The importance of being open to paradigm shifts

I have made two huge paradigm shifts in my life — one gradual and one sudden. The first was a change from college liberal to where I am today, a libertarian-leaning promoter of personal freedom. The other was when I joined the Church, and this was very sudden. I wanted to share my personal stories with you because I believe we should be open to changing our worldviews as new information becomes available. As a convert, I believe this open-mindedness seems central to accepting the Gospel as well.

In the early 1980s, I went to a large university in California where standard liberal viewpoints held sway. When I was in class, I was constantly told that the only intelligent position was that of the liberal wing of the Democratic party. When I worked on the college newspaper, liberals outnumbered conservatives 35 to 2 (at least). I became a product of my environment and went forth with politically correct righteousness.

A year after I graduated I got an opportunity to work as a free-lance journalist living in Nicaragua. As you may know, in 1986 (when I moved there) Nicaragua was in the middle of a civil war. On one side was the leftist Sandinista government, which had taken control of Nicaragua after ousting dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. On the other side were US-backed rebels called the Contras. When I moved to Nicaragua, the politically correct left-wing position was “power to the people,” meaning that the Sandinistas were all sweetness and light protecting the rights of the poor and the Contras were evil tyrants. Like anything else, the truth was much more complicated.

I recently discovered an on-line version of the article I wrote after discovering that the truth was much more complicated. You can read it here. To sum up: I discovered that great human truth that man basically wants to be left alone to pursue his own happiness in his own way. In our fallen world, it is government, both the left-wing Sandinista government and the US government, that usually is the source of man’s oppression. I think this article conveys that very well.

I remember after this trip to the interior of Nicaragua feeling very chastened. Until then I had made assumptions that were completely at odds with reality. Do you remember George Romney, Mitt’s father and former governor of Michigan, saying he was “brainwashed” when he went to Vietnam? That was how I felt. I had been brainwashed by my college experience and my presumptions into believing things that simply were not true.

The truth is that the heroes are the “little” people (like Nicaraguan farmers) who work every day maintaining their farms, taking care of their animals and caring for their families. If left alone, they do quite well in a tropical environment, growing enough for themselves and their families and making money when selling their excess. But somebody always wants to mess with them, and that someone in the 1980s was the left-wing government, which instituted price controls forcing them to sell their crops below their cost. The supposedly well-meaning government also confiscated square miles of territory from its legitimate owners, distributing the land to cooperatives. On those cooperatives, almost nothing got done because the people did not own their land — they were simply cogs in the government wheel. They had no incentive to work or produce because they had no real ownership.

So, another supposedly well-meaning government set up an outside force — the Contras — to “save” these farmers. And of course this outside force also often turned to tyranny, taking food from the farmers and killing supposed collaborators. The lesson for me was clear: the left-wing government should leave the farmers alone, and the US government should leave Nicaragua alone. Nicaraguans should work out their problems in their own ways.

From this point on, everything I have seen and learned about Nicaragua has supported that view. Ironically, the Sandinistas were voted out of power a few years later, but they recently came back. Their government is corrupt and nominally allied with the worst elements of Latin American politics, the left-wing tyrants led by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. But, again, resolving this problem is something the Nicaraguans should do on their own. The good news is that Nicaragua is now a much better, more prosperous place than it was in the 1980s, and the war is over. Most farmers are left alone these days.

During the 1980s and most of the 1990s, I had the standard secular viewpoint toward religion as well. I really didn’t see any value it in at all. I thought most religious people were deluded fanatics.

But I had a lot of personal problems and frankly was not very happy. To use a personal empowerment term, my life was not “working.” What was my purpose? I seemed to have none. I could find nothing that made me feel like I was progressing. At a very, very low point I picked up the Bible. I had never even read it. But I found it fascinating. Who had written it? How old were the writings? Were the people involved eyewitnesses or were they just passing around fables? I remember very clearly the moment I read the Sermon on the Mount. This was a philosophy I could believe! Avoiding hypocrisy, trying to improve yourself, shooting for goals that seem unattainable, being kind to your neighbor, treating other people as you want to be treated. Wow, this Jesus guy was really cool!

I went to a Catholic church several times — not for me. I went to a Congregational church — better but still not for me. I talked to some Baptist neighbors. Not for me. But I knew there was something there, some kernal of truth that had eluded me.

My sister, who was also not a member of any church, called me one day out of the blue and said she was going to get baptized in the LDS church. I thought she was crazy. Was she sure? Didn’t she know they were a weird homophobic cult? She said she was sure, and she wanted me to come to her baptism. Well, it seemed important to her, so I did. I walked into a very ugly chapel (since updated) with fading yellow-green carpets. Quite a change from the beautiful Congregational church I had attended. I thought to myself that this whole baptism thing was a tedious chore but I would get through it.

As my family members (most of them members of the Church) began to speak, something very strange happened to me. I felt like I was enveloped in a cloud of joy. I felt like it was extremely urgent that I listen to the words of the speakers. They were talking about the importance of baptism and God’s love for us. They were talking about Jesus in a way that made him seem more real and important. I found myself wanting to stand up and demand to be baptized, but I controlled the urge. What was wrong with me?

Nothing was wrong, but a lot of things were very, very right. I felt at peace. I felt love for everybody around me. I felt like I was seeing things through somebody else’s eyes, somebody with a deep, abiding adoration for me and all people. I felt this way for several hours.

I had experienced another epiphany. This was not a religion of homophobic cultists. There was something special here, something real. I needed to know more about it. But most importantly I want to emphasize that I saw God differently. He is not the avenging, intolerant being of the secular imagination. He is love. He is perfection. And He wants to have a personal relationship with all of us. I was not given this gift of seeing the world through His eyes for a few hours so I could accept somebody else’s perception of Mormons: I was given this gift so I could understand that my relationship with Him is vertical and direct and that He is all I want Him to be.

To make a long story short, I was baptized a few months later. I received the priesthood. I went to the temple. I became a High Priest. And because of my faithfulness I found a lovely, perfect woman with whom I became sealed in the temple. My life right now is exactly what I want it to be. I am not missing anything important in my life, and I feel like I have a purpose.

One of the most important changes is that when I was miserable I only thought about myself. Now that I am happier I find myself thinking a lot more about others. Isn’t this what we are supposed to do?

My experience has shown that we need to be open to new information. Too many people are not. They reject information that does not fit their paradigm. Of course, I do this now too. I don’t spend a lot of time devouring anti-Mormon literature, just to use one example. I already know that such stuff is not true, and I don’t need to learn that lesson again. So I admit the whole “open-minded” thing is difficult to carry out precisely. You cannot be open-minded to all information because there is simply not enough time to read and absorb everything. You have to pick and choose what information you seek out.

I guess the test I would suggest is this: does the information build up rather than tear down? What is the motivation of the writers? Does the information promote personal and societal liberty, yes or no?

I recognize that other people have had paradigm shifts and come to different conclusions that I have. That’s cool. We all have our own road to walk. But this particular road “works” for me. By their fruits ye shall know them.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

41 thoughts on “The importance of being open to paradigm shifts

  1. Geoff, thank you for writing this up. Some of my favorite posts have been autobiographical conversion stories and this was a wonderful read as well.

  2. Geoff….I had never heard your conversion story, thanks for sharing it. Also, great insights on your experiences in Nigaragua. I’ve never ever heard that point of view before, and I agree with you on leaving people alone to pursue their happiness.

  3. Geoff, my first real “Mormon experience” was being invited to play Church basketball. The bishop invited me into his office to chat, where I was engulfed by that same feeling. You could have cut it with a knife, it was so thick in the room. Totally changed my life.

    I’ve also become more of a Libertarian, as well. I realize now that good intentions always have unforeseen consequences. We can see this in the scriptures, such as Alma preaching to the Zoramites, pushing many of them further away and into the hands of the Lamanites and war. Government’s imposing of its good intentions always have consequences that harm someone: Someone loses their home, so a Walmart can be built via eminent domain, Catholic hospitals must provide for the morning after pill to its workers so that women get their “reproductive rights” fulfilled, our grandchildren end up with trillions in debt so that grandma can have Medicare Part D.

    Often, we feel these things improve society, and perhaps in the short term they do. But in the long term, Homeland Security goes from protecting US citizens to groping grandmothers and children at airports (so much for constitutional search and seizure protections), and try to tell churches who they can qualify as a minister or not (so goes the First Amendment).

    I keep thinking about King Mosiah offering to change the system to judges, wherein the people would be accountable to themselves, rather than to a king/centralized government. The people were grateful to the king to have such a blessing as freedom to care for themselves. Today, we look to the federal government, in order to feed off the pork, and not realizing it is making us fat and lazy.

    So, my spiritual and political views have followed along in a similar vein as your own. Thanks for your story.

  4. The temptation to violate the Prime Directive is very great when someone else has already violated it.

    “We would have left them alone, but the Klingons interfered, so we had to step in.” :-)

  5. Great article! Thanks for sharing your insight and experience. Those are the two most difficult changes we will ever make… political and religious! Glad you had the courage and willingness to look for the truth wherever it can be found. Shared this because it’s good enough to be!

  6. Thanks for sharing your very compelling narrative. None of our speculations on the bloggernacle make any sense or mean anything without these very important stories that we’ve lived through.

  7. Bravo, Geoff!!! I’ve been wanting to read this post for quite a while now.

    My two paradigm shift very closely parallel yours, with one running in the opposite direction…. Which kind of illustrates the scary thing about real, soul felt paradigm shifts: there’s no going back, only forward.

  8. Thank you for your honest and well-written conversion story. Thought provoking to me in that it parallels my owning many ways.

  9. This was not a religion of homophobic cultists.

    What? Noooo!

    does the information build up rather than tear down? What is the motivation of the writers? Does the information promote personal and societal liberty, yes or no?

    With respect that last question sounds a bit myopic or like you’re stressing one note to the exclusion of others. Liberty is an end in itself, but so are a whole bunch of other things. Beauty, peace, prosperity, love, insight, justice, and on and on.

  10. @Adam G.
    I guess this is where it really gets down to brass tacks. If someone says they want to promote “beauty, peace, prosperity, love, insight, justice and on and on:, but there proposals infringe on liberty I believe they proposals should be rejected. Liberty (free agency) is the foundation of all we hold dear. The rest issues forth naturally as a consequence.

  11. Craig,

    Free agency and liberty aren’t the same thing. As Elder Oaks has pointed out, even in the worst tyrannies one still retains one’s moral agency to choose between acts with their attendant consequences.

    Liberty is desirable in and of itself, but the interrelation between it and the other worthwhile ends of human existence is complex. It simply is not the case that liberty is the supreme virtue from which all others hang. The victims of Soviet and Nazi tyranny, who had no liberty whatsoever, still knew profound moments of peace, joy, love, and beauty, sometimes not just despite the deprivations they experienced but in a way because of them.

    For a conservative like me, libertarians are never more akin to leftists then when they want to make a political value like liberty the measure of everything, including private and personal life. There are great spheres outside politics.

  12. So do you feel like there might be more major paradigm shifts for you on the horizon? Could you see yourself moving away from libertarianism to some other political philosophy if you had another personal “Nicaragua” experience which opened another viewpoint?

    Do you see yourself being open to new truths which may even transcend or contradict Mormonism in the future? Or do you rather feel that you have arrived at a place you are confident is the truest paradigm of all?

  13. I went the other way. After 4 years of BYU uber-right wing views being the only acceptable way to think and act, I moved left. Haven’t regretted it for a minute. At least you’re not a BYU hypocrite, partaking of a tithepayer-subsidized education and then going out in the world to preach every man for himself.

  14. Adam G, with respect, I think we will continue to disagree about this for years to come. Traditional conservatives are never more like liberals when they feel that they have the right to tell other people how to live their lives based on “traditional” values. Woodrow Wilson was a cultural conservative who thought Christianity should be used to make everybody better human beings. His cultural conservatism brought us a huge unnecessary war with hundreds of thousands of Americans killed, the income tax and Prohibition. Mitt Romney’s cultural conservatism gave us Romneycare (remember it was supported by the Heritage Foundation). Because Mitt did not understand liberty, he did not understand why an individual mandate was a bad thing. Most of George W Bush’s worst mistakes came because he did not understand individual freedom. If he had, the Republican party would be in much better shape today. I would argue that if you look at most of our societal ills the result is that government tried to interfere in a way that ignored liberty.

    Nate, I was a big supporter of the Iraq war in 2003-2006, so I have made another paradigm shift on foreign policy fairly recently. The thing about paradigm shifts is that you cannot predict them happening. When it comes to the Church, I sincerely doubt it. The more involved I get, the more I hand out Books of Mormon, the more I go to the temple and hold family prayer and scripture study, the happier we are as a family and the happier I am personally. The contrast with the low point in my life 15 years ago could not be more stark.

  15. Don, regarding BYU education, I have heard that criticism before, and I simply don’t understand it. I didn’t go to BYU, but the fact that BYU is supported by tithepayers is exactly in line with the libertarian/conservative worldview. In a libertarian/conservative society, people would rely on each other (voluntary communitarianism) rather than the government. So if a group of people got together and decided to use their voluntarily paid funds for education, that would be the perfect solution. Remember, it is all voluntary: nobody is forcing you to pay your tithing. BYU is much less expensive than other similar universities precisely because of the funding from tithing.

    It would seem to me that a libertarian/conservative would be much more hypocritical going to a state-funded university. If you don’t believe in government-funded forced education (which is my position), you definitely should not go to the U or to Utah State. I am happy to report that I went to a private university. :)

  16. Woodrow Wilson was a cultural conservative who thought Christianity should be used to make everybody better human beings. His cultural conservatism brought us a huge unnecessary war with hundreds of thousands of Americans killed

    Literally everybody in public life in the early 20th was a cultural conservative. Wilson’s cultural conservatism had not a whole lot to do with his support for WWI (which I’m not at all convinced was a bad idea, btw). His views on rights and morality probably did influence his disastrous diplomacy afterwards, though, I’ll give you that much. What I won’t give you is that it was insufficient love of ‘liberty’ that made his postwar diplomacy such a muddle. That had almost zero to do with it.

    Mitt Romney’s cultural conservatism gave us Romneycare (remember it was supported by the Heritage Foundation).

    Mitt Romney signed Masscare because he thought it would lead to less pornography and more family dinners? You’ve got to be kidding. No, its quite clear that Romney supported it because (1) he viewed Masscare as a preventative measure to a far worse single-payer plan that the legislature was proposing and (2) because the Heritage Foundation (a conservative outfit, not a culturally conservative outfit) and many other conservative thinkers thought that costs were rising in healthcare because of free riders. This wasn’t a moral judgment, primarily, it was an economic one. Given that economic judgment, the alternative is either to pass strong laws that protect and even prohibit doctors and hospitals from treating people who can’t pay for healthcare, or else to make the free-riders pay up. The first alternative is completely impractical. It’s a good idea in theory, and for all I know even what Romney would support in theory. But its politically and legally impossible. Not that that matters to doctrinaire libertarians.

    In general, your argument appears to be that politically freedom is the only thing that matters because people who value other things have sometimes valued them too much and infringed on liberty. That’s essentially circular reasoning, since I could argue that politicians who *only* value political liberty have sometimes infringed on other important values. And we’d be back where we started.

  17. Adam G, just one last point and then I will bow out. To fully understand how wrong Wilson is, you need to go back just 30 years before to the Grover Cleveland Democrats. Yes, they were certainly cultural conservatives compared to today but when it came to fiscal policy and foreign policy they were pro-liberty, ie, they favored a gold standard, opposed a central bank and opposed US involvement in foreign affairs. To sum up, they favored a neutral and prosperous United States with sound money and a free market domestically. The Republicans were the interventionists (comparatively). But by Wilson’s time William Jennings Bryan and a long list of progressives had destroyed any sense that liberty should guide policy. So Wilson was the natural result of his times, just as Romneycare was the natural result of a populace that wants socialized medicine in Massachusetts.

    My argument with you on this issue is a simple one: every time we consider a policy issue we should ask ourselves, does it make people more or less free to make their own choices? If Wilson had asked himself these questions 100 years ago, a lot of pain could have been avoided. If Romney had refused to endorse a state insurance mandate, he would have made a better choice. And Democrats would not be sitting around wondering why Obamacare is not more popular and why those pesky Catholic Cardinals oppose Catholics paying for other peoples’ abortions. And traditional conservatives like yourself would not be wondering why it is that they get a smaller and smaller percentage of public support these days from people like me who should be their natural constituency. My message to big government conservatives: leave people alone to live their lives in peace without telling them what to do.

  18. My argument with you on this issue is a simple one: every time we consider a policy issue we should ask ourselves, does it make people more or less free to make their own choices?

    The argument is whether that is the *only* question you should ask.

  19. Adam,
    If there are other questions to ask what justifies answering them if the answer to the first question is “less freedom”? Since “less freedom” comes ultimately at the end of a gun, when are the people in support of that policy justified in using force (or the threat of force) to assert their will?

    Craig

  20. I think any viewpoint that holds one single value as universally supreme over all others deserves caution. At best it is naive, and at worst fanatical.

    I agree that personal choice should be MORE important in the political sphere than it currently seems to be, but disregarding the potential for extremism even there is not wise.

    Isn’t that, in essence, part of the point of the OP?

  21. I think we may be talking past each other a bit. I think people sometimes misunderstand what freedom is and isn’t and what personal choice is and isn’t. My contention is that if you look at the big policy issues and you decide based on promoting personal choice and freedom you will, in the long run, be on the side of the angels (to use one of Adam G’s favorite phrases). In theory, it is possible that other questions should be asked and that this could result in “extremism,” but I can’t think of any examples where promoting personal choice and freedom is not better than the alternative. Adam G and SR, perhaps you can give me an idea of what you’re thinking of?

  22. Craig,
    if I understand you, you are asking for a quantification of how much beauty, or justice, or prosperity, or life, is equivalent to how much freedom?

    Geoff B.,
    I just noticed the scare quotes you put around ‘traditional.’ Disappointing.

  23. Adam G, depends on what you mean by “traditional.” Having a central bank, abandoning the gold standard, adopting an income tax and participating in an unnecessary war in Europe are not what I would call “traditional” values. We probably agree on other issues that are traditional.

  24. Geoff B.,

    I assume you’re not just asking for a list of specific political issues on which we disagree, since you are already aware of them (pornography, SSM, prostitution laws, hard drug laws, some consumer protection type laws, foreign policy . . .).

    If you’re asking for some limitation on freedom that you might theoretically agree with, then that’s easy. If you’re a libertarian and not an anarchist, then even you agree that political freedom should only be promoted to the extent that it doesn’t do do “harm,” which is usually construed in terms of damage to life, limb, or property. So right there you have values other than freedom that you think the law should serve and for which you are willing to limit freedom. I’d also argue that most libertarians explicitly or implicitly view some version of justice as an important end, because they aren’t willing to forbid all harms (e.g., self-defense).

  25. Having a central bank, abandoning the gold standard, adopting an income tax and participating in an unnecessary war in Europe are not what I would call “traditional” values.

    Since that’s not what anyone means when they refer to traditional values, this is sophistry on your part. Again, disappointing.

  26. Adam,
    I initially wanted to answer, “no”, but then I realized that is exactly what I am asking. I also think it is an impossible question to answer. Since it an impossible question to answer, who gets to answer? Ultimately someone, or some group is deciding that their estimation of “beauty, or justice, or prosperity, or life” is worth taking something from someone else against their will. You may think that the atonal music of Béla Bartók is the highpoint of beauty and that a symphony capable of live reproduction of his music is a very worthwhile thing. You may think is it a worthwhile expenditure of public dollars. I do not. You would spend my money over my objections. The only choice I have is to break laws and not pay taxes and risk jail time.

    Increasingly, we have smaller and smaller groups of people on either side of the political spectrum deciding how the public coffers should be spent. I disagree with both sides. My vote doesn’t count for much. I am being swept aside by a torrent of people who I think are alternating different methods of bringing our country down. If the liberty question were even part of the public discussion any longer I think we would be much better off. But as I said before I am clearly in the minority.

    I am not looking to convert anyone to my viewpoint (not specifically libertarian, but I identify with them more frequently than the other major political bents.) I would like those with other viewpoints to recognize that their policies rest on the end of a gun. Anything less is hypocrisy.

    As some background I should admit that I spent twenty years on active duty acting as the gun the state uses.

    Craig

  27. I initially wanted to answer, “no”, but then I realized that is exactly what I am asking. I also think it is an impossible question to answer. Since it an impossible question to answer, who gets to answer?

    I agree that it’s impossible to quantify and to come up with some kind of scientific measure of how much freedom is worth how much justice. Fortunately most important values all tie into each other, so usually you don’t have to trade them off (if Geoff B. got part of his way and all regulation against pornography, exhibitionism, drug use, and prostitution went away, I think the result would ultimately be less freedom rather than more). But sometimes you do and there’s no cookbook answer. Which cuts both ways, of course The answer of who gets to answer is really a question of how you decide your form of government is legitimate. My answer is that a government that does a reasonable job of maintaining public order and rights compared to the likely alternatives is legitimate, especially when that government has been around for awhile. So in the US context, “who gets to answer” is validly elected officials within their constitutional limits.

    I disagree that all government is the exercise of force, though I’m ok with governmental force in principle. But its just not true that the only reason citizens comply with the law is fear of governmental violence.

  28. I don’t have any problems with laws against exhibitionism, if by that you mean public nudity in a park where kids are present. So there is that. A libertarian-leaning society does not mean a libertine society. Government’s purpose is to protect peaceful, non-aggressive people from harm, and it is easy to prove that having to see naked people running around your kids is harmful. If there is one thing that the drug war has shown us, it is that overwhelming government force against peoples’ personal habits definitely decreases freedom, not increases it. Ask any of the thousands of people suffering from errant no-knock raids every year if they feel more or less free. Where I live in the countryside I have absolutely no fear of criminals because I am well-armed and can take care of them. However, I do live in absolute horror of the government knocking down my door, because I cannot protect myself against them. Most people where I live agree with me, so we are less free because of the drug war, not more free.

    “If you’re a libertarian and not an anarchist, then even you agree that political freedom should only be promoted to the extent that it doesn’t do do “harm,” which is usually construed in terms of damage to life, limb, or property. So right there you have values other than freedom that you think the law should serve and for which you are willing to limit freedom. I’d also argue that most libertarians explicitly or implicitly view some version of justice as an important end, because they aren’t willing to forbid all harms (e.g., self-defense).”

    Classic case of talking past each other. The widely accepted view of “liberty” is that it means the right to do whatever you want as long as you don’t harm anybody else. It also includes self-defense. So, by saying that I value liberty and therefore I value life, limb and property, you are saying once again I value liberty. I’ll try not to be disappointed in you.

  29. Having a law that prevents you from shooting someone doesn’t actually make you more free directly, and its purely an empirical question whether it makes you indirectly more free (i.e., by protecting you from being shot yourself). I can conceive that a society might have an aggregate greater amount of freedom by limiting the freedom of some members so that others can experience more of it. This, I note, was the view of some fairly intelligent classical Greeks and philosophically-minded Confederates.

    To me, liberty simpliciter means freedom from government regulation, not freedom from government regulation, plus government regulation that protects life, plus government regulations you favor that protects property, plus government regulations you favor that protects your pursuit of happiness, plus government regulations you favor that protects your kids from seeing naked people in the park. I can’t see how we can have a discussion about liberty where your definition is so individual, so I’m bowing out.

  30. “I don’t have any problems with laws against exhibitionism, if by that you mean public nudity in a park where kids are present.”

    So, I have to hide behind children in order to require that bars in my town that I walk or drive past not paint murals of naked women on their outside walls?

  31. Geoff B.,
    a lot comes down to intent, which is why this kind of enforcement usually is (and ought to be) regulated on a local level.

  32. And that’s the crux of the problem with most of the libertarian arguments I have heard, Geoff. The definition of “harm” itself is grey. I fully agree that liberty should be one of the primary values that laws should be built around. I agree also that many laws we currently have in place infringe that value inappropriately.

    But I have a problem when libertarians start to condemn the righteousness, intelligence, or political virtue of anyone who doesn’t define “harm” in the same way they do. I will avoid calling out specific people because my intent is not to accuse. But the most vociferous arguments I have heard from libertarians—particularly Mormon libertarians—have been quite condemning of any viewpoint that doesn’t match their particular shade of grey. Which is why, though I was enamored of libertarian philosophies when I first began to hear them, I have learned to handle them with rubber gloves and an inclination to look for the catch.

    To tie this in to the OP, it is as though they have gone through a paradigm shift so momentous for them that they deny any possibility that there may be another paradigm shift beyond (or parallel to) that one which is just as momentous. I believe there is balance between keeping oneself open to paradigm shifts, and preserving oneself from becoming paralyzed by indecision. But that balance is necessary to wisdom and good leadership.

  33. Adam G, now we’re getting somewhere. I think this was the intent of the 9th and 10th amendments — to allow people to resolve their differences over policy/taste/appropriate public behavior by agreeing that most things cannot be settled on a national level. Even in 1780, there were different moral standards in different states, and I believe the Constitution as originally written allows the people of New York and the people of Kansas to have different interpretations of indecency. I also think this is compatible with personal liberty — if you want to paint murals of naked people you probably can do it in New York but not in Kansas, and that’s a good thing. I would also point out that such an interpretation allows some states to legalize gambling and prostitution and some illegal drugs while other states take a different course. It is federalizing our problems that causes people to get their knickers in a twist (in my opinion).

  34. Great article! I loved what you wrote about the things you learned while living in Nicaragua. I’ve definitely had some major paradigm shifts of my own from living overseas. Nothing frees your minds than seeing something 1st hand and realizing the truth. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

  35. SR,

    The thing about Geoff’s (and my) libertarianism, is we recognize some government is necessary. However, we believe that federal government should be extremely limited. A federal government that become corrupted, as ours has over at least the last 20 years, where politicians promise more and increase the deficit without thinking about the rights of future Americans, is way beyond the pale. Today’s crisis, all brought on by federal intrusion into the housing, banking, and other markets, should show us this very problem.

    That some states struggle with debt, while others do not, shows that on a smaller scale, we can fix problems. If a state cannot do so, then people will move elsewhere, and the state will have to declare bankruptcy, or return to sound principles.

    However, when it is the federal government that is acting like Greece or California, then only the rich can afford to go elsewhere. The poor end up trapped, and the middle class see themselves sinking into poverty.

    That Obama continues his Keynesian economics in his current “budget” “plan” (both are misnomers) shows that he just does not understand freedom or economics.

    If a governor were to demand that Catholic hospitals pay for abortion medicines, then they have the option of removing to another state where there is more freedom. However, when Obama does it on the national level, there is no place to go. That Obama’s seeking to establish a massive federal government and limit freedom is easy to see. That Bush was doing the same thing, only in his favorite areas (military and Medicare Part D), shows us that both parties have a serious problem with allowing Americans to have their freedoms.

  36. I can agree with that! But I think that good message, (which is grounded as much in fiscal common sense as it is libertarianism,) is sometimes obscured in the superiority complex or fanaticism of some libertarians, not really you or Geoff.

    Libertarians are just as inclined to the primary political vice that every other party (and really any group of like-minded individuals) falls prey to: they fixate on a limited scope of values. Often, as they talk amongst themselves, they whip themselves into a frenzy regarding those values, elevating them in importance above all other considerations.

    What I would like to see in the political arena more than anything is people who can stand back from the obsessions of the parties and really look at issues, balancing all the good and recognizing that there will never be perfect solutions, being open to paradigm shifts, as it were. But I admit there isn’t much hope of that. It is supremely unrealistic to expect people to be open to paradigm shifts. Most of us are very comfy in our thick feather prejudices.

  37. SR, I think most Libertarians HAVE done just that!

    They see that a huge federal government has caused economic bubbles, infringed upon people’s rights, and has made us into a nation that occupies other nations (often against their will).

    Our nation was built upon Constitutional principles. Thomas Jefferson would not be a Democrat or Republican today, even though he started the Democratic-Republican party! He would be a libertarian, insisting the feds backed off and allow the states to handle things.

    Rarely has the federal government done something right. Often it has not. While we can point to the Civil Rights legislation as a positive act, it came only after a century of federal actions that go against freedom. That Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did not really solve anything in the long run. We still had to go through Plessy v Ferguson, and many other federal events that eliminated or restricted freedoms.

    That many states established freedoms for blacks and women decades before the feds, is a good example of this. And where there can be tyranny from a state, it does not match the tyranny of the federal government. If you don’t believe this, just try having your grandma go past the TSA next time she flies.

    The problem with Democrat or Republican concepts is that both want to restrict freedoms by growing some part of the government. Under Pres Bush and Obama, it seems they both wanted to grow all kinds of government. If nothing else, they’ve placed us under the tyranny of massive debt, unemployment, foreclosures, and endangered freedom of religion (trying to tell churches who they can hire as clergy, that they must provide abortifacients, etc). Tinkering in health care has caused prices to skyrocket. Huge regulations have slowed our economy. Pres Obama insists we still need more “stimulus”, mostly hiring more cops and teachers for the unions, so that the economy doesn’t stutter. Guess what? His actions are actually dragging the recession on! If we allowed the system to clear itself out, there would have been a quick and robust economic recovery (as previous recoveries have shown). Instead, we have this $15+ Trillion anchor around our necks, which will eventually cause another economic bubble to burst, and then we’ll experience a Depression because of it.

    There are more solutions from a free society than one that establishes 5 year plans. Just ask any former Soviet ruler about that.

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