"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." ~ John Stuart Mill
The Voluntaryist Art of Not Debating
Column by Alex R. Knight III.
Exclusive to STR
That’s right: Not debating.
There seems to be a penchant, if not almost insatiable urge among those in our movement to constantly confront and debate those who adhere to one statist philosophy or another. Voluntaryists/Libertarian Anarchists burn up thousands of hours on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and such arguing our case, constantly trying to break through the mental barriers of those who do not or will not accept the tenets of the Non-Aggression Principle. The incentive isn’t difficult to decipher. We want to live in a better world. We do not want to exist in chains. We want to be truly free.
But there’s a reason why we find this course of action such a daunting and frustrating task. And it lies in understanding the latest findings in psychology. Without citing chapter and verse, it boils down to this: Whenever someone who holds a perceptual belief is challenged by a different or opposing view, the result is almost invariably that the affronted person becomes even more resistant to change – regardless of how cogent, rational, or objective the case being made might be. Emotionally, they dig in their heels and will go to almost any length from that point forward to defend their self-constructed system, no matter how much cognitive dissonance they must engage in to rationalize it. Very quickly, we find that the old adage, “The man convinced against his will, holds to his opinion still,” holds true. Debating such individuals – and it must be noted this represents the vast majority of society – is not only for the most part fruitless, but worse, it is actively counterproductive.
There is another reason why I believe it to be undesirable for Voluntaryists to argue our philosophy and debate with the uninitiated or those who stand in active opposition to our beliefs – and this stands outside of the fact that we can tend to make enemies, engender animosities, and escalate blood pressures.
When statists debate one another – as they do so often on various TV and radio programs for the benefit of public spectacle, to reinforce the psychological conditioning they have so successfully subjected the mainstream masses to – it is of little moral consequence. Both Left and Right advocate the initiation of force against others to mold the world according to their respective and inherently related social and economic goals. Hence, debating is just one more example of this overall philosophy. To wit, it is indicative of a desire to control. “It upsets me that you don’t think like I do. Thus, I aim to change that no matter what,” is the unspoken intent behind such endeavors.
It doesn’t take much insight to determine that such a mindset is utterly antithetical to Voluntaryist goals.
Now, debating someone from a differing or oppositional standpoint in front of or for an audience – be it live, or via some type of media broadcast – differs substantially, insofar as participating is with the intent of allowing the viewers/listeners to evaluate the merits of the arguments from without . . . and not with the intention of changing the challenger’s views. Every movement must attempt to reach as many potential adherents as possible if success is to be seriously contemplated. The point, however, is to work smarter, not harder – and to be philosophically consistent, of course.
This is why outreach beachheads like STR are so vitally important. We can never predict when any person unawares, as we once were, may be exposed to or stumble across a piece of literature or website like this one, and have that all-important life-changing “A-ha!” moment. Again, it happened to us at one point or another, by one means or another. It can and will happen to others. And I believe that the more nonconfrontationally we put our ideas and philosophy out into public view, the less “threatening” we seem to the public – and the sooner we will reach our goal of a free society, one open mind at a time.
But there’s more still: Life is precious. It is finite. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend however much of it I may have left trying to make my case to those to whom it cannot be made. I have better and more important things to do with my remaining time. I expect you do too, whatever those things might be. Realizing this in itself is another big and indispensable part of being free. Don’t let it pass you by.
The next time a socialist, or a Republican (but I digress), or a constitutionalist, or any kind of statist wants to argue with you, maybe point them in the direction of an essay like this one, and then go back to whatever you were doing. Don’t argue. Don’t debate. Don’t allow yourself to be controlled by others like that. I hope I’ve made my case. And if you find I haven’t to your satisfaction, that’s fine. I have other things to do right now.