I was 35,000 feet in the air when the ground dropped out from under me. I was twenty years old, and I thought I understood everything. In the course of a two-hour flight, everything I understood about myself, the world, and my place in it fell to dust. Why? Because of a ten-page essay: “I, Pencil.” …
My name is Tricia Beck-Peter, and I work at FEE. That means that I’ve devoted my life to making the principles of a free society familiar, credible, and compelling to the rising generation. Before that, and before the aforementioned flight, I was an authoritarian. I believed most people were incapable of making the right choices for themselves and that the role of government was to protect the masses from their own stupidity. Government was more powerful than individuals and was the driving force of good in our country.
Furthermore, I believed that it was the duty of the smartest among us to work for the government and to help protect people from themselves. Of course, I saw myself as one of those people, the central planner who could create a perfect system.
Believing these things didn’t just make me wrong, it created a darkness in my soul. I was arrogant bordering on cruel. I saw my fellow humans as problems to be solved. People were bad, and government created the means to protect them from their vice and ineptitude. I looked at the world around me with contempt and pity. They were bad, but I could save them.
Or I thought I could, until the day I learned I couldn’t make a pencil. I had spent ten years believing I could build a better economic system. Ten years thinking I could choose better for others than they could for themselves. Ten years of superiority and condescension shattered because of a 10-page essay.