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Mama Liberty's picture

Socially Naked in California

Finally getting to the long promised story of my trip to California. You were warned. [grin]

It all started months ago when my sister sent me tickets for the airfare. She'd always wanted to do that, but I'd never before agreed to fly... but I had a 2 1/2 year old grandson I'd never seen, and wanted badly to reconnect with my two sons, so I bit the proverbial bullet and accepted.

Sunni's picture

Don’t Talk to Me About Principles

Libertarians of all stripes love to talk about principles. Specifically, they like to talk about their principles. The Libertarian Party in the U.S. calls itself “the party of principle”. Yet among its leaders are some who have succumbed to politics as usual at a level equal to the Democrats and Republicans they love to scorn. Libertarians love to debate and pontificate about the Non-Aggression Principle. Yet many support a U.S. war against Iraq and the nebulous “war on terror” despite the inevitable civilian casualties and other catastrophic, NAP-violating consequences of each. Many libertarians think of themselves as being generally more principled than other people. That may be accurate on balance, but I’ve evidence suggesting that, at least on matters of keeping one’s word, libertarians are no better than the “dull normals” some of them enjoy sneering at.

For the past four years I’ve had the honor of working as a contract employee for a major pro-freedom organization. I call it an honor not because I was somehow singled out or had special qualifications for my job, but because of the kind of work I did. I helped spread ideas and information important to liberty to interested individuals worldwide.

In the post-9/11 economic climate, fundraising for this highly prominent organization became more of a challenge. Efforts to secure grants from new sources were stepped up, as were general calls for member donations to help keep the organization afloat. Many, many promises were made of forthcoming support—promises from so-called liberty supporters to an organization widely respected for its work advocating and teaching freedom.

In many cases, that support never arrived.

Somehow the CEO of the organization managed to keep it afloat through a series of financial crises, yet in the end that was not enough to keep the organization going. It has been shut down, in large part because of an ongoing financial crisis that could easily have been averted.

I’m not naïve enough to think that some management decisions couldn’t have been better, or cutbacks initiated sooner. Still, it comes down to this: people promised to support the organization, and failed to follow through. A follow-through rate of just 50% on promises of support would likely have been enough to keep the organization going.

These are among those same individuals who proclaim to stand steadfast on principle, who supposedly uphold honor and integrity as the highest human values. Among them are heads of other major organizations, whose funding hasn’t been as severely threatened, and foundations that reneged on agreements of support. From the luminaries of the libertarian movement to the so-called “little guys”, many said one thing and did another.

If anyone thinks I’m just bitter about losing my paycheck, those individuals are missing the point. I will find other means of supporting myself and my family. I hope to continue doing so in a way that advances freedom.

Because that’s what this comes down to: freedom and principles. I know that unexpected events can throw the best-intentioned person into a tailspin. I’m guilty of failing to keep promises myself. Even so, I try extremely hard to be as certain as I can be of my ability to keep a promise before I make it; and if I can’t keep the promise, I let the other party know, and we reach some alternate arrangement that’s satisfactory to all. I don’t think this organization had much communication of that sort, which would have allowed its CEO to make better contingency plans.

More than anything else, I love freedom. It is the driving force in my life. I needn’t remind anyone of the degree to which freedom is under assault worldwide. Particularly alarming is the attack in the U.S., from our own so-called leaders, who pass legislation like USA PATRIOT and Homeland Security which they’ve not even read, proclaiming those laws will help protect us, when all they really do is strip more of our freedoms away, ensnare us in ever-more life-sucking bureaucracy, and ultimately create a society of repression, intolerance, and fear that will rival—and likely surpass—the U.S.S.R.

The organization I’m writing of had been a beacon of freedom throughout all of this. Despite its budget problems that caused staffing to be cut and services scaled back, it had been breaking traffic records at most of its web sites. Worldwide, the flagship web site was highly known and well-respected. I’ve been to countless web pages upon which one of the few bits of English I’ve seen was its name.

And now that organization—one of the brightest beacons of freedom worldwide—has been snuffed. It died primarily because the people who claimed to value it—those self-proclaimed adherents to principles—never followed through on promises to send in a donation.

I hope you’ll excuse me for not buying into any claims that libertarians are more principled than anybody else for a long time.

Sunni's picture

Some Words for Walter

I see that Walter Block has continued with the deriding of anarchist non-voters for not supporting RP—or, as he puts it, “kicking people in the crotch”. (Yes, I know; it’s a lovely image of tolerance in the pro-freedom family, isn’t it?) He completely missed mine, but offered some interesting new gymnastics in the attempt, so I guess it’s my turn to add to the shouting again.

Sunni's picture

Frodo or Boromir?

Dale over at Anarchy in Your Head has created an excellent cartoon that very succinctly presents why I cannot support He-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named-Here:

Ron Paul and the Ring of Power cartoon

Someone commented on that post that RP is Frodo, which set me to laughing. But then I got to thinking ... is someone like Frodo possible? I don’t think so; I don’t think Gandhi measures up, although he might come closest. I’m not sure that it’s productive to dwell on such questions, because fictional characters operate in worlds very different from ours. I don’t see a lot of value in even trying to emulate characters like Frodo, Howard Roark, Dagny Taggart, or John Galt.

That said, I think most individuals who seek power over others end up like Boromir, even if only metaphorically.

Sunni's picture

Freedom Always Originates from Within

How refreshing—I just read an open letter that I actually liked! No, it isn’t one of those increasingly silly open letters over at RP Central.

Sunni's picture

It’s No Longer About He-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named-Here; It’s About You

As I wrote a while back, in One Individual Defines an Entire Ideology?, I have been trying to understand the sentiment, apparently common amongst a broad swath of libertarians, that distills to “If you aren’t for R.P. then you aren’t a real libertarian”. I have encountered some pretty interesting linguistic gymnastics along the way, along with what strikes me as a lot of intolerance for those of us who love liberty deeply, yet aren’t worshipping at the feet of Dr. No.

Skeptical Man's picture

The Master-Behind-the-Curtain

It is a real challenge for someone who has grown up in servitude, and received an education tailored to keeping them in that condition, to think like a free person. This is often apparent in the writings of libertarians, who think freedom consists of having a longer leash, or a master with velvet gloves. Even among people who style themselves "anarchists" it can often be observed, frequently in a form that I call the "master-behind-the-curtain". The author will obviously feel the need for some control over those "other people" which they believe can only come about through the application of an external coercive force, but since they don't believe in the legitimacy of government they will attempt some slight-of-hand to sweep that force behind the curtain where they can ignore it.

The article on children's rights that Sunni pointed to recently is a good example of this. The author of that piece feels the need to ensure that "other people" care for their children the way the author would like to see them cared for. They imagine a utopia where parents are forced to treat their children like self-owners, with some additional coercion in the form of one-sided "contracts" to keep them from utilizing neglect as a control mechanism. All force involved to be provided courtesy of the master-behind-the-curtain.

This argument is kicked off by the author defining self-ownership as a basic right that all humans possess, starting at birth. Now anytime you see a professed anarchist talking about "rights" you have a good chance of detecting the master-behind-the-curtain. "Rights" is usually used by libertarians in the negative "Bill of Rights" or "Rights of an Englishman" sense: a list of prerogatives that the serfs insist their masters not exercise upon them, upon penalty of revolt. For example: "master shall not piss in our water bowl and make us drink from it". Self-ownership never appears on these lists: if the revolting slaves wanted to be free they would just kill their masters, or have nothing further to do with them, rather than demanding concessions. Since the article in question was supposedly an anarchist's view of child-rearing, this sense wouldn't seem to apply.

I suspect that the author means "right" in the newfangled positive sense: a privilege that a master grants over their slaves. Monopolies of all sorts fall into this category, where the "right" consists of the owner ordering their chattel to buy only from, or refrain from competing with, a certain party. "Entitlements" are another form, where a master transfers some percentage of their slave's output to the privileged party. It has become common for owners to grant such privileges over their chattel to their chattel's children, regularly insisting that their youngest slaves have a "right" to various things at the expense of their parents. "Self-ownership" for the child in this context consists of the parent being ordered to treat their offspring as their master's property, rather than as their own.

Realistically, in a free country a parent would have no externally-imposed obligation to treat their children in a particular fashion. Free-market law-providers would recognize dependent children in exactly the capacity that they would be paid to recognize them in. I suspect that few parents would be willing to pay for a policy that treated their offspring as independent agents. If they signed up for such a policy by accident, the first time they got hauled before a court and fined for placing their kid in "time-out" would be the last time they would pay that premium. Most parents would pay to have their children protected as their most precious possessions: not as "self-owners". Children would achieve recognition as self-owners when they were ready and able to pay for such recognition.

Strong feelings about desired outcomes make many "anarchists" reluctant to discard their masters. Leftist "anarchists", with their concern with social outcomes label the curtain their master hides behind the "collective will". On the right you can see authors struggling with social control mechanisms that will make those darned "other people" behave properly without the strings being so obvious that their audience can follow them to the not-so-invisible hand of the puppeteer. A feeling of personal dependence on a master's beneficence makes it even harder to shake off. Many authors, for instance, can't imagine a world without (their) monopoly privileges. To really think like free people we need to check behind all of our curtains to make sure master isn't still hiding somewhere.

Sunni's picture

For Freedom, or Against It?

In his recent essay, The Pirates of Scandinavia, Per Bylund discusses recent developments in Sweden, and closes with an excellent observation [all links in original]:

In a recent raid against a Stockholm-based company Swedish government goons were explicitly (illegally) directed by representatives of the Hollywood guild, acting on the guild’s and US government’s mandate (official comments), ensuring everything on the premises was confiscated. Surveillance cameras, before being covered or destroyed by the government hat people and representatives of the guild, caught the anti-pirate mob on tape making sure no equipment was left behind. ....

Piracy, in this case, is simple sharing of information, often movies, music, or images, over computer networks. Such file-sharing violates copyright laws and such actions are thus claimed to be "theft" (even though nothing has been forcefully taken from the creator). A cartel of governments and mega-corporations are working to ban technology and the free exchange of information in order to protect the state-granted privilege of "intellectual property."

In a not too distant future this cartel is very likely to put an end to piracy and through it increase its own powers. Rights have never been a core concept in Swedish legislation, and the encumbrance the few existing rights are to the government in exercising its important authority needs to be done away with. As always, the "threat" of new technology is used to boost government power, and ordinary people are the ones who end up paying the bill.

So one better choose side; either you’re with the government or you’re against it. Pirate or civilian alike.

The attempts to muzzle information exchanges aren’t happening just in Sweden, of course; whether under the guise of “copyright/patent protection” or DRM, my guess is that any country that is sufficiently technologically advanced is wrangling with these issues. But I’m not so much interested in what governments are doing ... I am wondering what side various pro-freedom individuals will choose.

Jorge's picture

...and they didn’t even get the votes

Yesterday the people of Costa Rica went to the polls to choose a new President, all 57 members of the Asamblea (congress) and members of the 81 city or county councils. Jacqueline has some good posts here, here, and here on the election overall.

The vote for President is too close to call. We will probably have to wait for the official hand count of all the votes to know who will form the next government. As both men have very different policies I will delay an analysis of what the new president will mean for libertarians looking to Costa Rica as a possibly freer destination.

To me, and many other libertarians, the performance of the Movimiento Libertario, the former Libertarian Party, is of great interest. As documented here and here the ML abandoned libertarian principles in favor of a pragmatic approach because, as Otto Guevara, the party's presidential candidate, said “we need to be more moderate and move closer to the Costa Rican people if we are going to gain power.” Does abandoning principle “work”?

To answer this question lets look at how the “radical” hard core ML performed four years ago. In 2002 the ML received 1.7% of the vote for President and 9.34% of the vote for the Asamblea, electing six Diputados (congressmen). To do this they spent a bit more than US$ 200,000 in privately raised funds, explicitly rejecting government funds as immoral.

This time around, they spent roughly US$ 1,900,000 and accepted state funds. For President, Guevara received 8.4% of the vote (86.9% counted). For Diputado, the ML has received 9.08%. It seems that they have elected six, but one has a razor thin margin, which may just disappear when all the votes are counted. So far 83.4% have been processed.

The source for the numbers above is el Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones. The TSE is the government body in charge of elections. The numbers on the web page are provisional. The official numbers will come out in about two weeks, after the hand count. A note on the web page: It can only be viewed in IE. I have tried Firefox and Opera, neither can read it.

Internally, the ML was expecting 20% for both President and the Asamblea. This was widely leaked. On the 5th of January Otto said in an interview that they were going to get 23% or 24% for President and 12 to 19 seats in the Asamblea.

Since changing direction they have gotten many public figures to join the party. Mostly from PUSC, which has self destructed (more on that below), and some from a couple of small moribund parties. The ML had a slogan “cada día somos más” (“every day we are more”). Well, yes, more of the same. More of the same tired old, corrupt politicians of always. And now they are in the ML. Instead of fresh new faces, with bold new ideas, they ended up with the same old, tainted faces, with a bunch of “moderate” (as they put it) proposals that sounded just like everyone else.

Guevara and his group expelled the hard core libertarians, or as he called them “radicals”, from the party, saying that they were responsible for impeding the growth of the party. He said that by becoming “moderate” they would move closer to the Costa Rican people, thereby gaining many more votes.

So, they abandoned ideology, purged the “radicals” from the party, spent 9.5 times what they did before, and came out slightly worse. Maybe significantly worse if the seat that is hanging by a thread is lost.

Add to this that one of the two major parties, in fact the one currently in power, basically imploded. PUSC has been plagued by corruption scandals and the current President is very unpopular. Their Presidential candidate only received 3.4% of the vote. For the Asamblea they only received 7.6%. Yet the ML did not benefit from PUSC's demise. Not a single seat. Can you imagine the Republican Party in the United States self destructing and the LP failing to gain anything from that?

This was a clear abject failure. So much so that last night Guevara did not talk to the press. He only made a 15 minute speech and then left the election night party. Today he is nowhere to be seen. Contrast this with the 13 other Presidential candidates, some who did much worse numerically. All of them are talking to the press, all of them are participating in the analysis of the results. All except Guevara.

What would have happened if the ML had remained hard core? We will never know the answer to this question, but I will offer a possible scenario.

In September of 2004 I saw the results of an internal poll which said that the entire Libertarian message was very popular with 25% of the population. Many positions were supported by the majority of the people. The main problem seemed to be that the ML had not effectively communicated the message. For example 70% of the population was opposed to government funding of political campaigns. Yet only 15% was aware that the ML did not accept state funds. When speakers would talk to small groups of people, communicating a hard core message, they would get enthusiastic responses, including offers of help. The big challenge was figuring out how to package the message into 30 second TV spots and getting the funds to take it to the people.

There were very creative people in the party. This problem was being addressed. If it had been solved, then a hard core ML would have elected 14 or 15 Diputados and been a significant force in the legislature. Possibly being able to advance Freedom a little bit. Sadly, we will never know.

Jorge's picture

Costa Rica’s Election

This Sunday, 5 Feb, the people of Costa Rica will choose a new President and Asamblea (Congress). Unfortunately they will not have a libertarian choice. In This post I talk about the transformation of the Movimiento Libertario from a Libertarian party to a run of the mill Liberal (in the European sense) party.

I made some predictions, and so far have been correct. I predicted they would accept state funds, they did. I predicted that many hard working people would leave the party, they did.

The most important prediction I made was with regard to the number of seats the party would win in the Asamblea. I said a maximum of seven seats. This prediction will be put to the test on Sunday.

The more I see and hear the more confident I am that I will be correct here also, or at least not too far off. The ML has been steadily dropping in the polls, with the latest indicating 11.8% of the vote for President, four pretty solid seats in the Asamblea, three "likely" seats, and three "possible" seats. That poll was conducted three weeks ago. If the slide continued, they won't reach those numbers. Additionally, I noticed two more things today. One, an article in the paper talking about the preparations that the various parties are doing for election day. Most are along the lines of "call our people and provide busses to get them to the polls". The ML said that "organization is important, but not critical" and that their people "would ride the opposition busses to the polls and vote for us". This confirms something I had heard before, namely that they do not have much of a volunteer organization and that those who are there are not motivated. Which leads to the second item. While driving through a town today, there were a group of about 15 children, ages 10 to 16 or so handing out ML bumper stickers. They all looked very bored and only made feeble attempts to give the sticker to passing motorists. If this is the most enthusiasm that the ML can generate among the youth, its traditional core group, they are in big trouble.

By Monday we will know if selling out paid off. I intend to post first thing Monday morning. Right after I read the newspapers. Shortly there after I will post my analysis of what happened since the pragmatists, or as they call themselves "moderates" took over the party. Also what the new government is likely to mean for Costa Rica and specifically what it will mean for those who look to CR as a place to escape and possibly live a bit freer.

Jorge's picture

New Low

An article (Spanish) in today's La Nación talks about what the various political parties are promising to do about crime in Costa Rica. The "new" Movimiento Libertario, the supposed moderate Libertarians, are promising to make permanent the anti-drug police presence in neighborhoods and increase the number of jails.

This should end any illusions held by Juan Carlos and others that the party is still Libertarian.

Sunni's picture

Vindicated for Criticizing 'Libertarian' Think Tanks?

As part of my talk at the Freedom Summit, I criticized the public-policy elements of libertarian think tanks. My points were that very few people like to be told what to do by others, and that when supposedly pro-freedom individuals do it it's particularly hypocritical. I took a bit of heat for that, as some people apparently see the good such think tanks do in spreading pro-freedom memes as outweighing the hypocrisy. I'm not convinced of that, but it's a good point.

Jorge's picture

Responding to irrationality

I asked Thomas Knapp to write a response to ESR's support of the war, while still claiming to believe in the non-aggression principle.

Tom graciously obliged me, responding much better than I ever could in these three posts:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

There were two principle reason for asking Thomas to do this, instead of doing it myself. First of all he is a much better write than I am, and therefore would do a more effective job. Secondly, words failed me. The illogic and anti-libertarian sentiment in ESR's posts, while still claiming to be libertarian, left me speechless. I suppose this really bothered me because ESR is someone I admire. Or used to admire. It is difficult when people we respect do something that forces you to change your opinion.

I can respect many arguments, even when I disagree with them, but that I cannot respect irrational positions. I cannot accept illogic. As Anthony Flew said: "To be illogical is to be stupid, or to be incoherent, or to be insufficiently concerned about truth, or all three together." The ESR I respected was none of these things. The argument presented in favor of the war was at least one of them.

Sunni's picture

Thank You, Garry Reed!

I took a fair amount of shit for making the observation here that the attempted theft of David Souter's New Hampshire home to make way for a proposed "Lost Liberty Hotel" isn't consistent with libertarian principles. None of the commenters was able to persuade me otherwise [yeah, calling me "over-cerebral" is such a devastating argument!]. So, if my words failed to persuade you, maybe Garry Reed can ... His new essay is Lost Principles Hotel. A sample:

Clements' web site (freestarmedia.com) proclaims him a media mogul wannabe with a TV show "in development" that will feature anti-government David and Goliath stories. One of the no-kidding suggested scenarios for his show: "Perhaps a government has threatened to use its eminent domain power to take someone's home and sell it to a shopping mall developer. Viewers can deluge the city council with mail, faxes and e-mail asking for repeal of the decision or show up to stop the bulldozers."

What? Doesn't Goliath Clements himself want to use government eminent domain power to take David (yes, "David") Souter's home and sell it to a developer? Guess Clements wants to be both David and Goliath simultaneously. Is that the lesson this hypocritical huckster learned from reading Ayn Rand?

Libertarians should never succumb to the egalitarian idea of justice that says everyone should get screwed equally. That's a concept of collectivism. Libertarians demand that everyone's rights be protected equally. Thievery through eminent domain is still thievery whether it's your house or David Souter's that’s being stolen.

Time to add Garry to my purely hypothetical short list.

[Speaking of friends, anyone know what's up with Brad Spangler? His site has been coming up 404 for several days now :( ...]