I'm looking forward to taking your questions on anything and everything on June 30th.
I'm particularly interested in the pscyhology and epistemology of politics... and the dynamics (pscyhological and cultural) of political change.
I spend a lot of time teaching and consulting on the Art of Political Persuasion (check out RobinKoerner.com and many of my articles). My work in that field started in 2011 when I wrote the article on the Huffington Post that went viral and originated the largest coalition for Ron Paul's presidential run in 2011/12 - called "Blue Republican", refering mostly to progressives who switched parties to vote for him.
As a resident of Seattle, I was born British and became an American last year after a 12 year Kafkaesque experience of the US immigration system.
There's lots more I could tell you, but I'll leave it to you all to ask me about whatever you're interested in ... on June 30th!
The expenses associated with Brexit are going to be astronomical. While I see the need for Britain to retain its sovereignty, is it worth the cost?
Thanks for a great question about a topic I am very, very passionate about. The answer has to be given on a few levels.
With respect to “retain its sovereignty” – and the general thrust about weighing freedom with economic benefit, yes it absolutely worth it, for exactly the same reason that “picking cotton will become more expensive” was not a good argument against freeing the slaves.
Getting out of the EU must be done at almost any cost if the British people are going to be not only free in the long run, but also, simply, a self-determined people.
I wrote about that here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robin-koerner/britains-choice-suicide-ob10637352.html
And here http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/robin-koerner/why-ukip-the-answer-is-inb5399815.html
Regarding the premise about the high cost of leaving, I don’t believe it’s necessarily the case.
The EU side – and therefore the pro-EU media – has a massive interest in pumping out the propaganda that it’s going to hurt the UK to be outside of the union. But we heard the exact same thing when the UK didn’t join the Euro – and then when we voted for Brexit (which was before any negotiations apparently going to have a massive negative impact on our economy: the opposite happened, of course).
But there is absolutely no legal reason that this has to cost us any more than the adjustment costs that will be borne by large private and public companies that invested based on one future (if they were not very good at reading the public) and now have to adjust to another. But that’s life. That’s just what it means to operate in a dynamic marketplace.
So moving onto hard costs, in theory, they will only be high if we have a weak-willed political team in the negotiations. There is not enforcement mechanism for any deal that is high cost to Britain. The Europeans would either have to invade us (!) to force us to accept terms or try to punish us through what would technically be economic acts of war. If the latter, then they should be called out as such and the UK should go immediately to the WTO to arbitrate.
The WTO is important, because it sets minimum trading standards among nations that are voluntary participants (including the EU and the UK). This is why the British can walk away from the negotiating table if the EU tries to make us pay an unreasonable “exit charge”… We don’t need a deal in the short-run. Countries don’t trade with each other. Companies and people do. There are around 170 countries outside the EU that trade with it. Now there will be one more. And they don’t all have a specific trade deal. International trade continues in the natural fashion between countries without any such deal. So, if we are facing high costs from exit imposed by whatever deal is being proposed, we should just make not deal and walk, saving money immediately, and working with the WTO to deal with whatever unfair restrictions, if any, get imposed as a result.
Moreover, if the EU do try to unilaterally impose restrictions, Britain has an option that they do not: the Brits have essentially given up on their historical alliances with English-speaking countries (mostly empire-related) to draw closer to Europe. We should immediately turn around and establish favorable free trade deals with those countries that we already share language and law with, replacing any negative growth in trade with the EU (which is in relative decline in economic terms) with a kick start of growth with those countries with which we have historic ties. See “Commonwealth” for a list!
The immediate economic upside is obvious. We save all our EU contributions. And Britain is the second biggest contributor (you can argue third depending on how you look at it). Moreover, because we have been a massive net contributor for decades, a large fraction of EU assets is ours – and we need to be “bought out” – that also makes our cash position with respect to exit positive.
If you’re thinking of any particular unavoidable costs that I’m missing, please get back to me… but I think the costs will only be huge if a) we choose them to be or if b) the EU actually, literally aggresses against us, but tyrants as they are institutionally, I don’t think they’re quite that stupid yet. (And if they are, we cross that bridge when we come to it, recognizing that we are no longer in good-faith negotiations. )
Thanks for a great question, Tricia!
Thanks so much for doing this AMA.
What's the most striking difference you see between the fortunes of human liberty in the US vs. the UK?
Another great question, and one that I love to think about. Thanks Dan.
The US has a conscious, explicit and foundational tradition of liberty. I couldn’t do what I do in the UK (go around talking a lot about liberty and how to sell it) simply because the political vocabulary and interest in that concept per se are largely absent. That is a huge thing.
It’s not just that the US has a classical liberal Constitution, but that the spirit of that constitution is “in the air”. It’s actually in the culture. It’s popular. As a result, mostly unconscious, when Americans are considering any political issue, which necessarily involves the government, they are always thinking not only about the issue per se, but also about the nature of government /governance itself. Perhaps not always consciously… but it is always there. There is at some level a correct, theoretical awareness – conscious or unconscious – about the danger/inherent flaws of the state. That is why, for example, universal healthcare is still an issue. Almost any other country in the world that could afford that would do it/has done it. (I’m not advocating for it- just pointing out what sets the US apart.)
On the flip side, I am more scared of the US government than the British (as a citizen of both countries).
Because Americans, despite their self-narrative of rugged individualism have a respect for, and deference to, authority, including most importantly political authority (people in office) and law enforcement (people in uniform) that you would never find in Britain. Indeed, it would almost be considered quaint/naïve/even dangerous. So ironically, Americans instinctively trust their “betters” more than the Brits do and are much less willing to talk back and/or fight back. (Especially the second.)
This means that the government can and does abuse those theoretical rights here (that so many Americans talk about) more than the British government can abuse the rights that Brits talk about, before getting any push back.
There is also the issue that America is a big country and Americans are victims of their Founders’ success: it is so easy to be so comfortable here without really engaging the rest of the world, and this breeds complacency. That is exacerbated by the poor median level of education in many parts of the country.
In England, a smaller country covered in history, and surrounded by lots of other countries, and the BBC putting out factual programs on both radio and TV that are as compelling as some of the best dramas, it’s harder to not see what is coming down the pipe at you.
In the US, the starting position is to respect people with power because they are people in positions of power. In the UK, the starting position is to be skeptical of people with power, because what’s wrong with a person that they want to be “better” or “higher” than the next guy. American celebrates success and advancement. England isn’t comfortable with that or the people who seek it.
Then there’s the issue of the monarchy. America has a monarch. Britain has a Monarch. The second is better for liberty. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robin-koerner/god-bless-america-god-savb1555280.html Until such time, that is, that America re-learns its history and realizes that it does have a monarch by a different name…
So in short, there are many dimensions on which the US/the UK are ahead of/behind each other in the liberty-stakes.
But if you ask me to pick one best place to protect liberty, I still choose the US, once I net it all out. And I voted with my feet.
The founding myth is powerful. The Constitution is powerful – more culturally than politically, as I mentioned. The associated vocabulary of liberty which exists here is powerful… and simply, you’ve not gone half as far as the Brits down the path of social democracy, which has normalized statism to the point that (unlike in the US, where, as I mentioned, “governance” is always an issue in politics) no one thinks of alternatives to government as moral solutions to society’s problems. There is very little civil society, whereas America still has a robust, beautiful, civil society – voluntary associations of people getting stuff done better than the government, and believing it can be that way. In Britain, hardly anyone can even imagine that. Rather, civil society is almost seen as a failure of government!
Much of that has happened because we threw away the good of our own tradition (which we had handed off to the Americans) when we decided that the empire was not quite cricket (!) and turned from our Anglophone roots to the much more statist, socialist continent of Europe…
.. but that’s another story…
The will to liberty is motivated by optimism, belief in the power of the individual, a celebration of success and an openness to other individuals. That’s all more spiritual than political… And the US has it more than any country I’ve been to (and I’ve been to dozens). That’s what matters the most - and that’s why I will never give up on liberty in the US.
This poem captures it, and it moves me almost to tears – probably because I am both American and British, but mostly because I live for liberty.
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)
Signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.
O THOU, that sendest out the man
To rule by land and sea,
Strong mother of a lion-line,
Be proud of these strong sons of thine
Who wrenched their rights from thee!
What wonder if in noble heat
Those men thine arms withstood,
Retaught the lesson thou had’st taught,
And in thy spirit with thee fought,—
Who sprang from English blood.
But thou rejoice with liberal joy,
Lift up thy rocky face,
And shatter, when the storms are black,
In many a streaming torrent back,
The seas that shock thy base!
Whatever harmonies of law
The growing world assume,
Thy work is thine—The single note
From that deep chord which Hampden smote
Will vibrate to the doom.
What's your favorite beer?
Now we're getting to what really matters!
Not a single favorite, Grant. Rather, I love to explore the amazingly diverse and flavorsome Belgian beers (anything from Duvel to a Lambic). Closer to home, I'm partial to a good locally brewed IPA on draft...
Why did you decide to become an American citizen? How was the process?
I love the story of how I did it… because it was so unlikely and ridiculous. It was also hellish and I’d not wish it on my worst enemy.
I’ve only really told the story once in public – and that was here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5YA2kmrOWs
It would take a long time to type out all the details of the trials and tribulations I dealt with trying to immigrate … and there was so many – so many twists and turns, mistakes by immigration services/Dept of Homeland Security, internal contradictions, and absurdities.
So I’ll invite you to listen to them at that link. (It’s like a comic version of Kafka’s the Trial – except not funny when you’re going through it, but only in hind sight).
For now, if I may, I’ll just make these general observations.
First, it’s very easy to become American if you already have family here or get married. It just involves a good bit of waiting and some paper filling.
Second, it’s not that difficult to become American if claim asylum – and there are many bases for a successful asylum claim.
Third, it’s very hard to become American in the way that most people think of immigration when they think of its tradition as a country of immigrants - for economic reasons, “pursuing the American dream”. This last category represents only about 9% of immigrants when I last checked. I was one of them.
I came in on an L1A visa for international executive managers, which I did in a very creative way that involved setting up my own company in both the UK and the US before arriving.
It took just over five years to get legal permanent residency (that’s the hard bit for someone without a family here or a million dollars), and another six to become a citizen (that’s much easier than getting permanent residency without a family or marriage).
During the first five years, I had to submit hundreds (literally) of sheets of paper every one or two years and then hope that the person reading them would understand them and that no mistakes would be made. Of course, mistakes were made on the government side, which resulted in all kinds of anxiety for me, not knowing if I would be able to stay… the whole process eliminated any sense of stability and took quite a toll.
Highlights included having my immigration paralegal tell me that my visa application needed “another three quarters of an inch of paper” because the “person with a high school diploma who will read it won’t understand it and so will typically assess it on its physical weight”; the refusal of teh government to give me a visa that I had already got and that they claimed they had already sent me (yeah, I know that’s a logical contradiction – but this is the government); the taking of six months to print one piece of paper (which only got printed when a US senator intervened on my behalf); the loss of my citizenship application in a salt mine in Missouri - twice (I’m not making that up); the statement from the man who finally approved me for citizenship that if I had not written a very specific letter to a very particular place at a very particular time, the government would never have found out that it had lost my paperwork in the salt mine and it would never have gone through. etc. etc. You get the idea.
US immigration is a joke – or at least it would be if it were not so inhumane.
But, contrary to what the politicians tell us, it is not a difficult problem to solve. One of my fantasies is to testify on the Hill to the committee that handles immigration. I’d like to show them just how America’s “legal” immigration system makes illegal immigration the most sensible option, and then tell them in two sentences how to solve the problem of illegal immigration. If you know anyone who can make that happen, please give them my number, because I really believe having been through it, I could change the nature of the debate if only I could get enough people to listen!
Thanks for another great question, Richard. You’re all hitting things that really get me fired up!
Hi again Richard
I just realized that I utterly failed to answer the first of your two questions. My apologies!
In fact, I wrote an article to answer that exact question, so I'll refer you to it... and then if you have any specific follow-ups, I'll be glad to address them!http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robin-koerner/why-i-shall-become-an-ameb4590202.html Thanks again
As for the psychology of politics, Jon Haidt has shared some interetsing observations in this video - Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives
Absolutely. I use a lot of his work in my long-form training on political persuasion. Understanding the "different moral universes" of Liberals and Conservatives, esp in terms of
care vs. harm
liberty vs. oppression
justice vs injustice
loyalty vs disloyalty
respect of authority vs disrespect
sacralization... enables one to target messaging much more effectively to the Left and Right etc. In other words, I build on much of his (and others') research and work in the field of moral/empirical psychology, and even behavioral economics to customize sales and persuasive techniques to sell liberty "into" various mindsets and political paradigms. I recommend Haidt wherever I go. I enjoyed his lecture at ISFLC17, which I attended. I also LOVE what he is doing with heterodoxacademy.org . And if we're talking about Haidt and all that good stuff, it makes sense to point people here to Jordan Peterson, too.
What would you say are the most powerful tools for persuasion?
So this is question is a very short question, but deserves a very long answer!
… For two reasons. 1) There are so many and they are best used together 2) This is my “area of expertise”, if I may put it that way, so I can go on and on in answering it.
First off, I’ll say if you’re really interested in the whole nine yards, sign up at www.robinkoerner.com .
But for now, let me hit some of the fundamentals.
The most important things are tools.
They are dispositions.
First and foremost is intellectual humility. Just because you know more than the guy you’re persuading, you still know almost nothing and you don’t know what he knows! That disposition genuinely opens you up to seeking to understanding before being understood. And that is a principle of persuasion. Your “customer” will usually tell you how to sell them if you listen/ask enough questions before you start explaining.
The other thing is to decide to try to understand the “target” in his/her own terms – not your own. He may make two statements that are obviously inconsistent to you. Don’t dismiss based on the inconsistency. Go find the reason why the two statements aren’t inconsistent for him. Not only will that give you important information about the structure of his paradigm, the very taking him seriously, will lower the bar he is unconsciously setting for you to jump to have him change his mind.
Which brings me to the third fundamental. Most of persuasion is not about the strength of the case made (facts and logic). It is about moving the standard that your case must meet in the mind of the listener DOWN from “Must I believe what I’m hearing?” (= I am subconsciously looking for any way not to believe this guy) to “Can I believe what I’m hearing? (= I actually want to believe this guy.)
This is related the fact that the process by which we form judgments is almost nothing to do how we justify the judgments that we have formed. Our justifications for political views will always sound political and be in that language. They will involve facts and logic. However, the largely unconscious processes that determine the views/opinions/judgments at which we arrive (and end up justifying post hoc, quite sincerely) are a deeper function of human nature/psychology… so THESE are what you need to learn if you’re going to persuade. To do that, study moral, empirical and even social psychology, behavioral economics.
And start to think of changing someone’s mind more like trying to get a date than winning a debate.
Once you know all of that, you can start deploying actual sales/persuasive techniques with amazing effectiveness.
Here are a few.
• Never impugn your opponent’s integrity or moral character.
• You can always find disagreement of principle
• No one has ever been persuaded by someone they don’t respect.
• People don’t respect people who disrespect them
• Don’t make someone resist your argument by making them wrong. Rather than coming at someone as if you’re trying to change their paradigm to yours, come at them offering the service of helping them clarify/expand/making consistent their own paradigm.
• Find – and then explicate relevant common ground. Start the discussion from there.
• Seek first to understand: only then to be understood
• Must start from where the other person is
• Tell people what they are already thinking
• not what they should be thinking
• You’re trying to establish the other’s person trust in your own motivations/intentions as well as a shared identity.
• Find and affirm points of agreement whenever you can
• Use the target’s vocabulary, style and trusted figures. (If he’s on the Left, you can talk about social justice without conceding anything at all (including the meaning of that phrase). If he’s religious, use Bible verses (that doesn’t mean you have to change your religion to his))… But never be smug about it. It has to be a genuine attempt to show respect for the other person and his position – not a clever discursive move.
• Quote people whom the target trusts when you want to make an assertion. Talking to a Democrat about the need for civil society over the state? Try “I agree with Hillary Clinton when she said, “It takes a village” etc…” You get the idea.
• Meet the objection “up-front”. This is a like a magic wand. If you know someone is going to have an objection to your argument that is rooted in what they already believe, you can utterly diffuse it (this is a deep psycho-cognitive phenomenon) by mentioning it and addressing it before the other person does.
• Subvert expectation. You’re talking to someone who thinks (with good reasons) that libertarians are unattractive weirdos who like weed and guns? Absolutely don’t do anything to trigger than expectation. Rather do and/or say something that utterly does not fit it. Again, you can always find something. Just needs a little thought/practice.
• Ask questions. Telling someone something that they don’t already agree with is unlikely to make them believe it … However, taking them on a step by step cognitive journey from common ground where not step offends anything they sacralize or contradicts any of their principles, by the asking of leading questions CAN make them believe whatever answer you lead them to. The brain commits to things that we own/create completely differently from things that we do not own/create.
• Show interest/respect. And mean it. If that’s hard to do, remember that if actually care about liberty, you need to learn more about how to persuade people – and that means learning more about the experiences of people you need to persuade. In other words, you have every reason to be interested in their experiences/ideas. They will teach something that you can use – even if they are wrong.
• When you’ve made the sale, stop. Libertarians are really bad at this. Most people have a main issue on which they want to be left alone to do what they want to do. (E.g. same sex marriage, homeschooling, owning guns, etc.) Through that issue, you can get “concession” to libertarians principles. But they may not be able to accept the raw application of the principle in another area of their life if it would allow people they don’t trust to do things they are scared of (for example). In that case, don’t give them the whole libertarian orthodoxy in one dose. Rather, feel out how the conversation is going and respond to queues. If you don’t go too far, but leave the target with a good feeling about the experience she just had with you and your point, you’ll not force her back onto the defensive but you will leave her more open over time to the application of the same principle more broadly later, and likely more receptive to the next libertarian they meet.
• Never argue for a political destination when you can advocate for a political direction. Here’s an example. Penn Jillette has this line: “Could we solve this problem by increasing freedom rather than reducing it?”. This uses a number of principles that are effective for persuasion
• No ideology required to accept premise of question. Therefore, it cannot be rejected out of hand.
• It doesn’t specify single position so again. Therefore, it cannot be rejected out of hand and isn’t threatening of anyone’s prevailing paradigm
• It doesn’t make a claim to being right. Therefore it cannot be “argued with”.
• It is collaborative rather than combative … i.e. it is looking for common ground
• It puts both people on same side (see above) rather than in opposition
• It is essentially humble (for all the above reasons) and invites the same humility - which breeds doxastic (!) openness in response … making persuasion easier
• It concerns direction (better/worse) – Not ultimate destination (perfect/bad).. which means that there is no single position that someone can easily reject by finding one thing wrong with it.
Phew. I think that’s a pretty solid answer for this medium! If you want more of this at a high level, check out my book (www.ifyoucankeepit.us). If you really want to learn the tricks and “how to do everything above”, sign up for my course www.RobinKoerner.com – or persuade FEE to have me come and give a whole day training ;-)
Where do you think those who identified as "Blue Republicans" in 2011 are now, in terms of their politics? Do they support Rand Paul?
Hi Jason. Thanks for the question.
I have not formally surveyed this so I’m going on impression, very non-scientific sampling and anecdotal evidence! But here’s how it seems to me.
The overwhelming majority of Blue Republicans in 2011/12 were either more pragmatic libertarians or liberals/progressives who did what the article suggested – and shift parties to support Ron Paul for peace and civil rights. Most of the first group currently favor Rand, Amash and Massie. Most of the second moved permanently into the broad libertarian/liberty movement. Some favor Rand et al. Others are as disaffected by Republican politics to the point that they are not holding their breath for whatever Rand or anyone else from his party may do.
The Blue Republican phenomenon was very much about the standard electoral process and even one of the main parties – since Ron Paul was a Republican. Therefore, those who actually identified Blue Republican (probably of the order of hundreds of thousands, since we were the biggest coalition for Paul’s candidacy) are not too purist or orthodox in their libertarianism that, rather than support Rand for the fact that he is trying to move us toward liberty, are against him because he “compromises libertarian principles”. For that reason, yes, most Blue Republicans are broadly supportive of Rand.
However, there were many many outright libertarians who supported Ron Paul and were therefore very grateful for the Blue Republican movement – but were already calling themselves libertarians and supported Ron Paul because they saw him as a pure (enough) libertarian. Many of those people don’t think that Rand is the real deal.
Interestingly, I have spoken to Dr. Ron Paul about that wing of his supporters. Based on that conversation I would say that he is more the pragmatist than the purist when it comes to political action, even though he is of course a principled libertarian. I suspect he and I agree that principles and purism aren’t the same thing. I would say that the movement he created while being a REPUBLICAN congressman at a time when the Republicans were not even walking their own talk, speaks to that pretty conclusively.
You may be interested in http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robin-koerner/a-primer-on-compromise-fob6311022.html
Lived in Northern England for a while. I was curious, could you explain the hesitance - particularly in the younger generation - to discuss politics or be politically active? When I lived there in 2016, it was often considered "rude" to discuss politics where in the US it's a pasttime. How does this cultural difference influence the politics of Brexit?
Hi TylerThat's a really interesting impression.
I remember my mother always taught me not to discuss "sex, politics or religion" at the table. It's one of those old saws that definitely hang over from our traditional politesse. That said, i don't know if you've lived in other nations (other than US and UK) but the US is just about the MOST political nation I've ever lived in/visited when it comes to cultural norms.
E.g. no one wears political T-shirts in the UK - or almost any other country. Loads of people do in the US. Politics here "is a matter for the people" in a way that it isn't anywhere else, including England. So that what you saw may not be actual reluctance as much as just a norm. Brits just think about politics less. (See my answer above on that.)
Britain is not a political nation in the sense that America is. the US founding and identity are inherently political. They are also deliberate self-conscious political constructions. Britain's identity is much more historically contingent, the result of historic accidents, its geography, things that were out of the control of its people and politicians. Britain finds its identity in its past and the evolution that brought it to where it is. America finds it in what it was made to be (which is political) and therefore where it is going.
Brits are definitely more politically apathetic, too. Unfortunately, they don't question our political foundations/assumptions like the Americans.
That makes our poiltics much more incrementalist and people much more sceptical of large political change - which was one reason why Brexit was such a shock to many and such a huge victory.
Because politics isn't a passtime in the UK, I would say it's less obvious what Brits think politically (relative to Americans). That is why Farage's campaign of reflecting people's feelings about EU injustice back to them were able to be more successful than anyone could see.
Brits are more reserved than Americans, keeping their views on many things that really matter more to themselves. So the media / establishment couldn't see how offended they were by the EU... but they were because the EU offends the basic British notion of "fair play".
However, the vote was closer than it would be in the US since being a less political nation - believing less in the power of politics and in their power over politics, Brits are less willing than Americans to take things into their own hands. If Britain was filled with Americans, the vote would have been more in favor of Brexit... progressive media notwithstanding. This "resigned-ness" (almost defeatest "well, what can you do...?" ) attitude could affect Brexit inasmuch as the political class feels that the pressure isn't on them to deliver the will of the people as much as it would be if the Brits were more politically engaged, forceful, explicit and/or ideological... If that
The result of that could be that the May's government concedes too much because it reads the reticence of the people as a queue not to push hard. That may be a mistake though, because if the final deal is not reasonable, the British sense of fair-play will kick in again and the discontent could be significant. the current government (and especially the prime minister) has shown itself to be utterly incapable of reading the sentiment of the population (to a quite remarkable extent, which was why the Conservative party failure at the election could be seen a mile off...)
What would you say is/are the toughest obstacle(s) for Liberty activists to overcome in order to persuade others to consider or support a different perspective (e.g. Persuading a leftist or neocon to support libertarian views)? And how can they overcome those obstacles in order to gain supporters for Liberty?
May I refer you to my extensive reesponse to Marianne, above?
A quick answer would be to say that they simply do not realize the fundamentals in that answer and approach other people accordingly.
To most directly answer your questions, though...The biggest obstacle is lack of intellectual humility. They can overcome this one by seeking out smart people (preferably smarter than themselves!) they can respect with views that oppose their own, and deeply engaging the objections from a position that isn't motivated by "let me find where this is wrong" but rather by "let me see where this opposiing view points to something that I've not fully considered/assimilated". They can also overcome it by forming relationships - real friendships - with people who are culturally and politically very different (bearing in mind that culture precedes politics https://fee.org/articles/your-problem-with-gays-or-guns-is-not-political/ ).The second is mistaking the map for the territory. A political philosophy is an abstraction of reality. Its test is against the experiences of other people, who are the only ends of politics. If you keep not being able to persaude people (real things) of your version of libertarian ideas, that's as likely to do with a mismatch between your ideas and human nature or the current experiences of human beings in our culture (which must be taken into account as the context for any political change) as it is to do with the fact that everyone else is an idiot. (They're not.) In putting into practice some of the persuasive dispositions and principles I teach, most of us will feel some internal resistance. That is probably rooted in our own insecurity, ego-investment in our views, sense of our own worth among those we value etc.. We need to be develop the self-awareness to identify those things and then work at targeted self-improvement to understand (and if necessary overcome or transcend) those things.
In short, to persuade person X of proposition Y, it is more important to undertsand the nature of X than the logic of Y. So activists should spend a bit more time on the former and a bit less on the latter. Literally, spend more time exploring those fields than re-reading the Creature from Jekyll Island (awesome as that book is!) It's a corollary of "seeking first to understand before being understood". Travel (to different places, cultures etc.) is good for that too.
Also, read history. To quote Churchill - who did more to save the world from tyranny in modern times than almost anyone else, "Study history, history, history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft." Why? Because history shows how liberty advances in practices - rather than in theory.
Also, be aware of this: just because you may be right about the best way to run a society (based on freedom and voluntary exchange etc.), that doesn't mean that any practical change to such a society from a worse one wouldn't have transitions effects that would be harmful. The transition of any system between different equilibrium states is governed by factors that do not determine those states. In other words, if your theory is all about where we are going, then Yogi Berra's quote applies: "In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is". Once you see people's resistance to libertarian ideas as fear about the change, you may be more open to the need to the possibility that your current libertarian views are insufficient to meet people where they are and with the concerns and priorities they have (which may be very different from yours).
What's an aspect of British culture that you miss having here in America?
Hi Eileen. I'm going out of order and skipping to your questions (don't worry guys... I'll get back to your questions above)... because this one needs less brain work from me to answer. I miss a few specific things. First, good tea. Seriously. I mean, it's not a problem at home: I get the best black tea imported from the UK (thanks either to Amzon marketplace or my trips back to Blighty)... but if I travel for an extended period in the States, in a lot of places, I have to go for quite a while without a proper cuppa. Second, I would miss the BBC if it weren't for the interwebs. I listen to a lot of BBC radio comedy online. I have not found anything like it anywhere else. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/categories/comedy Third - and something I actually do miss because I can't get it unless i got back to the native land - is the mass self-depracation, which is related to taking nothing too seriously. It is also related to the fact that Britain is an entirely pragmatic place, which is never on its high-horse. Look at the country's response to the terror attacks of 7/7 and compare that to the American response to 9/11. Or look at the British opening to the London Olympics. That's Britain's gift to the world (!).
Fourth - the history. To live in it. It's like a spiritual top-up to go back to England, especially the rural picture-postcard places and just walk and be there. So utterly beautiful. So much of import has happened before in every part of the country. And the above comment about not-taking-itself-too seriously is why Britain has a Constitutional monarchy, which, despite being supposedly backward, is marginally better at protecting rights than most of the Republics of Europe. It is an apolitical, deep, historical national identity that retains but augments its past, that no European Republic has pulled off. That's cool. And it's why we do pomp and circumstance so well, even while we don't take it seriously, either!
Fifth - language. I miss the hugely colorful way that Brits use English. In the USA, language is more of a tool. It gets work done. But in the UK, people play with it; they add color to their lives with it; they have more fun with it. Last but not least - the thick skins. Also related to not taking anything too seriously: it's really hard to offend a Brit. We call our friends "fat bastards" as a term of endearment. It gives us more room to play, as it were. Despite the image of Brits (that some have) that they are polite and proper, they are in fact really creative at being rude... but it's great because everyone's in on it.
What are three things I should do or see on my first visit to Seattle?
Thanks for an easy one :)
Pike Place Market is the one of America's biggest tourist attractions. It's not incredible but it's "nice" and will give you a feel for the city. So go do it simply because you can't come all this way and not say that you have done it!If the weather is good, get on one of the ferries. I suggest the one to Bainbridge Island. The trip to the island takes about 45 mins. The main reason to do it is the incredible view you'll get of Seattle as you leave and then (when you come back) approach the city. You will also get a lovely view of the islands that the ferry passes on its way to Bainbridge. Once in Bainbridge, go walk though the little town down the bar on the marina and have a drink there before heading back. It will be a gorgeous half day and the trip will cost less than ten bucks.
Another touristy thing that I avoided for years (on principle) but then did, and was really pleasantly surprised by, was the "Underground Tour". The story of how the city was built is remarkable and interesting. The quality of the tour is something of a function of which guide you get, but definitely do it once. Both what you will see and what you will learn are very cool.And as a bonus suggestion, go to Din Tai Fung if you can get there when there isnt' a massive line. It's the only michelin-award winning Chinese restaurant in the world, and not expensive. They are the best dumplings you will ever eat. Order the spicy won ton soup along with whatever else takes you fancy. It will blow your mind and your taste buds. (Don't worry: it's not that spicy: but the flavor is out of this world.)... and of course, let me know which of the above you do and how it goes! Have a wonderful trip here. When will you be coming?
You were heavily involved in 2012 prez election and saw the "movement" first hand. I think you might agree that there are fewer people around today who might be classified as a liberty "activist" in the sense that people were in those days. It is not obvious to me that this is regrettable. I would rather see sincerity and sophistication rather than sheer numbers. What is your view of this?
What a great question.
I had to think about this one for a moment.
And I agree that there are fewer and I agree that it isn’t regrettable.
And I don’t regret it simply because it was always inevitable.
There are always more people doing anything that is getting more attention in the media and culture. “What we focus on we make bigger”. The presidential election is (alas) like a presidential super bowl that goes on for years… which means there’s plenty of time for people with myriad reasons to latch on to do so. The more attention something gets and the more of the “cultural space” it occupies, the more personal reasons people will have to get involved. It’s not unreasonable, it is attention and cultural space that presage real political change after all. (Culture precedes politics.)
So now that that presidential super bowl is over and especially since our (liberty’s) team (Ron Paul) was playing, inevitably fewer fans are engaged (if you’ll allow me to stretch the analogy).
As we have seen with Ron Paulers’ becoming Trumpers (I know some of them), some people were more into the anti-Establishment element of the Ron Paul movement than the liberty. Others were moved by the fact that Paul was the only candidate whose candidacy really had the flavor of an outright cultural movement (rather than just a political one) – all those stadiums filled with 10,000 students etc. There’s a raw emotional appeal with an immediate payback that now doesn’t exist.
And part of that appeal was the simple fact that we had a horse in the race that at least in theory had a chance of going all the way, or of at least making an impact great enough to change the “sport”. Now that there is not race to be in, there is not horse to back, and so there is no potential immediate political change to get excited about, the activists who remain are the die-hards – those who get excited by the principles regardless of all those other things. Those for whom the commitment is deep: to use your words, those who are sincere for sure and more sophisticated in that commitment than those who were there for more transient or superficial reasons.
That is our small group of committed citizens who, in the spirit of the famous Margaret Mead, quote will change the world when the time is right.
And that last bit is the point.
Political change – at least in our 1000 year Anglo history and tradition – generally happens in response to a broadly felt injustice (offending human nature rather than any particular political ideology) and the sense of a significant fraction of the people that something that they took for granted yesterday, they are about to lose tomorrow. At those times, the committed citizens with the most coherent and relevant answers, strategic savvy, and sufficient sensitivity to reflect back to the concerned mainstream their fears, can determine the direction of the resulting cultural and political backlash or evolution.
Going back through our tradition, that holds true just before and at the American Revolution, English Bill of Rights, Petition of Right, Grand Remonstrance, Humble Petition and Advice, Magna Carta… you get the idea. Even the end of slavery in England fits into that analysis, although more subtly.
The citizens committed enough to set the direction of cultural and political change are always few, sincere and sophisticated.
So like you, I am an optimist. Because our activist core is sincere and growing, and with this generation I believe, determined to become more sophisticated, using the new technological communication- and education-related tools for just that purpose.
I’m privileged to be a tiny part of that. And I love every second of it.
Perhaps, Jeffrey, this would be a good topic for a ninth interview… what say you, my friend?!
Aside from America have you traveled anywhere else in the world? If so, how did those places influence your perspective about freedom, politics, and culture?
I have indeed. I’ve not counted recently, but I’ve visited about 30 countries on every continent except Middle and South America and Antarctica. I have spent weeks or months (rather than days) in most of them.
Although traveling reminds me that there are so many ways to live life, and to set up a society – some of which I cannot imagine, let alone understand or judge – it invariably makes me celebrate the principles of liberty even more. I love diversity. One of the reasons I love being an immigrant is that I like being the outsider. This was also a big attraction for me when I lived in Asia. But my ability to enjoy it, and its existence both depend on the ability to people to express themselves fully in word and deed. And that is liberty.
And whenever I come back to the USA – with all its problems – two things immediately remind me what liberty can do – the unspeakable material prosperity here and I say that as someone with a relatively modest lifestyle – and the sheer happiness of the people and their openness to each other. The trust that exists in American culture is incredible. The kindness displayed by Americans day to day is remarkable. Of course, that is true in other cultures too… but it declines, it seems to me, inasmuch as compassion has been “outsourced” to the state. Whenever I travel and see different areas of life running at different points of the compassion vs. compulsion scale, it reinforces the fact that THAT is the scale of human existence!
And travel shows you what different groups of people do with liberty. They create different kinds of beautiful things and institutions. And libertarians don’t place enough value, often, on what people have done with liberty – i.e. the culture and society, with its norms and institutions, into which they are born. That is one reason why libertarians seem so un-human to other folks. They celebrate the concepts of liberty more than what it produces, including those things that folks may value for reasons other than liberty per se… perhaps just out of sentiment… which frankly is as good a reason as any, because that sits deep in human nature.
In other words, travel helps you internalize what Jeffrey Tucker calls a humanitarian rather than a brutalist kind of liberty. I am with him entirely.
There is one huge fact that the experience travel showed me that I would not otherwise have understood.
Capitalism, common law, and contracts in particular, don’t work because they can be enforced through law. Actually, they can’t easily be. I’m a landlord. I have had one tenant screw me and I could have gone to court to put the thing right, based on the lease, but it actually wasn’t worth my doing so – even though thousands of dollars were at stake. And the tenant probably knew that when she effectively stole from me.
However, she was the exception to a rule. The rule being that in our capitalist, common law-based society, people adhere to contracts not because of what will happen if they don’t (since enforcement is a light that often isn’t worth the candle) but because of an internalized sense that playing the game of mutual and aligned interest is better for everyone. It actually makes people happier to play it than to not. In other words, it’s the cultural reality of a contract-based society that makes life great. Not the legal reality. And it makes people better people.
One more fact about that…
We are so damned lucky. To me, the most disappointing country I ever visited was Brazil. (I’m not saying by any means it was the “Worst” country, but just the one that fell most short of the expectations I had for it.)
It was at the time everyone was talking about the BRICs. In two weeks, it was obvious to me that the Brazil miracle that people were predicting wasn’t going to work out as planned – especially in the short run.
Because 1) everyone you meet warns you to be careful of being mugged: there’s no respect for personal property regardless of the law. 2) in some cities, such a Porto Alegre, there is all this beautiful architecture… but it’s covered in graffiti, and falling down. In other words, the material environment is not valued, even where it is beautiful and not poverty-ridden. Who’s going to pay the price for the transition to capitalism and prosperity if the fruits of prosperity are not valued by enough people. 3) socialism has already tied such a knot in the economic that unraveling it will be a nightmare. I remember being told that 45% of the cost of a bottle of water was tax. But not one tax. 11 taxes. How do you unravel that? I don’t know. But I know it’s not easy.
I suggested this to one of my new acquaintances there. He agreed. “You’re right”, he said. “We’ve picked all the low hanging fruit. Now it all slows down.”
Do you think that achieving widespread public understanding of the genomic evidence that all humans can trace their ancestry to a single population in east-central Africa might be useful to counter the divisive and dangerous effects of identity politics?
I kept going for as long as I could (past the scheduled time) ... and didn't quite get to your question. But I will try to come back to it when time allows! Please bear with me! Robin
My question is regarding tyranny. There is no end to the limits of power the government "thinks" it has over anyone (American citizen or not; on American soil or not), whether that be
-indefinite detention without charge or trial like under the NDAA
-out right assasination as the leaked doj white paper outlines
-violation of your privacy under with the NSA and TSA as some examples
Well you get the point, I can go on and on... What are some real solutions that can shift us back from the Tyranny we see (that only gets worse no matter if there is a republican or democrat in office) and back to liberty and respect for our inherent rights as outlined in the Declaration of Independence? It is obvious that this will not occur from the top down as we have seen but would love to hear your thoughts...
Hi Jason, I kept going for as long as I could (past the scheduled time) ... and didn't quite get to your question. But I will try to come back to it when time allows! Please bear with me! Robin