We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Silent lucidity

Libertarian types are all over the blogosphere, but you never actually meet any in real life, of course. So claim many people who have felt the need to inform me that the blog to which I occasionally contribute does not conform to mainstream thinking. I am not sure whether these people expect me to weep softly, wail loudly, or recoil in shock and horror when they share this revelation with me, but if they do, no doubt they walk away from our exchanges disappointed.

To me, the fact that individualists are thick on the ground in the blogosphere is no bad thing. I am not totally surprised that people whose views are not represented in mainstream media would take to their own media in droves, be it to connect to those like them or to communicate their ideas and beliefs to those who may not be familiar with such thinking. Usually, such blog-based conversations involve both of those objectives. For example, I would not liken Samizdata to a recruitment drive, but neither is it mere preaching to the choir. At the same time, Samizdata is not a love-in for those who share the same metacontext. When I read people writing about “what Samizdatistas believe,” I have to laugh: Some of the most fierce, raucous debates I have ever witnessed have taken part between Samizdatistas.

But a conversation I had this week got me thinking – and no, I am sure it is not an original thought – that the reason individualists may seem so hard to detect in day to day life is because many of them have decided to assign politics and related discussions to the circular file of their lives. To them, the system is broken and they do not wish to spend their lives talking about how it got that way, figuring out how to put it back together, or contemplating how much worse things are going to get. Beyond jaded, they just do not get involved in any way. These people may never have heard the terms individualist or libertarian, but they may well qualify for either of those classifications. And because they do not go around wearing any party’s badge on their lapel, or touting any party line that comes down the pike, it is easy to imagine that they do not exist.

And imagining as much is probably quite comforting to those who strictly adhere to party politics. As long as they are certain that their thinking is in line with some large consensus of public sentiment, then they have some hope and some delusion of accuracy and relevance to hold on to. Forced to choose between that and shunning political matters altogether, how much of a dilemma would any of us actually face?

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15 comments to Silent lucidity

  • Not knowing a lot of individualists or libertarians also fits in well with the ‘live and let live’ attitudes that go with the philosophies. There’s also the idea that perhaps those of libertarian or individualist persuasion are not so gauche as to randomly bring up their politics to casual acquaintances.

  • limberwulf

    I find that among the people that I associate with, very few are willing to discuss politics and philosophy at all. Most generally get bored, antsy, or just present a deer-in-headlights look whenever deep philosophies are broached. By that measure, there arent many republicans, conservatives, liberals, democrats, socialists, anarchists, or anything else.

    Among the crowd that actually discusses that stuff, I find that libertarians are not particularly rare, tho they are less vocal than the more emotionally driven socialists and other “something must be done” authoritarians. Rational conversations I have been in in “real life” have almost always turned up other people who are libertarian or hold many libertarian ideas/ideals.

  • Julian Morrison

    Thing with born individualists IMO, they typically don’t care a tinker’s damn for politics. “Not my business, not my problem.”

    Sometimes I think Libertarians occupy a wierd inbetween state. Collectivist individualists? Born collectivists, convinced in theory but collective in thinking? It takes an odd sort of person to want to organize others to be disorganized.

    That’s why IMO so much of libertarian rantings look so eerily similar to their communist equivalent. It’s the same personality type, just with the good guys and bad guys swapped around.

  • toolkien

    Regardless of stylings or roots for respective libertarian beliefs this just confirms the notion that we are all rather splintered to make an effective change to the system. Those who believe in ‘the system’ are the ones who would control the system, and the purpose of having a system is to tell other people what to do. I think a sizeable minority would rather there be a huge reduction in the State (at all levels) but it is contrary to the programming to be able to do much about it. Joining just isn’t in the plan as one becomes what one is trying to fight. Meanwhile the jumbled majority who want to tell others what to do, while at cross purposes, slowly build up the overall power of the State.

  • Speaking for myself, I hate talking libertarianism with civilians, so to speak, and try never to start such conversations, and to stop them if well-meaning friends or relatives (who perhaps think that I do enjoy such conversations) do start them with me. I confine my libertarian propagandising to the Internet and the radio and the like, where, if I tell people they are idiots (which happens occasionally), or imply this with my tone of voice (which happens a lot), no one is angry or surprised, and where they do the same to me.

    But you don’t want to tell some cousin or neighbour or something that she’s a fool, or even suggest it, and yet if you don’t she is liable to think she has somehow won whatever damn fool argument she has started. I hate that.

    If my attitude is common, this might explain the contrast you allude to.

  • Brian, I once asked a former colleague and current friend of mine, upon discovering his libertarian leanings, “Hey, are you really a libertarian?” I had a smile on my face when I asked, and despite knowing my own libertarian sympathies, he seemed very sheepish and uncharacteristically quiet as nodded in the affirmative. Maybe his embarrassment had something to do with the fact that we were standing in the House of Commons at the time…

  • Nick Timms

    Many of the people I meet simply do not want to think for themselves about politics and they definitely do not want someone to challenge the ideas that they have accepted as truth. They will change the subject as quickly as they can.

    I enjoy discussing my views with willing participants but it is depressing how few people relish a strong debate and who are able to argue an opposite point of view without feeling personally attacked.

    Contrary to the premise suggested above by some commenters, I do not believe that people of a libertarian bent are less likely to get involved in political debate “because that is their nature”. Individualists are all different, by definition. I am sure that many people who espouse personal and economic freedom would love to get together to express their views, even if they don’t want to coerce anyone to listen.

    It is possible for individualists and freedom lovers to organise themselves with astounding effect. The signatories to the Declaration of Independence did it and the regime that they threw off wasn’t as repressive as our present UK government and neither were they taxed as much as we are.

    If libertarians, of whatever hue, want to change society, we will have to get organised. Unless we have a far greater influence on the popular media we will never be able to influence the masses who have abdicated their thinking and beliefs to what they see and hear on Eastenders/Corrie and in The Sun.

  • Verity

    Limberwulf – I do not believe for one instant that socialists are driven by any emotion except the urge to control and impose their ideas by force. They are not emotional in the form of compassion.

  • limberwulf

    Verity,
    The true socialists I have met have a religious fervor in their ideas that I constitute as emotional because it is not rational, and I cant think of a different classification. I concur that they are not motivated by compassion.

    Many people, however, that have bought into the statist concept (albeit not pure socialism) have done so out of a misguided emotional reaction. They truly are compassionate about people and their needs, but without the rationale needed to think long-term, they tend to buy into short term “solutions”. They want to “help the poor”. The concept of who is paying for it does not occur to them. The concept of how destructive institutionalized charity can be on the people they are trying to help is even further form their minds. Seeing the big picture, thinking long term, and facing the lessons of history all require rational thinking. Emotional thinking, if it can be called that, does not encompass such things. This is why so many are duped by the authoritarian crowd.

  • Brian:

    I sympthise, but isn’t your aversion to talking libertarian with civilians (nice one!) really a consequence of the fact that you are a well-known professional libertarian? Few professionals in any field enjoy being forced to talk about their job with civilians in their spare time. I don’t suppose David Beckham enjoys talking about football with non-footballers in his spare time!

  • veryretired

    One of the greatest difficulties that libertarian ideas face is that they call for people to to be disinterested or uninvolved in the lives and problems of others. Respecting the rights and liberty of others requires giving them a certain mamount of space to work things out for themselves.

    But think for a moment about where we all came from, i.e., how we developed over the last 100,000 years.

    The vast majority of humans never met more than a few hundred other people. We lived in small groups, then small villages, surrounded by others like us, even related to us. If some emergency developed, the group was mobilized by the ranking elders. Everybody had a job to do, and everybody pitched in because it was necessary and expected.

    We’ve all heard the nostalgic stories about the way some small farming community rallied around the family whose barn burned or whose cattle were killed by a blizzard. How everyone pitched in when the father broke his leg and couldn’t finish the harvest, or when mother was recovering from giving birth and couldn’t keep up with the never ending chores required in a pre-modern rural setting.

    There is also the much maligned “closed atmosphere” of the small town or village, where everyone is busy with everyone else’s business, ready with advice or censure as the situation develops.

    This is the way humans lived for millenia after millenia.

    Then, along comes capitalism, with its mandate to let things work themselves out, guided by the invisible hand of the market. Add to that the idea that people are independent actors, and it is actually an error to demand that everyone be mobilized for every problem.

    Consider how revolutionary is the concept that some have the right to opt out of the “helping group”, and that they are not evil or mean for doing so. Can you hear the echoes from the collectivist chant that anyone who would stay aloof is somehow “lacking in compassion”, and that we must all rally around the leader and do what we are told?

    To raise the individual over the community, and to prize independence over membership in the collective, is THE only truly revolutionary concept that has ever been formulated. Rather than looking down our noses at those who have a difficult time accepting such a radical formulation, we must slowly and carefully advance this idea at every opportunity.

    We are asking that society be arranged in a way that is completely outside the traditions and ways of thinking of the vast majority of our fellows. Patience, and a relentless committment to core principles, even if they cannot be totally realized all at once, will be essential elements in bringing more and more people to a realization that individual rights are the bedrock upon which to rebuild human society.

    There will never be perfection, but there will always be that pre-eminent requirement for a truly human life—a challenge to be met and overcome.

  • Withheld By Request

    That’s odd. I’ve met several famous libertarians in real life. I know quite a few personally. Most of the ones I’ve met aren’t even bloggers. It’s amazing how much we look like everyone else.

  • For example, I would not liken Samizdata to a recruitment drive, but neither is it mere preaching to the choir.

    I think samizdata is a place where people who feel disenfranchised by the current political system (and who are interested in formalising or understanding why that might be) eventually end up. Well, some of them anyway.

    It’s a nasty feeling when you suddenly realise that, in certain and very personal circumstances, people are out to get you and the electoral democracy turns out to be their tool of choice. Where do you go from there?

    Here. Eventually.

  • Johathan Pearce

    Jackie, your observations are dead-on. In my own experience, very few of my friends outside the libertarian circle have much to say on political/philosophical issues, apart from the odd exception. Funnily enough, both my parents respect my views and in the case of my dad, are very interested in the libertarian perspective. Dad has become quite a fan of Samizdata!

  • Part of me really wants to never see a news item or political story ever again. I much prefer to blog about sports. The urge to ‘shut it all out’ and withdraw is very strong sometimes, and since there is an election campaign in Australia just now, this is one of those times.

    But then I read something like what ‘veryretired’ wrote, and I sigh, and ponder my next Samizdata post…