12 February 2011
Advice for people involved in internecine disputes

1. Shut up.  Suffer any injustice rather than go public.

2. Do the work.  The winners (I am reliably informed) are the ones who do just that.

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  1. Some time before I die, I hope to do a posting/essay/whatever on how different this latest spat has been from the previous Libertarian Alliance split.  That was insanely serious, and infuriatingly prolonged.  This ruckus is already calming down and will soon stop, I think.

    Partly this is because of the characters of the leading protagonists.  None of them are psychologically as ... er ... extreme as (in particular) the two leading protagonists in the Great Split.  But the angle that most interests me is the influence of email, the internet, blogs and (particularly interesting this) blog comments.

    Patrick Crozier’s question (in a Samizdata comment as I recall,) about whether the world needs a Libertarian Alliance at all, has been much criticised, by those who will now be in charge of the Libertarian Alliance.  And I agree with these people that institutions - think tanks, societies, “centres”, group blogs, and so forth - still make a difference in the world and are worth setting up if you can make a decent go of them.

    But the fact remains that whereas such things are still worth having and being part of, in the days of that split long ago, they were all that there was for people like us to say what we wanted to say.  The isolated individual was utterly powerless. And if two or three isolated individuals got together to form of a group it took forever (compared to now) to get the group to the point of being a force in the world.  Hence, I believe, much of the frenzy with which we quarrelled (back then) about who controlled this particular institution.  Now, the fact that an individual is never isolated, and groups are relatively easily built up, means that that edge of lunacy is blunted in battles of this sort.

    And the other difference being made by the internet etc, is that it is now far easier to work out the true motivations of the people you are battling with, if you are.  Paranoid fantasies just don’t flourish like they did before, because there is too much evidence to contradict them.

    However, the reason for this is that lots of people do go public.  Not only in blog postings and things like FLC 203 that Sean Gabb published yesterday morning, but in comments on such things.

    Also, emails fly around, and get copied to those who are not supposed to be getting them.  The line between the private and the public gets, not blurred exactly, so much as routinely penetrated.  The distinction between private and public remains important, but lots of information leaks through barriers which circa 1980 were impenetrable.  This means that all involved get a much clearer picture of what is truly going on, crucially, as I say, what is going on in the minds of potential enemies.  Which means that they are far less likely to turn into actual enemies.

    Which means that if there is a potential stand-off to be agreed on, it is likely to be agreed on.

    For an illustration of the role of comments in particular, may I draw your attention to the comments made by Antoine Clarke, Dave Davis, and me, on my posting at my personal blog in response to FLC 203.  I ended up agreeing with LA blogmeister Dave Davis that Antoine (one of Sean Gabb’s fiercest critics) should cool it.  The battle lines are not formed along the lines that they would have been in 1980.

    By the way, a point I must make, while trying not to be rude to Patrick, is that I am willing to say things about this row here, at this (forgive me, Patrick) really rather obscure blog, that I would not want to say even at my relatively busier little blog.  This is a good place to be very low key about this.

    I think I can sum up by saying that the difference between that horror story and this mild storm in a tea cup is that then, we had just three teams to pick between, team A, team B, or team to hell with the bloody thing.  At first, a few chose A, a few B, and then by and by (because of what you say about who does the work best) a decent number of people who chose to hell with it came back to supporting A.  Now, each person involved in this little passing drama is his own person.

    Another major factor is that the protagonists then were a lot younger than the non-protagonists are now.  But that’s a different matter.  Time to end this comment.

    Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 12 February 2011 at 07:45am

  2. Sorry, I’m in the habit of being able to correct grammatical errors in my comments, at Samizdata and chez moi.  I forgot that I can’t do that here. Please forgive the grammatical infelicities.  I have spotted one already. I am sure there are others.

    Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 12 February 2011 at 07:56am

  3. Thanks for writing a comment that must have taken far longer to write than the original posting.

    And, no, I don’t mind Croziervision being described as “obscure”.  That might yet become its strapline.

    I have made a few changes to the original comment for grammar and punctuation.  I hope you’ll forgive me for that.

    I am still not sure that going public is a good idea.  It poisons wells that tend to stay poisoned.  And it achieves nothing.

    Well, when I say that I am thinking of the “X said this, Y did that” stuff.  There have been benefits from seeing how people think about tactics.  It does, at least, clarify the issue.

    Posted by Patrick Crozier on 12 February 2011 at 12:37pm

  4. Yes, agreed about the way people go public.  Generalised, polite, non-abusive reflections, expressing an individual point of view, are helpful.  Savage personal denunciations are a mistake.

    But the difference now is that as soon as any individual gets vituperative, another individual can say: hey, cool down mate.  The former is likely to lose internet kudos, the latter to gain it.  None of that could happen in the old days.  Then, everyone on both sides regretted only that they hadn’t gone to all out war sooner, got their retaliation in first, etc.  Now, the voice of sanity can assert itself.

    I remember long ago writing a blog posting about how blogging is just nicer, more polite than pre-internet writing.  The way this thing is resolving itself is a perfect illustration of that.

    (Incidentally, I think that the American right, now that it is able to say what it wants on the internet, is facing powerful incentives to be nicer in the way it expresses itself than it used to be.  And it is getting nicer.  Leftist claims of unredeemed right wing nastiness are (wrapped up as “calls for civility”), I believe becoming out of date, and will be responded to by rightists getting nicer still, if only to prove the lefties mistaken.  It then becomes a polite but firm argument about which team is correct about the way the world works and should work.)

    The overarching fact about this current LA argument, which is why it will soon end, is that both potential “sides” (the sneer quotes being because all can now say what they each individually want to) fear that the other “side” are trying to pervert the meaning of “libertarian”.  I repeat, people on both “sides” are saying this.  Neither “side” actually intends to do this. Once each “side” works out that the word itself needs no rescuing, it ends.

    It reverts back to tactical wrangling, about such things as whether to have big London conferences and smart London dinner parties.  Personally, I think the conferences are good.  The dinners made sense as fund-raisers to help pay for such things as conferences.  Gabb is now downsizing the LA, and taking it more purely virtual.  Disadvantage, less socialising.  Advantage, cheaper, able to concentrate on orating to the masses.

    In a way, the back story here is that Gabb and Evans are both moving towards the proper institutions for them both to do what they both do best.  Evans (the man whose departure from the LA triggered all this) socialising and schmoozing and fund-raising and influencing the elite (very valuable and important in my opinion - the ultimate libertarian aim should not be to destroy the Bilderberg Group, it should be to capture it).  Gabb internetting and orating to the downtrodden masses (also very valuable and important).

    The Cobden Centre (a lot of its day-to-day managing already done by Evans) is already doing dinners (run by Evans) which are identical in format to the LA dinners.  The CC might very well also do an annual conference, LA style, ditto.  It would make sense.

    Thanks for the grammatical correcting.  Much appreciated.  Please do the same to this, wherever it needs it.

    Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 12 February 2011 at 02:49pm

  5. I’m glad you are not upset by me calling this blog obscure.

    Later, I may “publish” my thoughts here, by linking to them from Samizdata.  But not yet.

    Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 12 February 2011 at 02:51pm

  6. Actually, not Samizdata, because Perry wants us to have nothing to do with all this.  It will have to be from my blog, which is not really publishing at all, compared to Samizdata, but it will have to do.

    Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 12 February 2011 at 04:41pm

  7. I think you may have exceeded Perry’s instructions by as much as saying in public that Perry wants us to have nothing to do with this. (And probably, now, so have I).

    The thing about the internet is that “obscure” can vanish in seconds if you are linked to, so I am not sure that “I will say here what I would not say at a less obscure blog” is ever an especially great idea.

    Someone needs to tell me what happened in that earlier spat sometime. It’s something I have only ever been vaguely aware of, in the sense that people occasionally compare the LA(s) to the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea.

    Posted by Michael Jennings on 12 February 2011 at 06:30pm

  8. My reluctance is that I didn’t particularly want to flaunt the length of my comments and scale of my fascination, not with the argument itself, but with the deeper reasons for why it is not nearly so bad this time around.  I am not going to shove this under lots of noses, but if someone else does, fine.  I’ve said nothing I will regret, and actually was very careful not to.

    Some may say I am obsessed with an insignificant grain of sand for its own sake.  I think I am truly seeing a different and much improved world through this particular grain, or to be more exact two grains, a quarter of a century or so apart.

    Michael, I would be happy to tell you what I can remember about the earlier split.

    Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 12 February 2011 at 08:14pm

  9. Agree with Brian’s first post (we also chatted about this today before the rugby started).

    One other issue that comes up sometimes is that with the internet, people feel bolder about being rude to others than they would face to face (a bit like why mild-mannered folk are often aggressive drivers because they feel safe inside all that metal). There has been a touch of this in the latest spat.

    I hope things all cool down and different people do what they are best at. That, after all, is kind of what the free market is all about.

    Great result for England today at Twickenham!

    Posted by Johnathan Pearce on 12 February 2011 at 10:52pm

  10. Yes, on the thing about internet rudeness, I surely overstated it when I suggested that everything, everywhere in the www, has got nicer.  Clearly not.  I agree with Johnathan Pearce that much depends on whether you are writing under your own name, or under a weird internet pseudonym.  If you like vicious pseudonymous quarreling, the internet will oblige.

    What I should have said is that if a network of people exists almost all of whom want things to to be nicer, they now will be.  That describes the libertarian movement in Britain at the moment.  There are disagreements.  Very few of us, if any, want them to be expressed more nastily than they are now.

    But given all that, the effect of the internet is to empower the amateurs and part-timers, compared to the “professionals” and the obsessives.  If an obsessive gets too obsessive in his tone, so to speak, a part-timer (or just a more well-spoken obsessive) can raise the tone, and be rewarded for it.

    I have personally been rewarded for my attempts, along with others, to defuse this thing (having to start with being one of the causes of the problem through my early misunderstandings of what might happen).  At social events, as well as in blog comments, people have basically said to me: thanks, well said.  Sans the internet, the part-timers and amateurs were at the mercy of the nastiest protagonists.  Now, the part-timers have influence.  They can reward.  They can punish.  They can say what they think, either face to face, or in comments.

    Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 17 February 2011 at 06:43pm

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