Mind and Matter

The little picture


People often ask us at REASON what we mean by our motto, "free minds and free markets." First of all, it does not mean, as you sometimes hear, that we at REASON are simply "socially liberal and economically conservative." We do not take a Chinese-menu approach to politics, choosing one issue from column A and one from column B.

To the contrary, "free minds and free markets" states that liberty is indivisible. It is about freedom of conscience, the realm of ideas, the intangible mind. And it is about the expression of that mind, the tangible reality, the world of markets, the world of things.

It is about concepts, yes, but also about books, and printing plants, and paint brushes, and TV sets. Free minds create art and politics and religion. And they create new restaurants and health spas and medical procedures. They create science and philosophy. And they create airplanes and software and acrylic fingernails.

"Free minds and free markets" recognizes the connection between action and contemplation, between the economic and the personal, between life, liberty, and property. It cares about the mundane expressions of the human spirit. It recognizes the textures of human life.

We hear a lot about political correctness on university campuses these days. It is indeed a serious threat to freedom of thought, and to the happiness and well-being of lots of students and faculty. That is why so many magazines, including REASON, have devoted so much space to exposing the tyrannies of P.C.

But political correctness is not merely a campus phenomenon, a threat to intellectual life. Political correctness exists any time a faction—whether a majority or a minority—coerces everyone else into conforming to its narrow idea of correct personal behavior. This sort of P.C. is old, common, and quite pervasive. And REASON exists to challenge it.

It is, for example, politically incorrect to take care of children in your home in Culver City, California.

I know this because I met Linda Beasley in 1989. She was a mother with two young children who had quit a teaching job to spend more time with her own kids by opening a licensed family day-care home in her house in Culver City.

It was a homey place, a nurturing, non-institutional environment for preschool kids. There were usually only about a half-dozen kids at any one time, allowing Linda and her two adult helpers to give each child lots of personal attention. Both the children and their parents seemed very happy.

None of Linda's neighbors ever complained about her day-care home. From the street, you couldn't even hear the children playing in the backyard. But because she made the mistake of applying for a city permit, Linda spent three years fighting city planners for the right to take care of those children.

When I interviewed her for REASON, Linda thought the permit was on the way. It wasn't. Eventually, she got tired of fighting and let the city shut her down. In Culver City, getting paid to take care of children is politically incorrect.

It is also politically incorrect to sell cable TV services in South-Central L.A.

For more than 10 years, Tom Hazlett has followed the struggle of Carl and Clinton Galloway to do just that. The two brothers have been trying to get a license to sell cable-TV subscriptions in South Central since 1979. At every turn, they have been blocked by politicians and their friends looking for legal payoffs—all in the name of the public interest and racial preferences. (The Galloways are black, but not, apparently, the right shade for the mayor and City Council.)

The political shenanigans made South-Central the last part of L.A. to get cable service. And, according to the U.S. Supreme Court and a subsequent trial court, the political deal makers violated the First Amendment. Cable TV, it seems, has something to do with free speech.

Now the Galloways have a piece of paper saying the Constitution is on their side. But they still don't have a city license. And the case is still in the courts. A competitive cable franchise is still politically incorrect.

So, as you all know, is selling marijuana. Last fall, in reply to one of our fund-raising appeals, REASON got a letter from a man named Robert Moss in Ashland, Kentucky. He wrote:

"Your publication is one of the few tangible life lines for hope that I can grasp. You see, I am a 42 year old male and married to a wonderful woman. We have three children who I love very much. My desperation is derived from the fact that I was taken away from my wife and children by the U.S. government and sent to prison in another state for a conviction of conspiracy to import and distribute marijuana. Although I have never been in trouble with the law and always have been a productive, tax paying citizen, the government sentenced me to 25 years in prison without the possibility of parole. There was no violence or guns involved in this alleged conspiracy and I can honestly proclaim that I have never broken any of God's Ten Commandments but the government has taken the rest of my life from me. My children are ages 12, 2, and 1. I will never see or feel any of the cherished moments of their childhood, which breaks my heart. More importantly, they will grow up without a father, which hurts me more than anything. Thus my anticipation to possess and read your publication takes on perhaps more meaning to me than to most of your readers.

"I reluctantly must inform you that I can't make a contribution to your magazine. January 15, 1993, my wife and children will be removed from our home thanks to the government's policies, and our financial situation is precarious at best. Please know, however, my lack of financial assistance is exceeded 100-fold by my heartfelt thanks and appreciation for your dedication to liberty and truth."

That is one of the most politically incorrect letters I have ever seen. It's politically incorrect for people to alter their minds and politically incorrect to provide a market that lets them do it. And, despite the lightness with which elites from the White House on down take both marijuana use and the laws against it, this political incorrectness has very serious consequences. REASON's job is to remind you of those consequences.

These are just a few examples. In many places in America, it is politically incorrect to build a church in a residential neighborhood, to own a pistol, to have oral sex in your own bedroom, to carry paying passengers in an unlicensed jitney, to braid hair for money, to cut down a tree in your own backyard.

In Santa Barbara, it is politically incorrect to build a commercial building without a red-tile roof. In South Carolina, it is politically incorrect to sell liquor in a glass.

It is politically incorrect to hire workers without asking for their papers, to say that aspirin prevents heart attacks, to raise start-up capital without government approval, to listen to Howard Stern.

It may soon be politically incorrect to sell plastic packaging, or to hire the doctor of your choice at the fee of your mutual choosing.

These are all matters of law, not social pressure. You can forfeit good chunks of your life, liberty, and property for violating them.

This politically enforced correctness is what Alexis de Tocqueville described as democratic despotism: "It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate….The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies the people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd."

Sophisticated political discourse often considers mentioning small things declassé. Why fret about cable franchises or jitneys when we can discuss "revitalizing the inner cities"? Why defend midwives or Linda Beasley's day-care home when we can discuss "family values"? Why concern yourself with breast implants or aspirin labels when we can discuss "a woman's right to choose"?

REASON exists to say that these things matter.

It matters whether people can buy disposable diapers or plastic shampoo bottles.

It matters whether a father spends a generation in jail for selling marijuana.

It matters whether banks are allowed to introduce ATMs and supermarkets are allowed to have check-out scanners.

It matters whether you send college dropouts to Vietnam or let them start Microsoft.

It matters whether storeowners can have their livelihoods snatched first by riots and then by obstinate planning boards.

It matters whether taxes eat your paycheck and inflation erodes your savings.

It matters whether doctors can try gene therapy to save a "bubble boy."

It matters whether you can choose from more than one long-distance company or buy a discount airplane ticket.

It matters whether venture capitalists or taxicab drivers or hairdressers need political approval to go into business.

It matters whether people can choose their own mates and make their own child-care arrangements.

It matters whether a mind with a new idea can bring that idea to market.

Everyday life matters. It is worth worrying about. Everyday life is what we mean when we talk about freedom—the freedom to live, and work, and make commitments in peace. The freedom to mind our own business.

Big ideas matter, too. It matters whether we see ourselves as individuals with essentially the same makeup or as ethnic groups with unsurmountable differences. It matters whether we believe new knowledge should be pursued for its own sake or only if it serves someone's ideological agenda. It matters whether we tell women they can be strong and independent or whether we tell them they must be weak, dependent victims. REASON writes about these things, too.

But we had a revolution in this country over taxes on tea. We had another over lunch-counter seating arrangements. Ideals do not exist apart from everyday life. Free minds cannot be free without free markets.

Virginia I. Postrel is the editor of REASON.