"It's a rare person who wants to hear what he doesn't want to hear." ~ Dick Cavett
User's Guide to Spreading the Philosophy of Liberty
Column by Vahram G. Diehl.
Exclusive to STR
Whatever the collective heading they arbitrarily choose to fall under, the supporters and practitioners of free choice who reject coercion through force or fraud as a viable ethical standard are constantly facing barriers in the path to spreading this moral precept to those around them. Those who believe in a stateless and free society absent of centralized political rule have likely without exception all been ridiculed, shunned, or even violently opposed for expressing their support of the optimum in individual liberty.
The success of creating the kind of culture we envision depends upon our ability to market this ideology to others and to educate them with sound principles. The nearly universal resistance to even the consideration of a break from past political tradition and dogma is not merely a minor bump in the road; it is the single greatest inhibition we face for progress in creating a free world.
It is easy to point our fingers at the uniformed, gun-toting enforcers who patrol the streets, or to slander the names in a well-intentioned but crude attempt for change of the elite puppet masters pulling the strings. To hold an accurate view and make the most possible progress, we must remember that it is conscious and unconscious agreement in the minds of our commonplace neighbors far and wide that allows such tyranny to remain in effect. Accordingly, it is in the minds of our friends and neighbors that we must act to make slow but effective change which will one day lead to total peaceful revolution.
Having had a moderate amount of success in the arena of ideological propagation, I would like to offer some advice to my brethren on ways to most effectively broaden paradigms in fertile minds. The skill of inspiring and inciting intellectual growth in others is one of the most valuable and rewarding qualities, and its applications extend to a great variety of endeavors. I have summarized the process of second-hand paradigm expansion into five simple steps. Following these steps, and I am confident that one's rate of success in explaining their ideals to outsiders and winning ideological converts will rise dramatically.
Step 1: Be a person of noteworthy intellectual and moral character in order to gain respect and influence.
Before any other major progress can be made, one must make use of his or her greatest tool in this mission: their reputation as an individual. One who can present himself as intelligent, honest, ambitious, curious, and all the other traits that are ambiguously looked up to has a much higher chance of successfully inciting interest through endorsement alone. The same simple sentence spoken by Joe Nobody will suddenly take on immense new power and influence coming from someone whom intuition tells others is worth listening to.
We all represent different demographics through distinctions like age, gender, race, profession, pastimes, and other cultural discrepancies. Each of us will have access to differing spheres of influence; we can only make best use of them when we are in good standing in those spheres. There are comparatively few females who support and adhere to the principles of liberty. A healthy, headstrong, studious, intelligent, fiscally responsible, well-spoken, young woman has a great opportunity to gain attention and influence in her demographic and others simply because of her rarity. Ditto housewives, ditto teenagers, ditto geriatrics, ditto physicists, ditto farmers, ditto educators, ditto musicians, and so forth.
Even if you never actively seek to engage in publication and education on the subject, your positive personal reputation and identification as an individualist will build positive imagery for freedom and add momentum to our progress. A good reputation is a boon to even the most passive of activists.
Step 2: Focus your attention and influence on students who are open-minded, discontent with their present knowledge, and curious enough to seriously recognize problems and evaluate answers.
We should seek to act as guides helping others to utilize their own innate intellectual curiosity and capacity for reason to arrive at the right conclusions. To borrow the cliché analogy: we ought help them to be critical thinking and questioning fishers, not just hand over the catch of the day to them in the form of an all-encompassing, conclusive statement. This can only happen when a person's mind has reached a point of viability at which new ideas can effectively be planted in the healthy soil. It is senseless to try to call attention to the obvious atrocities of our system to someone whose mind is dried and dense. Try as we all have, we will always fail in chipping away at the concrete and stone composing their propensity for free inquiry.
So logically then, our concern should be to select pupils who have already expressed a growing discontent for the state of things and an earnest desire to learn the nature of them. It is not enough to be discontent; everyone is discontent with the state to some extent. Most seek cheap tricks, hallucinations, quick fixes, painkillers, distractions, and shortcuts to ease their suffering. We need quality people who are excited by learning and who will not stop at anything short of the most real of realities and solutions, no matter how disquieting.
If a person is at a state of intellectual or ethical development where they still believe archaic and morally retarded fallacies such as that stealing is sometimes good, or that people should be shot and imprisoned for introducing foreign substances into their own bodies and engaging in other victimless vices, you have little hope of getting past their juvenile mental blockades and should likely save your energy for a more mature subject. Furthermore, most people simply do not have broad enough perspective to even conceptualize the magnitude and scope of the subject of freedom. We all know people who can hardly find more pressing thoughts to occupy their minds than next weekend's prospective dinner plans. Intellectual lightweights should be avoided, with few exceptions.
Some demographics will naturally contain more viable candidates for learning than others. There is a general trend for people to lose curiosity, open-mindedness, and reason as they age. The more comfortable a person has grown with their current circumstances, the less inclined they will be to challenge that mirage of comfort with conflicting ideas. Young people have been subject to less culture programming and are more apt to continue acclimating new knowledge, especially those who found the public schooling system to be inadequate. Men in general seem more concerned than women with fundamental sociological principles and solving worldwide social problems. People who feel strongly passionate about any political party or course of political action, even libertarians, are unlikely to make good candidates for change, as they have already invested far too much emotionally into their stances to easily admit error. Politically apathetic or agnostic types are much more promising. Steer clear of anyone who studied political “science” in college.
There are exceptions to every generalization above, but they do function quite well as guidelines.
Step 3: Be gentle in your approach; never introduce more material or point out more fallacies than newcomers can handle.
The major mistake most people make when they attempt to share their understanding with another is that they lack proper concepts of pacing and logical sequencing. They are quick to forget that the conclusions they now hold often came about as the result of years (or even decades) of self-inquiry and investigation into the problems of our respective daily personal microcosms and the larger interplay of worldwide affairs. Having finally arrived at sound conclusions, they wish to shortcut their own trials in others and to merely promulgate said conclusions in the hopes that others like themselves will listen and rejoice in gratitude.
The process of undoing ideological fallacies in the individual mind is crucial to an integrated and complete understanding, and absolutely cannot be foregone unless one's goal is to create merely another army of indoctrinated zombies mindlessly preaching a gospel they don't fundamentally understand. That will not bring freedom, the world already has enough of those in the form of political parties and religious sects.
For a new idea to take root in a mind, it must be welcomed in. The red pill must be swallowed willingly. To circumvent the ideological immune system that is set off whenever certain politically incorrect buzzwords are used in conjunction, it is wise of us to stick to simple and universally agreeable premises in the beginning. At times, this will require us to be vague and ignore common fallacious arguments parroted out at us. Oftentimes, the best counterargument one can give to an overly confrontational, baloney-spewing zealot is a simple, lighthearted chuckle and a gentle shifting of the focus of the conversion.
It is very difficult for any sane person to argue with such obviously rational and desirable statements as:
-“It seems to me that the most peaceful kind of society would be one in which every interaction between two or more people was voluntary”
-“I think civilization would be better off if all forms of theft were peacefully eliminated”
-“I would prefer to live in a world where people could do whatever they wanted with their own lives so long as it did not harm or force anything upon anyone else.”
While these blanket opinion statements don't seem profound on their own, they have the capacity to start a train of logic moving in the right direction. Working rationally from these kinds of premises and sticking to them in principle, the path will eventually culminate in the understanding of how all political action is necessarily involuntary and can only function through mass theft and other forms of brutally enforced coercion. As well, they act as very effective filters for determining whether or not someone is mentally and emotionally mature enough to have the type of discussion that is required. Only very lightly can we prompt outsiders of our own accord, and then we must be highly cautious and observe the results, adjusting the amount of pressure we apply with every response we receive.
Another good tactic is to gently refer them to a third party publication that they can choose to absorb at their own pace and discuss with you as they go along, or give up on if the content proves too threatening or advanced at the time. Correct information and insight are becoming more and more prevalent and available all the time; gift them a copy of an introductory classic.
Better still, you can mention your own works if you are a published author, or run a website, or help produce videos, a blog, etc. pertaining to freedom in some way. I will never forget how shocked I was to read John Pugsley's The Alpha Strategy (read it free online here), which he casually slipped into conversation after I had come to know him personally as just a wise, genial, optimistic economist with a youthful spirit. Reading such radical yet inescapably rational conclusions from someone I knew personally and had a high opinion of changed the way I thought and incited a curiosity in me that opened countless new doors for conversation with him. These conversations and other fuel supplied by third party material propelled me along the intellectual path to freedom.
Step 4: Never fight or negate what is wrong; always support and build what is right. Begin introducing solutions slowly.
It is unbelievably tempting to attempt to jump the gun and speed blossoming minds along in their growth by immediately shooting down every commonplace intellectual error that they and their neighbors are likely to hold. I cannot express how important it is that you refrain from proving them wrong. Nobody likes to be told they are wrong, they prefer to come to that conclusion on their own. You need to wait for them to approach you with questions and inquiry. If you have successfully done your job so far of appearing as someone respectable, friendly, and intelligent, it should not be long before they are practically begging you for more words of wisdom as they proceed along the track of logical sequencing.
It is important to respect how unsettling and damaging it is to the ego to realize that one has spent the entirety of one's life believing in an illusory scam. The same applies to any form of paradigm enhancement, most notably in superseding the psychological need for religion. If you have ever lost your faith in something that you once held in the highest regard and which composed a huge part of your world, try to remember how terrifying it was at first to be lost in the unknown before the true feelings of liberation from ideological enslavement set in. Faith in the political racket can be just as important to a person's sense of identity as religion; we need to be there to catch them and help them to their feet when they fall, not kick them when they are down.
As easy and fun as it is to systematically rip into and roast every example of bureaucratic incompetence, thuggery and propaganda, such tactics are of little long-term utility for building strong intellectual foundations in new minds. Making fun of the Post Office, comparing the police force to a mafia protection syndicate, or calling the Federal Reserve and Social Security systems out as pyramid schemes can actually be edgy and humorous ways to initiate interest in liberty, so long as they do not set off any culturally inherited mental defenses. However, the conversation absolutely must progress further beyond pointing out what is wrong with the present world.
When the subject is ready, the idea for positive, privately owned alternatives to state “services” must somehow enter their mind. The biggest objection to total freedom people will always have, even if they can clearly see the problems with government rule, is that they don't know of any alternative besides total chaos. Their minds have been trained so that as bad as they can see things to be, they lack the ability to independently envision ways that they could be done better except through more of the same.
It is a major intellectual leap to see through the false alternative of “state rule vs. chaos” and to begin conceiving of solutions in terms of individuals working in conjunction for their own benefit and innovating improvements that permeate outward to the masses without the need for state intervention. They must become absolutely secure in knowing that anything the state can accomplish through stolen taxpayer money, free enterprise can accomplish faster, better, cheaper, and morally through free trade customer service fees. It is only when someone begins to see every problem and its accompanying solution in these terms that you will have successfully enlightened them to the power of voluntary interaction, and they will never turn back to the darkness of statism and mass coercion for the greater good.
Step 5: Prepare for the inevitable backlash from the rest of the world.
I do not know of a single agorist, anarchist, anarchocapitalist, anti-statist, autocratist, cosmopolitan, free enterpriser, free marketist, free stater, non-aggressionist, objectivist, sovereign individualist, total capitalist, or voluntaryist who has not faced immense resistance to change from those around them as they began to broaden their perspectives and embrace liberty. Be ready to deal with the opposition that will come as the student's freshly acquired paradigm clashes with old influences from friends, family, and most of society at large. Remind them that ideological wars are not won by fighting, but by advertising, inspiring, and educating.
When the times comes, assure them that they are not alone in having a clear view on the problems of society. They will have to discover for themselves that they will only alienate former influences by attempting to share these new ideas with them. In time they will learn discretion as you have regarding when to broach with prudence such controversial subject matter. Many will lose friends; all will seek a higher caliber of friendship as a result. They will be relieved to learn that there are digital communities and networks of like-minded individuals, and that numerous best-selling books and even major historical documents like "Common Sense" and The Declaration of Independence have been written on this very subject under a plethora of labels starting centuries before them.
The discontent they will now feel at being lost in and at the mercy of a sea of blind insanity can serve as important motivation for them to do what they can to increase the prevalence of the philosophy of liberty. If you have done your job correctly, they should have enough knowledge to follow the same tactics and logical sequencing as you and begin imparting this information onto others who are ready to mature.
Changing the world is a lengthy process; we are correcting thousands of years worth of incorrect thinking and it is slow going. If we can accomplish in a only a few generations what has not been done for a thousand generations past, we are making relatively good time. It is no doubt frustrating to have the clarity to see the abundance of problems in the social structure all around us and be able to envision simple yet at the moment mostly unimplementable solutions.
We cannot allow our frustrations to get the best of us and to spurn us into trying to speed through the process faster than the nature of our evolved psychology allows. To act in contrast with the laws of nature will only be counterproductive in the long run, even if it does provide the brief, instant gratification supplied by symptom fighting. Even the most open-minded and eager of learners requires a significant time investment to adopt a totally new way of conceptualizing the world. We are limited by our physiology, and current advances in nutrition, psychology, and biotechnology do little to help us overcome these limits.
Patience and detachment are the most important virtues we must adopt when working with learners on their way to arriving at the right conclusion. It is they who will be doing the work itself, mentally working through every grueling mental conundrum and challenge and struggling to deduce the right course of moral and rational action. We are mentors, watchers, and guides only. We help steer the ship, but it is they who exert the energy and make the needed changes in themselves to get where they need to go.
I know of no other viable way to achieve for the first time in human history a sustainable and free civilization. This is the course we must take if we wish our dreams to become a physical reality, even if it does not happen in our lifetimes. The satisfaction we get from helping others ethically and intellectually mature and the increases in standard of living we experience as more people sign on will be reward and incentive enough to stay the course.