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IPFS News Link • Politics: Libertarian Campaigns

Cheap Talk & Group Dynamics: How Libertarians Fail

• Fr33 Agents / Paul Rosenberg

There have been many noble, even brilliant, movements toward liberty: Good people pursuing good ideas. Yet, most of them go down in flames, and usually for the same reasons.


It’s a lot easier to talk than to do.

Most libertarians want to talk – endlessly and exclusively. They seldom have any enthusiasm for taking concrete actions. They are always waiting for people in the future to listen to their gems of wisdom; then, once properly enlightened, those people will do something.

This is not only a gigantic error, but it is cowardly. If you believe in something, then act on it. And if you don’t act, how much do you really believe?

Doers look for ways to avoid fighting and to get busy making things. Talkers fight about words – over and over and over.

When talkers are in the majority, they destroy the work of the doers: This is the history of the libertarians.


“My team versus your team” is a function of insecurity and a strange type of belief in magic. Here’s how:

The insecurity issue is fairly simple: A huge number of people get their self-esteem from their political opinions. This is obviously an error, since self-esteem must come from “self,” not from others, but a huge number of people do it. Once people do this for a while, they become hardened in it.

In this condition, opposing opinions (or even differing opinions) become not just foreign, but threats… serious threats. After all, if you’ve spent decades tying your most basic opinions of yourself to political causes and doctrines, changing them becomes something akin to tearing off a piece of your soul.

The belief in magic I refer to goes back to Plato, and involves the belief that if everyone would hold to your pristine ideals, the world would magically heal itself. The most obvious examples of this have come in odd episodes such as the “Kite Fly For Peace,” or the “Harmonic Convergence,” but this occurs in many ways every day.


What is the goal of your “work for liberty”? We all say, “liberty, of course,” but there may be other things mixed in. This is a very common issue, and we should pay attention to it.

We all have multiple goals. For one, almost all of us enjoy other people thinking well of us. For another, all of us (especially at a certain age) wish to attract a good mate. The older of us have special concerns for children and grandchildren. These things never entirely leave our minds, nor should they, but they do complicate matters.

There is nothing unusual or bad about having multiple and even slightly conflicting purposes; this is simply the common state of humanity. It is when we close our eyes to it that problems arise.

If you are for liberty, then work for liberty, and don’t let secondary differences get mixed up in the work. If another person sees the logical foundation of property rights differently that you do, let it go – it doesn’t matter. He can see it his way and you can see it yours. Just keep working for liberty.

The truth is that we all modify our opinions over time. You’ll modify yours and so will today’s ideological adversary. Keep moving forward and keep making a better world. Ten years from now you may see things the same… and liberty will be far, far more advanced if you don’t devote most of your time and energy to defeating each other.


I think I have to be considered a wild advocate of the Internet. But, the Internet has caused some problems too, and especially as regards group dynamics and sectarianism.

Years ago I wrote a little series of essays for myself, entitled Closed-Circuit Thinking, mostly as a way of clarifying my own thoughts. In it, I addressed the problems that arise when groups of people listen to no voices but their own. As it turns out, I wasn’t the only person thinking along these lines. There is now a considerable body of work of the subject, generally classified as Group Polarization. It works this way:

When a group of people with the same opinion remains in a single room, that opinion moves inevitably to the extreme.

Many tests have been done, with widely-varied groups, and it happens every time.
The reason for this is what psychologists call Individuation: the need to be seen as a distinct individual, not merely as another drone in the hive.

The more outgoing people in any group will always struggle to make their voices heard above the din. To be regarded, one must have something different to say. And, since everyone in the room already holds the same opinion, the logical move is to take the opinion a bit farther than it has already gone. (Taking it away from the extreme would make you appear impure, weak, compromising, or otherwise unfaithful to the group.)

People in such self-contained groups get more and more polarized, and ever-harsher toward groups that they see as their opponents.

The problem with Internet is that it allows you to surround yourself with people of a single opinion 24/7. This technology-enabled, Group Polarization effect delivers binary, us/them opinions, highly-emotional public clashes, and the demonization of outsiders.


Groups do evolve in this way, whether we like it or not. It remains up to us to acknowledge it, transcend clannish instincts and serve primary goals rather than separating into self-congratulatory cloisters. Let the unimportant slights pass – keep your eye on the prize. Accept the fact that life can be sloppy and keep moving forward.


Act and change the world, or fight about details and pretend that it will matter someday.

Pick one.
Paul Rosenberg is the author of books such as A Lodging of Wayfaring Men, Production Versus Plunder, Mindless Slogans, God Wants You Dead, and others. He writes the free monthly newsletter Individual Virtue and a monthly column for Digital Gold Currency Magazine. Paul's other interests include family & friends, science & technology, music, entrepreneurship, law, philosophy, history, psychology... and such. :)
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