I remember with amazement a History of Philosophy lecture on the Scholasticism Movement back in college. I was told that the learned scholar-monks in the years before the Renaissance would seriously argue and debate about how many angels could stand on the point of a pin, or whether or not there were flies or the need to defecate in heaven.
I am starting to get that feeling again. I was at my favorite local bookstore recently and noticed that there were at least seven magazines on libertarian theory, anarchy, objectivism, and related topics. All of which I scooped up and took to the in-store coffee bar with me to peruse before I decided which to buy.
After a short time, I began to get that 'here we go again' kind of feeling.
It occurred to me that the more splintered and sectarian a movement is, the more hair-splittingly precise the discussions of its theories are.
I appreciate good scholarship and vigorous debate, but . . . 'How would John Stuart Mill or Ayn Rand, (or even John Galt, who after all isn't even a real person!) feel about mandatory seat belt usage laws?' Who other than a philosophy or political science graduate student would even undertake to answer such a question? How is it relevant other than to satisfy one's intellectual curiosity? Sheesh.
Henry Kissinger once said that faculty lounge debates were so vicious because the emotions ran so high, but the stakes were so small. Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party said, 'Too many books make one weary.' I love books, scholarship, and passionate discussion, but at some point, don't you have to actually do something? It seems so to me.
I think theory formulation is a fundamental step toward rational action. However, that said, at some point you stop being a genuine radical and become a wanker if you are obsessed with it.
I remember visiting a coffeehouse near a major university on the West Coast with a friend who was an alumnus. He pointed out to me a group of middle-aged folks at one of the tables who were sipping expressos, lattes, and chai tea, and burning cigarette after cigarette while passionately debating who screwed up Communism worse: Mao or Stalin? Ideologues and zealots seem to expect that reality will change to conform to their theories.
'You see those clowns over there?' said my friend. 'They've been having that same argument or one just like it for the last 20 years. Seems like they'd have arrived at a conclusion by now, eh? Those lefty wankers will never get it. You have to do more than just talk.'
I've been part of the freedom movement for the last decade, and man, do I get it. People want to bitch, speculate, consider and debate hypothetical questions until the cows come home. Therefore, nothing gets done, built, or established in real life.
I am in fact calling the kettle black. I do this all the time myself. If we in the movement did half as much acting up and acting for our goals and dreams, we'd be far ahead of the game. Rust never sleeps, so the saying goes, and neither does Leviathan. That bitch is a 24/7 full time creature, and it grows stronger with every breath. We libs, anarchos, individualists, and the rest debate the NAP all night until we're pissed off, discouraged, and exhausted physically, psychologically and spiritually. Leviathan endures.
Consider the wisdom of the fictional superhero Black Arrow. He is a Batman style liberty guerilla who monkeywrenches Leviathan and the rest of the powers that be to the best of his ability, which is considerable. His creator Vin Surpernywicz has him say this about idle, verbose wankers:
'Our hero has no use for the 'well-meaning, pasty-faced, overweight guys with pocket protectors. I'm sure they're going to figure out a foolproof letter-to-the-editor that'll win us back our freedoms any week now,' scoffs the Black Arrow in one of the book's memorable passages.'
Revolutions and revolutionaries succeed or fail based on how well they adapt to whatever the conditions in a society are at a given time. Thomas Paine never swung a saber or fired a musket, but is there any doubt that his revolutionary pamphleteering in colonial America helped set the stage for the American war of independence?
Later on when the revolution was done, Paine moved off to France , where he participated in the French Revolution. His works and words were largely lost on the Jacobins and the mobocracy that held power, and old Tom ended up in jail for a year and a half and facing the guillotine or the noose at any moment. Paine barely survived to return to America , where he was given a pension and a farm (seized from a Tory) by a grateful nation. Go figger.
One modern version of the action vs. debate dilemma that played out in an internet website devoted to debating liberty and related issues ended with this remark.
'Being based in the Classical Libertarian historical milieu, I thought that the anarcho-capitalist movement was the vehicle by which I could see anarchy in my lifetime. Instead, what I have found is a book-bound, insular culture, consisting predominately of white males who loathe anything that smacks of "collectivism" and that debates the tiniest points ad nauseam. If that's your bag, then have at it. I'm not your judge. However, I want more than that.' Mark Gillespie said these words in castigating those who were attacking his plans for an intentional community in a rural area.
Lest I be taken for a rabble-rouser, let me say that I fully understand what Gillespie was on to here. The sense of oppression and claustrophobia that we who desire liberty above all else in our social relations is given cathartic release by blowing off steam in discussion, debates, and writing. Too much, in fact, for it seems like all we do is talk and debate.
Here is my plan of action. It is my intent that by 2010, I will have accumulated enough wealth to be able to purchase outright (no mortgages or debt) a suitable site in some promising location. With that land, I will build or arrange to be built the rudimentary infrastructure and utilities for a small village. Those families or individuals who wish to can buy a plot of this land from me to build a home, start a business, or for whatever use they have in mind for it. Based on my reading and research, I need to have around 30 families or about 100 people who can fend for and support themselves. We'll go from there. And that's my plan, folks.
What? No elaborate and detailed theories, or phone book-size manifestos? No, I don't think that another full round of discussions is necessary. It will take leadership, commitment, and lots of hard work. I can see no other way.
But what about slavery, or vegetarianism, or . . . . Well, what about them? I'll deal with the sectarian and hypothetical questions when and if they arise. I will not burn off any more intellectual and emotional energy on those questions.
Where will the people come from? Well, there are six billion human beings on this planet right now, and with word-of-mouth combined with the internet, I think 100 or so people can be found.
If they can't, that means that I was wrong. That will be something for anarcho-libertarians, Freedomistas, wannabes of all kinds, and their hangers-on, their critics, internet forums, and campus coffeehouses around the country to debate over for years if they want. Just as they all do now.
I am painfully aware of how short life is and that no one can be sure how much they'll get of it, either. I hope in my final years to live in a comfortable cabin or an A-frame house with a big stone fireplace, hardwood floors, and a big library, in a safe, secure, and prosperous community with very limited problems or violence. And with a committed woman who I love and who loves me, all of my cats and our grandchildren, too. If I am wrong, then so what? I'll probably still have all those things anyway, just no community around them. Again though, so what?
My goal is to see that I get as many of those things I just enumerated as I can. I'll leave the questions of what would Rothbard, Rand, Locke, Mises, and the rest think about my actions and work to the coffeehouse scholars and the keyboard revolutionaries. I don't want to talk about 'the remnant,' I want to be it.