The first time the word "libertarian" ever came to mean anything to me was when I heard a good friend say he believed in libertarian ideas. (Ayn Rand? Please. Give me John Krakauer every time). He explained his beliefs and he made plenty of sense. Not least because his is still one of the sharpest minds I've ever run across, anywhere.
But over many conversations we had, one thing he said stuck. It's not about doing tests and joining clubs. (In any case, as he explained it, libertarians are fiercely individualistic, so clubs make no sense at all). It's not about lesser government, or lesser regulation, or the arc(h)ane distinctions between being anarch or minarch or B. Arch. or triumphal arch.
No, it was far simpler than any of that.
"The one thing in life that doesn't get boring," he said to me once, passion twinkling in his eye, "is learning."
This is one of those little aphorisms that appeals because you feel like you understand it and identify with it. You feel you could have said it. Yet here it is, succinct and complete, difficult to improve on. And like all the best aphorisms do, it says things about the person saying it. My friend is a libertarian, yes. He is also a fine listener who soaks up what he hears even if he disagrees. He listens because that's a measure of respect. He listens because he learns.
And learning never gets boring.
Knowing my friend, I always thought these qualities -- the listening, the learning -- were what characterised libertarians. You could excuse me for thinking so, because I rarely found them in others, whether I looked high, low, left, right or in the mirror.
In this libertarian, I did.
That's the spirit I've been nostalgic about since Chetan wrote this. Though really, since long before that.
For example, what if somebody is constantly condescending in his writing? Fine with me! His problem. After all, writers write not to win arguments, but to persuade. (There is a difference). Sneering aggressively at your readers might win debating points -- or make you think you have -- but it don't persuade nobody.
And what if somebody else reacts to any differing view by promptly drawing on that bank of words -- you know, "leftist", "statist", "socialist", "non-sequitur", "caricature", "strawman" and the like? Fine, again! When those words fill in for debate, you know the bank of ideas is running on empty.
Finally, what if a third person is convinced he is extraordinarily smart and brilliantly logical? Go right ahead, breathe in that rarefied air and may it do you a power of good! You'll need it. Because when you stopped to smell the roses of your own intellect, you also got your feet stuck in the mud. More mortal people have run around and past you. You're going to have to play catch up.
It's like this. Suppose I'm at the nearby market searching for tomatoes. Suppose veggie-vendor A says to me: "Buy my tomatoes, pea-for-a-brain, and do it because you don't know what's good for you and I do!"
Just as you would, I'll mosey on down to veggie-vendor B, waving cheerily at A as I go. Because A shot himself smartly in the foot, B's job just got that much easier.
Well, the great marketplace of ideas -- and that's what we're all in, if we're writing -- works the same way. To write effectively, to persuade effectively, the first lesson a writer learns is to respect his readers and learn from them.
And learning never gets boring.