Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 651, January 1, 2012

"A century of incompetent, irrational, murderous foreign policy"

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What We Can Learn from the Greens
by David M. Schmidt

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

The architects of the environmental movement have induced a sizable portion of the public to not only support their cause but also to consider themselves part of the movement. This is something that libertarians, despite decades of effort by many intelligent, dedicated, and sincere individuals, have never been able to do. We could profit by examining more closely some techniques that have contributed to the success of the environmental movement.

Many libertarians believe that all we need do for freedom to prevail is educate the public in the principles and moral foundation of liberty. Once people have heard our message, this reasoning goes, they will see the light, adopt the zero-aggression principle, and the state will collapse for lack of support.

The appeal of this approach is understandable. Most libertarians are skilled at introspection, accustomed to reasoning from first principles, and skilled at inductive and deductive logic. And appeals to reason certainly do work with some. Unfortunately, most people in our culture do not think this way. They react emotionally, based on subconscious beliefs, fears, and desires that they can at best only vaguely articulate. Much of the reasoning they do is performed only to rationalize or justify these emotionally driven responses.

The environmental movement has been so successful largely because it has taken advantage of the way the majority of people think. One strategy the environmental movement has employed to great effect is to popularize many small things that people can easily do to "reduce their carbon footprint," "conserve scarce resources," or similar catchphrases. Almost none of these activities actually accomplish their ostensible goals. A few moments thought will reveal that, for example, chauffeuring empty plastic bottles across town to a taxvictim-subsidized recycling center must necessarily waste more resources than it saves. Otherwise, the process would not need to be enforced by threats of violence and funded by extortion: someone would be doing it at a profit. In other cases the alleged crisis that the activity is supposed to ameliorate doesn't even exist: "global warming" and "peak oil" are two obvious examples. However, whether these rituals achieve their stated aims is irrelevant: their value to the environmental movement is to engage people, make them feel as though they are accomplishing something, let them feel good about themselves, and most importantly cause them to identify with the movement.

The libertarian movement could benefit from using a similar approach—while, as opposed to the environmental movement, still being intellectually honest. While it is important to make people aware of the problems caused by institutionalized violence, it will be much easier to eventually win them over if we can help them see that there are things they can do to improve the situation, that doing those things makes them a better person, and that their contribution is valued. Once people have started integrating small activities into their lives that reduce the power and scope of the state, and begun to sympathize with the libertarian movement, they will be more receptive to libertarian ideas. It will then be much easier to educate them about the philosophical bases of libertarianism, the intricacies of a free market economy, and the ways in which a stateless society might organize itself.

Any step an individual takes to withdraw support from the state contributes to its eventual collapse and makes it more difficult for politicians and their enforcers to commit their evil here and now. Encouraging people to do small things to "reduce their government footprint" will also make them more receptive to libertarian ideas in the future and grow a base of sympathetic individuals from whom the movement can draw support.

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