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Monday, January 7, 2013

Shouting, Trolling, and Pax Libertaria


I want to second Bryan Caplan’s post at Econlog, titled “Pax Libertaria.” Caplan is right that all the shouting, trolling, and similar behavior among libertarians is largely counterproductive. I’m sure it drives Web traffic. But traffic is not an end in itself—that is, if we care about actually moving the needle for human freedom.

We libertarians can be an asocial bunch—solipsistic, dogmatic, and snarky. I know I have been in my life. But when we allow ourselves to behave this way, we lose sight of the goal. We have to start being people of character, even if we’re not all naturally inclined that way. It takes discipline. That means picking our battles and putting aside the pettier squabbles in favor of tackling the big areas of disagreement with respect and charity.

I particularly like this quote in Caplan’s post: “Third, as someone other than Buddha said, 'Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.' The main person who suffers when you're angry is you.”

Caplan even admits to insulting people of faith for no good reason, saying: “Indeed, in the past I have personally been guilty of gratuitously insulting common religious beliefs, for no good reason. I apologize.” And he's right that we should steer clear of religious squabbles, too, not just for the sake of our objectives, but to respect the traditions and heroes that have made us who we are.

Leonard Read was a believer, for example—both in God and in liberty. In exploring Read’s Elements of Libertarian Leadership recently, I was reminded that any divide between the religious faithful and the non-faithful is counterproductive. Any project in which we would attempt to ground our commitments to liberty in theism or atheism in order to move forward—i.e., in Lockean Rights or in Humean humanism—means we have to solve an age-old religious debate before we get down to freeing ourselves from the shackles of the State. We don’t have time for that.

For no one can deny this: there are two forces for social change in this world—coercion and persuasion. As libertarians, we share a fundamental “ought,” though we can sometimes flounder about in how we justify it or articulate it. It goes something like this: we should move ourselves and our world as far as possible away from coercion, toward persuasion. If we can agree about this, we have something close to an Archimedean point, at least a common value.

Read’s discussion of an “infinite consciousness” may be a way of tapping into centers many of us share—even if we don’t realize it, or aren’t willing to admit it. And it is another way of showing people why we should not apotheosize the State, but rather each other. But it may not work for everybody. The point is: let’s get on with making the world freer.

In an effort to pull others into our mesh, we’ll do well to keep the wisdom of author Marilyn Ferguson, who wrote, “No one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or emotional appeal.” Whether we like it or not, we have to be the wandering missionaries for liberty, knocking at gates. If, like monkeys, we hurl feces from the comments section, people will close the gate of change and come to associate libertarianism with the shite (and not the simian).

From political organizers to the scribblers to the social entrepreneurs: If we are not locking arms and knocking on gates with integrity and heads held high, we are no better than Tolkein’s Gollem sitting in a dank crevice in the mountain guarding his Precioussss.

We should each think of ourselves as being on a quest—a journey that involves adversity and eventually transformation. Once we admit to ourselves we are libertarian missionaries, we have to use rational arguments, emotional appeals, parables, and acts of character that speak louder than words. But shouting matches and trolling? Not so much.

Freedom is the long game. We can run ourselves into a ditch in the short term when we concern ourselves too much with who’s right, who’s wrong, and who’s in the club. And one of the simplest rules of thumb is this: to get most anyone to agree with you, they have to think you're a good person.

  • 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.