Herding Cats: The Libertarian Movement

Don’t accuse me of idol worship, though I’ve been caught wearing a Ron Paul t-shirt from time to time. With the passing of Kent Snyder, the many people who recognize his tremendous contribution to freedom and justice have been filling blogosphere comment boxes with emphatic statements of adoration. This is good. I find the figures in history that have chosen to practice ethics and respect for their fellow man are often the least celebrated, while figures like FDR, Napoleon, and Che Guevara are obsessed over.

Still, one comment gave me pause. This commentator remarked that the best way to honor Kent is to do what he did: work tirelessly for legal respect of individual rights. As a movement, worldwide, the classical liberals have always been vulnerable to weakness of good rhetoric and bad performance. The Girondins lost to the Jacobins because they debated well and organized poorly. The same holds for the UK Liberals losing to Labour. When I attend libertarian functions, I’m often at the receiving end of a long rant about ideas with which I’m quite familiar – but many people are not. You’re preaching to the choir, buddy! How many libertarians wait until their meetup group to let loose the fire burning within? How many have been turned against themselves by the ridicule of statists? Worst, when we are consistently ineffective against the public-school-brainwashed masses, some start to doubt their own beliefs. I think that’s where all the chatter comes from. We are forced to de-program years of slave morality, questioning each and every assumption to see if it stands to reason.

Well, guess what? If you’re still reading this, you’re probably a good enough person. You’re probably more considerate, more righteous, and more intelligent than 9 out of 10 of your peers. So, drop the negative attitude (possibly inherited from the stalled Libertarian Party in the States, which does often lose, but is fighting an uphill battle against a rigged electoral system). Freedom is right. When I read about sociopathy, the disorder characterized by an inability to empathize with others causing sufferers to commit anti-social acts, the characteristics sound eerily similar to those demonstrated by statist politicians. Libertarians are the exact opposite. Our disorder is being too civil, too concerned with the plight of our fellow man. But, you see, that isn’t a disorder at all; it’s a blessing.

Kent Snyder was a great man. Ron Paul is a great man. Mary Ruwart is a great woman. The Koch family are great people. But, as the commentator pointed out, we cannot get caught up in hero-worship. Wear a Ron Paul shirt, donate to worthwhile campaigns, but also, get active: organize a regular get-together among your local compatriots, run for office, write to your newspaper, write a book, learn to use and then carry a gun, organize a march on your state capitol or Washington, apply pressure to everyone and everything that stands in the way of our freedom, and never compromise your ideals. After all, isn’t that what we adore about the aforementioned – they took action, they were relentless, and they succeeded.

Ghost Suburbs

This fantastically interesting site cataloguing defunct (mostly during the nationalized years) railway stations in Britain started me thinking about how nature re-absorbs our work so quickly, and then about the next historical oddity in this vein: ghost suburbs.

By this, I mean vast swaths of energy-intensive, and aesthetically demented, urban sprawl that may soon be the next victim of changing priorities. I am here supposing that the late fossil fuel crisis will provide enough incentive for the middle classes to abandon the suburbs and return to the traditional cities and towns of the pre-automotive era. It may not happen this time, but rest assured these crises will pass in waves, each more dire than the last, until we wean ourselves from fossil fuels. We may still drive fuel-cell or battery-powered vehicles, but the fact is it’s energy-intensive to drive everywhere. If energy prices continue to rise, eventually the stubborn car-folk will start moving back to the city centers, and after a generation of grumbling, relearn how to live on a human-scale. Cars may well be used like trains: as a means of getting from one city/town to another. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, the car is parked until you leave. Frankly, at that time, I think most travellers will find it preferable to take the train – no traffic, less energy use (i.e. cost), and more time for personal entertainment.

What tickles me about this transformation is picturing the millions of square miles of shopping centers, eight-lane roads, vinyl-clad carbon-copied houses, exurban mid-rise office towers, and single-use franchise-saturated malls left to nature to slowly disintegrate. Can you imagine what it would look like twenty years later? We’ll zoom past it all on our high-speed intercity trains (private, of course) and wonder how people lived like that for so long:

“What did you do if you didn’t have a car? What if you needed food?”

“Did architects really think vinyl-siding was attractive?”

“Look at the signs. All the stores and restaurants are the same in each center. Didn’t they get bored of that?”

“How did the fuel companies convince people to pump their own gas, when everyone knows the fumes are toxic?”

You and I will be old-timers by then, and we’ll try to explain the mindset of today’s suburbanites. Though we will have seen the car-people try their best to infuse their asphalt wastelands with the vitality of real cities, the ruins will look to our children as decrepit as downtown Detroit.

Perhaps the main shopping malls will serve as focal points for the generation of new cities. Developers may build, as they are now, residential and office towers on the perimeter of and on top of the malls. Slowly, the expansive parking lots that dissever buildings and uses from each other will be in-filled with houses and business – the stuff of life.

Still, if one ventures out from these mall-cities of the future, they will see the asphalt lots turning into gravel, the shopping centers overgrown with weeds, and nary a car in sight. Without any two-ton monsters to pollute their lungs and mow them down, our wanderer and his children might get a game of footy going. It will be unspeakably peaceful and remarkable.

The Withdrawal Method

What do we expect of ourselves – the radicals and reformers of history – when it comes to living day-to-day amongst the instinctual conservatism of the masses?

They seem not to care what temperature it is, as long as the gradients are wide. If they boil to death, fear not, because the boiling is not today, but years away, and further your friends and family share the pot.

There are those of us with high ideals, which risk being pulled into the rushing stream of pragmatism. We are taught to make do, to compromise, to leave alone those things which we cannot control. And yet, we know that this is so opposite the answer that we need that it illustrates why we are lost to start.

The car, for example, is a beast that lures us, swallows us, and waits for us. It offers us convenience, then demands we shape our world to suit it. Think about it – you blasted suburbanites. Could you walk to a store if you wanted to? No. Mostly, you are trapped in your stick-built, two-thousand square feet.

And now, we are at a juncture where the reformers you have ignored have been borne out. George Dubya Bush, Pretender to the Presidency, hoisted up in his demagoguery by suburbia, has been a key player in the forced end of cheap energy. His foreign wars, fought in the name of oil interests, have collapsed the federal currency and driven oil prices to record highs.

But, instead of giving up that wasteful and ugly lifestyle, the car-people are working hard to be lazy: hypermiling, buying hybrids, carpooling. And then there’s us, the lonely reformers, steps ahead and pushing against the immovable rock of habit. There’s only one place for us to live on this continent: New York City. So, we try our best with its elevated housing prices, a symptom of so many people wanting something and so little providing.

Developers, take note, we need more Manhattan and less LA. We need more pedestrianized roads and less superhighways. Robert Moses was the monkeyrencher; Jane Jacobs built the city.

The radicals and reformers, we see these the future, and feel the pain of Cassandra until those who prefer to keep their heads low finally join us on our pedestal.

Terrorism

Federal agents do not protect us from terrorists; federal agents are terrorists. And deep down, I’m sure they know it.

This raid, like those of the 1990s, shows us ‘mainstream’ subjects of the US federal government what it will be like when they seize absolute control. Remember, Germany and Italy were liberal republics before the rise of totalitarianism. For you cowards who give up your liberties in the face of the smallest threat, know this: it will be in the name of Homeland Security.

A Vision Academic: Relearn Your Humanity

As I sit here pondering possible future endeavors, one of which being a libertarian school in New Hampshire, I find the internet equivalent at NH Free Press. TOLFA, or The On Line Freedom Academy, is one man’s plan to bring about the revolutionary restoration of human liberty – a principle that is dying in its traditional home turf. The plan is simple enough: educate our friends and family, on by one, about their own humanity; ask them to, in turn, quit their government or government-contracted jobs; then, have each of them ‘mentor’ one other student through the process. If every person who takes the course refuses to work for the government and puts one other person through the course, then in a matter of years the government will be desperate for labor and hopelessly fighting a rising tide of defiance.

All plans, at the outset, may seem far-fetched, but I believe that what is important is not whether they could work, but whether they should work. This is part of a new generation of pragmatic strategies for advancing the cause of human liberty against political tyranny, with the Free State Project being the other pillar that comes to mind.

We are losing, folks! There is now a Matrix-esque mass of people who couldn’t give two shits if their loved ones are scanned with mm wave scanners – exposing their naked bodies to the prying eyes of TSA rapists.

We are lost, folks! The more intellectual of my friends were depressed by the recent comedy ‘Idiocracy‘ because it hit too close to home. There is no excuse for being a centrist in 2008 North America: we are fast approaching a point-of-no-return on our way to a totalitarian state. It is like being a centrist in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia – you might feel comfortable, but to anyone with some distance from the sickness of your immediate state, you are complicit in indefensible activities. Our 50 free and sovereign states behave like administrative sub-units of an empire. Some citizens are speaking out, but most are left-wingers begging the central government for their freedom back – and expressing full support for all of the practices that allow empires to exist.

Not since the 1990s have I seen any concrete actions taken against the US Imperial Government. The TOLFA is something, a step. I have begun the course myself, even though I have already spent the last 8 years re-educating myself. If any readers decide to undertake the same, please email me and I would be happy to serve as mentor. Good luck!

Prometheus Unbound

I just stumbled upon The Prometheus Institute, which closely mirrored a dream I had for a Web 2.0 liberate meeting place. Though it often tries too hard to be hip, the site does employ the sophisticated web design necessary to communicate libertarian ideas legitimately. But guys, not to be unappreciative, but where the heck are the interactive elements? The site doesn’t even have a forum.

I don’t know how many radical liberals have heard of a site called Ravelry, but it is a good example of a Web 2.0 site that serves its niche well. It’s niche happens to be knitters/crocheters, but the fundamentals are the same. Users each have a profile; they can share information in myriad ways; they can create projects and keep other people abreast of their progress; users have spontaneously created phenomena such as ‘testers’ which give feedback on other people strategies and finished works. A libertarian version could allow people to create pages for their local classical liberal societies. We could finally abandon the egregious fees of meetup.com! Or at the very least get people talking on a pride-inducing, flashy website.

On this point, I propose cross-pollination between The Prometheus Institute and Bureaucrash. Both are energetic, insurgent organizations run by youths (if funded by adults). Bureaucrash had the ingredients of the site I envision, with their innovative ‘cell’-based network and fostering of online user identities. They, however, didn’t have the organization, programming aptitude, and critical mass of users to keep the project going. Bureaucrash seems to have lapsed now into an RSS syndicator with periodical original content.

I’m not slamming Prometheus or Crash. Doing something is better than nothing, and both of these players have had a huge impact. I met many libertarian friends in college through Bureaucrash, and they supplied me with my favorite clothing. It was an outlet, and a home, especially because in New Orleans it was hard enough finding the politically interested, much less politically principled. The Prometheus Institute I don’t know personally, but I’ve read that their youthful spirit has caught the eye of major media. Kudos to both organizations, and thank you for existing. But, please, look at each other, and deliver unto me that killer app which spreads liberty like wildfire.

The Seige

The Canadian confederal government and the American federal government have agreed to use each other’s armed forces in the case of civil emergencies. What we are talking about here is domestic deployment of heavily-armed, militarized units in response to the thinnest of emergencies: flooding in Toronto, a tornado in Kansas, a bombing of oil pipeline in Saskatchewan. These are crises, no doubt, but do they warrant military intervention? No, do they warrant military intervention from a foreign force not under the command of your civilian political apparatus?

People of North America, there are big changes being made to the foundation of your civil governance. The books and movies are true; totalitarianism can happen on our shores, and the building blocks are in place. The American federal government is increasingly detached from the control of the states, and the citizenry. When over 70% of the American electorate opposes a war, votes the opposition party into power to end the war, and the opposition party won’t even defund the war, it merely illustrates the utter lack of oversight you – joe citizen – will have over the supra-sovereign military planned under this agreement.

Get upset. This is the time to get upset and revolt. Your governments have gotten away from you. Hamilton is winning. For those not versed in American political history, Alexander Hamilton endeavored to create of our newly freed confederation a unified military-industrial empire. He conspired to replace our Articles of Confederation with the burdensome Constitution that has permitted, or even encouraged, the growth of today’s leviathan. The Canadian provinces have no rich tradition of independence, nor of principled liberty, but they have the inheritance of British culture: the Magna Carta, the English Civil Wars, the Second Treatise on Government, etc. All of this tradition is very tenuous. It requires the study and defense of individual rights in each generation. As we walk further from the American Revolution, the states forget their sovereignty, and the people no longer value the blood shed for their freedom.

As many libertarian writers have said, you do not need to feel debt or guilt; you do not need to put your life on the line (yet); you still have that inheritance, you free men of New Hampshire, California, Wyoming, Ontario, Florida, the Carolinas, Alberta, et al. Stand up in your state. Take back your militia (now nationalized as the National Guard), provide a check on the excesses of your so-called ‘leaders’ because they’re walking all over you with agreements like this.

Soylent Greens

We are now starving ourselves to feed our cars.

The United States Federal Government’s new policy of subsidizing domestically-grown, corn-based ethanol fuels is now beginning to seriously impact world food supplies, and has consequently lead to the first sustained rise in food prices since the 1960s. The Economist says to expect your food budget to jump from one-seventh of your income to one-quarter for the foreseeable future!

What other options are there? Well, I agree with the environmental movement that pollution is an evil, and that fossil fuels are not a sustainable bedrock of our global economy. Plug-in electric cars, higher-density living, nuclear energy, all of these are grand ideas. They represent a clear-minded movement to end chemical aggression. However, too many ‘green’ politicians in the Western World are taken hostage by farmer’s interests – because they vote, they fund, and they’re stubborn. The problem with so many special interests is that the party gaining advantage is concentrated while the disadvantaged are widespread. But this issue will hit you, yes you, right where it hurts: your ability to put bread on the table.

The solution is clear, but it will require some adjustment. Farmers in the Western World have to start playing fair. No more subsidies! If you can’t cut it without help, then maybe your energies are better directed in another sector of the economy. America is a fertile country; farming will not cease altogether, so rest assured you proponents of agricultural self-sufficiency. What will happen is that farming will continue to centralize, mostly because having a family farm sounds about as fun to most 21st century denizens as having a family mine or factory. What will happen is that resources, human and otherwise, will be freed to grow the world economy in myriad, unpredictable ways. What will happen is that we will be healthier and more fruitful: no more corn subsidies means the end of high-fructose corn syrup (instead of cheaper and healthier cane sugar), ethanol (except maybe the cheaper Brazilian variety), and those taxes used to pay farmers to not grow food.

When milk crosses $5/gallon, remember who your friends are. Your friends want you to eat well, sleep in peace, and live happily. Your friends are probably libertarians, so make an effort to meet them. And your enemies? They are the corrupt officeholders, and their supporters, who would fill up their SUV with enough grain to feed a human being for a year – all the while using that human’s tax dollars to distort the market mechanisms that would normally protect him from this madness.

Peers & Heirs

There is no doubt now that Ron Paul has sparked a Second American Revolution. Through the man and the message, his campaign has awakened a whole new generation, as Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, Calvin Coolidge, Lysander Spooner, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams and Thomas Paine had before him.

While most libertarians are rightfully fixated on the drama of the primaries as they unfold (and, underreported, Dr. Paul takes his place among the top contenders), another critical question after, “will Paul win?” is “who will carry the torch forward?” Dr. Paul is in a class by himself, distinguished by his ability to unravel years of deceit and public education through oratory, and all in a way that is not threatening or even angry. He is a guru, a saint, a Ghandi, a Jesus, a humble steward of honest ideals in a cynical and waning empire. He is not perfect nor superhuman, but neither were Ghandi nor Jesus. He, like them, is good and effective – and that is worthy of high praise. But he has no heirs, and no peers that have breached the wall of mainstream recognition. And that is a problem.

There are potential peers. John Stossel is a great communicator and seems more committed to the cause with each passing day. Michael Badnarik may be nerdy, but having met him I can attest to his interpersonal charisma and intellect. The former Governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson, just endorsed Dr. Paul, but he is himself a successful libertarian politician.

These examples do not change the fact that other political movements have tons of brand-name politicians pressing their causes, and that those innately attracted to freedom philosophies tend to also be socially-awkward young caucasian males. I can’t explain it, and I’m not going to try. I don’t think it’s a rule, as history’s greatest liberators are a demographically diverse group (Frederick Douglass, Mohandas Ghandi, Margaret Thatcher, et al). Until recently, libertarians had eggs but no basket. Ron Paul is our first basket. But, as the saying goes, you shouldn’t keep all your eggs in one basket. A variety of freedom-oriented candidates, such as those that Dr. Paul tried to nurture through the Republican Liberty Caucus, would give this new revolution staying power.

Heirs are a different issue. Is Dr. Paul training some young minds to carry his life’s work forward? If you chance to read this, Doc, I hope you will consider the notion. I would jump at the chance to learn how to run a professional, principled campaign and win. If this campaign meets its end without a nomination, many young and free souls would want Dr. Paul to start a school to pass on a career worth of knowledge – and up the number of congressional libertarians from one to a majority. If the man himself is not making such preparations, is anyone else taking notes?

This campaign proves something to generations of self-doubting libertarians: it can be done. We are often our own worst enemy, whether it’s because we don’t have the courage of our convictions (Jason Sorens, the genius behind the Free State Project, is now teaching at a public university) or we have succumbed to a culture of victimhood (“the slow growth of the federal state is inevitable”) or we expend our energies vigorously debating minor philosophical discrepancies rather than promoting our shared visions to others (this is the story behind most libertarian functions I have attended). Every movement takes generations to gain recognition, and most aren’t even worth recognizing. Ron Paul reminds us that we are not lunatics on the fringe. Our message is pure and true; the evidence is there to see every day. Our message is the same as it was in 1776; Jefferson told us that it would require periodic revolution to maintain liberty in the face of the more destructive impulses of human nature. Our message is relatable, communicatable, and as the Paulites love to say: Freedom is popular. It’s important that we never forget, and that the irrepressible Dr. No has plenty of peers and heirs to remind us.