On The Subject Of Ron Paul
June 8, 2007
Disclaimer: Political rant.
The counterculture of the 1960s bred many "ideals." Most of these faded over time simply because they did not work out so well in the end—even for those who survived the heavy drug use. But two ideals remain today, and although it is unfair to say they were first thought of only forty years ago (both can be traced back to Ancient Greece and even earlier times), the modern iteration of them certainly can be attributed to this period.
One of those ideals is the Anti-Establishment morality that wanted to do away with the big, powerful, evil corporations and political entities that, the counterculture believed, were responsible for sending people to war in Vietnam. In all of history, "Anti-" groups have never been fully successful (the closest any such group has ever come, perhaps, is the Anti-Masons), and supporters of the Anti-Establishment philosophy know this very well: in order for your ideals to succeed, you have to stand for something. So those who were against big corporate interests and the military-industrial complex in the 1960s have evolved into various groups and "movements," the largest of which today is probably the Environmental Movement. The irony pervading these groups is that although they can still be heard screaming at the government for its corruption (when they are not screaming at, say, oil and pharmaceutical companies instead), their ideas for solutions tend to involve somehow increasing the scope of government—by adding a new regulation, for example, or by increasing government funding of a program. Many of these people identify themselves as liberals (at least economically), and no small number go as far as to say openly that they are socialists.
The second ideal arising from the counterculture was, by contrast, never so much an Anti-anything morality at all; rather, it was a morality based around giving power to the individual, common person—as opposed to giving that power to the government and corporations, but not with the intent of bringing those groups down. This was the ideal with which former hippie Steve Jobs revolutionized the world of personal computing, and it was eventually what spawned the Internet—at least, as we know it today.
The Internet is, fundamentally, individualist. Although millions of communities exist within it, any person is completely free to move among them and not bound to the microcosmic culture of any one particular community. People can do business more or less freely and find almost anything their heart desires, people can talk and interact anonymously—a freedom that virtually no real-world society could ever provide—and, in short, people can generally be free to do what they want, when they want to do it (a freedom which is, by the way, the very definition of "freedom" I will be using throughout this rant). Sure there are limits, such as sites one cannot go to while at work or school, but these do not diminish the extent to which the online universe has generally empowered individuals of all ages, races, creeds, and political stances.
The desire for individual empowerment is a very old one, of course. And it often runs directly counter to the other ideal mentioned, which has evolved into the equally old cry for social empowerment. Those who are for social empowerment usually do get politically involved in order to advance their cause, because reforming a society's government is usually fundamental to advancing any given group's cause. Virtually every lobby in Washington, D.C. right now is for some type of reform aimed at helping a specific group that wants its collective social or economic cause either to get more funding or otherwise to get favorable laws passed its way.
By contrast, most individualists do not have a lobby. And there is a reason for this, and that reason has nothing to do with government being evil or corrupt—be those things as they may. Instead, it is because individualists tend to have a completely different approach altogether to this thing called reform.
Before I go further, I'd like to say briefly that throughout this rant (after this paragraph), I will refrain from using the word, "libertarian," unless I am referring specifically to the Libertarian Party. The reason I do this is because although many political scholars might identify the ideals addressed in the rest of this rant as being libertarian, I do not believe that most people who hold at least some of these ideals and beliefs refer to themselves as libertarians. And because they would not use the term to describe themselves, it would be unfair of me to thrust it upon them. Of course, this is not to exclude those reading this who do consider themselves libertarians. But one does not have to have this particular label upon their beliefs in order to be sincere in these beliefs.
These beliefs can be on any one of a plethora of issues, but they all run along a common thread: "Everyone should mind their own business."
This maxim is the backbone of all individualist philosophy, and it is the backbone of the form of morality most prevalent on the Internet, as well. Such an ethic is only practical, though, if everyone is more or less equally empowered, which is where the original ideals of the Internet come in. And on the Internet, this has mostly been realized in the aforementioned ways by which the Internet has given so much power and freedom to individuals. If the Internet were not a place of such equal footing, there would be a need for either a social effort to change the system, or a new system entirely. The system of the Internet, however, is so decentralized and, equally importantly, so freely available to almost everybody, that a morality based on everyone minding their own business is not only practical, but to be expected; nobody has a reason to fight over territory or invade someone else's spotlight when one can make their own website/territory instead.
This morality inherently leads to a lack of political involvement. Indeed, if the entire world had infinite resources, and everyone could travel both to and away from anywhere they wanted in no time flat, and nobody in the world were excluded from these freedoms, I should expect anarchy to be the prevailing sociopolitical theory.
The key to understanding why it is that people who hold these beliefs do not usually become politically involved lies in the fact that it is almost invariably easier for these types of individuals to ignore the government than it is for them to reform it. Said another way, it is easier to live under the radar and disregard the law than it is to live under the law while trying to change it.
Suppose a person smokes marijuana. Sure the law says, as it has said for many years, that this is illegal. Do the vast majority of pot smokers get politically active in trying to lobby for change? Of course not. Such a lobby does exist, and the Libertarian Party holds the stance that the law should be changed, but most pot smokers—many of whom are not even of voting age yet—are content to buy their weed on the black market and say, "Screw the law." It is physically impossible for the USA to arrest everyone living who has ever smoked marijuana. So if the government and law are ineffectual, what is the point of rallying to change them?
Suppose the law says pirating music is illegal. Well, it does. Music piracy still thrives, though, and it will continue to do so. The law is an inconvenience, but it is not a hindrance for most pirates, so what is the point in organizing politically to change the law?
Does a law enforcing censorship and a code of so-called decency stop people from saying, "fuck?" No. Does a law against illegal immigration stop illegal immigration? No. Does a progressive tax law mean every rich person in America pays an enormous income tax? No. Does a speed limit stop people from speeding? Absolutely not.
So screw the government, right? To hell with the people who'd push their morals on you, right? Well... Not so fast. It is not as if anyone living under such a government system can simply ignore the law. One is instead merely pressed to find ways around it. Speeders have to be wary of speed traps and check their rear view mirrors to make sure a cop is not following them. Rich people have to set up shelters for their money. Illegal immigrants have to dodge Border Patrol. People who say "fuck" have to be careful not to do it while they are on television. Music pirates have to cover their tracks and be somewhat technologically savvy. Marijuana users have to buy in private and avoid being caught for drug possession.
In an ideal world, according to the morals the Internet widely supports, the law would be different. Maybe rich people would not be the only ones able to shelter their money. Maybe immigration would be handled differently. Maybe the music industry would not be able to lobby for laws friendly only to its interests. In some way or ways (specifically which ones, people will disagree with; most people who hold one of these beliefs are adamantly opposed to another one of them), the government would back off and mind its own business instead of playing the role of overlord. But getting things to change is not so easy; the two main political parties are filled with members who perpetually increase the size and scope of government, so the task in and of itself would require an enormous popular movement, but moreover, I ask again: what is the point of taking on such a horrendous task when one can simply be a little bit clever and a little bit wise and just do business under the radar? When there is such a sentiment of futility in voting for a third party or taking on the government—which is even bigger now than it has ever been, and still growing—why would one want to do anything but live peacefully apart from the system in some way?
But, if such an opportunity ever presented itself... if the system ever suddenly became easier to change in the direction of less government control... if a major party candidate ever came along in support of such change... if it were even remotely conceivable that such a candidate could garner support and get a message across to the mainstream media... and maybe, just maybe, in the wildest dreams of the person seeking individual empowerment, if this candidate were running for the Presidency of the United States...
There are a number of people on the Internet who would leap at such an occasion. They are a mix of politically active people and nonvoters. Many of them are disheartened with the current political system, and all of them know exactly what they stand for. In the general population, and even in the population of the Internet, they may be a small minority. But if they are going to thrive anywhere, it is on the Internet that they will do so. And if such a candidate is ever to build a credible grassroots organization, you can bet it will build rapidly on the Internet.
And so along comes Ron Paul, a 71-year-old Republican from Texas, who is at the time of this rant doing exactly that.
Nobody right now knows just how far his campaign will go; he registers 1% in national polls but consistently gets hundreds or thousands of favorable comments in the world of online blogs—far more than any other candidate. His support online is no surprise, though; again, if anyone were going to win the online vote, it would have to be Ron Paul. But the system of the United States of America is very different from the system of the Internet, and as such, Paul is extremely unlikely to win the general election or even his party's nomination.
The ideals Paul stands for, though, will survive and thrive as long as the Internet does in its current form. If Congress decides to put the Internet in the government's hands, tax the Internet, or censor the Internet, it will be a whole other issue. Congress has tried to do this before and continues to do so, so it is not as if those who love personal freedom online have no stake in this. But government is inherently set up to favor the socialists and organized groups over the individuals, and so the conflict of moral principles continues.
I like Ron Paul; I did not expect him even to get as far as he has, which has only been through three debates. And even though I voted Kerry both in the primaries and general election last time, I plan to switch parties just so I can vote in next year's Republican primaries for Paul. It may be the last time I vote for someone of a major political party... I've been sufficiently dissatisfied with both Democrats and Republicans for a while now. So after this, I'm off to live freely with the online masses for the foreseeable future, even if I can't really live free.
In the end, perhaps the irony here is that the candidate with the best inherent chance of winning in the USA's system, the socialist, environmentalist, lobby-friendly, pro-government-expansion, pro-tax, pro-censorship, but first and foremost, anti-corporate Democrat who is Hillary Clinton, derived her vision of an ideal, government-sanctioned social moral code from the same movement that gave birth to the modern idealism of individual empowerment that explains the current overwhelming online support of Ron Paul, the ultimate American political underdog.
Here endeth the rant.