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Friday, November 1, 2013

On Being a Catalyst

I am writing this while at an airplane window, looking out over clouds. The captain has not turned off the fasten seatbelt sign, but the flight attendant has said it’s okay to turn on my laptop. So here goes. 

You see, I’m flying out—at a moment’s notice—to do a television show. Did you happen to see the cover article this month? It’s called “50 Ways to Leave Leviathan.” It has been one of the most popular and impactful pieces we’ve done since the dawn of the new FEE. You could say it has caused a chain reaction. But what is more interesting to me is the chain reaction that led up to publishing it.

All of this started, for me anyway, with a conversation in California. Jeff Tucker and I were riding together on the way to one of FEE’s Freedom Academy events. Brimming with passion for this subject, Jeff dispensed with pleasantries. He immediately started sharing his thoughts—throwing out ideas, outlining what would become the article.

You see, Jeff Tucker is what you might call a catalyst. In chemistry, that’s the stuff that allows all the interesting reactions to be unleashed from otherwise inert stuff. New molecules are created. Atom strikes atom and the actions are compounded. Things heat up. Novelty emerges. Jeff had been the human analog for this sort of chemical reaction that day in California. I’d almost decided to let this subject lie fallow.

Readers of this publication have read similar themes before. In September we talked about “Hacking Leviathan.” But Jeff had a hunch. He knew we couldn’t stop there. It’s one thing to sketch the idea in an abstract way. He suggested we write it together, write the laundry list—filled with concrete instances of free people in action. That puts instantiated freedom right in people’s faces, removing it from the land of abstraction. And we both knew we had to couple that concrete list with a sense of inevitability—a kind of futurism that combines our instincts about a new age of social progress with a self-fulfilling prophecy that would, well, catalyze people. 

And it has. And hopefully it will continue to. “50 Ways” lays the foundations for a new approach to our movement—well, new to most people anyway. But please read the article. You can be the judge.

In any case, I should get back to my point about being a catalyst. You see, if Jeff had not pushed and pulled and, in his exuberant way, asked us to recombine the ideas in the way we did, the article, the reaction to the article, the opportunities to talk to different groups, the chance to go on television—none of it would have happened. Of course, being a catalyst is not always about being a successful catalyst. Failure happens. But it starts by acknowledging a strong gut instinct and a good idea wrapped up in one. Then you have to be willing to iterate. That means trying things over and over again with persistence and patience—taking with you a relentless optimism.

Now, will Jeffrey Tucker and I have made a dent in the universe with this piece? Will more people start devising new ways to create workarounds, solutions, and ways forward? Or will liberty-lovers continue to beat their heads against the monolith that is partisan politics? Perhaps write another whitepaper? For Jeff and me, if we could get just 5 percent of people who self-identify as libertarian to innovate, that means we will have catalyzed a whole crop of new catalysts. And for a couple of guys who can no more write a line of code than dunk a basketball, that’s pretty good.

Being a classical liberal, the old way is seductive. We can spend our days sanctimoniously nitpicking other libertarians’ M.O.s on Facebook. We can craft our seamless syllogisms. We can write yet another journal article or whitepaper that will be read by friends who undoubtedly agree with us. We can rant and rave about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket. 

Or we can become catalysts.

  • Max Borders is author of The Social Singularity. He is also the founder and Executive Director of Social Evolution—a non-profit organization dedicated to liberating humanity through innovation. Max is also co-founder of the Voice & Exit event and former editor at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). Max is a futurist, a theorist, a published author and an entrepreneur.