and humility are an expression of love;
Recognition of our individual divinity powers our connection.
At the core of my perspective on life is an unshakeable commitment to the principle of individual liberty and natural rights. I value my freedom and that of others deeply enough that I would be prepared to die in defence of them rather than have them expropriated. We are at a phase in our era - or saeculum - in which, through the choices we have made over the past 80 years, those natural rights are under attack and our individual autonomy is being negotiated and coerced away ‘for the greater good’, the insidious cry of collectivists and tyrants throughout history, in ways only experienced in our bands of latitude in previous darker days. Much as I regret it, we are moving into a time in which those who would rather be left alone, must decide what is and is not important to them and stand up for it. Neutrality is no longer an option.
The corollary to the principle of individual freedom is the principle of individual responsibility - for oneself, for one’s outcomes, and for one’s community.
Man is a social being, and his desire for community will not be denied. The liberated individual is just as likely to become the alienated individual, the paranoid individual, the lonely and desparately seeking community individual. And if he can’t find that community on a human scale, then he will look for it on an inhuman scale - the total community of the totalizing state. Thus liberalism can beget totalitariansim.”
~ Robert Nisbett “The Quest for Community” (see Pitchfork Paper “Missing Links” 8th Oct 21
Deeply embedded in my understanding of liberty is a belief in the indwelling fact of our divinity. God is in us and nowhere else. This means for me that we are capable of extraordinary creation and perfect love if we learn to get out of our own way and are prepared to recognise that quality in every single creation in nature.
It also means for me that our life task is to discover that indwelling divinity. I am always inspired by Gerard Manley Hopkins’ lines
” As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves - goes itself: myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.
I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Act in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is -
Christ - for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To try the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
and that task is never over and always present in our lives. Our job then is to cut through the thicket of busyness, humiliation, psychological damage, limitation, and material worry to discover and reveal our true power. Our “What I do is me: for that I came”.
From this belief comes my belief in compassion and humility, starting with myself and extending to everyone with whom I come into contact. We are all on journeys and all have our loads to carry and stones in our shoes.
My unshakeable belief in our - my - natural rights make me an unequivocal and radical libertarian. I believe deeply in the awesome power of self-determination the corollary to which is an active - now visceral - dislike and suspicion of the state and any form of collectivist coercion. My journey from natural “don’t bother me” conservative to radical libertarian has accelerated in the past 15 years, but not I feel because I have moved very much, just the ground on which I thought I was standing has moved so dramatically. The sense of feeling politically unrepresented, of not having a home base, of the bus containing my previous political convictions having driven off in a direction antithetical to those convictions, forced me to get off about 10 stops back. I found it visceral and disorientating. The time is already here at which we either defend our liberties as self-confident citizens or hand them over as domesticated farm animals to a predatory class of authoritarians for whom Bills of Rights are tiresome impediments to their concept of a planned and manageable society. Ben Hunt’s extraordinary series of recent essays Narrative & Metaverse has captured the nature of the threat better than anyone and I defer to him.
I didn’t have an epiphany or seek to become libertarian in conviction, but libertarian thought - based as it is on the foundational principles of non-violence and property rights - and the Austrian School of Economics in which it is rooted offers a challenging and robust intellectual and practical framework for viewing the world that is both stimulating and empowering and above all feels true.
“This is the basic libertarian idea: that people should be free to do ‘anything that’s peaceful’ as libertarian thinker Leonard E. Read put it. That means, in the words of libertarian theorist and economist Murray Rothbard, that ‘no man or group of men may aggress against the person or proerty of anyone else…Libertarians call this the non-aggression principle.” ~ Jacob H. Hubert in ‘Libertarianism Today’
I am a capitalist. Or perhaps better given the baggage with which that epithet is burdened, I believe in the free market system with the least possible interference from the state and its meddlesome disruption and corruption as the best possible system for allocating resources, rewarding socially beneficial behaviour, preventing monopoly extortion and raising the general welfare through its inexhaustible creative and innovate force, its encouragement of initiative and its reward for ethical-grounded effort. I have no time or patience with equivocators and middle-of-the-road faux socialists in business who believe we need saving from ourselves and that only a benign state can provide that taming.
“The biggest error that unites socialists of various stripes with the men and women running the central banks is the belief that a few designated master planners are better able to determine what the people need than the millions of entrepreneurs, investors and consumers whose individual decisions, when added together, are in fact far superior to those of any governmental planning agency, central bank or other organ of state control.”
~ Rainer Zitelmann ‘The Power of Capitalism’
I believe deeply that business as a social construct is a powerful force for good and that the only purpose of business is to be of service to others to promote their growth or prevent their entropy. Business exists to solve problems and to the extent it performs that task well it adds value. Businesses that manage their own affairs efficiently are rewarded with surplus-value which they require to continue to provide value into the future. The price signal function for allocating resources and determining value is the genius of the free market system.
“The difference between the great and good societies and the regressing, deteriorating societies is largely in terms of the entrepreneurial opportunity and the number of such people in the society. I think everyone would agree that the most valuable 100 people to bring into a deteriorating society would not be 100 chemists, or politicians, or professors, or engineers but rather 100 entrepreneurs.” ~ Abraham Maslow
My enthusiasm for the empowering and life-affirming energy of human-scale business finds its expression in my founding and continuing support for the US-based Small Giants Community, about whose ethos, members and activities I write regularly here as well as my active participation of Lewis Schiff and Norm Brodsky’s Birthing of Giants (no relation) growth accelerator.
My conviction is that strong individual relationships and strong communities create healthy, vibrant, resilient societies. People matter most. Intimacy is the primary goal of business. The Bible - my go-to guide for orientation and the foundational blueprint for our western social model of organisation - is quite clear on this: we are expected to accumulate property and enjoy the abundance that the world provides us. However, we must never forget that this abundance is not our creation but is available to us if we act in accordance with the natural laws of the Universe of respect: for that universe, for each other, and for ourselves. We must look after the weak, “the fatherless, the widows and the sojourners” and always leave enough of our harvest for them to collect
“When you reap your harvest in your field , and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back and get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless and the widow that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” ~Deuteronomy 24;19
However, and concurrently if contradictorily, I believe in living and leading strongly and creating unequivocal boundaries for others to recognise and reacting ruthlessly and fearlessly when they are transgressed. This is why I admire Machiavelli’s writings and his rigorously pragmatic approach to leadership, which encourages tender concern for those loyal and committed to you and your enterprise and ruthless banishment of those who are not. This is an unusual position for someone who is an avowed Christian to take, but I have more sympathy for the flawed genius of King David than for the living perfection of his descendent Jesus of Nazareth.
But Machiavelli also sets side by side with this the notion of Christian virtues - humility, acceptance of suffering unworldliness, the hope of salvation in an afterlife - and he remarks that if, as he plainly himslef favours, a State of Roman type is to be established, these qualities will not promote it: those who live by the precepts of Christian morality are bound to be trampled on by the ruthless pursuit of power on the part of men who alone can re-create and dominate the republic which he wants to see. He does not condone Christian virtues. He merely points out that the two moralities are incompatible, and he does not recognise an overarching criterion whereby we are enabled to decide the right life for men. The combination of virtù and Christian values is for him an impossibility. He simply leaves you to choose - he knows which he himself prefers” ~ Isaiah Berlin ‘The Pursuit of the Ideal’ from The Crooked Timber of Humanity
“A prince is also respected when he is either a true friend or a downright enemy, that is to say, when without reservation , he declares himself in favour of one party against the other.” ~ Machiavelli The Prince XXI
I also believe in the liberating power of being financially fluent and having a healthy relationship with and understanding of money, irrespective of whether you are in an entrepreneurial role or not. Like riding a bicycle or swimming, financial literacy is a valuable life skill (and an essential one in business or as a participant in economic activity at any level.) To my mind, the genius of double-entry bookkeeping from which we get the balance sheet and the income and cash-flow schedules is at the foundation of our ability to create prosperity over time. Not understanding the magic of the financial number system puts one at a severe disadvantage, which is why one of my life ambitions is to teach an “entrepreneur-friendly” model of business finance (the principles of which are just as relevant for personal finance) to as many as possible over the coming years. I didn’t come to finance naturally and I wrote about my journey from a student of literature to the world of investment and money matters in an earlier Pitchfork Papers here, about two years ago.
“Money isn’t the most important thing in life, but it is reasonably close to oxygen on the ‘gotta have it’ scale” ~ Zig Ziglar
All of these aspects and prisms of perspective inform and will continue to inform my thinking and the way I view the world which will intern form the basis of my writing and the letter to which you have subscribed. I write to figure out what I am thinking and to ensure it bears scrutiny. I don’t pretend to have very many answers, but I know the period of history we find ourselves in is not new and that a clear understanding of who we are, and what we believe to be true coupled with an absolute standard of behaviour (and the grace to forgive ourselves when we transgress it) is our best defence against gaslighting, coercion, overwhelm and indenture.
I read voraciously and always acknowledge my sources. If I forget or oversee a source, it is never intentional and I will always correct and redress the error. Hardly anything I write or even think is original and I am trying as most of us are to patch together a quilt of snippings from better brains and clearer thinkers wherever I come across them to keep me warm. It may at times look odd and the collage of material may seem random, but I have to make do with what I can get my hands on and recognise that quilt-making is an art that requires practice.
I believe that most of my readers and subscribers are on the same journey and moving in roughly the same direction, stitching their own quilts to keep them warm. They are concerned and perhaps even worried about where we are heading and trying to preserve autonomy, joy, and a clear sense of their own humanity in a fog of narrative that appears to be seeking to deprive us of all three. I am doing the same and finding that the more I read, reflect, write, practice, and celebrate, the easier that becomes. If anything I write helps or furnishes a bit of intellectual cloth for your quilt, it will have been worth the effort.
I will finish with Eliot
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time”
~ T.S. Eliot from ‘Little Giddings’ IV
I am grateful for your engagement with this letter and look forward to having you along on the journey, wherever it takes us.