Dear Liberty Movement: Purity Tests Suck

Sometimes, people flip flop.  It’s important to note that flip flopping isn’t the same as “changing your mind.”  Flip flopping usually involves just outright ignoring the fact that you’ve ever had a prior position, while changing your mind means you acknowledge that you once held one view and now hold another.  One is what adults do, while one is what scumbag politicians generally do.  John Kerry was a rabid flip flopper, not because he “changed his mind,” but because he never once acknowledged that he held another position on an issue.  As much crap as I give Barack Obama on a regular basis, his “evolution” on gay marriage is much more along the lines of what adults do: they acknowledge that they once held a different belief but, when presented with new information, changed their point of view.

But sometimes, those “evolutions” are the kind of thing that cause partisans, or people who look at things way too simply, to accuse the person of not being pure enough in their views.  Apparently, if you didn’t always believe what you believe (or claim to) you are flawed or dangerous, or unworthy of anything but scorn.

There’s a major problem with this thinking in the libertarian community, though, and it might actually be damaging the movement.

I’ve seen any number of libertarian activists over the past few years tear into people whose views aren’t pure enough for their liking.  Often, these people are called things like “authoritarians” or “closet statists,” etc.  Sometimes their objections are to a person’s current lack of purity, and sometimes it’s their lack of historical purity.

I could argue until the cows come home about how ridiculous it is to keep foregoing progress for the sake of purity, but it’s been said many times.  We all do it; we’re so set on waiting for perfect that we forget to accept what’s good.  Libertarians are particularly bad in this regard because they’ll forego someone who isn’t a perfect anti-statist libertarian as a candidate because somewhere out there there’s someone better.  Allegedly.

No, this is more about the belief that a person can evolve in their beliefs, something that seems to be unheard of these days.  Doing so is portrayed as having no conviction in your beliefs because, as we all know, conviction and adherence to views, no matter how outdated and no matter how much new information is presented to you, is truly a sign of intelligence.

Yeah, sure.

Here’s the thing that libertarians have to understand.  Most people, for whatever reason, don’t agree with us.  I know that’s shocking, but it’s true.  Most of the average citizenry is perfectly happy living under the thumb of government and handing over their tributes to “build the roads” and “educate the children.”  They truly believe that and it will take years of deprogramming for people to understand, not why this is wrong, but why it’s not the only way.  How you don’t have to live under a coercive state in order to be a productive society.  All of those things are great, admirable, and in my mind it’s our calling as a movement and as a collection of libertarians, anti-statists, and anarchists.  This is what we’re here for.

The problem comes when we try to isolate those that haven’t been in that camp since day one.  Now we’re treading on dangerous waters and potentially destroying the movement and the potential it has to make real change happen.

One of the reasons that the liberty movement has grown so much in the past few years is that eloquent, passionate, and informed people are making arguments that are engaging the minds of people who long held beliefs like these but had to keep them quiet or didn’t know that there were others out there like them.  The movement is succeeding and growing because there is engagement by its advocates to people who aren’t identifying as part of that movement right off the bat.

That’s where we need to spend our focus, but that doesn’t seem to be where many have focused.  Instead, in their rush to find the purest of the pure and the most self-congratulatory back-slapping high-fiving groups, they find the converted and preach to them because those are the guys they agree with.

The rut of preaching to the converted is hurting the movement big time and I see many inside the movement doing it more and more while questioning the ideological purity of those who would like to come to the table, but my question is this: why bother talking at all if you’re not trying to convince people to join your side?  And if you’re not trying to convince people to join your side, why bother with the movement at all?  And if you don’t believe people can change, what the hell are you expecting?  That people will be born libertarian and then join the movement?

That doesn’t seem like a great long-term strategy if you ask me.

I understand the idea of preaching to the choir, and sometimes you need to rally the base and excite the converted, but if you don’t really believe that anyone can change their mind or join the movement, you’re selling the movement, and potential adherents, way short.

We have to accept that people will change their mind and take them on their word that they’re on-board with the movement now.  Now is important.  People can change.  We have to stop shunning people whose ideological purity level isn’t as high as we would like it to be.


Header Image by Moyerphotos on flickr

 

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