When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look a nail. Libertarians often use this adage to explain the increasingly aggressive nature of police. This saying also fittingly describes the problem-solving approach favored by most Americans. All they have is state intervention, so every problem looks like a legislative one. As members of the liberty movement, we can’t become angry with them for wanting to use the only tool they have. We need to give them other tools.
We’ve all heard loved ones describe the state as a necessary evil, with emphasis on the “necessary”. Sure, they lament about the incompetence and corruption of politicians, but they’ve been fed a healthy dose of cognitive dissonance their entire lives, so it’s easy to disparage Congress’s spending habits while still condemning tax dodgers. This isn’t because most people are inherently bad—quite the contrary. But they’ve been taught that the only way to solve a problem is to vote, call the police, or write to their representative. Then, when they do the “right thing,” their crazy libertarian friend calls them a “statist” with the same contempt one might use to say, “murderer.”
And how fair is that? We all have our own conversion stories, and if we’re being honest with ourselves, most of us will admit to being contemptuous, or at least skeptical, of libertarian principles at some point in our pasts. Yet we expect others to go cold turkey, skip their “ah-ha!” moment, and move straight to quoting Rothbard or Proudhon and venomously calling their loved ones “statists.”
But what if we tried something else? Instead of behaving as though appealing to state intervention is the central problem the world faces, we could openly acknowledge the severity of other problems–like poverty, racism, sexism and environmental destruction–and brainstorm solutions people can use to solve them, independent of the government.
We don’t have much legwork to do to convince people that our leaders are crooked or incompetent. But acknowledging the gap left if state resolutions are off the table and offering up real alternatives to try now—not hypothesizing the way it could work in some futuristic stateless utopia—is how to get people thinking. Instead of grumbling about Obamacare, research and discuss mutual aid. Don’t just point out how abusive and militarized the police are; discuss the benefits of community-based alternatives for protection (and put your money where your mouth is—get involved!). Work with charities and show your friends how involvement in them is a productive substitute for voting for state assistance for the poor.
So my New Year’s resolution, and I hope yours too, is to put down the haterade and try to address the real issues my pro-government companions worry about so that for once, I can walk away from a conversation without feeling drained and angry. It will take patience, but you know, that’s sort of what we sign up for when we try to change the world.