Sunday, March 27, 2011

What Can I Do? The Eternal Libertarian Dilemma, Solved

So you've just finished explaining the moral tenets and economic principles of the libertarian social framework to your best friend, coworker, family member, fellow protest attendee, grocery clerk, quiet old man on a park bench, argumentative person riding public transit with you or loved or unloved one alike.

Miracle of all miracles, they've allowed you to say your piece without interrupting (more or less) and after a short pause, they end up citing their agreement. For some, it's a moment of exhilaration and excitement, for others it's a moment of frustration and resentful final submission to the unrelenting power of consistent, dispassionate logic. Either way, they agree with you and have intellectually come on board.

And then, it happens. The most dreaded question a committed libertarian can hear from someone they've just converted.

"Okay, so the world is a mess and everything I've been told up to this point in my life has basically been a great, big lie. It's completely rotten and now I'm upset and want to change things. What can I do?"

Careful now, careful! There are many potential responses to this question and almost all of them have led to some form of disaster in the past. One has been known to steal this vital energy just unlocked and channel it into a lifetime of pointless and ineffective political agitation. Another has caused many a good person to turn away from the rest of the world almost completely, traumatized by utter delusion and hopelessness about humanity. Still another has given back the victory as suddenly as it was won as the ex-convert becomes disgusted and angered with the libertarian's honest declaration that "I can only open your eyes, not show you the way. Part of being a libertarian is taking personal responsibility for your life-- there are some things you must figure out yourself."

"Yeah, thanks Master Yoda, but I don't have time to get that creative and/or run around the swamps of Dagobah all afternoon, so get back to me about your libertarian revolution when you've got a real solution I can put my energy toward."

How to answer that question, "What can I do?", is likely the one, true dilemma of the libertarian philosophy.

Until now.

Yes, friends, I am here to say unto you that that dilemma has been solved, once and for all, because a visionary group of young libertarian thinkers has come up with an answer that is both reasonable and practicable for anyone who is so inclined as to ask what they can do.

The answer, in short, is the motto of the Society of Libertarian Entrepreneurs (SOLE): "Improve every day. Be the hero."

Why is this the solution? Because besides being both moral and practical, it's sustainable and within every concerned individual's personal power to realize.

Political organization is expensive, time-consuming and ultimately futile. Opportunities to enact political change are occasional and limited. When it isn't "election season" and communities are not captured with the temporary spirit and excitement of an impending vote, it's hard to seem relevant and harder still to get people interested. What's worse, your ability to improve the condition of your own life with this strategy is dependent upon the whims of countless strangers. Not to mention the potential for change is limited by the radicalism of the candidates or ballot-initiatives being voted on.

Hermit-izing is pointless and self-defeating. You lose social power and prominence by choosing to withdraw. You give up relevance and appeal when your strategy for improving the state of social affairs is to neglect them entirely. You miss out on opportunities to benefit your quality of life via social participation and the division of labor in the market economy (or what's left of it, anyway) when you select retreat. You risk depression and debilitating negativity by adopting a strategy which assumes all hope that may be found will likely be under a rock.

Seeking self-improvement is a versatile, adaptable and ultimately superior solution that "wins" no matter what happens in the larger economic and political realms within which we all exist.

Consider: if the world becomes a freer place tomorrow, being smarter, healthier, wealthier, better looking, better networked, better informed and harder-working means you'll have more tools, resources and opportunities to take advantage of in a social context which permits you to enjoy these things much easier; conversely, if the world becomes even more statist, bureaucratic and arbitrary tomorrow, improving yourself in the aforementioned ways gives you more ways to survive the setback and still find a way to achieve happiness, prosperity and personal success as much as such a context may permit.

Everyone's goal is to live a happy life. Freedom is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for the realization of that goal. The other meaningful part of the equation is exercising effective, reasonable and intelligent sovereignty over your own life.

The likelihood is that things will get worse before they get better, and that the average person's social context will become more interventionist and controlled rather than less, in the short term. That means every person will have to fight that much harder to maintain or improve the quality of their individual life experience-- self-improvement not only makes this easier, it makes it possible.

But if freedom were to arrive at the push of a button tomorrow, what good would it be if you were still the same uninspiring, boring, self-doubting, self-deluding, dishonest, out of shape, anti-social, unconnected, resourceless, penniless, talentless, thoughtless slob then that you potentially are now? Even if you're not that miserable to begin with, the point remains-- freedom can't do the heavy lifting, it is only a condition that allows you to enjoy the fruits of that labor.

If you want to get "ripped", you've got to pick up the weights and heft them around yourself. There's no better time than now and no better day but today to begin cultivating that kind of discipline and focus. This is a strategy that will begin paying dividends immediately and will serve you well whether your society devolves into a totalitarian nightmare or springs forth the fresh blossoms of a paradise of freedom.

Furthermore, it is a strategy that greatly enhances your ability to influence others and orchestrate real, positive change society-wide. Social power is derived from charm, intellect, appearance, wealth, physical strength and the possession of skills and networks which are useful to others. In other words, the more you improve your own personal values, the more valuable you become to other people and thus the more influential you become to other people. Nobody changed the world sitting on their couch watching TV. The simplest, most effective way to gain the kind of social power necessary to influence the way others choose to think and act about political and economic topics is to seek to be impressive to others in as many ways as you can by developing your own personal values.

And to the end of improving every day and being the hero, the newly-formed Society of Libertarian Entrepreneurs seeks to provide an authentic, useful community for like-minded individuals to associate with one another. The Society of Libertarian Entrepreneurs seeks to build the peaceful, productive and enlightened libertarian community of tomorrow by laying the groundwork today and providing people who hear the libertarian message and wonder "What can I do?" with a place to socialize with other people who are on that quest of self-discovery themselves.

Currently, there are branches in Los Angeles, Dallas and Ohio (full disclosure, I am the director of the recently-formed Dallas branch). You can view a video "manifesto" produced by the group below:

You can also learn more about the Society of Libertarian Entrepreneurs and their upcoming Meetups by visiting their website at

Stop waiting for a savior, political or otherwise, and stop cowering in distraught terror in your closet. Seek out self-improvement and be the hero in your own life. Be reflective and be reflected. Change yourself for the better and watch the world change around you.

Oh, and that "visionary young libertarian" bit above? That was tongue-in-cheek, as we make no real claim to total originality in advocating the strategy of self-improvement, though we do find ourselves perplexed as to why we had never come across such an explicit suggestion in any of our previous, extensive research and readings on the topic. It may not be an idea we came up with all by ourselves, but we're here to publicize it all by ourselves if we have to do so.


  1. This post literally lit my hair on fire! Mr. Conant, you are a gentleman and a scholar.

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