Saturday, April 14, 2007

Burning Man, Pumping Oil, Spotting Libertarians (Updated)

The two leisure-reading books sitting in my desk drawer at work in recent weeks have been Brian Doherty’s This Is Burning Man, about the wild, hippie-esque annual art festival that takes place in the Nevada desert, and Charles Koch’s The Science of Success, about how he turned his family’s oil company into the largest privately-held company in the world through “Market-Based Management.” I love the fact that both books are animated by the same philosophy — libertarianism — even though there are probably a lot of “Burners” who consider oil tycoons the ultimate enemy (and are struggling to reduce Burning Man’s “carbon footprint”) and a lot of oil tycoons who’d like to see the Burners raided for ecstasy possession. Another reminder libertarianism is more flexible — and let’s face it, just far, far sexier — than the left or right.

Ron Paul?

Yet, perhaps inevitably, one is hard-pressed to find politicians who are libertarians and likely to move our laws in that direction — small government, secure property rights, no intrusions into people’s private lives and sexual habits. So libertarians experience a lot of fatalism-reinforcing moments like the one I did one morning this week listening to Curtis Sliwa and Ron Kuby’s WABC radio show (it’s what comes in clearest on my alarm clock radio): Curtis and Kuby were running down a list of the current presidential candidates and their potential when, lo and behold, a listener called in to recommend Republican candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), the one consistent libertarian in Congress, voting no against any bill that increases the size or power of government no matter how popular.

And, of course, the caller turned out to be the least articulate Ron Paul fan on Earth — libertarians, in my experience, are usually good talkers (it’s a disproportionately intellectual movement for the simple reason that it has no popular support and thus no common people to bring down the average IQ of the movement). The caller sputtered that Ron Paul supports the Constitution, and then he was hammered by Kuby with surprising vehemence for merely trotting out a vague symbol that we all love — and the caller had nothing to add, and I sighed, thinking how every politician except Paul is prone to trot out vague symbols (I’m told Mitt Romney’s speeches are especially prone to this sort of vague, pleasing doubletalk, so perhaps he’ll do well) — favoring honest work, families, America, democracy, what have you — while Paul is quite clearly and concretely and explicitly in favor of abolishing every single government program there is aside from a minimal Justice Department and national defense.

The caller was soon dismissed for bringing up an obscure candidate with unknown and thus irrelevant views, and there’s some sort of perverse self-reinforcing status quo bias at work there, I suppose — or perhaps I should call it social democracy, which seems to be the default view of most people in New York City, not to mention Europe: the view that whatever we all more or less agree is politically palatable is by definition what is true, a great formula for intellectual stagnation if ever there was one, especially in environments that are fairly intellectually homogeneous to begin with. It is a dark time for the rebellion.

(I would also like to note that Ron Kuby, while he looks like a hairy, aging prospector, sounds exactly like Tom Hanks. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this, but for voice reasons alone, Hanks should get the part if there’s ever a biographical movie.)

Looking for Signs of Hope

There are some libertarian-leaning politicians in more local offices, luckily, including my friend Dan Greenberg, a state rep (as a Republican) in Arkansas, who was recently interviewed on a John Stossel special about his efforts to outlaw the practice of politicians naming buildings and monuments after themselves (Dan called the measure — very unpopular with his fellow legislators, as you might imagine — the “Edifice Complex Prevention Act”).

Until Dan runs for president, though, and barring a big surge by Ron Paul, those looking for remotely-libertarian-ish presidential candidates will have to be content with trying to figure out who’s more libertarian, New York City’s own former mayor Rudy Giuliani (who is ahead in the polls, would certainly be the most locally-entertaining opponent for Hillary Clinton, and has a surprisingly coherent and even philosophically rather than merely politically nuanced positions list on his campaign site, with a nice, albeit convenient, tone of federalism throughout — though he’s still the maniac who wanted to enforce anti-jaywalking laws in New York City, which makes about as much sense as trying to outlaw the alphabet) or former senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee. I must say that Rudy becoming the Republican standard-bearer would be a nice way to end the strict allegiance of the GOP to Jesus and Ares and push it back toward worshipping Mammon the way I want it to and would take the wind out of the sails of a lot of easy leftist arguments against the right. I want the GOP off the road to Damascus and back on Wall Street. Blogger Karol Sheinin, one of my co-organizers of the monthly Manhattan Project gatherings, is rooting for Thompson, though, and maybe she’s right.

All this hair-splitting and searching for the least-bad option would be unnecessary, of course, if more people in our society still understood and shared the capitalist sentiments so beautifully expressed by then-young animators Hanna and Barbera in an amazing cartoon pointed out by Katherine Mangu-Ward of Reason and Alina Stefanescu the other day.

Since we don’t live in a society quite that enlightened, I may as well drown my political sorrows by attending the anarchist book fair at 55 Washington Square South today, before seeing the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie. The anarchists will no doubt be left-wing ones, but they will share my anger at having to pay taxes this weekend, which is more than can be said for most Democrats.

UPDATE: Just as I was beginning to feel a bit saddened, amid the very dense crowd of enthusiastic young anarchists at the book fair, by the fact that libertarian events don’t tend to generate the same level of enthusiasm, I looked up and noticed that there were only two banners hanging in the NYU-affiliated church where the book fair was taking place: one for the anarchist publisher Autonomedia, which was unsurprising, but the other hailing the “RON PAUL REVOLUTION” — and the “EVOL” was printed in a quasi-backwards fashion that suggested the word “love,” so one Republican candidate for president in effect had a symbol of his “LOVE REVOLUTION” hanging over all the young anarchists, some of whom might have understood the philosophical logic behind this but most of whom, I suspect, would have disapproved — and I didn’t easily spot any straightlaced College Republican or Libertarian Club types who appeared likely to have hoisted the banner, so I suspect it was put up before the scarier bulk of the crowd arrived — not that I mean to insult them, and even a few minutes’ immersion in their energy was fun.

(It compensates for the previous night, when I was made to feel old by being likened to Grandpa Simpson for talking about the post-9/11 rise of blogs — and also made to feel old a bit earlier in the day when I met Bryan Talbot, writer/artist of my favorite comic book miniseries, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright — who I had thought of as an old, influential hand at his craft — and learned that he was reading the same Jim Starlin comics [about the character Adam Warlock] as a teen that I was, not so much because he is young but because I am, it turns out, getting pretty old myself.)

Wanting some souvenir but reluctant to pay for an item I could not philosophically condone, I ultimately left with a free postcard encourging people to party in Trafalgar Square after Thatcher dies (offensive, but nicely designed).

On the walk from the book fair north to the Aqua Teen movie, I also noticed a college-age male walking along University Place with a stark black and white “AuH2O” t-shirt with a picture of Barry Goldwater’s face. There is hope yet.


bleah said...

As a libertarian, I can’t see myself voting for Ron Paul, given his hardline stance on illegal immigration.

Putting aside all questions of political feasibility, social justice and amnesty for the millions of hardworking nonviolent illegal immigrants would seem to me to be a top priority for libertarians, right behind pardons for all the nonviolent drug offenders languishing in prison.

I don’t thing someone needs to be 100% ideologically pure to merit a protest vote, but Paul’s get-tough stand on this key issue means he’s no friend of liberty in my book…

Todd Seavey said...

There are nigh-infinite issues to pick from — and I’ve encouraged free-marketeers in the past to avoid focusing on the most divisive ones when we could be encouraging a broader coalition of budget-cutters, waste-cutters, pork-busters, and deregulators, helping to make virtually the entire population (not only here but in places overseas dependent on commerce with us) better off in very palpable ways, by very non-ideological metrics.

I can see arguing that immigration is an important issue, but to dismiss Paul’s unquestionable libertarian credentials on every other issue under the sun over this one issue is a perfect example of the kind of monomanical, one-issue myopia that prevents libertarians ever forming part of a broader consensus.

You now have me thinking for the first time that I ought to vote for him. He is something of a libertarian-conservative fusionist figure after all, and thus in his tiny, ineffectual way a model of where the GOP needs to go.

The decision is made. Let the word go out: Paul in the primaries, with the general election to be decided later, most likely without Paul.

Todd Seavey said...

[...] But what is more important is that the burrito in Captain America’s pants is a reminder that responses to my most recent post, criticizing feminism, boil down in the end to the complaint that women get a lot of nasty comments from anonymous online commentators or encounter lewd behavior by men and thus feel intimidated a lot (this strikes me as either a pre-feminist or post-feminist complaint — at least in so far as feminism proper was an apparently temporary pretense of equality, versus the current frank recognition that women scare more easily or are intimidated by different things than men are). And I am not defending Captain America (or any of those louts) now, merely noting that I am unaware of any pre-feminist philosophy that committed one to supporting his behavior. People have been saying we must protect the womenfolk against boorish men since the Victorian era or perhaps the dawn of time, so it’s not clear to me how one needs feminism for that — and despite several people accusing me of having an unrealistic view of feminism, no one really did (as of this writing) spell out what we do need it for — but let’s leave the rest of the feminism discussion for bar conversation on May 2, at Lolita Bar (when one of our debaters will herself be someone known to have a thing for superhero costumes but perhaps not burrito-crimes). In the meantime, I find that the Captain America incident also turns my mind to national electoral politics, since America, mostly for ill, increasingly defines itself through elections. I recently concluded that in the next year’s primaries it would be foolish of me not to seize a rare opportunity to vote for a full-fledged libertarian who is also a major party candidate — Republican Ron Paul — thus sending a clearer signal than ever to the GOP that it should be moving in a libertarian, fusionist direction. In the general election, by which time Paul will probably have been defeated, I can always do the sensible thing and vote for Giuliani or McCain or whoever survives the whole ugly process — unless McCain gets still more “maverick” left-leaning ideas instead of sticking to budget cuts, or Giuliani loses his newfound interest in federalism and just starts acting upon his authoritarian impulses, in which case I may end up voting for a libertarian in the GOP primary and then a Libertarian in the general election, which will really mean losing with my purity intact, by my political standards. [...]

Todd Seavey said...

[...] 2. Speaking of radicals, I fully realize that most of the anarchists I mentioned in my Ron Paul article are not interested in downsizing government for the same reason I am — basically, to let the free market function unfettered — but rather than explain my similarities to and differences with anarchists-in-general, I’ll just refer you to this earlier blog entry that explains the frame of mind in which I came to attend that anarchist rally. [...]