Jan 14, 2011

Underground Allure, or The Silent Libertarian Killer

As a [relatively] recent college grad I can still remember the smell of piss-drunk baseball-cap-wearing douchebags and the nasal voices of this-jacket-ironically-doesn’t-fit-well my-hair-is-ironically-the-same-as-it-was-when-I-got-out-of-bed indie fucks. Countless experiences with said groups have been etched into my psyche. This isn’t me on the psychiatrist’s bed unloading, though. It’s no longer harrowing; just stay with me for a moment.

One of the great many tropes I witnessed first-hand so much was the classic “It’s popular; now it sucks”. That link to TVTropes is an excellent article summing it up and I suggest you skim it now. It’s particularly funny to anyone who’s seen friends or idiots at parties do it because of how true it is.

Everyone loves to feel special, so we search endlessly for exclusivity or create it (artificially even) when it cannot be found. Tribalism is a big part of human nature, and one that I try very hard to get away from (a losing battle, but one that I fight anyway). And that’s what really gets at the heart of this. Young college-age dudes are still often searching for an identity, a raison d'être, and a unique one if possible. Non-conformity is, after all, the new conformity.

And so they’ll glomp onto obscure bands or hobbies in order, I assume, to stand out and be different. Ever quick to maintain their singularity, lest they feel uncertainty with their lot, they will fawn and gush over the next new (read: unheard of) band and vehemently trash those that find even a shred of success. Now, it’s one thing if they have some reason for disliking the band after the fact. If their style or sound really has changed (not even necessarily worsened; take Genesis post/pre Phil Collins) that’s a legitimate claim that you can argue and back up with examples and cite as your reason for now hating them. But too often it was merely reflexive to their bourgeoning popularity and covered up with bullshit paper-thin reasoning (the phrase “sold out” gets bandied about a lot at these times).

I was reading [yet another] great article by the ever-bespectacled (and usually smart!) Matt Welch of reason which got me thinking about those halcyon college days again and, more specifically, of the superficial elitism I’ve thus far been describing. In his article, Matt brings up a really interesting point about libertarians being forever on the sidelines of politics. Since we have no major party affiliation or players (chronically) we often spend much of our time as outsiders and contrarians.

While his article is great, I was more interested in the down sides of always being on the sidelines. What he says about it positively, that it is important to have both inside and outside views to get a bigger picture, is true and all, but I couldn’t help remembering the knee-jerk elitism from college that “being underground” tends to foster and attract. I fear that for some on the side of liberty they might be guilty of the same blindness, reveling in being “outside of the norm” by getting to trash both Republicans and Democrats.

It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and scoff, telling everyone “I told you so” and never having to feel let down because you got your hopes up since we never do. It’s too easy to side with cynicism and expect the worst of both parties and trash them equally, even heartily, never once having to live with seeing your team lose because you refuse to participate in the actual game. It’s easy to shake your head slowly in smug amusement at your coworkers who get so defensive about sports teams winning or losing, if only because you’ll never actually root for one or the other. You have no dog in the fight, so what’s to lose by reproaching both sides?

It’s dangerous, because we run the risk of fleeing to our underground exclusive club of “we know better” and becoming that annoying ass that won’t shut up about his cool obscure bands that only he’s heard of. The one that everyone can tell is clawing at whatever vestiges of scarcity he can in a desperate attempt at meaning, when it will all be in vain and he should have been spending his time being honest with himself (it’s okay to have a few pop songs on your iPod dude, they don’t have to be guilty pleasures… can’t they just be pleasures?). Oh but we know the free market is so much better and the right path and all those other blithering Keynesian idiots are so deluded it would be comical if it wasn’t wrecking havoc on our economies! Hah!

Anyone who does spend time in the sparsely populated libertarian parts of the internet will see it constantly: the constant wrestling over pragmatism. Should we embrace and love on the Ron Pauls and Gary Johnsons of the world or should we demonize them for selling out and not being pure to our noble cause? Is it okay to like them a little or are we only lending support, however indirectly or directly, to the establishment, the “problem”, the major music labels of the day, the very thing we spend most of our time railing against?

One of the reason commenters put it well: “It takes more energy and intelligence to be an honest skeptic vs a lazy cynic.” It takes vigilance to educate yourself on issues and have real concrete reasons behind every contrarian position rather than lazily just assuming the worst and simply taking the contrarian position because it is the default position for you. A distinction between critical and lazy thinking, as another commenter put it.

Which is why I think it is important to take inventory regularly of your positions. Is your arm’s-length abhorrence well founded? Have you got specific reasons for refusing to join either side? Are you guilty of simply pulling the lever for the party line (or what you think it is)?

Sometimes Bush and Obama say/do things that are right or okay.

Rarely is anything absolutely black and white.

Don’t be a lazy cynic!

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