If changing the world were about winning debates, libertarians would have brought freedom to the masses long ago. The vast majority of libertarians I know are scary smart and can make convincing and rational arguments for their positions. The only problem is that changing the world has little to do with winning debates.
I have to confess that it’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut when someone makes what seems like a ridiculous argument. My natural instinct is to point out the flaws in an argument and to lay out the facts and logic from my point of view. I have to confess that this approach has never changed the mind of a single person I know. What’s worse, reacting in my natural way has made me look like a jerk a time or two. Or three. Well, OK. Way more than that.
Dale Carnegie famously said, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” In other words, even if you’re able to logically prove a point — and get someone else to admit that your logic is correct along the way — the typical person isn’t going to change what he believes in his heart. That’s a lesson that’s hard for hard-headed libertarians to learn.
Those of us who want to change the world have to quit trying to argue people into seeing things our way. They’re not going to suddenly see the “brilliance” of our positions and thank us for showing them the error of their ways. Instead, they’re going to resent the arrogant people who think they know everything. (Too many times, that would be us.)
Changing the world is more like a chess game than a debate. It doesn’t matter who’s right. It only matters how skillfully the players play the game. If we want to create free zones in the world, it’s up to use to creatively find ways to do it, not to berate our neighbors for their unwillingness to see the world as we do. If you try to win a chess match by lecturing your opponent, you’re going to look like a fool and you’re going to lose the game.
Libertarians are losing the game today, because we don’t understand the game we’re playing. We have to quit trying to talk people into agreeing with us. We have to instead find those who agree with us and find ways to implement new ideas to prove that our ideas work.
Some people are trying to do that. Patri Friedman and the folks at the Seasteading Institute are taking one approach. It might work. It might not. But they’re doing something instead of waiting around for permission from other people. The same is true for those who are trying to promote and start “free cities,” which I’ve mentioned before. Michael Strong is the most passionate advocate I know for free cities. Watch his 18-minute opening address to a recent conference about free cities. It’s not pie in the sky. It’s something real that smart and passionate people are working to actually try.
We’re not going to change the world by winning debates. We are going to change the world by building floating seasteads and free cities based on new rules and by doing things that I haven’t even thought of yet.
There are thousands and thousands of really smart libertarians. More and more of us need to quit arguing with others to prove our brilliance and start coming up with original ideas for building a new world. I’m putting my lecturing days behind me and I’m learning to play chess. I think it’s a way that we can win in the long run.