Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Levels of the Libertarian Battle

 On Monday, Tom Woods wrote this in his daily email:

I [keep] saying: we need a quiz, where people look at charts of deaths or hospitalizations and without knowing which state is which, choose which line they think corresponds with which state...

And every time, they'll be wrong.

The point of the quiz is: none of these interventions seem to have done a bit of good, since it's impossible to tell which state did what by looking at the charts -- and if these disruptions of our lives were justified, we'd darn well better be able to see it on the charts...

Now let me address a recent critic, who wonders: "Why does Woods focus so much on the charts? Even if the charts showed the opposite, the principle is the same! Freedom! He should say that!"

Well, here's how I think: I favor using the argument that is most likely to work.

I am convinced that I am vastly more likely to get people to think by showing them that the sacrifices they have been asked to make haven't made a whit of difference, and that the people recommending them are therefore not worth listening to, than I am in any other way.

The situation is precisely analogous to the arguments against the minimum wage. Sure, I could simply say that employers have the right to pay whatever wage people agree to and just leave it at that.

And I will make zero progress with anyone.

But if I say that the minimum wage was introduced to benefit certain preferred groups at the expense of despised groups, that it makes it difficult for people with no experience to get a start, that state regulation is not actually how wages rise, and that very few people earn the minimum wage anyway (especially over time), I am much more likely to be heard.

Woods is correct, the critic is missing a very important point. There are many levels to the libertarian battle.

On one end, there is the high-philosophical level on the other end there is the street-level battle.

To be sure, I advocate the private property society, but that doesn't mean I am going to launch every battle against me on such high philosophical grounds. 

If a mugger comes up to me and wants to take my wallet, I am not going to give him a lecture on Chapter 8 of Foundations of Private Property Society Theory: Anarchism for the Civilized Person

If it looks like I can take him, I am going to smack him in the head.

It goes the same with those who want to force government lockdowns on me. These are not what you would call people who are deep thinkers.

As a first step, I am just going to want to get them off my back.

In other words, I am going to talk to them like a child.

When I tell them that masks might be dangerous or if I use some Woods' charts to make a point, I am really insulting them because I really don't think they have the intellectual capability at that point to understand the greater high-level liberty argument (I post these arguments here at Target Liberty to provide ammo for readers against the shallow).

I save the high-level debates for people who I believe have the ability to debate on a high level.

But there is absolutely nothing wrong with using a shallower argument against a shallow thinker. To think otherwise, that you always have to take it to the deep philosophical levels (with idiots!), is to really be close to what Marxists-Leninists called a sectarian.

Leon Trotsky explained:

The sectarian looks upon life as a great school with himself as a teacher there...Though he may swear by Marxism in every sentence the sectarian is the direct negation of dialectical materialism, which takes experience as its point of departure and always returns to it...The sectarian lives in a sphere of ready-made formulae...Discord with reality engenders in the sectarian the need to constantly render his formula more precise. This goes under the name of discussion. To a Marxist. discussion is an important but functional instrument of the class struggle. To the sectarian discussion is a goal in itself. However, the more he discusses, the more the actual tasks escape him. He is like a man who satisfies his thirst with salt water; the more he drinks, the thirstier he becomes.

Deep discussion has its place but generally not with the shallow who want to use government to point a gun at your head and prevent you from acting freely. For the shallow, a brain bomb may be the best approach.

Charts, with their added bonus of imagery (always good with the shallow), are a great approach.



  1. So showing charts to the ignorant is the path to success? Must the charts be in crayon to work?

    How is it that tom woods and other libertarians always find the weakest, most pitiful option?

    These are our thought leaders?

    Snear at the sectarian in 1 sentence then advocate it as the plan in the next.
    "To the sectarian discussion is a goal in itself."

    1. Please share with us exactly what you're doing to help the liberty effort. I'm willing to bet that it amounts to the cube root of zero.

    2. just right....trolling with some good bait! You got the comment feed a-clackin'! I'm not sure how often you get out in the world and talk to neighbors, friends, or co-workers, but many of them are not of great intellect, if you catch my drift. Don't teach calculus to someone who is not good at math and expect them to grasp it.

      I don't find any issue with Tom's comment or strategy, as it could very well be employed with success to some people. Get in where you fit and know your audience.

      Although I can't be as succinct as "bullshit bravado," I am interested to see what knowledge nugget you'd be so kind to drop defining an effective strategy, rather than eviscerate the one that this post is about and then walk away. Inquiring minds want to know...

    3. Many Libertarians contribute just that much Some Guy. I myself included. I like to use Mark Twain's approach and recognize the reality of futility!

      There is no path to success contrary to what Woods or RW will tell you. The mass and inertia of the Idiocracy makes the pursuit very much like tilting at windmills.

  2. Shallow argument for shallow thinkers. But what do you do with those who know they are wrong and don’t care, and argue only to get your submission?

  3. I love the sneering responses of both of these people, who I assume don't read my newsletter, which is damn good. Neither of these people has a plan of their own. Apart from maybe some bullshit bravado. Because apparently it's not enough to show that people have been misled by the public health establishment. No, no, why, that doesn't involve any theoretical libertarianism! Or that isn't tough enough!

    All right, tough guy, tell me your own plan. I could do for a laugh.

    1. Is this really Mr. Woods? I haven't followed you closely in some time but remember trying to get a swear word out of you on Twitter to no avail.

    2. Some libertarians take personal offense at the idea that converting others might demand something other than what converted them. It is difficult to imagine a more useless attitude.

  4. Even if the charts showed the diapers and lockdowns “worked”, which gov’t and statist types seem to posit despite the obvious contradictions in Tom’s charts, I would still oppose them on libertarian grounds.

  5. The most recent episode of Union of the Unwanted the participants communicated the same experience I have, which is people just return to their previous positions within one week of a discussion where they agreed with that the government rules and the vaccines are bad.

    I believe this occurs because they have been immersed in a long chain of propaganda that has fed them a very carefully curated narrative that includes a lot of emotions, especially fear, and that there is only one way out of this mess. The vaccine as cure to the negative emotions has been the single most powerful tactic I have observed in sending people back into the narrative.

    Consequently, all the graphs and charts and stats have little effect on altering the internal narrative of the prospect, and a huge part of this is they continue their pattern of exposure to the propagandists.

    A flanking maneuver should be developed that instead of fighting head-on a topic for which the prospect has a lot of emotion and propaganda, flanks the propagandists by breaking the pattern of propaganda exposure.

    Neither of the tactics of charts and graphs or philosophical liberty preaching work toward this end.

  6. Excellent post, Bob! This is such an important question. I hope there will be much more discussion here. (I'll be back to join in, but gotta run now...)


  7. Everyone fights. That's the only rule. Do you want human freedom? Then promote it. Promote it every way you can, in any way you can. Find your voice for human freedom and promote it using that voice.

    You don't have to do it the way Tom Woods does it. You don't have to do it the way Robert Wenzel does it. You don't have to do it the way I do it. You don't have to do it the way anyone else does it.

    But you have to do it. It does not bring human freedom any closer by not doing it.

  8. When one engages someone with the purpose of opening their mind to an alternative they have rejected one has to start with where that person is: what is your opening? Those who are immersed in the mainstream media and government's narrative need something that cannot be fit into that narrative to get them to think, though most people are not thinkers and will find some (usually non-rational) reason to hold on to what they believe.

    Will Woods's quiz be an effective opening? Yes, with some, but certainly not all. How about a quiz or other vehicle that points out that the lockdowns could be over 10 times more deadly than the coronavirus (https://www.revolver.news/2020/08/study-covid-19-lockdowns-deadlier-than-pandemic-itself/)? That might be a more effective tactic with some.

    All of this is mostly empirical; there's no knowing for sure in advance what will work with any particular person. Woods's quiz would, I think, tend to work with those who value logical consistency, which is, in my view, not a very large part of the population. Emphasizing the harm would, I think, be more effective with progressives and others whose hearts bleed for the suffering masses, though I suspect many of them are on board with the "we had to destroy the village to save it" school of Covid thought. In general, one wants to open with something that will make a person think, and many cannot be induced to do that.

    MyFirstNameIsPaul has a valid point: opening a mind once is generally not enough if they go back to being immersed in the government's propaganda. I wish he would tell us more about what a "flanking maneuver" is; we would all love to have more arrows in our quiver when it comes to changing minds.

    1. My comment is mostly just an observation, and the best I can propose is some way to encourage someone to stop using such horrible sources, but the specific methods for accomplishing this I haven't truly formulated.

  9. I always try to adapt my argument to my audience. For instance, I have emotional left-leaning friends and warmongering far-right friends. I don't use the same arguments with both, but rather try to understand where they are coming from and adapt my argument to what appeals to them the most. Sometimes it might mean showing them a bunch of charts. Other times it might mean showing them how mean and heartless politicians and bureaucrats can be. Then, after making the ethical case for freedom, I show how it is actually moral case as well. It doesn't always work, but I'm sure I have planted a few seeds.

  10. This is a really important discussion.

    I always say never argue from the inferior position. My Christian brethren do it all the time. They will say parents need to discipline their children because the Bible says so, as do scientific studies. To refute the argument in standard discourse, one needs to only find a study that says parental discipline is harmful. That knocks out the inferior argument(scientific studies), but it takes out the main one as well.

    It is true you must tailor your argument to the counterargument. So, many times an inferior argument works ... and is actually the best one for the moment. However, others listen and they may be able to go after your inferior argument and cause collateral damage to your main one.

    With the 'VID, the graphs refute masks/lockdowns regardless of your political persuasion. Now if the discussion involves libertarians, the graphs still obviate the need for an NAP argument. However, NAP just becomes icing on the cake.

    1. NAP argument is moral, not utilitarian; the graphs, data, etc do not have any bearing on the validity of proper libertarian argumentation.

      That said, the contention that you only need one counter-example to invalidate an argument only works when both argument and the counter example are mathematical objects. The physical world is uncertain, and results of experiments and studies are not objective truth simply because of unnoticed sources of errors, deficient methodologies, logical gaps in interpretations, etc.

      This means that if two studies are contradictory, one must analyze them in depth to figure out which one is stronger. All evidence about the real world is to a some extent uncertain, and it's often accumulation of uncertain results which produces some degree of certainty rather than any single result. Modern scientists also often miss the critical part of the scientific method: a novel claim must be coherent with previous knowledge accepted as certain; or at least include an explanation so as to why it contradicts the previous theories -- this explanation restores coherence: for example Newtonian mechanics is (strictly speaking) incorrect, but theory of relativity provides an explanation so as to why most of what we encounter is consistent with Newtonian mechanics - when velocities are low, RT yields the predictions very close to that of Newtonian mechanics.

    2. averros --

      Did you miss this, "To refute the argument in standard discourse ... "?

      Standard discourse is governed by the rules that apply when you are having a passing conversation with your neighbor. The rules governing valid, proper libertarian argumentation do not apply to every conversation.

      Sometimes you have to enjoy life and people and let footnoted arguments take a pass, something (as I understand) Rothbard did every day.