How to Spread Liberty in a Progressive Environment
The only way in which we can achieve a sustainable level of liberty in our lifetime is by helping create a more liberty-oriented society. The political sphere is always fragile, constantly adapting to rapidly changing interests. Ideas, on the other hand, are far stronger. Once you’ve put a good idea in many people’s minds, it’s very hard to shake it out. Moreover, good and convincing ideas have a tendency to spread almost by themselves, traveling from one person to the next by agents of change, most of whom don’t even know they are. But YOU do, and this is the reason you are reading these lines. You want to change and spread the ideas of liberty and want to know how.
It turns out that people don’t like changing their minds, since that means they have been wrong all along. It means they’ve put a lot of energy into what would seem as false ideas. You’ve surely seen people doing rhetorical flip-flops and getting personal just so they’ll be able to cling to their idea. This means that you’ll have to be smart, and pass their “natural defences”. This is my advice for you as to how to do this:
The person you want to convince is probably a good person
Progressives care about the society around them and want to change it for the better, just like you do. Your main mission is to make him or her understand that the path for a better society is paved with liberty. Understanding this is important, as it would keep you sympathetic to the person before you, and help you not lose your temper. Any discussion that descends into “Because of people like you, western society is doomed!” is utterly pointless. Now that you understand this, make sure your discussion partner understands it as well. Seeing you as an enemy they must defeat in an argument is a safe recipe for unproductive discussion. You need to make sure to be seen as a friend with which they might have a disagreement, since then persuasion is possible.
Use existing Libertarian sentiments
Progressives and many socialists often resent government, and in some areas outsiders could mistake them for full-blown libertarians. The arguments for same-sex marriage are something you would expect hearing from an anarcho-capitalist: what happens between two consenting adults is not the state’s business. Use that to explain why government should get out of marriage altogether and why “Sin Taxes” are morally wrong. It’s not that hard to convince a progressive that all drugs should be legalized, as they already understand why the criminalization of cannabis failed. Use these sentiments to push them further into pro-liberty ideas. Expand their horizons using what they already know.
Take the moral high ground. The relevant one
It is well known that a progressive and socialist method of discussion is appealing to one’s compassion. To many’s frustration, this is an effective tactic, as they take the moral high ground. Whoever takes this sacred hill puts the burden of proof on the other side, which means “You have to explain why your ideas are better despite being morally worrisome”. You need to force them into giving you answers and not vice versa.
You should take the moral high ground of whoever is in front of you. Appeal to compassion more than they do: explain why business regulations harm the poor and cripple social mobility, and demand to know why would they support such measures. Demonstrate how free trade exterminated absolute poverty in Asia, and show how only through civil disobedience LGBT-people started getting the rights they deserved. People don’t tend to change their core values within one conversation. Mine haven’t changed much since I was a socialist: I still believe that social solidarity and support for the poor and weak are important. What did change is that now I understand that liberty will maximize what I care about while other policies would harm it. Once you’ve taken the moral and compassionate high ground, people will have to listen to what you have to say and wouldn’t (mentally or verbally) dismiss your ideas as poor-hating or socially-unconscious.
Invisible crowds matter
So far, I’ve talked about persuasion as in a one-to-one conversation, which is both inefficient (there are just too many people to convince them one by one) and mostly just not what you’ll likely encounter. In most discussions on the internet, you won’t be able to see all participants. Many wouldn’t comment and show their presence for many reasons, including insecurity about their own positions, or more positively speaking: more open-mindedness. On Facebook, a lot of them wouldn’t even like or react to the posts or comments, and so remain invisible for the active participants of the discussion, but you must remember that they are present regardless. More importantly, because of their relative open-mindedness they should be the prime target of your arguments, not necessarily the ones you’re actively engaging with discussion. As long as there is an invisible crowd watching, don’t be frustrated if you can’t seem to change someone’s mind despite his ridiculous arguments. As long as you remain civil, calm and convincing, you’ll be able to take their support from underneath their feet.
Bring the discussion to them
Try to increase that crowd as much as possible by going out of your natural internet bubble and enter progressive environments. If you can handle the backlash, you will be surprised by how many people more interested or even convinced of your ideas will turn out from these “expeditions”. I was first exposed to the ideas of liberty when a group of libertarians entered a political Facebook group I was active in, and started to talk about free markets and human liberty, in what some called “trolling”. Trolling or not, I got curious and started asking questions. You know exactly what kind of questions: The poor, the environment, monopolies, roads… When I got satisfactory answers to these questions and I was able to see how liberty best serves my culturally-progressive and socially-conscious ideas, I had no choice but changing my mind, one issue at a time.
There is much more to say about spreading the ideas of liberty. One-line advice would include being patient, asking questions, including personal stories, and leading them to what I like to call “passive conversion”: send them links to YouTube channels, podcasts, books, Facebook pages… The list of available material is endless. Let them look into what interests them, and in their own research they will make the ideas of liberty their own. If you got them interested and passionate enough, you may have just created a new agent of change, ready to spread these ideas.
Picture: Wikipedia Commons
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