An Overview Of Autistic Libertarianism

The term “autistic libertarianism” (or “libertarian autism”) has come into use as a criticism not so much of libertarian theory, but of libertarians who either misunderstand it or apply it in a manner inconsistent with the situation at hand. Unfortunately, it appears to be running along the same course as many other political terms, decaying from useful descriptor of a troublesome tendency to meaningless epithet for whatever a communicator dislikes. Whereas this term is more useful than most, at least for philosophical libertarians, I will attempt to prevent the decay of this term by providing a general overview of it.

Autism Symptoms

The term “autistic libertarianism” came into use because the types of arguments, behaviors, and strategies it describes have clear analogues in the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders. Some symptoms of autism do not have political relevance, and several can even cause a person to be removed from politics entirely, as they can be socially and economically crippling. Therefore, let us focus upon the aspects of autism which commonly manifest among some libertarians which can impair but which do not completely eliminate their effectiveness.

Communication Breakdown

People who have autism spectrum disorders typically have a lack of interest in sharing achievements, emotions, or interests with other people. They frequently lack empathy for other people’s feelings and have difficulties in forming and sustaining relationships. They can become preoccupied with particular topics, having a very intense, focused interest in those topics. They can have difficulties in understanding other perspectives as well as non-literal speech. Repetitive use of set phrases can also occur.

Naturally, this leads to communication problems that most other people do not have. Most commonly, the result is that an autistic libertarian will use reason and evidence exclusively while being unable to process that a listener is operating emotionally rather than rationally, and is therefore unreceptive to reason and evidence. Continuing to be unresponsive to their emotional state is as useful as administering medicine to the dead and will only serve to frustrate the listener, but the autistic libertarian will keep right on doing so with blissful ignorance of its ineffectiveness.

Another effect of these symptoms is a sort of hyper-individualism in which a person loses the ability to identify or think about groups or shared interests, as well as make collective judgments. Because the autistic libertarian has difficulties in dealing with other people, it can be psychologically comforting to attempt to define out of existence one’s interactions with them. But without the abilities to organize into voluntarily formed groups to accomplish tasks which are too difficult to complete on one’s own and to recognize large-scale threats in the form of a demographic shift to a culture which is hostile to liberty, libertarians will consistently lose to opponents who suffer from no such handicaps.

The preoccupation with libertarian theory can take on such an extent that one’s other interests, activities, and relationships suffer. The result can be a lack of ability to talk about anything else, and thus an inability to sustain relationships which depend upon variety in conversation and activities. Finally, whether by intellectual laziness or by the culmination of all of the above symptoms, the autistic libertarian may come to replace reasoned argument with hackneyed bromides; “Taxation is theft!,” “Conscription is slavery!,” and so on. Such statements are true, of course, but simply shouting them repeatedly without explaining them convinces few people to join the cause.

Mind Versus Matter

People who have autism spectrum disorders can have difficulty with abstract thinking and central coherence, causing them to focus on details while missing the big picture and fail to plan ahead for future possibilities. Autistic people can have a troubling need for routines, being unable to deal with even small changes. These symptoms, when combined with the other symptoms discussed above, cause most of the incorrect thinking produced by autistic libertarians. At the time of this writing, this occurs most notably on the issues of immigration, censorship, political activity, hedonistic behavior, and self-defense, so let us consider each of these examples.

Many libertarians argue that state immigration controls should be completely lifted because they violate freedom of movement of immigrants, private property rights of residents, and freedom of association of both. This response is autistic because it denies the context in which these immigration controls are enforced. The state imposes common spaces upon its population, has the power to bring into the society people who are fundamentally opposed to its basic principles, uses anti-discrimination laws to force people to associate with the immigrants, steals money from its citizens to give handouts to the immigrants, and even allows the immigrants to start voting after a period of time. When the correct libertarian answer of private property border enforcement is not on the table and even talking about what would be required to put that answer on the table can get one run off from publishing platforms and speaking engagements, we are left with the state forcing either inclusion or exclusion, and forced exclusion is clearly the lesser evil. Note that more generally, there is no right to move across private property within which one is unwelcome outside of some extreme lifeboat scenarios, and some forms of immigration would require this.

Libertarians rightly condemn governments for suppressing freedom of speech, but will generally support the right of a private person or company to dissociate from particular speakers or remove their content from a publication and/or website. At first glance there is nothing wrong with this position, but looking deeper can reveal an example of autistic libertarianism. Popular social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter influence and are influenced by multiple governments. These governments usually have an agenda which is left-wing and anti-libertarian, and these platforms frequently censor posts and ban users who are openly critical of such agendas, especially if tempers flare between critics and supporters. The libertarian who supports the social media platforms in their censorship or praises the overall result as an example of the free market punishing bigots should check their autism.

While mainstream libertarians tend to be politically active within a libertarian party or another party which is occasionally receptive to libertarian positions on certain issues, some more ardent libertarians will denounce any form of political action as incrementalist or as helping to perpetuate the statist democratic system. But the consequence of being completely uninvolved in politics, as Plato wisely noted, is to be ruled by one’s inferiors. This is not to say that a libertarian is autistic for refusing to vote for the lesser of two evils in a two-party system or that staying home on Election Day is an inherently autistic behavior, but these positions require other justifications.

Many libertarians, especially those who come from the left, will emphasize the decriminalization of vices and the amount of harm that governments have done by trying to stamp out drugs, prostitution, gambling, and so forth. Autistic libertarianism enters the scene in the form of those who encourage vices as though they were virtues. This places emphasis on a hedonistic individualism to the detriment of community survival. A successful libertarian civilization must have a well-functioning market economy and be capable of both stopping common criminality and repelling external invasions. Those who abuse drugs, engage in sexual promiscuity, gamble excessively, and so forth may not be directly harming anyone other than themselves, but these behaviors practiced frequently on a large scale not only fail to make a successful libertarian civilization, but endanger its continued existence and flourishing by weakening its members and attracting people who will fake being a libertarian for their own selfish ends while undermining the community.

The issue which attracts the most autistic libertarian thought is that of self-defense in general and how far it may go in particular. Some libertarians have misinterpreted the non-aggression principle to mean that a defender may not use any more force than an aggressor has used, that force may only be used in a situation of immediate danger, and that no innocents may be harmed by said defensive force. This view is autistic because it completely fails to comprehend the nature of aggression and violent conflict while taking a small, compartmentalized view of the matter. If a defender may not use any amount of force necessary to subdue an aggressor, then all an aggressor need do to get away with criminal behavior is to use force in such a way that the defender cannot use enough force to subdue the aggressor. If one may only use force in a situation of immediate danger, then people are left without a way to recover stolen property, stop someone who hires hitmen, defend themselves against state aggression, or do much of anything about criminals who can obfuscate responsibility. If no innocent may be harmed in the course of defending oneself, then all an aggressor need do is to hide behind innocent shields in such a way that it is impossible to subdue them without harming an innocent.

Benefits

People who have autism spectrum disorders can have unusual sensory perceptions, such as pain with light pressure but comfort with heavy pressure. Others have no pain sensation whatsoever. About 10% of autistic people have a savant skill, being far more competent than most people in some specific discipline. Unfortunately, these rarely have analogues in the sort of political autism being discussed here. However, those who are both medically and politically autistic while possessing savant skills or unusual sensory perceptions can spearhead a philosophical breakthrough.

What Should Be Done

While autistic libertarians frequently present a false representation of libertarian theory, they are not usually doing so in bad faith. And while they can steer actions in a counterproductive direction, some of them are capable of producing novel, valid arguments with far less difficulty than the average person. The best way to handle them, then, is to accept their presence but correct them when they go astray, with the aim of helping them to recognize their political autism and check it as needed so that other, non-autistic libertarians no longer have to do so for them.

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  • Wow!!! Being somewhat autistic officially myself, I found this to be a superb and insightful article. I have recently been asking myself,.. can a tolerate culture survive bringing explicitly intolerate cultures within itself,.. something I was loath to do before recently. I have long recognized the tendencies noted in this article within myself. As a child I had no interest in, nor understanding of, why my peers always insisted upon creating and imposing hierarchies and needless judgements upon everyone,… including me. I was not a baby chick and saw no reason to be interested in being such. It would be decades before I came to understand the unnecessary obstacles this “colorblindness” would create for me.

    When I was six and attending Baptist Sunday school, my class was given a lecture on heaven and hell, death and the afterlife. When the lecture was over, I asked, “Is there free will in the afterlife?” Apparently no one else had ever asked this question. I was told that, “No, there is no free will in the afterlife because then good deeds could be done in hell, while bad deeds could be done in heaven. But all that is already sorted out before anyone dies, so there is no room for moral agency after one is dead.” So then I asked, “If I don’t take my body with me, and I don’t take my free will with me, why am I supposed to care about having an afterlife at all?” The reaction I got was very surprising at the time, and at 61 it is still surprising. In response, I was told, “Don’t ask such silly questions, and stop being a smartass.” That was the end of the discussion.

    I would ask church members, “Should I love God for salvation’s sake or for righteousness’s sake?” When I was told that only saints love righteousness for it’s own sake, and that most folks are more motivated by fear than by love,… I was bewildered. Largely, I still am.

    It was to make explicit, arational, even emotional arguments for Liberty, that I originally wrote the following back in 1986. I would appreciate your thoughts and comments.

    I Trust You
    Originally written December 11, 1986

    I trust you to be the most competent person to run your own life. I presume you can judge for yourself whether or not you should partake in recreational drugs, gamble with your paycheck, hire a prostitute, or engage in any other personal non-violent activity. If you find that any of these are manageable vacations for you, then no harm is done. If you find instead that it is becoming your entire lifestyle, then the most important advice that I, or anyone, can give you, is to point out that you, and you alone, are responsible for the consequences of your actions. Vice does not have volition. You do. If you wish to accept the aid of others, who voluntarily offer it, no one can criticize. If, instead, you continue to engage in self-destructive activities, until you forfeit your life, I will grieve for the lost opportunity of your life, while recognizing that you had to be free to make your own mistakes. To assume that the mere offer of temptation is the same as offering aggression implies that you can not be expected to behave responsibly in the face of such temptation. That may be your honest self-assessment, but it will never be my presumption about you. Would you want it to be?

    I believe you can choose what charities are worthy of support by your own moral standards. If one person would aid an unwed mother by offering her a subsidized abortion, while another would offer to adopt her child, who has the right to insist that only one or the other is acceptable – that support for the one standard of compassion will be compelled upon everyone, while the other is criminalized. You, and you alone, know how much you can afford to share with others after seeing to your own needs, and the needs of your family. Further, you, and you alone, know best how you can help. Do you really believe that love can be scaled up in size by coercive charities? Is the value of charity in the wealth that is given, or in the thought with which the wealth is given? Are you only concerned with the food in a man’s belly without a second thought about his soul? Can you only offer the poor the affection and esteem one would give farm animals? Does coercive love beget genuine compassion, or its antithesis, apathy and guilt? Is not government charity to voluntary charity as rape is to consensual sex? Do you really believe that institutionalizing government in the role of Robin Hood is a good idea? Robin Hood was a thief! But, at least, he was a thief because he had to be. There was no private property in King Richard’s England because ALL property was owned in the King’s name alone! And remember, Robin Hood’s enemy was the Sheriff of Nottingham,… THE GOVERNMENT! You and I would have been called serfs back then. Why, in the name of love, would anyone want to bring that life back? Do you regard others as only fit to live as serfs? Is that all you want out of life for yourself and your family? Is the only measure of charity you care to be tested upon to be your willingness to vote yourself (and everyone else) higher taxes? What are you saying you believe about yourself?

    Why shouldn’t everyone be free to accept any job offer at whatever wage is mutually agreeable between employee and employer? Should you not be presumed competent to decide for yourself what wage is fair? Is it exploitation to be offered a low wage, or is it exploitation to be compelled to accept no wage rather than a low one? Is the need for pride in gainful employment something only known by adults between the ages of eighteen and sixty five, or is productive activity something sought by us all, regardless of age, sex, disability, or the paternalistic good intentions of strangers?

    I trust that you know best what is a fair business risk for you to assume. I certainly trust your economic rationality when looking out for your own self-interest more than I would trust that of an anonymous government bureaucrat. Am I wrong for placing such trust in you?

    Should others tell you what standard of morality you will hold? Should strangers forcibly take your children and teach them what the strangers choose to teach? Not what you choose, but what strangers choose? Strangers do, you know. Should others tell you how many children you may have? Why not? Why do you object to one and not the other? What inalienable right do you invoke in one instance that does not apply in all instances?

    I trust you to be willing to fight to defend yourself and whatever else you value as much as you value your life. I trust you not to fight in unjust causes. When someone resists the draft in America and another in Russia, is one a coward and the other brave?

    The greatest distrust that all reasonable people seem to have is the distrust of using force themselves. This is a natural and wholesome thing. But self-defense is also necessary. I am not stupid or willfully naïve. I am not suggesting that we all become Pollyannas and not defend ourselves from evil people. So long as people have free will, there will always be evil. No generation of men will be without it, ever. But how to administer the force necessary for self-defense? Vigilantism? Voluntary committees of citizens organized to suppress and punish crime when the processes of law appear inadequate? And without government, there can be no law, right? Government is law, isn’t it? What happens when mistakes are made? Doesn’t vigilantism mean lynch mobs in practice, inevitably bringing with it constant fear and mutual suspicion for everybody as a consequence?

    So then, in honest self-doubt, reasonable men said, “Let us put force in one place, and then guard it by keeping it in one place. Let us call this place, Government.” But are we really safer for creating a monopoly and institutionalizing force? Could any mob be as dangerous as a society in which people say, I am not responsible, but the government is!?

    As bad as the abuse of force can be, what is far worse is the abdication of self-responsibility. Any time that force is used, these principles must be invoked to weigh the justice of the action:
    1. Force may only be used in response to force. Need, compassion, utopia, or fine dreams are not sufficient reasons.
    2. Force may only be used against an aggressor and not innocent bystanders. It is not enough for society to claim that it needs to regard everyone as guilty until proven innocent (which is precisely the premise of all regulatory government). It is not enough to be fair by leveling everyone with equal injustice (which is the method of all compassionate socialism).
    3. Force should only be used to gain restitution and not vengeance from aggressors. How can the world be other than impoverished when it tries to reduce criminals to the same sorry state as their forgotten victims? How long can criminals continue their self-denial of responsibility if they are required to repair the damage they are responsible for inflicting?

    We must always remember that it is not the pomp and ceremony of government that make it just. Justice does not lay in government, nor in law, but in principle alone. Force is not (nor can it ever be) a creative power. Force is impotent to make anything. Force, at best, can only protect creative processes. It can never be a substitute for the source of all productivity, the sovereign individual mind.

    In all argument concerning the integrity of ourselves and others, trust is an axiom, and it’s mine. But ultimately, trust is not something that I can prove for you. Trusting in yourself first, and then in others, is something that only you can do. I can not do it for you. Neither can the government, or your parents, or even God. Do you hesitate because you want an omnipotent guarantee of your continued existence? If you are trying to insure your survival by chaining my life to your welfare, are you not saying, in effect, that you trust me to keep you alive because you do not trust yourself? What does this do to enhance your celebration of life? What does this do for me? What does this teach our children? Do you hesitate to trust because you believe that justice requires that no innocent individuals should have to suffer through no fault of their own? Then there will be no end to your mistrust and suspicions because reality is indifferent to your beliefs about justice. There will always be misfortune and pain in the world. Utopia is not an option. It never was, and it never will be. Is it not probable that the maximum expression of good must always become evil, and that the minimum expression of evil is our best attainable good?

    The reason the Soviet state continues in power is that the Soviet citizen is sincerely frightened of others having more liberty. They know that their government is brutal, but they also know (that is, believe) it is better than their best expected alternatives. Be very careful when you consider what you know. The German people, for centuries, had been among the most tolerant of the Jews, but even they could be loyal and obedient when told that all virtue is synonymous with obedience to authority. When people act only within the moral alternatives that others give them, they then make horror inevitable! The state is not our parent. Whether one is talking about Mother Russia, or the German Fatherland, or Uncle Sam, one is talking nonsense. Grow up, and be responsible for your own life, and for your own chosen values. You must not remain a child forever while leaving your own children with the debt of your folly.

    I trust you to be the most competent person to run your own life. I am trusting my life on that fact. I am trusting your life to that fact. What other basis for social intercourse would you substitute? Why would you want to prove me wrong? When you believe that your fellow man is only fit for human society when living under the constant threat of initiatory force, aren’t you necessarily implying that he is just a stupid, incompetent, irresponsible, nigger slave, who is kept within bounds only by his fear of the whip and chain! Or is it that you are a willing slave whose real ambition is not freedom, but to own slaves of your own?

    I am sorry, if I offend you. But the most powerful way to elicit responsible and productive effort in you is to let you know that that is the only way I ever intend to deal with you. I know you are capable of living up to my expectations. Why do you doubt yourself? I trust you. Rather than considering myself a Pollyanna, I believe that only by such trust can there be any sound hope for a better world and a brighter future. Trust is not something that large anonymous institutions can give to you by fiat. At first meeting, it is a premise between two individuals. Later, trust is usually recognized as deserved. When trust of someone is not deserved, act accordingly. But putting everyone in prison, gilded or otherwise, is not a way to build trust, either in yourself, in others, or in reality. I think you deserve better. I know I do. And most important of all, what kind of world do we want our children to inherit?

    Yours in Liberty,
    David R. Hunt

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