The Power in our Professions

One of the things that has always struck me is that, whatever our profession, we have so much power to make the world a little bit better. We do this by acting out our calling as God’s representatives on Earth, assigned to carry out His will in our own little spheres of influence. 

And how do we do this? We do this by treating people (all people: employers, employees, peers, merchants, providers, customers, etc) as image bearers of the living God. Not simply as means to attain a paycheck or a good or service (not that those are bad things, in themselves). As Paul writes to us in Ephesians 4, we are to be “Be kind and tenderhearted to one another”, and this should be central to all areas of our life, including our work. 

We often forget just how powerful that calling is, and how much of a difference it can make in people’s lives. How much difference, really, do my actions make outside the strict job description that I am performing? Does anyone really notice?

I believe they do, though we often do not get the feedback which would tell us so. That means that it’s important for us to be vocal about when someone else has made a difference for us. We are also called to encourage each other, and letting people in to how they make our lives better, no matter how big or small, is one of the ways we can make this world a little more heavenly. 

I recently saw a letter circulating on twitter from a grateful customer for a haircut that his wife received around Christmas last year. It was an encouragement to me, and I hope it will be to you as well, to be more like both the hairdresser and the grateful husband when we engage in our business. The letter I read is below.

June 27, 2020

Dear Sara, 

This is a little bit awkward. But I’ve waited a really long time to pass this on to you.

My wife and I came in for haircuts shortly before Christmas of last year.

My wife was suffering from dementia, and you treated her as if you’d been working with dementia patients all your life. You let us sit next to each other, and when it came time for her cut you turned her chair towards me so I could watch her expression as you cut her hair. 

It turned out even better than I thought it would.

Sadly, she died in March. And that haircut was one of the last, best moments of her life. She felt so pretty. She visited the mirror in her bathroom several times during the day and would come out beaming. 

To see her so happy was priceless. 

Looking back, it was likely one of dozens of haircuts you gave that day. But one which revitalized a woman’s sense of self and her singular beauty. I hope you always realize the power of your profession. 

It’s so easy to take things like that for granted.

Sincerely, 

A grateful customer

Why I am not REALLY a libertarian

Sometimes I am asked why I don’t solely call myself a libertarian or a conservative. Why do I usually flip between “classical liberal”, “right leaning libertarian”, or “libertarian leaning conservative?”

I do this because modern libertarians near-sole focus on the non-aggression principle and tyranny of the government variety is, in my estimation, an anemic view of the issue of liberty. If we’re to actually think of what makes for a healthy polity, government can’t be the sole consideration regarding liberty and tyranny. Yet, often, libertarians make it seem as if they believe that if something is done freely and doesn’t involve force, then it isn’t a problem for liberty.

I thoroughly disagree with this implicit (yet occasionally explicitly stated), position. While government, because it does have a monopoly on violence in modern societies, does need very tight reigns imposed on it, it is not the sole place that liberty can be functionally removed from society. This is hardly a novel idea, and in fact was explicitly stated by classical liberals in the 18th and 19th centuries. For instance, John Stuart Mill made this argument regarding the tyranny of the majority:

Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant—society collectively, over the separate individuals who compose it—its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself.

Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them… There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence: and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism.

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

Alexis de Tocqueville made a similar argument when he wrote that freedom of opinion “does not exist in America” because the intense social pressure against unpopular opinions “actually removes the wish of publishing them.”

Often this idea does not seem to be taken seriously by libertarians, yet both liberals and conservatives do seem to see the problem. The left’s worry about the intense pressure that large corporations can wield against workers and the elimination of any real choice on behalf of those workers is a valid one. The right’s worry about the near monopoly the left has in the media/tech/universities and the power they can wield to shape the national conversation is similarly valid. Social pressure can just as easily expel speech from the public square as can a prison cell.

Of course, the question is what to *do* about this. And this is where even if libertarians downplay/ignore the issue they do have a valid concern regarding the solution: whence comes help to solve this? The government? Shall our solution be worse than the problem?

This is certainly a possibility, and to be honest I am often not sure where I land. There *does* seem to be a line where a corporation or a powerful individual could infringe on people’s liberty without the use of force, and it would be proper for the government to step in. Yet also there is a danger in using the government in this manner, because where that line is is not at all clear. Inviting a bear into your home to chase away a rabid dog solves one problem, yet may create a bigger one.

All this to say, this is an illustration of why I don’t usually refer to myself strictly as a libertarian. Both the liberals and the common good conservatives have valid concerns about private institutions and their power to impose a bloodless tyranny. And that is something that is often ignored by modern libertarian thought.