We Need In And Out

This was written by Andrew Carroll in response to recent discussion about in-the-system activism versus out-of-the-system activism, specifically in this thread.


People come to the “ideas of liberty” through different routes.  These people think differently, grew up in different cultures, and have different values.  Different things attract their attention, different things make them think, and different things change their minds.

Therefore, if we really want to spread our message to as many people as possible, it is important we market ourselves in as many ways as possible.  Aside from certain actions which are bound to be utterly counter-productive (such as direct violence against the State, which leads to sympathy for the State, and is not worth even the small minority of people that may find it agreeable), all activism – political or otherwise – markets our ideas to different audiences.

Running for office, refusing to shut off your camera, gardening, holding marijuana, protesting in IRS offices, placing money in empty parking meters: all of these things market libertarian ideas to different people who believe different things.  Each of these activities catch the attention of different individuals and expose them to the philosophy of freedom.

Now, if it is true that different people our “turned on” by different activities, then it is certainly true that those same people are “turned off” by others.  However, let us measure the gains and losses of even the most controversial of activism and, based on that net gain or loss, decide what truly is “productive.”

“Productivity” we will define as accomplishing one of the following things:

  1. Introducing our ideas to new people in a way that garners agreement or sympathy.
  2. Changing the minds of people to support our ideas.
  3. Getting people to move to New Hampshire to aid in the fight for freedom.

Let us define “counter-productivity” as the opposite:

  1. Introducing our ideas to new people in a way that garners disdain or disagreement.
  2. Changing the minds of people to fight against our ideas.
  3. Getting people to move away from New Hampshire or to decide not to make the move.

Now, let us take, as an example, parking meter activism, which involves filling empty parking meters with change so as to help our fellow individuals avoid tickets.  Let us take Individual A who watches a video about this; and let us decide how this person will react.

If the individual is watching a video then it can be assumed he/she already agrees with our ideas (it is more likely that someone who agrees with us watches our videos then someone who disagrees).  Therefore, this person has just been introduced to a new type of activism.  It is assumed more than likely that he/she agrees with the message behind the activism – but what if he/she disagrees with the means of expressing it?

Well then, let us decide what is more likely to happen next.  Will this person, perhaps living in an outside state and, let’s say, planning to move to New Hampshire soon – is this person more likely to cancel his moving plans due to this one particular piece of activism?  No.  Of course not.  It is VERY rare that someone give up completely on the Free State Project, or the cause of liberty, after encountering one, or even several, activism events that they disagree with.

However, it is MUCH MORE LIKELY that this one event could garner even more of their support, and gain further sympathy for the cause.  Even still, it is more likely that this one event will CONVINCE THEM to make the move to NH!

Our activism has a selection bias within libertarian circles, and therefore is more likely to convince people to love our ideas even more – or to finally decide to make the move – then it is to drive them wholly away.  Especially when you take into account the fact that there are plenty of other different kinds of activism occurring in NH at the same time!  Even if a fellow libertarian discovers one protest he/she disagrees with, he/she is still likely to find so much to love about other activism in NH that he/she will still make the move.

In other words, activism – of every stripe – brings in more people then it turns away.

What about non-libertarians, you ask?  Well, again, our activism has a selection bias to have a great effect on those who agree with the idea behind it and less of an effect on those who disagree.  So long as we continue to market our ideas differently, we will appeal to different individuals.  This allows every individual to find their own way to the fight for freedom.  It also allows, in time, for individuals to not see us all as “Free Staters”, but to begin to recognize “us” as a very diverse group of individuals with different values and, even, different goals.

Activist A can always explain to Potential Libertarian X that Activist B is a “nutjob” or “out of the mainstream” or “not representative of average libertarians” or “someone who does things [Activist A] personally does not agree with.”  Therefore, Potential Libertarian X begins to discriminate between different libertarians, and see the subtle shades of gray between us.  Potential Libertarian X will then slowly gravitate towards the activism he/she agrees with, and AWAY from the activism he/she disagrees with – even finding more agreement with the agreeable activism after comparing it to the disagreeable activism.

At the end of the day, all these different types of activism – all these individuals expressing their ideas in different ways – will market our ideas to different people; and, as Potential Libertarian X sifts his/her way through the various activism and the various individuals behind the activism, he/she will come to more and more of an agreement with the libertarians he/she finds to be doing agreeable activism.

Trust me, the phrase that begins with, “You know, some of those Free Staters aren’t half bad…” is a wonderful phrase.  But it is one that will never be heard if we continue to push for homogenization within the movement.

In conclusion, I say:

Let the political people do their political activism!  And let it bring to the ideas of freedom all those who find that type of activism agreeable.  And let the out-of-the-system people do their out-of-the-system activism!  And let it bring to the ideas of freedom all those who find that type of activism agreeable.

At the end of the day, both forms of activism – and MOST subtle shades in between – will bring MORE people to the philosophy of freedom then it will ever turn away; because when Potential Libertarian X turns away from the “parking meter activism”, he/she suddenly finds himself seeing the libertarian running for office to be THAT MUCH MORE agreeable.  And when Potential Libertarian Y turns away from the “dirty political activism”, he/she suddenly finds himself seeing the libertarian putting quarters in a parking meter to be THAT MUCH more agreeable.

Either way, two more minds have been reached!  With any luck I will be able to successfully do in-the-system AND out-of-the-system activism, so that I can reach as many minds as possible in ways that excite and inspire them.

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