Libertarians, Both Academic and Real

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September 21, 2006

A recent STR article by Tony Sampognaro suggested that The On Line Freedom Academy is too "academic" and lacks "WIFMs." I led the project of putting the Academy in place, so would like to respond.

"WIFM" is a splendid term, sometimes spelled WIIFM, and means What's In It For Me? And Tony is absolutely right that nobody will undertake a course of study in the principles of human liberty unless he perceives some resulting benefit. Actually nobody ever does anything at all unless he sees a payoff of some kind, so WIFMs are vital--as every salesman knows.

The short Welcome Page of TOLFA addresses that front and center, with "You'll gain a remarkable sense of freedom..." and points the visitor to the Study Plan page, the first two links of which are named "Entrance - Is this for you?", which invites the visitor to find out how well suited he is at present to undertake the work of study, and "Freedom's Benefits", which is the WIFM page intended to fill the very bill that Tony presented.

So, before anyone gets in to TOLFA and does any work, he is offered a simple way to figure out how arduous that work will be (the "product price," in salesmen's terms) and then the payoff or benefit he will enjoy by paying it.

Now, it could be said, as Tony did, that the statement on that Benefits Page is less than adequate. One of my advisory panel said that too, during the preparation of TOLFA. If anyone would like to draft a better version, I'll gladly look it over with a view to substitution--email me via the link at the foot of this article; perhaps many people here would be able to do that. But bear in mind before spending the time that (a) on such a website as TOLFA there is merit in brevity; the potential member wants to get a quick idea about whether joining is worth his time; and (b) the page as it stands does actually tell the truth--that most of freedom's benefits are realizable only when the rest of society joins us to throw off the curse of government. Tony doesn't like that, and nor do I--but it's a fact anyway, and unlike some salesmen, I'll not exaggerate the benefits; that leads only to disappointment later. What we've done is to prepare a way to re-educate everyone in society, faster than any known alternative, so that those long-term benefits can actually be enjoyed; for without such universal re-education, they will remain forever beyond reach. Other ways of promoting freedom have, remember, already been tried--and failed.

Meanwhile, the key benefit named as immediately available is stated in part "A" of that page, and refers again to the sense of freedom, self-esteem and purpose that every real libertarian experiences here and now, while awaiting that happy day. When Tony rightly says that most of the stated benefits are a long way off, I hope nobody will underestimate the huge value of those we can enjoy at once.

His other concerns about the Academy are that the great bulk of the population is so addicted to Statism that people will not open their minds to this before reaching "rock bottom" and that meantime TOLFA is too "academic" for the Average Joe. This may reveal a misunderstanding about how the Academy is designed to grow.

Right there on its Welcome Page that is introduced: growth will be by one-on-one introduction. Joe and Jane will take a look at those benefits because Mark, a respected friend, has invited them to do so. Thus, it will not depend on the happenstance of encountering the website, nor even upon government messing up so very badly as to rattle their Statist premises; they will consider it because they know Mark as a sensible guy and he says it helped him a lot.

Every graduate member is asked to do that, at least once a year--and at the end of the Academy, I suggest ways of finding friends who are ready to accept the invitation and comment that if 199 out of the 200 people that everybody knows should decline, at any one time, it does not matter at all. Repeat the invitation a year or so later, and eventually that "No" will turn in to a "Yes." Why? Because eventually, over a period of 20 years or more, every one of us does come to the point of reconsidering the life we are living. Now, if the very light workload called for by helping one friend a year through the Academy is too much for freshly-educated market anarchists thirsting for liberty, then the project will fail but the culprits will be known.

Lastly, is the Academy too "academic" for Joe and Jane to absorb once they do accept Mark's invitation? It's an Academy, so it does set out to be academic and intellectual to a point, Tony is quite right. All of its 18 Segments set out to appeal to the mind of the studying member, more than to his emotions, that is correct.

If that intention is flawed, then the project will fail--but then, if humans do not make our key decisions on the basis of reason above all, the species is doomed anyway, because the ability to reason is the very attribute that distinguishes us from all the others--a point explored in Segment 1 of the Academy. So in this case we might as well eat, drink and be merry and stop wasting our time thinking profound thoughts on Strike The Root.

However, in my view, it's not flawed--that if "academic" reason is preeminent in TOLFA, then that's its greatest strength. In particular, it shows the student that there is no rational alternative to the free market. I know of no way to over-emphasize the importance of that. The Academy takes him to that conclusion with relentless logic, starting from an undeniable premise. If he is to remain a rational human being, he has no choice but to become an anarchist; this is freedom's "rational imperative," and it's indispensable.

Does an academic approach contrast with reality, with "real people"? Absolutely it does not! Real people reason! People who do not or will not or cannot reason are already less than real people, alas, for rationality is the hallmark of humanity; they are damaged goods (and I refer only to those who have allowed themselves to degenerate, not of course to the unfortunate few who are born with less than the usual measure of mental ability). It seems to me a truly formidable task to show people like that why freedom is good for them--they are already hopelessly irrational, dependent, pathetic. I'd not know how to go about it. I just hope that they are too few to prevent the human race rising to fulfill its potential, and time will prove me right or wrong.

In the final analysis, the proof of any pudding is in its eating. The On Line Freedom Academy stands alone in the market of ideas, as far as I know, as a real, systematic way to induce real people to become real libertarians on the only scale that will realize all the real benefits of liberty for which we thirst. Since that's so, why not join and use it; then if someone thinks he can improve upon it with a better way, power to his elbow! Armchair criticism may be a staple of academic life, but in the real cut and thrust of the marketplace, action is what counts.

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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched http://TinyURL.com/QuitGov , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?"