Plaques for Hacks: Robby and the SFL Soave-Suckers
About five months ago I issued a warning to the so-called “liberty movement” (if you haven’t read my initial warning on the subject it might help for timeline’s sake and frame of reference) about the dangers of hitching their wagon to the likes of Robby Soave – just another clown in a litany of say-everything-do-nothing-non-profit-think-tank-no-real-world-experience-conservatarians that encompass the “liberty movement,” the real life Rand McPherson, and epitome of what Kevin Carson rightly dubbed vulgar libertarianism over a decade ago:
This school of libertarianism has inscribed on its banner the reactionary watchword: “Them pore ole bosses need all the help they can get.” For every imaginable policy issue, the good guys and bad guys can be predicted with ease, by simply inverting the slogan of Animal Farm: “Two legs good, four legs baaaad.” In every case, the good guys, the sacrificial victims of the Progressive State, are the rich and powerful. The bad guys are the consumer and the worker, acting to enrich themselves from the public treasury. As one of the most egregious examples of this tendency, consider Ayn Rand’s characterization of big business as an “oppressed minority,” and of the Military-Industrial Complex as a “myth or worse.”
The ideal “free market” society of such people, it seems, is simply actually existing capitalism, minus the regulatory and welfare state: a hyper-thyroidal version of nineteenth century robber baron capitalism, perhaps; or better yet, a society “reformed” by the likes of Pinochet, the Dionysius to whom Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys played Aristotle.
Vulgar libertarian apologists for capitalism use the term “free market” in an equivocal sense: they seem to have trouble remembering, from one moment to the next, whether they’re defending actually existing capitalism or free market principles. So we get the standard boilerplate article arguing that the rich can’t get rich at the expense of the poor, because “that’s not how the free market works”–implicitly assuming that this is a free market. When prodded, they’ll grudgingly admit that the present system is not a free market, and that it includes a lot of state intervention on behalf of the rich. But as soon as they think they can get away with it, they go right back to defending the wealth of existing corporations on the basis of “free market principles.”
My favorite passage on vulgar libertarianism is excerpted from Carson’s year-old biting indictment of the aforementioned movement, entitled “The End of Libertarians”:
Frankly, I’m sick of libertarian outreach being sabotaged by the need to apologize for people like this. I’m sick of trying to challenge the perception of libertarianism as the movement of entitled 20-something middle-class white males who think “big business is the last oppressed minority,” and the world is going to hell in a hand-basket because of women and racial minorities — and then going to Mises.org, Lew Rockwell, Cato and Reason and seeing a bottomless cesspool of people saying that very thing.
This week, Lyn Ulbricht attended the International Students For Liberty Conference and graced attendees with a presentation on the appeal of her son Ross Ulbricht’s sentencing in the Silk Road trial. Lyn’s presence and tireless advocacy for her son and for the preservation of our rights is a blessing in the face of our unaccountable justice system. Her speech was concise and moving; her demeanor was what you would expect from a strong mother whose son has been sentenced to a double life sentence.
Unfortunately at the same event, on the same day as Lyn’s presentation, there was an unforgivable snub by the Students For Liberty Alumni. Ross was up for an award as an SFL alum himself. However, those responsible for nominating the winner ultimately chose a libertarian writer with a significant social media presence. This was a devastating moment in my weekend activities, and was all I really wanted to talk about the rest of the night. Most people simply shrugged their shoulders — they chalked it up to typical organization culture and politics. But what does it say about the movement when such behavior is glossed over and forgotten about? It is a sign of seriously misplaced priorities.
The winner of the SFL award in question was none other than Robby Soave himself, who’s alleged “excellent work” has helped… nobody. Which brings me back to my opening quote from HBO’s The Wire pertaining to “real” work. Back to Calhoun’s truth to power on the matter:
Ross Ulbricht has taken a stand against the leviathan state. His actions represented the greatest opposition to the Drug War in its history, and they have provided millions with the motivation and incentive for a new and subversive kind of radicalism that captures individuals’ interests directly. It engages rather than explains. Rather than lecturing it meets people face to face as equal partners and as equal opponents to an oppressive government regime. What an insult it is to Ross and to Lyn to ignore this most spontaneous form of activism.
Since Ross’s arrest, Lyn has shown us just how important this kind of imminent spreading of libertarian ideas is. Lyn does not come from a background of political agitation. She is one of many mothers who has had her child taken from her by the U.S government. She is one of many people who has sat helplessly in court proceedings as a judge condemns a man to isolation in order to silence and shudder them away from the rest of the world. Much like the participants of the Silk Road project, Lyn is not interested in political gamesmanship, but in the freeing of unfree people, the liberation of an oppressed populous. She comes to advocate for libertarian positions not because of ideological bias, but because she has seen up close just how easily the system can squash people and file them away without consequence. While we write about agorist theory and its possible implementation, Ross built a multi-million dollar black market that turned theory into a reality. While we snipe at ideological adversaries, Lyn Ulbricht is fighting to her last breath to see her son freed and the unjust conditions of the criminal justice system smashed.
The hypocrisy on display at ISFLC must be confronted. These are the people this movement needs. Ross’s and Lyn’s work deserves better than to be overlooked like it was. We must understand that our ideas really are grounded in the interests of everyday people. This isn’t a chess match or a Twitter argument. It is a real and bloody battle between the people, fighting for their liberty against a system that seeks to destroy it. The snub of Ross and Lyn is of course just over a meaningless award, but it’s symbolic of an illness that plagues large swathes of the libertarian movement.*
There is great understanding among many young libertarians of just how important Ross’s actions, trial, and his mother’s dedication are. Ross himself was involved with Students For Liberty, and he should be honored as one of its most significant alums. We need to foster the spirit of Lyn’s and Ross’s activism. We need to take our philosophy into the streets as they have. Let’s stop honoring popular authors for the numbers of shares their articles get and start focusing on the “boots on the ground” like Ross and Lyn who risk their lives through concrete action. In her speech to conference-goers, Lyn recommended visiting a prison to see what our government in action. That’s where people live out the full experience of state control. What good are words if we don’t recognize the significance of the people who live them?
This is, in a nutshell, why people who would otherwise identify very well with the school of thought that is classical liberalism (including anarchists like myself) actually feel repulsed by about 90% of so-called “libertarians.” As I stated in my initial Soave-smash:
And people wonder why libertarians are despised amongst the general body politic. I avoid using the word libertarian at all costs in public. The term has too much stink on it. I’m not sure if this gets through to everybody inside the bubble in DC or the online libertarian bubble, but liberty is now synonymous with Republican in the eyes of everyone but themselves. That’s a big problem.
Perhaps the most disgraceful part of the ISFLC debacle, after SFL doling out the award to not Ross Ulbricht, is that Soave actually accepted it instead of flexing some intellectual humility and saying something to the tune of, “Thanks, but I cannot in good conscience accept this award and instead would like to present it to Lyn Ulbricht on Ross’s behalf while he suffers unjust incarceration at the hands of the state.” Although I wasn’t actually there (I was paid to attend ISFLC 2014 as a performing artist), something tells me it didn’t exactly play out that way.
Of course it didn’t, these are “liberty movement” people we’re talking about here, almost all of whom are insecure children playing keyboard commando and seeking validation from the self congratulatory how-dare-anybody-piss-inside-the-echo-chambered-circle-jerk bubble that is the insignificantly small and significantly sycophantic makeup of DC/online libertarianism.
This is further personified by Soave’s Reason colleague Elizabeth Nolan Brown, who I previously praised for doing “real work” on her feminism beat in my initial Robby-rant. I once saw a tweet of hers criticizing a John Stossel column published at Reason. I can’t remember exactly which column (because they’re all so fucking awful), but the point is when I went back to the tweet to grab it’s link for my brother, the tweet had already been deleted.
I have no idea if Brown did this on her own or had her arm twisted by any of her superiors at Reason. But since we’re dealing with a movement more concerned with “plaques for hacks” than anything real, it seems a bit suspect. Reason and people like Soave love them some free speech until it threatens their fragile pseudo-reality. Which brings me to Brown’s tweet during Soave’s big-win-acceptance-speech:
If you go to her actual tweet on Twitter, there is NO pushback whatsoever from anybody. The likes and retweets are visible without going to Twitter. By any objective measurement, journalists like Brown should have done what friends do: deliver the brutally honest truth when they need it most, even at the risk of an open breach. Unfortunately, reality is the enemy of the safe space. The irony is libertarians can’t stand the notion of a safe space, yet prefer living in a bubble that perfectly encapsulates their hypocrisy.
Would something like this have been so horrible from Brown, “Even though Robby Soave is my friend & colleague, Ross Ulbricbht should have won SFL’s 2016 “Alumni for Liberty” award. #ISFLC16″?
But this, ladies and gentlemen, exemplifies your “liberty movement” (sounds more like a bathroom code, which is appropriate given how much shit they flush) whether you like it or not, and I want absolutely zero part of it. Nor should any other self-respecting radical.
The glorification of John Stossel is repugnant enough on it’s own. Never mind the incessant apologists for corporate dominance and the free-market capitalism oxymoron, blanket alliance with conservatives, whitewashing Antonin Scalia’s record into that of a “brilliant” jurist instead of a glorified Tarot Card reading hypocrite, clamoring that Ted Cruz would be better for liberty than Bernie Sanders like it’s some sort of personal vendetta, and the fact that people aspire to be “professional libertarians.” Whatever the fuck that even means. How hard would you laugh if somebody said they wanted to be a professional liberal or conservative?
Instead of disengaging from the futility of electoral politics, focusing on ad hoc coalitions built on an issue-by-issue basis, and true intellectual honesty, you’re left with a scenario best described by my favorite asshole, The Wire’s Detective Jimmy McNulty: “Everybody stays friends, everybody gets paid, and everybody’s got a fucking future!” (Of accomplishing nothing)
*bold emphasis mine