"It [the State] has taken on a vast mass of new duties and responsibilities; it has spread out its powers until they penetrate to every act of the citizen, however secret; it has begun to throw around its operations the high dignity and impeccability of a State religion; its agents become a separate and superior caste, with authority to bind and loose, and their thumbs in every pot. But it still remains, as it was in the beginning, the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men." ~ H.L. Mencken
Some Thoughts on Voluntaryist Education and Outreach
June 1, 2007
Ever since I became a libertarian, I've possessed a great desire to spread the word and "proselytise" (if you will) others about voluntaryist beliefs. I steadfastly believe that the state is an unnecessary evil and warrants removal without hesitation. Nevertheless, spreading the word is not as easy as it may seem and is an art, to a great degree. In this piece, I hope to outline several points that have arisen to me in my attempts to educate others about voluntaryism.
The term "voluntaryism"
Note that I've used the terms "voluntaryist" and "voluntaryism" to describe market anarchist beliefs, which is deliberate. In my estimation, the terms "market anarchy" and "anarcho-capitalism" are stumbling blocks in our attempt to spread our ideology to the masses. This is largely because the word "anarchy" holds various negative connotations in contemporary pop culture. To the uninitiated, the word "anarchy" equates with chaos and disorder. Evidently, no form of anarchist political belief advocates this. Nonetheless, we must acknowledge that the average Joe is not schooled in politics or political philosophy. Because of this, he cannot help but feel wary about anarchist belief, despite the real values that voluntaryists adhere to. In addition, by using the term "voluntaryist," we undermine the viewpoints of left anarchists (anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-communists, etc.), who continually state that market anarchism is an oxymoronic term. As voluntaryism becomes more popular and mainstream, we wouldn't have any left anarchists destabilising our efforts in appealing to others by making this claim.
Perhaps more importantly, voluntaryism is an accurate description of our goals, desires and wishes as an ideology. Since we believe in self-ownership and the non-initiation of force against life, liberty and property, we also advocate voluntary social interactions without the use of force. When logically and syllogistically analysed, all libertarian belief boils down to this voluntaryist rationale. Of course, a tendency towards voluntary social interactions is why we must oppose the state, in all that it does.
Empathy towards others
In one of his series of podcasts, the Canadian voluntaryist philosopher Stefan Molyneux once expressed the need for empathy, especially when dealing with newcomers to libertarian values. I happen to think that this is a pressing point in this regard. We must remember that the average Joe, particularly in Western society, has been schooled (often literally) into statism. His means of viewing the world and the society around him are coloured by a reverence for government and the statist status quo. He is quick to feel that government must be a solution for problems, that government must protect his person and property, that government is out to safeguard his interests and that government isn't slow, incompetent, wasteful and overly bureaucratic. In reference to Molyneux's podcasts, we can attempt to demonstrate to the average Joe "the gun in the room" and how government always acts as a forceful and coercive body. In fairness to the average Joe, we have to approach things on "his level" and account for a lifetime of brainwashing into statism.
Such a point also seems relevant to libertarians in my own country. The Libertarian Alliance, as the primary and most prominent libertarian organisation in Britain , occasionally makes brief media appearances in which they talk about a salient current issue in society from a libertarian perspective. I don't believe that this approach is having much success, primarily because they lack empathy with the audience of the particular medium they are on. Making statements like "taxation is theft" or "legalise all drugs" or "business owners should possess a right to discriminate" may seem all well and good, but the Libertarian Alliance fails to realise that the average Joe would dismiss such comments as excessively off the wall and extreme. Remember that the average person in Western society has not been conditioned into liberty or voluntaryist values. An effective approach, perhaps, would be to teach people about the inherent force linked with government and how government only seeks to undermine individual liberty. In regards to the Libertarian Alliance, I would suggest that they place greater emphasis on speaking at "the level" of the average Joe, rather than expecting him to leap without knowing where he is leaping.
My point isn't really limited to the Libertarian Alliance, but to any form of media voluntaryist/libertarian outreach. As voluntaryists, we would fail in our will to spread the word of our ideology if we continually utter hollow rhetoric. We must show the average Joe the "A-B-C" of our value system and let him continue from there.
Family, friends and acquaintances
From time to time, you may like to talk with family and friends about your voluntaryist beliefs. This is fine, since it's beneficial to share things with people close to you. Still, it's a hassle when your family doesn't take your values seriously or mocks and dismisses your opinions as fanciful and unworkable.
In another podcast, Stefan Molyneux has spoken of how people in everyday life do not initiate force or fraud against person or property to get what they desire, need and long for in life. For example, few (if any) people physically forced their significant other to be their husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend. Hardly anybody forces others to be their friends. Relatively few people, if any, force their employers to employ them, or their grocer to give them food. Healthy society doesn't usually operate on the usage of force. This is an important point to outline when speaking with those close to you. Again, we are making points "on the level" of the uninitiated. By using logical and easily understood premises, we make the process of voluntaryist outreach simpler and more rewarding.
So remember, empathy is imperative when dealing with those new to liberty. The average Joe cannot be blamed or rebuked for being conditioned into statism, but we can help him to help himself de-programme his mind from it. Placing things at his level of understanding is the key.