Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 376, July 16, 2006

"I will not see libertarianism redefined or watered down"

by Chris Claypoole

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

I may be more susceptible to the problem I am about to describe, as my self-diagnosis tells me that I have what is described by the psycho-babblers as Adult ADHD. I find it difficult to remain focused on one mental activity for more than about an hour, even a good book. Recently having become interested in Sudoku ( and re-interested in crossword puzzles, I find that I get distracted from my concentration after the previously mentioned 60 minutes or so with these activities as well. When I was younger, I could work on the Sunday crossword puzzle(s) for the whole afternoon if there was no work to be done in the house.

The problem I am concerned with is a bit more important, though. Many of us have noted that the "body politic" has the memory span of a goldfish and moves from one crisis or scandal to the next as quickly as a glutton at an all-you-can-eat buffet loads his plate. (And the aftermath of each set of actions produces the same flushable result.) One of the reasons Americans have such a lousy set of elected officials is that most of the people that vote have little knowledge of, or interest in increasing that knowledge of, the issues that represent the causes (rather than the symptoms) of what is wrong with the United States today.

Some of this is caused by so very many more leisure activities available to nearly everyone. Our economy is going strong, despite the dislocations caused by the various levels of governments. (I know some will disagree with the "strong" part; but productivity seems to keep going up, new things to improve overall productivity and the subjective quality of our lives are being made, etc. Yes, some industries are failing, but this is a good sign, from an economic standpoint. A free market requires that inefficient businesses fail, so that their resources can be used for more efficient products or services.) Some is deliberate—the old "bread and circuses" gambit by our beneficent rulers. Some is probably the result of our culture, which does not place too great a premium on quiet contemplation. Or any contemplation, for that matter. Our society doesn't exactly lionize deep thinkers, as evidenced by the attention paid to politicians, entertainers, professional sports types, etc., as compared to that given to innovators, essayists and those who use mental processes to make a living.

In addition, the Web provides a (insert the analogy of you choice: avalanche, tsunami, whatever) of information. People without the mental organization to use that surfeit of data often feel overwhelmed by it. These are the ones you hear calling for some sort of regulation of the Internet (or the economy, or some other thing they do not understand) because there is "too much" information, choice, or other bugaboo.

So, we have all these things that are way more fun than thinking about how (and how much) the government is screwing us; why should we spend any time thinking about the issues of how the government is violating our rights when we are still allowed to have so much fun? How bad could it be?

Ask Hansel and Gretel.

Yes, we are experiencing the "how to boil a frog" scenario, from all the evidence before us. Come on in, the water's fine!

Some have said that we don't have to worry, that the government will become irrelevant for various reasons: technology will outpace them (gov't buying practices are notoriously slow, inefficient and incredibly stupid—ask anyone that has sold to the gov't), the economy is sufficiently large and fundamentally sound enough to absorb even more government abuse and still provide us lots of goodies, and so forth. There are obvious problems with these scenarios (quisling companies will do the government's dirty work, even an elephant can be killed by enough pinpricks, etc.), not to mention that all of history's experience shows us that a government will grow until it causes a collapse, unless destroyed by outside agents first.

What are we to do, then?

As an individual, I will not presume to speak for anyone else. Long ago, I decided that I would try to tease people into thinking a little at a time. I live in Maryland, a mostly unfree state—no "shall issue" for CCW, lots of anti-business regulations, heavy-handed government (examples—the first smoking ban in Maryland was not a legislative initiative, but a regulatory fiat proclamation, and an truly awful legislature as noted here: Many of the people I talk with are absolutely steadfast authoritarians; they would no more consider letting others live their lives in peace than I would consider initiating force. Most of the rest have seldom considered any other way of life.

I usually get one of two reactions when I offer an alternative to the statist view. One is that "it won't work" to let people fend for themselves without government interference ("guidance" or "help"). I generally write those people off, because life is short, and there are others that can be reached. The other reaction is some variation on "Hmmm, I never looked at it that way." Those I follow up with as the situation calls for. I am a salesman, you see, and this is how I prospect for new customers, too.

In another context, I mentioned that I ask an "elevator question" ( about freedom:

If the government magically disappeared overnight, would you immediately rush out to rob, rape, pillage, murder? Would you expect your family and friends to do so? Would you like to be able to protect yourself and your family from those who would act that way?

Most people answer "no" to the first two questions and "yes" to the third. I really avoid those that don't. Once I have established that most people are "good" and only a small minority are "bad," I can move to topics regarding freedom, and find what that person's "hot button" issues are.

Most of all, I try to encourage people to be more interested in what is being done to them by the government (even if, as many complain, "there isn't anything I can do about it"), whether they concentrate on their one or two issues or the big picture. As Plato said, "The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men."

I am not suggesting that everyone, or even anyone, take this path. Only that you walk your own, toward freedom.


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