Monday, January 14, 2008

The Meme - and My Answer

Sunni asked me when she interviewed me for her Salon - lewlew tagged me with the meme - and Wally tagged me for good measure. The question is:
What motivated you to start looking into anarchist/libertarian thought?
You know what? In my case, that's two questions. When Sunni asked me "what and who led you to the freedom philosophy," I said:
Well, growing up and living in Jersey is an essential building block, I think. Living there just makes you scream, I have to be free of this! [laughs] I was your typical geeky awkward teenager, reading comics and science fiction and hanging around with the smart kids. I think reading Orwell as a teen was huge for my eventual transformation—1984 and Animal Farm scared the bejeebers out of me, and as I slooooowwwly started figuring out that they were coming true before my eyes, I started coming around to a vision of something better. Gotta admit I got sold on Ronald Reagan—Reagan the talker who said government is the problem, not Reagan the president who compounded the problem. Not that I grokked it fully at the time—I actually was a loyal little Republican for longer than I care to admit. I think I started becoming vaguely aware of libertarianism and Libertarians in the late '80s.

The last year, and communing with folks like Wally Conger and you, has really helped me crystallize not just that Big Government is the problem, but that I'm not the only one who thinks reasonable people can do without government just fine. It's been a chance to put together disjointed and seemingly unconnected thoughts and try to make them a coherent whole—Reagan the talker not the president, Marrou, Orwell, Bradbury, Heinlein, Gandhi.
Oddly, I forgot to mention my father, who taught me about taking responsibility for my life and was not afraid to tell us kids about the follies of the government in general and Democrats in particular. He maintains some faith in the Republican Party well into his 80s, but even he seems skeptical of late. I would not relish liberty as dearly had he not instilled it in me.

I didn't explicitly tell Sunni that my path was set the night I heard Andre Marrou speak, during his 1992 run for president as the Libertarian Party candidate. "Both major parties want to be your parent," he said. "The Republicans want to be your daddy, and the Democrats want to be your mommy." The tumblers clicked into place in my mind that night.

Not long afterward I stumbled across Liberty magazine, which for many years was my lifeline to the movement. Bill Bradford's journalism and coverage of Libertarian Party conventions led me to the unpleasant realization that the LP was like any other political party, which was a good thing, which led me to the second half of the question - how did I start thinking about life without government altogether?

It began with the chance re-connection in 2005 with my childhood pen pal, Wally Conger, the California teenager who had corresponded with my New Jersey teenager self. Most folks who visit here know who Wally is, so they know how I started reading people like Murray Rothbard and Frank Chodorov and, finally recently, Ayn Rand. Funny, because I'm told it usually starts with Rand, but my awakening seems to be concluding with her. More on that in a few days. (I'm almost at the 60-page speech, guys! But I must admit I'm getting a little weary of speeches. I GET it, Ayn, I GET it, now get on with it!)

Tag someone else? Nah, I'm going to do what Roderick Long did - I tag everybody! On second thought, if kyfho and John Newman want to add their answers in my comment section, I would be most intrigued by what they have to say.

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Blogger Richard said...

Do *not* assume you "get it". Every paragraph of the 60 page speech can be expanded upon. Quite a few have been expanded by her immediate students and some of their students.

Then there is the far from easy task of applying the ideas to your thinking in day to day life. Even among those who try, many totally fail. Even as they speak with the presumption that they are Objectivists, it can be very plain that they are Objectivists on faith!

5:32 AM  
Blogger PintofStout said...

Your path to where you are now seems so much more personal than simply "it started with Ayn Rand." Having been led by example and personal relationships seems so much better than reading about it, or even just figuring it out for yourself based on a hunch.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

pintofstout --great name-- is very right about seeing things for yourself, but about it being better than reading. Do you want to reinvent the wheel, or Newton's fluxions (the Calculus) and gravitational laws, or would you be better off having learned about them by reading? Surely you could move your life further ahead with such knowledge already understood.

Thomas Jefferson had the largest personal library in America, and used it to such great benefit that all subsequent Americans and much of the Western World benefited from his understandings. He did not formulate the Declaration and Constitution from an intellectual vacuum. Indeed, at the time, young men sought, and obtained, access to his library, &/or requested reading lists from Jefferson, so that they could learn more, over and above what education they obtained from their basic and university educations.

There is a reading list here. It is rather basic except for OPAR, which should be carefully read through first, then studied using Gary Hull's study guide. Answer the latter's questions in writing, as if you are proving the answer to the most critical adjudicator possible, as in fact you are --because he is you.

10:55 AM  
Anonymous lewlew said...

Thank you for playing along, B.W.

You are not alone in thinking reasonable people can manage just fine without goon's tiresome meddling. I know that when I was exposed to outside sources of libertarian/anarchist thought, which mirrored my own inner though, and realized I was not alone--- now that was refreshing.

And maybe sometime I can peddle my way through Ayn Rand, when I grow up. =)

11:41 AM  
Blogger PintofStout said...

Richard, I didn't disparage reading at all. I just said that coming to things via personal relationship is preferable. Even then personal exploration of idea and reading are all likely to be involved.

Simply reading on its own can make one believe whatever they had read most recently; I know, I used to do that. But it is always nice to have mentors or personal examples.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Pintofstout, I think we all know you in no way intended to "disparage reading". All you said was, "seems so much better than reading about it", and that is all I was responding to.

I have seen people eschew reading on the grounds that they want to work it out for themselves, to their enormous detriment.

I think we agree that experience and reading (critically and comparatively) are, and should be, complementary.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous kyfho said...

I did find it unusual that a reader can get "taggged" but since we frequent a few of the same places, I can understand. So here's my story:

I just read a quote from Terrence McKenna, posted by Bob Wallace this morning that said, "I regard science fiction as the entry drug into the psychedelic world. If by nine, ten, eleven or twelve, you're reading science fiction, then you're probably lost to normality." That was me!

As Bob Wallace has said before, SciFi provides a “sense of wonder” that’s missing in this world. It applied to me in a big way. I first got hooked on Heinlein “juveniles,” which led me to read every SciFi book my Junior High and High School had, then it was on to the Public Library. I wasn’t much of a Fantasy fan; I liked my books with well thought out societies with rules, or the lack thereof for their artistic verisimilitude purposes.

But it was SciFi that made me come to grips with my, what Twain called, “superstitions.” Several times I had to put a book down and do some serious thinking about my personal beliefs, or what I thought were my beliefs, before I could continue, after casting off my old “superstitions,” to read the book. But, more to the point, THEY MADE ME THINK!!

I wasn’t politically involved for a long time, being too involved with work, a family, and life in general. What made me start looking at the world around me was when I first got involved in “historical reenactments” of America’s First War of Secession. (Yup, black powder runs in my veins.) To be accurate, I started re-reading, with newly opened eyes, some of the Founding Father’s works on why they wanted to secede and found that the same situations were going on all around me today. I read what they had put in place to prevent it from ever happening again after winning their war, and found that, although lip service was being given to the Constitution, no one was following it. Was anyone even reading the Constitution and the Bill of Rights anymore? If, as Smith points out, our form of government is supposed to be based on the Constitution, and we aren’t following it, do we even have a legitimate form of government anymore?

What attracted me to the early lifestyle was that life on the early frontier was usually without the “benefit” of government, and we did just fine. Prior to America’s Second War of Secession, the only contact most folks had with the Federal Government was when they posted a letter.

It seemed only natural after reading Smith’s Probability Broach, and especially Wilson’s Enemy of the State (kyfho - Keep Your Fucking Hands OFF!!!), I had found a political philosophy that met my basic needs.

Therefore, I joined the LP to “do something.” That led to a shelf full of Boaz, Bovard, Hayek, Levy, McWilliams, Rand, Smith, and Suprynowicz, among many others. The LP lost me as a member, however, when I found, as did so many others, that they didn’t even bother to teach their own philosophy. They ran with whatever “superstitions” you brought with you when you joined—as evidenced by the Portland Purge—just so the Party could win!

So, over the years, I’ve had to develop what Rand called a “philosophic system.” “A philosophic system is an integrated view of existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation -- or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind's wings should have grown."

I’ve done some of the reading—obviously I haven’t read everyone. But I have done the thinking and deliberation based on the facts at hand to get to where I am. I’ve tossed out a lot of the “junk heap.” And I believe that there still is room to grow.

Most of what we believe is based on Natural Law. Anyone with sufficient powers of observation and the ability to think can and should come to the same conclusions. So, it does amuse me, when I read someone new, and we’ve come to the same conclusions, that I can say that I got there by my own experiences and deliberation. If we differ, then I start checking my premises. Then I check theirs. And we don't always agree.

We may not all be perfect, but we all can improve.


12:57 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Nicely put kypho! A great read is "The Pursuit of Reason: the life of Thomas Jefferson", also "Vindicating the Founders" is a worthwhile read.

3:18 PM  
Anonymous John Newman said...

The question I guess I'm supposed to answer is: What motivated you to start looking into anarchist/libertarian thought?

The truth is, I never was motivated to do it, it just sorta happened.

Near as I can figure there are three thing that influenced me to be what I am - a Popeye.
1. Growing up my dad always told me to mind my own business and don't worry about what other people are doing.
2.My grandmother (an immigrant from Germany) always told me never to trust the government. Never. FDR had confiscated her gold.
3.I was a natural born rebel/outlaw. (Outlaw in the Claire Wolfe sense.)

From about the 4th grade on I was always skeptical and cynical of anything an authority figure told me. I noticed that they didn't like their authority questioned. Figured I must be on to something. It was fun and became a game to have them try to justify their nonsense.

Somewhere along the line, new people I met would say, you must have read Rand. I hadn't. After being accused of having read Rand so many times, I found a book by her and started reading. Once I put it down I couldn't pick it back up.

I never voted. Why? To have somebody else tell me what to do? Then Perot came along and I voted for him. That was futile.

The internet came along and I found some interesting stuff there. Read everything I found by Claire Wolfe.
Bought Vin's first couple of books but couldn't finish them. I would get so angry at the government I wanted to start a revolution. Read a few of Bovard's books during the Clinton years.
Over the years I've read bits by all the people I guess you are supposed to read, some of it interesting, some of it a waste of time, at least for me.
I am perfectly content reading and re-reading Mencken and Twain. I guess I am with Twain when he says ain't nobody's had an original thought since Adam.
Since I ain't interested in starting a government or joining a movement of any sort I'll continue minding my own business, not trusting any government and living as an outlaw. Good luck to ya'll.

3:50 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

JN, I had *exactly* the same logic behind your unwillingness to read on, and pursue any particular crap. However, I met someone who sounded like a Randite, and after some discussion with them, I realized I didn't know squat about what she was saying. I re-read what Rand I had read, and then deliberately read Rand's non-fiction. Soon, I was angry with myself for not having pursued Rand sooner.

By carefully thinking through the meaning of what she wrote (which meant seeing the meaning of words more carefully) I was shocked to find out how screwed up my ideas were. The closest thing I can think of, with respect to that realization, is the religious notion of being "Born Again". It was stunning but, above all, it was irrefutable.

4:02 PM  
Anonymous John Newman said...

Richard, I appreciate your input and advice, but I prefer not to get angry with myself.

As a matter of fact, I think my friend kyfho included his Rand “philosophic system” quote just because he knows it rubs me the wrong way. I think I will direct my anger toward him. ;-)

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas.

5:06 PM  
Blogger B.W. Richardson said...

kyfho and John, thanks for joining the party. I learned something new from what you wrote, which is always pretty cool after you've known someone for a fairly long time.

The first time you told me we have to have a philosophy, I didn't buy it, kyfho, but in the ensuing years I think I've come to understand better what you mean - although I also understand where John's coming from when it rubs him the wrong way. :-)

John and lewlew, I understand completely about putting Ms. Rand's books down after a short exposure. What I'm finding is that I have picked up most of her basic concepts through osmosis because they permeate the philosophies of the writers we all seem to commune with regularly in this corner of the blogosphere.

I agree, richard, that there's no substitute for finishing the book and perhaps exploring what various scholars have written to expand those concepts - but I'm confident that the general principles can be grokked even by those who chose not to dive through the whole books.

And pintofstout, I think you're right (yep, everybody's right here, right?) - I owe my dad and the other folks I mentioned a debt for helping me along the way.

9:03 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

I like the positive spin B.W.R.

However, I must emphatically object to the notion that Rand's ideas "can be grokked even by those who chose not to dive through the whole books". That was my view on my first readings of her fiction.

Since then, from discussion with a knowledgeable Objectivist I saw otherwise, and then read and re-read both her fiction and certain of her non-fiction. I was amazed at how much I had not "grokked".

Sometime after my second reading of Atlas Shrugged, I read the 80 page speech apart from the novel. It was in "For the New Intellectual". The speech, now read as an independent essay stunned me anew. In that isolated context it came across completely differently, as I was thinking more about the real world (rather than the story world) as I read it. In that light, it was *more* important, and more applicable to the world.

Unfortunately, Rand's detractors, and even many of her defenders, conclude they know what she is all about when they only have a very superficial grasp of her ideas. The detractors have emotional 'reasons' to reject and/or smear her ideas. Many are willing to go to extraordinary, rationalistic, lengths to dismiss the philosophical views. In a way this also applies to some of her supporters(!) who also present rationalistic arguments to support her philosophy, and thereby do it a disservice.

I find this group of blog commenters to be very decent communicators. B.W.R., that is most likely a function of your own blogging approach. Nice to know you are here.

10:13 AM  
Anonymous kyfho said...

You're welcome!

Personally, I don't understand what the issue is with the Rand quote. Rand says basically the same thing Twain did (ain't nothin' new under the sun) when he talked about "superstitions" only she purtied it up a bit.

It boils down to either acting on well thought out principles or reacting based on how you feel at the time. Heinlein taught me that with four words in his book Glory Road.

Sometimes I can take my medicine (Rand) straight up, but most times I like a little sugar (Heinlein, Smith, & Wilson) to help my medicine go down!

Maybe it’s time to revisit “Oscar” Gordon again. It has been years.


10:14 AM  

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