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The Libertarian Home meeting last Thursday and the difference that a speaker makes

Last week I attended that Libertarian Home meeting that I mentioned here, addressed by Tom Burroughes, concerning intellectual property. (Pictures of it, and an outside view of the venue, here.)

I agree with Tom Burroughes about intellectual property. In his talk he sat – learnedly, naming and summarising lots of useful luminaries on both sides of it – on the fence. So do I. When it comes to theism, I am an atheist rather than an agnostic. But concerning IP my agnosticism is as strident as the theism and the atheism, so to speak, of all the other contending parties in this ongoing debate. I think IP has to exist if modern life is to flourish, and will emerge from the contracts people make if by no other means. But, I understand the objections to the various forms of IP that come in such abundance from those who disapprove, not least the fact that so much of IP enforcement seems to depend on the state chucking its weight around. IP needs to exist, but it also needs to be treated with suspicion.

I won’t say any more about IP than that. When I later emailed Simon Gibbs about what a good meeting I thought he had arranged and compered, adding that I hoped some time soon to be writing something to that effect for Samizdata, he suggested I might want to wait for the video. When it comes to us all arguing about what Tom Burroughes said about IP, that probably makes sense. But I also want to elaborate a bit about what a good meeting it was, as a distinct point. My basic point being that it really was very good. Last November I attended an earlier Libertarian Home meeting in the same place, in the upstairs room of the Rose & Crown in Southwark, near the tube station there. And the difference between how I felt about that earlier meeting and how I now feel about last Thursday’s event is very big, and very much in favour of last week’s meeting.

The meeting last November was basically just a bunch of libertarians in a pub, talking amongst themselves. I was as kind about this gathering as I could be in a previous posting here about it, but reading that piece again now, I detect a definite air of damnation with faith praise. I now realise that ever since that earlier evening in Southwark, I had been fretting about what was going to happen to libertarian socialising in London. Tim Evans and I both used to hold regular monthly meetings, but neither of us does any more. After Tim and I stopped, Christian Michel began to hold regular meetings of a similar sort, but he has recently had to move, and his meetings have also ceased. Meanwhile, the British bit of the libertarian blogosphere, lead by Samizdata, hit the ground running at the dawn of the new century, but that too is now somewhat running out of puff. Well, maybe not. But that is how it often feels to me. Also, for various good reasons, Samizdata itself doesn’t do socialising like it used to.

So, would libertarian meetings in London from now on consist of a few bods in a pub arguing rather despondently with each other about whose fault it was that they didn’t seem to be accomplishing anything? That earlier Libertarian Home meeting had depressed me more than I had realised at the time.

Before I left that meeting last November, I apparently suggested to Simon Gibbs, or so he told me last Thursday, that it might be worth having a speaker to address each meeting. Which makes sense. When I started my monthly meetings at the beginning of the 1990s, that too began as just a bunch of libertarians talking amongst ourselves, month after month, and the whole enterprise nearly died in its infancy. Fewer and fewer people had any urge to congregate once a month to join the same boring conversation, and who could blame them? But, as soon as I started asking someone to give a proper pre-announced talk to get things started and to ensure that each evening had an entirely distinct agenda and flavour, everything snapped into place and started to feel good again, and libertarians started attending again in sufficient numbers, and all was well.

Whether it was coincidence or some degree of cause and effect, as Simon kindly implied, Simon did what I suggested, hence the presence of Tom Burroughes to speak formally at last Thursday’s event. And from where I sat it had exactly the same transformingly beneficial effect on Simon’s gatherings as having a speaker did for my meetings.

Once you have a speaker, you are actually making a contribution to the ongoing libertarian enterprise, even if it’s only making the speaker himself feel a bit better about things. The speaker often brings, as Tom did last Thursday, some of his own friends and family with him. Better, he or she is encouraged to think through what he will say and to hear it, as it were, through different ears. Above all, everyone learns things.

The distinct agenda attracts people you haven’t seen before, who happen to be interested in that particular topic. And then when formal proceedings have ended, everyone immediately has something to talk about. As soon as the Q&A after the talk had stopped last Thursday, I could at once say to the total stranger sitting next to me: So, what did you make of that? Throughout the room other similar conversations were breaking out.

Many of these benign effects go into action even if the speaker turns out to be not that good. If this Tom Burroughes talk about IP had, instead of being very good, been rather bad, it would still have contributed significantly to Libertarian Home and its ongoing socialisings and online chitchat. Which means that when it comes to picking speakers and topics, you can afford to take chances, for instance with first-time speakers from within your regular group, or with interesting strangers that nobody else seems to have heard of. What’s the worst that could happen? A rather bad talk. Boo hoo. Even from that, you can learn plenty, such as the names and thoughts of good or just interesting thinkers whom the speaker spoke about badly, or about how not to give talks. Also, bad talks are often followed by better Q&A, Q&A sessions being an excellent way to notice promising future main speakers.

Apologies to all those to whom the above paragraphs are so blindingly obvious that they don’t seem to need saying. An answer to that grumble might be that although neither I nor Simon Gibbs are complete fools, we both made this early error of not inviting speakers to our meetings. What we both understood was that libertarian socialising – drunken philosophising, as Simon called it in his intro for Tom Burroughes – is very valuable. It is the social compost from which those all important further little libertarian creative collaborations and groups can grow. But, it only goes on working well if combined with other more earnest and disciplined endeavours. It needs to be about something.

If this blog posting helps just one other libertarian meetings organiser to hit the ground running just that little bit faster (even if it only confirms what he or she seventy five percent already assumed) then it will have served a good purpose.

4 comments to The Libertarian Home meeting last Thursday and the difference that a speaker makes

  • Simon Jester

    I think IP has to exist if modern life is to flourish

    Wouldn’t this position be closer to Deism than Agnosticism? I’m not trying to be a smart-arse – I’m genuinely undecided as to whether IP is truly necessary (although I can see the advantages).

    It’s probably worth mentioning that the Rose and Crown is the one on Colombo Street – there are two pubs with that name in Southwark.

  • I’d love to come to one of your meetings, but train fare and London drink prices put it a little bit beyond my means…
    We had a meeting down here once, we only had two attendees and this was before the whole LPUK (remember them?) fiasco.

  • Thanks for the much improved review! A set of shorter talks, featuring less experienced speakers, is indeed something I had in mind, as well as something on the topic of marriage, of the homosexual variety certainly but also the problems that humanists put up with.

    Also, Brian, the more you told me about your talk idea the more I liked it.

    And if else anyone would like to talk, do let me know.

  • Wh00ps, that was a good evening, we should do again sometime.

    Also to anyone else out there who can’t make it into London- get in touch and we’d love to help organise and promote events in you’re neck of the woods