Vignettes From PorcFest XIII
I. “that ‘anarchist dream’ of a free culture”
Every summer liberty lovers meet around the bonfire – a big black and yellow flag posted in the north country of New Hampshire – for a week-long celebration of freedom known as the Porcupine Freedom Festival. Situated on a privately-owned campground called Roger’s, hundreds of libertarians, anarchists, whateverytarianists, gun dudes, pot dudes, and bitcoin dudes all show up to do their own thing without fear of government intrusion. Well, some fear government intrusion.
Every year there is a rumor floating among the first-time attendees that the feds will show up with tanks and shut the place down, and every year the rumor is false. This year was PorcFest XIII and probably the tamest one I’ve been to. Many people didn’t attend due to association choices (Us vs. Them stuff) after an individual was banned from the event for committing a thought crime. With the lack of the radical element, I had to look long and hard for the PorcFest-o-naut 8-days-this-week trippers, but I still found a few. I saw dodgeball games, LSD micro-dosing, all-night gambling and plentiful BipCot NoGov licenses hanging proudly. And the market for edibles has finally developed into something that rivals states that have legalized cannabis – here it was actually free and unregulated and yet you still couldn’t buy one without the salesman making sure you knew to eat it slowly (that is, safely).
It just isn’t PorcFest unless you’re either on some sort of mild hallucinogen, or you have a kid, which is just as fun as you can now partake in all the kiddo events. But I found a way to wiggle through the middle and all it took was finding my story: PorcFest is a Temporary Autonomous Zone, a very successful one, and it will continue for many years regardless of the rumors (rumor #2: this is the last PorcFest because the FSP board will supposedly disband. But they could simply create a PorcFest board to keep up the annual gathering, which is incredibly successful).
If liberty is a lifestyle, then libertarians (et al.) need to live their liberty. One way to do this is to simply tell ’em all to go to hell and do it. It will require taking risks and possibly getting shot (dogs, too!) but that’s the point: we’re not scared of you, bootlickers. The ontological anarchist Hakim Bey thought of a way to round up all of these random ideas and activisms into a general idea called the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ). Essentially, it is a place where people meet to live their liberty, but he refused to define it beyond that. In fact, the more defined it is, the less free it is. Look, Bey says, you know what it is when it happens:
Are we who live in the present doomed never to experience autonomy, never to stand for one moment on a bit of land ruled only by freedom? Are we reduced either to nostalgia for the past or nostalgia for the future? Must we wait until the entire world is freed of political control before even one of us can claim to know freedom?
The TAZ is thus a perfect tactic for an era in which the state is omnipresent and all-powerful and yet simultaneously riddled with cracks and vacancies. And because the TAZ is a microcosm of that “anarchist dream” of a free culture, I can think of no better tactic by which to work toward that goal while at the same time experiencing some of its benefits here and now.
The TAZ begins with a simple act of realization.
And the perfect place to realize it is when you’re sitting at a campsite that is a five-minute walk from the most magnificent free market in the world – Agora Valley – where you can buy anything from psychedelic drugs to clam chowder (“The Virtue of Shellfishness”) to internet access to grass-fed burgers to ice cream made right before your eyes. And you think, what can’t I buy? or shit, what can I sell?! and now you’re there.
The glory of the TAZ is the spontaneous order that holds it together like some sort of decentralized glue. Provide the land and the freedom will happen. Bey thinks the TAZ can be a festival, but it needn’t be that structured – it can be as simple as a dinner party. The good conversation, food, wine, and joviality can be “the seed of a new society taking shape within the shell of the old.” Bey sees “all structure of authority dissolv[ing] into conviviality and celebration.” Autonomy realized.
If the Free State Project (FSP) is not successful in moving 20,000 liberty lovers to New Hampshire, it can at least lay claim to creating the most successful annual TAZ, at least in modern American times. And within the geographical limits of the PorcFest TAZ there are many TAZes – I’d argue that if we weren’t all living our own liberty within the greater realm of PorcFest, if we weren’t individually pushing the boundaries of what is allowable, then it would cease to be the freedom festival it claims to be. So go ahead and ban people for having thought crimes, FSP, I’ll just take my six-year-old girlfriend with me and go. (DISCLAIMER: that’s a joke.)
“We must realize,” Bey concludes in his essay on the TAZ:
…the moments and spaces in which freedom is not only possible but actual. We must know in what ways we are genuinely oppressed, and also in what ways we are self-repressed or ensnared in a fantasy in which ideas oppress us. … The TAZ is not a harbinger of some pie-in-the-sky social utopia to which we must sacrifice our lives that our children’s children may breathe a bit of free air. The TAZ must be the scene of our present autonomy, but it can only exist on the condition that we already know ourselves as free beings. …
Let us admit that we have attended parties where for one brief night a republic of gratified desires was attained. Shall we not confess that the politics of that night have more reality and force for us than those of, say, the entire U.S. Government? Some of the ‘parties’ we’ve mentioned lasted for two or three years. Is this something worth imagining,worth fighting for?
I say it’s worth living for. And that’s why I’m there, at PorcFest, where every campsite is a castle – or yurt or RV or sex dome (not this year, sorry) or just a dude sleeping under a picnic table (or not sleeping at all).
II. “an intentional community”
PorcFest is one-third tomfoolery, one-third family-friendly-foolery, and one-third educational lectures from world-renowned scholars and other well-to-dos dressed in their best Hawaiian shirts and jean shorts. And then there’s Larken Rose, sitting under a rock like a guru and drawing his own large crowds. Anything can happen. And that’s fine, because that’s what New Hampshire has always been and will always be: unpredictably raucous and refusing to be controlled.
Charlie Arlinghaus – representing the Josiah Bartlett Institute, a local free market think tank – gave a talk highlighting some of New Hampshire’s oddball political history. “Most of New Hampshire wasn’t born in New Hampshire,” he reminded us before sharing that locals here in the colonial days didn’t even really know if they belonged to Massachusetts or were sovereign. Of course, much of New Hampshire’s population are “tax refugees from Massachusetts. That’s the first step on the road to salvation.” Unfortunately they move here to turn southern New Hampshire into northern Massachusetts.
But more importantly, New Hampshire’s political history is mostly anti-political. Historically, town hall meetings and other votes were so sparsely attended that nothing ever happened. Usually alcohol was necessary to create a quorum. Fortunately, they were “a bunch of guys being drunk who didn’t like the government.” The only downside to this? New Hampshire is often celebrated as the ninth state to ratify the federal constitution, but only because someone scheduled the vote for late in the afternoon, then sent agents provocateur out to get a bunch of the anti-federalists (who held the state legislature at the time) too drunk to vote.
It’s really a perfect place for a movement like the Free State Project. Matt Philips, the president of the FSP, talked about what to expect from the FSP in the immediate future – mostly it will focus on getting the 20,000 signers to actually move here (18,000 to go!) and to continue creating resources for new movers such as the PorcBuddies program, which hooks up new movers with mentors to help them network and navigate the scene.
New Hampshire might not be a “free state” yet, but the FSP is an “intentional community,” Philips said. And in this community, you needn’t worry about having to explain yourself to every single person who gives you a curious glance for your different life views, because everyone here shares similar values and goals. In my experience, it’s been marvelous meeting up with friends and knowing that we can live our lives within our own ideological framework – which is not binding and exclusionary, but wide-reaching and inclusive. In fact, being outside of such frameworks is often uncomfortable and weird – statists gonna state and I don’t like it.
If you wake up early enough (or never go to sleep) at PorcFest you will get the distinct pleasure of spotting an Open Bazaar t-shirt and shorts-sporting Jeffrey Tucker taking a morning walk. But don’t get him wrong: “If you really like my bowtie,” he told the crowd sitting in on his first presentation, “unfortunately you have to buy it or beat me up and take it.”
Carrying on the spirit of pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable and what isn’t, Tucker challenged the validity of those stone tablets espousing Lockean property rights. If you can only own something that you apply labor to, then is that to say that if you choose to leave a hunk of marble un-sculpted, it is not your property? What about, Tucker posited, a burger you made at Burger King? You don’t own it, even though you made it. The Lockean theory of property can be unsettling.
Instead, Tucker proposes we consider the Misesian definition of property, buried in one of his books in a footnote-ish way: “The basis of ownership is what you can claim and defend.” From this simple realization comes property. Suddenly that un-sculpted hunk of marble is rightful property. Over time people realized that it’s better to cooperate and trade for more benefit and so rights were developed – cultural preferences, if you will. One question for Tucker after his talk: What if I leave my wallet on the hood of my car and someone takes it? Well, it may be amoral to take the wallet, but you can prattle on and on about your “rights”. It doesn’t mean you’re getting your wallet back.
Tucker’s talk was one of many that stayed in my mind all week, to soak, rinse, and spin-dry. Even he was still noshing on it days later when I was introduced to him by the bonfire. Ah, the bonfire. Where all the hippies and scholars and anarchists and kiddos and baby libertarians who want to practice their debate skills freely associate. I stood by while a young an-cap fellow who was experiencing New Hampshire for the first time hashed out his ideas with a classical liberal dad holding a beer – something about how we need governments or don’t need governments for things.
I remained in my own well-armored camp of individual liberty: my kid isn’t going to any school unless he wants to, you guys can do your own thing, that’s cool with me. I thought back on the morning lecture from the Atlas Society’s William Thomas, who was teaching an entire course on all of the Objectivist virtues. The first lesson was about pride, which is a nasty word many people hate. But it’s crucial. It’s an individualist’s best tool – “Accept yourself as you are,” Thomas said. “Remind yourself of your values and goals. Look at your progression on your terms, not by the standards of others.” It doesn’t matter if you are “more moral” than someone else, because the goal is to be at your preferred morality. And so I stood there and watched two rams butt heads and remained the ram too proud to butt.
Ernie Hancock likes to mix old media with new media – newspapers and websites and radio shows and podcasts and decentralized online marketplaces, you name it. He compared local radio shows who get excited about 5,000 listeners to his podcast: 20,000 downloads that day, man. He loves that kids today are starting just about every form of media from their basements and putting it online – “It’s Wayne’s World…ONLINE!” Kids today are what he calls “Leave-Me-Alone-ists.” This is a good thing, especially as each generation appears and reaches a level of autonomy, they are becoming more and more individualist than anyone has predicted.
Concerning activism now, Hancock argues, just focus on getting the younger generations – and focus on the new and the exciting. He told us about Grandparents’ Day at his granddaughter’s school – during the pledge of allegiance, all the grandparents were as stiff as the flagpole in salute, while his granddaughter was mostly hesitant to even do what she couldn’t define. In fact, Hancock asked her if she knew what “allegiance” meant, and of course, the small child said nope. This should be encouraged. Ernie Hancock aside, most old people are pretty crummy.
Well, there was the awesome old man wearing a Libertarian Party cap with a thick legal pad in the front row of every talk taking copious notes. He gets it. Learning never stops, it keeps you young forever.
One important factor in being autonomous (which means self-rulership), says Hakim Bey, is what he called “Elements of Refusal,” or actions made against institutions, in order to refuse it legitimacy. In some cases, “voluntary illiteracy” through homeschooling, unschooling, etc. could provide unruly individuals who will never fall in line. Bey also argues that voter apathy “keeps over half the nation from the polls; anarchism never accomplished as much!” Of course, voting can be self-defense and literacy can be crucial. Words can be your weapon. It depends on how you use them. Both Hancock’s granddaughter and the old man with the legal pad prove that Elements of Refusal are successful tools against the state. Don’t they know they’re both supposed to be sitting in front of a TV right now wearing diapers and eating food out of cans?
IV. “Anarchy is on its way. Embrace it, love it, live it.”
Jeffrey Tucker returned to partake in a live show by the improv group The Theater of Public Policy. Tucker was interviewed, the audience asked questions, then the performers would make up scenes on the spot – all improv is cheeky, so bear with me – for our entertainment. The host asked Tucker what the “anarchistic apocalyp—utopia” would look like and Tucker replied, “It’s a shopping mall.” Then the act began, one actor was hurriedly arranging his house because – gasp! – Anarchy was coming, and the house wasn’t ready. But it’s a tricky situation, how do you PLAN for anarchy? Ha-ha. Then anarchy arrived, and he was loud. And he liked to dance. I honestly couldn’t hear half of what they were saying, but the stage was chaotic and entertaining. All you need to remember are Tucker’s parting words: “Rebellion works. Authority is failing.”
And if anarchy is a little rocky at first – before the shopping mall parts – maybe I should know a few skills. If not, I do hike a lot and I’m pretty likely to just hang out in the woods for a while. Fortunately for me, there was a course throughout the week with very basic survival skills – on finding and disinfecting water, on starting fire, and on finding shelter and what things to stuff in your pack before you take a walk in the woods. Some of the most fun I had all week was watching people touch 9V batteries to steel wool and starting fires in a bucket. There’s something magic about starting fire and you can see it in people’s eyes. When the instructor, Mark Steele, put a scoop of petroleum jelly on a cotton ball and stuck it onto the end of a stick for a girl to wipe some sparks onto (using an epic ferro rod), the thing lit up like a tiny molotov cocktail. We observed more traditional methods of fire-starting as well, but a lighter and a few cotton balls covered in petroleum jelly hiding in an old mason jar will be more than you need to get a fire started in an emergency situation.
The premises of the survival talks was that the goal when being lost in the woods is to maintain your body temperature first, then focus on being rescued within 72 hours, if possible. Of course, Steele joked, unless you prefer to stay lost.
I think many of us would like to send some statists to the woods for extended vacations. But we could be a little less violent – you could just have intellectual self-defense. David Kelley of the Atlas Society makes the case for having a philosophy – a worldview – an educated opinion. If you can’t define your worldview, you won’t persuade anyone of anything. If you’re going to rebel against something, then be for something.
In order to use philosophy and persuasion in tune with each other, identify your opponent’s assumptions, and ask them for definitions. If you can’t agree on what “capitalism” is, you can’t have a realistic discussion about it. Never accept your opponent’s premises – and try to make your examples personal. Bring it down to the individual level, because it can show that someone’s assumptions about others probably doesn’t apply to them, therefore invalidating it. Once you do this, you can shift the burden of proof onto your opponent – and you can rest your laurels on your philosophical armchair, which like most armchairs is very heavy and hard to move. Lastly, Kelley warned us with some Kenny Rogers: “Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold.” Can you flip your opponent? If so, get to their core beliefs and tear. If not, is it worth it at all? I thought back to my experience watching the an-cap and the classical liberal sparring.
Good stuff to think about as I wandered PorcFest’s tame middle ground – no wild children, no wild hallucinations, just vivid reality. Hey look, a buck in an empty campsite. Hey look, a ten right in the road. Hey look, two fives as I stroll back from the showers. Walking the middle path pays.
I woke up bright and early one morning and walked down to the sunny main field to sit and write. Some dudes were still up near the bonfire, smoking and slurping the backwash on their last drinks. One guy stumbled to where the bathroom was, but it was closed, so he just sat there on the ground for a minute. Right near us people were getting a wicked ultimate frisbee game going.
I sunned and read some more from Hakim Bey. As part of his lifestyle anarchy, Bey bought into the idea of smashing the state (and authoritarian society in general) in ways that might be violations of the non-aggression principle, but surely harmed no one – what he called Poetic Terrorism (PT). He sums it up simply with a list of ideas:
Weird dancing in all-night computer-banking lobbies. Unauthorized pyrotechnic displays. Land-art, earthworks as bizarre alien artifacts strewn in State Parks. Burglarize houses but instead of stealing, leave Poetic-Terrorist objects. Kidnap someone and make them happy.
The point of Poetic Terrorism is to leave the brazen message that something is fucked up and you don’t accept it – whether one element of society or all of it: we’re lied to, treated like livestock, told to behave and treated with fallacies of fear and authority, ruled by sociopaths and their power-hungry lackeys. Crony-capitalists and various forms of state bullhorn media prolong this message for their own forms of power and we can’t accept that anymore, either. In other words:
The audience reaction or aesthetic-shock produced by PT ought to be at least as strong as the emotion of terror – powerful disgust, sexual arousal, superstitious awe, sudden intuitive breakthrough, dada-esque angst – no matter whether the PT is aimed at one person or many, no matter whether it is “signed” or anonymous, if it does not change someone’s life (aside from the artist) it fails.
And with that, every piece of sidewalk chalk art on the private roads of Roger’s Campground were amazing pieces of activism. Some kids drew spaceship-like monstrosities that Dr. Seuss couldn’t even dream of, some adults drew mushrooms and other trippy things – perhaps these were maps of some sort – there were ads for anarchist tax advice and toga parties and organic baked goods, and one “dada-esque” piece that was total nonsense yet meant everything in the world to me. I look at it and see sparks and ether and space and chaos and in that chaos is love.
Now, I did happen to notice some curious flyers that found themselves pinned on bulletin boards, stapled to trees, and taped to boulders and toilet stalls overnight. We were being warned not to commit any thought crimes, lest we end up like everyone’s favorite ex-Free Stater radical, Ian Freeman. If we saw anything, we were to say something. This was a delightful example of Poetic Terrorism.“BANNED!” became a common joke among my friends throughout the week, every time someone made a racy joke or inappropriate comment (hint: there were lots).
I heard reports of some people wearing radios pulling the flyers down, but many flyers still remained hanging even into the last day of the week. A mild protest, but a significant one!
I was a bit upset that a lot of people chose not to attend PorcFest even though Freeman himself went public with his support of folks attending, regardless of what they thought of the situation. The radical element of PorcFest was surely lacking this year. There were no sex domes, but I heard that one girl was attempting to earn a few hundred bucks for certain experiences with willing buyers. There was no Big Gay Dance Party, which formally retired last year – but nor was there its proper replacement, as the folks who were expected to take the reins chose not to attend. The Big Gay Dance Party was an act of Poetic Terrorism – a perfect example of it, actually – but this year we settled for the still raucous CAMP! dance party. While dressing campy is still pretty gay, it’s not “big gay.” I did sport a bandana around my neck and a moustache and a boyish striped t-shirt – how campy am I?! – while I went down to the scene, where there was a cool DJ twisting songs apart for a crowd of dancers who opted for minuscule amounts of outlandish clothing. Tere were fire dancers on the field and lots of mesmerized gawkers, though I’m not sure if it was the fire or the revealing costumes of the dancers that caused the vacant stares. Under the tents there were puffs of cannabis, vape pens, cigarettes, lots of laughs and board games, and plenty of trash cans filled with beer bottles and God-knows-what-else.
The dance party – regardless of its gaiety – is the epitome of the TAZ that is PorcFest. We were bothered by no one – which is good because most attendees are utterly defenseless as they choose not to open-carry while under the influence of some sort of substance. On the flipside, this is an interesting phenomenon as here we have a gathering of individuals who all insist on doing their own thing – none of which violates the NAP, but some of which can be pretty edgy or dangerous.
While strolling through the “ghetto of PorcFest” – that is, the RV fields, which is where the adults and late-nighters tend to live their liberty – we found a PorcRanger outpost. The PorcRangers are the security and medical team at PorcFest, working together with the anarchist-charity group FR33 AID to make sure everyone has a safe time on top of their raucous one. It seemed very unusual to see any formal PorcFest presence out here in the no man’s land. They often only keep to their traditional site in Agora Valley at the entrance to the campground, but this year they decided to make sure there was someone trained in various medical, psychological, and mediation techniques on the other side of the campground as well.
When I asked the woman who was overseeing the outpost why she was out here, she told me it was because they’ve spent a lot of time walking all the way out here to help someone who was lost in the dark or maybe just a touch over-trippy. I asked her what the worst thing that’s ever happened at PorcFest was, and she didn’t really have much of an answer for me. No one has died or tried flying off a building, we all agreed. While we talked, her radio went off: a child had thrown up on the merry-go-round, but thankfully we were wayyyy out here, nowhere near the merry-go-round. So back into the PorcRanger tent she went, to tend to her stock of free supplies any attendee can take, which was just about anything you could think of – bandages, medical supplies, cough drops, and condoms, lots of condoms. All important stuff, actually.
VI. “unprecedented opportunities for weirdness”
Because when you don’t use condoms, you end up with lots of kids. And kids will want to play Humans vs. Zombies every day at PorcFest all day and hit each other with the pool noodle-like boffers and other assorted puffy weapons. One group of kids had another kid on the ground and were boffing him and yelling “Stop resisting! Stop resisting!” Someone commented upon hearing this story that some people should probably stop letting their kids watch this deep-end You Tube stuff. I say let the kids play-act – all kids like to play cops and robbers and some of them have to be the cops, man. I just hope they take turns.
I went into town to get some good coffee and change the scenery for a few minutes – I also like to peek into Lancaster once in a while and see how many libertarians I can spot in town, or how annoyed locals look when someone in a GOD HATES FLAGS shirt walks by. So there I sat in the Polish Princess bakery drinking a coffee when a man buys an entire pepperoni pizza and asks the girl behind the counter to let everyone know that anyone who would like some free pizza can have a slice. Every time someone came in, they were offered a free slice of pizza and it was wonderful. I declined, but found it charming and beautiful that there was this sort of loving behavior in town. Lancaster is truly a fitting place for an event like PorcFest.
I decided to get back off those dangerous public roads and sit in on a talk about getting off the grid. Chris Haynes passed out free copies of his book OFF GRID POWER, a how-to for wiring 12-volt electrical systems to batteries and solar panels and just about every electronic device you will need in your tiny home. His talk focused on big-picture ideas for tiny home planning. What’s fascinating is that many towns and states are changing their zoning laws and building codes to accommodate tiny homes, as they are realizing that these methods of living are much more suitable and sustainable for individuals and local governments alike. Minimalist living and building tiny homes – a rejection of our culture’s religion of Stuff – is a form of activism in its own right and a damned fun one to fantasize about doing myself.
Katherine Mangu-Ward from Reason was at PorcFest to give a talk titled “Libertarians! In! Space!” which was not just about the fact that it is free markets and radical dreamers who are out-NASAing NASA, but that it is libertarians who push the boundaries for everything. If you allow more than two options, anyone with a penchant for free market economics will find a way to make a million options, hence her comment that libertarians like to create “unprecedented opportunities for weirdness.” If you give them an inch, libertarians will be weird for miles. Let’s just briefly touch on some of the LP candidates, shall we? One of them kissed an opponent on TV, one is a possible murder suspect in Belize, one rejects the core principle of libertarianism (NAP), one wants to regulate everything like tomatoes (that is, not regulate things at all, which makes the metaphor rather strange — and he was the most libertarian of them all!), one guy strips on stage during the convention, one guy wears a boot on his head and is always running for something for some political party and trying to mandate everyone brush their teeth, need I continue?
On a serious note, Mangu-Ward reminded us all that anything is possible thanks to this crazy concept of liberty, of free-thinking and free markets. She knows a lawyer who is able to make a career out of only helping people write up contracts for “non-standard relationships.” It’s not entirely legal stuff, but it’s cutting-edge and someone has to lead the way. She also said that just that morning she stood next to a man with a “badass bionic arm” on the bus and found it amazing that he could hold someone’s coffee cup for a moment with it, using gyroscopes on his feet to control the fingers. Amazing.
Equally amazing was a baby t-shirt I saw. It had a porcupine on it and said STAY SHARP. What a cool baby.
VII. “the road to freedom” / “we are literally plotting the survival of civilization”
Camp life was good this year. We were able to tie a tarp above our picnic table in order to prepare for a week’s worth of rain – but then it only rained once. I bought a coffee maker for $8 at Goodwill and plugged it in right next to the tent for non-stop coffee madness – the market has figured out how to get alcohol and edibles into the hands of anyone who wants or doesn’t want those things, but the finer coffee market is still developing in Agora Valley. I also burned a “literal shit ton” of illegally transported firewood, most of which burned a little too bright, as it was scrap wood from ripping my house apart over the last year – old plywood, pieces of drawers, chairs, and pressure-treated lumber, an old dogwood bush. Bernie stickers, American flags, Mountain Dew boxes and freebie Reason magazines – in the words of my campmate Adam, we burn all symbols of oppression at site 12. We brought real firewood too, I swear. We needed something to cook food on.
Near our site was one outpost of what was called the Feen Fest Somalia – because that’s what the Freedom Feens do. I bought a WORMS! Magnet from a small child who made it on a 3D printer – because that’s what kidtrepeneurs do. One of our campmates and her daughter roasted marshmallows over the least volatile part of our chemically-laced campfire – I roasted dates, cos that’s what I do. And I was able to chill out and enjoy Tatiana Moroz play a fun set – that’s what she does.
Mike Vine gave an invigorating talk on how we as liberty lovers can each individually do a lot of good in the world. He stressed that we live in a society of networks – not a great big hive – and that through each interaction we are exemplifying our power as individuals. One example, he shared, is the obvious one of the Free State Project: when Free Staters get together they go “gangbusters.” Vine himself is involved in the clubhouse/shared workspace called the Praxeum which hosts many startups and educational programs, both for homeschoolers and activists alike. “We are going to achieve the free society when we start doing it,” he stressed. “We are literally plotting the survival of civilization.”
When one person finds a way to achieve the “impossible,” everyone else very quickly has access to it and will accomplish it themselves – that’s just the way things work. Vine’s favorite example is that of Roger Bannister, the first man to run the 4-minute mile. As soon as he broke that barrier, it became a norm for people to run a 4-minute mile. With this we can extract the lesson that successful people take themselves seriously. This is the last thing that the ruling class wants people to do. “They know the power of each individual and they’re scared shitless,” Vine said.
With that, he concluded, let’s learn how to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first, then find someone to help – and he laid out an outline anyone can follow. First, form some foundational habits that “liberate you from the heaviness of life.” This involves journaling, organizational methodology, getting good sleep, having personal dignity and taking care of yourself, as well as good educational habits (find a topic to listen to every podcast about then get to it!). Next, he suggests being a positive presence every day to everyone around you. This involves being honest, smiling, helping others, getting involved in the community if possible, being a conscious consumer (as in, “voting” with your dollars), teaching others, partaking in charity and also finding ways to add more beauty to the world. Adding beauty can be installing gardens or art, but it can also be as simple as picking up litter. “Literally the difference between a sad place and one that attracts people” can be made or broken by litter and the general messiness of a town. I also think it’s a fantastic excuse to have a rally/protest on any topic – and then pick up litter. This actually happened in Manchester right after PorcFest – there was a #NHExit secession rally at which the sign-wavers spent some time picking up litter.
Finally, Vine concluded, for those who are still looking for ways to grow and build, create institutions and launch ventures. Actually provide people alternatives. “We should be providing better services because we have a better ideology,” he said. Also, for any community, it is beneficial to have a meeting area/clubhouse – and it creates a personality in the community. “Who’s running it?” people will ask. “Well, the Liberty People are running it.” And when all the good things they are doing get out into the neighborhood, all that credit and respect will emanate back to them.
If you don’t do anything else, though, at least try to “be there for people,” – this is important – “especially smaller people.” Be a mentor, be a peaceful parent, make the next generation one that isn’t broken from the stress and nonsense of bad schooling and communication techniques and spirit-breaking prevalent in the world today.
But there are ways out! There are tools and strategies just laying around waiting to be used. I didn’t see much of Reason editor Matt Welch’s talk, but I did hear him say that he hopes more liberty lovers live “less subconsciously edgy” lives and practice “more living your edginess.” We need to take our freedom to the streets!
Jack Shimek, the founder of Alt-Expo – now in its 22nd infiltration of a FSP event, a TAZ within a TAZ, hosting talks and meet-ups all over the campground – gave a talk on the alternative to libertarianism, agorism. If libertarianism is only thorough when using the NAP, then by all means, “majoritarian politics” is not libertarian. Shimek channeled Samuel Conkin III, who argued that libertarianism is supposed to be the non-aggression principle and free market solutions, nothing more. Agorism can be snidely called “new libertarianism,” but really I think what he means is practice what you preach, libertarians.
Seek alternatives, Shimek stressed, in every choice. He held up his water bottle and told us he trusts Poland Springs more than he trusts what’s coming up the pipes in his home. Instead of trusting the police – or even some security systems – just “get a bigger door.” He recommended a You Tube video of some cops trying to bust down a door that was large enough to laugh back, and all they could do was keep trying because all hammers can do is pound. Shimek ran through a list of areas where the state tends to have control, or at least one of its pals does: food production, energy, transportation, communication, etc. There’s an alternative and all you need to do is find it, develop it, or build the institution yourself. You can start small — with beverage choices and home security, for example — and scale out from there.
Perhaps one area where all libertarians are forced to interact is politics. And I don’t necessarily mean what Shimek calls “parliamentary politics.” We take part in politics every waking hour, as it is simply interactions between individuals. There are tools for that too, and they aren’t necessarily shit-tossing and name-calling.
Katie Testa ran through the basics of Non-Violent Communication (NVC) and how it can be applied in interactions with individuals of differing political opinions to come to peaceful conclusions. People have been raised within the paradigm of the state, which teaches us the same story that any superhero cartoon plays episode by episode. Bluto is constantly trying to steal Popeye’s girlfriend, and as viewers we project ourselves onto the good guy – Popeye – and root for him. But why is Bluto constantly trying to steal his girlfriend, and how come no one has ever tried to resolve the situation peacefully? The state does the same thing – bad guys keep appearing and we keep swatting them down, ‘cos we’re the good guys! And those within its ideological and geographical borders shout “Ra! Ra! ‘Merica!”
Well, Testa asks, “Why do people support that myth?” What causes this Us vs. Them mentality and how can it be picked apart in a polite way that gets the other person thinking about it without being defensive? Without being too schticky and scripty (one critique of Marshall Rosenberg’s version of NVC), one can use the NVC model to talk to someone about their core beliefs. If “violence” is coercion – including physical aggression, guilt, shame, punishment and reward – how can people communicate in a non-violent way?
The basic premise of NVC rests on the fact that “Everything we do, we do to meet a need.” It doesn’t matter if a need is right or wrong, moral or amoral. You could call a need a “motivational factor” if you’d like. We use strategies to meet needs – some people use coercion – and when a need is met we tend to feel pretty good about ourselves. Therefore needs have a strong connection and correlation with feelings. So we can use empathy to connect with people and get them to think about their needs and strategies.
Let’s say someone is pro-police. It’s likely they have a reason, a need to fulfill, that justifies this in their minds: safety. That makes it pretty easy to connect with them, once you can observe their reasons for being uncomfortable around someone who doesn’t value law enforcement agents in the ways they do. Basically the goal is to promote curiosity instead of self-defense and let the other person hash their ideas out – “I see you have a need for safety, let’s talk about that.”
On the flip side, when someone is projecting onto the NVC user, they can reply such as Testa did: “When you say I should vote, I feel a little bit sad.” Now they’re curious and will start asking questions.
Of course, it doesn’t always succeed. NVC is just a tool and it can be altered to meet different needs. Testa reminded us, “There’s a beautiful market of strategies out there.” And we can take what we like and leave what we don’t.
Now and then we need to stop being theoretical and let action happen. Perfect agorism, perfect communication, perfect mentorship, perfect “being there for people” doesn’t exist. People need to take action on their own. Big exits from the system are possible but that leap off the burning building has to be by the person whose feet are on fire.
Nick Hazelton was a 14-year-old who decided public school wasn’t for him – and yak farming was. As a kid, he discovered libertarian ideas, mostly through his father’s support of 2008 LP candidate Bob Barr – “I started calling myself a libertarian but I didn’t know what it meant,” he said. “Obviously my dad didn’t know either.” Hazelton convinced his parents that dropping out and pursuing self-education was the right way to go for him and they went for it.
Not quite eighteen today – and facing the possibility of being auctioned off by his Freedom Feens overlords – Hazelton explained to us how his road to freedom is paved with yaks and hogs. It’s tastier than it might sound. Yak produces a “very lean and rich, dark meat,” higher in protein than beef or bison, and it’s milk has a much higher fat content as well. He’s planning to found the first yak dairy in the United States – “and in four years you might be able to get some milk at PorcFest,” which I’m sure will be illegal so sign me up.
Hazelton’s talk veered back to his story of dropping out of school and taking on farm tasks. After calling into shows like Freedom Feens and Free Talk Live, he found mentors and free equipment to get involved in podcasting. What I like about his show, The Anarcho-Yakitalist, is that he is self-educating himself while asking the exact questions someone learning something for the first time would ask – or perfect supplemental material for a non-schooled student. Who will build the educational roads? We all build our own, over and over again.
It was a fitting keynote for the week – the Saturday night bonfire and live bands wrapped up the final night of PorcFest while I relaxed by my illegal fire, burning the last scraps of house I smuggled in. The reason transporting firewood is illegal is because someone might bring an invasive species of bug or plant into a fragile environmental area. But what’s to stop an invasive species or bug from sneaking into my sleeping bag and taking over my fragile environment (eek)? We’re really not supposed to be asking these sorts of questions, so just go in your tent and sleep, you wily anarchist.
Up early, before most of the PorcRangers, and past the smothered bonfire smoke, sending one last signal of freedom to the sunrise, where it will continue forever. Left, back onto the dangerous public roads toward Lancaster and its one good coffee shop. In, wafts of fresh bread baking and fresh coffee pouring into my cup. Bakers and baristas talking, wondering when that event down the street called PorcFest ends. “Last night,” I told them. “Well, today.” She told me the coffee shop was filled with libertarians the other day – she seemed excited. We are a good crowd, we like to spend money and we like good coffee — and a few of us still eat bread.
I liked learning that folks in town don’t mind the presence of hundreds of liberty lovers doing their own thing just down the street for one week a year. Perhaps someday this Temporary Autonomous Zone will inspire a Permanent Autonomous Zone. If anything, we can all declare ourselves autonomous and live the free lives we are meant to live. With that, I thanked her, took my coffee and got in my car, backed out of an angled parking space illegally, and drove off into the wild, dangerous world known as the state. While the world may not be free yet, I know that I am. Autonomy realized.
[Interested in reading way too much PorcFest stuff?]
[thanks for reading my stories about personal freedom @ the wild ride!]
[or leave a comment, will ya?]