I have been writing and re-writing this post for several months now. It is more of a personal post than one that is related to libertarianism in any particular way, so in that sense, it’s a bit self-indulgent. I suppose writing itself is a bit self-indulgent, at least for me. In any case, the main reason that I am addressing this particular subject is because it is a stumbling block for me in my libertarianism.
If you belong to any of the anarcho-capitalist forums on Facebook or elsewhere, you may have noticed over the past couple of days that there has been some dust-up over a new book written by one Christopher “Chase” Rachels that originally had a foreword by Hans-Hermann Hoppe and a somewhat, to put it mildly, controversial cover.
Last week, Sam Harris hosted Ben Shapiro and Eric Weinstein at a live event. All three of them are always interesting, have something of value to say, and I listen to all of them regularly. Towards the end of the evening, Weinstein cleverly coined the term “intellectual dark web,” which I expect is going to really take off this year. He was referring to the alternative media, the media that is actually having a conversation about issues that people care about, and is doing so in a way that is so interesting and thought-provoking that it can’t help but draw in any rational ears thirsting for a return to times when we can sit down and have an honest conversation again.
I was heartened this morning when a liberal friend of mine posted the single most rational thing a leftist known to me personally has ever said. She acknowledged that she felt Trump was ignorant and offensive, but that we should not be letting that dominate the conversation. She asked politely who would really like to discuss immigration reform. I applauded her for her clear-cut thinking and sensible words and stated that I believe there is a growing mass of people that want exactly the same thing and that there are people rising to meet that demand. My response went over quite well.
First of all, I still see libertarian purists being divisive. I am an anarcho-capitalist at bottom. I will always be a radical, and I will always be working towards that end, but I have no interest in alienating everyone that doesn’t believe the exact same things that I do. I actually do not know if there is another person alive that thinks exactly like I do. I have not met that person. Even my cousin – the Bro-Co, I call him, because he’s more like a brother to me than a cousin – who is also an anarcho-capitalist, does not share my exact interpretation of the world. We have incredibly similar worldviews and interests, but we are not the same person. That would be boring, anyway.
This is a time to take heart. We have all felt despair, wondering if the message of liberty was dying, if the movement was irretrievably fractured, and if we would ever see any progress at all. I am not in despair at all. There are voices – so many voices! – that are now rising up for liberty. They want free speech, limited government, lasting peace with other nations, tolerance, and sound money. And the most fantastic part of this entire revelation is that they are coming from everywhere.
They are left, right, centrist, and libertarian, but they all have one thing in common, and that is that they want the best possible outcomes for the largest number of people. We are talking about leftists who acknowledge that socialism is terrible and that capitalism has done phenomenal good and will continue to do so. We are talking about people on the right who are tolerant and friendly towards all people. Best of all, we are talking about people that sincerely want to talk about ideas – real ideas, such as how to solve the issues that are going to come along with AI and AGI, true immigration reform, US intervention, racism, monetary problems, education, and how to give the most power back to the people with the least amount of pain. My God, these are real conversations!
I have seen quite a large number of libertarians dismiss some of these thinkers because they are too much of this and too little of that. The truth is that we are never going to have a consensus. Given this truth, we must start talking to people, and we must start talking to them intelligently and rationally while giving their opinions our ear.
What I am not doing here is advocating giving SJW types an ear. They should be ignored. In point of fact, they have already lost control of the narrative. The snake is eating itself on their end. There is a groundswell of sentiment coming to those on all sides that want a sincere, honest discussion about the problems we are currently facing. It is also time that libertarians allow that sometimes, when people state their grievances, especially if they are able to do so in a kind, intelligible way that holds water and makes sense, that there is perhaps an issue that needs its day in the light.
I think the great news in all of this is that the intellectual dark web is providing us forums for discussion where we can hear others’ ideas. We can expose them to the rigors of debate and public inquiry, and we can decide for ourselves based on the evidence which ones are worth pursuing. Do you want to know what the great news is in all of this? Liberty and freedom are themes that keep coming up. They are not just coming up from conservatives and libertarians; the left is joining in the chorus.
Bret Weinstein was on Joe Rogan back in December, and he talked a bit about “Game B,” which is defunct as a group, but its implications are utterly fascinating. The scenario comes from game theory, which you might expect, but the overarching idea that he was talking about reminded me strongly of agorism. He might debate that, but I would say that the notion of a game B, a market that rises up alongside the mainstream and functions in it and yet outside of it, is going to be key to the future. We are already seeing it. The intellectual dark web has arrived at the speed of an internet connection.
Not everyone is going to be able to see Game B. Game B exists on a different TV screen, to apply Scott Adams’s analogy about there being two different movies playing in this country. There are two different movies. There is the movie that everyone, including sleepers, can see, and there is the movie that the remnant can see. The remnant is growing, and it is quietly asserting itself. It is coming from all corners, and it is creating a web, a series of intricate but powerful links between different groups. These groups share small and large goals in common, and they will work together to realize them. The people who can see Game B and who are actively participating in it will be able to pivot, and that is something that Game A cannot do. Game A is a leviathan, and although the leviathan can crush, it cannot squeeze into corners, and cannot turn on a dime the way that Game B can.
So take heart, Liberland. You are not alone. If you are lamenting the fact that you cannot find anyone that thinks the way you do, you are thinking about the world the wrong way. There are plenty of people that think like you do. They may disagree to some extent on the means, but they are out there, and they want to talk. Now is not the time for divisiveness. Now is the time to present our beliefs clearly, articulately, and peaceably.
Now that the meat of the article is over, I would like to hear from readers. Eric Weinstein Tweeted out a request this morning, asking people to reply with lists of their top 10 intellectual dark web participants.
Here is my current list, in no particular order:
1. Tom Woods
2. Dave Rubin
3. Eric & Bret Weinstein (They’re brothers, so twofer!)
4. Joe Rogan
5. Thaddeus Russell
6. Sam Harris
7. Scott Adams
8. Jordan B. Peterson
9. Michael Malice
10. Christina Hoff Sommers
Honorable mentions to:
- Camille Paglia (She only lost to Hoff Sommers because Dr. Sommers has more public reach.)
- Ben Shapiro
- Ayan Hirsi Ali
- Scott Horton
In case I forgot to tell everyone, I submitted a couple of articles to a monthly libertarian newsletter, Front Range Voluntaryist (frontrangevoluntaryist.com). You should read it. I’m probably the best writer you’ll read today. Unless you’re reading smart things like Hoppe or Alain de Botton or something. Then I’m probably lower middle tier, at best. But you should definitely read my articles wherever you might find them.
Is that not the worst PR you’ve ever read? Spoiler: It’s not. There are plenty of libertarians that make me look like the Steve Jobs of PR. Libertarians are shit at PR. They are total shit. Yeah, I said it, and I don’t regret it.
Most libertarians I know personally are intellectually rigorous. They like to fight about definitions and historical data. They’ll argue over which cryptocurrency is going to have the biggest gains and then split hairs over whether they were referring to dollar amount gains or percentage gains. I am certainly no better, and most of the time, I love it. But after such a time, it gets exhausting. I, personally, am exhausted.
I think a lot of libertarians feel battle-worn, and it’s no wonder. We take it from all sides. It goes without saying that leftists hate us. They tell the world that we’re fascists, racists, and flat-earthers. Conservatives hate us because we don’t want to nuke the whales. Given that the rest of the world is seemingly against us, you would think that, at some point, there would be some effort to stop the infighting and at least make some vague attempt to be likeable. But no. Nope, we’re arguing over whether or not Liberty Hangout is libertarian enough.
I’m about to drop a big, bad truth bomb on you libertarians out there: A big part of the reason that the message doesn’t resonate isn’t because the message is bad; it’s because you suck at delivering it. Moreover, you suck at cooperation. You can’t even find peace amongst yourselves. How the hell are you going to promote peace to others?
Don’t even start arguing with me! Ima let me finish!
Don’t come at me with some bullshit excuse like, “But I live a peaceful life! What I say on the Internet is just words! That doesn’t matter! Words aren’t violence!”
Yeah, I know that. So do all other reasonable people. Hardcore leftists don’t know that, but they don’t know that living outside of your parents’ basement or getting haircuts that don’t feature the color pink are real things either, so set them aside. There are reasonable people on both sides of the aisle, and they are just as frustrated with the state of current affairs as libertarians. I don’t think anyone has stopped to consider that there might be a remnant among them, too. No, that’s a lie. Dave Rubin has, and he’s about it. And I wouldn’t really call him a libertarian.
Words do matter. Words are not violence, but they inspire feelings. Anyone that has listened to an effective orator or read an inspiring passage from a great novel implicitly understands this truth. Words have power. Words have meaning. The human mind can make incredible things happen through the power of language. Libertarians, for all of their love of mathematical intelligence and logical thinking, seem to generally miss this point. I have been just as guilty.
I listened to Jeff Deist’s speech at Mises University about Rothbard – the one that ended with a mention of “blood and soil.” I was a German student, once upon a time, and was a fairly passable German speaker and writer. I am well acquainted with that expression, and I understand the meaning, historical context, and the context in which it was used. You can factually defend it all you want, and I would agree that there was no particular harm meant in using it. It was not a dog whistle. It was, however, shitty PR. Like, next level shitty.
That is no criticism of Deist as a person, mind you. I like Jeff Deist. I think he is a reasonable, articulate individual, and there is zero reason to believe that he has anything other than good intentions. What he is not is a good PR player, at least based on that speech. Even I, someone who understands from front to back what he meant by his speech and saw no real harm in it, couldn’t help seeing armbands and swastikas in my mind when he said it. Because that’s the association. It existed decades before Deist ever opened his mouth.
Associations are not necessarily logical. Our brains are not logical. They work in images and impulses. I am not a stupid person. I am educated on the subject of Germany circa 1930-1945 to an extent that most Americans frankly are not. In spite of this, image associations are not something I can control, and that is not because I lack intelligence or self-control. It is because I am human. All humans are like this. Some of us can approach our associations with a somewhat higher degree of awareness, but many and even most of us cannot. None of us are totally immune to persuasion or emotion, no matter how much we understand it or would like to believe otherwise. Humans are always, to varying degrees, influenced by perception, influence, and emotions.
Given this information, why would a smart man like Jeff Deist have chosen the words he did? I do not buy the dog whistle theory, so you can throw that out. I actually think libertarians labor largely under the notion that facts are the only thing that matter when the opposite is self-evidently true. Facts are rarely important in arguments. Appeals to emotion? Those may not have a 100% success rate, but I bet they get closer to the target than facts.
I have some proposals for all of you readers to consider regarding how we might make libertarianism more marketable. I do not have all of the solutions, but I have been told once or twice that I am good at making people like me, and I am good at finding common ground with people in extremely unlikely places. I would like to take this semi-natural talent of mine and use it to help some of you who are lower in agreeability than I am. Put on a little polish. What can I say, guys? I’m really good at curling my hair with a flat iron, covering adult acne with cleverly placed concealer, and plying people with conversation and drinks. You all need my makeup skills. So are you ready for a makeover?
If your aim is not merely to win arguments, but also to get people to do what you want – that is, you want people to work with you towards mutually desirable outcomes or actually go full bore and convert to libertarianism – you need to stop talking. Full stop. Shut up.
Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, watch people and listen to what they are saying. Assume for a moment that people are being truthful with you about their experiences in life. Take it as a given that you may not agree with their interpretation of what’s going on. You can listen to their interpretations and their actions and make a reasonable decision, based on that information, whether or not you will be able to successfully work together with them or persuade them. There are legitimately some people who are blinded by their own agenda and anger and will not make good candidates. Choose your fights wisely and don’t waste energy on these people. Yelling at SJWs is not a good use of your time. It’s fun to trigger them sometimes, but it’s not productive.
If, however, you are face-to-face with a reasonably normal human being, chances are pretty good that, as you are listening to them, they will say something that you do not believe to be totally objectionable. Maybe you are passionate about nonviolence and agree with that person that people should be vegetarians in pursuit of ending violence. (I have seen those libertarians on forums, so I know they’re out there.) Have a thoughtful productive conversation with them about that because you already know that it’s something that they feel positively about and want to share with others. Don’t beat use the opening as an opportunity to beat them over the head with Scott Horton interviews. Gain trust on a shared issue and then slowly introduce related ideas. You want people to associate your views with something that they already feel good about. You can’t force someone to feel good about something. That would be coercive.
The second thing you need to remember is that you don’t have to tell people everything. Think about approaching would-be political converts as potential dates. Sure, you know you have an unconventional fetish, but that dime piece you have your eye on does not need to know that on the first date. Similarly, you don’t have to tell people that your eventual political aim is to bring the government crashing down while Backwordz blares in the background. You can politely tell them that you are in favor of less government. This is directionally accurate without being completely terrifying.
The third thing is that you need to be clear about what you are not. I love Tom Woods, but after giving this a lot of consideration, I think that he was wrong in his assessment about disavowing the idiots in Charlottesville. He was correct that the extreme left would not care what he or any of the rest of us said. The issue is that there are still people on the left (and right) who are not completely insane. However, you cannot assume that everyone who is sane knows who you are and what you stand for. That does not mean that they will never be good allies in some fashion in the future.
It is best to be clear about what you will not tolerate. It does not matter that it should be reasonably evident that none of us are in favor of fascism. As I stated above, people are not good at reasoning, as a whole, and even when they are good at reasoning, emotions can quickly overtake them. If you do not believe this is true, take up Forex trading and see how you feel when you win or lose large sums out of your account. Your emotions will run you, and then you will know the depths of your potential irrationality. (Please do not actually trade Forex unless you know what you’re doing, but please do read books about trading psychology because they will help you be better at life in general.)
The next point I’m going to make today may ultimately be the most important point I make, and that is that we need to find peace amongst ourselves. The last 18 months have been politically rough for everyone. The libertarian world has seen its share of feuds, disappointments, and surprises, and I think we are all tired. We have also been fighting amongst each other at an incredible rate, which isn’t entirely surprising, given that libertarians like to drill down to the semantics and finer points of philosophy. However, since we are under near-constant scrutiny from statists, it seems like it might behoove us to try and find common ground with one another.
That is hard sometimes, especially when we are so invested in perfecting our ideology. We need to realize that people have reasons for seeing things as they do and holding the beliefs they have. Sometimes those beliefs serve them well and sometimes they do not, but we need to accept the fact that just because someone sees something slightly differently does not make them a bad libertarian. It might make them a different libertarian, but not a bad one. And if you asked that person, I bet they would be just as thrilled with a night watchman state as you would be.
Framing is the final point I want to talk about. Libertarians suck at framing. Framing sets the stage. Framing is what gives you the feels. Libertarians have this tendency to come in and tell everyone what is bad, why they are going to take things away, and then when someone asks what they plan to do to help people, the answer sounds like, “Well, they can help themselves, of course!” This would be great advice in a world where we weren’t faced with fifth generation welfare recipients and soldiers with PTSD from the wars, but that is not the world that we live in today. We need to have answers ready, and they need to be framed towards feelings of security and self-ownership. People need to feel confident, and simply taking everything away from them and leaving them nothing is terrifying for most people.
I am not advocating for bigger government, so do not accuse me of that. I am advocating for conversations across all aisles. It would nice if we started at home with our fellow libertarians. It would be even better if we could work, even in small ways, to extend that olive branch to others with completely different beliefs.
Some might try and make the point that by opening up these dialogues, I may be unintentionally advocating for the continuation of the US government. I am not. A voluntary society is my ideal. However, I am far from convinced that a total collapse of the US government would produce the desired effect. This is my fear with secession, which is a legalistic means of dissolution and which could produce a sudden, traumatic, potentially violent conflict. Also, like it or not, the legal precedent has been set to punish secession. My hope is that, where legal means fail, the market will prevail by providing a slow burn, frog in boiling water type of solution that will quietly eliminate the need for government. No, I do not know how this will come about. Far greater minds than mine are likely at work, pondering such things.
In the meantime, we can spruce ourselves up a little. Speak positively. Find shared ideals and goals. Listen more and talk less. The name of the voluntary game is cooperation, and if we can’t find anyone to cooperate with us, it’s going to be a long, hard, lonely road. I don’t know about you, but when I’m traveling down the road, less traveled I like to take a couple of friends along for the ride.
I have been listening to Scott Adams quite a bit lately. I gave his Periscope videos an honorable mention in my list of favorite podcasts, but he’s creeping up the ladder. I still don’t agree with him on everything – not by a long shot – but he makes me think, and I appreciate being pushed in different directions than I might not normally be inclined to venture on my own.
I was listening to a couple of archived videos while I made dinner today, and he was talking about the Colin Kaepernick/NFL/take a knee controversy that was the talk of the town until Las Vegas happened. He said something interesting with which I did not initially agree, but having given it some further thought as I have gone about the duties of the evening beyond dinner, I’m not sure that I disagree. Minimally, I don’t think I disagree to the same extent that I imagined a few hours ago.
“Flaggot” is not an unknown slur in Ancapistan. A flaggot is someone that is a flagrant statist and flag worshipper, someone clearly incapable of rational thought and worthy of being mocked. It is more commonly used against the police and military that like to speak about duty to country and that sort of thing. Most all ancaps recoil in disgust at the thought of such things. I will admit that there is not much love in my heart for agents of the state, but I pity their ignorance more than anything else.
What is the American flag? As Nelson Muntz of The Simpsons fame put it in the classic episode Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington, is it, “Six red stripes, seven white stripes, and a helluva lotta stars?” Is that all there is? I think most people would argue that the flag is certainly something more. It is a symbol of American greatness. E pluribus unum. Freedom. Autonomy. Success. Green grass, apple pie, outdoor concerts, Fourth of July parades, and a youthful, plucky spirit. A tad naïve, perhaps, but with the best of intentions. The flag is something that everyone is supposed to be able to rally under, something that pulls the masses together as individuals and unites us as a whole.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that, being an anarchist, I balk somewhat at the thought of belonging to any group. It’s a strange conundrum sometimes, the fact of being an anarchist. All of the ancaps that I have met are naysayers and individualists down to the core that seem to resent the notion of belonging to any unit larger than a family. There is even some reticence at belonging under the label of anarcho-capitalist, and I can safely include myself in that number. I don’t like labels, as such, and I don’t want to get too comfortable with something, even though I have a fair idea of my place in the world right now. I think when you get too comfortable with things, you rule out the possibility of change and forward momentum, and if you aren’t evolving, you’re dying on the vine.
The thing about all anarcho-capitalists, whether they lean socially liberal or socially conservative, they all value certain things. Individuality. Free markets. Ideas. Freedom of expression. Sound money. Free trade. And perhaps above all things, anarcho-capitalists value peace. Peace is at the core of all of these things. I have long made the argument that peace and sound money and fiscal policy are inextricably linked, that anyone that believes that we can have world peace before we fix economic problems is living in a world of wind and ghosts.
Looking at the list of things that ancaps value, you might wonder what the difference is between that list and the one above. In what version of America do those values not belong? Friend, I’ll tell you: today’s America.
We have been at war in Afghanistan for 16 years now. The government are so many tens of trillions of dollars in debt – is it $20tn or $30tn, and does it mathematically matter? – that it can never repay it. It is actually impossible to repay the current debt. When you start realizing that we fight unjust wars in far-flung places to service a debt that can’t be repaid to fund a lifestyle that we cannot afford, it gets harder and harder to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Some libertarians stand because of the principles on which the government was founded. They maintain that the Constitution was the greatest document ever written by man, and I would be somewhat inclined to agree. Unfortunately, by making the Constitution a “living document,” we render it worthless, and the government so long ago ceased to even pretend that it mattered that it seems almost laughable to me to bring it into the conversation when we talk about shrinking government. I think, in all honesty, it was fair to say that, although the experiment was great for a time, the so-called “Great Experiment” has failed. The United States is no longer a republic, but a democracy grown too large to for the pygmies in charge. Democracies are a thinly veiled reiteration of “might makes right,” and although I think people feel that this is true, they don’t know that it’s true. They still believe they can vote themselves to freedom.
I still feel pangs when I see the flag at major events, but it is a pang of sorrow for a place that I once felt was deserving of such a powerful anthem and such a lovely flag. But I know now that the government that flag represents does not represent me, and I know that there are millions and millions of Americans that feel the same thing. Even if they cannot identify it with perhaps the same precision that I can, they sense that something is wrong. They can feel the rot creeping out of the swamp. As the tentacles slip up out of the ichor of the Potomac and roll slowly and quietly across the landscape, we can smell it coming, that wet, fishy smell, but we don’t know how to stop it, and most of us can’t even name it. We only know that it’s bad, and that we don’t want it, that it doesn’t represent us.
A lot of ancaps may argue with me and say that the flag is just a symbol of the government and that you cannot have a symbol like that represent so many different people with so many different ideals. There will always be dissidents, but the fact remains that, at one point, there was enough cohesion in this corner of the world that people could rally around the flag. The flag was not just the government; it was a set of ideals. It was a broad set of ideals, but everyone could agree on freedom, the pursuit of happiness, and ice cream at a ball game.
I have often entertained the idea of buying an anarcho-capitalist flag and hanging it off of my back deck. I may yet do it. Although I have a tense relationship in my heart, with one side pulling towards being an iconoclast and the other desiring to belong to a structure that suits my sensibilities, I have discovered lately that there is value in structure. A group has to have a set of mores in order to function. There must also necessarily be a dissenter or two, to point out the little imperfections and to force us to recheck those same sensibilities and perhaps readjust as circumstances change.
What is a flag for, if not to burn? What is a flag for, if not to worship? We worship when the ideal we have in our mind matches the embodiment of the philosophy that we see around us. The flag encapsulates what is around us, be it good, evil, or indifferent. When the embodiment ceases to reflect the ideal, sparks start to fly, and folks, it has been a hot, dry summer.