Friday, July 1, 2011

Crazy Libertarians!

There exists a discrete genre of journalism native to the internet. This writing, of the short and pointless variety, is too vapid to find a way into even the most fluffy or pandering papers. I do not mean to suggest this species of writing is usually poor, for in fact it is not. In fact I often find the pieces well-crafted. To what end, you surely ask. These pieces must conform to a few rules. First, they must have a clear audience, i.e. clear worldview, to pander to. Second, it must convey the centrality of that view. Third, it must not offend said audience. Fourth, it must entertain. Last, and this feature is most unique to this species, it must make other views appear alien.

This piece from NPR is a prime slice.

It starts off with a kitschy premise: bacon. I doubt this event, about a gathering in the woods in which nothing happened, would have been newsworthy in any way without a trendy hook, in this case, bacon.

The use of the word "best" in the phrase "best pitch" is extremely clever. Was it his best pitch? Did the man say, "here's my best pitch?" Did the author ask for his best pitch? We don't know and it's operative because calling it "best" implies that his pitch, and the whole event, is as good as libertarianism gets. It implies that if this event sounds ridiculous or doesn't work, this best effort, then the whole libertarian endeavor is daft.

The next bit is even more clever. Permit me a brief quotation:

As I'm asking about food safety, we are interrupted by another customer, who happens to have a handgun strapped to his belt.  

"We'll regulate him," he says. "If he poisons me, I won't buy his food. And he'll be done."
The sense here is odd, since adding the bit about the gun makes "We'll" seem like it refers to the man and his gun. One can almost feel the man pat his pistol as he says, "We'll regulate him." Being libertarians the man surely meant by "we," himself and the author of the article, i.e. the patrons of the business. The last sentence is clearly explanatory. The man is explaining, using himself as an example, what would happen if here were poisoned: the man's reputation would be done. So here we have a very simple encounter reported in such a way as to make a completely ridiculous reading of it plausible, but reported without saying anything untruthful.

Another quote:

Trying to give up the U.S. dollar means a lot of extra math. You hear it all day long. How much is silver? How many grams in an ounce?
"A lot of extra math?" Really? Converting units and looking up information that's been in the backs of marble notebooks for untold years? "A lot of math?" These people are wacky, I tell ya! They're doing "a lot of math." Nuts! "It's 8:30 in the morning, in the woods, and people are checking the precious metal prices on their cell phones." Egads! Of course the irony is that people with dollars are checking the prices too, but because the government is printing money. But no, the people freely engaging in private commerce are the kooks.

The point about government regulation, the FDA and USDA, is supposed to imply again, that even in this libertopia in the woods, you depend on the government, I suspect falls flat even among the people the article most precisely targets. The example clearly suggests you cannot escape the government, because they regulate practically everything.
But the guy just shakes his head. He only takes the round silver coins, not the laminated strips of silver I have.
Uh oh, back to the bank table! The horror! Better contract out the work of managing my money to the government so I can sit here and stuff my face! Viva la libertà!

The final two sentences drive home the point the author began with and the tone which he established in using the word "best:" that this is as good as libertarianism gets, and it doesn't work.

This piece is a clear species of the genre. Foremost it is entertaining and completely uncritical of the view, this time unspoken but implied as the opposite of that which is depicted, it places at the center of the world. It has a clever hook and it makes its subjects appear alien and lacking in the realization that what they are doing is in fact odd and nonsensical. The piece is very much like a very bad ethnography, slyly poking fun at the people it observes.

Whether or not he fancies himself a liberal Franz Boas the joke is on the author for it is indeed what he did not report that has become the center of the article. The inflation, the fistfights, the theft, starvation, thuggery. I guess there wasn't any. So a bunch of libertarians gathered in the woods and conducted their affairs privately, without force, incident, or need of assistance. Crazy libertarians!

N.B. I pass over the title, clearly intended as a diminutive to compare the attendees to children at summer camp, because authors often do not have a say in the title of their piece.

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