This was post #125 by “Gains” in the Oregon Convention thread. It was interesting and thought provoking enough that I thought it deserved its own thread. Pay particular attention to the link to this article in Reason.
We can win elections as Libertarians.
We can make significant and cumulative strides in social change.
We can grow our party.
We have some significant social barriers to success in the Party that I think that we would benefit from addressing. I have no right to demand agreement from anyone, so take all of this as a helpful suggestion based on experience and success.
The first issue is that we are extremely exclusive. The other is that we spend far too much time with destructive in-fighting with no purpose nor benefit derived.
These two issues also converge into a larger theme: Meanness; that is to say a significant deficiency of empathy and an irresponsible lacking of forethought in consequence. An interesting paper was brought to my attention. It is cited in a reason.com article “The Science of Libertarian Morality”:
The non-peer reviewed draft “Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Roots of an Individualist Ideology” can be found here:
The non-scientific study took a bunch of people, asked them to self identify their political philosophy and then ran them through a battery of several personality trait spectrum tests. The results are not too surprising if you are involved with the Party. Those who self identified as libertarian had some strong biases. On a scale that measured systemic analysis over empathy for moral decisions, libertarians scored very high toward systemic analysis. Much in the same way that high spectrum autistic people score. This is a problem. It is not that people with high systemic analysis are a problem, but a society that is mired in an incapacity for empathy definitely is.
The libertarian principles are very attractive to everyone in my experience. When the beautiful logic that is our ethical and moral foundation is expressed to them in terms that are understandable, just about everyone I know moves toward self identifying as libertarian. So what is the problem? Why are we stuck?
When I travel afield into different county and state organizations, I find that we have a lot of organizations that are either tiny, or now non-existent except as an empty shell meet-up group; whole counties that almost never meet; regions in metropolitan areas that have 2 or 3 people showing up for monthly meetings. Those that do show up seem to be locked in a bitter struggle to ensure that no one ever comes back. How? They insult the living crap out of people because they do not tolerate anyone who does not have this extreme personality. Not that they are not libertarian. In my experience most people are libertarian and the thing stopping them from identifying thus is always some irrational fear. Hyper rationality does NOT address their fears, it heightens them.
The majority of people do not live in a psychological state that is a hairs breath from sociopathy. We will not go above our 30 year history of 0.5% of the registered voters as long as we fail to accept that our fellow humans often feel out solutions and not rationalize them down to first order consequence problems. Our failing, it seems to me, is that we have turned consequence and cause upside down. We seem to think that libertarianism is caused by this lack of empathy, and that empathy in itself is the weakness that must be crushed to form a libertarian society. Instead of welcoming people and addressing them with persuasive argument, appropriate peer influence, and setting social examples, we beat on them.
We act as if we can change the foundational personality traits in people, and we seem to think that somehow we have a “duty” to do so. Instead of finding and practicing the art of persuasion, we chop at people with axes of unflinching rationality and kill anyone who is unlucky enough to wander in and fits a personality profile not in the 2% immune to the emotional appeals. Over and over again I have seen a good motivated newbie come in contact with Libertarians and get mashed for being “normal” in their approach. Here is a generalized typical example:
Mr. Newman comes to his first libertarian meeting. He likes what he sees in our literature. He is tired of the hypocrisy and machinations of the “X Party” he no longer identifies with and he wants to find out what Libertarians are all about. Mr. Newman along with everyone in our American society has been bombarded with fear from the state. it may be that he has a decent understanding of libertarian approaches to ethics and morality, it is attractive to him, but in his gut, he is stuck on one issue: Lets say drugs in this illustration.
The conversation drifts to the drug war and he says something like: “I can see pot being ok but no way should we ever let cocaine or heroin be legal!” In many cases, our social gestalt would result in a intellectual ass-kicking of Mr. Newman or at least an ostracization. Mr. Newman, having formed no connections with the group leaves bewildered, and never returns. Why should he, he has free will, and what sort of moron would will himself to dip into a vat of social acid every month?
We would benefit greatly if we wove into our social mores, a recognition that even people who are “wrong” have a right to be that way. That we have no authority to demand perfection from each other. What we do have authority to do is to persuade people to reconsider positions. That takes time, it takes forethought and it takes empathy.
There are a few Libertarian organizations out there that do appeal to the masses. The county I associate with is full of “non-rationals” that are good 100/100 libertarians. I >>KNOW<< that the personality traits identified in the study above are not the cause of libertarian thought, the study instead illustrates a stratification we have fallen into because we will not allow people to self identify as libertarians unless they are somehow emotionally bankrupt. It is not that the masses cannot be libertarian, it is that libertarians will not accept the masses.
In my local county party and several others that have formed with similar social structure, Mr. Newman would be welcomed with open arms. We would not engage him on the drug war or any other deviation from our core philosophy. He would first be socialized into the group. He would feel that he IS one of us. It would not be until after he has invested his social identity into the group by his own free will that anyone would dare to start addressing his deviations from our ideal path. Because until he has invested in us, we have no authority to ask for, much less demand that he reexamine his views; and Mr. Newman has no motivation to listen until we have established a positive and an appealing connection with him.
In a healthy libertarian social structure, Mr. Newman, safe and comfortable with his new friends, finds that no one calls anyone a dirty birdie while talking about freedom. He finds very quickly that to say shocking things like “all drugs should be decriminalized,” is not met with guns and shackles and a trip to the looney bin. It takes him a little while to acclimate perhaps but constant exposure to friendly debate and forensic examination of the ethical issues makes him feel at ease. He is not crazy when he yearns to be free, and that self actualized realization will stay with him a very long time. The violent programming that he received in public school about never questioning authority, quickly melts away when he emotionally realizes that he is secure in expressing his own thoughts on liberty that are natural to all men.
I doubt if any well steeped libertarian would question whether that violent authoritarian programming exists in public schools or in pop culture. What I think many of us do not realize is that when we berate new people or when we engage in divisive and destructive internal politicking, we are emulating and reinforcing that violence. To understand what I mean by that I have to ask you to stretch your rational dissection of my points a little bit to understand secondary effects and emotional memories.
The violent programming of authority is rarely direct and this makes it sometimes hard for people to perceive. We know this and see it all the time when we ask people to see the violence in taxes for instance. An argument I often hear from the uninitiated is that there is no gun being held to your head. As libertarians, the gun is obvious, it is thinly veiled threat hidden behind bureaucrats and paperwork. No doubt though, if you don’t pay, the shackles come out and the gun shortly after them. The game played by the statists is to create the emotional feeling of threat any time authority is questioned. They cajole at first, ridicule, freeze assets, speak sternly, and then hit you with a mountain of atrocious lies that if you dare resist will be taken to court and turned to documented “truth” and used to destroy you through imprisonment and worse.
Libertarians are guilty in a large scale of the exact violent display.
“What!?!” you may ask.
I assert that libertarians when they simply demand that their rationale is to be accepted because of it’s internal consistency and obvious truth, take on the same presumptuous tone and manner that the bureaucrats do. Forget the topic or the truth, listen to the approach and the tone. Listen to libertarians around you with that filter and I think you will see what I mean. Then take the plunge and listen to yourself when you debate with someone who “just doesn’t get it.” By rationalizing their fears, or ridiculing them, and demanding we are in effect playing the same scripts that the authoritarians use to illicit a fear response. When we ostracize; when we needle; when we poke… we hurt people. We seemingly do the very proxy violence that the state does; we engage in the very thing we muster against.
We have a socially institutionalized culture of violence that lives within the Libertarian Party. It is incipient. We are plagued by purges, Machiavellian mischief, and factional skullduggery. We lack in our society an understanding of where healthy ends, and destructive begins. We fail to see when our competition internally dives headlong into violence, most often through inference but way too often in actuality. These games have spilled over into the obscene and stopped far too late into the process to have been anything less than negligent. Some instances have been simply callous and cruel. Some have been nearly if not actually criminal.
Because most people live most of the time in a mindset reacting emotionally to the world, their reaction to our culturally ingrained behavior is pain and fear. For us to grow, this venom must stop being the accepted norm. Coalition organizations exist on trust. And doing violence to each other, makes trust a difficult thing to build. It is just simple.
So, for the typical libertarian identified in the personality study as having a longing for understanding of the rules of the game, here is what I would suggest you consider:
Be kind to people. It is not your job to tell them where they are wrong. You will, touch on an authoritarian trigger, and you will be doing violence to the person without even knowing it.
Be kind to people. You do have the authority to set an example of what a healthy society looks like and make them feel at home in that. You will assuage their irrational fears and arm them with the arguments and empower them with the courage to engage issues with rationality.
Resolve conflicts. Actively seek peace in your community. If the context of the conflict is simply personal, keep it there. First go person to person with your rival and deescalate when things go too far. If you cannot get peace and the conflict is in the context of others, go to people who have a stake in both of your sakes and ask for them to help negotiating a peace. Lastly resolve the conflict within the body if the scope of the issue is in that context. Be straight forward and do not seek capitulation from de facto allies within any of those spheres. Seek peace.
Resolve conflicts. Actively encourage peace in your community. If there is a personal conflict and someone seeks peace, grant it and berate yourself for not having sought it first. Let it go, whatever it is it is probably not worth it. If you are approached by someone who is a friend and seeks to help negotiate peace with another, either with you as the go between or the respondent; know that people are trying to stop things as they go too far. You have a responsibility within your friends to seek peace. If there is a society or party aspect to a conflict, ensure that you have elected leadership that will approach the conflict with fairness and the necessary good disposition and skill to deescalate it. You have a responsibility not to escalate other peoples’ conflicts and you have a responsibility not to bring them into higher spheres of community than they really exist.
By-laws are evil. They are where the Party meets the force of government. Any time you create a by-law, you create another grip for evil people to bring the force of government down upon it.
Social mores are beautiful. Creating a socially constructed framework of in-bounds and out-of-bounds rules that are enforced by peers is the very fabric of libertarian actualization. Human beings are too naturally mean to not have rules. The trick is creating rules that do not require guns (or their second order extension: by laws) to be followed. If you really want to be free you have to be ready to actively encourage justice and peace without violence, fraud or threat
whenever, and wherever possible.
Destructive games are wrong. If you destroy, with fraud or the application of violence (even proxy threats) the work of another, you have broken the non-aggression principle. Don’t be mean, and be smart: Don’t crap where you eat.
Competition is brilliant. If you have what it takes to outshine your rival, you earn every kudo in the books and more. If you cant keep it in bounds or pull back when you stray, you are a loser.
Cooperation is smart. There is no zero sum to political capital, share freely because it spreads thicker the more it goes around. The more wins you can find for the people around you, the more wins there are for everyone. If you win a campaign, is there any less glory if there are fifteen people working on it than if there are two? There is more.
Be kind to people; especially the ones you despise. Their poor disposition will bear them out, in the end, for the losers that they are.