“Free market may be a desirable end-state, but it’s not a plan. A plan is how do you get from where we are to that end-state.” – Scott Adams
So, it’s been a while since I wrote an article for Being Libertarian. I’ve been mostly splitting my time between work, sleep, and trying to finish my book – which should be done in two months tops and hopefully help make the values and ideals of libertarianism more socially palatable and cool in the eyes of the general public. Like the eldritch spawn of The Tuttle Twins crossbred with House of Cards.
Remember, Ethan and Emily, you are entitled to nothing!
Anyways, I felt prompted to break my silence and write something here after reading this article, by Micah Fleck. I agree with much of it and it warms the cockles of my heart to see that someone else is finally catching on to and voicing concerns about this disturbing pattern of circle-jerking and self-congratulations within the libertarian community. If it makes you feel any better, Micah, you’re not alone in this.
Think not that I come merely to point out the problem. Nay, I offer a solution for your humble consideration. I guarantee it won’t be something most of you will enjoy hearing, but like a bitter medicine, I think you’ll come to appreciate it by the time it’s all over.
Essentially, I will break it down into the four P’s: Power, Persuasion, Plan, and Policy.
Regardless of what our actual ideals are, there remains a simple fact that nothing can be done without power. Power is one of the three fundamental elements of consciousness in Pavlina’s Triangle, along with truth and love. We libertarians pride ourselves on having the latter two in spades. Ours is a gentle philosophy of non-aggression based on reason and evidence, and yet we lack power to implement it.
Find the cause, you find the cure. So how do we get power?
Well, for starters, there are the most obvious things we can do such as fundraising, rallies, podcasts, and so forth. We already do a fair bit of that and should continue to do more.
Obviously, we should observe the fundamentals first.
Then there are more general things like getting feedback from others. Checking in with how well we’re applying the teachings of Robert Greene, for instance. Not just spouting our ideas and telling the other person they’re wrong, but actively listening and asking meaningful questions via the Socratic Method, such as what Stefan Molyneux, Lauren Southern, Scott Adams, and Jan Helfeld do in their interviews. Guarantee most of us aren’t even doing stuff like that in our personal lives, let alone in our political lives.
In the abstract, there are really only two ways to get power, though. One is to build it up from scratch – what the Libertarian Party has been doing and continues to do. However, a riskier method, but one that ultimately pays out better if it succeeds, is to steal it from someone else who already has it.
Now, I’m not suggesting doing anything immoral, of course. I’m not encouraging you to go rob a bank, or to harass Bernie supporters, or to hack the DNC; but I am encouraging you to try and appropriate the methods, means, and vehicles by which others have already gained their power and sit as the status quo within the realm of politics.
People like Ron and Rand Paul, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, and others of a libertarian persuasion have successfully leveraged the existing power base of the mainstream parties in an effort to fuel their particular agendas while, at the same time, dragging them closer to the center of the political spectrum and letting the RINOs and the DINOs fight it out between themselves, growing more irrelevant by the day until they finally become extinct and a new face, a new generation, with a new brand, and new values is born.
It’s a long way from the ideals of many of you reading this, granted, but the point is they’re actually accomplishing substantive things by doing so. They have power at their fingertips, which means they can be a lot more effective than you or I, or indeed those at the forefront of the LP.
That’s not to say we should abandon the LP. Indeed, I believe in a multipronged approach, but if there is one lesson our team can learn from the 2016 elections, it’s that we shouldn’t be so quick to snub our noses at mainstream tactics. If it gets results, why not adopt it? If you think you have better ideals, better policies, better values, it’s not a betrayal of libertarianism to use them anymore than it would be to, well, I was gonna say use government-built roads to get to your libertarian meet-up, but I forgot where I was for a moment.
“So you think you’re a Romeo, playing a part in a picture show? Well take the long way home.”
It’s especially important not to shirk this option in light of the fact that, as I’ve said time and time again, we still have a “first passed the post” system and all that that entails. More on that later. For now, let us continue to try and flood the main parties with people of greater virtue. Lord knows, if Congress keeps tripping itself up on this healthcare bill, there will be a lot of vacant seats come next election.
If the opening quote wasn’t a tip-off, I’ve been listening to a lot of Scott Adams of late. The man is very near and dear to my heart, since it was his book God’s Debris that first turned me on to the concept of deism well over a decade and a half ago. Reading that was a pivotal point in the development of my present philosophy and so, in a way, learning from him now feels like revisiting an old friend.
And not just because he looks as old as Methuselah on Periscope, either.
Besides Dilbert and his other books, Scott’s claim to fame, his big selling point, at least to me, is that he’s a master at the art of persuasion and has elected to pass along this knowledge to folks like you and me. To both become a master persuader and to recognize the skill in others – presently, and most notably with regard to Trump, though equally useful in terms of general problem solving both in and out of politics.
If you’re not following him at least passively, you really should be.
Scott is often fond of saying – and has a book coming out to this effect in the near future – that facts don’t matter. This is something I’ve said as well in my previous articles and it’s a bit jarring the first time you hear it. Like, of course facts matter, right? Well, yes, but not in terms of persuading people to adopt your point of view. They matter in terms of truth, which is a good thing to have on your side; but as expressed above, we already have that.
The problem is, people aren’t generally persuaded by facts, so much as emotion. Unless they’re in a frame of mind to hear your facts in the first place, it doesn’t much matter what you tell them. As libertarians, what we lack – ironically – are ‘feelz’ and the ability to invoke them in others, to utilize them for our benefit while simultaneously not being Machiavellian scumbags, of course.
That’s right, I’m looking at you, Francis.
Think about the sort of sophistry used by the Democrats when pushing things like social welfare, free education, taxing the rich, etc. They tell a good story, don’t they? A heart-wrenching one which, if you didn’t already know they were completely full of shit in terms of their facts, you would probably swallow hook, line, and sinker. Now, think about the people who don’t have our facts. They’re persuaded by it.
Sometimes they even have the facts but reject them in a moment of cognitive dissonance because they’re not in the right emotional state to accept them. To them, it sounds cold and heartless and inhuman. Just think about the most common arguments they throw at us. We hate the roads, the poor, the sick, the old, the children. We want people to die in the streets by gun-nuts, to remain stupid and uneducated.
All emotional appeals. Now, think about how it would look if we had facts and feelz working together for us. To reframe our discussions, turning their own illogic back on them.
They may not realize it, but that’s actually what they’re doing when they ask things like, “Well what about the poor?” They’re forcing us to pit logic against emotion, to turn our ideals inward to see if they really hold up in both spheres. We know they hold up logically, but should they not also hold up emotionally as well? I put it to you that they should.
We are forced to play their little game of introspection. How about giving them a taste of their own medicine for a change?
This is one reason why I find Bill Whittle to be such a persuasive speaker is because he commands a mastery over that skill. He appeals to both logic and emotion in a single breath.
Consider the case of taxes. Set aside the economics of it for a moment and just consider what about the subject do you find emotionally off-putting. I would hazard a guess the emotion you and most people feel is a sense of injustice. Whether you think all taxation is theft or just that some people are paying a different amount than you, we can all agree there is something terribly inequitable about the process, indeed if not the very concept. How can we leverage this to our advantage?
One way might be to reframe the discussion to show that the Fabian socialist we’re speaking to can still have his sense of justice satisfied without raising taxes.
See what I did there? Immediately, you want to know what my solution is. For all you know, it could be utter shit, if I even have one at all; but you’re open to it because emotionally you are at least promised satisfaction enough to risk hearing me out rather than rejecting me right away. Said socialist will also be intrigued.
What my actual solution after that is less important than the set-up and delivery. All I have to do is make sure that my solution satisfies both logic and feelz. So, in the specific case of taxes, we might harken back to that line about a socialist seeing a mansion and saying no one should live like that, versus a capitalist seeing the same house and saying everyone should live like that. The socialist sees someone paying less taxes than them and thinks that person should pay more, whereas the capitalist thinks everyone, the socialist himself included, should pay less.
Something along those lines. It appears to the listener’s self-interest and sense of justice because of course he doesn’t want to pay taxes. It’s not fair. If he wasn’t paying anything at all, but instead had enough to satisfy his basic needs, he likely wouldn’t care half as much about what anyone else pays in taxes.
Being able to show people how their needs can still be satisfied by adopting libertarian principles and policies is another big emotional trophy we have yet to bag. Another persuasion skill we’ve yet to truly master, instead focusing more on morality when really people tend to cast morality aside in favor of self-interest.
As stated in the initial quote, a plan is simply the actionable steps that will get you from where you are to where you want to go. We know where we want to go, or at least we think we do. We know what the goal is – less government involved in our lives, more freedom.
I say, “we think we do,” however, because that’s still a rather vague goal and no two libertarians can really agree on just what it looks like. Contrast that with something like single-payer universal healthcare. That’s very specific and easy to picture as far as goals go, regardless of whether or not they’re achievable. Much like a purple floating unicorn. You can easily point to a situation and know whether you’re there or not.
“Less government, more freedom” is not so much a concrete goal as it is an abstract… feeling! Huh, imagine that.
Or conversely, maybe that’s where one’s freedoms begin.
Did you ever stop and think about why you want freedom? Why you want less government? It’s because you want or need other things, for which having freedom is a means to an end and government is an impediment. You feel insecure and unsatisfied otherwise. If government could give you the kind of satisfaction collectivists claim, why then, it’d be a good idea and we should get after it. That would be the logical thing to do.
Problem is, reality doesn’t work that way. We know that. That’s our rational brain talking our emotional brain away from the edge of the precipice. But as I said before, the democratic socialist doesn’t see that. All he sees are his needs not being met and government offering him a comfortable solution.
People will always prefer comforting lies to uncomfortable truths. The trick is to either make the truth more comforting than it presently is or the lies more uncomfortable than the truth.
In a few of his videos, Scott Adams talked about Trump’s abysmal approval ratings and how that meshes with him being such an effective persuader. The answer given was that Trump simply made everyone else in competition with him appear even more unsavory than himself, such that the people have little choice but to side with the lesser of two evils.
How many times have you ever heard something like this before: “I don’t like X. I can’t believe I’m forced to defend X. I’d rather not defend X, but god dammit, you’re not giving me any other choice because Y is worse.”
I know from listening to Sargon of Akkad that he vehemently dislikes Trump, but is forced to defend him because the bullshit people claim about him is so patently ridiculous it needs to be pushed back against.
If I’m being honest, Trump wasn’t my first choice either. I would have had Rand Paul, but he became less savory in terms of his chances of winning and everyone else was less savory in terms of everything else about them, from their ethics to their policies to their personalities. So, I coupled reason with emotion and made my choice, and so far I’m fairly happy with the result. It’s not ideal by any means, but it’s closer to what I want than any other viable alternative and that’s all that matters when playing the long game.
That is something we as libertarians need to do more, is take actionable steps towards our goals and to compromise on the fact that we’re going to get there in baby steps, not giant leaps. Maybe we catch a lucky break once in a while and someone or something comes along to push us forward from behind, but for the most part it’s going to be a slow, uphill battle and we need to start dropping some dead weight.
What counts as dead weight?
Things like purism for one. This stubborn refusal to conjoin with our fellow libertarians because they’re not getting off at exactly the same stop as we are. Our oft refusal to engage in politics, to sully our hands with mainstream venues and tactics, or our tendency to reject the political system altogether.
Again, if the path to the libertarian meet-up means treading a government-built road paid for in taxes, you have the opportunity to weigh your values. On the one hand, you could be a purist who goes nowhere, gets nothing done, and remains forever fighting alone; or you can suck it up, travel the road, and unite with others to gain power to affect the kind of change you want to see in the world.
It comes down to a matter of how badly do you really want freedom? Do you want it badly enough that you’ll do a little evil to bring about a greater good? Do you want it badly enough to work together with others and strike a compromise? No one said you couldn’t change tactics later or draft new plans down the line. Trump’s entire political career has been one of adaptation to new circumstances. Those who refused to bend, who remained rigid in their methods, guess where they are now?
I’ve no idea, but I know it’s not in the White House.
So, the first step should be to narrow down our goals to a few reasonable, actionable policies. Things the majority of Americans can agree with, and which are relevant to their needs. Then we need to use better persuasion methods to present our case to them, so we can grow in numbers, gain power, and leverage that political power to further spread the message until we get a few wins under our belt.
Winning a few small battles should not be discounted, as they will gain us social credibility and a track record of competence. That not only do we have the right values and principles, not only can we present them in a way that makes you feel confident in adopting them; but also, we are men and women of action capable of getting things done.
People like a winner. It’s a very comforting feeling to be associated with one.
So, what would some of these goals actually look like and how can we get there? How can we possibly reframe them? I’m not going to suggest this is necessarily the best or only way, or that this is an exhaustive list by any stretch, but I’ll just give a few examples of some of the things I would tend to prioritize if I were running for office for you to consider and extrapolate from.
- Fix the voting system – This is issue number one, and if I could get nothing else besides this, I’d still feel like I accomplished something important. I’ve mentioned in numerous articles previously how the game is rigged against third-parties because of the ‘first passed the post’ system and it desperately needs to be changed. Regardless of who actually winds up in office, people want the system to be fair for all, and for even the little guy’s voice to be heard. For outsiders to have an equal shot, rather than it devolving into the cynical, nihilistic insider’s club that we see today. We don’t have that now and no one else has the power to change it nor the interest in doing so like we do, so it may as well be us that carries that banner.
- Push prevention as the key to healthcare – In listening to Scott, he makes a decent argument for healthcare being perhaps the most important issue at the moment and that even if we disagree on how to pay for it, no one really wants anyone to die from inability to pay. My family is very big into holistic medicine and preventative medicine. We ourselves rarely get sick, and when we do, it usually is short-lived, even for things that seem impossible to bounce back from. Most people have an intuitive sense that the government’s in bed with Big Pharma, but they struggle to see how to get out of it. Nearly the entire healthcare debate is focused on how to pay for artificially inflated healthcare costs rather than on actually treating human beings. Whatever side of the debate you fall on, whatever you believe, I think we can all at least agree that getting people to take charge of their health with better preventative practices will lower the costs to individuals. How to do that is a whole other conversation for another time.
- Replace entitlements with a universal basic income – In this article I talked about the importance of triaging your principles and focusing your resources on the problems where you’ll be able to do the most good. One of the biggest expenses is the welfare state, comprising 60% of the total federal budget. Replacing all that with a regressive universal basic income will lead to a reduction in both spending and bureaucratic red tape without the stigma of throwing people out onto the streets to starve. A UBI’s not without its problems in the long-term; but in the short-term, it will solve many more than it creates. It will buy us valuable time and condition people towards greater independence from the government. The sheer efficiency of processing a single check versus dozens per person will save a tremendous amount of resources. This is an important litmus test because if we can’t even get a “repeal and replace” to work, then the majority of people will never be mentally, emotionally or politically ready for a full repeal and will resist it with all the fervor and ferocity of a genuinely held belief that you’re actively forcing them to starve in the streets.
- Legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana – Let’s set aside the rest of the War on Drugs for a moment, leaving that fight for another day, and just instead focus all our attention on State and Federal repeal of the prohibition on recreational marijuana. The wind is already behind us on this issue as most people are starting to see the light in lieu of states like Colorado having a great deal of success. I’m not oblivious to the immortality of the War on Drugs or its generally racist origins and economic pitfalls, but focusing exclusively on marijuana is an emotionally strategic compromise, since a lot of people won’t feel comfortable with heroin and cocaine on the streets, but hardly anyone has objections to marijuana. Much like with replacing welfare for UBI, if this doesn’t go well, we weren’t going to get our bigger goals anyway, so we may as well start with this. The tax revenue from it, as well as the jobs created, will make it easier to trade for a reduction in welfare spending; and the commutation of prison sentences for pot will do a great deal to heal both race relations and the family unit. Two things that are sorely hurting right now.
- “America First” until we have full employment – Immigration is another topic that deserves its own article, but just to keep this simple, does anyone else see a disconnect inherent in the idea of going overseas to hire someone, or to ship your company to another country, while there is still massive unemployment at home? Am I the only one who thinks those somehow ought not mesh together? That it should be one or the other? Either you have full employment here and that’s the reason you need to go overseas, or you have unemployment here because you haven’t yet exhausted all your domestic options – whether as an employer or an employee – and so you should continue looking until eventually you find one? A lot of that can be cured with regulatory reform and decreased taxes – something Trump got right, but unlike him, we generally lack an emotional carrier wave to deliver our message. Loyalty, patriotism, and nationalism are all emotions, after all. As are pride and self-sufficiency. I get that not everyone can do every job, but there surely has to be some way to shuffle people around so that, much like we’re not leaving anyone sick or poor, we’re not leaving them unemployed either. What sense does it make to take on more mouths when we can’t even feed the ones we have?
Maybe they can become hemp farmers, or at least meme farmers.
- Enforce reasonable immigration restrictions – I know the idea of closed borders and nationalism isn’t popular among certain libertarians, but it’s popular among the general public. It would take a whole other article to explain in detail all the ways in which it benefits us, but suffice to say it’s about more than just welfare and jobs. It’s about sovereignty, law, and preserving libertarian ideology. As far as emotional delivery, I’m more than content to take a cue from Bill Whittle on this one, since he’s really good at explaining it. To wit: “They want to come to a land of laws… but if the first thing you do in terms of escaping lawlessness is to break the law, aren’t you bringing with you everything that you’re running from?”
- 17% flat tax for all – I talked a bit already about appealing to the sense of justice regarding taxes, but perhaps a more powerful emotion even than that is a sense of futility that raising taxes will actually accomplish what you think it will. Towards that end, one of the most potent videos I’ve ever seen on the subject is Professor Antony Davies explaining how it doesn’t actually matter what the tax rate is, high or low, the government tends to collect the same amount (when measured as a percentage of GDP). This puts a practical limit on how much revenue can be gained, which in terms forces a limit on spending. Another powerful emotional appeal is this rather evocatively titled video.
As I said, this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather some food for thought. We need to start adopting the tactics of our enemies if we hope to stay in the game and win the culture war.
* Marushia Dark writes fantasy novels and is also the founder of The Freeman State and an admin of the Facebook page Just Statist Things. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Minds.