Depressing Discoveries About My Libertarianism, Part 3

Welcome back to this depressing series of posts.

In Part 1, I confessed that I’m not very charitable. In Part 2, I talked about how I don’t get along with would-be/should-be political allies–other LDS libertarians. The impetus for today’s Depressing Discovery came when an overseas-coblogger recently asked for my thoughts on some of the Presidential candidates’ views, and I had to admit that I didn’t know a single thing about any of their views.

To understand why this is the case, it is important to understand that my particular flavor of libertarianism flows not just from a belief in the importance of individual liberty relative to other objectives, but also from a profound cynicism towards government, politicians, and political processes. Put simply, I don’t have a shred of faith in politicians, individually or collectively, to a) properly identify a problem, b) properly identify a solution, or c) properly apply the solution to the problem.[1] The logical outcome of this lack of faith, therefore, is a lack of interest in what politicians are saying. Since I have no confidence that anyone is going to “get it right,” I can’t be bothered to educate myself on what actually would be right, or devote any energy to supporting it.

Deep down in my heart, I know that a good solution to some societal problem could be discovered by a politician, but I’ll never know it, because I’ve pre-concluded that it is politically motivated dreck and, even if it isn’t, the implementation would be so mucked up that it won’t matter.

No person openly or thoroughly considers every single policy proposal, and I certainly won’t argue that I have a monopoly on cynicism toward government. However, even if a staunch partisan ignores 100% of what other parties propose, the he or she will generally at least be informed (albeit in a biased fashion) on issues important to his or her party. It would seem reasonable that I might at least be informed on the issues from the perspective of other libertarians–policy proposals for curtailing government in any way. Alas, my cynicism does me in: Since I know that libertarians have no political pull, nothing they say matters, so why bother?

When I discussed this recently with John C., he tried to convince me that this is not “ignorance” at all, but simply stubbornness. He is correct that I’m stubborn, but that is merely a catalyst, with a direct effect of reducing the time I am willing to spend paying attention to the world of politics–or stated another way, an increase in the amount of time I spend avoiding politics. This latter formulation is the true problem here.

Politics and government and discussions of the issues are not quarantined from other areas of life. Rather, the object of my loathing and disdain is regularly discussed side by side with religion, sports, art, nature, health, technology, crime, and every other aspect of life.

Consequently, Depressing Discovery #3 is that, in my ongoing attempt to ignore the world of politics, I really just avoid “news.”


[1] For example, consider the use of economic policy by Congress. First, Congress has to identify a specific problem in the economy. Saying “it’s in a recession” is no more helpful than a medical doctor saying “You’re ill.” Suppose, however, that Congress, by some miracle, with no training and despite ridiculously distorted incentives, properly identifies the area of the economy that is “sick.” Now, Congress must determine what drug, and in what dose, that area needs. When highly skilled macroeconomists and financial experts can’t even come close to agreement on either of those decisions, what on Earth qualifies a few hundred politicians with no training and–again–ridiculously distorted incentives to make those decisions? Finally, suppose that, by yet another miracle, someone in Congress does identify the exact right policy and magnitude; Congress still has to get the necessary votes to pass the measure in both chambers, get the President to sign it, and get the bureaucracy in charge of cutting checks/altering tax codes to send/collect the monies. Nearly every policy initiative on Earth dies in one of those stages, and those that don’t can take weeks and months and even years to finally clear all the hurdles. Is it really likely that the fiscal policy will even be relevant anymore, given the constantly changing nature of the economy? Consider President Bush’s and President Obama’s “stimulus” packages–which were passed with relative ease: After several years, no one has the foggiest idea what impact they had, if any.


  1. Yeesh! Why won’t you just agree with me and get it over with?

  2. MikeInWeHo says:

    Can we assume you didn’t watch the Republican debate last evening?

  3. MikeInWeHo,
    Were it not for some time I spent perusing Twitter during an evening stroll, I would never even have known that there was a debate.

  4. John C.,
    Agree with you about what?

  5. Everything. It’s simpler and more correct.

  6. Great. So you’ve now realized that you are part of the problem?

    I mean no offense there, because I find myself in a similar position, though I’ve tried to be more informed. I’m not a libertarian, but I am a political cynic. I’ve just realized that no one is served, least of all myself, by my avoidance of politics.

  7. Natalie B. says:

    Several of my friends (libertarians actually) take the view that they should be rationally apathetic towards politics since they feel that their voices do not matter. To some extent, I agree with them that our individual voices don’t matter that much and the returns from one’s own political participation are really low. BUT, what bothers me is that when rational people disengage, then we are mostly left with irrational zealots participating. This is not good. To what extent does the notion that nothing good can come out of politics become a self-fulfilling prophecy? I’d not at all object if we had to pay some kind of penalty for not voting in order to solve the collective action problem.

  8. Natalie B.,
    I’m not actually overly concerned with my ignorance of political issues. What bothers me most is that my avoidance of such issues has led to ignorance in other areas, since they are intertwined with politics.

  9. Ben Carlsen,

    I’ve tried to be more informed.

    I haven’t, though. And unless something dramatic happens (wait for Part 4!), I don’t really see myself trying.

  10. observer fka eric s says:

    Bravo! My sentiments exactly. (But don’t worry: this comment, or any others in this series that I may make, is is not an attempt to pander or chit chat with a fellow LDS Liber). I could give a rats arse about Romney’s stance, the parties, and what some goofy political dog and pony show is doing on a Tuesday night in Vegas. What is frustrating, though, is how fascinated I am in some of subplots that are so intertwined with all the bromancing and hating. That stuff sucks me right in. The individual and collective ego. The socio-psychology of it all. We, The Peoples’ response. We can learn more about our own and our neighbors’ perceptions and ego from the process than we can hope to get problems solved by the reaching the destination.

    I can’t tell, though, whether your avoidance has put you in a place of peace or a place of frustration. What do you think?

  11. It is a place of frustration because it has spread to other areas of life, I think. I feel like my disdain for politics has led to a general ignorance of international events, in particular.

  12. Scott,
    I think that this is the problem that everyone faces in the internet era. There is too much information out there and so much of it is personally depressing. So why bother? I don’t think that this is particularly a libertarian problem. For instance, some blogger somewhere else once gave me a whole listing of capitalistic projects in a variety of countries that demonstrated to his mind that market solutions solve all things. Because I was so skeptical of that outcome (that it would prove that markets are best in all things), I never really paid much attention to his data points (and I’m someone who is notionally open to market solutions (because I have a dim view of humanity)). Just something about toll roads in Brazil. In any case, if we don’t think it is going to go anywhere, we don’t bother doing the research. I’ve so little faith in the invisible hand (at least on an individual level), that I don’t ever really look for its influence.

    For that matter, in a bizarre sense, libertarians have more public policy influence now than ever before. Sure, the Tea Party isn’t actually libertarian, but they like to pretend that they are. Use that to your advantage while you can. It has certainly gotten them to stop harping about the dangers of drugs, for instance.

  13. I’m starting to think that this whole series of posts is just a cry for help. I hear they have some wonderful medications now for this sort of thing. Maybe you should try some and let us know how they work out.

  14. MikeInWeHo says:

    I am just the opposite. Politics fascinate me to no end. My DVR records BBC World News early each morning and I watch it over breakfast. Last night’s Republican debate was the entertainment highlight of my week. I was not disappointed; it was a rhetorical Monster Truck rally.

    Natalie is absolutely correct in #7. The disengagement of the broad middle is highly problematic, maybe even dangerous. Can we not see the results? Americans should be required to vote unless they have religious objections. Some other countries (like Switzerland, I believe) already take various steps to ensure near universal voting.

    I think it’s clear what the answer is to eric’s question in comment 10: Your avoidance has put you in a place of frustration. C’mon, Scott. Re-engage. You’ll be the Rand Paul of the Bloggernacle in no time.

  15. I would call myself a classical liberal over libertarian, but to me the difference is one of degree. Either way, I completely share that same sentiment, OP. I have explained to some of my more politically inclined friends that unless they can point to one election where my vote would have made a difference, then I have no evidence whatsoever that my vote matters at all. Without fail, they ask what would happen if everybody acted like that? I then point out that if everybody acted like that, then my vote would matter and I’d do it… but until then…..

  16. You are a stranger in a strange land, but you are not alone. Our world is an asylum for the criminally insane, and the inmates are running it. Why does that depress you? Happiness in this world comes from the inside.

  17. Cynthia L. says:

    Scott’s loathing and ignorance of politics works out great for progressives, because on each election day Scott pops up in my gchat saying, “I have to fill out this ballot. Who did you vote for?”

    And then I tell him the opposite of who I voted for, hopefully making him an unwitting straight progressive slate after he blindly votes the opposite of who I said I voted for.

  18. MikeInWeHo says:

    Brilliant, Cynthia.

  19. #16. Just so.

  20. Can Scott and Natalie both be right? I’m apathetic toward the current system, but I don’t think that justifies abdicating my vote.

    What I would LOVE to see though, is a line on the ballot for abstention. As in “I came all the way to the polling station just to say that I hate all my electoral options.” Adding this option is crucial, especially in the current political environment.

  21. Kyle, to that end, I have written in “Preston Shumway” for virtually every office on every ballot I have ever filled out.

  22. Cynthia L. says:

    Scott, what happened to my recommendations?!!

  23. “we are mostly left with irrational zealots participating.”

    #7 Natalie, why is it that the word “left” and “irrational zealots” occur so often together on Mormon blogs? At least we lefties *are* participating.

  24. Bradley,
    Again, the depressing realization to me is not that I’m ignorant of what is going on in Washington. I actually kind of relish that fact. The bummer here is discovering that, in working so hard to avoid politics, there has been tremendous collateral damage. I’m missing the forest for the trees, or hitting a fly with a sledgehammer, or something along those lines.

  25. Stephanie says:

    I think you’re making us look bad.

  26. Steve Evans says:

    Congrats, you’re an ostrich!

  27. I’m not libertarian, but this is something I can really empathize with. I still vote, but I have absolutely no faith problems will be fixed through politics. I can understand why Alma left politics, because when the people get wicked enough laws can’t fix things.

  28. MikeInWeHo says:

    Mormons have never been people who disengaged from politics like Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mennonites. Joseph Smith ran for president! Politics is the means by which we influence society. I am one little grain of salt trying to make society fairer and more humane, but just because my individual influence is microscopic doesn’t mean it would feel better if I stayed in the shaker.

    I’m curious if there might not be other, less obvious reasons for your disengagement Scott. Something just doesn’t add up here. You say you avoid politics and news yet you are one of the most engaged people in the Bloggernacle, an environment suffused with both. I hearken back to our conversation about Prop 8, and how you agonized over your participating in church-sponsored activities on its behalf. Didn’t you say it was one of the worst experiences of your church life?

    If politics = agonizing internal conflict, of course you’ll avoid politics! Resolve the internal conflicts first, and the rest will follow.

    I am hopeful that someday we’ll find a BCC post from you titled Discovering My Liberalism, Part 1.

  29. Scott, I’m also a libertarian. But I take a longer view of things, not just a short term cynicism. IOW, you have to be patient in this, like the communist party or Islamic terrorists are.

    When you look at libertarian ideals today, you can see that they are gaining an edge. Everyone ignored the Libertarian party a decade ago. Yet, we now see many people beginning to espouse more and more the concepts of smaller government. Tea party, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, and others are giving voice to many Libertarian ideas. Sometimes we just have to be patient. The government did not become so expansive overnight (even though it seems it has), but grew over decades. It may take us several years to also achieve this goal of smaller government.

    And in that, I have hope. I think there are enough people still around who read, understand and believe in the US Constitution to realize that it was never meant to be replaced by lobbyists’ bribes, and government welfare programs.

  30. “And in that, I have hope. I think there are enough people still around who read, understand and believe in the US Constitution to realize that it was never meant to be replaced by lobbyists’ bribes, and government welfare programs.”

    Sheesh. Really? Brides and welfare in the same freaking breath. WTF?


    I really need to arm myself.

  31. Government welfare includes the moneys given to corporations. There is some good reason for the Occupy Wall Street protests. Many corporations and government are in bed together, enriching themselves. Just see what Chris Dodd did with Countrywide, or Barney Frank did for Fannie and Freddy. And of course, all the billions going to banks too big to fail, etc.

    You don’t think lobbyists and Congress work hand in hand? Just look at how many “retired” Congressmen now work as lobbyists, for the same companies they pandered to when in office.

    And I said “Bribes” not “Brides.” Chris, I always thought you were literate! Sheesh. WTF. Sigh. You not only need to arm yourself, you need to think things through without getting so hyper. A little logic instead of just emotional outcries would also help the discussion not turn into a Republican debate.

  32. Peter LLC says:

    I think there are enough people still around who read, understand and believe in the US Constitution to realize that it was never meant to be replaced by lobbyists’ bribes, and government welfare programs.

    No doubt, but that’s like saying there are enough people still around who read, understand and believe in the Bible to realize that it was never meant to be replaced by adulterous indiscretions and bishop’s storehouses. IOW, just about everybody.

  33. Gary,

    [I love and respect] you.

  34. Steve Evans says:

    Break it up, folks, and watch your language and your civility please. I’m in a banning mood.

  35. MikeInWeHo says:

    I miss the old bannin’ days.

  36. Go for it.

    I lost my civility a long time ago.

  37. MikeInWeHo,
    Reading the last few comments (though some were removed), is it easier to understand why I have no interest in politics?

  38. I’ve found that the solution to political ennui is to engage in something upstream from the biggest general election races. If general election match-ups leave you feeling like you’re making an awful choice between the lesser of two evils, get involved in the primary, or even before the real primary race begins there is sort of an “insiders” primary to see who looks like they have some momentum with the local activists. Again, very few people constitute those “local activists” so if you get in on that level, start up a blog where you hype up people you like in that pre-primary stage, it has HUGE impact compared to just casting a vote in the general election. Similarly, one or two people with a lot of free time can sway local races because there just aren’t that many people involved at that level. By stacking local positions with people you like, you are building the “bench” of your team, so the next time a higher-up position like a congressional seat becomes available, people you like will be in a position to move up.

  39. ScottB, I identify with your alleged ennui, but I think it stems from an overall philosophical perspective fighting with the practical realities of day-to-day politics. If you think on a philosophical basis, of course it’s going to be difficult to figure out the ins and outs of how to *help* implement that on a practical basis, especially when the common enemy is…everybody.

  40. Admitting that you don’t really care is the first step toward really not caring. But that first step is the hardest.

  41. “Reading the last few comments (though some were removed), is it easier to understand why I have no interest in politics?”

    I am only trying to push you along.

  42. MikeInWeHo says:

    We’re just wired differently, Scott (understatement of the day!). In high school our teachers went on strike for a week. School was cancelled and I promptly organized a group of students to support the teachers in their picketing. This being the early 80s, I got a letter published in the local newspaper comparing them to Solidarity in Poland (and the school board to the Soviets). I was a total suck-up even then.

    So anyway, for me politics and activism have always been exciting. What if you found a cause you really believe in, and got involved in fighting for it? Cynthia is right; the best way to fight political ennui is to engage in something.

  43. madhousewife,
    I’ve long admitted that I don’t care–and I don’t have any desire to start caring about politics.

    I think I really miscommunicated the point I’m trying to make with this particular entry: Collateral Damage

    For example: Global Warming is not, by itself, an inherently political issue. It’s a scientific and environmental issue. I have no bias against learning about scientific or environmental issues. I want to be informed about what is happening up in the sky, deep in the oceans, and in our forests. However, so much of the discussion about Global Warming is rooted in political debates which bore the living daylights out of me. Over time, pursuing a course of avoiding political discussions of Global Warming has really just turned into a course of avoiding all discussions of Global Warming.

  44. Scott, I know it is easy to become cynical about government and politics. It doesn’t require a person to be a libertarian to feel that way. I think many politicians are exactly as you think. But once in a while we get a transformational person or group. We can only hope that the next group or leader(s) can be transformational in a good way.
    I do not need a Ron Paul to be elected to admire a president. I do need someone who makes a positive difference and hopefully reduces the government’s ineffective footprint.
    It is that hope that keeps me trying. If we all gave up due to cynicism, we’d leave the door open for only the crooks. Yes, it seems that’s now happened, but perhaps that’s because we need to be a little more introspective on who we elect.

  45. [Rameumptom, I fully agree with you. Excellent points.]

  46. Steve E, I’ll ignore Chris, so I can keep the civility here.

    But I will say that I did not think of Pres Obama in calling much of government led by crooks. While I disagree with much of his politics, that does not make him a crook. There are easily as many crooks amongst the Republicans as there are among the Democrats. Just look at the trillions they have taken from the average person and given to corporations and other groups over the last decade.
    It is for this reason, among others that I’m a Libertarian. If the government does not have our purse strings and the purse, they cannot spend all our money and charge up our kids’ credit cards.

  47. Scott B., I [want to purchase a case of Coke Zero for Rameumptom and raise a bottle to his excellent comments]

  48. [Ram, I loved your last post at M*]

  49. Mommie Dearest says:

    I have no faith in government to do anything other than wield [collective] power. They are good at pushing people around when that’s what’s called for. When is it called for and who does it benefit? That’s what starts foul-tempered debates, and that’s what us avoiders are trying to get away from.

    I do a fair amount of avoidance myself, and I expect everyone does to some degree, unless they are employed in politics or just geeky that way. (Or entertained by Republican hopefuls verbally duking it out in public?! Hmmm…intriguing.) When voting time rolls around I try to increase my attention so that I can do some due diligence, but I always fall short of being able to fill out my ballot with confidence in every question. I really do believe that making the whole process public is a net gain for us as a nation, so I put in an effort to participate as meaningfully as I can, in spite of my well-founded cynicism.

    I read something from the League of Women Voters years ago that helped me get over my slacker voter’s guilt. Basically, it boils down to only casting a vote in those races where you have studied enough to have an informed opinion, and not feeling bad about skipping the rest of the ballot that you’re clueless about. That way you aren’t doing the most dangerous thing a voter can do–blindly marking a ballot, or doing it based on superficial criteria. The theory is that if enough people do this, a race has a better chance of being decided by better-informed voters. I imagine this applies best to your local contests, maybe not so much to a presidential election.

  50. #47 for BCoW.

  51. I wonder if sometimes folks overlook engaging in the political process at the local (or maybe state) level due to the high-profile nature of national politics. It is easy to fall into a belief that the federal system is broken in a lot of ways (I’m bracketing that argument for now), but as the political process becomes more local, I find that pragmatics wins out over ideology far more regularly. There are of course exceptions and plenty of antics at all levels, but a lot of positive things happen at the local level without getting much attention. Politics from a far distance is much easier (and frankly, entertaining) for many to passively engage in as a spectator sport than what goes on locally.

    I don’t think you were looking for suggestions, Scott, but if you are, political engagement at the local level may be something to consider. By engagement, I don’t necessarily mean running for mayor…keeping tabs on the goings on of your local city/county government in the local paper can be compelling in its own way. It’s usually boring as all get out, but it is often substantive and can be punctuated with some amazingly juicy stuff.

  52. I’ve long realized that you don’t care about politics. I just didn’t realize you cared about other stuff.

  53. madhousewife,
    You know, I probably really don’t. Maybe it’s like Hugh Grant in “About a Boy” at the end of the day: I realize that in most areas of society, only being able to list Joss Whedon TV series and USU basketball as “interests” is a strike against being invited over for dessert.

  54. If you think you’re avoiding news because you’re avoiding politics, are you afraid that if you stop avoiding news, you will start caring about politics again?

  55. observer fka eric s. says:

    Scott. If you only watch KCAL channel 9 news, you can enjoy the news alone without pesky politics. They only report on critical stories like overflowing raingutters in Pacoima during “Storm Watch,” WeHo parades, high speed chases, and weather as interpreted by Jackie Johnson.

  56. “start caring about politics again?” was there a time that you did care, scott and this is your decline? i guess that i got the impression that this was your normal state. my only two cents is where i am living has a lot to do with how involved i am. when i lived in a very progressive college town in california it seemed absurd to participate- we all agreed- although i looked moderate there. here in wyoming i am very involved and feel more left of center. also i think the state of the political state in california right now would sap anyone’s will to live.

  57. Maybe what’s getting you down is your nation falling apart around you, and politics can’t fix it. Iron mixed with clay. Why put your trust in that when you have the savior?

    Prez Hinckley said we’d go through a rough patch and then the future would be very bright. I think so too.

  58. Politics are hugely important. I cannot really understand why citizens should not be completely engaged with the politicians and the issues. I just took a tour of the Third Reich remains in Nuremberg. Hitler started as a politician and became a dictator. If there had been more discerning people concerned with politics, the catastrophe of WWII could have been avoided.

    Two things: I realize my vote is insignificant when folded into the general count. However I realize that I am a representative of a larger cohort and if I do not vote neither will they. My vote is important.

    Thing 2: No motives are pure. OK, I agree that anyone who becomes a politician has to have an outsized ego and must be comfortable wheeling and dealing, (usually but not always and not always hugely outsized ego). But in every politician there is usually a bit of idealism, to do the right thing and leave the world a better place.

    Then we choose people who will do the best and be as honest as possible under the circumstances. It is my duty to determine what the best is and the standard by which honesty is measured. If we do not do that then there are plenty of people willing to take advantage of our willful ignorance for their personal power.

  59. “If there had been more discerning people concerned with politics, the catastrophe of WWII could have been avoided.”

    I think the people _were_ discerning, and discerned that they were unhappy with a very bad economy, bruised national pride, and an irrepressible urge to blame “foreigners” in their midst and label them as “illegal” and looked to a fanatic newly-formed political party for simplistic answers. Any of this sound familiar in today’s context?

  60. Dan,

    I really love you comment.

  61. MikeInWeHo says:

    Dan’s right. We can hear the faint echos of the Weimar Republic in American politics today. Fortunately our economic problems are nowhere near that bad. The troubled GOP is an unlikely Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, and “Fed Up!” is no Mein Kampf.

  62. Mike,

    Both books have a creepy focus on Jewish bankers.

  63. MikeInWeHo says:

    Really? Wow. I have read neither, so I probably shouldn’t be commenting. We read some excerpts from Mein Kampf back in college, but I can’t remember it. Rick Perry reminds me of a crazed president played by Martin Sheen in an old Stephen King movie called The Dead Zone. Seriously.

  64. #59, Dan

    Discernment is not a tool for fooling people, it is a tool by which people understand they are being fooled. All of the things you mentioned, used by the Nazi party, are just hooks to pull the undiscerning along into destruction.

    We need to be politically discerning not to be swept into the tide of emotion, fear, anger, and retribution.

  65. Latter-day Guy says:

    Steve, your creative editing of various comments made my night.

    Re the OP, yeah, my main political belief these days is that we could improve things mainly by use of 435 burlap sacks, some bricks, and an obliging lake.

  66. That Steve, he is so funny.

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