There is an age-old adage – or it seems like it should be, if it isn’t – that you should just be yourself. Having crossed paths with more than one true character in life, I’ve often wondered if this might not be the absolute worst advice that you could give to some people. Think about the craziest person you know, and then ask yourself if you would give them the advice to just be themselves. Sometimes that answer takes the form of, “Maybe you could tone it down a notch in front of my folks.”
The thing about being different from everyone else is that it doesn’t always work in your favor. Think of the weirdest guy you knew in high school. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that he wasn’t the hottest, most popular dude from the athletics department. He was probably the king of all nerds, revered and respected in the AV or comp sci department. He probably wore sandals year-round, and you could discern the approximate temperature based on whether or not he was wearing socks and the thickness of material if he was. His mom probably let him and his friends have LAN parties in the basement from Friday night through Sunday evening, and she’d dutifully get out all 15 fans that she’d purchased for just such occasions and order about 15 boxes of pizza.
I don’t know how the hot jock wound up. I’ve known some that went on to do nothing, some that went on to do awesome things, and some that just went on more or less normally. Almost all of the computer geeks I knew either bombed out spectacularly and became total burnouts or got two degrees in four years and went on to make way more money than me.
You might think about these different scenarios of these people that you have known in life and think that the advice to just be yourself hasn’t worked out so well for some of these people, while it seems to have been a great move for others. Well, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong, and here’s why: There is a big difference between being the best version of yourself and the worst. Most of the time, when people have gone wrong somewhere in life, it is either because they have tried to be something that they are not, or because they became a less-than version of themselves.
Think of what it feels like when you hang around with people that wouldn’t normally be to your taste. Maybe they’re too conservative or liberal, maybe they’re secular while you’re religious – we could go on and on about this. Suffice to say that we are all familiar with the feeling of being out of our element. Maybe you smile and nod and say something you wouldn’t normally say just to make polite conversation and fit in a little bit better. You try the shoe on, but it’s not comfortable. We all know what happened when Cinderella’s stepsisters tried to shove their feet into the wrong-sized shoes. Keeping that visual in your head, let’s pivot.
There has been a healthy amount of kerfluffle as of late over what exactly libertarians should be doing and saying. It is no secret that the leadership of the Libertarian Party has lately leaned toward what has been called “thick libertarianism,” and they have certainly been aiming away from taking any hardline positions about much of anything. That the party selected Bill Weld to run as the vice president in this past election cycle speaks volumes about what they are trying to do. In a nutshell, they are jockeying for statist approval by putting up increasingly statist candidates. It appears to me that the hope is that, by watering down the message, the Libertarian Party will finally get full ballot access and be allowed into the debates.
When I think back on the moment that brought the most libertarians together, Gary Johnson had nothing to do with it, and certainly Bill Weld was out of the picture. Ron Paul was the man that brought hordes of people under one umbrella, and he did not do it by trying to be popular. I love Ron; the man changed my life, and decidedly for the better. He’s not textbook “cool,” though. He isn’t a great public speaker, he has a reedy voice, he was the oldest candidate on the podiums by quite a margin, and he gives the vague impression of frailty on TV, though he’s anything but in real life. That was our guy, and he won so many people to libertarianism not by trying to be cool. Far from it. No, friends, he won the day by being himself.
Ron never watered down the message to make consumption easier. He went after the warmongering, he went after the drug war, and he went after government intervention into medicine. Nobody else on the Republican ticket was talking about getting out of Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else. It would have been easy – too easy – to get up there and hit on the soft subjects. But Ron hit on the big stuff: war and finances. He stayed true to himself and the message, and he got people to willingly read economics books, yours truly included.
How did that work? How did a man, who by his detractors has been called doddering, crazy, a racist, a kook, an ineffective congressman, and a lightning rod for the lunatic fringe, get kids to read economics books? He was true to himself, he was true to his principles, and he challenged everyone listening to go and find out for themselves.
Think about that. I mean, really think about that. Ron Paul offered the one thing that nobody else did: He offered us all the blueprint for saving ourselves. Everyone else on the Republican primary stage told the audience that they were best qualified to save us. It was no different with the Democrats. But Ron? No. Ron gave us the keys to our own salvation and told us to go and make it happen. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the secret. The secret is that nobody else can save you. To demand that another person save you is to ruin yourself and damn them in the process. No matter how much you might wish it otherwise, you are the only person that will ever hold the keys to the door out of the dungeon.
And so Ron saved me. He didn’t give me the key, but he gave me the map, and I found the key myself. I will never forget the day I started reading For A New Liberty by Murray Rothbard. That book changed my life forever. I had to put it down so many times, I lost count. It was like explosions of light illuminating the darkest inner sanctums of my mind. To say that it was anything other than a book of revelation would not do it justice.
Rothbard’s message is not for the faint at heart. His words moved me, but they also frightened me. I knew there was no coming back from where I was going, but I went willingly. Rothbard was analytical, frank, and often humorous, which is how I have heard him described by those that knew him personally. He was, in short, himself.
So now I bring the question back around: What do we have to gain by being other than what we are? How can we expect to win libertarians by becoming Republicans? It is not a win if we give up what makes us unique in order to win the numbers. It is also not a win if the ranks swell with people still holding traditional Republican or Democrat beliefs. If we become the very thing we wished to avoid, I cannot believe anyone would call that a win.
If numbers cannot then, by sheer logic, be the initial goal, what is the initial goal? It is, in short, ideology. This is a battle that must be fought on an ideological playing field. We cannot win the political game because the Republican and Democratic machines have been doing it far longer, and they have strength in numbers.
I think sometimes on the wars that we have won and lost. World War II was won by sheer numbers and brute strength. The Russians overran the Germans from the Eastern front, and we nuked Japan to shut down the Pacific theater. Numbers. Force. If you translate that to politics, the Republicans are the Americans and the Democrats are the Russians. Either way, you’re going to end up raped or radiated.
Think now about Vietnam, which is overwhelmingly viewed as a loss and can hardly be viewed in other terms. What was different about Vietnam? It was not a traditional war; it was a guerrilla war. It is effectively impossible for an invading force to win a guerrilla war over the long term. You know who else knew that? The rebels in the American War of Independence.
Big machines can’t pivot. The Greek phalanx was eventually defeated because it was too clunky. Think of the Republicans and Democrats as a phalanx. They have an agenda, and they are too concerned about maintaining their images and holding onto the ground that they’ve got to be able to pivot. A Greek phalanx is helpless against guerrillas that pick them off one-by-one as they march. The trick is to get the phalanx to walk through the scary woods.
I hope the lesson is shining through somewhat, at this point. You cannot play someone else’s game if you really want to win big. That’s as true in politics as it is in war or in “real life,” as though life doesn’t feel like a war sometimes. You should strive to be yourself, and more than that, you should strive to be your best self. Everybody has a unique skill stack. Everyone has the potential to be great. I guarantee though, if you go around trying to be just like everyone else, you will be destined for a life of mediocrity.
Find your passion. Figure out your values. Think about what you are good at. Think of what you want to do, and then go do it. Don’t give too many fucks about what other people think. Most people are mediocre, and people don’t spend that long thinking about one opinion before moving on to the next, anyway. Don’t ever give someone’s opinion more time than they gave in having it.
The way forward will be unique, and it will be individually based. Some people feel pessimistic about the future, but I think it looks pretty good. There are so many more options available through the blessings of technology and innovation than at any point in human history. You have something to give that is uniquely yours, and I encourage you to cultivate it to the best of your ability. Be so good that they can’t ignore you. And for God’s sake, whatever you do, whether you’re sane or crazy, a writer or a programmer, a jock or a bookworm, be yourself. Be your best self. There is nobody else that will be a better you than you.