Why critical mass makes all the difference
From 2010-2014 I ran a summer camp on the Northern shores of Oneida Lake in Upstate New York. We had 850 acres and a private 45 acre lake to ourselves for most of the year, and during the summers we welcomed in hundreds of children to help them understand what it meant to live in a community that put consent and voluntary interactions ahead of everything else. My living expenses were taken care of, and with the camp thriving, we could have stayed there forever had we chosen to. But, we left.
In 2014 we moved to the Seacoast of New Hampshire, leaving behind security and mostly free living to join a growing community of liberty-minded folks that had left other destinations around the world to try and create something new.
Why take such a risk when life was mostly going great? I’ll explain.
When we lived in New York, we were doing our best to raise our kids to live out the non-aggression principle, to think critically, and to dream big. There was one problem, though – basically no one around us shared our values. Libertarians were few and far between, and many of the “liberty minded” people we did meet were far closer to Ted Cruz than they were to Ron Paul.
Now, I don’t believe in sheltering my kids from competing ideas. I believe that the ideas of liberty hold up to the most intense scrutiny, and I am prepared to teach my kids the intellectual self-defense they’ll need to engage in discussions with entrenched statists. But group-think is a very powerful thing, and the reality of living in Upstate New York was that none of my kids’ peers would see things the way they did. They would have no access to a community where they could see children parented in the same way that they were. No access to grown-ups (besides their parents) who could answer their questions through a principled lens of liberty.
Don’t get me wrong – we met a lot of kind, well-meaning people. But raising our kids in an area with exactly zero voluntaryists just felt sort of risky. What if our kids decided that we were the kooky ones with our off-the-wall views, and that our conservative neighbors were far more “realistic?” What if they never gave the idea of principled liberty a chance because it seemed too Utopian, or too far off? What if the number of people who loved the American Army was so great that they were persuaded to think that engaging in war was heroic?
Moving to New Hampshire, for us, meant moving to a place where at least we could guarantee there would be some people who saw the world similarly to how we did, so we decided to give it a chance. And man, it’s so far exceeded our expectations that I don’t know where to begin.
I won’t pretend that all of our next-door neighbors are freedom loving people (though many of them are more liberty-minded than you’d imagine), but the liberty-community that lives nearby means we can spend every single day hanging out with liberty folks if we’d like. I’d love to share with you what this looks like on a week to week basis, and what that’s wound up meaning for us.
Celebrating Independence Day a little differently
This last Independence Day was easily my favorite ever. I’ve largely found the 4th of July to be a pretty cringe-worthy day, so it wasn’t exactly a high bar to clear, but it’s hard to believe I’ll ever forget this one.
My family and I woke up, and our kids were asking about their friends, so we figured it’d be a good excuse to invite over a few other families and their kids over to hang out for a bit. We’d do a little grilling, maybe catch the fireworks in town, and give our kids a chance to hang out. Immediately two other families with young kids answered the call, and came over to celebrate.
When everyone arrived, the kids got to playing immediately. A few of them played on the Xbox together, taking turns without any issues. A couple others did art projects, while the rest played an imaginary game together. Some disagreements popped up, but the kids worked through them without adult intervention.
Meanwhile, the grown-ups were outside hanging out by the grill. We talked about everything from little things our kids were working through, to the libertarian roots of our country, to silly city ordinances against fireworks, to the unique struggle of raising kids voluntarily. None of the adults present ever raised their voices with the children present, and handled the little disputes that did come up as peacefully as you could imagine.
Once it got dark out, our liberal neighbors gave us a private fireworks show, setting off the types of fireworks normally reserved for huge displays directly over our house. We marveled at them together, the kids looking on in wonder. Our neighbors shared sparklers with our kids, and explained how our town has an ordinance against fireworks, but that they’ve been violating it for 10 years.
“No one complains,” he told me. “This is New Hampshire. Do you think the cops want to come bother people for celebrating their independence? Come on.”
Yep, in New Hampshire, even the liberals practice libertarian civil disobedience.
At this time, my toddler held my hand and guided me across the street to another one of our neighbors, Mike. Mike is a liberal as well, but also qualifies as a “New Hampshire” liberal.
“You must love this holiday, huh?” he asked, knowing by now that I’m deeply libertarian.
“Depends,” I responded, “I love the independence, but don’t really love the nationalism.” He nodded knowingly.
We peacefully talked about politics for about 40 minutes, and he concluded, “I was just telling my girlfriend about you today. I think we actually agree on the ends of a peaceful society, but we just disagree on the means. You always give me a lot to think about, anyway.”
As a quick aside, I’ve had more peaceful political discussions with people who think differently than I do in NH than everywhere else I’ve ever lived combined.
Around this time, the local town was shooting off its fireworks downtown. Some kids wanted to go, and some didn’t, so we brought the eclectic crew who wanted to see them downtown with us. Thousands of locals were gathered around different parts of town taking in the show, lighting sparklers, and having a blast.
When we got back, a 10 year old girl who had joined us threw out the idea of sleeping over. We have 3 boys – ages 7, 4, and 1 – but what the heck? We agreed immediately, and she slept in our guest room. It went fantastically well. You see, she has also been raised by liberty-loving peaceful parents, and it didn’t occur to her that it might be unusual for her to hang out with kids who were both younger than her and a different gender. Her family and ours also unschool our kids, so the fact that she was sleeping over on a Tuesday didn’t mess up anybody’s schedule. It was perfect.
Our 4 year old decided to sleep on a blow-up mattress in the room with her, which wound up being the first night he’s ever slept in a room without one of his parents helping him fall asleep. Independence Day, indeed!
So what’s the point of this little snapshot? Well, before I moved to New Hampshire I couldn’t have imagined a day like this one in my wildest dreams. Having kids changed everything about my priorities as a liberty-loving person. Creating a nurturing environment where kids can learn to love themselves (and love liberty) is exceedingly difficult everywhere I’ve ever lived, until I moved to the Seacoast of New Hampshire. Here, it happens as a matter of course.
And this one little day wasn’t unusual, it was a microcosm. Families (and single folks as well) here are getting together several times per week, supporting one another and giving our kids access to other people who share the same values that they do. We go to the beach together, go to the farmer’s market, share potluck dinners, and more. Nothing is ever perfect, of course, but in the years we’ve lived here we haven’t experienced any drama, or people who have violated the trust of the community we’re building.
See you soon?
If you’re like me, you worry that your kids will feel like a fish out of water wherever else you are. You worry that being surrounded exclusively by statism might lead to all sorts of negative consequences. You struggle to imagine that there’s a critical mass of liberty-loving families raising their kids to respect others and stand up for themselves.
Well, good news – we’ve already got one. I hope you’ll come out to the Freecoast Festival this year. You can meet all the people that make this community so great, as well as others who are considering making the move and joining us. If you have any questions, or are planning to attend, I’d love to chat with you! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope to see you really soon.