New Hampshire: A three year retrospective, with advice

As of this Monday, I have been in Keene for three years. Three years may not sound like a long time, but, in the Keene activist community, three years makes me an experienced veteran, and in this time I have grown immeasurably. For the sake of newer activists, and those considering moving, I’m going to share some of my experiences here, to give a sense of what to expect, and offer some hard-earned advice.

In 2007, at 19, I was attending Texas Tech as an engineering student. But I had hated school for years, and didn’t like college any better. I also became fascinated by economics and the social sciences, and found that engineering, in comparison, was intolerable. I dropped out.

Around the same time, I decided I was an anarcho-capitalist, and, via the MySpace Libertarians group, I stumbled onto the Free State Project. I watched Ridley Report videos documenting gutsy activism by Russel Kanning and Lauren Canario (and even Dave Ridley at times), was amazed by the astonishing Porc411, and found Free Keene.

That’s all I needed. I was on board. New Hampshire presented an opportunity to exploit my new interests to the fullest, promote my new ideology, and make friends with people a lot like myself. So I saved money, and waited for a good opportunity to move.

I got it in November, 2008. A friend on MySpace (known as “AnarchoJesse” now) was moving to Keene from New York, and he’d be happy to help me move. So I did.

And it was great. Friday, my first night, I slept on the couch of that one guy who makes the cool anarcho-capitalist comics, Dale Everett. The next night I stayed in a house with Dave Ridley himself! I saw talk show host Ian Freeman at Social Sundays, and later that day I was hired on the spot by Keene Cinemas. AnarchoJesse finally got our apartment plans sorted out, and we moved in with another new mover from North Carolina, and a local socialist kid who came packaged with the apartment.

Lesson 1: Be careful about who you move in with.

The next six months were tumultuous. My roommates and I discovered that AnarchoJesse wasn’t as mentally stable as he appeared. There were periods where living with him was downright frightening. On top of that, our socialist roommate had a bad habit of inviting all of his homeless friends to party and sleep in our living room for days at a time. (Later he had a drug dealer move into his room.) I would spend my free time at Keene Cinemas just to get away from it.

But it wasn’t all bad. I met Andrew Carroll, who had recently moved to Manchester from California. He quickly became my best friend. (After I got him a job at the cinemas, he moved to Keene.) We also added a young activist from Colorado to our apartment.

Lesson 2: Watch out for sociopaths.

The tumult, however, was not limited to my apartment-mates. I began dating an attractive and surprisingly intelligent girl at work. Our relationship moved forward quickly, and I grew very attached to her. Unfortunately this girl was a sociopath. She made my life torture for months. I don’t have the words to describe the sickening depth of the pain caused by this misjudgment.

Lesson 3: Don’t surround yourself with libertarians.

In May, our lease ended. Thank God! My roommates and I (with the exception of the socialist) decided to be ambitious– we were each going to take an apartment in a 4-apartment house, and fill it up with libertarians.

To my surprise, this actually worked, and the Liberty Bunker was born. A few more of my MySpace libertarian friends moved to New Hampshire to help fill out the house, and they turned into dependable real-life friends.

I found out soon, however, that this wouldn’t work for me. Even in a separate apartment, AnarchoJesse was too close for comfort. And the sketchy drug dealing going on in another apartment made me uneasy.

The 420 events in Central Square started around this time. I had always been skeptical of the more outlandish civil disobedience that started after I moved. Russell Kanning and Lauren Canario I still admired, and Andrew Carroll’s arrest for merely holding a bud of marijuana was superb, but the newer wave of civil disobedience, promoted by AnarchoJesse and others, had a more flamboyant character that didn’t impress me. On the other hand, the alternative, the idea of being a politician, was … *shudder*. (At the time there was a rift in the activist community, between the politically active “politicos” and the civilly disobedient “anarchists”. You were usually expected to be on one side or the other. The whole thing was silly.) So I would play minor roles in civil disobedience events, never doing anything outrageous enough to get arrested or attract attention. Eventually, I decided to take a third path, which I called “outreach”, which consisted of going to events and meeting people and being respectful, in order to promote a more positive image of libertarian activists.

But 420 wasn’t like the flamboyant civil disobedience. It was just a bunch of people hanging out, some of whom were smoking marijuana. The cops obviously knew what was going on, yet they would drive around the square pretending nothing was happening. Amazing!

It was amazing for about a week, then it started fizzling. Many of the local, non-activist participants lost interest. Politically-oriented activists were worried that it would interfere with their efforts to pass a medical marijuana bill. 420 became a semi-daily scuffle with the police, with no discernible direction or purpose.

Meanwhile, Sam Dobson and Meg McClain were ratcheting up the flashy, dramatic civil disobedience, and my interest in academic economics was beginning to clash with my libertarianism. I had a sense of where my views were headed, and knew that the Keene libertarian community at the time would not approve. While my outreach had started as activism, it turned into a welcome escape from the suffocating dogma I had surrounded myself with.

I just needed to get out.

Lesson 4: Get the flu shot.

The swine flu was terrible. I could have avoided it with a cheap flu shot.

Lesson 5: Take activism advice with a grain of salt.

I finally regained my autonomy by moving into an apartment with two local, non-activist friends. I largely withdrew, Henry David Thoreau-like, from the liberty community. Spurred by isolation, my views rapidly left the Keene liberty activist mainstream. At one point, I read Paul Krugman’s Conscience of a Liberal and decided I was a liberal (albeit with libertarian leanings).

My outreach was in full swing now, and I constantly got the same message: the antagonistic civil disobedience and protests were turning people away from libertarian ideas, en masse. This style of activism had strong support among the circle of well-respected, influential Keene activists of the time. And they were all wildly, outrageously wrong.

I didn’t understand why this was so at first. After a few attempts at rectifying the situation, I found that the problem wasn’t simply that activists were ignorant of the effects of this activism. Many had a factional axe to grind– they were ideologically dedicated to proving that civil disobedience was the most effective path to liberty– and were unwilling to accept that it could backfire.

More generally, people were unwilling to criticize fellow activists. It wasn’t socially acceptable. How dare I criticize these hard-working, well-respected activists? How dare I criticize people who were just living free? It was inevitable, with this approach, that the activist community would endorse counterproductive activism.

As an amateur social scientist, I diagnosed the problem as groupthink. They had surrounded themselves with libertarians, and couldn’t think clearly.

Lesson 6: Keep at it.

If I was Henry David Thoreau, Andrew Carroll was Ralph Waldo Emerson. He got involved with my outreach because it dovetailed nicely with his political ambitions, and largely agreed with my criticisms of the high-profile civil disobedience. In fact, our approaches were so complementary that I became the campaign manager for his 2010 run for state representative.

Starting about four months before the primary, we pushed the outreach approach as far as it would go, attending all sorts of local Democratic and left-leaning events and making lots of friends. We also ran a strong campaign, knocking on the doors of hundreds of Democratic voters. He didn’t win the primary, but the effort showed– despite the coordinated opposition of a group of Democratic Party elites, and despite running in a party known for being hostile to libertarians, Andrew’s campaign set records (as Ian so nicely put it).

The liberty activist community is constantly evolving, and it didn’t stop after Andrew’s campaign.

On the one hand, Andrew decided to move back to California, which was a blow to the embryonic political activism in Keene. On the other hand, the civil disobedience that I objected to has been toned down, due to a few key people moving away, and some others changing their minds. The activist atmosphere has also become more open-minded, and I’m impressed by what I see in some new movers.

This encouraged me to get involved in the libertarian community again, so I’ve been working harder than ever to turn things around– and it’s actually happening. In the process, I’ve become something like the unofficial, voluntary political director of the Keene liberty activist community, and the future looks bright.

I look forward to the next chapters of the peaceful evolution.

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34 Comments

  1. Jer

    Hey man, there are sociopath girlfriends all over the country, not just in New Hampshire. That's just good advice in general. Not just for free staters in Keene.

    Reply
  2. Skeptikos

    I understand that. It's common though, for people to move to Keene who are about the same age I was, or a little older, and they might find it useful.

    I suspect, though, that the problem is a bit worse for Free Staters, because they're moving from elsewhere, so they aren't as aware of the backgrounds of people they date. I had done a very good job of avoiding crazy girlfriends before moving to Keene, and I know that this was much of the reason that I failed in that instance.

    Reply
  3. david-keene

    Awesome! I really liked that. That should be in like a big paper with wide readership.

    Everyone should read that.

    Reply
  4. Brodie

    Interesting, thank you for sharing. I think we would probably get along pretty well, since I tend to agree with your opinions.

    Reply
  5. david-keene

    i remember that guy but i didn't know he was anacho Jesse

    Reply
  6. NH Native

    Good thoughts. I think civil disobedience is only effective if very carefully chosen, and done very well.

    Unfortunately, I think many instances of civil disobedience in Keene have not been well chosen or carried out. For every good instance, I can think of two or more bad ones.

    It'd be wise to study the actions and words of MLK and Gandhi, who acted out of genuine concern, consideration for others, and love, not anger, and whose actions were very carefully chosen to illustrate clear principles.

    Reckless civil disobedience does more harm than good.

    Reply
  7. Couch Serf

    You just publically narc'ed your ex-roommates (you think the KPD doesn't know who was living in those houses?) and talked shit about a guy who bailed a few years ago.

    You're a real class act.

    Reply
  8. Couch Serf

    Plus, the misogyny just oozes off of your post when you talk about your trouble with women. Are you sure it doesn't have anything to do with your own elitist narcissism and being unable to handle a female's spurning of your advances? And what is with your obvious contempt for the homeless and those who don't agree with you?

    And to think people here are patting you on the back for this…

    Reply
  9. Skeptikos

    ;D

    Couch Serf, I didn't write anything in this post that wasn't already public knowledge. You could probably find it in half a dozen other places online, if you're willing to look for it. (In fact, I deliberately toned down many parts of the essay. If you only knew the juicy details I left out, haha. But I didn't want to write War and Peace.)

    I don't have trouble with women. I only have trouble with sociopaths. If you don't understand the difference, then you've never gotten involved with a sociopath before, and I envy you.

    I don't have a contempt for the homeless. However, psychiatric disorders are very common in this group, and… well, I'll just say that it's not pleasant to be around large groups of homeless folks for days at a time.

    I don't really have a contempt for those who don't agree with me, either. In fact, because of my unusual hybrid views, I'm practically always working with people I disagree with. And I enjoy it.

    Reply
  10. Couch Serf

    ";D

    Couch Serf, I didn’t write anything in this post that wasn’t already public knowledge. You could probably find it in half a dozen other places online, if you’re willing to look for it. (In fact, I deliberately toned down many parts of the essay. If you only knew the juicy details I left out, haha. But I didn’t want to write War and Peace.)"

    Why you had to bring any specific names up (well, only one, but still) and couldn't just exercise discretion suggests to me you're a vindictive, narcissistic kid who holds himself other people. I mean, look, you're comparing yourself to Thoreau– if that isn't narcissistic self-glorification, I don't know what is.

    "I don’t have trouble with women. I only have trouble with sociopaths. If you don’t understand the difference, then you’ve never gotten involved with a sociopath before, and I envy you."

    I'm pretty sure you're not a doctor, so I'm pretty sure your armchair psychology is worth zilch. You are in no position to be declaring people sociopaths, and I suppose I can only be grateful you didn't mention this female by name– even though it is a strange double-standard: you suggest that one person is "mentally unstable", and call them out by name, but when it comes down to a specific diagnosis you neglect to share who this person is.

    "I don’t have a contempt for the homeless. However, psychiatric disorders are very common in this group, and… well, I’ll just say that it’s not pleasant to be around large groups of homeless folks for days at a time."

    Heaven fore fend you should have to be around the unwashed, right? And are you suggesting all of the people crashing at your place had psychological disorders? Man, you really know how to come off like a completely heartless asshole.

    "I don’t really have a contempt for those who don’t agree with me, either. In fact, because of my unusual hybrid views, I’m practically always working with people I disagree with. And I enjoy it."

    And yet here you are, denigrating your "socialist" roommate. You're not fooling anyone.

    Reply
  11. Name (required)

    I'm guessing couch serf was the ex roommate.

    Reply
  12. Steve

    There are nearly a thousand movers, and each has a story; thanks for sharing yours. I'll add that I've lived in many places, in several countries, and moving to a new place is always an emotional roller-coaster. Takes a while to find the right people.

    Reply
  13. Phil Marrone

    It's always amazed me the marginal people the activist side of the movement inspires. Many of them are all "gung ho" about the free market but have no clue what a market even is or how they function… or even the philosophical tenets of their own belief system. Just analogies of the state to the mafia, repeated endlessly.

    Reply
    • Will May

      Marginal? Ouch.
      IMO, the problem is not that new movers and activists can be ignorant of academic economics, or that they may be relatively new to libertarianism. (It's nice when they aren't, but it's not something I worry about.)

      I'm more worried about how the Keene activist culture in the past has encouraged new movers– who often have little or no previous experience with any kind of activism– to do whatever they can think of, without stopping to think through the consequences and without offering any serious criticism. It leads to a lot of thoughtless and ineffective activism.

      Even if you aren't an econ nerd or a libertarian scholar, you can still be a great activist. But we should be offering better guidance to help new movers become great activists.

    • Phil Marrone

      Will May Libertarians tend to be pretty terrible activists anyway. This explain how every other group out there has more of an influence over policy day to day than libertarians, even though Neoliberalism is based on Libertarian ideas.

      You're right about academic professionalism or nerdiness are not requisites for activism, but perhaps libertarians without these qualities should stop pretending they know economics from a hole in the wall and focus on social policy which impacts their lives in more obvious ways.

    • Will May

      Phil Marrone I find it hard to believe that libertarians are inherently worse activists. I would guess that institutional factors explain practically all of the difference.

      It would be cool if non-econ nerds would drop economic issues, but I doubt this will ever happen– for libertarians or any other group.

    • Phil Marrone

      Will May Most people despise economics, they think it's boring. You don't hear progressives lecturing about "Keynesian Economics" in the clumsy way you hear our people arguing about "Austrian Economics" like they would know it from Monetarism, Neoclassical, or German Historicism…

      Libertarians are worse activists. Look at how the Ralph Nader -spawned organizations move legislation versus "Free Keene" the "Free State Project" or quite literally ANY OTHER libertarian group. For some reason, libertarian ideas turn normal people into asbergers-afflicted know-it-alls… At least for a while.

      It's the lack of structure within the movement, you can't blame it all on "institutional factors". Deal with your own problems before you blame others, look at how some of these people behave: it's all right here in the article.

  14. Skeptikos

    No, couch serf isn't an ex-roommate, just a random pathetic troll.

    Reply
  15. Skeptikos

    "And yet here you are, denigrating your “socialist” roommate. "

    What, I denigrated him by calling him a socialist? 😛

    … Even by troll standards, this is just pathetic. You can do better, Tim.

    Reply
  16. Couch Serf

    Ignores the body of post

    Focuses on an ambiguously phrased one-line objection

    Never change, Free Keene.

    Reply
  17. Skeptikos

    Of course I ignored the body of your post. It was too stupid to take seriously.

    Reply
  18. A Critic

    " At one point, I read Paul Krugman’s Conscience of a Liberal and decided I was a liberal (albeit with libertarian leanings)."

    So you are now an inconsistent statist?

    If Krugman influences your philosophy or mind you have serious problems. The man's philosophy and mind are inherently and throughly false. A pox upon his fraudulent house.

    Reply
  19. david-keene

    to "a critic" Its called critical thinking .. jeese …this was a fine post and all we get is trolls.

    Reply
  20. david-keene

    Some people evolve "a critic" grow, change, divine new realizations about themselves. Learn new things, etc etc…lol

    Reply
  21. A Critic

    "to “a critic” Its called critical thinking"

    What is called critical thinking?

    Reply
  22. david-keene

    you said he was "inconsistent"

    Reply
  23. david-keene

    jussst your total attack on reading Krugman etc….

    Reply
  24. david-keene

    i dont know what Krugman says but one has to read everything to come to a understanding…plus ..just because someone have a differing view doesn't make them inherently and thoroughly false

    Reply
  25. david-keene

    your intolerance for a differing view..which we all have…. well .. 🙂

    Reply
  26. Couch Serf

    "Of course I ignored the body of your post. It was too stupid to take seriously."

    Addressing your obvious double standard (naming those who you vaguely term "mentally unstable", refraining from naming those who you qualify specifically a sociopath) isn't worth taking seriously? Especially when you haven't the qualifications to make such claims?

    Addressing your obvious contempt for the homeless isn't worth taking seriously?

    Addressing your obvious contempt for those you deem "socialists" (what does your ex-roommate being an alleged socialist have to do with anything at all?) isn't worth taking seriously?

    I imagine you're some pussified white kid who hasn't ever really had to risk much of anything and has lived a pretty sheltered life, who gets his rocks off holding himself above others. You're so fucking full of yourself you make Ian look charitable.

    Reply
  27. Skeptikos

    I'd be pleasantly surprised, Smash, to discover that you are my former roommate. Though for some reason I don't think you're the same person.

    Tim (or whoever)– Well I guess you win the argument then. Congratulations.

    Reply
  28. Couch Serf

    It speaks volumes about your ability to actually address criticism, given how willing you are to write me off as "Tim", when you clearly have no idea who I am. Instead of addressing what I'm bringing up, you write it off as "stupid" and further convince yourself of this by believing I'm "Tim" (who you obviously believe to be a troll, and therefore beneath you).

    You bring a strange twist of the old saying "when you hold a hammer, everything looks like a nail"– when you are critically addressed on the internet, everything looks like a troll post.

    Reply
  29. Skeptikos

    Yeah, I guess so. There's simply no way I could ever respond, for example, to your wild accusation that I despise all socialists everywhere just because I mentioned that I lived with one who happened to be a terrible roommate. It's such a logical and unassailable conclusion that I'm forced to write you off as a troll and ignore you. I mean, what else could I possibly do?

    Reply

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