On Herding Cats

When I was a capital 'L' Libertarian, I used to pass out leaflets, man booths, write letters, and work very hard trying to get the Libertarian Party's message out.

Being young and na've, I thought that for the most part, people were rational. That if you made your pitch to them in such a manner as to emphasize the rationality of the positions taken by the LP, and with a little tweaking and little spin, people would begin to see how less and less, and finally no government would be to their advantage.

Boyo, was I ever wrong. The RTKBA people hated the pot smokers. The dopers hated the sound-money types, who hated the open immigration advocates, who were in turn opposed to the deregulation of commerce. And this arguing and bitching went on and on ad nauseum.

Being the kind of people they were, they would nevercompromise on their core issue. So despite our best efforts, the LP never got many votes. Eventually I stopped believing in the LP and electoral majoritarian politics. I quit caring, then I quit trying, and finally I walked away from it all and just quit the Freedom Movement altogether.

The lesson that I took away from analyzing my experiences was this: At some point you have to have a critical mass of people who agree on most things, but are willing to compromise and accommodate sometimes.

A practical example of the totally dysfunctional nature of this Herd of Cats [i] (i.e., the LP) is found in this excerpt of a journal entry I made after one especially memorable LP monthly get together at a local Pizza Hut.

' March 12, 1994 Ann Arbor , Michigan .

Ten members and myself gather in the private dining area of the Washtenaw Avenue Pizza Hut. At 6 p.m. , a quorum is present. Meeting begins.

Call to order. Minutes from the February 1994 meeting are read, discussed, and accepted. Letters from the Michigan and Washington HQ's are read and discussed.

No new business, meeting is adjourned at 6:45pm .

Ten Libs and myself go into the main dining room to order some pizzas.

Three pitchers of beer are ordered and drunk while discussing how many pizzas to order, and what toppings they should have. This exchange begins:

One wants to pay with gold.

Two wants to know if Pizza Hut employs any illegal immigrants.

Three wants know the manager's position on gun control.

Four took a snort of some unidentified powder in the men's room and is now exhibiting the symptoms of Tourette's Syndrome.

Five thinks that Three is an idiot because he is carrying a revolver and not a semi-automatic pistol, like he is.

Six thinks the Federal Reserve is run by the Illuminati.

Seven wants extra cheese.

Eight is a 70-year-old veteran of World War II. He served in a Croatian SS unit.

Nine doesn't have any money, fiat paper or otherwise.

Ten secretly sprinkled cannabis over the Cheesy Bread and salads.

The pizzas and more beer arrive. We start to eat. Conversations are becoming very contentious and heated. A loud screaming argument starts. A food fight breaks out. A fistfight breaks out.

The cops arrive on the scene and takes everyone who hasn't fled off to jail. The tab doesn't get paid or the help tipped. Meeting over.

So Leviathan grows stronger and more arrogant. No dismantling of the State is accomplished. Anarchistan is not founded.

The following day, a lurid newspaper story appeared in the local newspaper. The LP is now the laughingstock of the local political establishment, and will be for years to come. So go figger!

David Brin, the novelist, LP member, and UC San Diego professor, said that the 'fundamental premise of classical liberalism is an assumption that people are basically rational and wise. Yet this flies right in the face of the most common libertarian lament--that those idiots out there keep electing statists and every resulting policy has been just plain awful.'

This is a position that is based on an assumption that I once accepted, but now believe is wrong. Yes, people are basically rational, and many do achieve a high level of insight and wisdom. But not all of them, and certainly not all the time.

In the world, there are people who for all their griping and bitching about the conditions of modern life, know in their hearts that bad as the State and all its apparatus for oppression are, it is a necessary evil. They hate having to accept that situation, but they in the end do accept it. I believe they are wrong.

I still believe in the same principles that I accepted when I was still a Lib. But as A.J. Nock observed decades ago, people like us who think this way are, and always will be, in the minority. We are the 'remnant' [ii] that values liberty above all other political principles, even as the rest of our society moves further and further down the road of collectivism enforced by coercion, violence, and oppression. The 'road to serfdom' is a road I do not want to travel down.

So what does that leave me and people like me for options? I won't give up my belief in the value of liberty, even as I kiss goodbye mass political movements like the Green and Libertarian Parties. As a cynic once noted, 'If elections changed anything, they wouldn't have them.'

Newly advanced concepts in personal political lifestyles such as crypto-Anarchism or Enclavism all have some appeal, and have the added bonus of being about being functionally at liberty in the here-and-now. Which is a major consideration in that we all have a limited life span which compels us to think, act, and do, now in these times rather than engage in a King Canute battle against the tides that we'll never be able to win.

That is the real issue that led me away from mass political movements. Time is the one resource that can never be recouped. I desire above all else to live in liberty with my family and fellow Freedomista's in a peaceful, secure, and un-oppressive condition.

Scholarship and debate are of course necessary perquisites for any kind of departure from the mass of sheep who are obliviously following their 'leaders' down the path to the cattle cars. But scholarship and debate have their limits too. Too often scholarship and debate are used as a palliative or placebo medicine for people who desire to live in Liberty , but are just too scared or confused to make that final but necessary leap of faith. To split from the herd headed to the cattle cars and sneak off to a meadow with greener grass, flowing clear water, and few wolves.

If you agree with what I have written in this essay, I urge you to act on it. Time is growing short. Not 'apocalyptic' time, but real time. Your life is time and how much you get is real, actual, wealth. As Thoreau noted, beside the riches of time, all else is dross. Don't be Mr. Picky who endlessly fusses about what food to order so long that when he finally does choose, the kitchen is closed.

Never mind the naysayers, cynics, critics, and buzzkills. You know the ones who tell us we can't do or accomplish anything toward liberation 'right now' because we must endlessly debate every single aspect of the 'plan' for Liberty . One that has no flaws, answers everyone's questions and objections perfectly, and that we all agree 100% on. Saying that no action can take place until you have a perfect plan in every detail is the same as saying never.

[i] 'Herding Cats' is an oxymoronic term meaning 'controlling the uncontrollable.' In context: 'You can't mix fire and water, and you can't herd cats.'

[ii] The Remnant, according to Nock, consisted of a small minority who understood the nature of the state and society, and who would become influential only after the current dangerous course had become thoroughly and obviously untenable, a situation which might not occur until far into the future. Wikipedia link here.

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Ali Hassan Massoud's picture
Columns on STR: 43

Ali Massoud is a proud old-school isolationist who writes for the Internet and blogs.