A WEEKEND LIKE ANY OTHER
Being a left-libertarian in California is something of a struggle; the overwhelming ocean of blue voters regard me as a conservative, while the conservatives dismiss me as a filthy socialist. Mine is a life of constant argument, defending my principles equally from friends on both sides of the economic spectrum.
So, imagine my surprise when notoriously unbiased media outlet Salon published an article which describes yours truly as a defector from the Republican party; a contrarian, out to stir up trouble and argue conservative viewpoints for laughs. Worse, this ‘journalist’ chose to paint Leadership Institute, a group from which she apparently learned a great deal, as a far-right indoctrination camp for young fascists.
At first, I felt a small twinge of pride; to be slandered by far-left propagandists is a badge of honor in this movement.
Yet, I cannot shake the feeling of deep injustice; my name and philosophy were invoked in an attempt to discredit a valuable youth movement… and I’d be a fool or a coward to let these claims stand unchallenged.
MISUNDERSTANDING? OR INTENTIONAL MISREPRESENTATION?
Ivy Olesen, a writer for the far left publication Alternet, went ‘undercover’ to infiltrate Leadership Institute’s “Youth Leadership School”, apparently in order to validate her predetermined conclusions about conservatives. She bravely donned her grandmother’s pearl necklace in order to look more Republican… (#CulturalAppropriation), and charged directly into the lion’s den, where a terrifying band of young students were dutifully taking notes and discussing political theory. Among these sits your humble writer.
Olesen begins her critique by misinterpreting the words of our instructor for the day, also by chance named Ivy: “I’m up at three in the morning, sweating, because the Fed isn’t destroyed yet.” Oleson takes this statement to mean our instructor is losing sleep over the continued existence of the federal government. While it might be fair to say that many of us do indeed wish to abolish the government entirely, any student of politics knows ‘the fed’ refers to the federal reserve, which is incessantly printing away the purchasing power of the US dollar. I don’t suppose Olesen’s editors caught this error; her misinterpretation is offered as a distinction between conservatives and liberals. In fairness, she does go on to note the similarities between anti-authoritarians on the left AND right… but ultimately dismisses the erosion of federal authority, never quite understanding the intended point.
Ms. Olesen writes in a flustered, almost fanatical way about our instructor Ivy. She seems to be obsessed, expressing a secret wish to be more like her. Olesen seems wrought with cognitive dissonance, both regarding Ivy as an evil force for conservative indoctrination, and simultaneously as a valuable friend and teacher. It is not my place to involve myself in affairs of the heart, but: I’d encourage Olesen to reach out. Ivy is actually a really nice person, and she doesn’t shy away from philosophical debate; I’m sure you could’ve just had a discussion with her instead of speculating endlessly about her beliefs. You may find you owe her an apology.
BLIND TO LIBERTARIAN DIVERSITY
Olesen declares ‘anarchism’ isn’t a bad word in this crowd, but ‘feminism’ is (not bothering to ask her colleagues about their views on anarchy nor feminism)… going on to complain that ‘racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and many other forms of discrimination’ were not part of the days syllabus. I suppose she failed to note the ethnic and sexual diversity in our classroom… and why should she notice? Variety of thought and background doesn’t suit her baseless assertion that we are all white supremacists.
One of our instructors asked: “What are some names you’ve been called?”, trying to lightheartedly call attention to the abusive and inaccurate insults often lobbed at libertarians by far leftists in California.
The students called out all the ugly things they’ve been called… things like ‘fascist’, ‘racist’, and ‘literally Hitler’. Olesen takes these to be confessions, and describes the experience as akin to a Trump rally (apparently missing the irony of believing the inaccurate, slanderous insults the students had described.)
Olesen describes sharing her room with a devout Christian, and from this brief interaction concludes the lot of us are religious fanatics. I haven’t the space in this article to refute this delusional claim, but anyone who knows me well can clarify my feelings RE: organized faith. I daresay, no fair or objective thinker could reasonably label me a theist.
AN UNDESERVED SENSE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT AND GRANDEUR
Olesen expresses great satisfaction that her illusion holds, and that no one cross-examines her during the course of the weekend. She gleefully describes how she laughed her way through tough interactions, never letting her secret intentions be known. I wonder if she realizes: LI accepts students of all political backgrounds. Nobody interrogated her, because simply put, no one cares.
In fact, I can say with some confidence Ms. Olesen actually followed some friends and I one morning, before training began; I set out for coffee early before class, and she describes tagging along, hoping not to be revealed. She eavesdrops on the conversations of others, picking up on the rantings of a pro-Trump student. She actually acknowledges that someone (me) challenges these pro-Trump sentiments, but instead of considering the variety of political opinions represented in the room, she merely ‘barked a laugh of amazement’. It’s quite easy for Ms. Olesen to believe everyone on the right is a fascist, but apparently completely unthinkable that a single Libertarian might oppose Trump.
The only accurate claim Ms. Olesen makes in the entirety of her hit piece: I am, indeed, a contrarian.
I love to argue… and, like Olesen, I went knowingly into a setting where folks likely didn’t share my views. Unlike her, I didn’t feel the need to lie or bite my tongue; I was not afraid to argue against the pro-life stance of the instructors, nor to represent my own philosophy without need for deception.
That marks the end of Olesen’s journalistic integrity… she immediately goes on to misquote me, and claim I face an identity crisis, wondering aloud if I am indeed a conservative. Again, I must appeal to the audience, who know me best: I have never claimed to be a conservative, have actively called for the death of the Republican party, and have never assumed a Republican position simply to stir up chaos. Unthinkable though it may be, conservatives and libertarians do share some common ground, and it is possible to have allies with whom we don’t always agree. (I’ve got friends on the left AND the right!)
The most heartbreaking bit of Olesen’s self-important ranting: she almost actually learned something. Upon hearing a pack of students endorse a pro-choice policy, she paused to reflect on her predetermined conclusions:
“And momentarily I wonder… if libertarians are kind of chill. Maybe… they really do want to stay out of your business and for you to stay out of theirs.”
Unfortunately, upon hearing another student express their own pro-life beliefs, she writes that libertarians tend towards ‘exceedingly hate-filled pro-life rhetoric’. (While I am myself politically pro-choice, I recognize the ethical consistency of pro-life voters, and nothing my colleagues said could be taken as ‘hate-filled’.) Apparently, if a single libertarian is pro-life, we may all be accurately described as a bunch of misogynist tyrants.
EVERYONE I DISAGREE WITH IS LITERALLY A WHITE NATIONALIST
Finally, I come to the single most disgusting and dishonest mischaracterization of the event:
“But surprisingly, given the casual bigotry and white supremacist rhetoric, the group is not as homogeneously straight, white and male as you might imagine.”
Here, my stomach turns at the dishonesty, the intentional manipulation of facts to suit a racist narrative.
SHAME ON YOU, MS. OLESEN.
Our instructor Ivy is a Lebanese immigrant. A dear friend of mine, a fellow libertarian in attendance, comes from Iran. I am ethnically Jewish. Our class contained men and women of many different ethnicities, and of varying sexual orientations and religious backgrounds.
Is it the position of Ms. Olesen that our instructor, herself an immigrant from the Middle East, was preaching ‘casual bigotry and white supremacist rhetoric’ to a room full of ethnically diverse, largely non-white students? Or is she just comfortable asserting that all conservatives and libertarians, regardless of their own ethnicity, are inherently racist?
In either case, I would argue: this shameful application of identity politics is unfair to our colleagues, and the practice of expressing prejudice toward a political philosophy based on ethnicity is, by definition, racist.
To suggest that a person should hold a specific set of political ideals, based entirely on the color of their skin, or the gender of their lover, is infinitely more bigoted than ANYTHING said at Leadership Institute. There can be no excuse, Ms. Olesen, for this dishonest and misleading propaganda; I hope one day you can learn to engage a person based on the value of their ideas, without injecting your own racist agenda. You burden the purity of philosophical inquiry with your irrational fixation on race.
A SENSELESS AND UNPRODUCTIVE UNDERTAKING
In short: you could have dropped the James Bond routine, simply come as you were, and maybe made a few friends.
No need to play dress up, no reason to fear being ‘outed’. If you had simply identified openly as a democrat, we’d have accepted you all the same. In fact, I’d have far more respect for someone who stood up for their beliefs and actively sought to bridge the left/right divide, rather than someone who undertook a false persona to slander complete strangers.
We are similar, in that we both hope to understand the viewpoints of our political opponents.
We part company when you seek to intentionally libel and misrepresent decent people to advance your false narrative.
I hope you attend more Leadership Institute events… without the silly personas and dishonest cherry-picking of facts. I’ll happily reach out on your behalf to connect you; I’ve got friends who work at LI, and they’re all really nice people. I can even put you in touch with some kind-hearted conservatives, to help you see they aren’t inhuman monsters. Please feel free to contact me; we can clear up some of your misunderstandings.
“The training that LI gives… is quite incredible, likely conveniently located near you, and cheap.”
She’s right, you know: if you are looking to improve your effectiveness as an activist/student leader, you should DEFINITELY check out the programs offered by Leadership Institute; the Koch brothers aren’t even paying me to say that!
You can read more by Kevin Shaw on Think Liberty here.