My Old Life

Visiting DC last month was a bit of an emotional rollar coaster for me. As much as I hated living in that town, my time there was very influential on my life. It was there that I had my first professional job and built a community around a cause I believed in. Many of my fellow freedom fighters are stronger than I am, they were able to push through the tough years in DC and even come to enjoy that terrible swamptown.

I feel like I betrayed them. I took the easy way out. I threw in the towel and rode off into the sunset instead of fighting the beast from the inside.

I don’t regret it, but I sometimes wonder “what if”.

If I had stayed in DC I would probably be a relatively successful mid-level non-profit employee. Maybe I’d work for CKI or IHS, or maybe I would have gone back to school. I’m not sure I’d be married or not… none of my relationships in DC were terribly serious at the time except one, and I think that would have burnt out. I was mostly a Hank Reardon for a community of Dagny’s waiting for their John Galts. I don’t have a problem with my role, I knew I couldn’t have provided what most people in that city look for in a partner. But who knows, maybe I would have become Galt for one of them.

Some people say that it isn’t wise to wonder “what if”. I kindly disagree. I think it is unwise to dwell on “what if” because, to paraphrase Aslan, “we can never know what could have been”. I think reflecting on our choices and running the other scenarios through our heads can be valuable. It can be inspiring to feel like you could have thrived in a variety of scenarios, there is no set path and we should strive to make every path a wonderful one. Future decisions become less scary if we know that we will be alright, regardless of what choice we make.

I’m glad I visited DC. I saw some people that I love and were able to reconnect with them on a level that is difficult without being together physically. It was good to see how successful they are in their lives, and know that I could have had that life if I wanted it. I was also able to meet some kindred spirits for the first time in real life, people who I feel a strong connection to and hope to have in my life for a long time. It gives me hope to know that there are lights fighting the heart of darkness, even if I am no longer on the front lines with them.

I hate DC… but I’ll probably be back soon.

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How Pure Must Allies Be?

I’ve been active in several different political movements in my life. I was raised conservative, became a libertarian, and am now a “left” libertarian who is passionate about LGBT issues, the drug war, and social justice. One common thread throughout the movements on the left, right, and libertarian is that many people demand a certain amount of purity in their allies. Personally, I think that is destructive. Particularly when that purity is demanded of someone’s past actions. Take Dan Savage, for example.

I like Dan Savage*. He did a lot to open my eyes to gender and sexuality issues and I think he is right a lot of the time. Though, in the past he made some harmful comments about transgender individuals and he contributed to the idea that bisexuality doesn’t really exist (Spoiler: We bisexuals exist). Since making those comments years ago he has become more educated and changed his mind. He has even apologized for making the comments. In reality, Savage has done more for the equality movement than most people… but he is often demonized because he wasn’t perfect in the past. Hell, he probably isn’t perfect now by anyone’s definition, but I’ve seen people say he shouldn’t be supported, his posts shouldn’t be shared, and that he shouldn’t be considered part of the equality movement because of the things he said in the past. It raises the question, how pure must someone be for them to get our support? And how long to we ostracize someone who has since apologized and changed their mind?

I didn’t always believe the things I believe now. I didn’t always support marriage equality. I used to think being gay was a sin and I said many hurtful things in the past. It seems that if I was more famous back in my youth I would be shunned by some of the people that I care about today.

All you have to do is watch the GOP debates or read the thread on a Reason Magazine Facebook post and you will see that most political views are filled with purity tests. You aren’t a “real” libertarian if you think a Basic Income Guarantee might be a pragmatic and beneficial initiative. You aren’t a “real” conservative if you don’t want to kill Muslims. Forget all the ways you might agree with a philosophy, if you don’t see eye-to-eye on every issue you are a phone, a RINO, a fraud, and all your opinions are worthless. If you disagree with some people on one issue you become incapable of contributing anything, even if your contributions are unrelated.

It is sad and really ineffective to destroy allies this way. By focusing on our areas of disagreement we only guarantee our movement will get smaller. Pushing people to the margins and cutting them out of the conversation won’t change their mind. Quite the contrary, it will only shrink their circle until they interact only with the people that you disagree with. If someone is wrong on transgender issues, you don’t decide that they aren’t a feminist, liberal, progressive, libertarian, or whatever and ostracize them, instead if you want to change their mind you bring them into the conversation and celebrate the areas you agree.

It is this pursuit of purity that drove me out of most political activism. My chosen identities of anarchist, feminist, libertarian, etc were constantly under fire until I said “fuck it” and just stopped being active. It wasn’t worth the heartache or headache to try and appease everyone. You destroy allies when you demand purity, and eventually you end up alone.

Facebook, Libertarianism, and Your Name

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As many of us in the queer community know there has been a lot of anger brewing in the last week about Facebook’s “true name” policy. Recently Facebook has cracked down on drag queens who violate their policy to only use your real name on the social network. While the policy has long been in place the recent crackdown has sparked outrage from many across the queer community because it puts them in the unenviable position of leaving Facebook or exposing their birth name, which could lead to serious harm from bigoted family members, employers, or neighbors.

While the easy position for libertarians to take is to say they are a private business and they can do what they want, I find this approach to be heartless and lazy. Many libertarians take the stance on marriage equality that the government shouldn’t be involved in marriage at all, therefore they don’t support marriage equality. While that might be philosophically pure it is again, heartless and lazy (and in a few cases a way for bigots to cloak their hatred behind a noble cause). But, if that is your stance you should be encouraging non-government agencies to see identity, relationships, and names as something owned by the individual and not the state. Those companies that view people as individuals instead of looking only at their government issue IDs, accreditation, or marriage certificates should be praised. Libertarians should be standing next to the queer community and fighting Facebook on this policy, your name and identity belong to you. It is not the property of the state (or your parents who named you), it is your personnel property to define and use as you wish.

It is particularly sad that the liberty community is being so silent on this issue when many people use fake names like “Freeman”, “Rothbard”, “Liberty”, etc as their online identity. Facebook says that they are not targeting members of the queer community, that it is a computer algorithm that identified them. I don’t know if this is true, given Facebook’s very progressive stance on gender identity I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this, but it is still a bad policy and libertarians should fight it. I don’t think the state should be involved but we should put pressure on them by writing to Facebook, boycotting those that advertise with them, and doing everything we can to stand in solidarity with those currently targeted, who face a very real fear of harm by this policy change.

Many have said that you can always have a “page” instead of a “profile” if you don’t want to use your name. While this might seem to be a solution on paper, the truth is separate but equal (and this would be far from equal) is not a solution. Facebook treating people differently because of their identity is discrimination, pure and simple. They are looking to the government as the only legitimate source of identity, something libertarians should be furious about. This policy, if left unchecked, encourages Facebook to require government verification for marriages, hometowns, and every other factor of our existence. We should draw a line in the sand here and vocally oppose it. There is nothing un-libertarian about encouraging private companies to change their discriminatory policies, but there is something heartless and lazy about remaining silent.

From Waving Flags to Burning Them

**This is the first post in a multi-part series about what and why I identify or believe certain things. Ideally I will get one or two up per week.**

 

I guess the best place to start is my move away from Republican conservatism. It isn’t the most exciting thing to me at this point but it was the first domino to fall in my life. Libertarianism was my flirtation with the unknown, my pursuit of answers to questions that I had no answers to, it was a search for truth when one of the foundations of my youth showed cracks and began to crumble. After politics I began to question everything else, nothing was forbidden. Religion, sexuality, lifestyles, etc. were all open to analysis, dissection, and destruction if warranted. And really, I have George W. Bush to thank for it all.

September 11, 2001 affected us all in one way or another. For me, it lead to war. I walked into a recruiters office the morning of 9/11, the second tower had been hit but had not fallen yet. The initial hypothesis that the crash was an accident soon was overshadowed by reports of “terrorism”, a word that up until that point was something that brought to mind deserts far away from the safety of the US. The recruiters assured me this would not be war, I think they thought the idea of combat would scare me off, but I was there because I wanted to fight. I knew I was smart, school was easy for me, but I didn’t know if I had balls. I also thought war was something that the US needed, I grew up hearing about how united the country during the Cold War, we were a nation that needed an enemy or we would turn on ourselves. Better to face a backwards and inhumane “other” then be at each other’s throats. Besides, the casualties would be strangers to us. People that didn’t have the blessing of Christ on their holy nation.

With nervousness and excitement I went through Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training to be an Infantry Paratrooper. Despite my high test scores I opted for the Infantry. The training was easy, it was obviously a mind game more than anything. The Drills weren’t going to hurt us or anything, screaming eventually ends and you can only do so many push-ups before your body gives out. Yep, it sucked but it wasn’t difficult. The body molds quickly and the Infantry training was mostly memorization and becoming comfortable in the woods and/or with a firearm in your hand. Any attempt at molding me into a drone or brain-washing wasn’t really effective, partly thanks to one of my Drills who took me and another guy aside regularly to encourage us to think for ourselves and read books (books were technically contraband).

I arrived at my unit and we quickly deployed to Afghanistan. We hopped around from fire base to fire base conducting searches, setting up ambushes, and basically doing the things infantrymen do. It was really days of boredom broken up by minutes of excitement and it all is kind of a blur. While we were in Kandahar a change occurred that woke me out of the drone like slumber I had entered during the deployment, we declared war on Iraq.

Even at that time I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why that happened. Accusations of WMD’s and moral arguments for rescuing the Iraqi people from a dictator didn’t really make sense. The world was filled with WMD’s and dictators, surely there was bigger and more dangerous foes out there if the US was going to use that as a standard for intervention. As it would turn out I would end up in Iraq less than a year later.

I did what was asked on my Iraqi deployment but the seed was planted for me to question the motives and authority of the government, as well as the moral superiority of the GOP. It was enough to eliminate any prospect of re-enlisting (though I did do one year as a National Guardsman in South Carolina). I had to find another political option but wasn’t ready to even consider the Democratic Party, I was still too religious and they were all baby-killing atheist traitors.

This exploration was going on during my first year in college and I was taking a basic Political Science course. My professor said there were four basic political party philosophies: Liberals believed you should be free in the bedroom but not the boardroom, Republicans believed you should be free in the boardroom but not the bedroom, Libertarians believed that you should be free in both the boardroom and the bedroom, and Statists believed that you should not be free in either. Libertarians seemed the most in line with my current thoughts. He also mentioned that Reason Magazine was the official magazine of the Libertarian Party (I don’t think that is actually true) so I picked up a copy at Barnes & Noble, liked it, and eventually subscribed.

There were three things that Reason brought to my attention but I can’t really remember the order. First, they did a run-down of all the politicians running for President in 2008 and mentioned that in a good world Ron Paul would win. Second, they had some sort of memoir for Milton Friedman, this was my introduction to economics and I purchased “Capitalism and Freedom” because of the article. Third, they had an article about why you should be allowed to sell your own organs, this article shifted my entire way of thinking about self-ownership and the proper role of government, it was the beginning of me thinking like a libertarian.

The next few years involved jumping in head first. I volunteered for Ron Paul’s campaign and I devoured any piece of economic or libertarian political literature I could find. Milton Friedman, Hayek, Ayn Rand, David Friedman, and eventually Rothbard. By time I reached my junior year of college all it took was reading David Friedman’s “The Machinery of Freedom” and an IHS seminar and I was a full blown anarchist. My anarchy was grounded almost primarily in economics and the endless pursuit of efficiency though, I had little love or time for morality.

As I graduated college and entered the workforce in DC my hatred for the state grew but an emptiness was inside me. I needed something positive, some love, art, happiness, and community to add light to the darkness. Working for SFL helped a lot, I was able to converse with a variety of people and travel the country, and they sent me to Porcfest. Porcfest was my first opportunity to see some anarchy in action, the small voluntary community operated as much as possible without a state and served as some inspiration. I was skeptical of it growing beyond a small community in a short period of time though, it seemed that just because something works on a small tribe-level that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work on a city or state level. What good is being morally or philosophically “right” if it had no practical application in human affairs? Was anarchy nothing more than an interesting ivory-tower thought experiment? At the time I wasn’t sure, then came Burning Man.

For unrelated reasons I found myself in the basic dust of the Nevada desert under the hot August sun. Around me ran debauchery and love in every creative form. Humans exploring art, community, and many illegal substances seemed to interact like a designed and living organism, but there really was no designer. The infrastructure provided by the organizers was minimal, basically just some street signs and porta-potties, but you could find volunteers providing medical care, Rangers to provide help, bars to get boozes, massage parlors, live music, tea, art performances, classes being put on by college professors, food, and basically anything you would expect from a 70,000 person city like Black Rock City.

Part temporary intentional community and part everything else, Burning Man provided me with another example of how anarchy might play out if adopted on a larger scale. Certainly there were problems, particularly the economics of a gift economy that seems like it could collapse if it lasted more than a week in such a resource deprived environment. How long can “gifting” last when people had to drive hours to bring in more food, water, and supplies to repair structures? Still, here was anarchy with the capitalism or consumerism. While the economics seemed unsustainable the experience opened the doors to the community and love that anarchy can provide. This was a community of people who wanted no state enforcement of building codes, drug laws, or health codes, but having a reputation for being a dick, speeding more than 5mph and kicking up dust, or mooching off the community could lead you to being an outcast. That rarely happened though because everyone involved wanted it to work, by travelling from far and wide to the Playa they explicitly agreed to the principles of Burning Man.

A life changing week in the dust shifted what I believed was possible in this world, and shifted my means of accomplishing change. Before I didn’t think political action was effective but I saw no alternative. After Burning Man I saw politics as not only as ineffective but a waste of my time and energy. Surely, I would be happier and more effective if I lived the life I wanted instead of voting to get someone in office who might give me permission to be happy and free. I decided to just do what made me happy and abide by my own moral code, “don’t harm”.

Opening the door to new experiences and actively pursuing those experiences means I crossed paths with people unlike me. It was like a fog had lifted over my perception, I began to recognize the struggles faced by minorities and those whose cultures have faced generations of systematic oppression. I began to see that the government is not the only oppressor, and for some people the state can rightly be called a savior and protector. Before I had only seen libertarians and anarchists who fought solely the state. In fact, many people seemed to argue that libertarianism ONLY speaks about a person’s relationship with the government, that the philosophy of liberty has nothing to say about racism or misogyny.

If that is the case then libertarianism is doomed just from a practical standpoint. Progressives and Conservatives provide a complete world view, they not only say the proper role of government but they try to explore the best way to live. People are not going to jump behind a philosophy that remains neutral on a significant part of the human experience. A lot of people like to argue that we are somehow living during the end of liberty, that the state is so massive and powerful that every resource must be mobilized to fight it. I just don’t see that as accurate.

We are living in the freest time in human history. Things are better now than they have ever been. Sure, there are problems, and maybe the US is not holding the torch of freedom high anymore, but things are still on a good path. Even “tyrannical” programs like the NSA are facing greater scrutiny and the country seems weary of foreign entanglements. Not to mention the vast expansion of liberty as the dominoes of prohibition fall at the same time as marriage equality continues to spread. You can’t say that we are living in the worst time for freedom when people have more bodily autonomy and to associate than ever.

But, I don’t think libertarianism is limited to the individual’s relationship with the state. I think embracing liberty as an economic principle, moral guidance, and simply because it provides the best life for the most number of people can provide support in dealing with non-government issues as well. The purist form of liberty is anarchy, it is the rejection of man’s dominion over another, no “ifs, ands, or buts”. It is to say that we are responsible for our own actions and reject the use of coercion. And I believe it should be pursued as much as possible. We all will slip and fall, we are humans after-all, but freedom is something worth pursuing for practical and philosophical reasons. It makes life better for others and, for me at least, the exercise of liberty makes one healthier and happier. 

Damn Dirty Hippies

Labels are fascinating (though often annoying) things. I am a libertarian. But my path has been a strange one and I now identify as a hippie also. I was a veteran in Iraq and Afghanistan, I earned a degree in Economics from The College of Charleston, and I worked in the suit-and-tie non-profit world of Washington DC… but none of that felt 100% right to me, the fight against government was not all I wanted. In my experience hippies tend to be associated with “the left” (whatever the fuck that even means anymore) while libertarians have a history of aligning with “the right” (again… WTF does that mean), particularly over economic issues. The focus on economic freedom and aligning with the right has in many ways tainted the word “libertarian” in many people’s minds. Some of the tainting is justified, while some of it reflects a lack of understanding of what it means to be a libertarian.

As a libertarian I believe in the freedom to do what I wish with my body, my mind, and my labor, as long as I am not harming someone else. Being a libertarian DOES NOT mean that I have a slavish devotion to corporate hierarchy, consumerism, or crony capitalism. In fact, I hate all three of those things… though the last is the most offensive because it violates both my personal preferences and my libertarian philosophy. Crony capitalism is the use of government (read: guns) to prohibit others from competing (read: acting freely) in order to make money. That isn’t just un-libertarian, that is evil.

Being against government is the easy part of libertarianism, it is well defined and fits neatly into a black and white world view. Violence is wrong, government action is all violence, therefore government is wrong. While many conversations and debates can be had on issues of practicality or the utilitarian results of reducing government the ethics behind it easily stand. Many libertarians believe that libertarian philosophy stops with government, I am not one of those libertarians. Government is certainly a destructive force posing as the “will of the people” or communal action, our fight doesn’t end at anarchy… our fight continues until bigotry, sexism, and any power that treats one life as less than another or sees equality as the enemy is destroyed. It may be easy to see the government as the only true use of coercion against people but that is not reflective of reality.

Coercion, harm, oppression, and the other ills that libertarians strongly philosophically oppose do not exist solely in the realm of governments and criminals. Mental harm can come from harassment, bullying, and generations of institutional (government or otherwise) discrimination have very real harmful effects. We have learned enough about the human brain to know that it can be harmed, even if it is not touched physically. Libertarians would benefit from recognizing the legitimate claims that harm exist outside of the state and defeat of the state will not solve the destructive forces of racism or sexism.

So yes, I am a libertarian. I believe in markets, economic freedom, and personal freedom to do what you wish as long as you don’t harm others… but I believe that harm comes in many forms and is a more complex concept than “no physical force”. And yes, I am a hippie. I believe in loving people first and foremost, love is limitless, I enjoy expanding my views of the world, I find the body beautiful and enjoy being naked as often as possible, and I believe complete freedom cannot come until we cast of the shackles that we place on others and ourselves. In the end I feel most at home in where my libertarianism and hippyness combine, a place that is peaceful, anarchist, accepting, and loving (ie Burning Man). In the end, the labels are worthless.

I am me, part of we, and that is fucking awesome.

Are Politicians Evil?

No, I don’t think they are. I may be an anarchist but I am also a hippie and I think most people are genuinely good. They may operate from a different perspective and philosophy, and the results of their actions may cause harm, but that doesn’t make them evil to me.

For someone to be evil I believe they must intend harm, have the capability to harm, and enjoy harming other people. There might be better definitions out there but that is what I’m working with. It is possible there are evil politicians out there, but I don’t think the group is much more evil than any other group in our population. I think they are wrong in their outlook on humanity, the role of government (force) in our lives, and I think they cause more harm than good. But I don’t think they are evil and I don’t think they are out to murder our individual rights, I suspect the real charge should be manslaughter of our individual rights. That makes them wrong, not evil.

Most politicians seem to operate from a Hobbes (or maybe Rousseau) state-of-nature point of view on life. If a government isn’t around people will kill each other, a big brother is thus needed to keep the peace. If a government fails to keep the peace they are no longer legitimate and this encourages politicians to err on the side of security over liberty. No matter how tyrannical a government gets it is rarely called illegitimate until the point of revolution. Add to this bureaucratic institutions that need to exaggerate and keep scare mongering up in order to survive and you have a recipe for politicians who think there is a boogie man behind every rock.

Politicians aren’t evil, they are flawed human beings in the DC bubble surrounded by people, institutions, and philosophies that push them towards centralizing more power with the best intentions. There is no conspiracy theory between Republicans, Democrats, and any other group to centralized power, the institutions are just set up that very similar results will happen regardless who is in charge. In order for a president to be an exception to this they would need to be so completely sure of their own views that doubt cannot creep in regardless of how much one-sided data is sent their way, and even if that person is elected he would need a congress that is at the very least passive.

Government is an evil idea, but politicians are not evil people. They are people who are operating in an evil system that they may not realize is evil with the intention to protect those they love and make the country stronger. On the whole they will fail. for government cannot solve problems and cannot secure liberty. The state will always grow in the long run because that is what it is meant to do. Instead of railing against politicians or believing that things will be better if we have “the right people” in charge, I think our energy is better spent building communities, spreading ideas, and just enjoying the amazing opportunities of this life.

Memorial Day

Days like this continue to be strange for me. Much like Veterans Day, my Facebook feed blows up in a bipolar reflection of my conservative military post and my libertarian anti-war present. I rarely speak out on these issues, instead I spend these days with friends enjoying the beauty of life and try to live away from my computer for just a bit. Today that isn’t possible as I sit in the Newark airport sucking down coffee and waiting for my flight back home.

As I mentioned, my Facebook feed is currently pretty bipolar. On one side is my republican conservative past. Pictures of flags, graves, quotes, and requests for prayer for the troops litter the feed. All troops are heroes and we should support them with a nationalistic fervor. To question any military action on a day like this is deemed inappropriate or even treasonous. Unsurprising to me, most of the men I served with do not fall in this category, they seem to prefer to turn their thoughts to the men we knew, drink a beer, and leave the flash waving out of it.

On the other end of the spectrum there is the extreme anti-war movement libertarians. They litter my feed with demonizing all military as murderers who deserve death. Their Facebook profile seem to rarely have their birth name or picture and instead hide behind pictures of Rothbard or a gold and black flag. Their anti-nationalism approaches knee jerk zealotry and they seem more interested in arguing instead of engaging in meaningful debate.

I think both of these sides are wrong in their treatment of this holiday and military veterans. Those who stand up to violence and evil to protect their loved ones are doing something honorable. To stand up and say, “you shall not harm my family, enslave my children, or kill my friends until my heart no longer beats” is a noble act, and a moral one. But, to blindly support political actions that send these brave people to war to kill and die needlessly is foolish at best.

It is easy to say from behind a computer screen that those who enlist are immoral because they should “know better”. I’m certainly not making excuses to remove individual responsibility but we all should try to understand where people are coming from. New enlisted military are usually young and have spent most of their life in government schools being told to obey, not to think. We have two pro-war political parties which means the media, the schools, and likely the dinner table never have an anti-war voice. The internet had the potential to spread the liberty message but if the vocal messengers seem extreme, like calling soldiers murderers, they don’t help anything.

So, on this Memorial Day I lift my glass to the men and women who bravely said they are willing to die before they see freedom die. I encourage them each to read about blowback, research America’s imperial interventionist history, and listen to some of Ron Paul videos on YouTube. Check out Bastiat and Milton Friedman, and maybe find a libertarian you trust to ask them questions. And, if you are feeling conflicted and still in the military, check out your options to become a conscientious objector.

To the political leaders and crony capitalists I say FUCK YOU! You are protected by better men and women then you. You should know better and despite your intentions you should be judged by your results, and these results have lead to undesirable damage through loss of life, destruction, and mental and physical injuries. I hope the day comes when you give the approval to some unnecessary intervention overseas and soldiers say no. I hope they shove a rifle in your hand and ship you out to some other land. Maybe if you aren’t sitting in some air conditioned office collecting and absurd paycheck far away from danger you will act more responsibly with the lives and liberties you were elected to protect.

(Please forgive any errors, writing this on a phone is a little awkward)