Daryl Davis can be a model for how to change people’s minds.
“How can people hate me, when they don’t even know me?”
This is the question that drives the subject of a fantastic new documentary on Netflix called “Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race, and America,” directed by Matt Ornstein.
For the past 30 years, soul musician Daryl Davis has been traveling the country in search of an answer in the most dangerous way possible for a black man in America: by directly engaging with members the Ku Klux Klan.
He’s invited KKK members into his home, he’s had countless conversations, and as unlikely as it seems, now considers a number of them to be his friends.
Daryl might say that he’s not really even doing anything special besides treating his enemies with respect and kindness in the hopes of actually dissuading them from their hateful views.
Yet, that’s something almost no one else has the courage to do, even when the risks are considerably lower.
Disagreements are stressful and difficult, and the more horrifying someone else’s viewpoint is, the easier it is to dismiss the people who hold those beliefs as inhuman garbage who simply can’t be reasoned with. Social media has also made dehumanizing people considerably easier, as we all get to interact with people from around the world without ever seeing their faces or considering their feelings.
As a result, we live in an increasingly polarized time when a lot of people are saying that the only answer to hate and awful ideas is to meet them with even more hate, more anger, outrage, and even violence.
And it’s not just a problem when dealing with the worst ideas in human history like racial supremacy and fascism. Some people now take this approach for even trivial and academic disagreements.
Don’t like a speaker coming to campus? Silence them and prevent them from getting into the auditorium.
Don’t like what a Facebook friend has to say? Block them.
And of course, if you think someone you meet is a white supremacist or a neo-Nazi, the only thing left to do is punch them in the face.
Punching Doesn’t Work
But consider that most of human history is filled with people allowing their disagreements to turn into bloody, horrific warfare; it’s only our commitment to dealing with our adversaries peacefully through speech and conversation that has allowed us to become more civilized. So escalating conflicts into violence should be seen as the worst kind of social failure.
And besides, punching people who disagree with you doesn’t actually change their minds or anyone else’s, so we’re still left with the same deceptively difficult question before and after:
When people believe in wrongheaded or terrible things, how do we actually persuade them to stop believing the bad ideas, and get them to start believing in good ones instead?
Judging by social media, most people seem to believe that it’s possible to yell at people or insult and ridicule them until they change their minds. Unfortunately, as cathartic as it feels to let out your anger against awful people, this just isn’t an effective strategy to reduce the amount of people who hold awful ideas.
In fact, if you do this, your opponents (and even more people who are somewhat sympathetic to their views, or just see themselves as part of the same social group) might actually walk away even more strongly committed to their bad ideas than they were before.
The evidence from psychology is pretty clear on this.
We know from studies conducted by neuroscientists like Joseph LeDoux that people’s amygdalas — the part of the brain that processes raw emotions — can actually bypass their rational minds and create a fight-or-flight response when they feel threatened or attacked. Psychologist Daniel Goleman called this an “Amygdala Hijack,” and it doesn’t just apply to physical threats.
People’s entire personal identity is often wrapped up in their political or philosophical beliefs, and a strong verbal attack against those beliefs actually creates a response in the brain of the target similar to a menacing lunge.
Even presenting facts or arguments that directly conflict with people’s core beliefs or identities can actually cause people to cling to those beliefs more tightly after they’ve been presented with contrary evidence. Political scientists like Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler have been studying this phenomenon for over 10 years and call it the “Backfire Effect“.
And when the people whose minds we desperately need to change are racists and fascists (or socialists and communists, for that matter), a strategy that actually backfires and pushes more people towards those beliefs is the last thing we need.
Principles of Persuasion
The good news is that in addition to knowing what doesn’t work, we also know a lot about how to talk to people in ways that are actually persuasive — and the existing research strongly supports Daryl Davis’s approach.
One of these principles is called “reciprocity”, and it’s based on the idea that people feel obliged to treat you the way you treat them. So, if you treat them with kindness and humility, most people will offer you the same courtesy. On the other hand, if you treat them with contempt, well…
Another principle Cialdini describes is the idea of “liking”.
It’s almost too obvious, but it turns out that if someone likes you personally and believes that you like them, it’s easier to convince them that your way of thinking is worth considering. One easy step towards being liked is to listen to others and find common ground through shared interests. This can be a bridge – or a shortcut – to getting other people to see you as a friend or part of their tribe.
You might think somebody like Daryl Davis would have nothing in common with a KKK member, but according to Daryl, if you “spend 5 minutes talking to someone and you’ll find something in common,” and if you “spend 10 minutes, and you’ll find something else in common.”
In the film, he connects with several people about music, and you can see these connections paying off — breaking down barriers and providing many Klan members with a rare (and in some cases only) opportunity to interact with a black man as a human being worth respecting instead of an enemy.
Even better, over time, forming these relationships has had an interesting side-effect.
In the last couple decades alone, over 200 of America’s most ardent white supremacists have left the Ku Klux Klan and hung up their robes and hoods for good.
Many of those robes now hang in Daryl’s closet.
And in a lot of cases, these individual conversions have much bigger consequences and end multi-generational cycles of bigotry. When a mother or a father leaves the darkness of the Klan, they’re also bringing their kids into the light with them. A few of these cases are profiled in “Accidental Courtesy”, and they’re indescribably moving.
Daryl Davis can be a model for how to change people’s minds and with everything that’s going on in the world today, we need successful models now more than ever.
Making Friends From Enemies
There’s another point to all of this that I think often goes unsaid.
Unlike Daryl, most of us aren’t actually interacting with KKK members or trying to change people’s minds away from truly evil ideologies, and yet we all fall to the temptation of yelling and name-calling, and using all those techniques of influence that have the opposite of our intended or desired effect.
It’s easy to allow outrage and emotion carry us off into treating other people as inhuman enemies to be crushed rather than human beings to be persuaded.
But if Daryl’s techniques can work to convince die-hard white supremacists that a black man — and perhaps eventually all black people — are worthy of respect, imagine how effective they can be when disagreements crop up with your friends, neighbors, and co-workers who don’t actually hate you or the things you stand for.
Who knows, if you have more genuine conversations with people outside your bubble, you might even find yourself changing a little bit for the better as well.
“Accidental Courtesy” teaches us that the way to deal with wrong or evil ideas isn’t shouting them down or starting a fight; it’s having the courage to do what Daryl did and making a friend out of an enemy.
Sean Malone is the Director of Media at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). His films have been featured in the mainstream media and throughout the free-market educational community.
The Rational Argumentator again features this piece by Rodney Rawlings — a musical paean to Halley’s Comet — the feeling of the once-in-a-lifetime expectation and approach of the comet, its spectacular and beautiful show, and its eternal farewell.
This statement was published on August 22, 2017 on the Ludwig von Mises Institute website. It is reprinted here pursuant to the Creative Commons license associated therewith (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).
Like me, many of you watched President Trump’s train wreck of a speech on Afghanistan earlier tonight . It’s nearly midnight and I am still reeling.
I guess it was too much to ask to hear him admit the obvious and draw the obvious conclusions: After 16 years – the longest war in US history – no one even remembers what we are fighting for in Afghanistan. The war is over. Not another American (or innocent Afghan) life for one of the most convoluted and idiotic wars in history! Trump of 2012 and 2013 said just that. Candidate Trump said just that. Then tonight he told us that once you sit in that chair in the Oval Office you see things differently.
What does that mean? Once elected you betray your promises so as to please the deep state? Here’s the truth that neither President Trump nor his newfound neocon coterie can deny:
1) A gang of radical Saudis attacked the US on 9/11. Their leader, Osama bin Laden, was a CIA favorite when he was fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. He clearly listed his grievances after he fell out with his CIA sponsors: US sanctions in Iraq were killing innocents; US policy grossly favored the Israelis in the conflict with Palestinians; and US troops in his Saudi holy land were unacceptable.
2) Osama’s radicals roamed from country to country until they were able to briefly settle in chaotic late 1990s Afghanistan for a time. They plotted the attack on the US from Florida, Germany, and elsewhere. They allegedly had a training camp in Afghanistan. We know from the once-secret 28 pages of the Congressional Intelligence Committee report on 9/11 that they had Saudi state sponsorship.
3) Bin Laden’s group of Saudis attacked the US on 9/11. Washington’s neocons attacked Afghanistan and then Iraq in retaliation, neither of which had much to do with bin Laden or 9/11. Certainly not when compared to the complicity of the Saudi government at the highest levels.
4) Sixteen years – and trillions of dollars and thousands of US military lives – later no one knows what the goals are in Afghanistan. Not even Trump, which is why he said tonight that he would no longer discuss our objectives in Afghanistan but instead would just concentrate on “killing terrorists.”
Gen. Mike Flynn had it right in 2015 when he said that the US drone program was creating more terrorists than it was killing. Trump’s foolish escalation will do the same. It will fail because it cannot do otherwise. It will only create more terrorists to justify more US intervention. And so on until our financial collapse. The US government cannot kill its way to peace in Afghanistan. Or anywhere else.
Daniel McAdams is the Executive Director of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.
Will Congress and Trump Declare War on WikiLeaks? – Article by Ron Paul
The Senate Intelligence Committee recently passed its Intelligence Authorization Act for 2018 that contains a chilling attack on the First Amendment. Section 623 of the act expresses the “sense of Congress” that WikiLeaks resembles a “non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors and should be treated as such.” This language is designed to delegitimize WikiLeaks, encourage the federal government to spy on individuals working with WikiLeaks, and block access to WikiLeaks’ website. This provision could even justify sending US forces abroad to arrest WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange or other WikiLeaks personnel.
WikiLeaks critics claim that the organization’s leaks harm US national security. However, these critics are unable to provide a single specific example of WikiLeaks’ actions harming the American people. WikiLeaks does harm the reputations of federal government agencies and politicians, however. For example, earlier this year WikiLeaks released information on the CIA’s hacking program. The leaks did not reveal any details on operations against foreign targets, but they did let the American people know how easy it is for the government to hack into their electronic devices.
For the last year, most of the news surrounding WikiLeaks has centered on its leak of emails showing how prominent Democrats worked to undermine Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. In order to deflect attention from these revelations, Democrats, aided by their allies in the media and even some Republicans, promulgated a conspiracy theory blaming the leaks on Russian hackers working to defeat Hillary Clinton. Even though there is no evidence the Russians were behind the leaks, many in both parties are still peddling the “Putin did it” narrative. This aids an effort by the deep state and its allies in Congress and the media to delegitimize last year’s election, advance a new Cold War with Russia, and criminalize WikiLeaks.
If the government is successful in shutting down WikiLeaks by labeling it a “hostile intelligence service,” it will use this tactic to silence other organizations and websites as well. The goal will be to create a climate of fear to ensure no one dares publish the revelations of a future Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning.
Some have suggested that criticizing police brutality, the surveillance state, the Federal Reserve, or even federal spending aids “hostile foreign powers” by weakening the people’s “trust in government.” This line of reasoning could be used to silence, in the name of “national security,” websites critical of the welfare-warfare state.
By labeling WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service” and thus legitimizing government action against the organization, the Senate Intelligence Authorization Act threatens the ability of whistleblowers to inform the public about government misdeeds. It also sets a precedent that could be used to limit other types of free speech.
President Trump should make it clear he will veto any bill giving government new powers to silence organizations like WikiLeaks. If President Trump supports the war on WikiLeaks, after candidate Trump proclaimed his love for WikiLeaks, it will be further proof that he has outsourced his presidency to the deep state.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, along with notable whistleblowers, foreign policy experts, and leading champions of peace and liberty, will be addressing this important issue at my Institute for Peace and Prosperity’s conference on Saturday, September 9 at the Dulles Airport Marriott Hotel in Dulles, Virginia outside of Washington, D.C. You can get more information about the conference and purchase tickets at the Ron Paul Institute.
Ron Paul, MD, is a former three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President and Congressman from Texas.
21st-century Americans shouldn’t pick a side in the Civil War.
We’re fighting the Civil War again. Whenever both major parties drop any pretense of addressing the real problems facing American taxpayers, their constituents revert to having at each other in “the culture wars.” And no culture war would be complete without relitigating what should now be settled history: the reasons for the Civil War.
Americans sympathetic to the Union generally believe the war was fought to end slavery or to “rescue the slaves” from political kidnapping by the slave states, that seceded from the Union to avoid impending abolition.
“No,” say those sympathetic to the Confederacy. The states seceded over states’ rights, particularly their right not to be victimized by high protectionist tariffs, paid mostly by southern states, but spent mostly on what we’d now call corporate welfare and infrastructure projects in the north.
That the states seceded for a different reason than the war was fought seems to elude everyone.
States’ Rights, Tariffs, or Slavery?
There is plenty of secondary literature presenting evidence on both sides, which is why Americans are still arguing this tired point over 150 years after the war ended. But there is a pretty simple way to clear the air. Just read the primary sources and take everyone at his word.
Many of the Confederate states published declarations explaining their reasons for seceding from the Union. The problem for those making the tariff argument is only a few of these declarations even mention the tariff, and then only in passing. The declarations of South Carolina, Mississippi and Texas don’t mention taxes or economic policy at all.
But what all the declarations state loud and clear is the seceding states’ objections to the federal government not fulfilling its constitutional duty to execute fugitive slave laws, the election of a president who campaigned saying the Union could not survive “half slave and half free,” and their belief that the Republican Party’s determination to keep slavery out of new territories would eventually lead to abolition of the institution in their own states.
The passage which is perhaps most damning to the tariff theory comes from Georgia’s Declaration, which reads:
The party of Lincoln, called the Republican party, under its present name and organization, is of recent origin. It is admitted to be an anti-slavery party. While it attracts to itself by its creed the scattered advocates of exploded political heresies, of condemned theories in political economy, the advocates of commercial restrictions, of protection, of special privileges, of waste and corruption in the administration of Government, anti-slavery is its mission and its purpose. By anti-slavery it is made a power in the state.
The passage is accurate. The Republican Party was indeed comprised of a coalition between abolitionists and former members of the Whig Party, like Lincoln, who still sought to implement Henry Clay’s “American System” of protectionist tariffs, “internal improvements” (viz. “infrastructure”) and a central bank. But the Georgia Declaration dismisses this as merely an incidental observation and emphasizes the party’s opposition to slavery. One cannot help but conclude that Georgia, while objecting to the American System, was willing to tolerate it, but would not tolerate any threat to slavery.
It is true that not all states eventually part of the Confederacy seceded at the same time. Four seceded only after Lincoln called for volunteers from state militias to put down what he considered a rebellion. Arkansas, in particular, cited the Union’s attempt to coerce it into making war on the seceded states as its reason for seceding itself. Nevertheless, none of this would have happened had the first seven states of the Confederacy not seceded for their stated reason: fear of the eventual abolition of slavery.
It is after presenting this airtight evidence that advocates of Lincoln and the war commit their grand non-sequitur: namely, that because the lower southern states seceded over slavery, Lincoln must have fought the war to abolish it. But just as the tariff or states’ rights theories are belied by the seceding states’ own words, so, too, is the abolition theory belied by Lincoln’s.
In his first inaugural, Lincoln reassured the seceded states he had no intention of seeking abolition of slavery where it already existed and that he fully acknowledged the constitutional duty of the federal government to uphold fugitive slave laws. He even goes so far as to say those laws will be upheld as “cheerfully” as any others under the Constitution.
What Lincoln says he will not tolerate is secession itself. Contrary to the plain words of the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln claims “no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.” And he goes on to state clearly why he will later prosecute the Civil War.
In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere.
Stay off federal property and pay your taxes and I won’t invade. That was Lincoln’s message to the seceded states. Not only did he not insist they free their slaves, he wrote each of the governors promising his support for the Corwin Amendment to the Constitution, which would guarantee the “rights” of the slaveholding states to continue the institution in perpetuity.
Some Lincoln apologists offer the theory that Lincoln’s motivations changed over the course of the war and that he came to view freeing the slaves as the primary reason for fighting it. Again, Lincoln’s own words contradict this. In a letter to Horace Greeley, written just a month before he issued his first Emancipation Proclamation, having already discussed it with his cabinet a month before, Lincoln wrote:
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.
It doesn’t get any plainer than that.
Stopping Picking Sides
There is no reason to doubt Lincoln’s personal, philosophical opposition to slavery, but it wasn’t the reason he fought the Civil War. We know this because he said so, repeatedly. And it is by no means a leap, based on his lifelong political beliefs and what he said himself during his first inaugural, that the reason it was so important for him to “save the Union” was because he couldn’t pursue his big-government agenda without the seceding states’ taxes. That’s quite a poor reason to start a war in which 600,000 to a million Americans are killed by their fellow Americans.
While Lincoln may not have fought the war to end slavery, there is no doubt it directly led to abolition, something every other civilized country achieved peacefully. But it also had permanent, negative effects on the American republic. It destroyed the view of the United States as a voluntary union. It set precedents for expansion of executive power which would be cited again and again by future presidents seeking new ones. And it forever associated limiting federal power and secession with slavery and racism.
21st-century Americans shouldn’t pick a side in the Civil War. Much like the brawl between the White Supremacists and Antifa in Charlottesville, Va., it was fought by two tyrannical powers for mostly evil purposes. The best we can do today is understand what really happened and work to rehabilitate the bedrock American principles of limited, decentralized government and the natural right of secession, good ideas given a bad name by Lincoln and the Confederates alike.
Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party, delivered this presentation as the initial speech in the panel discussion he moderated at RAAD Fest 2017, entitled “Advocating for the Future”. The audience consisted of approximately 700 in-person attendees.
Other speakers in the panel included Zoltan Istvan, Ben Goertzel, Max More, and Natasha Vita-More.
Gennady Stolyarov II Prepares to Present and Moderate Panel at RAAD Fest 2017
Gennady Stolyarov II Presents at RAAD Fest 2017
Gennady Stolyarov II Moderates Question-and-Answer Session for Panel: “Advocating for the Future” – RAAD Fest 2017
From left to right, Zoltan Istvan, Gennady Stolyarov II, Max More, Ben Goertzel, and Natasha Vita-More
I admire the courage of Ford Fischer, who reported the events of the Charlottesville street riots directly from the scene and obtained close-up, highly informative documentary footage regarding the tragic events that transpired. He was even a victim of collateral damage; some of the pepper spray aimed at the fascist marchers instead found its way to him.
I recommend that everyone watch his 23-minute documentary in order to have a better understanding of the facts on the ground.
My impressions, based on Mr. Fischer’s reporting, are that the entire situation was a volatile powder keg – with tempers running high and many regrettably radicalized, armed, and incensed demonstrators looking for a fight. “Who started it” was often difficult to discern in the various brawls – although clearly the murder was committed by a detestable and ruthless alt-right white supremacist. More generally, though, past a certain point, once the violence is in full swing, distinguishing between legitimate self-defense and the initiation of force becomes nearly impossible in the din and chaos (a confusion readily taken advantage of by opportunistic fanatics who relish violence).
This is why, to the extent possible, the infrastructure of society should be configured to prevent such “powder keg” situations from emerging in the first place. Once civil discourse (which could include heated but peaceful and polite debate) is replaced with the shouting of expletives and threats by lines of armed rioters, it only takes one particularly unhinged individual to commit an atrocity. Most people, I hold, are decent and inclined toward peaceful behavior; this probably included most protesters – even on the alt-right side (who probably just wanted to hear their leaders speak). However, events such as these necessarily attract the minority of persons who temperamentally crave violence – and those people, irrespective of ideology, rile up the rest until the chaos is uncontrollable. For them, ideology is epiphenomenal, and violence is an end in itself.
In the immediate moment, police should have taken a more active role in separating the demonstrators. The right of free speech, even obnoxious or heinous speech, should be protected as long as it remains speech only. However, there is no reason for “in your face” confrontations between two incensed opposing sides. Mr. Fischer noted that the police initially took a largely “hands-off” attitude with respect to brawls. This was a mistake on the police’s part; each brawl constitutes assault and battery – criminal acts. Both the protest and counter-protest might have ended peacefully had a line of police remained between the opposing sides at all times. What was interesting is that a contingent of private militiamen was also present and impartial, desiring only to keep the peace and aid those who were injured. There is a role for this kind of citizen initiative (but only to keep the peace, and only to help), and I wonder if this might be part of the solution for future events where the police fail to protect life and property.
In the long-term, though, what is required is a revival of cultural standards of decency and tolerance in discourse – the prizing of civility and the search for constructive common ground, rather than the complete denunciation and demonization of those who disagree with one’s point of view. Because of deteriorating norms of conduct and a toxic media culture that has fomented political insults as entertainment, we have reached a crisis point where too many people have become radicalized beyond the condition where they even recognize that common ground might exist. So they try to beat one another with sticks instead of beating one another in debate. But words can still work. Words can change the culture – not right away, but with enough perseverance. This will be the work of decent persons who abhor violence and desire for precious lives and infrastructure to be preserved.
This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarovhere.
The Rational Argumentator’s Fifteenth Anniversary Manifesto
As of today The Rational Argumentator has been in publication continuously for fifteen years – half of my lifetime to date. The more time passes, the more the value of continuity is reinforced for me, and so I hope that these fifteen years have only been an auspicious beginning for The Rational Argumentator. TRA shall continually endeavor to improve and expand in new directions, but always by building upon the old and by remaining rooted in a core identity – the championing of the principles of Reason, Rights, and Progress – the ideas that made Western civilization great. These ideals will hopefully be applied to forge a new global, universal human (and transhuman) civilization which we – all reasonable and decent people who wish to join this effort – can assemble by picking up the pieces of the wreckage of our unfortunate, downward-spiraling moment in history.
We live today in what Robert Heinlein prognosticated in his science fiction as the “Crazy Years”, which he described as exhibiting “Considerable technical advance during this period, accompanied by a gradual deterioration of mores, orientation, and social institutions” – gradual deterioration that became quite sudden and cataclysmic in 2016 and 2017. The climate of contemporary societies and political systems, particularly that of the United States, evokes William Butler Yeats’s famous lines:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The deterioration cannot be attributed to any particular individual or even faction (these are, at most, symptoms), but rather to the fraying general fabric of contemporary Western, particularly American, life. Those who have regularly read the pages of The Rational Argumentator will not be surprised at my view that the deterioration is primarily due to the abandonment of upward aspiration both within mainstream culture and among various subcultures – a rejection of 18th-century Enlightenment meliorism and an embrace of postmodern aimlessness. To reverse this tendency, now, more than ever, it is essential to emphasize the importance of rational inquiry, civil discourse, and the mindset of building a civilization – as opposed to militant subjectivism (where a person considers his or her feelings to be unquestioned dogma – and woe to those who challenge them!), coarse crudity in manners, riotousness, and the mindset of “tearing down the system” in a futile attempt to start from scratch. We cannot and must not start over – for the primitive state of humankind is far worse than our admittedly deeply imperfect morass of institutions and norms. But we can – and we must – repair and build upon the achievements of the past, combining them with new technologies and insights to forge the next great era of our civilization, a project I outline briefly in a two-party video series, “The Great Transhumanist Game”.
Amid the turmoil, I was pleased to see that The Rational Argumentator has gained notice and achieved significant increases in its visitation, receiving 1,087,149 total page views during its fifteenth year, as compared to 823,968 page views the year prior. Cumulative lifetime TRA visitation stands at 10,979,785 page views, and I am confident that the 11-million mark will be exceeded in September 2017. Perhaps more readers are seeking an antidote to the Crazy Years. Reason is that antidote, and these pages provide it in abundance.
During its fifteenth year, TRA published 140 features. While this was a lower rate of publication than the 208 to 314 features published per year in the preceding five years, TRA has at the same time become allied with the United States Transhumanist Party, of which I became Chairman in November 2016. The U.S. Transhumanist Party website has been brimming with new content, contributed by a wide variety of forward-thinking minds, and I am proud that this young but steadily growing organization has published 105 features during my tenure as Chairman thus far. I am also proud of the cadre of volunteer Officers that the U.S. Transhumanist Party has assembled – a team of dedicated advocates for the future, which will hopefully greatly expand with time and become the core of a movement that will transform and redirect society and culture back toward the ideals of reason and amelioration.
Thus, for the upcoming year, I pose an ambitious task for The Rational Argumentator and its readers. Let us make sure that Yeats’s words remain a warning rather than the ever-present reality. The center must hold, and we must ensure that it holds. Each of us can participate in this project. We must become the center upon which human civilization depends for its survival, continuity, and growth. Through both great endeavors and small, routine maintenance tasks; through creation of elevated and noble works, as well as everyday kindnesses to the people in our lives; through the rhetoric that inspires great aspirations and the decorum that conveys respect and uplifts our sentiments into the realm of good will – we must be the agents of cultural transformation – a New Renaissance, a Re-Enlightenment, indeed, a Recivilization to follow the Crazy Years. One of my most inspired moments of the past year has been seeing the finished painting of the City of New Antideath, which I commissioned from artist Ekaterinya Vladinakova. I invite you to gaze upon this colossal cityscape to gain glimpses at an era where all of our major aims – the return of reason as the paradigm for life, the attainment of indefinite longevity, the liberation of humankind from privation and conflict – have been attained. May it inspire you to go forth and take the many necessary incremental steps toward such a world.
This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarovhere.
The Violence in Charlottesville – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker
The vast majority of people in the United States have no interest whatsoever in street battles between the alt-right (better described today in more poignant terms) and the counter-protesters. Most people have normal problems like paying bills, dealing with kids, getting health care, keeping life together under all the usual strains, and mostly want these weird people to go away. So, of course, people are shocked at scenes of young people in the streets of this picturesque town with a university founded by Thomas Jefferson screaming, “Jews will not replace us.”
It’s hard to see, hard to hear. But they are not going away. For some people with heads full of violent ideology, what’s happened so far is not enough. They imagine that with their marches, flags, uniforms, slogans, chants, screams, and guns, they will cause history to erupt and dramatically turn to favor them over the people they hate. Indeed, what is unfolding right now, with real loss of property and life, has gone beyond politics as usual and presages something truly terrible from the past, something most of us had previously believed was unrepeatable.
What in the world causes such a thing? It’s not about bad people as such. Many of the young men and women involved in this movement were raised in good homes and, under normal conditions, would never hurt anyone. What this is about is bad ideas. They crawl into the brain and cause people to imagine things that do not exist. It can be like a disease that a person doesn’t even know that he or she has. It causes people to seethe with hatred for no apparent reason, to long for the extermination of people who have never done anything wrong, to imagine insane outcomes of social struggles that have zero chance of succeeding.
The implausibility of their ideas is disguised by group psychology. They hang around people who think these same things and egg each other on in shared resentments and dreams of new powers they can acquire if they act boldly, bravely, and with determination. They conjure up scapegoats (blacks, Jews, women, Antifa, gays, and a government that is supposedly giving them all privileges at their expense) and begin to believe that the only way forward is to destroy them all in some grand uprising, after which they will seize power and rule forever.
Yes, I know it sounds insane. But one thing you learn from history is that no idea is too insane to be off limits to a group infected with a longing to rule. Any means to the end will do, with the end deeply embedded in the fevered imagination of the group member who finds mission, meaning, and significance from some struggle.
The Statue Myth
Much of the media coverage about the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia report that this all began with a dispute over the fate of a statue of the Civil War Confederate general Robert E. Lee that sits downtown. The city council voted to take it down; the protesters want it to remain as a symbol of white pride and rule (which is absurd because General Lee would have been thoroughly repulsed by the ideology these people represent). In actual fact, the dispute over this statue is a complete distraction from the real motivation here.
What this really is: an explosive expression of an idea that has been brewing in a malevolent movement that has been gaining steam for very a long time. After the Second World War, most people imagined that Nazi ideology was gone from the earth and that the only real totalitarian view that remained to threaten liberty was Communism. That might have been true for a few decades, but matters began to change in the 1990s, as new violent strains of statism begin to arise.
The Deep History
For the last two years, I’ve written about the deep history of this violent strain, which can be described variously as Nazism, fascism, alt-right, white supremacy, white nationalism, neo-reaction, or, my preferred and more technical moniker (borrowed from Ludwig von Mises), right-Hegelianism.
People have variously wondered why I’ve spent so much time and energy digging through the works of people like Johann Fichte, Friedrich List, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, Charles Davenport, Oswald Spengler, Carl Schmitt, Julius Evola, Giovanni Gentile, and so on (many of my writings on these people are here). All of these ideas existed long before Hitler and the Nazis – and caused enormous damage in the world long before the Holocaust – and they persist after them.
It’s true that probably not even one of the protesters in Charlottesville have read these thinkers, much less the traditional liberal response to these rightist strain of anti-liberalism. How can they possibly be responsible?
Ideas are strangely magical, like time-traveling spiritual DNA, moving from brain to brain like a genetic mutation and just as unpredictably. Keynes was right to observe that most politicians are slaves to some defunct economist; in the same way these violent thugs are slaves to some defunct philosopher who loathed the emergence of universal freedom in the world during the 19th century and were determined to set it back.
Propagandists for Evil
At the same time, there must be some mode of transmission for ideas. The leaders of this movement serve the purpose well, but there is a deeper root. I’ve been very reluctant to mention what might be the most influential tract among the rise of the hard statist right in the last few decades, but given where we are with all of this, it is time. The book is The Turner Diaries, written by “Andrew McDonald” who was really William L. Pierce, a brilliant physicist whose mind was taken over by Nazi ideology, precisely because he was steeped in the literature above.
I do not recommend reading this book. You can’t unread it. It is their roadmap. I can recall the first time I read it. I was shaken to my very core, and it was the beginning of a new realization of the task before us, to combat this horror with every bit of intellectual energy.
It is the story of a small junta of whites who set out to reverse history with a series of killings, starting with Jews, then blacks, then communists, and then, inevitably, apologists for the merchant class and libertarians (they hate us deeply too). What you learn early on here is that this movement is absolutely socialist, just in a different way from the more-famous left-wing socialists. They are not red shirts but brown shirts, so they have a different agenda. It’s not about class struggle. It’s about race struggle, religious struggle, gender identity struggle, national struggle.
So what happens? They rally the masses to their side with a growing amount of bloodshed, gain control of the government, set up a centrally planned socialist state, get hold of the nuclear stockpile and slaughter all non-whites in the world. Sorry for the spoiler.
The Genetic Code
Why would anyone rally behind such a ghastly book? Again, the human mind is capable of imagining terrible things, and that which we imagine to be true influences actions. Ideas, as they say, have consequences. Hence, anyone who has followed the transmission of these ideas over the last decades could see where this is heading.
What happens now? The tragedy is compounded, with a burgeoning leftist movement to counter the emerging threat from the opposite side, and a government ready to exploit the conflict between the two to crack down further on human rights and freedoms. It’s the perfect storm.
The question is: what to do now? The answer lies in the source of the problem. The huge mess began with bad ideas. The only means available – and it is the most powerful – is to fight bad ideas with good ideas. We all need to throw ourselves into the intellectual battle most of all and as never before. What are those good ideas?
The progress of the last 500 years shows us precisely what the good ideas are: social harmony, human rights, the aspiration of universal dignity, the conviction that we can work together in mutual advantage, the market economy as a means of peace and prosperity, and, above all else, the beauty and magnificence of the idea of liberty itself.
Let us all – those who love peace, prosperity, and human flourishing for all – not despair but rather rededicate ourselves to the mission of replacing bad ideas with good ones. Our predecessors in this mission faced far worse odds and they prevailed, and they were far fewer than us. We can too, provided we think, speak, and act with courage and conviction in favor of all that is beautiful and true. This is how the left/right cycle of violence will be replaced by the highest longings of the human heart.
Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.