by Michael Nystrom
May 28, 2011
I became an early adopter of the Internet after it was brought to the forefront of my attention one summer day back in 1995, when I was a young stockbroker in Seattle. On that day, Netscape, one of the first firms to capitalize on the nascent World Wide Web, set a new IPO record by rising over 250% on its first day of trading. No one had ever seen anything like it. The brokers in the room stood in amazement, watching their quote screens like they were seeing a meteor fly straight through the office. This complete astonishment was compounded by the fact that no one, including me, was quite sure exactly what Netscape was or what it did.
What I did know was that we were witnessing something big, and from that point on I was hooked on the Internet. After Netscape’s IPO came others, a plethora, and the late 90’s turned into a real Internet meteor shower, with strange and interesting new IPOs nearly every week. Some of these companies had their moments and faded away gracefully; others flamed out spectacularly. And some built up momentum and kept getting bigger and bigger, riding the rising tide of the new technology. Amazon, Ebay, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and more are still with us, and new firms are still emerging every day. The Internet, almost unknown 15 years ago, is now a deeply embedded part of our society and culture.
I was also an early adopter of Ron Paul. In January 2007, after a decade of experience working in the Internet industry, I happened upon a podcast in which the then not-quite-yet-running-for-president Ron Paul talked about the potential impact this new medium would have on politics: "We live in a new and modern age and nobody has truly measured this,” he said. “I think Howard Dean got around the edges two years ago and did pretty well...but the technology continues to improve and the ability to reach millions of people at a very low cost is very intriguing."
I knew instantly that he was right. Howard Dean had set the previous standard in 2004 for a candidate’s ability to leverage the Internet, but since then magical new technologies had materialized - namely MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and Meetup. I saw the potential clearly, and at a visceral level knew that I wanted to be part of it. The day after hearing the podcast, I launched a website called the Daily Paul. I could foresee that it had the potential to allow me to learn and grow while at the same time making an impact on the world by doing something that I believed in. I could offer my expertise in the common cause of Liberty while keeping my actions in alignment with my values.
Ron Paul’s noisy, ragtag 2008 grassroots campaign went on to take everyone by surprise, including Dr. Paul himself. The campaign was like another unexpected and uninvited meteor, screaming through the 2008 presidential race. This was due in no small part to the Internet, which allowed individuals to communicate directly with one other on a massive scale, something that was fundamentally new. Individuals were given a choice, and many chose to circumvent the traditional, infrastructure-heavy mediated channels of broadcast news and printed pages to get their information directly from one another. Email, community sites like MySpace and YouTube, and dedicated Ron Paul sites like the Daily Paul, the Ron Paul Forums, and many other blogs moved to the forefront of importance of the campaign.
Ever since the end of the 2008 campaign, legions of Ron Paul supporters have been waiting for 2012 to begin. But as Heraclitus noted some 2,500 years ago, no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and it’s not the same man. Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign will not be the same as 2008. This time around, the campaign faces a different set of challenges. A major problem for Dr. Paul in 2008 was near zero name recognition. The grassroots set about attacking this problem with gusto, both on the Internet and off. We owned every online poll, spammed comments, and changed our Facebook & My Space pictures to that of Ron Paul. We made thousands of homemade stickers, signs and t-shirts and made sure everyone saw them, and launched outrageous projects like the Ron Paul Air Corps and of course, the Blimp.
This time around, name recognition is not the problem. These days Ron Paul is famous. So famous, in fact, that he is attracting imitators. In the 2008 debates, he stood alone onstage, and his message was clear as a bell. How will he differentiate himself from the Sarah Palins, the Michelle Bachmans, the Herman Cains and other tea partiers of the 2012 field who will aim to copy his rhetoric and capitalize on its popularity? How will voters know the difference?
This speaks to a more challenging and fundamental issue - the weak understanding by the American people of the concept of Liberty itself. The problem is one of education, and once again, most of the mass media is actively working to distort the meaning of Liberty in the name of sensationalism and profit. Alarmingly, this perspective is no longer limited to just the mass media. In the 15 years since Netscape’s IPO, the online technology environment continues to shift. The first static websites allowed everyone to be publishers. Blogs made it easier. Community 2.0 sites facilitated interaction. But the new technologies have also changed the nature of our interactions. Once upon a time we had conversations; now we just seem to leave messages for one another: txt msgs, fb likes, tweets & voice mail. This fragmentation of conversation allows for easy manipulation of the message - not only by the mass media, but by everyone else in the cloud as well. Snip a few words, remove the background and context, and suddenly sensible, innocuous statements sound literally insane. It is like throwing red meat to wild animals, and it becomes nearly impossible to find the truth after the original words have been mashed, clipped, opined on, and relentlessly attacked and defended.
Furthermore, the online world is becoming even more fragmented and filtered by the recent advent of “personalization algorithms.” Unbeknownst to most of us, these algorithms serve to clump us together into homogeneous, like-minded groups based on our preferences. Everything has become “personalized.” Google now tailors its search results for you, giving you what it thinks you want to see. In other words, your Google search results for “Ron Paul” are likely to be radically different from those of a neocon, a liberal, or a person with no political interests whatsoever. The same is true for your Facebook wall and Yahoo! news feed. Increasingly, Internet surfers are confined to nearly invisible “filter bubbles” that keep them safely ensconced in their own comfort zones, unexposed to new and different perspectives.
Sadly, if the American people are unable to understand the problems our country is facing, they simply will not have the ears to hear Ron Paul’s message. Two message points of primary importance are: 1) The Federal Reserve and 2) Foreign Policy, and how they are connected.
Our monetary system has been hijacked at the expense of Liberty. Since very few people understand this, the only way to bring about an end to this immoral system is through a relentless campaign of education. Sadly, most Americans today don't have the time, energy or capacity to understand the problem, let alone care. And personalization algorithms make it that much more difficult to stumble upon needed information.
This is not a failure on Ron Paul’s part, it is symptomatic of the larger, systemic collapse that our nation is currently experiencing. While some in our movement believe that electing Ron Paul will solve all of our nation’s ills, it is actually the reverse that is true, because virtue cannot be instilled from above. Only after citizens are properly educated would they have the wisdom to elect someone like Ron Paul, someone who does not want to rule the world or fight endless wars, and someone who sees strength not in excess, but in restraint. If “change” could be instituted from the top down, everything would have been fixed in the 2008 election. But that is not how the world works. Liberty is not merely a slogan - it must be earned and lived to be fully appreciated and cherished.
As Ron Paul has stated many times, he is merely a messenger. The Message itself is what is important, and that is the message of Liberty. He is a visionary, transmitting to us the idea of a free world. He is a teacher, showing us by example what is possible when you stay true to your own convictions. Real change, i.e. transformation, is only possible from within. People must figure it out for themselves, make their own connections, come to their own conclusions, and take responsibility for their own actions. Once that shift takes place within the individual, the external world cannot help but bend to the new emergent reality.
My definition of Liberty for our soundbite world is simply this: Liberty is the right to be who you are. In a free society, you will never be forced to be something you are not. Understood in this way, Liberty becomes as much of an internal journey to achieve as an external victory to fight for. The rub is that in order to be who you are, you must first know who you are, and understanding who you are is a lifelong journey.
do u no who u r?
At the same time, everyone is looking forward to Season 2 of the Ron Paul Show, in which Ron Paul sticks it to the Man before hostile studio audiences on live national television. We want him to speak our minds for us. We want him to lead and stand up for our rights the way only he can. But it is unlikely that Liberty will be handed to us in this manner. Even if it is, it will be impossible for us to maintain without a deep, introspective practical knowledge of what Liberty means and what it costs to maintain.
After five years on this intense journey, I have come to understand that the surest way to change the world is first to change yourself. I can think of no better living example of this principle than Ron Paul himself. He is a true American original, who without apology exercises his right to be himself. Each day his influence grows simply because he knows who he is, what he stands for, and refuses to waver from his convictions. We can all learn something from his example.
What will the grassroots do in 2012 for an encore? Look inside yourself and discover who you are in order to tap into the wellspring of creativity that made 2008 a success. Realize that 2012 will be different than 2008. Be part of the meteor shower of Liberty, letting your conscience be your guide. And above all, remember what Ron Paul said in a recent interview, and understand the reason he said it: “I always win.”
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Michael Nystrom is the founder and editor of the Daily Paul