A Critique of Pure Friendliness: My Reply
Here is my reply to Bogusław Kołodziej’s challenging questions about friendliness. He’s in blockquotes; I’m not.
Recently, I've been on a binge of your Econlib articles. I've got many thoughts on them, but one observation of mine seems particularly important.
Namely, your advice for libertarians was to just be friendly. Common sense, right? Knowing that you're, alongside Michael Huemer, a master of preaching true commonsensical thesis that are by no means common, I accepted it as a fact.
But then I reminded myself of every single conversation with a socialist that I had, heard or read. Socialism seems to be a pretty successful ideology, especially compared to libertarianism, right?
True, though since most libertarian intellectuals - especially the most radical - have also been none-too-friendly, the reasonable inference is that some other factor explains the disparity of success. Most obviously, socialism taps into long-standing, cross-cultural anti-market bias, while libertarianism strives to correct this bias.
What is an average socialist, especially nowadays? In the past (and I'm giving the socialists the benefits of the doubt by omitting the murderous psychopathic dictator, assuming that it is "just" a result of corrupting power of... well.. power), people like Marx were pretentious, angry, annoying losers and hypocrites. We don't really know whether they were smiling or not, or whether they had a good sense of humor, but based on their self-righteous tone in their writings, we might guess with high probability.
But nowadays, we might just talk to them or watch their Twitch/Youtube rants. I grant you that you'll never see such a humorless, humanity-hating, passionless a**hole like the most prominent leftist pundits.
After a debate with a female Christian socialist (actually a social democrat, but whatever, I guess being a socialist sounds edgier and cooler), you wrote an article about her just being nice. If a socialist just being nice, as every human pretty much should be (and most of them are, from my experience), is such an extreme situation, that you wrote an article on that, it just shows that your personal experience with leftists is similar.
Never great, and has gotten worse over time, yes.
You also gave an example of Mormons. We should be like them, you said. OK, but how popular is Mormonism, really? Not much more than libertarianism is.
If libertarianism had the growth rate of Mormons over the history of their religion, we’d be doing well. They’ve gone from one man to about 17M worldwide in 200 years.
They have their own state of Utah, but can't the same be said about libertarians and New Hampshire?
Quite different. Most people in Utah are Mormons. Only a couple percent of people in New Hampshire are Free Staters.
OK, you might say, they are nice, but being the embodiment of love and friendliness cannot redeem the sheer absurdity and unlikeliness of their stupid dogmas.
Actually, I’d say that being the embodiment of friendliness has redeemed their dogmas! If they weren’t likeable, they’d still by a tiny American cult.
All right, a nice argument, but can't the same be said about the "no-fun-allowed" preachy and angry religions like Islam and Christianity that preach that the entire humanity is evil and that you'll burn for eternity in hell for rejecting their absurd claims and/or touching yourself? How was the absurdity of their dogmas not an obstacle in becoming the BIGGEST RELIGIONS IN HISTORY?
My story: Violent fanaticism is a very high-risk strategy. It almost always fails, as ISIS learned. But when violent fanaticism wins, it wins big. Furthermore, both Christianity and Islam contain some extraordinarily friendly doctrines about helping others, peace, and such. Since the “Love your enemy” parts of the New Testament are well-known, I’ll just point out that the Quran really does say:
Fight in God's cause against those who fight you, but do not overstep the limits: God does not love those who overstep the limits. Kill them wherever you encounter them, and drive them out from where they drove you out, for persecution is more serious than killing. Do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque unless they fight you there. If they do fight you, kill them—this is what such disbelievers deserve—but if they stop, then God is most forgiving and merciful. Fight them until there is no more persecution, and worship is devoted to God. If they cease hostilities, there can be no [further] hostility, except towards aggressors.
But the violent fanatics were good at downplaying these doctrines (or weaponizing them against their foes).
In my opinion these angry mean ideologies are the ways for people, who hide their personal insecurities and anger, that they cannot show in their everyday life, to project them onto the angry mean preachers. That's why there is such a counterintuitive reverse correlation between niceness and being a successful ideology.
You’re calculating a correlation without including most of the data. History is full of angry mean ideologies that went nowhere.
My observation would hold water even in the microcosm of libertarianism. The nicest libertarians ever, Bryan Caplan, Bob Murphy, Walter Block, although still liked and popular, are much less beloved than funless pretentious people like Hoppe (with his nonsensical arguments), let alone the infamously full of angry hateful rants (no pun intended) Ayn Rand.
Here again, I say that being unfriendly usually totally flops, but does work well once in a blue moon. Furthermore, Ayn Rand raises the obvious possibility that some of these unfriendly libertarians would have been even more successful if they’d been friendly. Rand had two best-selling novels before she had much of a personal following - and due to her bad attitude, she lost a large majority of her best followers by 1970 or so. If she’d combined her punchy prose with a benevolent attitude, I think she could have easily doubled her success without modifying her views.
And although there are examples of extremely nice popular libertarians, like Ron Paul, being a political figure, promoted by official political parties, is a huge advantage.
Agree, but if he’d been a jerk, would those parties have promoted him? A lot of his success in Texas was supposed to be based on the thousands of babies Dr. Paul delivered in his district.
What's your opinion on that? Should libertarians become less nice, and more self-righteous, to gain popularity? (Even if that's an effective strategy, I'm not gonna sell my soul to the devil and do that, to be honest).
I’d say there’s a 5% chance your alternative strategy would do noticeably better than the status quo, 20% chance it makes no difference, and 75% chance it makes things worse. Remember: Libertarians have been doing poorly for decades while being not-so-nice and quite self-righteous. Libertarian friendliness has not failed. It has scarcely been tried.