Garry Reed combined a professional technical writing career and a passion for all things libertarian to become The Libertarian Opinionizer.
Commentary From Your Libertarian Opinionizer
When libertarians take their beliefs online how should they go about convincing others to change their minds and accept their libertarian positions?
The simple answer is that they shouldn’t. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything. Just state your case as clearly as possible and move on. The truth is that no one changes someone else’s mind because all individuals change their own minds.
To that point John Stuart Mill noted in 1869, long before “internet” was even a word, that the more deeply a person’s beliefs are rooted in emotion the less likely those beliefs can be swayed by reason. Think religion. Think any kind of faith. It’s highly unlikely that what a person is feeling can be changed with reasoning.
In short, you can’t change feelz when you argue realz.
This doesn’t just apply to trolls and true believers of course. And just to be clear, in this article’s context a true believer is a…
Zealot noun one who is intensely or excessively devoted to a cause.
Synonyms: crusader, fanatic, ideologue (also idealogue), militant, partisan (also partizan), red hot, true believer—Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Even the most thoughtful, rational, amenable online discussions can end in disagreement. That’s because, to quote Mill again, “Every circumstance which gives a character to the life of a human being, carries with it its peculiar biases: its peculiar facilities for perceiving some things, and for missing or forgetting others.”
A big part of this is explored in a book by Phil M. Williams, The Propaganda Project, that attempts to counsel thoughtful people on how to deal with the fact that we are bombarded incessantly with propaganda from media, religion, schooling, government, culture, society, commercial advertising, family, friends and in every other way imaginable.
Even while seeking to convince others to change their minds libertarians should strive to be open to changing their own minds by continuing to question their own beliefs. That’s how most libertarians came to libertarianism in the first place. So it just might be that those others actually have a better grasp of the facts and it’s you who might be persuaded to change.
But this is intended to be a guide not just for amenable online discussions but advice for dealing with the unamenable.
Online Ogres and Internet Imbeciles
There are several reasons for not getting into hissy fits with online denizens: The first of the worst are the Trolls and True Believers. Roanna Carleton-Taylor in her article “Anonymous Haters and Trolls on Social Media” identifies other misbegotten goblins as well.
Don’t Heed the Trolls
Everyone who has ever communicated with others on social media platforms knows what a troll is. They are ego-driven loners who will confront whatever you say with ad hominin attacks, insults, profanity, irrelevant drivel and other general obnoxious stupidity. Don’t bite. If you initiate a post just state your position clearly and leave. If you’re responding to a troll-trashing never lower yourself to the lout’s level; just state your disagreement and leave. And don’t engage again. It’s a pointless waste of your time.
Some trolls like to start out sounding serious and interested the better to suck you in. When they pounce don’t renounce. They’re just there for the ego rush of “winning” their own fake debate. Don’t debate, depart.
Many trolls will give away their trollishness by posting three, four, five posts in a row without anyone responding because their minds, apparently, are racing ahead of their typing fingers and they just can’t keep up with their own holy moly troll trash.
Just for fun you can do this: Tell the troll you’ll give him the last comment so he can pretend he has “won” but it will also prove he’s a troll. Then wait awhile and sneak a peek. Something like 99.9% of trolls will take the bait, thereby proving their troll status. Don’t respond to him. Let his little ego grow.
And keep in mind that trolls will never ever ever ever admit to changing their mind, even when it’s true, or admit that they could ever possibly be wrong about anything. It’s hard not to flame back but just let them go.
True Believers and Unbelievers
It’s usually rare for true believing zealots, of religion, politics, philosophy, and all other areas of life, to become unbelievers. It does happen but again the process involves people changing their own minds for their own reasons, not because someone invaded their brains with the perfect argument and flipped their switch.
Unfortunately the most common political and philosophical true believer encountered by libertarians online are those who learned a smattering of fake libertarianism from someone they heard or something they read and then arrogantly presume to tell libertarians what libertarianism is.
This is when libertarians need to remind themselves that libertarianism is an individualist philosophy. When met with some weird wide-ranging all–encompassing groupthink description of libertarianism don’t take the position that you are somehow honor-bound to defend the entire world of libertarianism.
First of all you cannot possibly. There are too many nuanced positions and you’ll never be able to cover, or even know, all of them.
Don’t try to defend libertarian philosophy, the Libertarian Party, the Non-Aggression Principle, Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, the laissez-faire free market, post-statists, voluntaryists, agorists, self-ownership or any other sweeping concept or worldview. Don’t speak for anyone else. Remember that you are an individual and your only obligation, if you so choose, is to defend your own conception of what libertarianism means to you. State your position clearly and calmly and then let it go.
True Beliving Trolls
Both trolls and true believers will inevitably try to pretend they are mind-readers, telling you exactly what you are really thinking and who you really are. It’s called psychobabble.
Best definition in this context:
“Psychobabble is a form of speech or writing that uses psychological jargon, buzzwords, and esoteric language to create an impression of truth or plausibility. The term implies that the speaker or writer lacks the experience and understanding necessary for the proper use of psychological terms.”—definitions.net.
Nobody is a mind-reader, nobody is psychic, nobody has a Ouija board or a Magic 8 Ball that can read your mind. Nobody knows every little nuance of your thought process based on a few internet words that you posted. Yet every time you explain why they are wrong they will keep redefining you using some other jargon-filled tactic. Say goodbye to them.
Other Online Ogres
Beyond those most common creeps Carleton-Taylor’s article “Anonymous Haters and Trolls on Social Media” identifies a handful of others ranging from benign to outright malicious. These onliners will be of little value to libertarians hoping to continue the spread of The Modern American Libertarian Movement and should be avoided entirely.
The ignorant are folks who are just innocently wrong, being unable to tell facts from fake news and bias. See again book The Propaganda Project. Their typical sources of “knowledge” are blogs, tabloid newspapers and other people’s personal opinions.
The Easily Led are those who have no strong opinions and will blindly Like and Share whatever they’re told about libertarianism and will later Like and Share whatever they’re told against libertarianism.
The Fame Hungry use hate speech to bloat their own egos and wallow in personal fame by gaining online followers and those obsessively coveted “Likes” on Facebook.
Prejudice Promotors are the racists and the race-baiters, the homophobes and Islamophobes and xenophobes and Jew-baiters. These, Taylor warns us, are “not being swayed by propaganda—this lot are the ones creating the propaganda.”
Propaganda vs Rational Thought
“Propaganda” is the enemy of rational thought. All libertarians serious about their beliefs, their convictions and their commitments have had to work their way through the mind-cluttering mass of the intentional misinformation, disinformation, programming and proselytization that is propaganda.
Libertarians themselves have been and will be accused of being mindless victims of propaganda by anti-freedom, anti-individualist, anti-libertarian control freaks. It even shows up in the Goodreads reviews of Phil M. Williams The Propaganda Project.
Eleven of 19 reviewers gave the book five stars, especially for encouraging critical thinking. Others were turned off and awarded fewer stars after complaining about Williams’ libertarianism, labeling his ideas as pushing “a utopian society” and “a left originating libertarian-anarchist society” and identifying his “philosophical discussions akin to Ayn Rand” as negatives.
These reviews clearly bump up against people’s deeply invested personal worldviews, making it even more important for libertarians themselves to keep their minds open and active while expounding on the beauty, the desirability, the realistic advantages of a free, peaceful, prosperous society based on the Non-Aggression Principle that all decent people already live by in their personal lives: the rejection of initiated force, intimidation and fraud.
Keep advocating libertarians and skip the pointless hateful blowback from the trolls, haters and true believing zealots.
References and Links
Ten Total Troll Types? Elise Moreau at Lifewire admits she hasn’t compiled a complete list but has nonetheless come up with ten types of trolls that include Insult Trolls, Debate Trolls, Forever Offended Trolls, Showoff Trolls and Profanity Trolls just for starters.
The Rational Libertarian Gary Nolan identifies the reality that separates trolls from everyone else. Trolls spew nonsensical hate while serious libertarians respond with facts. He recognizes that “Proper debate involves exchange of opinions, ideas, and facts—nothing else.”
Libertarian Trolls Like all movements there are, unsurprisingly, “some libertarian groups and circles that are dedicated specifically for trolling and sharing offensive content” with the goal of driving people away from libertarianism. Who knew there were un-libertarian libertarians?
Toying With a Troll If you insist on playing with trolls Kent McManigal on his "Hooligan Libertarian" Blog might be the best, and funniest, example of how to do that. Just keep pushing reason at them and see how they struggle to deal with it.