Monday, May 4, 2009

Summer Plans...

May 15th will be my last day as a cubicle jockey...maybe ever? I'll be at the IHS seminar on Liberty and Society from May 30-June 5, and I'll be at FEE's Applying Liberty seminar from July 6-10, their Young Scholars Colloquium from July 13-17, and their Advanced Austrian Economics seminar from August 3-8. I'm also going to Israel at the end of June for my dad's wedding, and I'm going to try to go to Madison for a week after Young Scholars in July. So that's a pretty busy summer, but there are some big gaps that are thus far unfilled. Accordingly, I'm thinking I should figure out how to make myself useful during that time.

So here's what I'm thinking:

I really don't like the way that the libertarian movement has digested the ideas of its luminaries and presented them to the public. I really don't like the way that a lack of nuance has become the mark of the "true libertarian," so that people who actually understand what they're talking about end up either having to say that they're "Liberals who are sympathetic with Libertarianism" or spending an obscene amount of their time explaining, "Well no, I don't believe that; my position is..."

I've said all this before on this blog here, here, here, here, and here (and probably other places, too). But since obviously no one really pays attention to what some kid blogger says, the impact of this proselytizing has been approximately zero.

Meanwhile, people actually watch this and come to believe that it is worth spreading:

That video has almost 150,000 views on YouTube and is available in 19 other languages. I can't make this stuff up.

This is, I think, an unfortunate state of affairs. Accordingly, my goal for this summer will be to produce a series of pamphlets and videos that actually do justice to libertarian ideas in their plausible forms. I acknowledge that this is an ambitious project, but I think it'll be a fun and interesting one. I certainly welcome offers to help out with any aspect of this, and I'll try to post more specific descriptions of what people can do as I get a better idea of what that would involve. For now, though, it's back to cubicle work for me!


Michael said...

"I'll be at FEE's Applying Liberty seminar from July 6-10"

Isn't this seminar a little too beginner for someone like you? Or what do you get out of it?

"Advanced Austrian Economics seminar from August 3-8."

Me too. I'll see you there!

RE: Philosophy of Liberty video. I've recently been reading about the fractional-reserve banking debate and I've noticed the same thing. People see videos like "Money as Debt" or "Money, Banking, and the Federal Reserve," and then think they know everything about banking.

But they haven't even read the pro-FRB side (which I think is correct), and so are drawing their conclusions without being informed.

"I really don't like the way that a lack of nuance has become the mark of the "true libertarian,""

Reading your blog has helped convince me that the "NAP + homesteading" version of libertarianism is too simplistic. So your pamphlets and videos should be able to convince others as well.

Danny Shahar said...

I actually rather liked the Applying Liberty seminar when I was there last summer, and as an intern I felt like I didn't always get to pay as much attention as I would have liked. But it would probably be fair to say that I would have been hesitant to go if it weren't the week before Young Scholars in the same location.

I think you're right to point out that one of the core problems with the current state of libertarian activism is its almost rabid embrace of one-sided, hostile, arrogant, and uniformed "us vs. them"-type thinking. One of the goals for my project is going to be to replace the "They're wrong, and this is what's right" mentality with a "What were they trying to say, and how does that fit in which what we think?" mentality.

I'm really happy and honored to hear that I've been able to help you develop your thinking! Hopefully the outcome of this project won't let you down!

theblob said...

Danny, I fully agree with you. At first I thought this rights-selfownership stuff interesting, but never fully bought into it, or better, I thought it was a proposition how the world should be. But then I realized that people took this as how the Universe IS, and somehow you can violate this "laws".
The last year or so I found more problems with the usual philosophies and attitudes libertarians hold and have, so I don't think I will use this label.
I'm looking forward to this project, hope you post something soon!

Lester Hunt said...

That video seemed very abstract to me -- but I admit I didn't watch the whole thing. Where probably tells me something right there!

I'll be interested in seeing what sort of outreach materials you come up with.

BTW, my son Nat was going to attend the Austrian seminar but got an internship at the Mackinac Institute and a Koch Fellowship which conflict with it. Too bad! I was hoping he could meet you.

Danny Shahar said...

theblob, I hope I'm able to provide the sort of thing you're looking for!

Dr. Hunt, the first two FEE seminars that I'll be attending over the summer will actually be at Northwood University in Midland, so that should put me in the same town as Nat. As you might be aware, Larry Reed is the current president of FEE and was the old president of Mackinac, so I'm sure Nat could find a way to stop by at some point. I'd love to talk to him if he's interested in meeting up while I'm there.

Lester Hunt said...

Great! I'll let Nat know.

BTW, I just read the Yin Yang post. I think it like the video suffers from the shortcoming of being utterly abstract. Unless I missed something, it was quite innocent of examples and concrete details of any sort.

Most of us think in terms of concretes. In fact, examples and narratives are the best way to make an idea vivid -- even for sophisticated folks like us! There's a reason why Atlas Shrugged pops up so often in discussions of bailout-o-mania nowadays, after more than fify years. It's a story! Leonarad Read's "I, Pencil" is another example of an outreach-type document that works because it is presented as a story (of sorts).

Danny Shahar said...

I think you're definitely right about that. I didn't intend for that post to actually function as outreach material itself; I guess I was just trying to jot down my thoughts about a kind of strategy that might be pursued in actually writing outreach material. But I'll be sure to put concreteness at the center of the agenda in writing those materials this summer; thanks!

Mike said...

I'm looking forward to your videos...I'll happily repost them to spread the word.

Gregory said...

This is a great idea Danny. I would be happy to contribute in some capacity, particularly on issues regarding how we will (because I believe it is inevitable) become a freer society and where the opportunities to push in that direction appear today.

As we have discussed previously, I also find the predominant libertarian views very simplistic. My primary complaint is that they focus on creating a libertarian society in a world that is otherwise completely like the world we live in today. Instead I think we need to look towards what the world will be like in the future to know how we should proceed.

As a friend said to me recently: "It is in the areas that the government is not that we, as a society, can undermine their authority. Technology (or rather invention) is the battleground where this war is fought."

I couldn't say it any better than that. In this regard I think the sea-steaders have exactly the right idea but exactly the wrong solution because they focus on geographic location which is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Well that got long and somewhat off topic but hopefully well received...

You know where to find me

Danny Shahar said...

Thanks, Greg! I think your focus on technology-driven arenas for libertarian thought and influence is definitely onto something, though I'm not sure I'll be taking that approach myself. I know David Friedman has been heavily involved in that kind of thing, though, and you might benefit a lot from checking out his work on the subject or even shooting him an e-mail.

As for me, I guess I'm among those who are tied to looking for more libertarian outcomes in the world we already live in. I just don't think that it should really be so audacious to suggest that people should get to make their own decisions about who they want to live with and how, that there really isn't any one solution that fits everyone best, and that when people are empowered to decide for themselves instead of being subjected to the will of the majority or of distant bureaucrats, we can end up with better consequences for everyone. And just imagine what would happen if everyone believed that!

All-In-All said...

"Meanwhile, people actually watch this and come to believe that it is worth spreading:"
Youtube has to have the most inane libertarians in the world. There are a couple (Brainpolice comes to mind) that are reasonably intelligent, but even among the decently behaved libertarians (almost an oxymoron) very few of them have much of a philosophical justification for their views.

Danny Shahar said...

I think a large part of the problem is that libertarians have tried to condense their heroes' ideas for mass consumption, and in so doing have rendered them overly simplistic and implausible. See, for example, the Non-Aggression Principle. My goal will be to offer similarly condensed ideas which aren't built on such unforgiving structures. Instead of providing "logical proofs" that show why taxation is theft, government is objectionably coercive, etc., I'll seek to appeal to people's intuitions about the differences between different groups and the importance of being able to live according to one's own values and the values of one's own community.

The result will necessarily fall short of a fully developed philosophical position. But I don't think that's a problem if you're only arguing that the appropriate response to reasonable pluralism, incentive problems, and knowledge problems is to be more cautious about trusting governments to solve our problems and relying on local solutions rather than imposing our will on the whole country. Besides, someone shouting "Don't impose your policy on me!" is much more attractive than someone shouting "That policy is inconsistent with the Non-Aggression Principle and therefore violates my rights! Gimme back my property, stationary bandit!"

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