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Monday, April 15, 2013

The Great IP Trainwreck: Thoughts On The Kinsella / Wenzel Debate

Look, I normally wouldn't draw attention to something like this, because this debate was embarrassing and frustrating beyond words to listen to, not the kind of thing I want to shed light on as representative of the best we libertarians have to offer.

But with this thing front-paging The Daily Paul on Friday, I've decided I just have to speak up, because now it's received plenty of exposure, and commentary about it all over the place except for Reddit and on the YouTube video of the debate itself, is making me wonder what planet the commentators were on while they were listening to this.

To clarify my opening remarks, my primary problem was with Robert Wenzel's presentation, not with Stephan Kinsella. G B Shaw reportedly once said, "I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it." Kinsella definitely got dirty and Wenzel definitely liked it.

I've got to give Kinsella credit for remaining as patient as he did with Wenzel's hysterical nervous ravings, but he did lose his cool at times. It wasn't pretty to listen to. I only kept listening out of the same perverse motivation that keeps you glued to the screen while Jerry's guests scream at each other.

Kinsella's opening statement framed the issue carefully and well. In Wenzel's opening statement, he essentially said he wanted to first clear the air of some bad blood between the two (and by clear the air, I mean he wanted foul it up with petty personal quarreling and focus on that for the rest of the "debate" instead of discussing the issue of intellectual property).

Wenzel describes how Kinsella had predicted before the debate that Wenzel would weasel and worm his way out of having one. Kinsella had also apparently called Wenzel a clown. "Why did you call me those names? Do you think I'm a weasel? Am I a worm? Am I a clown?" he demanded. "You really made a mistake calling me those things. You really pissed me off."

Kinsella answered that Wenzel had been attacking him and Jeffrey Tucker for years about their belief that intellectual property does not actually exist, is a fiction of the state, a coercive monopoly granted by the government on ideas, which are not property because they are non-scarce; that Wenzel has been saying for a long time that he would write a book proving that IP does exist and can be defended from a free-market, libertarian, and Misesian propertarian framework; that the book has never come; and that after challenging Kinsella to this debate, Wenzel had already postponed it for months. That's why he predicted Wenzel would try to weasel out of it, because he has no actual substantive argument, no real answer, just a strange spite for Tucker, Kinsella, and IP anarchy.

The funny thing is, after taking so much umbrage with these pre-debate remarks, Wenzel did exactly what Kinsella predicted. He spent the entire debate weaseling and worming his way out of talking about the actual issue, which Kinsella was clearly prepared and eager to discuss. Instead, Wenzel spent the debate in hysterics, repeatedly saying his purpose wasn't really to debate at all, but to "destroy you." Over and over again, "I want to destroy you, Kinsella." "You've made a real stupid mistake pissing me off, and I'm going to destroy you."

Wenzel alternated between these aggressive admissions of insincerity and personal animus and rambling off quotes from the Misesian and Rothbardian canon, haphazardly and with no clear train of thought. Every time Kinsella tried to bring Wenzel to the actual matter of discussion and try to get a clear debate going, he would hedge and say he wasn't ready to get to that part yet, then follow up with another inane, dry reading of some quotation or other, and then drag Kinsella down every digression he could contrive to avoid actually confronting a matter he was not prepared to discuss and for which any listener can only conclude he has no substantive case.

Again, it's not my desire to get on here and highlight poor representatives of libertarianism, but you've got a libertarian blogger named Marc Claire getting on the front page of The DP preposterously claiming that Wenzel "crushed" Kinsella's assertion that the IP issue has already been settled by libertarians and that no libertarian has advanced a clear, substantive theory of intellectual property rights. Claire says Wenzel's counter-arguments showed there is an alternative libertarian understanding of the issue. Far too many commenters on The DP and on Claire's blog readily agreed.

Come on. We've got to have higher standards for what we consider a libertarian position meriting any regard at all. It is preposterous to elevate Wenzel's ravings to any position remotely equivalent to the organized, well-prepared, and erudite treatment of the subject by Stephan Kinsella.

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