by: Rob Yates, LPNC Communications Director
In the last two months, I have shared some of my broad observations after serving as your Communications Director for a year. This month, in the final part, I try to tie my last two observations together in a way that some people might find useful going forward.
A suggestion on how to put things into action
In the last two parts of this series, I first looked at some truths about human psychology that explain some of the more troubling outcomes of human behavior in a way that might present some solutions. Next, I tried to make a case that Libertarians quite literally have our own language, even though we’re all speaking, mostly, English.
This month, I want to take that further, and make the case that we actually have an entire ecosystem which we have sealed more hermetically than we might be aware. If we understand why people do certain things, and then look at how we might appear to those people, we are in a much better place to respond to their words and actions in a way that is at least informed.
Before I get into it, though, I want to make one thing crystal #*^% clear. I don’t think what I am writing here is particularly controversial, though I suspect some could read it as such. That’s certainly not my intent. I am, however, extremely concerned about one specific possible misinterpretation of what I am saying, so I want to make one point, up front and unambiguously. I am not, in any capacity, at any level, advocating for us to violate our principles in any way. In fact, I don’t think my idea works if we operate counter to our principles.
What I am suggesting, though, is that we completely reframe the way we communicate with non-Libertarians when in a political capacity. I have argued that we have our own language, and now I am stating that we have our own subculture. That observation, alone, is roughly as interesting or insightful as the Harris / Pence debate. Libertarian subculture is as obvious as any other passionate subculture, apparent to all of us.
Where I hope to provide some novel insight is in my observations on how our subculture is perceived by those not immersed in it. If we understand that, we can communicate in a way that plants a seed of Liberty and fosters it until we have another new member who has abandoned the uniparty.
In the first part of this series, I talked about how powerful and determinative for behavior the human fight-or-flight response really is. Combined with the instinct most people possess to avoid solitude, people unconsciously see a bad email from a boss, or a newscast with sensational language packaged as “Breaking News,” as a mortal threat like a tiger attacking. They are then easily polarized into what amounts to teams.
Pushed to the extreme, these teams become gangs, and politicians take advantage of this to get votes, painting the other party as a blood feud enemies, and making nothing more important than preventing the other side from getting elected. Then, when elected, they quite literally ignore every single thing they said during the campaign, and pass laws that suit the fancies of their various donors.
The important thing to note here is that almost everyone is aware this is going on. They will acknowledge it readily at a macro level, but then immediately shut down any hint of open-mindedness as soon as they hear a suggestion that their party, specifically, bears responsibility. Democrats agree that the system is corrupt all around, but Joe Biden did absolutely nothing suspicious ever in any of his and Hunter’s international dealings. And Republicans "love" the soldiers and pretend-hate the military industrial complex, and they swear Donald Trump is the only one who can drain the swamp, his first term and his war crimes be damned.
Essentially, there is not enough cognitive dissonance between what they know to be true confirmed by their own observations and their desperate and innate loyalty to the side they choose. Democrat and Republican is an identity and point of pride. Loyalty is important to both and dissent is not tolerated much, and even less so lately. For someone to abandon the comfort of that team, we need to give them the confidence that we can reply a soft landing place.
One thing more incumbent to the Libertarian subculture than almost all other elements combined is our delight in argument. We debate, fight, troll, and critique. Occasionally, it goes too far, but overwhelmingly we do it in good faith and good spirits, a fact that we can obfuscate when we get intense. If we are perceived as continually in conflict, as incorrect as that might be, why would someone leave the comfort of their team to get away from conflict?
Now, I am not a complete idiot, so I am not suggesting that we should stop our debate and philosophical fracas. Nor would I want to; we do it because we like it. It’s one of my favorite parts of being Libertarian. I have a few debates that have been going for years (my slack name is “intellectual property stan,” and I confidently maintain that position).
What I am suggesting, though, is that we not approach political disagreements with non-Libertarians, especially those who are committed to their own set of principles, with a “win/lose” mentality. We can learn a lot of we approach every discussion like this with the assumption that we have something to learn. Not that we’re wrong (I am confident we are right, and I am notoriously way too cocky in general. If I can reframe that mentality, I promise that you can.), but that we approach these interactions as if we are learning something.
It gets difficult when we hear the same tired and readily debunked arguments we have heard so very many times before, but just as we aren’t inclined to hear those arguments, again, the people making those arguments are committed to them, and their core identity is based on that. To change someone’s mind who is that engrossed, you have to first earn that person’s trust. When they trust you, they will listen to you, and then our job is easy, we have better ideas.
But when you immediately tell someone why his/her argument is absurd and has been disproved countless times, you do nothing to gain that person’s trust. You signal, unconsciously, that you are part of the enemy class, and that person becomes nearly incapable of relaxing and opening his/her mind.
If I am not convincing you, I would strongly suggest watching these three videos, showing in horrifying clarity and simplicity, how easily this aspect of human psychology is manipulated.
We don’t generally get a lot of positive press, and this gets more true at higher levels. Libertarians in the news, with a very few exceptions, have generally done something that can be spun as crazy, phobic or -ist of some sort, extremist, dumb, uncaring and callous, dangerous, or even immoral. To be fair, that spin is often true, though the mainstream narrative around Libertarians tends to eschew nuance and reinforce polarizing tropes.
Which is exactly why, when we act in a way that someone has been programmed to believe confirms that we fit those tropes, we lose any real chance of changing that person’s heart and mind. We don’t have to actually do anything extreme or subversive, simply appearing adversarial is enough to drive subconscious confirmation to people that we are an enemy.
It’s more important now than ever to effectively fight for the cause of Liberty. The rise of social media amplified unimaginably by the covid lockdown tyranny, has created a country that is more polarized than anytime since the Civil War, with both sides equally committed to taking our Liberty away and shaping an authoritarian state in their respective image and likeness.
The prior two major conflicts that have taken place on this land since the founding of the modern United States have been for Liberty. Even when our response fell short, we have always been a country with no tolerance for involuntary servitude, and we were willing to shed blood to prove it. This conflict is similar in scope and stakes, but the battlefield is far different.
I hope that violence doesn’t erupt. I don’t think it will, not on a massive scale, at least, but I do think it’s possible. But conflict has started, in earnest, and forces are in play to drive that conflict. To win that battle, we need to play a different game. We have 14 Libertarians running for office this year. If everyone who reads this got involved, we could realistically get ten or eleven of them elected, maybe more.
We are all ambassadors of the Libertarian Party, whether we asked for that responsibility or not. There are a few ways out of our current mess, and most of them are less than desirable. If we decide to be good ambassadors, and active stewards of Liberty, we get to the other side by creating a free state, and we watch everyone prosper equally.