Five Reasons for Optimism

As awful as the times may seem, they also contain seeds of hope.

It was a miserable decade. From Baghdad to New Orleans and from the Patriot Act to TARP, the last 10 years sometimes felt like nothing more than a series of colossal government screwups alternating with colossal extensions of government power. At the end of 2009, we're faced with an escalating war in Afghanistan, a growing corporate state at home, and a renewed push for protectionism around the world. There has been little to cheer in the age of Bush and Obama, especially for those of us who think Washington should be shrinking rather than swelling.

Or so it might initially seem. But there have been countervailing currents as well, broad trends that began before the dawn of the decade and have continued, even accelerated, in the time since then. They haven't undone the awfulness oozing from the District of Columbia, and some of them may yet be reversed. But taken together they offer a more balanced image of the world, one with better prospects for peace, prosperity, and freedom than you'd expect if your only source of news was the Congressional Record.

1. A surge in nonviolence. In his 2005 book Unarmed Insurrections, Rutgers sociologist Kurt Schock made a strong case that the last 30 years have seen a substantial shift away from violent "people's war" and toward nonviolent people power. From 1979 to 2001, Schock notes, there were 31 predominantly peaceful rebellions in the Second and Third Worlds, 23 of which concluded with oppressive governments falling. His list ends with the EDSA II revolt in the Philippines, but the trend has not abated in the following decade: Since 2001, nonviolent civil resistance has brought down regimes in Argentina, East Timor, Bolivia, Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon, Ecuador, Nepal, and the Maldives, while efforts to replicate those successes are active everywhere from Burma to Zimbabwe. There are still guerrillas out there, from FARC in Colombia to the Maoists in Nepal, but the general trend is toward Gandhi, not Guevara.

One difference between people's war and people power is that the latter is more likely to lead to a relatively free society. Nonviolent resistance relies not just on mass disobedience but on mutual support; rather than disrupting civil society, it depends on the strong social ties that are the building blocks of self-government. But even when a revolt's political payoff isn't especially admirable—as with, say, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, which replaced one obnoxious leader with another—the very fact that the transition was accomplished by peaceful protest rather than violence is something to celebrate.

That reflects not just a surge in civil resistance but a rise in another kind of nonviolence. In his 2004 book The Remnants of War, the Ohio State political scientist John Mueller notes that traditional state-on-state warfare is far rarer today than at any other point in modern history. Civil wars persist, but even they are not as common as they were two decades ago. Mueller may exaggerate when he writes that warfare "is moving toward obsolescence, rather in the manner of slavery and dueling before it." But he has spotted a real and laudable change. For the United States the aughts may have been a decade of war, with American soldiers bogged down in bloody conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. On a global scale, though, we're seeing a strong if unsteady march toward peace.

2. The media revolution. In 1969, American TV was centralized in three television networks and a rudimentary public broadcasting system. In most other western countries, TV and even radio were controlled by the state, with varying degrees of independence and with little or no private competition. In the Soviet bloc, government broadcasters had no independence or competition at all. Cable TV existed only on the edges of the western systems, and the network we now know as the Internet was an obscure Pentagon project.

Over the following four decades, two things happened. One was the immense growth in one-to-many and many-to-many communications tools, most notably the Net. The other was a steady decline in the cost and difficulty of the tools of cultural production. In 2009 it is easier than ever before to shoot a movie in your neighborhood, edit it in your bedroom, and distribute it to anyone with access to the World Wide Web. It's even simpler to create a homebrewed webzine, game, or radio show. And none of these activities need be solo pursuits: Creative and critical communities have grown up around all this backyard entertainment and journalism.

We've already passed the point where DIY art is at least as interesting as the products of the big entertainment combines. (Which would you rather watch, a Hollywood remake or a YouTube remix?) Now those grassroots media are having a political impact as well, not just as a tool of conventional political campaigns but as an element of the civil resistance mentioned above. This connection goes back at least as far as the fax networks that helped fuel the revolt against communism two decades ago; today it stretches from Tehran tweeters to the human rights videos shot by grassroots activists and posted on sites such as The Hub. And then there are oddball movements like 4chan's chaotic crusade against Scientology, which might seem silly in itself but offers a compelling example of decentralized, leaderless organization—and of the ways ephemeral online fandom can evolve into something politically engaged.

3. The rise of voluntary governance. As of 2007, for the first time in human history, more people live in cities than in the countryside. Tens of millions more men and women move to urban centers every year; some come voluntarily, in search of opportunity, and some come involuntarily, because someone has seized their land. All of them construct new communities in those dense urban zones, often without bothering to ask permission from the authorities. In the words of Whole Earth Catalog creator Stewart Brand, the migrants "create their own opportunity once they're in town by creating their own cities," with "a seething informal economy in which everyone works."

These vast illicit neighborhoods are a social revolution in themselves: parallel cities governed from the ground up by a thicket of voluntary associations. El Alto in Bolivia, for example, was once little more than a collection of unofficial settlements. It now has a formal municipal government, but the real centers of power are independent, self-sustaining local groups: neighborhood councils, labor federations, parents' committees, and the syndicates that own and organize the public markets. Such communities are the low-end counterparts of the private neighborhoods that have taken over so much of the work of local governments in the United States. But the squatter towns are messier and jerry-rigged, improvised rather than master-planned; they are more decentralized, more democratic, more dangerous. Built as they were on unused, usually government-owned land, they frequently face the threat of being bulldozed. When they are allowed to stand and to thrive, they grow wealthier, eventually evolving into middle-class neighborhoods.

That process in itself is nothing new. What's different is the scale. A billion people live in these informal zones now; and as the planet continues to urbanize, the shadow cities only grow larger. They are filled with poverty, and thus with serious social problems, but thanks to the autonomy enjoyed by the people who build and dwell in them they tend to be more livable than the officially sanctioned slums. They are, in a way, another people power revolution. In the squatter sectors, erecting a house is itself an act of civil disobedience. Yet those builders have created not just homes and enterprises but a flourishing civil society, one that can resist the state when it attempts to crack down.

There's another sort of self-rule worth mentioning as well, one linked closely to the media revolution. Immigrants in the United States today do not merely stay in touch with the village back home. Many continue to take part in its political life, using communications technologies to forge a voluntary, deterritorialized system of governance. The leftist writer Mike Davis calls these communities "virtual villages," citing as an example the Mexican town of Ticuani, "now equally split between Puebla and Brooklyn."

4. An explosion of entrepreneurship and wealth. In those squatter cities you'll find a rich ecology of tiny businesses, from street vendors to jitneys to schools. Some of these are the same informal enterprises that have always flourished in the underground economy, but others might represent the next step of the DIY revolution that has already swept the media. The shanzhai of China, for example, may have begun as mere pirates manufacturing knockoffs of brand-name gear, but they've branched out into original designs. Shanzhai phones, writes the hacker/blogger Bunnie Huang, "integrate wacky features like 7.1 stereo sound, dual SIM cards, a functional cigarette holder, a high-zoom lens, or a built-in UV LED for counterfeit money detection. Their ability to not just copy, but to innovate and riff off of designs is very significant. They are doing to hardware what the web did for rip/mix/burn or mashup compilations." This doesn't just mean funky add-ons for niche markets. The shanzhai "could not only make an iPhone clone, they could improve it by giving the clone a user-replaceable battery."

Such entrepreneurship is one reason for the enormous growth of the world's middle class. (The other catalysts include the decline in warfare and the rise of the cities.) The comfort enjoyed by the western bourgeoisie still seems absurdly wealthy to most Third Worlders, though more of them have attained such a standard of living in recent years than ever before; The Economist estimates that about a tenth of the developing world now lives at that level. But "those who are middle-class by the standards of the developing world," the writer adds, are now "a majority of the developing world's population." Citing the New Delhi–based economist Surjit Bhalla, the magazine also reports that "the middle class's share of the whole world's population rose from one-third to over half (57%) between 1990 and 2006," with most of that growth taking place in poorer countries.

5. The breakdown of hegemony. Of the five trends described here, this one emerged most recently. A decade ago, it was possible to describe the United States as the sole superpower in a unipolar world. Neither Europe nor China could match America's economic or military might, and the rest of the world hardly seemed interested in trying. There were a few relatively autonomous spots aggravating Washington—tax havens on the high end of the social pyramid, "failed states" on the low end—but it was easy to assume that power would continue to be concentrated on the Potomac.

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  • ||

    All the silver linings you can find put together Jesse, can't possibly make up for the fact that civilization is about to end and we're all fucking DOOMED

  • &||

    How's all that foam working out for you, Warren?

  • ¢||

    1) Politics is violence, surging in place of the less bad kind.
    2) Chumps unaffected.
    3) Hippies aren't people.
    4) Boingboing is not the world.
    5) VACUUMS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY!

  • Jesse Walker||

    Hippies aren't people.

    Hippies? Didn't you read the part where it says they all work?

    (Ducks.)

  • MNG||

    I think one can say there is much good news because economic regulation is neither a necessary or sufficient cause of tyranny. Tyranny can exist without economic regulation and you can have such regulation without having tyranny (unless you define tyranny broad enough to include all economic regulation, TEH SLAVERY! and such).

    If someone says that government intervention in the economy could be used for tyrannical purposes, or that it has been in the past, they are just telling the absolute truth (ask Ukranians about this). But it doesn't seem to always lead to that.

    I guess a reply to that would be "if you wait long enough it will, it will." I'll admit there is no way I (or anyone) could disprove that reply...

  • ||

    .... you can have such regulation without having tyranny

    Citation needed

  • MNG||

    Look around. Saying the current United States is tyrannical is to make a mockery of the word tyranical.

    You can write about how much you think Obama sucks on this blog without fear that jack booted thugs will come deal with you tonight. You can fairly easily register an opposition party, open a newspaper, start a blog, etc. You're mostly free to take up any number of occupations or move to any part of the country you want. Etc.

    Calling the US a tyranny is nutty hyperbole.

    The same can be said of places with quite a bit of economic regulation. The UK, France, etc., are hardly concentration camps, whatever specific policies you may find to be silly or unjust (or both).

  • ||

    Bullshit. Tyranny, as in the bulldozing of Susette Kelo's house, exists (like in all times) in the US today. Saying, "Well, it isn't as tyrannical as when Alexander the Great slaughtered the people of Massaga" doesn't mean it isn't tyranny. You ever hear of the "Boston Tea Party"? It wasn't a response to genocide.

    For the subject at hand, regulation, is by definition an exercise of force. When the jocks in the 7th grade used to give you weddgies and steal your lunch money they were being tyrannical, exercising force against your will. Regulation prohibits (through threat of force) action of an individual (s)free choice. Just because the jocks in Jr High thought that they had a "reason" like the modern Leftard, doesn't mean it wasn't "tyranny".

  • MNG||

    Well, like I said if you define tyranny to include any economic regulation then yes I guess it's a tyranny. But it makes that term laughingly meaningless, lumping the gulag in with minimum wage laws...

  • ||

    When you are one of the invisible victims of regulation, like Anonymous Crafter X, about to be put out of business by retarded regulations on baby clothes, then it doesn't matter if everyone else is just as tyrannized as you are or not. You're still fucked.

    Plenty of people get fucked by the government, in all sorts of ways. From teenagers sexting, to teenagers fucking their 15 year old girlfriends, to small entrepreneurs getting slapped with millions in fines for violating regulations they could not reasonably know existed, to immigrants getting stuck in some kafkaesque visa regulation and thrown in one of our hidden prisons where we store these people.

    Not to mention the chokehold of the two-party system on the electoral process, or the fact that we're forced to accept wages in a currency that the government is free to debade debasing as fast as it can.

    Or lets not mention that we're forced to buy houses at prices that are artificially inflated so the government can extract more property taxes from us.

  • Ratko||

    The term tyranny, and it's derivatives, can have a literal as well as implied or figurative meaning. Such as: "Constitutional republics are a deliberate attempt to diminish the perceived threat of majoritarianism, thereby protecting dissenting individuals and minority groups from the "tyranny of the majority""

    Does that help?

  • Tim||

    MNG's false argument.

    Smoking isn't as bad for you as Nuclear waste.

    Anyone who says smoking is bad for you or compares it to Nuclear waste to illustrate a point, can only be equating it to Nuclear waste.

    Therefore anyone who points out smoking is bad for you is crazy and shouldn't be listened to.

  • Ratko||

    I think the point of tyranny is your choices aren't your's. The same power that can dictate your personal choices for you holds your very life and death over your head if they please. The fact they haven't decided at the moment to take it that far doesn't make them any less tyrants, it's the fact they hold unreasonable power over the individual that does. With exceptions of the right to murder, steal, rob, et cetera, the right to make personal decisions belongs with the individual, no one else, no matter how superior and wise or entitled that some one else, of any group supporting them, believes themselves to be. Even the right to decide to murder and such should be left to the individual, but penalty can be attached for choosing to do such, since by robbing or murdering another you take their right to freely choose from them. It's not necessary even for those penalties, but it helps avoid blood fueds that can be very destructive quickly consuming societies. So even I'll admit those penalties are desirable. It's taking that understanding and expanding those penalties to cover everything from a drug someone wants to take to whether you have smog control on your car that brings us back to tyranny.

  • Ratko||

    [or supports, not 'of']

    And no, I don't believe I or anyone else should have to listen to someone because they believe something is "bad" for us. Maybe I know it's harmful and choose do it because I feel it benefits me in some way that out weighs the harm. Perhaps the choice in question causes no harm, a person's beliefs don't make something true.

    Choices belong with the individual. That's freedom, and not everybody is cut out for freedom.

    But, please, lets do this by the rules, if indeed Americans don't want the form of constitutional republican governance we were given, or want to improve things, it can be changed, but by the rules. Any other way amounts to an overthrow. It was configured the way it was to protect our freedoms and the libertarian principles upon which it was founded that give us those freedoms.

    Life without freedom is meaningless. None of us was born to serve someone else's idea of what things should be. We all have different ideas of what we want, and what we can justly desire to affect ends where our boundary borders those of others. We don't have just cause to make others decisions for them no matter how much we disagree with them.

    So we can not shape society, that must happen on it's own. And we must accept it makes itself. If we do otherwise we must hold power over others we have no right to, and in doing such make ourselves tyrants.

  • JohnD||

    Get your head out of you ass, MNG.

    This president and his administration (and the Dem congress) are the very definition of tyranny. Look at the bills they are trying to pass over the objections of the majority of Americans. Look at the bills that are being crafted in secret.

    Jefferson said: The tree of liberty needs to be watered from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

    Well, it's time. If this adminstration doesn't back off, there WILL be blood in the streets.

  • Mike||

    Hello there, Mr. Internet Tough Guy.

  • Ratko||

    Wouldn't it be much easier to just think of the government as the people that hand out the free prizes and pout and bawl when they don't?

  • Cling Free||

    What's this pingback stuff?

  • MNG||

    Stupid spam is what it is. We can hope it's sender is eternally eaten by Satan when he dies.

  • Ratko||

    Been wondering about it myself. So these are from people who are hoping we'll visit their pages.

  • MNG||

    I think surging tolerance for many lifestyles and ascribed status groups is a major plus for recent times. If you are a gay person, black, a woman, or just plain different you're life post-1960 has been progressively getting less oppressive. If you balance that with the pains of, say, having your Sudafed purchases restricted or your ability to hire below minimum wage labor prohibited, I'd say it's been an overall plus by quite a bit....

  • Tim||

    You are completely right that for gays, African Americans etc things have turned out to be a net plus. David Boaz of CATO made that exact point speaking at FEE recently.

    The problem is that people often use such statements to justify restrictions on other kinds of freedom, seeing, say, civil rights as being inseparable from left wing economics; and that is completely untrue.

    You definitely come across as saying that freedom's supporters should just say "good enough" and shut up. While seemingly ignoring that despites groups doing well many individuals suffer greatly from poor policies. Completely understandable from a collectivist of course. Civil rights doesn't mean much to the African American whose life is ruined because he is incarcerated for doing drugs, or to the one who has little better economic alternatives than selling or doing drugs because of the unintended consequences of many government regulations that reduce economic opportunity while encouraging dependency on the state. How's the "right to be educated" in failing government schools working out? Luckily it does seem that the trend in education is finally moving twords innovation, however slowly.

  • Marian Kechlibar||

    If Bruce Bawer is to be trusted, being a gay or a Jew in Western Europe is rather worse these days - in cities with huge Muslim population.

  • Eric||

    MNG,

    As much as I detest the government and agree with other posters that regulation is tyranny, I also agree with you. I think in general things are getting freer and we have seen a net gain in civil liberties.

    For example, in most jurisdictions, I can now buy beer after 1 PM on a Saturday afternoon because nobody cares whether I show up drunk for church anymore. Hell, most people don't even care if I show up to church at all.

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    Jesse Walker is using "labor federations", since he cannot bring himself to use the proper term "labor unions."
    Such fine union hatred.
    Even the word itself is banned here.
    Until the unions donate money to "Reason", of course.

  • Jesse Walker||

    I said "labor federations" because they're called labor federations. Follow the link in the story. They're something somewhere between a union and a trade association, and they're "mostly made up of small businesses owners and self-employed workers."

  • Tim||

    Unions are OPEC for workers, at least when government unfairly takes their side over management. People should have the right to choose not to be in a union, and companies should not be forced to employ union workers. The right to free association cuts both ways, while arguments against monopoly/cartels apply equally to unions as they do to the former.

  • Jennifer||

    1) Good for the rest of the world, but this provides no reason for my American self to feel hopeful about my country's future.

    2) Okay, this actually helps people on the American scene.

    3) See number 1.

    4) See number 3.

    5) See number 4.

    Conclusion: the rest of the world might be heading in the right direction, but we in America are still pretty much fucked, and not in the fun-and-sexy way.

  • Jennifer||

    1) Good for the rest of the world, but this provides no reason for my American self to feel hopeful about my country's future.

    2) Okay, this actually helps people on the American scene.

    3) See number 1.

    4) See number 3.

    5) See number 4.

    Conclusion: the rest of the world might be heading in the right direction, but we in America are still pretty much fucked, and not in the fun-and-sexy way.

  • Jennifer||

    Even the Reason server is out to get me, dammit. Stupid double posts.

  • BakedPenguin||

    ...you can have such regulation without having tyranny...

    Tell that to the victims of Eliot Spitzer or countless other Spitzer-lites across the country who wound up in court (and in some cases, prison), because they "violated" some unknown, arcane, piece of shit law that a DA just happened to read.

  • MNG||

    Baked, criminalizing prostition=tyranny just doesn't seem to be sensible to me.

    I mean if tyranny means SEC restrictions, what do you call North Korea, "Super-Duper Tyranny?"

  • tarran||

    Yes... :)

  • Eric||

    No,

    I call it Mega-Infinite Tyranny.

    The degree of tyranny does not matter. To misquote Forrest Gump, "Tyranny is as tyranny does."

    Sam Adams and the rabble is Boston thought a 2-cent (or maybe is was 3-cent) tax on tea was tyranny, so they dressed up like Indians and threw the king's tea into the Boston Harbor. This kind of tyranny wouldn't even make the Drudge Report today.

    According to Merriam-Webster, tyranny is "a rigorous condition imposed by some outside agency or force." I admit that this is the third definition, but this supports the argument that regulation is tyranny. I would posit that a government regulation (a guideline that carries the force of law, even though Congress did not enact it) is the worst kind of bureaucratic tyranny.

    Government is a false god.

    E.R. Evans

    Libertas!

  • BakedPenguin||

    No, I mean the arcane business regulations that over-zealous prosecutors (like Spitzer when he was a prosecutor) used and continue to use to convict otherwise innocent businessmen & women.

  • BakedPenguin||

    MNG - you're right that there's a huge gap between NK and the US for the vast majority of the population. My point was there are many who get sent to prison without committing "crimes" as they are generally understood by 99% of the population.

    Would it matter to you if you were sent to a North Korean or American prison? Perhaps, if you're a tough guy. I know I'd be just as dead in either one.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    You're a penguin and you're already baked. What do you expect?

  • JB||

    I really don't understand these people who go to prison for 20 years.

    I start killing bailiffs and judges well before then.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    So does this mean there is Reasonable Hope for Change?

    In our lifetime?

  • ||

    re #5 -- what has been shown is as much or more the limits of the national will than the those of military power.

    It is foolish to think the absence of a hegemon will either: 1) last, 2)be better (not all hegemons are the same)

  • Cyrus DoGood||

    I don't know that ending American hegemony is a good thing for libertarians. I think the real issue is that we have mishandled our hegemony by chasing phantoms in Iraq and spending our way into fiscal calamity to the benefit of fascist China. America is still the most free of nations and the American people hold liberty in the hearts more dearly than most other places. Our hegemony is a consequence of our love of liberty. We will hold onto that so long as we don't throw out our liberties and embrace a big government, "protector" state. The question is how we use our hegemony--are we rational, peaceful, and frugal or do we remain wasteful, arrogant, and eager to give up our freedoms to fools in Washington?

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    And what do you think the answer to your question is? Just take a wild assed guess.

    I'll even give you three guesses, and the first four don't count.

  • Brandon||

    In past "cause for optimism" pieces, reason has explained away the disconnect between what's happening in society and what's happening in Washington with the line "politics is a lagging indicator." I don't think our politics are capable of responding to a libertarian trend, absent some kind of revolution of our own.

    95% of the rabid anti-Obama teabaggers are going to vote Republican in 2010. They're not going to vote Libertarian, or independent, or Constitution party. They're going to vote for the same party that not 1 year ago was presiding over a regime that in most respects was no different from the current one. How does this futile cycle lead to fundamental reductions in the size and power of government? I don't see it.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    Don't worry. That's only because it doesn't exist.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    Just trying to help you feel more optimistic, by confirming the validity of your senses. Your senses in fact are working just fine.

    The rest of what's happening on this thread, I'm not so sure about.

  • JB||

    Well, Republicans stopped acting like so-called Republicans and started acting like Democrat-lite. I think some of them are finally getting a clue that the only chance they have of winning is being different.

    Anything less (this means you RINOs) and people won't show up at the polls. The R's got hammered in 2006 because people didn't show up to vote. Why go out of your way to vote for an R when he acts just like a D? Stay home and drink a beer instead.

  • JohnD||

    JB, my sentiments exactly. RINOS need to go ahead and declare as Dems and stop pretending they are Republicans.

  • I Heart Capitalisms||

    Obama seems to be spending more than Bush. Anyway, the libertarians should vote for whoever's out of power but has a chance to get in (which is not any of the adorably impotent Third Parties). The US had a fairly responsible government in the 1990s because power was split between the two parties and they kept killing each other's spending plans. At this point, the Democrats control everything so it makes sense to vote Republican. If the Republicans start to monopolise power again like they did under Bush, you can expect more Republican spending sprees and should think about voting Democrat.
    Also, it takes a lot of optimism to regard the relative decline of the fairly liberal West in relation to the illiberal Rest of the world as a good thing for liberalism. Particularly the rise of our neo-Confucian friends/lenders in China.

  • JohnD||

    Obama SEEMS to be spending more tha Bush? Where have you been all year.

  • I Heart Capitalisms||

    Australia.

  • Ratko||

    Your suspicions are correct on spending. Under Obama with a huge Democrat majority in congress wasting billions of USDs has become trillions, the increase is phenomenal.

    Also the observation about splitting up the two parties so they cancel each other's plans is valid. The last thing we should want is either group of these idiots in super-majority.

  • JB||

    A great article.

    I say that very rarely, but this is.

    I don't agree with it all, but there are reasons for optimism among all the detritus spilled by Obama zombies.

  • Jtap||

    I think the real optimism displayed here is the idea that Republicans will actually change their stripes in order to get elected.

    The bottom line is that a sizeable chunk of the American voting populace are f***ing idiots. They'll vote R in the next elections no matter what. After a few years of political business as usual they'll vote D again. They'll repeat this cycle until they die...as will their children.

    I think the current political climate has been both a positive and a negative for independent candidates and movements. On the plus side, people seem more aware that there's really no difference between the two parties, and that true change is needed in the form of independent candidates that are beholden to the people and not corporate interests. On the negative side, the independent/Libertarian platform has been publicly hijacked by a bunch of racist, homophobic Republicans trying to reinvent themselves after W and McCain/Palin shredded the party's reputation.

    I think a concerted effort needs to be made by true independents to distance themselves from the Neo-Con garbage currently hijacking and diluting the message.

  • JB||

    "Neo-Con garbage currently hijacking and diluting the message"

    I don't know where you are seeing that.

  • Jtap||

    Are you being serious?

    How many rallies against spending have turned into a circus of birthers, religious zealots conspiracy theorists?

    The average American sees this garbage on the news, and this is what they equate the movement toward smaller government with - a bunch of uneducated, paranoid nutjobs railing about Kenyan birth certificates and the magnificence of one Sarah Palin.

    The mainstream "face" of Libertarinaism has become Glenn Beck - who seemingly stopped being a Republican and carrying the GOP's water the day they left power.

    The Republican lunatic fringe is seeking a makeover, and they're tarnishing the image of a long-standing movement towards smaller government in the process...through the spillover of their religious fundamentalism, paranoia and (let's call it what it is) stupidity.

    Turn on the news. Read the papers. It's everywhere.

  • Tim||

    I hope that most people don't see rallies against spending led by Beck as Libertarian, I certainly don't.

    To the extent that such people advocate things like drug prohibition and opposition to gay marriage most people I think will know the difference.

    Republicans have forever called their brand of conservatism small government, it's nothing new.

    The advent of readily available alternative media will hopefully only improve people's level of information. The idea that such people represent libertarian is something pushed by left wingers, I'm not sure that most people are going to buy it.

  • Tim||

    Also if the Rs win again and start the same old stuff again the Ds in the media will be much more friendly to libertarians more than happy to side with them on such issues while pointing out that what the Rs are doing have little to do with libertarianism.

  • JohnD||

    Jtap... ALL rallies tend to attract some extremists. Maybe you should go to some Dem rallies if you want to see nut jobs. Of course, you probably would think they were normal.

    BTW, be careful with your comments about others. I'll compare education and intelligence with you any day. As for paranoid, I think you are out to get me... so I may have to get you first. Watch your back, slick.

  • Ed hardy||

    I think to be optimism is very important if we want to live happily. When I fall into a depression I went shopping . I like to go to the Ed Hardy stores.

  • TheNino85||

    #5 is really a good thing?

    Because bad as we have it here, in terms of liberty, we're still better than most of the developed world where the notion of "negative liberty" is completely alien. A rise of Europe will only encourage us to adopt hate speech laws and strict government control of industries; they're not going to be learning that much more from us, given that we've had the power for the last 60 years. It's their turn now. And then there's Putin. Then there's the fierce nationalism of the Chinese.

  • Bundschuh||

    If the thin reeds you enumerate offer you some hope against the coming sh*t-storm, then good for you, but:

    re #1, I give you Ambrose Bierce: Pacifist (n): A dead Quaker.
    True when he said it, even truer now.

    #2 Yep, some blogger in his bedroom has the resources and contacts to conduct investigative reporting and to stand up to the threats of a governmental entity on whom he chances to find some dirt.

    3. And the state has never, ever, found ways to co-opt or destroy such communities? And the coming Obamavilles and McChrystal's Armies won't be crushed in the same way as the Hoovervilles and the Bonus Army were?

    4. Ain't happening where I live. What do you do when you have millions of formerly employed middle class types who subsumed their entrepreneurial dreams to false notions of corporate job security? Why, you pass the CPSIA, of course. Can't have corporate refugees following their dreams of making toys or children's clothes or anything like that. And you can't expect the poor bankers to do anything, y'know, bankerly, like make loans to small businesses with all that bailout money we gave them, can you?

    5. Who needs a hegemon, when world leaders seem increasingly to be acting like a bunch of mafia capos around a table? If they have to whack one who gets out of line (Saddam, anyone?), it has nothing to do with us little people.

  • Jennifer||

    . A rise of Europe will only encourage us to adopt hate speech laws and strict government control of industries;

    We've already adopted hate speech laws, and government control of industries is growing stricter every day, and Europe had nothing to do with that; it was our own homegrown cowards insisting that the purpose of government is to make sure nobody ever gets offended or frightened.

    And those "homegrown cowards" include the self-described libertarians who wet their pants with fear on 9/11 and henceforth decided the government could confiscate as many civil liberties as necessary to help said cowards keep their pants dry.

  • Jtap||

    This blaming of Europe for any and all ills befalling our country is getting old. It's a tired, Neo-Con argument that seeks to blame someone else for our own failings as citizens.

    The "so-called" Libertarians are now coming out of the woodwork. Had a conversation with a guy I've known for years the other day. He's calling himself a Libertarian now. Post-9/11 when I criticized the Patriot Act, he acted as if I had committed treason. He got red-faced angry and said that I was "Un-American" for not supporting our President in a time of "war". Now? Now he rails about the Obama administration taking away our civil liberties. Funny how many Neo-Cons magically became Libertarians the day "Their" big government left office.

  • Ratko||

    You know everything. Can I follow you?

    On second thought you're quite obviously a manipulator and a dipshit, I'll pass on the following you, as well as anyone else, including your master Obama.

  • Kroneborge||

    Sorry, IMO #5, is NOT a plus. America might have some problems, but we are still the greatest force for good in the world. China and Russia etc replacing us is NOT a good thing.

  • ||

    Another reason for optimism is the growing controversy over the secrecy at the Fed. There is no good reason why a small group of individuals should have the power to create and distribute, in secret and off budget, trillions of dollars to undisclosed people and organizations around the world.

  • Ratko||

    One of the greatest benefits of the internet is how, as Radley Balko pointed out in his article today, it makes keeping things secret much harder for those in power. We netizens need raise holy hell anytime the powers make any indication they have any intention of becoming involved in any way.

  • Tim Starr||

    1) Unarmed rebellions often succeed as the result of playing "good cop" to the "bad cop" of armed opposition, either internal or external. E.g., Solidarity wasn't crushed by Red Army invasion of Poland in part because the Red Army was already tied up in Afghanistan. Solidarity was also heavily dependent upon help from the US, both in the form of economic sanctions and humanitarian aid. In other cases, unarmed opposition groups are allied with armed internal opponents of the regime.

    It's not at all clear that unarmed opposition is more likely to lead to freer societies; an unarmed Tutsi opposition in Rwanda would've led to continued rule by the genocidaires, while the armed opposition of the RPF has increased freedom in Rwanda.

    2) Often, the success of unarmed rebellions is due to the influence of US "hegemony." E.g., the Reagan administration decided to withdraw support for Marcos in response to popular opposition. If such a foreign sponsor had decided to hold firm, as the US did with South Korea, then the unarmed rebellions can easily fail. Similarly, the US can also support armed opposition groups that succeed and result in greater freedom, as in Nicaragua.

  • Ratko||

    All I know is this nation's founders understood the right to be armed was of such great importance it was not to be compromised, period. The king went through great efforts, arms embargo and such, to keep the patriots unarmed so he could exert his will over the colonists. Such is always the case with authoritarians. The importance of arms should never be taken lightly.

    Nonetheless, you make some valid arguments, Mr. Starr.

    And it might be added that "unarmed" in no way assures any type of positive result even if successful. Billions of Indians suffered hellish poverty for decades as a result of Ghandi's socialist nightmare. A nightmare thanks to capitalism they are finally beginning to wake from.

  • Ratko||

    Do we have to make a choice between optimism or pessimism?

    I see no valid reason for either one. Selecting one or the other may help overly emotional people with a warped sense of self-importance to cope with problems in their lives, but there's little useful purpose past that.

    We can not know the future. We can plot a curve involving past and present events to determine a possibility of more probable future ones. But that's it, and there are no guarantees everything won't change in a heartbeat.

    Better to just pay attention so we don't miss the opportunities that come our way even in disaster. The very worst situations can often be used to your advantage, such as to affect change that otherwise would not have been possible. Our opponents are well aware of this. They will happily purposely destroy their own countries just to create the opportunity to rebuild them more to their liking.

    Leave the optimism/pessimism crap to the people who give Miss Cleo her paycheck.

  • ||

    Reasons for optimism in this article are based seem to be based on purely economic and political reasoning. I find from this article little of the "reasons" for optimism that encourage me. The growth of organic food production on smaller, local levels is left out. The growth of green thinking economically as well as socially is another reason for optimism. The economic/military power principle that has governed thinking for the last five thousand years is slowly breaking down with the growing grass roots form of organizing. People all over the world, for example, have stood up to power corporations like Monsanto, proving them not only to be unethical and greedy, but not as powerful as they would like to claim they are. There are examples of this everywhere we look. That is reason my my optimism.

  • ||

    Wow. After skimming through some of these comments a real reason for optimism is that these guys are sitting at their computers commenting rather than running a government. There is a lot of negative stuff spinning around here.

  • Dana||

    Even though there still is a lot of problems in the world, there is still a lot to be happy and positive about. Everyone should look at these five reasons and relax.

  • Jon||

    There is always reason to be optimistic, even during a recession. Everyone knows that some of the largest companies around were started during times of recession. Now is the time to take a leap and create something awesome for yourself. Be optimistic and go for it. That is my thought on it anyway.

  • sharee||

    Optimism is a very hard thing to find these days, even if recession is almost over, its effects are still lingering in the lives of many. However, there is no reason to keep feeling down and negative. This will only add up to the bad vibes we are going through. Cheers!

  • Mark H||

    95% of the rabid anti-Obama teabaggers are going to vote Republican in 2010. They're not going to vote Libertarian, or independent, or Constitution party. They're going to vote for the same party that not 1 year ago was presiding over a regime that in most respects was no different from the current one. How does this futile cycle lead to fundamental reductions in the size and power of government? I don't see it.

  • Dubstep||

    Baked, criminalizing prostition=tyranny just doesn't seem to be sensible to me.

  • 9th and Ash||

    I sure can use some optimism come January, that's for sure.

  • Five Reasons for Optimism||

    The economic/military power principle that has governed thinking for the last five thousand years is slowly breaking down with the growing grass roots form of organizing. People all over the world, for example, have stood up to power corporations like Monsanto, proving them not only to be unethical and greedy, but not as powerful as they would like to claim they are. There are examples of this everywhere we look. That is reason my my optimism. loled

  • insulin resistance||

    I sure can use some optimism come January, that's for sure.

  • Become The Movement||

    It's about time we have some hope in this country.

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