Shifting Values, Shifty Scams, and Shifting for Liberty
Ideas on the Fight for Liberty in the Present Cultural Context
Richard Rieben

In our present context (politically, socially and culturally) we seem to be running on assumptions that are outdated by several decades. The "sale" of liberty, as a "top-down" business model, is one of these assumptions.

Part of the changed context is the Internet itself. As a print publication, Doing Freedom!, like The Freeman or Liberty Magazine or similar "libertarian" publications, might have found profitable life -- 20 years ago. The Internet has changed the marketplace.

Brochures and pamphlets which used to be available from libertarian organizations for a small fee, or subscriber supported newsletters, are now available on the Internet -- for free. Even many national magazines and newspapers are available online with mostly-free content. Some of these have subscriber options for additional services (profiling, classifieds, current issue articles, and so forth).

This is one change that, whereas it benefits the access to libertarian information, also reduces or eliminates a source of revenue that some libertarian organizations needed to stay, minimally, in "business."

Overall, the effect of the Internet has had a beneficial effect on the availability and spread of libertarian ideas, indeed, to the point that some people think of the Internet as being overrun with pornography and libertarian web sites!

Some people in the libertarian movement regret the loss of control over the "quality" of ideas that such a free-market allows; i.e., they regret the loss of a limited range of authoritative publications and spokespersons for "proper and appropriate" libertarian theory. Ah, the good old days ...

Another change in our context is cultural. This change has been gradual and pervasive over the past few decades, such that people are now accustomed to so many new government departments, programs, bureaucracies, services, freebies, assistances and protections, that I cannot even begin to list or remember all of them. We don't even think of them as "new" any more, but virtually all of them are very recent. We have been inundated with thousands of subtle intrusions and services in an ongoing, ever-burgeoning makeover that most people have become accustomed to -- and this includes most libertarians. It is our everyday context, our backdrop, our economic and social reality, and it is underscored constantly in our daily dose of media exposure.

Liberty, which, in case you had forgotten, does not provide free meals, does not support the "arts," does not deliver the mail, and does not provide security from our own stupidity, is not a concept that has a lot of social support in the public eye, despite the numerous websites acclaiming the virtues of liberty!

In this cultural environment -- a potent background context that is often overlooked -- many of us are promoting libertarian ideas as though it were still the 1960s ... or even the 1980s. Do you have any idea how much things have changed since then -- in the people around you? in your own values and expectations? in the menu at the local coffee shop? in the price of gas? in the price of lawyers? in the level of misinformation in the mind of a publicly educated high school student? And so forth? Whereas some of these things continue to grate on our values, other things -- most things -- we become accustomed to as "normal." It is conventionally normal. But we still think that we can do certain things (political or social protest, for example) in the same manner that was done in the 1960s or 1970s, and have a similar kind of impact. In this respect, we display a true lack of awareness of what culture we are living in -- and what kinds of demands or expectations we can have in respect to others.

One way to clue ourselves in to the present, is to review our anticipated protests or activism from the "outside." How would we, as unavoidably adjusted Americans (in most respects), see such activism if it were performed by others -- especially if they were (subtly) not of our specific mindset?

This works some of the time -- back up, get a little perspective -- but it's only part of the picture, due to our unusual (maladjusted), liberty-loving values.

The support of the populace for the present regime (which at one point was 80%), or the support for the invasion of Iraq, or the mad rush to get vaccinated with a flu shot, or the amazing percentile of people who believe anything that is reported by our government media, or any number of other sheep-like characteristics of the American people today is a completely different social, moral, educational, and economic climate than 40 years ago -- or even 20 years ago.

The protests of the late 1960s were based on the premise of shocking their contemporaries into acknowledging basic, hard realities, and shifting their collective values away from beehive hair-dos, plastic living spaces, and war. But the present-day "pranksters for liberty" are surrounded by people who think these hi-jinks are annoying -- or tedious -- or quaint. The populace may be radically out of touch with liberty (and thus with reality), but so are sixties-styled methods of protest.

Our contemporaries (indeed, even many of our fellow "libertarians") are reluctant to inconvenience themselves sufficiently to consider the idea of liberty, and certainly not to take it seriously. Make it easy for them, make it glitter and flash, dumb-it-down, hype-it-up, dramatize it, and make sure you have a carnival and a jazz quartet for entertainment -- then you will see a big turn out of liberty "activists" (Whee! I'n't fun!) Even better: make it profitable, with a well-hyped ponzi-scheme or a pyramid marketing scheme, and then you'll see people get serious about ... er, "liberty" ... (?)

For those of us who are "stuck" -- in some part of our minds or values -- in the 1960s, believing that there is a marketplace, or a culture, or a viable number of people who value liberty -- think again.

We are living in a culture of illusions, shifting values, and an enormous bubble of collective irresponsibility. I think this extends to nearly everyone in America, including libertarians and freedom-fighters.

The expectation of support for robust efforts to combat tyranny and to build liberty is unrealistic -- and probably impossible. There is a general dissolution, and a vague grasping at authoritative straws. People are looking for leaders -- for strong, assertive, confident (loud, overbearing, brash) guides or apologists.

There is a coming wave of "libertarian" entertainers, brassy radio talk-show hosts, and protection-selling lawyers. Pushy, aggressive, evangelical .... hucksters. We have entered the Middle Ages, and we don't even know it. Or, more likely, we refuse to acknowledge it -- and we turn to these "types" desperate to evade acknowledging how bad things have gotten -- culturally -- and to evade how much our own lives and lifestyles are complicit with the overall deterioration ... evading our own culpability.

The marketplace of ideas is like the desperate marketplace of health fads -- full of both common sense and B.S.; sincere efforts to help and scams.

The conferences, summits, conventions and "fests" strike me as harsh and brittle "bread and circuses" -- blatant evasive maneuvers. Willfully deluding ourselves that we can party-on, that things may be bad, but we can pretend that it's 1968 again, surrounded by our fellow-delusionists. The speakers to these events.... Well, I listened to them. And I didn't hear anything relevant to liberty. One college professor did a solid hour of shuck'n'jive one-liners -- and the crowd loved him. Another gave a presentation on the advantages of monarchy. A politician of repute gave a "speech" whining about how hard it was to be a libertarian in D.C., with lots of anecdotes life in Washington (insider gossip). The pol was not there to address issues, just to joke around with "other" libertarians. It felt, sadly, like a 1970's revival.

What value did these speakers have for the cause of liberty in the present context? Beats me. But these libertarian lovefests are both popular and profitable. Aha, you say, the top-down business model does work. Well, yeah, pandering to wishful thinking has always been profitable. But it is not helpful. It views the audience as suckers and victims, and the short-range goal is to make a buck on someone else's wish, quest, and yearning for liberty (what a naive little twit, we'd better get his/her money before he/she wises up).

There is an inverse relationship between the venue, the costs -- and the actual fight for liberty. The more glitter and flash, the less substance and value. The more it is geared for feel-good camaraderie and partying, the more stilted, alienated and bored thoughtful people seem to be. The greater quantity of "name" speakers (headliners), the less anyone has to say that is worth hearing.

The cultural mores have impacted and co-opted the fight for liberty, even from within the ranks. We have been culturally reconditioned to the standards of our society, such that it is hard to focus on principles. We have been drugged -- by events, more by our information media, and even more by our entertainments. We are acculturated Americans first, and liberty fighters a poor second. It is the shifting values of American culture that has done in liberty and, more, emasculated the liberty fighters, and, finally, turned the liberty movement into a trendy, retro, meaningless indulgence, rather than an individually hard-won, hard-fought commitment.

I think that former editor Carl Bussjaeger's industrious efforts last year to turn DF! into a paying enterprise failed because it failed to acknowledge realities ... and therefore that it deserved to fail. It was, for some, a bitter disillusionment; for others, an eye-opener; and for others, simply predictable.

An outreach web site for liberty could be like an outreach web site for health -- timeless, helpful, debunking frauds, and packed with useful information that keeps people coming back to it -- either for reference or for "new" stuff. The basic issue -- personal responsibility -- is the same in both areas.

Whether the issue is political freedom or personal health, the principles are fairly basic, unchanging, and timeless. What changes is our manner of being unfree or diseased; that is, our context changes, the principles of freedom or health do not. Likewise, the cultural climate changes, such that various forms of indulgence may have greater value to a majority of people [I had never thought to see such a day] than either freedom or health. Such that a majority of people would rather be drugged -- through chemicals, television, literature, NESARA-type reassurances, welfare, junk food, fiat money, sci-fi flicks, and so forth (all of it fake) -- and live in a delusory, collective bubble, than to bother their silly little heads about freedom, health or reality.

This cultural shift, affecting all of us in the USA (and many Ameriophiles elsewhere), obviously affects the market for liberty, for health, or for reality. The drugged populace wants feel-good drugs, reinforcement of illusions, quick fixes, and magic potions. They are not merely susceptible to scams, they love 'em!

An outreach program for real liberty -- not the bread-and-circuses pandering of populist, libertarian hucksters -- is not in a winning position in this context. Those people who are seriously engaged in the "cause" of liberty, are not doing it, essentially, for profit, but because it is truly worth while to promote liberty at any cost, especially when the majority of our fellow countrymen have sold-out for government/corporate delusions of support, security and stability.

Patrick Henry did not say, "Give me liberty, if it's not too expensive, or too out of fashion, or too inconvenient. Yeah, give me liberty, if it's cheap, trendy, and -- like -- smooth, ya know? Hey, I'm cool with that."

The pursuit of political liberty is not a frivolously indulgent game, but an earnest commitment to values. It possible to have fun in association with other people in any number of venues, however, the notion of getting together with a bunch of liberty-lovers in order to have fun and enjoy ourselves, safe from censure from those nasty liberals and socialists, is so bizarrely, pathetically, collectivistic as to merit extreme censure from anyone serious about liberty.

By all means, get together for some liberty-furthering purpose, and, yes, enjoy yourselves in the process, if the opportunity arises, but, seriously folks, I already have friends. The only way that I want to associate with other people in the freedom movement is to advance freedom, not to "party." Get a life, already. It reminds me of the sixties protestors, who discovered it was "a great way to meet chicks and get laid." Or the promoters, whose bottom line "commitment to values" was profit, or increasing market share (viewers, readers, record sales, or movie tie-ins).

If you think that fighting for liberty is about monetary profit, market share, or popularity, check your premises and re-apprise yourself of your context. Instead of running around telling everyone else to "Wake up!", you might take a step back yourself -- and really look at where we are. Then think about what you want. "To get laid" (in some fashion)? Or are your goals and values formed above the waist? (How high, anatomically? Stomach? Heart? -- remember that values formed in the brain do not exclude, but incorporate, the needs of the whole organism.)

The fight for, and presentation of, liberty is an issue of integrity on one count, and an issue of having actual value on the other. You may have few customers, or none that pay, but you have the potential of reaching people who want to know what liberty is, how it works, and what they can do to advance it (i.e., to make it real for themselves).

You will also reach a few people -- or maybe only one -- who will have the creative genius to shift cultural values such as to change the priorities of the marketplace to a serious interest in liberty. They won't do it with hype, or with drugs, or with a scam. They won't do it with outdated protests and pranks. They won't do it by telling folks "how it is" or by repeating, ad nauseum, "Wake up!" They won't do it by preying on fear, by catering to sloth, or by pandering to wishful thinking. They won't accomplish anything by being cynical, bitter or intimidating. And they won't even bother to make it attractive (glitter, shine, sparkle, flash).

In some fashion -- better than I can imagine -- they will make it real, personal and vital to people. They will restore and reawaken this self-knowledge to people. In my own efforts, I continue to chip, caringly, at a part of this stone, with my small talents and my simple hand tools. I know that I, like you, am unavoidably loaded with anti-liberty cultural conditioning. I proceed slowly on purpose. I fear to misstep in this task.

At some point, in some manner, the tide will shift. It may not be a person or persons who bring it to pass. It may simply be the inevitable bursting of the bubble: tumbling the house of cards, landing the populace hard on its ass, and starting from scratch.

When people do "wake up," and start looking for something real, I don't think it's going to be a holier-than-thou, flash, libertarian evangelist they will be looking for. I suspect that most libertarians, at that point, will be caught in various compromised and embarrassing positions.

That's already the case, you know. People are waking up every day. They may turn toward the light, but not toward the glitter and flash (that's what they are turning away from). What light do you have? Be real. What light do you have?

Idaho Observer editor Don Harkins wrote: "We should always keep in mind that we alone will never change the world. All we can do is become the example we wish others to follow."

What light do you have?

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