We, as libertarians, are in desperate need of counseling.
Living in Scotland away from the heart of the liberty movement in America, I have noticed from the outside many headaches and obstacles we need to overcome if we are to create more belief in our now quite isolated ideology – even if we dislike simplifying.
Especially through social media, many of us libertarians have developed a habit of rejecting any serious enquiries or suggestions from either the left or right. Despite our disagreements, we need to be accommodating and civil towards such curious people in order to provide true and factual counterpoints instead of immediately branding anyone who disagrees with us as “Statist”, “Marxist” or “Dumb Lefty.”
Though we may not like it, being compliant libertarians can seriously benefit us by demonstrating to the public our willingness to help people understand our beliefs in personal freedoms and why they matter.
1. Take Things Slow
Whether it is at the dinner table with family or friends, or on the comment section of a meme on Facebook, bombarding people with messy unorganized arguments (and simply telling them they are wrong) will surely get us nowhere.
When given a question or statement from someone we disagree with, it is best to explain things in a clear, precise and relaxed manner. By using this approach the opposition can think about their argument and try to consider new ideas they had previously disregarded.
For example, if one of your friends firmly believes that a $15 an hour minimum wage would benefit younger people, by providing minimum wage workers with higher disposable income, instead of quickly rambling and ranting on at the opposition, ask them to think about their argument.
Ask them what a business might have to do if they are faced with having to pay their employees $15 an hour.
Ask them how their decisions could now potentially affect younger people, and destroy countless jobs which they desperately need.
Ask them how raising the wage this high might also warrant a rise in prices and thus cause unnecessary inflation.
Explain to them, using a simple scenario from a small business or young person’s perspective, how this wage increase could pan out and let them come to their own reasoned conclusion after considering all pertinent factors.
Although this method of discussion may be tedious for those of us who have tried to explain issues like these to countless others, it can seriously open people’s minds to ideas or thoughts that did not initially occur to them.
While it can be refreshing for your opposition to be able to discuss these topics in a friendly and slow manner (giving them time to think about and reevaluate their former thoughts) we must remember not to come across as arrogant or sanctimonious; they have every right to believe what they do and may also be more educated on the topic themselves.
I believe that discussing political and societal topics like these, in such explained manners, can really make an impact upon someone’s opinions towards our ideology and encourage more to join us, instead of hindering people’s interest with aggressive retaliation.
2. Be Civil
There is nothing more remonstrating and repelling than being insulted by your opposition who, instead of providing you with a well thought out counterpoint to an argument, claim that you are too uneducated to even think for yourself.
Commonly, on social media, the most pitiful and playground-like debates arise, leaving both participants angrier and less accepting of the others opinion than before.
Effectively, the use of these childish and ill-mannered insults only achieves the polarization of both parties, resulting in an opposition who now thinks of us as an insulting and rude movement.
As a political group, it does not help us to further isolate ourselves from other groups of thought by deterring these people with arrogant remarks whilst trying to have a civil debate or discussion.
If we are to gain more support for our beliefs in civil liberties and economic freedom it is important to make sure the people we debate with (and attempt to persuade) can fully understand our ideology and arguments.
Insults do not help people learn about why private investment can be far better than government investment, or why the prohibition of drugs increases black market activity and unsafe usage. Rather, they are left feeling attacked and ill-treated, with no intention to find out or consider more of our ideas and arguments.
Without the ability to provide interested people with clear and civil discussion, we cannot expect our popularity to grow amongst the general public who most likely are unaware of many libertarian ideas.
Once this changes, there is huge possibility of us developing into a more insightful, well mannered group that offers cultivated debates for those who are curious – giving us the ability to make people more informed about libertarianism without them wanting to shut off their computer.
3. Argue on Principle
What I’m advocating for here is not the complete abandonment of factual and statistical evidence but rather a larger focus on the main principles behind our own and the opposition’s arguments.
During a discussion or debate it is not useful for you (or the opposition) to simply rattle off as many facts as you can, hoping the other person might be convinced of your argument. In fact, with most issues there is plenty of substantial evidence to use on both sides. Thus, arguing on principle allows you to really strike a chord with the way someone thinks.
If you can truly disprove someone’s argument -whether it be about the “gender pay gap”, the right of businesses to sell (or not sell) to any customers they wish or (if you can prove) why gay marriage is an extremely important civil liberty – not only are they more likely to change their opinion, they are not likely to forget the discussion.
A common occurrence online is that people will bombard their opposition with article after article of statistics in an attempt to disprove them.
The problem with this is that although the facts are extremely important in any discussion, they do not help to change people’s arguments. It is easy to find statistics to suggest that the prohibition of marijuana is both beneficial and extremely harmful; however, it is much harder to truly convince someone that a victimless activity like drug use should not be prohibited because of principle.
It is simply someone’s own choice of whether they want to take marijuana and not yours, your neighbor’s or your government’s.
Once you can convince someone of this and the other principles surrounding the legalization of drugs, it is likely that you will have given much more insight to them than just some muddled facts.
Using a healthy amount of fact is extremely important in debates, but what actually changes people’s way of thinking – what we ought to achieve – is focusing our counterpoints and arguments on strong principles.
Not only is this beneficial to the opposition, who is left thinking on their previous positions, but to us as well. We are able to defend our libertarian ideas not only through statistical evidence but by intelligent, principled arguments.
If we are able to achieve this, the number of people whose minds we can change will greatly increase, giving us more support than what we can currently muster with a convoluted, statistic filled mess.
Considering these three suggestions, I believe that our public and online presence can appear dramatically more intelligent, civil and courteous, allowing for a more a curious audience to be welcomed. As you and I both know, the far left and far right of today are hardly compliant themselves. However if we can show that the libertarian movement is not just another isolated and self obsessed political group, we can change our appearance to be much more sophisticated.
I firmly believe in the libertarian movement and its ability to gain support; but please, for the sake of liberty, let’s get civil.
* Lloyd Ledingham is a young student living in Scotland. His free time mostly revolves around politics and debate, which is why he aims to study politics in university.
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