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by Ian Tartt
The internet has made it easier than ever before for libertarians to interact with one another. Most dedicated libertarians have many other libertarians in their social media circles, and some go so far as having nothing but libertarians as online friends. Even those who have non-libertarians in their circles can still occasionally wind up interacting solely with other libertarians for days at a time. While this can provide a welcome break from mainstream politics, it can also cause problems. This article will examine some of those problems and offer potential solutions.
Those who spend excessive amounts of time in echo chambers tend to suffer in the long run, and libertarians are no exception to this. They’ll learn a lot about the arguments in favor of whatever ideas are being discussed in the echo chamber, but they’re less likely to hear arguments against them. And by being around so many people who agree with them, they can forget what it’s like to be around people who disagree with them. Both of these will tend to make libertarians who spend too much time in echo chambers less able to relate to non-libertarians as well as less likely to critically examine their own views (and thereby less likely to find flaws in their reasoning or improve their arguments). If they’re not careful, this can also cause them to see people who disagree with them as their enemy.
Could this play a role in the poor messaging skills that plague the liberty movement? It very well might, especially considering that many libertarians either volunteer or even get paid to advocate for liberty, and thus spend the bulk of their waking hours immersed in ideas with which they agree and almost none with which they disagree. Not everyone is able to spend so much time advancing their passions alongside so many like-minded people. This is true even for libertarians, since a lot of them don’t always have the time, energy, or resources to be involved as much as they’d like to be.
This can lead to divisions between libertarians who can devote a lot of time to activism and libertarians who can’t. It’s common (especially online) to see libertarians arguing over things that most non-libertarians don’t ever think (or even know) about and likely won’t be relevant for decades. The worst of these exchanges involve people calling each other “statist” if they can’t come to an agreement. As bad as those exchanges can get, exchanges between those types of libertarians and non-libertarians can be even worse. And while there are some excellent libertarian messengers, their efforts can be severely hampered or even completely nullified by passionate libertarians who haven’t learned how to message effectively or by those who are just looking to cause trouble.
So what’s the solution? If the problem is being unable to relate to non-libertarians, then the first step is to spend more time around them. Get to know them. See them as the human beings that they are and realize that, just like you, they too have hopes, fears, dreams, and struggles. Most people aren’t interested in deep philosophical discussions; they’re more interested in how any given policy will affect them and their loved ones. Therefore, getting to know them and learning about what’s important to them will teach you a lot about how to effectively message to them.
This also opens the door to them being more receptive to libertarian ideas. Perhaps the reason someone isn’t a libertarian is because they’re not familiar with the philosophy or they don’t understand it. Libertarianism is very different from mainstream political ideologies, so it may take time for someone who’s not looked much into it to get a good grasp of it. There are certainly some people who aren’t libertarians because freedom is contrary to their goals (such as a would-be tyrant). But others may just think differently than libertarians about certain issues. If they’re shown a different perspective from someone they trust, they could change their mind.
Something that may help with this is becoming familiar with things that influenced someone in their life. If a certain writer, thinker, politician, or economist has greatly shaped their thinking, look into that person. Learn about what they stand for and why. Then come back and have a real conversation about what you’ve found. The person you’re talking to will probably appreciate your taking the time to do that, and it will give you an opening that you wouldn’t otherwise have had.
It’s natural to want to spend time around like-minded people, but spending too much time in echo chambers can be problematic. That being said, there are many different ways to spread liberty. Libertarians naturally gravitate toward strategies that they enjoy and at which they excel. Some strategies may work better than others, but as long as someone is working hard at something that’s making a positive difference, that’s worthy of celebration. Just don’t come across as someone who’s crazy or never goes outside.