Ian Freeman ostracized me for:
- unabashedly admitting that some aspects of Che Guevara’s life inspire me;
- rudely demanding he stop excoriating me in other venues about said admission without even inviting me to defend myself;
- refusing to apologize for being rude.
But this is not a tale of Facebook drama and woe, my dear readers! This is a post about how we can overcome our inner fundamentalist streak and achieve a wider audience for libertarian thought.
I’ve noticed that when I write about personal stuff, my now half of a dozen readers enjoy it more. Since I am a writer and, as such, I prefer that people read my stuff more rather than less, I’m embarking on a project to write straight from the heart with no punches pulled. I’m naming names and telling it like it is!
Ian Freeman is an outstanding advocate for liberty. He puts everything on the line. He lives liberty. He leads not just in word but also in deed. His example is inspiring. His dedication is impressive. He is not just an activist. He’s a leader, an entrepreneur and a radio show host. I like Ian Freeman. I admire him. Nothing I write here should cause you to feel any other way.
Nor is this an attempt to stir up the infamous “drama” that terrorizes the liberty masses. I instead aim to examine interpersonal relationships in the liberty community. And why not? We talk about philosophy, strategy, tactics and products. So why should we be ashamed to talk about interpersonal relationships?
They are, in fact, the foundation of a new libertarian society. Without solid relationships, what kind of commerce can we expect to take place? What kind of organizations will be formed?
You get the idea.
It Started, as Usual, on Facebook
It all started one dark and stormy evening when I went on Facebook. This should be no surprise to you as most interpersonal problems in our community happen on Facebook. While editing my profile’s Info page for the 97th time, I added Che Guevara to my list of inspirational people. This is where you gasp.
Why in the name of Rothbard would I do such an outlandish thing? Please sit down. Are you ready for the truth? There are actually some aspects of Che’s life that I find inspirational. By all means go ahead and have a shot of agorist moonshine to calm your sensibilities.
I get it. This just isn’t compatible with the Rockwellian party line. My lone remaining anarcho-capitalist reader is trembling with rage. Che is a murdering tyrant. Period. End of story. Close your history book, dear reader.
But I’m a historian. Yes, I graduated with honors in history from the academic Sparta that is the University of Chicago. When it comes to historical figures, a Lew Rockwell blog post just doesn’t cut it. I have to do my own research. And I have. A lot of it. The guy led an extraordinary life. As a rebel, he cuts quite an imposing figure. Even Ian is obliged to admit that.
- Che suffered from extreme asthma as a boy, often gasping for breath so hard his parents thought he would die. Doctors had never before seen such a severe case. Here is a powerful example of will to live.
- He did not go to school on a regular basis due to his asthma. You might say he was homeschooled for awhile. He read obsessively.
- At age nine, his asthma became worse. But he wouldn’t take oxygen treatments unil after his face had turned purple. That’s some serious character.
- In his youth he was critical of the military in school. He was expelled from a class because of this.
- He studied medicine but abandoned the career to take a grueling motorcycle tour of Latin America. The suffering he witnessed awakened him to the oppression of US colonialism (a phenomenon that continues to this day). His sense of adventure inspires but his ability to cross the chasm of class and culture to empathize with the poor impressed me.
- Che was no random tourist. He provided free medical care to the poor while on his travels. He lived with the poor. He not only valued equality for all, he experienced it. He treated lepers. What a sense of daring he displayed here.
- He was also one of 82 people packed into a tiny boat that set off against all odds to invade an island where 35,000 armed men controlled by the dictator Batista were waiting to massacre them. (Those forces did indeed massacre many of his shipmates.) Now that takes some serious cojones! Even the US Navy appeared to be involved in the search for their little boat.
- This is a blog for rebels. Is there any among you who doesn’t savor the thought of joining a righteous guerrilla rebellion against a brutal tyrant? If not then our enterprise is surely sunk.
- Che was wounded shortly after landing in Cuba and thought himself a dead man. Now this is the kind of great death I alluded to in my recent post about being discouraged. Yet he pushed on.
- While carrying out the Cuban guerrilla war, he endured endless hardships – hardships that pampered gringos like us can hardly conceive of. But he still found the time to teach campesinos how to read.
Che Guevara fought the Empire. He won. That’s something we can all learn from. There absolutely must be at least one lesson there for libertarians. And if there is even just one, then we must soften this voluntary ban on examining his life. We must be free to take inspiration from those parts which rouse any budding revolutionary. We must stop seeing him, and indeed any historical figure, in only two dimensions.
“La la la la la! All I hear is murderer! MURDERER!!!”
You’re an ideologue. You see the world in black and white. That’s just how you roll. Cool. But don’t claim to know a thing or two about history.
The Disease of Violence
Che, despite paradoxically idolizing the nonviolent Gandhi in his youth, became contaminated with the disease of violence. Once infected, he took it to its logical conclusion of statism, brutality, murder and inhuamnity. Che is a murderer. He is also an inspirational revolutionary and adventurer. Instead of the blanket condemnation of the right or the servile groupiness of the left, let’s clearly identify those aspects of his life that are solid, and those that are reprehensible.
(There is, inevitably, debate about just how brutal he was. At least one biographer claims that he executed people only for “the usual crimes punishable by death at times of war or in its aftermath.” As if that excused anything.)
Of course, Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard paid “their” taxes. Can you precisely identify the difference between their complicity in state murder and Che Guevara’s? What level of responsibility for the murder is held by the one who pulled the trigger vis-a-vis the one who paid for the bullets without putting up a fight? No, it’s not the same thing but it’s food for thought.
Some, mostly right-wing, libertarian fellow-travelers promote violence as a solution to the ills of statism. They are tolerated by many. They may be thugs but they’re “our” thugs. Does the anti-Che hysteria from the Rockwellian an-caps simply boil down to Che being a leftist thug? You decide.
Be that as it may, why would I seek so much good in a statist executioner? It’s not complicated. I’m a satyagrahi.
A satyagrahi is a person who uses the the force of truth (satyagraha) to engage tyranny. Satyagraha is by no means passive. Nor is it always even necesarily peaceful. Satyagrahis use the power of firm love to achieve justice. Satyagraha is a legacy of Mohandas Gandhi.
One aspect of satyagraha is to connect on a human level with even your fiercest enemies. When a person uses violence against a fellow human being, he is first and foremost hurting himself. A liar is the first victim of his deception. As a satyagrahi, I want to understand the full human being behind the violence. I want to become their friend and advocate as part of the search for win-win solutions.
My satyagrahi advocacy for someone engaged in violence is not for their violence but for their humanity. It never means that I endorse their wrongdoing. It means that I identify with them as a human being and seek for them to stop. Redemption is a possibility even for the most hardened tyrant.
In my study of Che, I find that we have some things in common. This is the first step in penetrating the hard outer shell of a person who is engaged in evil. Our commonalities include:
- a sense of adventure;
- an interest in helping other people instead of just getting rich or “working for the man” all day;
- a zeal for putting philosophy into practice;
- a rebellious spirit;
- a willingness to cross state borders to further the mission of fomenting (r)evolution;
- an ability to take things beyond where the timid dare; and
What about Hitler and Mao Zedong? Do they have redeeming qualities, as Ian asked me, that merit inclusion in my list of inspirational figures? I have read a bit about Hitler. I haven’t yet found anything inspiring there. I have not studied Mao. I’ll let you know when I do.
Are there any other libertarian bugaboos on my list? Maybe Attila the Hun – for sheer badassery. But I’m half-joking.
Where I have no commonality with Che includes:
- becoming part of a government;
- participating in the caging and murder of fellow human beings; and
- swiftness to take up arms.
We need to see our opponents – they are really companion actors on the stage of life – as fellow human beings. To not dehumanize them as cardboard cutout murderers, autocratic judges, oppressive cops, tyrants, etc, is the first step towards our eventual success as a political movement.
When we talk about “cops do this, cops do that”, when we generalize, when we identify someone by their job title or an epithet instead of their first name, we are dehumanizing them. People who aren’t up on libertarian lingo can sense this, even if they can’t explicitly explain it. It turns off all but the most extreme and those most prepared to outsource their thinking process to the popular ideologues of the day.
When we can identify a companion actor as a fellow, 3D human being, when we can see their good and bad, their intentions, justifications, their loves and pet peeves, we are humanizing them. We are treating them with respect. We can form a bond with them, a bond that is a foundation for weaning them off their (self-) destructive behavior in a win-win way. We also impress the audience we inevitably have in real life – the papers, blogs, Facebookers, YouTubers, etc. – with our emotional intelligence, maturity and humanity.
Name-calling doesn’t work. We must become best friends – supporting the good in them, firmly but lovingly correcting the pernicious – to those we rail against. Only then can we avoid exacerbating divisions and creating new resentments. Only then can we find solutions that enable us all to thrive, side-by-side. This is what liberty is about anyway. We find the balance point where each of us can both be free and thrive without hurting others.
Let us not be fundamentalists when we examine others – be they alive or dead, in our community or not. In our interpersonal relationships, let us risk an unwarranted dollop of empathy and tolerance instead of being so quick with the sword of opprobrium and ostracism. A Facebook block is not an argument.
So to Ian and the others who ostracized me as a result of my Facebook faux paus, I only ask that you consider what I’ve written here. Put the 3D glasses on and look at your world through the eyes of a human being, not those of a 2D ideologue. Let’s stop dividing ourselves over issues of ideological purity. Let’s divide our opponents instead. And let us do it with our unfettered humanity.
P.S. I wonder what the “patriots,” militia folk and (anarcho-) capitalist partisans within earshot are willing to do to create their paradise on earth? Many of these folks proudly tote pistols on their hips and proclaim their willingness to gun down anyone who would darken their path. Have we examined the motes in our own eyes?