Libertarians v. libertarians: the problem of purity

I was first inspired to begin writing this post over a year ago when I read the blog post entitled Libertarians: the problems of purity. It is over a year in the making, not because of its depth or greatness (hardly), but because of the challenge for the author of expressing my beliefs in a way that is comprehensible to others.

My plea is this – Libertarians (note uppercase L which indicates party affiliation) need to stop putting purity tests on libertarians (note lowercase l which indicates philosophical affiliation). My primary source for this plea is the World’s Smallest Political Quiz (aka the Advocate’s Quiz, aka the Nolan Chart).

Ms. Apple's Nolan Chart

Let’s take the above as an example. Ms. Apple is a school teacher who is intensely against adult possession and use of drugs including marijuana and even alcohol. She thinks that prostitution should remain illegal, but has no problem with homosexual marriage. She also is intensely pro First Amendment, against a draft and detests the idea of a National ID card.

In addition, Ms. Apple thinks the government safety net should definitely remain in place. To do this she believes spending and tax could be cut, but not drastically. She favors ending all forms of welfare, save the safety net and is a proponent of free trade.

According to the Nolan Chart Ms. Apple scores as a libertarian, falling just above the centrist line at a score of 70/70.

Now the problem.

Mr. Myself is an apex libertarian scoring 100/100 on the Nolan Chart. He  is very proud of his "credentials," but the truth is he has gotten to his positions over time. In fact, he started out very near where Ms. Apple is today.

The problem as I see it is when Mr. Myself encounters Ms. Apple online during a Facebook debate on marijuana legalization. It is likely Mr. Myself will attempt to persuade Ms. Apple to see it his way, citing innumerable statistics and Reason Magazine articles. After some time, it is likely reductio ad hitlerum will lead to Mr. Myself to believe that Ms. Apple is Dr. Mengele reincarnate and Ms. Apple will view Myself as Bill Murray’s groundskeeper character of Carl Spackler in Caddy Shack.

 Josef_Mengele   vs.    images-9

I have seen this played out (yes, even played my part in) countless conversations both online and in person and it always leads to one fewer Libertarian. We need to stop the madness.

My suggested remedy comes from Edwin Friedman, author of one of my all-time favorite books, A Failure of Nerve. In the preface is this gem, Friedman writes, "The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change." For more on this visit a previous post about this quote.

Friedman’s prescription is simply this – If you care about the relationship and want to advance your cause, figure out how to remain connected to the other person and let them know you are there to support them.

Yep, that is it. No cajoling, no more statistics, no more posts. Just remain available in what he calls in a non anxious presence mode.

If the Libertarian Party is to advance we need more leaders who embrace this mode of thinking. We have to stop ostracizing people, especially those with whom we agree on so much.

Who will join me?


The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change. – Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, p. ix

edwin-friedmanThis quote, with which I often open a speaking engagement, has had a profound impact on my career and, indeed, my life. Its application ubiquitous – to family, to colleagues, to church groups, to political parties, to international relations – and I encounter its effects daily and often multiple times in one day.

The name of this post is, maybe not so obviously, an acronym for this quote. In the past week I have used it, the acronym no less than four times in various on-line conversations. (One person, after just seeing the jumble of letters, asked me if I was alright. I think, perhaps, they thought I was having a stroke.)

Just yesterday I was in a conversation with a colleague about some folks who seemed to be caught up in the past. In a meeting he attended with them, they were unmoved by the mounting evidence he was presenting that the situation was, in fact, changing. This was clearly contrary to their belief and they refused to accept it.

He then asked how I might approach changing their minds. I was, yet again, reminded of Friedman’s great quote. I replied that it is futile to try to change their minds because, well, it is their mind, not his.

I did suggest that in the future when confronted with a similar situation he ask the following question, “Are you willing to admit that there is a possibility that the situation could improve in the future?”

I said that only if he gets an affirmative response to this question should he agree to continue the conversation. Anything other than a “Yes” response would mean it would be futile to continue. If an individual or group is unwilling to recognize this possibility, no amount of data, evidence, anecdotes or emotional appeals will change them. Continuing the conversation will only heighten your anxiety and theirs.

Which reminds me of another famous quote by Robert Heinlein, “Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”

What about you? Are you open to the possibility of a better future?

PS – If you are interested in learning more about the work of Edwin Friedman this video provides an good overview.