Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Delayed Response to MK Lords

[Note: If you're one of my Patreon supporters, you saw this post yesterday; if you're not, you didn't -- KN@PPSTER]

On Christmas Eve 2014, MK Lords posted an article on Attack The System titled "Libertarian Welfare Queens."

My reaction to that article was immediate and visceral and I intended to respond to it immediately. In fact, I began writing my response within minutes of reading the piece. But a few sentences into the response, I decided I should wait a couple of weeks and think carefully before addressing the topic. Three weeks later, I'm ready to take on Lords's argument.

Lords's definition of a "libertarian welfare queen" is "a prominent libertarian who lives off the donations of other libertarians but produces content that is factually incorrect, manipulative, embarrassing, threatening, and oftentimes ineffective or counterproductive."

Lords offers three exemplars of libertarian welfare queendom: Stefan Molyneux, Christopher Cantwell and Adam Kokesh, and I'd like to preface my remarks on the whole topic with two disclaimers:

1) I neither personally know, nor have I ever (to the best of my recollection) directly financially contributed to, any of these three individuals; and

2) Based on what I know of these three individuals, my opinion of Molyneux is negative, while my opinions of Cantwell and Kokesh are mixed.

To summarize the import of those two disclaimers, I don't believe I have any kind of personal vested interest in defending them, or conflict of interest causing me to defend them.

My visceral reaction to Lords's piece remains unchanged: I think "welfare queens" is a poorly chosen descriptor.

To the best of my knowledge, every dime received by Molyneux, Cantwell and Kokesh is given voluntarily by people who approve of what they've done or support what they claim to intend to do. I don't have to support any of the three people, or their work, myself to understand that in the marketplace of ideas, earning voluntary support from donors is as far as it gets from welfare queenism.

But of course "to the best of my knowledge" is an important distinction. I suppose it's possible that any or all of the three have engaged in fraud -- that is, that one, two or all of them have promised people X in return for Y and then, Y in hand, intentionally or negligently failed to return X. But I don't have any firsthand knowledge of such a thing, so I don't consider it especially relevant to Lords's piece.

That piece does imply fraud in a couple of places, but let's go back to the gravamen of Lords's complaint: Material that is "factually incorrect, manipulative, embarrassing, threatening, and oftentimes ineffective or counterproductive."

Six elements, the first of which is usually disputable and the remaining five of which are entirely or nearly entirely subjective. And all six seem to be very well-addressed by the market aspect of seeking donations for support.

If you don't believe the person making the claims, don't donate.

If you feel manipulated, embarrassed or threatened by the person asking you for money, don't fork over any.
If you view the approach or project of the donation solicitor as ineffective or counter-productive, put your checkbook back in your pocket.

It's really just that simple. And in fact, in at least one case -- Christopher Cantwell's -- it's even simpler than that, because it's not really "donations" he's seeking.

I'm not singling out Cantwell here because I think, believe or know that he's somehow "better" than the other two people mentioned in Lords's article. I'm singling him out because I've paid more attention to him than to the others, at least lately, so I have a better idea of what he's up to.

Cantwell creates content (blog posts, podcasts, etc.) and attempts to make money by selling advertising and by accepting after the fact payment from those who appreciate the content.

This is the model we've followed at Rational Review News Digest for more than 12 years now. We produce a daily newsletter. We give it away "free." We ask our readers to pay us what they think it's worth.

I'm not going to claim that that business model has been a smashing success. I can't even say that I know whether it would have been more or less lucrative to charge some set amount up front. But I can say that saying "here's X, give us whatever $Y it's worth to you" is simply not "welfare queen" approach in any meaningful sense of the term.

It also happens to be the model that almost every non-state political/ideological/philosophical institution runs on, from the smallest libertarian project (like, for example, my personal blog, which knocks down a few bucks a month) to the largest (like, for example, the Cato Institute, which operates on a multi-million dollar annual budget generated by solicited donations) and everything in between (small-budget think tanks/media centers like the Center for a Stateless Society, medium-budget media sites like, etc.).

So far as I can tell, in MK Lords's perfect world everyone who creates libertarian content, does libertarian activism, etc. would do so in spare time after working some other kind of job, and shower that content, activism, etc. on her as a gift. Which sounds a lot more like welfare queenism to me than do the activities of those she's criticizing.

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