I had the pleasure of joining Dan O’Neill, Neil Schloss, and some other great New Jersey libertarians for the “New Jersey Liberty Circus” yesterday. I split the video into two parts, first Neil, then me. You can see the full text of my speech below, and there was a lengthy unscripted portion with lots of audience engagement.
First, Neil gave a talk about the constitution, tax laws, and some interesting cases he had been involved in as a CPA. He incorporated a magic show into the act.
Then I came on to discuss infighting, and the problems with the constitution, and cracked a few jokes in the process.
Here is the full text of my prepared speech, but I encourage you to watch the video because there was a large unscripted portion after this presentation.
Hello everybody, thank you so much for inviting me to speak with you today. How many of you have no clue who the hell I am?
Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you all. My name is Chris Cantwell, I’m a satirist, activist, writer, and YouTube personality, I write every day at ChristopherCantwell.com, and I’m a regular contributor to Lew Rockwell, Cop Block, and a Voice for Men. I’m also an overweight pervert with substance abuse issues. I think I was kind of pitched to you as being a comedian, and I have done some standup comedy and I do try to insert some humor into everything that I do, but I’m going to be speaking seriously with you today.
I had gotten involved in the libertarian movement in 2009 after being arrested for driving while intoxicated in New York. I was .01 over the legal limit according to their guilt machine, and since I was caught sleeping it off in my car more than 9 years prior, I was charged with a felony and threatened with four and a half years in a state prison.
Now, I thought this was kind of ridiculous. In 2009 I was a pretty heavy drinker, and by pretty heavy I mean I used to shop at four different liquor stores, just so the guy behind the counter didn’t realize how much whiskey I was actually buying.
So on the night that I got arrested, I was a .09 BAC according to their machine, while out on a date at 3am on a Saturday. At the time, being a .09 at 3am on a Saturday, was me being a good boy. I had just met this girl and I didn’t want to be sloppy drunk because I was trying to get laid. And it was working too, I was in the process of bringing this illegal immigrant back to my house for sex when I got pulled over.
So I get arrested, my car gets seized, I lose my job, this girl won’t testify at my trial because she’s afraid she’ll get deported, I’m unable to fund my defense, I literally lost everything I had because of this arrest, and I hadn’t done anything to harm anyone.
Now, rather than take it as a lesson learned and go to AA meetings, I decided it was my duty to violently overthrow the government of the United States. Not because I had any sort of sound philosophical reasoning behind it, I was just really pissed off that this was happening to me.
So I began looking for radical movements to attach myself to, and libertarianism was not my first stop. I began looking for the Earth liberation front, and I created an account on Stormfront.org, and I sought out all these different crazy people. In the course of that I found Michael Badnarik’s introduction to the constitution, he talked about sovereign citizens and the libertarian party, and I was like “Wow, not only does this guy want to overthrow the government, he actually makes sense, I’m in!”
I joined my local libertarian party chapter, and I wound up running for congress.
Now, I’m happy to answer any questions you all might have about anything I just discussed, but the point of that story was, I’ve been embroiled in controversy right from my entry into the movement. I was a congressional candidate who wanted to legalize drunk driving, and failing that, violently overthrow the most powerful government in the history of mankind. You can imagine a platform like this might ruffle some feathers.
I sort of gave up on running for office, I don’t have much hope for restoring the republic these days, I see the world from an anarchocapitalist perspective now, but I’m still constantly embroiled in so much drama and controversy, that I sort of feel like I’ve become something of an expert on the subject, and that’s what I want to talk to you about today.
There are more factions to the libertarian movement than I could possibly list, but I am working on a flowchart to map them all out. Depending on how loosely we define the term libertarian, you’ve got your limited government crowd, your anarchists, your propertarians, your antipropertarians, your conspiracy theorists, your mainstreamers, the Libertarian Party, Libertarian Republicans, this list could get kind of long but hopefully you get the picture.
There are overlaps in all of these factions. You might have anarchists who are willing to work with the Republican party for practical purposes. There are conspiracy theorists in the libertarian party, etc, etc…
But you constantly have this infighting, that these factions are constantly warring with each other on the internet, this one expels this one from that group, people spread rumors, there’s mudslinging, baseless allegations of racism and sexism, purity tests, you name it.
Now, there are people who, with the best of intentions, say that this is all very negative. They say that anything divisive is a bad thing, that we all need to be united against big government, and put all our petty differences aside. The thing I find funny about this, is usually after doing that, they usually try to get everyone to follow whatever personal preference they have about the movement, and this just causes more infighting.
In the course of observing and participating in all of this, I’ve come to a different conclusion. I think that infighting is a good thing, and there are a long list of reasons why.
I think, firstly, we have to realize that infighting does not hurt political movements. Or at least that it is not inherently a bad thing. Quite the contrary. You could argue whether this or that particular incident of infighting is good or bad, but if infighting in general hurt movements, there would be no Republicans or Democrats. Infighting is what politics is all about, infighting is so old, and so normal, that parliamentary procedure was invented for the purpose of managing it. The Republican and Democratic parties are two of the most popular things on Earth, and their entire existence is fighting within their parties, over who will go on to fight with the other party. That’s literally all they do, and this generates 24 hour news channels, roughly half the population shows up to vote for them at least every four years, it’s one of the most popular topics of discussion outside of professional sports and American Idol.
People always say that infighting turns people off, but that’s just plain untrue, there’s absolutely no factual basis to this.
I believe that the reason for this is, people are inherently conflict driven. Nobody ever read a book or watched a movie that did not have a conflict. In every story you’ve ever read or watched, the protagonist had some conflict to solve, and if he didn’t there would be no story. In fact, the bigger the conflict, the better the story, and some of the best stories we’ve ever seen or heard or watched, did not even solve the conflict. In many cases, the best stories end not with a happy ending, but with a tragedy. Think Romeo and Juliet, these two young lovers from warring families trying to find a way to be together, and they both wind up dead under very tragic circumstances.
Does society say “Oh, that’s terrible I don’t want to see that”? No, it becomes a timeless love story passed down throughout the ages, that people will probably still be talking about at the moment of mankinds extinction.
So, no, I don’t think infighting hurts movements. What it actually does, is give people a source of entertainment, and around that, comradery is built. We become part of a faction, which is very much like a team. We look out for each other, we argue on behalf of one another, and we sharpen our debating skills against each other, which is really necessary if we’re going to be taking on the propaganda machine that is the State.
Additionally, I think that most of the time we’re actually addressing very important issues, and to reduce those issues to silly drama infighting is the real crime here. Take the discussion between anarchists and constitutionists, I mean, we’re talking about the very existence of this institution that has become the number one preventable cause of human death and suffering. To pretend that this is some petty philosophical difference to be backburnered, I think, is absolute madness. One of us wants to do away with this institution that is unfortunately extremely popular and involved in really every activity that we participate in, and the other wants to maintain this same institution that murdered 260 million of its own citizens in the last century, not including war. If that’s not worth discussing, then I don’t know what is.
And really, the more people who are watching us argue about this, the better. Televised presidential debates are some of the most watched things on television. People want to watch skilled debaters hash out their political differences in public, and in many cases its not because the are adherents to any particular ideology, it’s just entertaining. It’s the source, of a very serious conflict that has widespread implications for all of mankind.
Now, when they watch presidential debates, how informative is that? Not very, right? It’s really very stupid, to watch Barack Obama and Mitt Romney pretend that they have some meaningful differentiation between each other. When libertarians argue on the other hand, we’re actually trying to reach some kind of objective truth and hammer out real issues. This is very entertaining, and its also very informative. Even if we were completely wrong, I mean lets just pretend it was a great idea to have a massive communist government, even if that were true and we were completely out of our minds, this is just fun. You have these really intelligent entertaining people, talking about history and economics and morality and justice, and the greater organization of human society, they are talking about things that you do not normally hear in other places, and it is absolutely fascinating.
And this is why I’ve sort of branded myself as more of an entertainer than a philosopher or an economist. People aren’t generally seeking out philosophers or economists or politicians, they are seeking out entertainment. If we can grab people’s attention by being entertaining, and in the process we’re feeding them a consistent libertarian message, I think that this is a great way of spreading that message.
People are not statists because they have done a great deal of research on the subject and decided all the evidence points to authoritarian collectivism being the solution to all mankind’s problems. Right? I mean, if they had bothered to think about this for even 15 minutes, they would probably be libertarians already. The fact of the matter is, most people have no interest in any sort of objective truth, they have no interest in reason or evidence. They are part of a team, for whatever reason, being a Republican or a Democrat seems like the socially acceptable thing to do, maybe they were born into it, maybe they picked it up in college, maybe they got it from watching television, maybe they were raised in a religious family and to rebel against mom and dad they became a raving communist gay rights advocate, I don’t know, each and every one of their circumstances, but it certainly wasn’t logic, reason, or evidence that lead anybody to support Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. It just seemed like the cool thing to do at the time.
And that’s because there’s this huge entertainment culture surrounding all of this, I mean, there’s public education and this huge list of other things to blame it on, but entertainment plays a really huge role.
How many of you listen to conservative talk radio? Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Andrew Wilkow. Very entertaining stuff if you bother to get into it. I mean, if you had asked me 6 years ago if I could stand to listen to some religious zealot pontificate into a microphone for 3 to 5 hours at a clip, I’d have called you crazy, but even now I really enjoy the content. And not because it’s logical or evidence based either, I mean, some of their economic insights are very well put together, but then they go on to advocate these insane foreign policy stances and quoting the bible as an excuse to pass a law, and it’s just plain crazy, but, its very entertaining. It is pure vitriol, these guys are angry, and as I’m driving down the highway listening to these guys talk, it really gets my blood pumping sometimes, they are very effective propagandists.
There’s liberal talk radio too, but they haven’t had nearly the same success as conservative talk radio. Where the liberals have really excelled is in comedy, and maybe that’s just because there’s absolutely no hope of making left wing economic arguments sound sane, the only thing you can really do is make fun of other people, think John Stewart, the Colbert Report, and there’s a new one that just came out on HBO called “Last Week Tonight” with John Thomas. Very, very funny stuff, and millions of people are absolutely glued to it.
With the exception of some of the conservative economic analysis, none of these people are trying to be reasonable, they’re just attacking people. The conservatives yell at their rivals, the liberals make fun of theirs, people just can’t get enough of it, and especially in the case of liberal comedy, they’re not just preaching to the choir, these people are spreading ideas.
Now, let’s try to apply that business model to libertarian infighting. What if we had a form of entertainment, that was full of humor and vitriol, where the debate was not libertarians vs. the State, but libertarians vs. each other.
The debate is not between social freedom vs economic freedom, the debate was not, how big should the next war be, the debate was not to raise or lower taxes by two or three percent, the debate was whether the government should be abolished in its entirety, or be this absolutely limited institution with next to no influence over our lives. What if the debate was not which sort of anti discrimination laws should be passed, but rather whether or not the free market could or should do away with racism, sexism, and homophobia. In short, which of two libertarian solutions they should support.
This is the exact model that statism has relied on in its propaganda. You are limited to deciding which statist solution should be forced on everybody. What I have been doing, and I’ve been very successful in doing it, is creating an entire new genre of entertainment, combining the satire of liberal comedy, and the vitriol of conservative talk radio, where the list of possible conclusions is limited to libertarian ones. I, as a libertarian, take one side of a particular issue against another libertarian, and even if you conclude that I am completely and hopelessly wrong, even if you decide that I am a complete blowhard idiot, the conclusion you reach is that the other libertarian is right.
In contrast, if I go and write something criticizing Barack Obama, well, people who don’t like Barack Obama very much may really enjoy that and share it with their friends, and people who tend to see some logic in what I say, well, maybe a few of them will change their opinion. On the other hand, if they think my argument sucks, then they might conclude that Barack Obama is right, and that’s the last thing any of us want.
And there’s a technical angle on this too, that very few people understand, and it pertains to the mechanics of search engines and social media. The way search engines and social media determine your relevance is whether or not people are talking about you. Whether they are linking to you on blogs, tagging you on social media, that kind of thing. The more people are talking about you, linking to you, and tagging you, the higher you show up in the search engines, and the greater the priority of your messages on social media.
When I’m linking to CNN and talking about Fox and tagging Barack Obama on social media, I’m driving up their perceived relevance by the search engines and social media providers. Those people are never going to respond to me, and return the favor. On the other hand, when I am linking to say, Cathy Reisenwitz and I’m mentioning Antonio Buehler on twitter, I’m driving traffic to those people, I am increasing their search engine and social media presence, and they are doing me the same favor by responding. Now, I think Buehler and Reisenwitz are horrible people, I think they are evil, dishonest, liberal propagandists, but they do not advocate for government to come in and solve their problems, so it is infinitely preferable, that people be entertained by our argument, than any argument between Republicans and Democrats, and so putting each other on the front page of Google helps us mutually, and helps the cause of liberty.
And as often happens to me, I get to around the three thousand word point in an essay and begin to get bored, so I’m going to close out with this last thought and then I’m happy to answer questions and converse with all of you.
The other major thing I hear people say about infighting and division is that’s what the government wants, to divide and conquer. I don’t think anything could be further from the truth. Governments do not divide and conquer, they unite and exterminate. People in the liberty movement who want us all united and on the same path, I think really miss the point of liberty, which really is the understanding that we do not all want the same thing. We all have different motives, and goals, and aspirations, and a lot of the time those goals are mutually exclusive, that in order for one of us to succeed the other must fail. The reason we’re libertarians is because we want to be free to pursue those goals, and to compete with one another, but the government keeps on trying to force us back behind this central plan, and as libertarians we reject their authority to do so.
If libertarians want to try and create a central plan and persuade others to join it without using force, then that’s fine, but any study of economics will show you that violence is not the only reason central planning fails. It’s not in our nature, we are naturally and simultaneously both competitive and cooperative animals.
If the government really wanted more division, they would embrace multi party democracy. The most oppressive regimes throughout history have had only one political party. Hell, before that you had kings and the throne was passed down through blood lines. In the United States we’re really only one step removed by having two political parties, and I really think the reason for that is to have as little division as the people of this country could possibly tolerate.
Numerous divisions make it every difficult to unite a country behind a leader, it makes for difficult central planning, it leaves the government without any clear mandate to govern. If Barack Obama had won the election with 30% of the vote instead of 51% or whatever it was, he would have had a much more difficult time passing his agenda. And I think that’s why you see so much opposition to third parties being on the ballot and included in debates for public office. The government really wants you deciding between two candidates who have no meaningful differences between each other.
I think if you had 300 million people arguing with each other about different philosophical, moral, economic, historical, and legal inclinations, and never compromising on any of it, then the State would not be able to stand as an institution. Believe me, I would really prefer that everybody had a sound philosophical platform and understood economics and agreed with me on everything sometimes, but if that can’t be, then let’s just have so much disharmony in the world that its impossible to run a government or raise an army. At least this way we would put an end to statism and war, and I have a hard time imagining anything bad arising from that.
Thank you so much for hearing me out, and if you’re not all bored to death or thinking I’m completely out of my mind, then I’d be happy to take questions or hear your comments.
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