Angry ‘idealism’ can still ‘mess up a free lunch’
by Brian Wright
Years ago, when I was young and invincible, also omniscient and omnipotent—and exceptionally good looking—I was so convinced of the ideas of liberty promulgated from leading lights—in the heroic individualist camp of Ayn Rand as well as the pudgy affable creative intellectual camp of Murray Rothbard—that my egoic mind seized on a number of their aphorisms as axioms that only morons and moral defectives could fail to understand. My attitude—often stoked by alcohol (for which I had an unusual tolerance and affinity)—was angry and self-righteous: if all these subhumans don’t get it, then f*** ’em. I’m busy and important; they don’t matter.
Needless to state, I didn’t convince too many individuals of the vitality of rationality, much less the ideal of the nonaggression principle. And any fence sitters tended to quickly jump to the other side as soon as they saw me coming. [To be fair, I wasn’t always in this sort of rage mode, and another part of my young primetime human male persona was amiable enough and really rather conventional and kindhearted. And I had a constructive side that kept me reading, writing, earning a living, even loving. It’s simply that political idealism combined with substance overuse and a healthy amount of deep insecurities could often set me off like a Roman Candle.]
In the 1980s, the libertarian movement, especially inside the Party, went through a decided effort of self-reflection to improve its persuasive skills: We saw the emergence of Mary Ruwart as an icon of compassion reaching out principally to the touchy feely left, Marshall Fritz’s Advocates for Self Government which leveraged the Please Understand Me technology of Meyers-Briggs personality types to better know ourselves, and then a gentleman named Michael Emerling (now Michael Cloud) who actually emerged in the late 1970s to apply How to Win Friends and Influence People to persuading our target audience, voters, of liberty.
One of Michael’s most brilliant discoveries or identifications was a phenomenon he called “Libertarian Macho Flash”; (LMF), which he described as follows:
- The Libertarian Macho Flash has much in common with sexual exhibitionism. A common-looking person exposes his political beliefs in a shocking way. Invariably, he disgusts people or at least shakes them up. The Libertarian Macho Flasher displays his views in the most offensive way or exhibits whichever views are most likely to offend the audience.
- The real macho flasher, by shocking his listeners, convinces himself that his ideas are virile, potent — even intimidating. The audience obviously lacks his intellectual courage and insight. He grasps truth and goodness. He is good, noble and wise — clearly a superior person. The listeners? They are stupid, worthless and possibly evil. Why waste time on such inferiors?
- Some libertarians flash to convince themselves that they are doing something for freedom. They mistake flamboyance for effectiveness, heat for light. Still others flash to persuade themselves that nothing can be done for freedom. If people are shocked by libertarianism, then effort is futile. So why try? This is a beautiful example of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Here is how Cloud leads off his classic article on the LMF:
It was a large and expensive home. The architecture radiated impeccable taste. Seated around the dining table were five people: three moderates, a conservative and a libertarian. The conservative was a multimillionaire — and a generous political contributor. After dinner she turned to the libertarian and said, “Our hosts tell me you’re a libertarian. Maybe I’m a little naive, but I don’t know what that word means. Could you tell me about your beliefs?”
“Sure. I can explain them in a sentence: ‘Fuck the State!’ Libertarians want to get rid of as much government as they can.”
The woman was stunned. She dropped the subject and guided the conversation into other areas. In her mind, two things were associated with ‘libertarian’: bad manners and gutter language.
As a cofounder of the Libertarian Party of Michigan in June 1972, then in this century being an early leader in creation of the Free State in 2004 and 2005, I’ve “rid in a few rodeos.” In the early days of the Party, we had a lot of movements and people who resisted the conventional political process—I was one of them—from Sam Konkin III (founder of the latter-day agorist movement); Jarret Wollstein (Society without Coercion author, leading anarcho-capitalist); Bob Lefevre who coined the term autarchism and set its initial meaning in motion; Carl Watner, Wendy McElroy, and George H. Smith who launched the modern voluntaryist movement, and so on.
All of these individualist movements against the state—and more recently the Sovereign movement, which I’ve noted in the Free State—share an ‘Alongside Night’ attitude toward the existing conventional political process: Noncooperation to the extent possible, and often: 1) eschewing any activity in the political process (not voting, not working for candidates), 2) separate economic development (mostly off the grid, homesteading, usually associated with the agorist tack), 3) typically one-off acts of civil disobedience… against marijuana laws, car registration, school taxes, etc., and 4) regularly stated disdain for ‘minarchists,’ Libertarians, or anyone participating in the coercive government establishment. [And critics note that the overwhelming percentage of proponents in these movements are young males who are not into ostentatious material success.]
It’s Item 4 that brought me to the insight that what characterizes more than a handful of those in the radical antistate movement (the handful who are antisocial, morally condemnatory, pontificating, and say all sorts of silly things) is a virtual identity with the LMFer… just as I once was. The antidote? I believe it’s ‘a guy thing,’ a consequence of hormones and other influences that can be mitigated by time, hard work, gathering more real knowledge, and, well, good women with patience. Which is how I eventually came to. [Although the destructive inner Medusa lived on for me for decades, only recently given its walking papers.]
So that’s a spiritual road, outside the scope of this column. For now, as a party, let’s try to be aware of the phenomenon of LMF and to finesse it the best we can. Michael Cloud’s book The Essence of Political Persuasion and the corresponding CD from The Advocates are truly full of sound practice. The Libertarian Macho Flash essay is up the Website here: http://michiganlp.org/?page_id=1578.
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