2013-07-23

The Company You Keep

Jonathan Finegold-Catalan writes about ridiculous "libertarian" ideas. The items on his list are:
  1. The racism contained in Ron Paul's newsletter circa the 1980s.
  2. Confederate apologetics such as those endorsed by Rand Paul's advisers. (See Jacob Levy's moving rebuttal.)
  3. Hans-Hermann Hoppe's defense of monarchy and condemnation of democracy, and Stephan Kinsella's endorsement of that view.
By way of explanation, I quite like what Jacob Levy had to say when he wrote (link above),
The psychology and sociology of the cultic milieu plagues small movements, kind of unavoidably.  If you hold a very unpopular opinion, and you come to think that you know enough to see the ways in which the establishment and official institutions and the flagship media organizations are unfair to your opinion or skew public information or otherwise stack the deck, that predisposes you to believe that it could be true in other cases, too.  You think you’re a brave, unorthodox, independent mind– and it might even be true!– and when someone approaches you with another unorthodox minority view that they say has been misrepresented or suppressed, well, you sense a like mind.  You’re necessarily less disposed than other people are to treating the weight of received opinion as authoritative.  That’s both good and bad; you’ve (presumably) invested some intellectual work and effort in arriving at your own initial unorthodox view, but information and time are scarce and you’re not going to do that every time.  Your new predisposition may deprive you of some of the informational advantages of conventional wisdom in areas where you aren’t investing that effort.
The same mental dispositions that spawn great creativity, namely openness and imagination, propel us toward skepticism of status quo and so-called "conventional wisdom." To a great extent, that's a good thing. But not everything is part of a government conspiracy against liberty.

Take, for example, CrossFit and paleo dieting (about the latter, I have written previously). There are important lessons to take away from both of these worlds. In the former case, it's good to expose oneself not only to new ways of training, but also to help break out of the ruts that more traditional exercise regimens tend to create. In the case of the latter, the movement served as a useful springboard for questioning the amount of empty carbohydrate calories that Americans had been consuming for 20-30 years leading up to paleo dieting's coming into the spotlight. But don't let that fool you: better health through bacon is pure idiocy, and you know it.

If, like Steve Sailer, your opinions appeal to a large number of racists, it is probably time to second-guess your ideas. But if you're certain that your ideas are correct, then you may wish to clearly and unequivocally distance yourself from the flies that have started to gather around your doorstep. That is yet another reason why I appreciated Levy's post on BHL.

It may not be right or fair that people judge you by the company that you keep, but there's nothing stopping you from judging yourself by the same metric. You should know best whether you're cultivating the right crowd or the wrong one. And as my father-in-law always says, "If you surround yourself with good people, good things will happen to you."