L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 347, December 11, 2005
"So You Actually Have to be Able to Think"
Special to TLE
I doubt it comes as a surprise to any of you that I often receive e-mail in response to something I've written. Sometimes, people write to tell me they agree with me. I like those letters. Other people write to tell me that they disagree with me, and then proceed to tell me why. Believe it or not, I like those letters too because I usually learn something from them. Then there are those notes that are just deliberately nasty. The greatest joy I get from that kind of communication is summarily emptying it into my computer's handy dandy electronic trash bin.
A fourth kind of communication is one I don't much care for, but which I receive all too often. Those are the letters I get from Libertarians who tell me I'm not sufficiently Libertarian. On occasion, I've come out in favor of some law or another, and they chastise me for favoring any regulation at all. On several occasions, I've indicated support for of the designation of marijuana for medicinal use, and I get scolded for suggesting there should be any controls whatsoever on any kind of drug. When I mention voting, I'm criticized by some of the most libertarian of the Libertarians for implying that anyone should condone anyone having authority over anybody else.
Although I'm not a Libertarian (note the capital "L" indicating party membership, or at least agreement with the party line), I am largely libertarian (the small "l" meaning that I favor individual liberty over just about anything else). Libertarians (and other libertarians) will find far more in common with me and my beliefs than they'll find differences (this may be why some seem to take it so personally when they find that we do disagree, or when they perceive that we do). But the mainstream in America will not. And therein lies the rub.
I've said on more than a few occasions that I'm still optimistic enough to believe that a sea change in politics in America can be effected via the activism and the votes of American citizens. To that end, I'm an activist for various political causes. Most of all, I try to educate and motivate people into becoming an activist voter. Of course, because I lean strongly toward freedom, that's the direction in which I steer any educational or motivational efforts and is certainly the thrust of my own activism.
Libertarians are often viewed as extreme by the more "mainstream" of Americans. And, if you don't believe in real and substantial freedom, I suppose that they are. By whatever label I call myself, I have the same problem. If I tell most people what I really think about a given issue, I'm likely to be dismissed as an extremist at best, and perhaps even a complete crackpot.
I personally favor a Vermont-style concealed carry law in every state of the union. In Vermont (and more recently, in Alaska), the only requirement to carry a concealed firearm is that you want to (well, and that you legally own said firearm). Vermont's crime rate is very, very low. Its gun ownership is very, very high. I suspect there's a connection there (for would-be letter writers, that was sarcasm). But there are a lot of people in other parts of the country that are terrified of guns. Yes, they're ignorant. But that doesn't make them less fearful that concealed carry will endanger them and their loved ones. So here I am, faced with whether or not to suggest that I endorse this or that concealed carry legislation. And the only realistic thing to do is to tell those who are afraid that I do.
Now, the truth of the matter is that I won't apply for such a permit myself because I don't believe in licensing an unalienable right, nor am I inclined to land on a database somewhere as someone with a license to carry. But CCW laws have historically shown something very important while providing just enough oversight to comfort those who oppose the idea, and that is this: When there are more guns on the streets in the hands of the law abiding, crime almost always goes down. Shootings, for any reason, don't increase. Blood doesn't run in the streets. And the people who were afraid open their eyes a little wider as they learn their fears were baseless, and perhaps they open their minds a little wider as well.
I believe that all drugs should be decriminalized. Doing so would eliminate the huge profits of a pervasive and exceedingly violent business, and crime would almost certainly decrease as business became less worth doing. With much lower prices, addicts could stop stealing or dealing to support their habits. With a legal product subject to some kind of taxation, millions of dollars in black market transactions would become thousands and thousands of tax dollars in government coffers. And without the need to enforce myriad drug laws against countless citizens, the police could move on to more important tasks.
That belief is, unfortunately, not popular. Law enforcement doesn't like it. Conservatives really don't like it. Even some on the far left will raise their eyebrows in the face of such a suggestion. But by publicly supporting medical marijuana laws, and by encouraging activism toward passing more such legislation, several points are made. First of all, the world doesn't end when marijuana is legally used, and those using it don't graduate in short order to heroin (don't get me started on the bogus study that "proved" marijuana was a "gateway drug"). Secondly, the opposition of the federal government to such state measures has demonstrated far more clearly than anything I might say the grave disrespect Washington has for the states and the people in them.
I think that the obtrusive searches and checks to which airline passengers are subject these days are inexcusable. I'm also more than a little disgusted that, though Congress actually came around, the Transportation Security Administration has been dragging its feet on the implementation of an armed pilots program. I therefore refuse to fly commercial, and will continue to do so until such time as I can be assured my pilot is packing, and I can pack myself without fear of agents rifling through my underthings (puns intended).
Try convincing a businessman who has to fly on the job, however, that he shouldn't buy a ticket, or a woman headed on a sunny vacation that she has to drive! Chances are very good that they'll shut you out in entirety. But they'll at least listen when I talk about the armed pilots program and the sound reasoning behind it. They'll pay some attention when I suggest they not participate in the invasive background checks needed for the TSA's new frequent flyer program. And when that happens, other things follow, like the downfall (for the moment, at least) of CAPPS II.
I'm fine with giving to my favorite charities, but I never deduct any donations from my taxes because I don't believe in government programs such as those that establish tax free status. In fact, I promptly resigned my membership in the Free State Project when it applied for 501(c)(3) status (I felt then, and still do, that an organization dedicated to smaller government had no business taking advantage of a government program). I don't like the idea of tax dollars going to private organizations, and because of that, I won't support the Boy Scouts or other similar groups. The truth is that I'm not big on too many taxes at all.
Don't try telling most Americans that you don't support Scouting, though. Such a sentiment is almost treasonous in the minds of many! And whatever you do, don't suggest that hard working Americans don't take every last tax deduction to which they may be entitled. The only thing more sacrosanct than that is venturing that perhaps government shouldn't be providing a whole lot of the (unconstitutional) things it's currently providing to citizens (and frankly, to far too many non-citizens, too). But can you talk about income tax reform (I personally am rapidly becoming more and more in favor of a national sales tax)? Absolutely! Can you discuss spending curbs for Congress? Oh, you bet.
The point that I'm making here is not that those of you who are staunchly pro-freedom should compromise your principles. I don't compromise mine. But what I also can't do is demand that others adopt my principles out of hand. They're just too far from the comfort zone in which many Americans currently dwell. But we can take small, incremental steps between their position and ours until they can at least understandreally understandwhat we mean!
I'd honestly like to see dramatic change in this country, and I'd like to see it right now. No matter what I want, though, that's not going to happen. It's taken America some 200 years to drift as far from the principles of its inception as it has. While I'm not personally willing to drift from mine in the process, I am willing to accept that it's going to take a lot of people some time to give up what they've come to see as an entitlement, and to willingly accept total responsibility for themselves.
So yes, where some people are concerned, I'm seemingly not Libertarian (or maybe even libertarian) enough. But where the people who aren't already libertarian (or nearly so) are concerned, the very real danger of losing the chance to engage in meaningful change sometimes lies in being libertarian at all.
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