December 20, 2005

Never gets boring

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.


TTG said...

To write effectively, to persuade effectively, the first lesson a writer learns is to respect his readers and learn from them.

*puts foot inside mouth, proceeds to chew*

And what has the Great Mr. D learned from having ME as a reader/commenter? (this foot isn't as tasty as I thought it would be)

Neela said...


As a humble reader who is a pure typist, I have only one (balanced) thing to say: this is not a vice of the libertarians solely. I have noticed this attitude with bloggers who are leftists, NHBs and even those who abhor labels. I don't think it has to do with any club, just that people get so attached to their ideas that they can hardly bear to let them go (for fear they may not capture another one perhaps?).

btw, I do agree with the Krakauer over Rand bit. When I saw my first Rand, I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland "but what is a book, said Alice, without any pictures".


Abi said...

Your post reminded me of Cho. Ramaswamy. I don't know if he was a libertarian; I was too young to know about these '-isms' when I read his magazine 'Tughlaq' in the 70s and early 80s. His supreme arrogance oozed out of every word he wrote. He did have a niche following (particularly among the young), but people do grow up! It's a pity he never did.

I agree with Neela, though. Arrogance combined with talking down to people is shared by ideologues of of all kinds. If at all any group of people can be identified closely with this attitude (even here, the association is rather weak), it would be a gang of boys in their teens.

zap said...

As usual, I cant think of anything to say.
I could tell you a joke though..

Dilip D'Souza said...

Abi, thanks for the insight into Cho! I haven't read him a whole lot, but I remember being irritated by some of the stuff he has written.

You and Neela: yes, of course this is a disease shared by ideologues everywhere. (That's exactly why I wrote, about the qualities of listening and learning, "I rarely found them in others, whether I looked high, low, left, right or in the mirror"). The thing is, the friend I mention made me think -- naively, I admit -- that because he listened and was never condescending, that was what libertarians in general were like.

TTG: what have I learned from you? That below all the bluster, there's an original mind worth respecting. That sanctimony is best skewered. That you should never take yourself seriously.

Having said that, I think you sometimes undermine yourself with the abuse. My opinion.

Zap, I'm waiting for the joke.

Anonymous said...

Well here goes, Laurie and Fry:

Stephen: "You have a daughter, I believe."
Hugh: "Yeah, yeah... Henrietta."
Stephen: "Did he now? I'm sorry to hear that."

If you've never read them please google them for good laughs..

TTG said...

But but... the [bad-word-for-fornication]-ing abuse is half the fun. It's my trademark. Without that, what's the difference between me and an intelligent, rational, human being?

Dilip D'Souza said...

Zap, that joke is outstanding.

TTG, you ask: what's the difference between me and an intelligent, rational, human being?

You really want that answered?

Yazad Jal said...

I beg to disagree with your libertarian friend. If there is one word that I associate with libertarian, it's freedom.

Very often when we think of freedom, we think of political or social freedoms. Economic freedoms are just as important. After India gained independence, we saw a surge in political freedoms and some positive developments on the social front. However, we saw economic freedoms being taken away by the government of the day. And those decisions made by Jawaharlal Nehru and his cabinet in the 1950’s still impact livelihoods in India.

And yes, libertarianism is about lesser government, and lesser government regulation, thought not about lesser regulation per se. I’m strongly in favour of market or self- regulation.

Taking the concept of freedom forward makes me ask questions about the validity of government itself. If freedom is the absence of the initiation of coercion (you don’t have the right to initiate violence), then taxation is anti-freedom. After all, taxes are neither voluntary donations nor charges paid for government services bought. They are levied by government order and if you don’t pay them, you stand to lose your freedom.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Yaz, what do you disagree with that my friend said? He spoke passionately about freedom too.

I said here, the thing he said (not connected with libertarian ideas) was that learning doesn't get boring. And that when I thought about it, it fit him: he always listened and tried to learn, he was never arrogant or superior.

I found those things so refreshing and unusual, that because they came from this libertarian, I unconsciously began associating them with libertarians.

So what do you disagree with?

wise donkey said...

i agree re.the respect, but then as a reader one has to be careful too of not cutting your nose, to spite the fly.
rather a person who gives wht he/she thinks you need
than a person who knows you dont need it but offers it to you in a way you would want.

(of course what another thinks you need might not be what you need, just because you need doesnt mean there shouldnt be respect)

on the libertarian and the comment in question, i read but couldnt follow.

Yazad Jal said...

I seem to have confused what your friend said and what stuck in your mind. Please disregard the first line of my earlier comment. The rest of it I still stand by.

Anyway, I hope freedom sticks in your mind. I've no quarrel with learning, just think freedom's more important. Cheers!

Mridula said...

Yazad and I hope learning sticks in yours. But I have little hope, looking at the tone of your comments.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Mridula, I think that's uncalled for. Yazad has always been unfailingly courteous and generous in what he says here. Nothing wrong with his tone.

Anirudh said...

Liberatarians! Libertarians! They go their way and I go mine.

zap said...

Ofcourse it is outstanding Dilip, it isn't mine :)

Mridula said...

My mistake.