*TL;DR I act, I love liberty, ask me junk.
Here is my bio: ROBERT ANTHONY PETERS completed his BS at the University of Arizona in Marketing and Entrepreneurship, was a Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow in DC, and trained at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in NYC. A member of SAG-AFTRA, he has been acting, producing, and directing professionally in theater, film, voiceover, and more for over a decade. His most recognizable acting roles are in The Pursuit of Happyness and Steve Jobs. He has been an active libertarian for even longer. Currently he lectures internationally on the relationship between art and liberty, speaking at several Students For Liberty events, the State Policy Network annual conference, Nexus Conference, the Bastiat Society, APEE, FreedomFest, Arizona FreedomFest, Coins in the Kingdom, the Hero’s Journey Conference, Libertopia, PORCfest, FEE seminars, Institute for Liberal Studies Summer Seminar series, and the Free Minds Film Festival. He is president of Laissez Faire Media and the Culture of Liberty Institute and a producer with Ozymandias Media – purveyor of top quality web content for freedom oriented think tanks and businesses. He records audiobooks, is a policy advisor for the Heartland Institute, is an inaugural member of the FEE Alumni Board, leads discussions for Liberty Fund, is the vice chair of the board of the Fully Informed Jury Association, and has contributed to The Freeman. He also manages his family’s retail shipping store in Tucson, AZ. Look for his film directing debut with “Tank Man.” His website is robertanthonypeters.com
You should ask me about acting, my projects, activism, what it is like to be a libertarian and an actor, freight shipping, backpacking, my cadillac, juggling lots of projects, frustration, patience, stoicism, art, traveling, almost getting thrown out of college, how to deal with getting pulled over by the police, why you should nullify on a jury, who you should get to know in the movement for what you are interested in, history of the movement, why we should abolish government funding for art, why we should abolish the state, why the Western US is the greatest place to live, Sam Peckinpah, or ANYTHING!
Hi Robert! Thanks for doing this. I have quite a few questions.1. Which of your current projects in the liberty sphere are you most excited about? Which project has taught you the most and encouraged you to grow?2. Why should I nullify on a jury? What does that even mean?
3. Why did you decide to become involved in the FEE Alumni Board? What is the FEE Alumni Board?Thanks in advance! I have many more questions but I'll let the other participants have some fun with this too!
Thank you for inviting me, Tricia!
1. I am definitely most excited about "Tank Man"! It perfectly marries so many of my loves - liberty, film, history - into what I think will be a very powerful, very affective and effective piece. Visit www. tankmanthemovie.com to keep in touch with us :) I feel like I always have so much to learn! Tank Man has been a HUGE learning and stretching experience. I am used to the more discrete role of being in front of the camera. My responsibility there is big but narrow. As a director, I am responsible for everyone and everything, not just in terms of art but safety, well-being, etc. It has been a challenge, but I hope to face that challenge many more times in the future.
2. Nullify is the historically more common term for voting your conscience on a jury. Which means that if you find the law is unjust, being missaplied, or justice is better served by a not guilty verdict, it is your right and duty to vote according to your conscience. Any time the law comes into conflict with human decency, you must find the defendant not guilty. Vist www.fija.org for much more and spread the word!
3. I was so honored to be asked to join FAB! I have long loved FEE and have been so thrilled to be able to give back in different ways - as an advisor, a lecturer, a host of events, contributor to The Freeman, and donor. FEE is a wonderful organization, and we on the board hope we can assist in finding new ways to leverage the great network to help our members prosper and liberty flourish. We are only just beginning to figure out the path forward with that. Once things click, we will be a great force for liberty.
1. What's your dream role on stage or film? What do you think is the best piece of creative work you've done yet?
2. You're widely recognized as an expert on Scrooge McDuck. How did that get started? And, for those who aren't familiar with the character, what's the attraction?
3. You've also recorded a ton of audiobooks. What's that process like? How does someone even get to do that? And where do we get the books?
Hi Sarah :)
1. Hamlet. Seriously, yes, though I am too old now! I feel fortunate that I just enjoy challenging roles whenever and however they may come. There is a really meaty one man show I am trying to get the rights to. If I do that, I want you and all of my friends to come and see me! The creative work I have been most proud of has not been my acting work but the theatre that I have produced. For a few brave organizations, I have produced amazing evenings of theatre. I work with them to select a good piece and assemble a cast to rehearse for the staged reading. The evening goes as follows - we start with a panel or lecture related to a topic(s) in the play. The play is performed. There is a discussion with the audience at the end. This engages the audience intellectually, emotionally, and socially. This is an extremely powerful way in which we can get people to relate to a set of ideas in ways that they may not normally. The feedback from some of these has truly brought me to tears. It can be easy to underestimate just how powerful art is so I am always pleased to get a reminder that it is a huge force for internal change, the only way in which social change can begin.
2. You are far too fulsome with your praise, but I gladly accept! I needed to prepare a talk for APEE and was thinking about the power of the Disney brand. I did a bit of searching and found some great resources on Uncle Scrooge and the power of the comics of him and Donald Duck as created by Carl Barks. It is easy to get hooked on further investigation because they are so much fun! Carl Barks created some remarkable cartoons that celebrate the entrepeneurial mentality and market based economic lessons. He lived the American Dream, becoming modestly successful by following his passions. He imbued his stories with that, and they are infectious and still very popular today!
3. The process is very time consuming. I recorded Bastiat's Economic Harmonies. The finished product was around 25 hours which means I spent over 100 hours editing it! The fun part is getting to read the material over and over and becoming deeply familiar with it. Most were creadted for https://lfb.org/ though I don't think they sell them anymore. :( I do have something I recorded very early on as a proof of concept, "Mencken on Ibsen", that can be found here https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004FZW658/ref=dmwssppsdp
Hi, Robert, thank you for doing this Ask Me Anything Session.
1.Why should government funding for art be abolished?
2. Your accomplishments are impressive.How do you avoid to be overcommitted?
Thank you for your questions, David.
1. There are a lot of ways to answer this, depending on your perspective. For me, it is inherently unjust to have someone pay for anything they find morally disagreeable, which is bound to happen with art in a world of varied individuals with a multiplicty of values. I think it is also dangerous any time we mix government with culture - government can have a dominating influence on it and may set up a regime where one can not diverge in their expression. Just ask, Shostakovich! I think John Sloan, a socialist artist, put it best with sarcasm, that a ministry of art would be great because then we would know where the enemy is!
2. I really can't answer this as I am constantly overcommitted. :) I try my best to manage my time by fighting the immediate fires and work on the longer term projects in the spare moments in between. I would not say I am a good/healthy model in this regard. There is just too much that I want to do. If you have any advice, I will gladly listen!
I was just mentioning to you the other day how much inspiration I still take decades later from a simple kindness you did for a stranger when we were in college. You got yourself in some hot water by telling a poor individual who was being harassed by police what his rights were. You put your college career at risk, had a hugely stressful and unjust (albeit one in which you ultimately prevailed) interaction with the Dean's office in which lawyers were brought into the mix, and had to get them to take the hold off your registration when you hadn't even been found guilty of anything just so you could register for classes.
It seems to me that many of the things done under the guise of activism in the freedom movement nowadays are more about personal ego and people getting their faces and names some attention. Yet those kinds of things fail to inspire me, and I suspect are not particularly attractive to those outside the movement. Some of them I have actually found to be outright damaging to my efforts to promote freedom-related topics outside the movement.
In general terms, what do you think are the characteristics of an act like that, or of some other person's action that you take inspiration from (Tank Man, for example), that make it inspirational still decades later? In what ways do people mistakenly undermine their (or others') efforts to inspire and promote liberty?
Though many of us revere "self interest" ( I include myself there), we can also revere "self sacrifice." We see that when someone stands up for principle or a friend or family or self, we see this as a beautiful act. When Tank Man stood in front of the tank, he did not know that the eyes of the world were upon him or that he would become eternal - it seems to us as though he just had enough. This is an elegant, individual act that was done to not just his benefit, but for the benefit of many. The ripple effect was huge and he continues to be an inspiration today.
I think the biggest way people undermine their efforts is by performing it for self-aggrandizing purposes, as opposed to cause promoting purposes. There will be much more of the former because the benefits to the individual are clear. But often, people set out to be a hero, but are not prepared to do that. I have had college students tell me they want to go out and get arrested, test something and be persecuted, to be a hero to advance a cause. I think that life is better spent honing your morals and your character, so that if you ever have the misfortune of having it tested and being thrust into a hero position, you will be better equipped to deal with and see it through.
I don't think these are satsifactory answers to your questions. They are great questions and worthy of much meditation.
Also, what is your current favorite root beer?
Thomas Kemper has long been a favorite with a sweet honey taste. I do enjoy the maple of TommyKnockers as well.
What do you think of JP Morgan Cheif Executive Jamie Dimon’s comment that Bitcoin is a fraud equivalent to the Dutch tulip bulb market bubble.
Normally, I would trust a JP Morgan CEO to be proficient in fraud, but in this case I think he is wrong. I think there is value in digital currency. In many ways, btc is a VAST improvement over the US dollar. Whether btc survives in the long run or not is not as interesting as the bright future that digital currency holds and much more significantly, the underlying platform, the Blockchain.
with the emergence of Blockchain Companies like Salt, who offers Blockchain backed loans, do you believe that we are on the verge of possible global economic freedom?
I hope we are on the precipice of vast sweeping changes, that will give people much more autonomy over how they hold and exchange and create wealth. Sometimes the optimism out paces the technical abilities, so I hasten to add that a bit of caution is not a bad idea. But I do believe that we will be seeing some truly amazing opportunities, especially for those in developing countries with terrible, destabilizing regimes. Also, the ability to wire money to friends or family is already hugely improved over the very expensive transfer fees charged by the businesses that handle that currently.
What character traits of Chris Gardner and Steve Jobs do you think are worthy of emulation?
Chris Gardner was amazingly patient, optimistic, and perseverant. I can not imagine the strength it would take to have traveled his path, all with a young son in tow. If I was an employer that had turned him away from work, I would be kicking myself repeately. What a diamond in the rough! Another great reminder in the costs of judgment. It would have been easy to dismiss him by his lack of experience, his life conditions, for some the color of his skin, but his strength of character blows all of these out of the water.
Steve Jobs was a brilliant visionary. His contributions to the world can not be overestimated. While his interpersonal and relational skills leave something to be desired, his ability to forecast, to organize a team, to gather and encourage some of the greatest technical minds is unparalleled in our age.
I felt so fortunate to be in films about both of these greats. Thanks for tying them together for me!
Inspired by the mention of jury nullification, I'm curious what the libertarian view is on juries in general. Should they exist? If so, how would they work?
Thanks for the question, Rachel. I have not given it much thought outside the current context. I wish we could improve the efficacy of our current framework and that is what www.fija.org is trying to do.
I think future possibilities may include private arbitration agencies for most all offenses or torts. Some will likely have professional judges and juries, some may operate with randomly selected jurors. I think our current method of pulling jurors from the general populations enable a better chance for justice to occur in our current state, but it may not be as effective in a private, tort only situation.
Who do you admire most in today's world? And why?
A tough question, with so many wonderful people doing wonderful and challenging things in the world.
Lynn Ulbricht is someone that I admire tremendously. She has been fighting for her son's freedom since his arrest 4 years ago. I see her on the libertarian circuit and elsehere as she goes from event to event to let people know about her son's conviction for creating a platform for people to engage in voluntary exchange. She tells her story, informing people of the threat they face if they allow this injustice to continue with dangerous legal precedents and to gather resources for her son's continued legal battles. To take on the full strength of the federal government with a double life sentence imposed upon her son already requires an unfathomable amount of courage, patience, optimism, and perseverance. I encourage you to visit www.freeross.org to learn more about this travesty, see what Lynn is doing, and help if you can.
If a libertarian conference invited you to participate on a "men's panel", what topics would you like to see addressed on that panel?
Ha! That would be unique but could be very useful. I would want to discuss how we can make the environment more "friendly" to women. This should be our approach to every different market that is out there. In my business, I constantly think about how I can make it more palatable to various demographics of customers to come. Libertarians seem to have the male "business" locked down tight, so it would be very good to discuss topics or find ways of discussing topics that are more appealing to women. Of course, the ranks of libertarians are small enough that we need to find better ways of communicating, including to men, as we are nowhere near a majority capture of them either!
As a writer, director, and performer, can you comment on the relationship between economics (or maybe good economics) and story telling?
Good story telling, like good economics, imparts truth. I gave a talk at one APEE on the market lessons from "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller. Now Mr. Miller was not a fello traveler, but he was a heck of a good playwright and told good, truthful stories. From that play, we see a man failing at his trade. And he SHOULD fail! He was only considering himself, did not consider his family much and especially not his customers. If you aren't serving customers in a market framework, you will most likely fail. That is good!
Story telling should also reflect demand. I see many grant based (both public and private) works that are very indulgent as the performer, producer, artist, etc. is immune to very much of a customer base. It is great that these can exist (at least the private grant ones), as sometimes they produce some very fascinating and challenging prodcuts. But often they are selfish results where only the creator benefits. Truly great story telling is that which is enjoyed by many, but pushes the audience by inches to consider something new. Shakespear is probably the greatest story creator that the world has ever known. He could entertain while teaching and elevated his audience, who only came for the few hours of escape. He also made a living doing it - now that is genius!
Good economics also enables good story telling. If we trace the artistic high points of western civlization, we see that those who have a more market based economic frameworks (as well as more limited government) experienced greater flourishing artistically and otherwise relative to their neighbors. This is not to say that great works can not come out of bad economics (Shostakovich) but they are more rare. Additionally, the participation and consumption from the general population increases. During the Dutch Golden Age, the average house in Amsterdam had something like a dozen paintings in it. This is tremendous! We take for granted now the ability to participate and enjoy art, but this is only something that has come about because of our modern, advanced market economy. We do not need to wait until the orchestra comes to town, it is in our pocket! Good economics and good story telling both make the world a happier more propserous place.
People with passions about ideas can sometimes let their arts suffer as they try to shoehorn their passions into creative works (writing, performances, etc). What specific suggestions would you have about being true to their beliefs without letting the quality of their art suffer?
Tell the truth. That is all you need to do. Professor David Schmidtz of the University of Arizona is great about always encouraging this in his students, and I think this is the best advice for any artist. If your story is truthful, you will have your passions in there and it will convey your sentiments to many. To not all surely, and I think this is where the temptation is to hit people over the head with the lesson you want them to learn. Art is not a good spot to be didactic. Take the risk that you will be misintepreted. There is no good way to guarantee that art will have the same meaning for everyone. Great art provokes thought. When your audience is ready for your message, they will understand it the way you want them to. Meanwhile, you may be doing the very valuable, hard, thankless work of laying the ground work so there is a fertile place for those ideas to take root at a future time.
Hi Robert Three Names, It seems like a lot of people would like to see teachers paid more. Why do you think teachers aren't better compensated? Thanks!
There are a lot of great institutional issues to work through - public provision of schooling, unions, etc. - that we probably agree on. I think the more fundamental question deals with scale. When I am an actor in a play, and I entertain 150 people at a time for a dozen shows, that is very different from entertaining millions of people through a film. Film actors are part of a product that is used by many who pay very little, but the production earns a lot and compensates accordingly. A stage production often entertains a couple of thousand. They extract more per ticket, but it is still not enough to provide much compensation for the actors. There is a similar isssue of scale with teachers where they are only able to educate a small number of students at a time. I think this may change significantly as we go forward where all star teachers with MOOCs or something similar, and the truly great ones will be greatly compensated.
Hi Robert, There have been a few books that I’ve read that completely opened my eyes to a new way of seeing the world and left me feeling like I could never go back to seeing the world the way I used to. Would you please share whether you’ve had any similar experiences and, if so, what books gave you that experience?
There are too many books that have had a tremendous impact on me! Reading "To Kill A Mockinbird" when I was 8 opened my eyes to the unjust plight of many and how "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." For a debate camp in 8th grade, we read Locke's Second Treatise, which was hugely important in my political and ethical thinking. Shakespeare continues to inspire and reward me with his insight upon every re-reading and repeated viewing. I will say that the most important insights however have been with people from all walks of life. So many inspirational people out there. We are surrounded by amazing people constantly!
What are some measures, either qualititative or even (hopefully!) some quantitative metrics, by which libertarians should judge our impact in the world?
I think the greatest measurement is that of economic prosperity in the world. Without that, we could not have had a rise in so much more humanity and civility that follows. As James Harrigan pointed out the other day, it is an improvement when people are arguing about people kneeling during the anthem at a sports event, as opposed to on whether someone can drink from a water fountain or not. When I think back WAY farther, people were willing to kill people one hill over because they were considered dangerous enemies. Now we peacefully exhange with people from ALL over the world. Of course, there are still problems today, and occasionally we take a step or 7 backwards, but overall the trend is heading in the right direction.
I know this is not satisfactory, but this is the best I have at the moment :)
What is your favorite liberty oriented movie (or movie with libertarian themes)? If you don't have a single one, feel free to list a top three or top five.
V for Vendetta is still an incredibly powerful and cathartic film. Though many of his tactics are not to be admired or replicated, we can all relate to the idea of retaliating against the state for its injustice and the desire to "wake people up" by any means necessary. The end always brings me to tears.
The Watchmen (also based on an Alan Moore product) wrestles with some great questions of principle for individuals and society. Who DOES watch the watchmen?
Wild River is a terrific classic of a woman sticking to her guns and home in light of the federal government's desire for her to clear out and make way for the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Dr Syn, the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh is the fun tale of a man who is a vicar by day and a heroic smuggler by night, set during the revolutionary era in coastal England. With Patrick McGoohan of Prisoner (another great libertarian show) fame!
I am sure I will be listing the Robert Anthony Peters - Gary Mahmoud - Arash Ayrom collaboration on here some day, too!