The Five Forms of Activism

Let’s kick off the new year with a post on something that’s been on my mind for years. Suppose you’re someone who wants way less government control than what we have now: How would you go about making your policy preferences the new political norm?

 

As someone who has been in the Libertarian-minded part of the Nolan Chart for just over a decade, I’ve asked myself this question for quite some time now. It didn’t take long for me to realize that a solid understanding of anything political is pointless if it never gets implemented in any meaningful way. A thought alone changes nothing – acting on it is critical for making it matter in the first place – and the “activist” who does nothing but listen to podcasts all day isn’t likely to change the course of history anytime soon. So what kind of framework should they follow instead?

 


 

A couple years ago, I decided that most of what makes a difference as far as liberty-minded activism goes can be placed into at least one of these five categories. I plan to do a separate blog post on each of these in the weeks to come.

I’ll be honest, I’m not even sure most Libertarians even do a good job with the first thing listed here…

 

1. Educate Yourself on Government Policy: You probably do this already, although there’s a good chance you can improve how you go about it. This is exactly what it sounds like – you’re learning about the various ways government intervenes in people’s lives and what the consequences of them are. Most of the Libertarians I’ve met in real life (as well as plenty online) barely know the specifics of the issues they talk about. Even worse, many argue for radical proposals using broad moral principles that they don’t bother to defend as valid in the first place. I’m talking about people that argue from things like the “non-aggression principle” instead of arguing for them. While we’re at it, I should note that it doesn’t hurt to know a thing or two about the common fallacies that come up in political debate either.

 

2. Persuade Others on Policy Issues: It’s one thing to convince yourself of an idea, quite another to get others to see it’s merit. The problem with most Libertarians I’ve met (and yes, I too have been guilty of this) is that we are often good at working through the logic of an argument, but terrible at actually persuading others to come to the same conclusion. Although there is some overlap, being analytical and being persuasive aren’t necessarily the same thing (conveying the differences and giving examples will require an entirely separate blog post). For now, you should ask yourself: What’s the least amount of information someone would need to know to have the biggest change in perspective on any given issue? The answer to this will vary by whether you’re aiming for a change of opinion on particular topics, or in the broader way that they go about evaluating any issue in general.

 

3. Create and Demonstrate Alternatives: For many people (including me), seeing truly is believing. Ridesharing apps demonstrated the folly of taxi medallions better than most policy papers on the subject ever could. Consumer-driven health care options (such as Direct-Primary Care) can help illustrate why the government’s focus on insurance doesn’t solve anything. Affordable housing designs can demonstrate how zoning laws contribute to homelessness. Market-based alternatives to government regulation (such as decentralized supplement testing, among many other things) can show that you don’t necessarily need a government agency to protect consumers. Hell, there’s even intrepid examples of alternatives to government projects that were once limited to science fiction. And recently there’s even been a successful implementation of zero up-front cost vocational schooling that Milton and Rose Friedman theorized decades ago. For long-term investing, we even have app-based retirement savings services. I could go on forever with voluntary alternatives to government functions, but for now this video should drive the point home.

 

4. Change the Laws That Are Enforced: There are several layers to changing what the size and scope of government is, and not just when it comes to local vs. national politics. You can influence things through which candidates win party primaries, who wins a given election, and what laws they try to pass, block, or repeal (in the form of bills that go through different stages before passed). Most people focus almost entirely on who wins on election day, and very little attention is paid to what happens after that; don’t be so short-sighted. There’s also the judicial side of things, which some would argue is just as important as who gets elected for local office. Overall, your end goal is to influence what bills actually get signed into law, and this process goes far beyond what happens on election nights. Learn how this process works at local as well as national levels of government, and don’t forget the power of courts in deciding what kind of bills are even permissible – or how they get implemented. Which brings us to our last category of activism…

 

5. Make Existing Bad Laws Irrelevant: To understand this domain of activism, consider what it means to say that something is illegal. A law essentially says, “If you do X, you will face consequences that range from fines to imprisonment.” This fifth category of activism involves making those consequences less likely to happen for activities that don’t involve inflicting harm on other people. Consider the impact that Napster, or Pirate Bay had on making copyright law toothless. Or what grow lights did to marijuana laws. Or what 3D printers do for laws against the possession of certain objects. Or what cryptocurrency does to controls over who may buy and sell. Or what encryption as a whole does for enabling secure communication and commerce between willing participants. The theme behind this form of activism is to learn to subvert the legal consequences of the controls government places upon you in the first place. That could potentially mean cutting off revenue to government (which it raises through taxes and currency inflation), avoiding the consequences of laws against non-violent activity (methods will vary by the activity of course), and building up the portion of the economy that avoids influence by government in the first place.

 

For any liberty movement to succeed, it can’t consist of a handful of people that barely do a good job of understanding the costs and benefits of certain policies, or of understanding general political philosophy as a whole. We need a greater number of people that are effectively executing each of these five domains. If this five-part list was too much to comprehend in one sitting, consider learning the differences between voice (changing the system from withing), and exit (leaving it entirely) as well as how that might apply to technological innovation today.

 

My next several posts will be entirely focused on exploring each of these five things in greater detail.

 

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