Being a libertarian can be tough. As our logo (I think of it as ours. The founders may be first among equals, but its the participation of the Glibertariat that makes this place amazing.) alludes to some of the misconceptions people have about libertarianism. The public discourse and the education complex don’t discuss the ideas that underlie the philosophy. So how do people arrive at it? I like hearing other people’s stories so I thought I’d share mine.
I grew up a poor black boy in…wait, no, I know the difference between shit and Shinola so that’s another guy. I did grow up in a rural area of N. Carolina and went to a Southern Baptist church. I suppose that had an impact on me. I started out a kid with not much appetite for authority, tons of questions about why, and intolerance for bullshit.
My favorite show was the Dukes of Hazzard. I think that had a big impact on me. I don’t know of any other show on TV that was so anti-authoritarian and so subversive while appearing to be nothing more than country kitsch. The authorities were corrupt, venal, petty and incompetent. Which almost made it a documentary. The Duke family were loving, fun, and had cool cars. And they never meant anyone any harm, even the corrupt government trying to destroy them. I didn’t realize for decades how formative that show was, but it set the stage later.
I grew older and more obstinate. The more I learned, the more questions I asked about why. And the more I realized that most of the authority figures in life didn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground, and either way couldn’t find it with both hands and a map. And with that realization, the more I began to question why they should be able to tell me what to do simply because they had managed to remain breathing. From there to questioning others in authority like politicians and cops wasn’t a huge leap and fortunately, around the time I was 11 I had an experience that helped me make the jump.
In the 5th grade the sad, pathetic nature of bureaucracy became crystal clear to me. We had an assistant principal that all the kids and parents adored. She truly was great with us kids; a good balance of discipline and love. When the principal announced his retirement due to health reasons a temporary principal was put in place while the school board decided on a permanent replacement. Full of nonsense about our form of government and a naive belief in the right of the people impacted to petition the government for redress I started a petition. I sent it around to kids and parents, asking for signatures supporting Mrs. Sandy (the asst. principal) for the principal position. The temp principal who had worked for the system longer and wanted it because of that, despite having spent years trying for a principal position without success, was not pleased. She went so far as to call me into her office for a dressing down and to demand I hand over my ‘stupid little petition’. This did not go well for her when I told my parents about our little meeting and her threats to suspend me if I didn’t comply.
My mom was something of a mama bear; if I was in the right she’d go to the mattresses for me. But woe betide my ass if I didn’t behave well. And the words, “This is bad enough your dad will handle it” struck a kind of liquid terror in my bowels on the few occasions I heard it. Dad was usually the less strict, so if he had to do the disciplining I knew I had seriously fucked up. Anyway, they both had my back and went up to the principal’s office the next morning and had a little come to Jesus meeting with the harridan. I am still not privy to the exact conversation, but she steered clear of me from then on out.
It was at the next school board meeting where I had that lesson about petty bureaucrats reinforced even harder and cemented my hatred of those pathetic types. The hiring of a permanent principal was on the list, I showed up with my petition and duly handed it in to the board. I was interviewed by the local newspaper for a front page story. And thus the lessons.
First, despite the petition having about 70% of the parents and students at the school signing on, Mrs. Sandy was passed over for the bitchy-bitch. The board accepted the petition, but they didn’t even look it over or read it. I mean, after all, what do the peasants and their children know about education?
Second, the news reporter got my quote wrong in the front page article the next day. They quoted an 11 year old wrong, changing the meaning of my words. I mean, this adult had one fucking job in a small town newspaper and they couldn’t even accurately write down what I said. That also made me pretty furious and long before the The Orange Cheeto turned the phrase around on them, cemented the idea of Fake News in my head and further stoked the fires of my skepticism.
By the time I hit college I’d had seven more years to shape my philosophy of politics and negative experiences of people in power. I labeled myself a conservative. But my religious indoctrination had also created a disgust with hypocrisy and a desire for clear, moral consistency so I often found myself at odds with certain conservative opinions. I’d also started reading Heinlein.
It is a little hard to articulate how big of an impact Heinlein’s novels had on me in regard to political thought. While it was never stated outright in that fashion, the NAP was there in his work, presented questions of moral agency, letting others live their lives as they see fit so long as they don’t offer your violence. (And the idea of non-monogamy, but that is a different post). It gave me a springboard to start looking for other works to help my burgeoning interest in a political ideology based on liberty and personal autonomy.
The final piece was a principled lefty prof, my adviser. In an age of ‘speech is violence’, no platforming, and all the rest of the Ctrl Left totalitarianism, it sounds odd that a lefty prof might recommend such kulaks and wreckers as HL Mencken, Rothbard, Milton Friedman, FA Hayek, and the like to a student discovering his politics seems unimaginable. But it happened. Because Mr. Collins was a liberal, but he was also a man who felt he had a duty to his students, and who took the goal of educating his students into thinking for themselves quite seriously.
I can’t claim I was completely reasoned into my thoughts on politics and libertarianism, but those are some of the sources that helped shape my thinking as I grew up. That’s how a corny country show from the ’80s, a petty bureaucrat, an incompetent reporter, a science fiction author, and a lefty professor helped me to develop my politics and outlook on life.
What’s your story?