Sunday, October 07, 2018

All Aboard -- or Maybe Not


I don't know if I've touted Caryn Ann Harlos's new podcast, The Big L Podcast, -- "your unofficial source for Libertarian Party news, arcana, and information for the liberty-minded political junky" -- here on the blog yet. If not, that's an oversight for which I apologize. If you dig the Libertarian Party at all, you'll dig The Big L Podcast.

The latest episode is part two of a three-part series on "The LP and the Enduring Importance of the Statement of Principles." Caryn Ann is doing some groundbreaking historical preservation work, both with the podcast and with other efforts. I don't always agree with her conclusions, but she's doing something most of us have done little or nothing like, which is finding source documents to support those conclusions.

I do want to take issue with one thing in this latest episode. It's not an historical claim I'm interested in disputing, but a common metaphor that I consider inadequately explored. Here's Caryn Ann's version of the metaphor, with one alternative to the usual understanding:

This legitimate disagreement [between anarchists, minarchists, classical liberals, et al.] is actually so tiny and so far off, the differences are so trivial when it comes to the ultimate goal of all human interactions being voluntary and peaceful, that absolute cooperation between us makes perfect sense. And this is where the metaphor ... comes into play... that is that we are on the same train head headed northward. Some of us will get off sooner than others. But this ... idea is disturbingly being denied by some within the party. It is claimed that no, it's like one train is going to New York from Florida and one is going to California from Florida and we can't travel together because our destinations are so different.


Caryn Ann disputes that. As a practical matter, so do I. That is, I figure that among those choosing to work within the American system of electoral politics, it makes sense for all those in favor of more freedom to establish common cause and cooperate with each other and to work together in support of whatever seems to move things in that direction at any given moment.

But, there is another way to look at the train metaphor, and that is that some of us are on a train chugging slowly in the right direction, while others among us remain back in Florida building a rocket ship for which we don't yet have a working engine or sufficient fuel.

In fact, we don't even know what the engine will look like or what the fuel will be. But we don't think the train is ever going to get where it's going (in fact, we expect it to end up a lot like the coal-powered locomotive that tries to make it through a long tunnel in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged), and we hope that circumstances -- political disintegration and revolution -- will provide the engine and the fuel at some time and in some manner which we can't venture to predict. At which we will leap-frog the train, land in the ruins, and build the free society.

Or something like that. Obviously there are variants, e.g. "build the newworld in the shell of the old." What those variants have in common are that they don't take for granted a linear, measured progression from Point A (where we are) to Point B (where we want to go), a progression with stops along the way where people can get off when they decided they've had enough of the progression and are right where they want to be.

That mindset makes involvement in electoral politics generally and the Libertarian Party specifically somewhat tricky. Should the LP be chipping away incrementally "in the right direction," or should it be more or less monkeywrenching stuff in order to bring about the desired collapse so that the real work can get started?

My opinion on that is that the LP's own structure and its situation within electoral politics dictates the former. Not because I think the "train" metaphor is correct versus the "rocket ship" metaphor, but because electoral politics as such is based on slow trains ... and big tents.

The LP does need to be right both on the whole (its vision/goal) and in detail (its actions vis a vis specific issues of the moment). But it needn't abandon train in favor of rocket ship, and in fact it wouldn't make sense for it to do so.

Anyway, that's my "making a mountain out of a molehill" contribution to the latest episode of The Big L Podcast. The rest of the podcast is much more fun, interesting, and informative than the part I chose to nitpick. You should listen to it.

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