Like many of you, I was sad to learn that David Galland would be stepping away from The Room. His insights always served as a highlight of the week, offering a dose of refreshing candor into the tragicomedy of our world. David has become a dear friend, and I look forward to seeing him regularly at the owners' events at La Estancia de Cafayate. David is unlikely to remain still, so join me in wishing him the best of luck in whatever endeavor is fortunate enough to attract his attention. I would like to say that our friendship has been fostered through many hours of spirited conversation, often over a glass of Malbec, with topics ranging from the mundane to the rather bizarre. We share a general optimism and love of life with a sprinkle of concern for the world we are leaving our children, as well as a passion for the genuine, unhurried, and earthen region of Northwest Argentina. We are, if you will pardon the thread-worn expression, like-minded. That doesn't mean that we agree on everything. Far from it, in fact, which is what makes many of our chats so interesting.
With that as a backdrop, a recent topic of discussion centered on the ongoing fracas within the "libertarian community." While David is enjoying the climate of Cafayate, business commitments still keep me in the colder Northern Hemisphere. We therefore stay in touch primarily via email as well as Skype, which, by the way, is an amazing service that has single-handedly disrupted the telephone monopolies' death grip on toll calls.
In said conversation, I observed that the broad libertarian movement has become a halfway house for a wide array of misanthropes who, thanks to the platform provided by the aforementioned Internet, are making a mockery of classical liberal thought. David's response followed shortly after:
"You know, when you get right down to it, while I completely embrace the idea of small (almost nonexistent) government, the more I deal with libertarians, or anyone else who insists on putting themselves into a box, the less enamored I am of the breed. They are an oxymoron in action (complete with a lot of morons)—individuals who want to group together. And when they do group together, they can't work in concert because they place so much of their ego around being individuals. Which is why most of them don't have two nickels to rub together, because as the stoics correctly point out, humans do best when working in concert …"
I found his statement to be spot on and copied it verbatim to one of my social media accounts. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, which in turn caused me to ponder the matter in greater depth.
Particularly, in the last few weeks, I have noticed a growing trend of pettiness and boorish behavior among those who claim membership in the "liberty movement." Name-calling that would earn Ralphie a bar of Lifebuoy soap for dinner has become accepted vernacular. Further, it appears that the more trivial the issue of contention, the angrier the rhetoric becomes. In reviewing my various social media threads over the past few weeks, the following drama unfolded before my very eyes.
The Bitcoin versus Gold Debate
As bitcoin has moved beyond the obscure crypto-anarchy community, it has attracted its share of skeptics and detractors. In addition to receiving flak from the usual cheerleaders for the unbridled state, bitcoin has come under fire from unexpected corners. Critics of the Fed's digital print press have split and turned on each other.
On one side is the gold faction that, in a bitter twist of irony, is criticizing what's perhaps the most revolutionary experiment in monetary history.
On the flip side is the bitcoin faction, vulgarly dismissing the historical significance of gold.
Both sides use mocking and hateful language. While anything new and untested deserves a high degree of scrutiny, particularly that which seeks to complement if not supplant the global monetary system, the conversation has been marked by ignorant fear masquerading as supercilious contempt.
Real "-isms" versus Invented Grievances
As an unintended consequence of the dim view most libertarians take on Political Correctness and the Thought Police that it fosters, the libertarian community has attracted its share of jerks, racists, sexists, and other uncouth louts. They promulgate the very beliefs that libertarians tend to abhor, namely the judgment of persons by their ethnic or gender classification as opposed to the nature of the individual. The truth is that these individuals have merely found a naïve audience for their atavistic garbage. Political Correctness to a libertarian is like garlic to a vampire. For the time being, many libertarians tolerate language and behavior that should be shunned, merely out of fear for being labeled "The PC Police."
In turn, various "oppressed" people within the libertarian community have chosen to reach for the nuclear label, calling people a (fill-in-the-blank)-ist, because they know that the moniker is a powerful weapon, even in a broadly anti-PC community. Assuming an "-ism" first instead of last is a surefire way to never be able to have a civil conversation again.
Well played, "libertarians." You have introduced the false narrative of people either being PC or racist/sexist/homophobic. As a result, most people do not engage in meaningful dialogue because they've learned the lesson that, to borrow from the movie War Games, "The only way to win is not to play."
Academic Institutions Battling for Intellectual Leadership
There seems to be a never-ending, infantile battle between ego-driven academics. What in some instances begins as a trivial argument over philosophical semantics invariably devolves into mudslinging à la "Elliott is a big poo-poo head." Obscure early writings from academics exploring political science and economics are dug up and used in a game of "Gotcha" that is reminiscent of the tawdriest political campaigns. And to what end?
What these high priests of libertarian orthodoxy seem to miss is that the majority of their readership are not purists. Their views are informed by many sources, and acting like an ill-mannered preschooler is quite unseemly for individuals or organizations presenting themselves as a credible scholarly resource. I am frequently reminded of this classic scene from Monty Python's The Life of Brian (caution: strong language).
Observing these discussions descend into pathetic name calling has led me to ask the question: "Is there a set of litmus tests for being a libertarian?" The question is in and of itself paradoxical, given that it essentially seeks to standardize membership for a group in which the defining trait is purportedly individualism: a seemingly hopeless task indeed. Instead, I went about cataloguing character traits of leading "libertarians" whom I respect. In no particular order, the traits are:
Live and Let Live
Every human being is the unique product of a complex set of formative conditions set in motion long before birth. Throw in free will, and it is really amazing that our species finds agreement on anything at all. Our criteria for happiness and success are as varied as are our methods of achieving them. How often we forget this and seek to condemn others for not only their preferences, but even for their very identities.
Live and let live instructs us to go with the flow and seek to understand. For some, this is seen as compromising principles. Not so, I would argue. Principles and pragmatism can happily cohabitate. I am reminded of a story regarding the Dalai Lama. He was attending a fundraiser for Tibet at the private residence of a very wealthy supporter in Hawaii. The fundraiser included a cocktail in which hors d'oeuvres were served. As the hostess introduced four guests to the Dalai Lama, a waiter presented the Dalai Lama with a plate of Kobe beef appetizers. The Dalai Lama smiled, accepted a serving, and thanked the waiter.
Now it is fairly well known that for ethical reasons the Dalai Lama is a strict vegetarian, yet he consumed the beef and carried on with the conversation. Shortly thereafter, the hostess excused herself from the conversation, at which point one of the remaining guests exclaimed, "Your Holiness, you just ate beef!" The Dalai Lama smiled and calmly replied, "The cow is dead. The hostess is alive."
Win-Win or No Deal
In his wildly successful book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey lists life choices that lead a person from dependence through independence to interdependence. The first three habits focus on moving from dependence to independence. The fourth habit is "Think Win-Win," and it is the foundational trait of an independent person seeking interdependence. Interdependence, in this instance, is the process of becoming an increasingly significant positive contributor to the world and in turn receiving the appropriate rewards that accompany such contributions.
Doug Casey has often bemoaned "broke libertarians." I believe that it is because while many libertarians believe they should have the right to do as they please, provided they harm nobody, many never seem to consciously recognize that to be rewarded you must meet others at their level of need. That means that while you are free to do as you please, if you wish to be rewarded, you should learn to do as they please. Kindergarten 101, folks.
Minimize the State's Coercive Influence in All Affairs
We have all been "blessed" in our lives with people who believe that they know what is best for others and, in their ardor to form a more perfect society, would employ the mailed fist of the State to achieve those ends. Of course they will never put it in such words, instead relying on terms like "nudge," "tax-incentivized behavior modification," and other sanitized terms of Leviathan's truncheon. But let there be no mistake. While they hope you join them willingly, when presenting you with an offer to "do this or else," they are fully prepared to unleash "or else."
A true libertarian finds those operating conditions revolting and, even when given the opportunity to place the shoe on the other foot, will not resort to the blackmail tactics of the State. While this should be the most defining trait of a libertarian, it is perhaps also the most elusive and subjective. Because the State has insinuated itself into virtually every aspect of social interaction, opting out is not as simple as passing on a street solicitor's offer. A purist rejection of the State is essentially impossible in Western society, as it presumably involves nonpayment of taxes, rejection of State-operated facilities, and so on and so forth. Rejection of State coercion therefore becomes a "shades of gray" discussion.
While two people may agree that the State should not be in the business of operating a communal revenue-generating service, what one person may be willing to resist on principle, the other may acquiesce to for pragmatic reasons. That doesn't make one more principled or libertarian than the other. It merely means that in rational self-interest, one is willing to forgo a State service while the other is not.
Recognize Leadership and Collaboration as Positive
I find myself bewildered by the primitive mindset that holds that any form of collaboration, let alone acquiescence to worthy leadership in the pursuit of self-interest, is somehow an immoral or cowardly arrangement. Many years ago, a manager of mine shared a story. After being discharged from the military where he had served in Vietnam, he found himself bouncing around from place to place, ending up in a hippie commune in upstate New York. While he was amenable to some of the more liberal social norms of the place, particularly as they applied to health and recreation, he was somewhat bothered by the sanitary conditions of the facility. The place was a complete pigsty.
He realized in relative short order that while the place had an established code of conduct, it lacked leadership and in fact intentionally sought to operate as a leaderless environment. When he called out the unfortunate consequences of this arrangement, along with naming the two lazy moochers who left their trash everywhere, he was pilloried as an establishment stooge. He ended up sticking around for another few days for reasons I suspect are clear, but eventually had enough and moved on.
For those "libertarians" who believe they can go it alone in life, I highly recommend Not a Zero-Sum Game by Manuel Ayau, available from the Mises Institute bookstore. It is a short and simple, yet very compelling explanation of how the Law of Comparative Advantage encourages collaboration and increases productivity for all participating parties.
It is not uncommon to hear of entrepreneurs "hiring their own boss." They realize that their talent is not running a company and see the company they founded as bigger than a mere edifice to gratify their personal ego. Can it go wrong? Sure. Steve Jobs' ouster from Apple by John Sculley is legendary. But it is common to see visionary entrepreneurs "replace themselves" once conditions allow, so that they can get back to what they do best, which is innovate.
Conditions in Life
If you are the kind of person who espouses libertarian views, yet find yourself nurturing your grievances, ask yourself how much you are committed to creating the world you wish to live in. We live in exciting times, filled with change, challenges, and opportunity. Take a moment to read the top regrets that people have on their deathbed, and commit to having none of them on yours. Eliminate negative people from your life, beginning with your alter ego, if necessary.
There are enough people who desperately need your success. When you are afraid, don't call it by another name. Fear of the unknown is universal to humanity. By accepting for what it is, you gain power of it.
And above all else, don't be a jerk.
Pete Kofod is the cofounder of The Sixth Flag, a firm that provides secure desktop computing as a service. He is also the founder of Datasages, a firm that provides technology consulting to large organizations. Prior to entering the private sector, Pete served in the United States Army, both as an officer and non-commissioned officer, including six years as a Special Forces soldier on an Operational Detachment-A. Pete holds an electrical engineering degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Pete is an owner at La Estancia de Cafayate and enjoys skydiving.