July 13, 2014

Clear Principles Shine through Muddied Thinking in Salon Critique of Secessionists

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” –Folk saying.

The first loyalists are breaking ranks. First they ignored us, then they laughed at us, then they fought us, and now, in recent months, they are researching what we actually say.

And they are changing their minds.

Andrew Leonard, Salon blogger who attacks Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and “techno-libertarian” straw men, read the people he criticizes and experienced a crisis of conscience. In his op-ed piece during Independence Weekend, What would the Founding Fathers have thought about our libertarian crazies? Andrew risks social censure by publicly professing his doubt:

“I confess, my working thesis when I started out was that the Founding Fathers wouldn’t be too thrilled with the selfishness of Silicon Valley. But my faith has been shaken …Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams…these men made a winning case for why the colonies should sever their ties… But what would they think of software engineer (and Milton Friedman grandson) Patri Friedman’s dream to create his own “startup country” afloat in international waters … ?””

Shaken and “in pursuit of clarity,” Andrew read the “Declaration of Independence.” He also read John Perry Barlow’s “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” and “The Education of a Libertarian” by Peter Thiel.

The authors’ shared values of human liberty resonated for Andrew. It’s fascinating to watch him fight his apostasy. Andrew peppers his reportage with adjectives like “selfish” “Looney” “ridiculous” “escapist” and compares “Silicon Valley CEOs” to “2-year-old toddlers denied that extra cupcake,” but amid the muddy stream of invective, the clear moral principle he shares with the people he’s mocking shines like gold. Andrew articulates the key verity himself:

“But when you boil it all down, the substance is straightforward: We don’t like the way we are being treated, so we are opting out of the current arrangement … And really, what could be more American? The great lure of the founding story of the United States is its tale of successful escape. The Founding Fathers pulled it off — they acted in their self -interest, threw off a burdensome government and, well, made glorious history. It’s no myth. It actually happened.”

Despite putting scare quotes around “startup countries,” Andrew writes his blog from a startup country which pioneered his right to write freely. Despite comparing Silicon Valley CEOs to toddlers, he posts liberally on Facebook, which might not exist if “despiser” Peter Thiel had not risked a half million as the pioneer investor. And while declaring John Perry Barlow’s worries about threats to digital privacy, free expression, and innovation “imaginary,” Andrew neglects to mention that Barlow co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which so far has successfully defended Andrew’s digital privacy, free expression, and innovation. EFF’s current David-and-Goliath death match with the NSA is certainly not imaginary.

Let’s declare it the Pioneer Principle: You can measure how much benefit you bring the world by the resentment of those who take those benefits for granted. Since libertarians spend their own money to build platforms that empower individuals, nobody who builds a city on a floating platform can avoid the label “libertarian.” But if we remain persistent in our principles, someday a future Andrew Leonard will sneer at libertarian principles on Independence Day, on Facebook, from his seastead– and the cycle of laughing, fighting, investigating the origin of your freedoms, and changing your mind will repeat again.

Onward to a liberated humanity,
Joe Quirk