Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Dear Libertarians, Don’t Puss Out

A couple weeks ago, Thomas Knapp wrote what should not have to be written in Taxes an Unnecessary Compromise on Marijuana. In it he argues that the government is already against the ropes on the marijuana issue and it is unnecessary for us as libertarians to come up with the compromises -- make them come up with the “how ‘bout we tax it” inroads. It is then and only then, says Knapp, that we should accept it as a better than the status quo alternative. I’m very much in favor of this. But fundamentally and in principle it should not have had to have been said.

Firstly, all, and especially new, taxes should be vehemently opposed by libertarians. If you’re a minarchist, I guess there’s going to have to be some State funding, but it should be considered only as, at best, a necessary evil. Secondly, it’s not like marijuana taxation would be used to replace taxes elsewhere. They’ll just want to add the revenues to the already excessive tax receipts. When there’s nothing to gain on the taxation end of things, why bother talking about it like it’s some icing on the cake. Your taxes aren’t going to go down.

But a more important point needs to be made. Strategically, active compromising is often viewed as the only way to improve the libertarian predicament. I don’t think there’s anything farther from the truth. Compromise is a bandaid on a cancer -- a smokescreen to make you feel like you’ve accomplished something. In the end, the cancer has kept growing and you’re sicker than ever. Being radical is the way to accomplish anything even if your goals are not ultimately radical.

Just imagine if every single marijuana legalization advocate were screaming to legalize heroin. By going on the advocacy offensive, you scare the powerful into coming to the table to appease you. That’s what you should want. Instead of begging your masters for freedom, demand it. It’d scare the shit out of them… well, a lot more than begging would.

Time is of the essence. It’s not like when marijuana is finally legalized you will recoup the effort you put into it. It’s a waste of time to piddle paddle around the issue to seem pragmatic and sensible. The fact that you want to legalize anything already makes you look like a nut to most people anyway. After decades, people are finally becoming jaded enough by the war on drugs to question its value. Meanwhile, billions have been spent and plenty have been killed and imprisoned from the enforcement of the drug prohibition.

It’s not so much that radicalism works so well as that pragmatism doesn’t work at all. By giving headway, you admit you’re wrong and give your opponent the upper hand. By staying consistent and arguing that all drugs be legalized, you force your opponent to grasp at strawman arguments which can easily be refuted. As your position gains followers, which most tenable movements eventually do, you bring the opponents to the bargaining table -- and you’ll want to be playing a good hand.

Causes like medical marijuana legalization are noble, but they are still being fought! How is it that a “compassionate” country could still be fighting over such a no brainer? It’s due to the fact that the medical marijuana advocates have limited themselves. They put a brick wall behind themselves where none was needed and they've hit that brick wall. By only advocating for medical marijuana, they made the issue between “yes” and “no” for only medical marijuana. When the inroads are made, you get only a part of what you wanted. Expecting to get all of what you want is unrealistic. And the result is some timid step forward like “We won’t raid marijuana clinics on Tuesdays. You better watch your ass every other day though.” As the fight rages on, a couple years later they'll add Wednesdays to the safe list. Eventually they let more local governments be in charge and then maybe give up. But that entire process takes tons of effort and tons of unnecessary pain has been inflicted upon people in the meantime. But had the medical marijuana advocates been saying legalize heroin, the inroads would be much more dramatic because the demands placed on the powerful are all that much more dramatic. It would have taken far less time to legalize medical marijuana this way. Instead, the battle is still raging.

The libertarian movement is parallel to the abolitionist movement (if they aren’t already the same thing). Does anyone really think the abolitionists would have been in anyway successful if they had argued that the slaves should “get an extra piece of bread each night”? No. Having pusillanimous positions on issues makes you incapable of accomplishing anything!

The objection would, of course, be that without proposing “sensible” reforms no one will take you seriously. But does anyone in power take NORML seriously now? And besides, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. It’s entirely possible to make radical positions perfectly reasonable to people. Just know what you’re talking about before hand. Give the people the correct and real alternatives and they will be able to delve further into the issue. Giving them a two-bit, half-assed spiel about how “well, medical marijuana could be intercepted by people without illness, but we’ll work hard to prevent that” will just makes everyone even dumber. It legitimizes submission to the rules of the rulers and their mind numbing tactics. The fight for liberty can only be won with principle, honesty, and fervor, not submission. Submission will not be overcome by submissiveness.

There should be no worries about things changing too fast. Nothing is going to change overnight. Radicalism is still going to struggle though, but at least it’ll be achieving something tangible. In his essay Why Be Libertarian?, Murray Rothbard quotes radical abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison,
“Urge immediate abolition as earnestly as we may, it will, alas! be gradual abolition in the end. We have never said that slavery would be overthrown by a single blow; that it ought to be, we shall always contend.”
I wouldn’t push Rothbard’s “instant anarchy” button given a more incremental alternative, but the truth is that the opportunity would never arise and, as such, it’s not even worth talking about. Staying radical keeps you on path and on track while remaining coherent in your arguments. When you get to a point at which you are satisfied, just stop advocating. If all you care about is medical marijuana, that’s fine, but you’re only going to get it (and in the most time effective way) by going “balls to the wall.”

Don’t submit. Don’t dumb down. Stay radical. Know how to argue for it. If your goal is freedom, radicalism is the only pragmatic means. In our case, radicalism is practical.