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Sane people change systems with ideas, not by murdering people

by David McElroy


Every fringe movement attracts crazy people. Libertarians are no exception. The married couple who murdered two police officers and another person in Las Vegas over the weekend are a perfect example. They’re not people to embrace or defend. They’re nuts whose actions damage the cause of individual freedom.

I’ve written a couple of times before about people I don’t want to be associated with, such as conspiracy cranks with no interest in facts and those who are just plain bigots. There are a lot of very intelligent, sane, interesting and responsible people who have come to libertarian or anarchist positions for moral reasons, but there are also people such as Jerad Miller and Amanda Miller who are mentally unstable people who are looking for an outlet for their anger at the world.

Many of us want to change the world. Many of us see a coercive system of government as immoral and standing in the way of individuals being free to live under the rules they might voluntarily choose. But changing the world in a positive way is about influencing hearts and minds through art, ideas and culture, not about killing people and tearing down institutions. You don’t change the world by adopting the tactics of an oppressor.

In the last couple of days, I’ve seen some libertarians and anarchists defending the Millers’ actions. I’ve seen others who won’t quite defend their murders, but they say the killings weren’t murder and that killing police is justified simply because they are the people who enforce the immoral rules of the state. And I’ve seen a new tack on Tuesday in which some people are trying really hard to say the Millers were government plants or maybe they didn’t really exist. I’ve been really surprised at some of the denial I’ve seen.

Many people are willing to consider what you have to say as long as you’re discussing ideas and making a moral and pragmatic case for freedom. But killing people who aren’t threatening you at the moment is a dividing line between discussion and thuggery. Nobody takes you seriously once you cross this line. Once you cross that line, you also make it very difficult for others to hear anyone with a vaguely similar message. And you no longer have any moral authority once you’ve passed that line.

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Romantic attraction is a trickster, appearing when we least expect it

by David McElroy

Looking for connection

Remember when you were a teen-ager and you felt attracted to someone you barely knew and you were constantly on the lookout for sightings of that person — and seeing the person made you feel nervous and you were afraid you might say something really stupid? Of course, that fear didn’t stop you from inventing ridiculous excuses to talk to the person, leaving you feeling even more ridiculous and nervous afterward. Remember?

I haven’t experienced that in a very, very long time, but someone has been making me feel that way again lately. It’s halfway great and halfway exasperating. It’s the terrible, horrible feeling that comes with having an attraction to a person that you just can’t explain.

I met her about a month ago when she had a reason to drop by my office. Since then, she’s dropped by to chat four or five times. She just left again and I feel happy — giddy, actually — to have had five minutes with her. I barely even know the woman, but she affects me like a drug that I crave. Why?

She’s beautiful. She’s very smart. She’s fascinating. She has interesting things to say and she also actually listens. (I mentioned a book that I think is important, and she expressed an interest in reading it. That rarely happens.) I can list objective things that I find attractive about her — but the truth is that it’s something very different.

There’s something magnetic about her. There’s an air of electricity about her presence. There’s something about her that transcends her looks or personality or anything else that I can put my finger on. There’s something about me that feels oddly connected to her. I’m constantly around beautiful, intelligent and interesting women, but she’s different in a way that I can’t explain.

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Not voting makes strong statement: ‘You don’t have my moral consent’

by David McElroy

Suggestion boxIt’s election day in Alabama, but I won’t be voting. Most people have been brainwashed to think that a “good citizen” must vote. They believe it’s a moral issue. They’re right that it’s a moral issue, but they’re on the wrong side of the question.

Those who have been brainwashed into believing they must vote are fond of saying, “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain,” but that’s illogical. A truthful way to phrase it would be, “If you consent to the legitimacy of the system by participating, you have no right to complain when someone else gets his way — and you’re agreeing to obey.”

If you vote and participate, you are agreeing to the legitimacy of the system. You are agreeing to be bound by the results. You’re agreeing that it’s morally legitimate for some group of voters to select people to give you whatever orders they please. You are agreeing to be their slave.

But most people are so locked into the battle between the two sides of the political mainstream that they can’t even consider this point of view. It’s pretty much impossible to explain the philosophical reasons for not voting to people who are only interested in winning elections.

A friend of mine posted an interesting thought experiment today. Steve Smith asked, “Would you rather have the Crips or the Bloods running your neighborhood? Two rules: 1. Not having one gang or the other run things is not a choice. 2. If you decline to state a preference, you can’t complain about anything that either gang does to you, ever.”

This is what voting is. You’re not allowed to question whether you want to be ruled. You’re only allowed to choose which of the two (very similar) groups you want to control you.

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What did he have to lose? Man’s crazy tactic leads to romance

by David McElroy

TicketThere are times when there’s no time like the present to follow your instinct and take a crazy chance. This is the story of one of those times.

On the online networking site, Reddit, someone asked an interesting question today: “Ladies of Reddit, what’s the best way a guy has asked you out?”

Here’s a story one woman told:

“I was driving around town after work, windows down — it was a gorgeous October day. I noticed two guys in a car next to me, one in civilian clothes, the other in his ABUs (Air Force uniform). I thought it was adorable that they were together because Don’t Ask Don’t Tell had just been repealed. I kept driving.

“A friend prank-called me and asked if I had any condoms, so I was laughing. We hung up and I was singing along to a Christina Aguilera song (‘I Hate Boys’). I stopped at an intersection and glanced in my rear-view mirror and saw a man running, full tilt, toward my car. I was so shocked that I didn’t think to lock my doors or anything. He got to my car, threw a slip of paper in, and ran off. It happened so fast I didn’t even really see him.

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Does your life feel wasted so far? Maybe your best is yet to come

by David McElroy

Harry Bernstein at typewriter

Harry Bernstein’s first book was published when he was 96 years old. After a life in which he supported himself as an MGM script reader and as editor of a construction magazine, it wasn’t until five years before his death that anyone would take his books seriously.

Over the years, he had written 40 other books, but they had all been rejected by publishers. He ended up destroying those manuscripts. But after he finally had a first book accepted — a memoir of the anti-Semitism he experienced as a child in England — he wrote and published three more books in his late 90s.

Bernstein said his 90s “have been the most productive years of my life.”

I’d never heard of Bernstein until I came across this quote a few days ago. I’ve still never read any of his work, so I have no opinion about it and I have no idea whether any of those 40 destroyed manuscripts were lost masterpieces. But as someone whose life hasn’t turned out — so far — the way he planned, I was struck by the lesson of his life. Maybe it’s never too late to become what you always knew you were intended to be.

I’ve written before about my frustration with losing touch with the person I had once been — with somehow losing the confidence and drive to achieve that I had felt in my youth. I’ve been thinking about variations on this theme for the last few years, but it’s really accelerated in the last six or eight months. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about my fears of never doing anything meaningful with my life.

I always assumed that people who achieve something meaningful have a linear and obvious path to their success, but what I’m learning is that success looks much more obvious and predictable when you’re looking back at someone’s life, not speculating about what it might be in the future. And I’m also finally accepting that the path to something meaningful is rarely straight and obvious.

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If you ask wrong questions about politics, you’ll get wrong answers

by David McElroy

Alabama House floor

Every time an election rolls around, some newspaper writer will publish some sanctimonious piece about how more people should vote and what sorts of people should be elected. These well-meaning people want change, and they prod people to “do something” to make things better.

The mainstream parties hold their primaries here in Alabama next Tuesday, and the expected article about electing better people showed up in the state’s largest newspaper today. It’s called, “We bellyache about the Legislature yet 59 percent of lawmakers have been practically re-elected and nobody’s even voted.” These articles are great for newspaper writers, because they practically write themselves and they get people riled up enough to leave comments. (There are 71 comments on this article so far.)

The writer seems to be asking why voters keep electing the incumbents and why more people don’t “do something” if they’re not happy with the Legislature. But what if he’s asking the wrong questions?

The only political questions we’re really allowed to ask in this country are which people we want to fill certain positions in governments. We get to elect “our representatives” to go to the State House and State Senate. We get to elect a governor and an attorney general and state auditor and members of a Public Service Commission. And on and on. As other people see it, we have plenty of choices, because there are many different positions and almost anybody can run for the offices. He or she just has to convince enough people to vote for him and he can hold power.

But we don’t get to ask the right questions, do we? The key question we don’t get to ask is, “Do I want other people making decisions about my life?”

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There’s a lot to complain about, but the miracle is so much goes right

by David McElroy

Passenger plane landing

I live about 12 miles from the Birmingham airport, so I don’t normally pay much attention to planes coming in to land. But I was in my car Monday evening when a descending plane caught my attention. And it suddenly struck me how strange it is that hundreds of people at a time can go hurtling through the air in giant machines — thousands of times each day around the world — and it’s so routine that we don’t even notice.

We pay attention to the things that go wrong. Those are the things we consider to be “news.” But the really amazing thing is how many things go right every single day and we don’t even notice.

It’s not just airplanes. We live in a complicated world. We don’t grow our own food or have it shipped to us, but when we’re hungry, there’s almost anything we want just down the street at grocery stores and restaurants. There’s gasoline for our cars when we need it. There are new cars to buy when we want new ones. There’s new clothing before we realize we need it. And all of this happens without any bureaucrat planning it and without us even knowing ahead of time what we want.

See the huge trucks going down the road around you every day? And the trains and cargo planes you see? Those are carrying the goods we need to live a modern life. We don’t know how the logistics of all that works. We just know that what we want is there when we want it.

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With changed priorities, it’s time for me to re-evaluate my goals here

by David McElroy

What's next?

When I launched this site three years ago today, the intended audience was only one person. Everything was written for her — in the hopes that she would find it and come back into my life. My hopes were rewarded. Sort of.

She came back into my life — in and out, back and forth — for most of the past three years. She was an avid reader of the site almost from the beginning. Then she became a regular commenter, first using a pseudonym and then using her real name (and a goofy picture with a wig).

She’s no longer a reader here and no longer part of my life. The details don’t really matter that much at this point. The psychology of what happened is actually very interesting, but it’s not in her best interest that the full story be told, so I won’t.

The only reason I tell you this story is to say that I started writing here with a surface-level purpose — which was quite real and honest — but always with a deeper and more important underlying purpose. Now that underlying purpose is completely gone, and I’m not sure anymore what my goals here are.

I haven’t been writing very much for months now. For nearly two years of the site’s existence, I wrote at least one article almost every day. For a long stretch of time, I also had a second article each day — written by the “staff monkeys” — with links of the day. I went through a lot of changes as a result of this experience, and it’s affected what I’m willing to write.

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A question I’m scared to answer: Why haven’t I made another film?

by David McElroy

WTG-awardsI went to see the new movie “Moms’ Night Out” Friday. This family-friendly comedy isn’t something I’d normally see, but the film was shot in Birmingham by local directors and producers, so I wanted to see how many locations I recognized and how I liked their work.

I enjoyed seeing local streets and buildings that I know well, so I’m glad I went. I’m not really the target market for the movie, but it will probably do well for a low-budget family comedy (even though the reviews have been pretty brutal).

When I got home, I happened to put something down on the mantle above my fireplace. When I picked it up a couple of minutes later, I stood there for a minute and stared at some things I normally forget are even there — the awards that my one and only short film won almost 10 years ago.

I stood there and just stared, as though I was seeing them for the first time. And I berated myself once more for not making anything since then.

I shot “We’re the Government — and You’re Not” in December of 2004. Post-production was finally finished by the beginning of June 2005 and I started entering it into film festivals. Over the next 18 months or so, it was shown at 20 festivals and won five awards. In addition to U.S. festivals, it was screened in Canada, England, Australia and New Zealand.

Although it was my first film and I bumbled my way through the process at times, it was more successful than I ever dreamed it could be. It’s been seen on YouTube by close to 350,000 people since then.

As I stood there looking at a few of the awards Friday evening, I wasn’t sure whether to feel angry or ashamed for not having done another film. I saw myself as a filmmaker at the time. I have at least half a dozen scripts at various stages of development, ideas that I’m happy with and think would be good films. So why haven’t I done anything else?

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Walking into the light: Is it scarier to face death or to learn how to live?

by David McElroy

Walk into the light

I’m afraid of dying. I suspect most people are, but it’s not something we talk about much. I find that every time I’m forced to think about death, it makes me more eager to think more intentionally about life.

There’s nothing in this world more certain than death, but there are few things that most of us would more strongly prefer to avoid even thinking about, at least for ourselves. I presume it comes from the unspoken fantasy or delusion that we’re going to live forever. Nobody really believes that, but we sometimes act as though death doesn’t exist if we don’t acknowledge it for ourselves.

Two things made me think strongly about death over the weekend.

First, I saw a movie over the weekend that deals with death and the afterlife, and it left me thinking a lot about the subject. The movie was “Heaven is for Real.” If you believe in an afterlife, you might enjoy the film. If you only believe in a material world and that consciousness ends with death, you would have no interest.

Second, I finally listened to last week’s episode of the public radio show, This American Life, which was about death and taxes. The segment about death dealt with what it’s like to be around those in hospice care — what’s it like to be the dying person, what’s it like to be family of those people and what’s it like to work with them. The stories were sobering. (I encourage you to listen to the segment.)

As a Christian, it’s easy for me to say, “Yeah, I believe I’m going to heaven and there’s nothing scary about death,” but that’s far too simplistic. It is for me, anyway.

There’s nothing that could be more terrifying to me than the idea of ceasing to exist. If I believed that I would cease to exist — my consciousness would be no more — I would find life and morality to be pretty empty in whatever time I had left. Other people believe in a purely material world and accept the idea of the end of their own existence and find ways to say life and morality have meaning. I don’t understand their way of thinking — as they don’t understand mine — but I only point it out to say that we all find beliefs that give us whatever we need to continue to exist where we are.

Materialists would say that those who believe in life after death have fooled themselves in order to give our lives meaning so can live today. Those of us who believe in the spiritual world see the materialists as contradicting themselves, because if there’s no ultimate meaning and no life after the human body dies, everything here is meaningless, in our view.

I’ve always found it interesting that in Paul’s letters to churches in the New Testament, he referred to us as having “hope” of a life in heaven after death. Although I’ve heard it interpreted in various ways, it always struck me that maybe Paul wasn’t so certain about exactly what happened after we died. If that were the case in some way, I’m with Paul. I don’t know what happens.

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Start over here

Do you have a love/hate relationship with politics? This is the beginning of a community of people who are looking for ways to say “no” to politics and say “yes” to real life. If you stick around, you’ll read about the futility of the state and you’ll also be subjected to the strange brand of humor that lives in David McElroy’s head, as well as random links and pictures of cute cats (and the occasional drooling dog). If you’re ready to move beyond politics, join our tribe. Read more.

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