Image source here - one of the "coolest" libertarian graphics I could find.
Libertarians are very cool people. And no I don't simply mean that they dress snazzy, say the most witty things in conversation, or are really fun to party with (though these things all happen to be true about no trifling number of libertarians). What I mean is that in my experience, libertarians are some of the truly kindest, most generous, most genuinely cool people you will ever meet.
I already knew this, but my trip this past weekend to attend a libertarian conference in Washington D.C. (organized by Students for Liberty), reinforced ever-so-conspicuously, my perception of the deep and abiding love, and the genuine concern that so many libertarians have for other people.
Libertarians often get a bad rap for being heartless, selfish pricks who could care less about you or what happens to you. Sometimes that stereotype is well-deserved, though I get the feeling that in most cases it's simply a visceral response to libertarianism evoked by the philosophy of Ayn Rand (and a sometimes correct, though often distorted understanding of her ideas).
But from the moment I got on the plane for Washington D.C. I saw a different kind of libertarian- the true kind- a philanthropic libertarian, a libertarian who loves his fellow man and whose political beliefs are motivated by an intense concern for the well-being and happiness of others.
Taking my seat next to a handsome gentleman on the plane, I proceeded through the rituals of acknowledging him with a nod and brief eye contact, pardoning myself for jostling his seat as I settled in, and then introducing myself succinctly as "Wes." We then had a brilliant discussion for the rest of the flight after I told him I was attending a Students for Liberty conference.
As it turns out, he worked for the Bush Administration as a trade negotiator to liberalize trade policies with countries in Central and South America, and was a libertarian (lower case "l") himself. After landing at Dulles, he asked where I was headed, and when I told him Capitol Hill, he said, "That's a long way out from here and cab fare is going to be a lot- let me give you a ride." I objected because it was out of his way. He insisted because he wanted to help me. I accepted.
This first and unexpected act of kindness from the libertarian on the plane saved me a little money, (no big deal), put me at ease in a large city I have never visited in my life and knew nothing about (huge deal), and really touched my heart (priceless). And that was just the tip of the iceberg. Another libertarian who works at a think tank in Washington let me sleep on his couch and helped me find my way to the conference the next day.
The following night, yet another libertarian let me crash on his couch. Indeed- I spent all three nights of the trip crashing on a libertarian's couch. Again, this saved me a little money (no big deal), helped me not to feel so alone in a strange city (huge deal), and made me feel very welcome and loved (priceless). Then to top it off, I didn't even need to take a cab back to Dulles. A libertarian colleague of mine (I'll be introducing him on this blog very soon as THL's new Director of Social Media) who lives in Virginia went out of his way to drive me to the airport.
I didn't ask for or expect any of these acts of kindness. They were all freely offered by genuinely caring individuals, libertarians all. Let me say it again: libertarians are cool. As a group, they are incredibly kind and magnanimous people. And it makes sense that they would be. The division of labor creates previously unattainable value for those who mutually trade the advantages of their specialized talents and opportunities- but the cool thing is that this exchange doesn't have to be linear.
There can be a whole ecology of trade and specialization. When it's no big deal for you to let someone crash on your couch and tell them how to get somewhere, but it's a huge deal for them, you just created a ton of value, and you helped create the kind of society and culture where someone else will do that for you when it's no big deal for them.
I was happy to benefit from so much kindness this weekend at the Students for Liberty Conference. It was a treat to see so much of what I already knew- that libertarians are full of love, kindness, benevolence, and good will towards men. Being a libertarian does not make you a heartless prick by any means.
Or as Ayn Rand might put it: "Assuming that liberals have a monopoly on the golden rule just because they want to use the most coercive, inefficient, blunt-trauma institution in the world - the US Federal Government - to express their love is facetious."