You've Put Your Libertarian in My Meatspace!


In a column about how people act all mean on the Internet, and which includes the words "cyberspace" (12 times), "denizens," "meatspace," "cyberoid" and "cybernauts," Michael Kinsley uncorks this unlikely description/critique of libertarianism:

It's not surprising that cyberians make lousy communitarians. Libertarian instincts are a more natural political fit with the silicon lifestyle. "Do your own thing and let others do theirs" is one of the big themes of the 1960s that had an unexpected second wind thanks to the geek counterculture.

But here too, the ugliest aspects of libertarianism—the me-me-me, the stay-out-of-my-space—have dominated, while the more attractive libertarian vision (people wandering around in robes, picking flowers and writing poetry and ignoring each other and enjoying the silence, or something like that) hasn't played much of a role.

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  1. Gee, in my vision everyone is naked.

  2. “the more attractive libertarian vision (people wandering around in robes, picking flowers and writing poetry and ignoring each other and enjoying the silence, or something like that)”

    I’ve met a lot of libertarians over many years, and I can’t recall a one like above.

  3. Now there’s a man with his finger on the pulse…

  4. He has his head up his meatspace.

  5. I would envision a libertarian world involving lots of entrepreneurs working for themselves, selling products and services in novel ways.
    That pretty much describes the internet, no?

  6. Kinsley can’t handle criticism. He probably received some scathing emails from libertarians and is trying to even the score. What a meathead! Instead of presenting a true picture of libertarians, he is describing the Eloi in “The Time Machine”. This guy is a Morlock.

  7. Has he been to a “Porcupiner” gathering yet (of the Free State Project people)? No flowers, but there are a lot of guns.

    I think Kinsley’s “writing poetry” utopia is in the gloriously decrepit Havana. Oh yeah, they have better health care, too.

  8. I am a libertarian
    who’s writing rhyming verse.
    (I know it kind of sucks, but hey!
    John Kerry’s would be worse.)

    But I do NOT wear flowing robes,
    since I have too much pride.
    I’m NOT some goddamned fatass
    with a figure I must hide.

    And I do not pick flowers, since
    I never saw the point–
    I don’t like plants unless they can
    be rolled into a joint.

    (Which is not true–I much prefer
    to smoke them in a bong.)
    So fuck you, Michael Kinsley–your
    perceptions are all wrong.

  9. I am ignoring all of you.

  10. So much for Libertarians being ruthless corporate goons or weed-growing, bunker-dwelling survivalists.

    I like the old stereotypes better

  11. This points to a larger and more consequential problem which is that libertarians and the Libertarian Party have done an awful job marketing themselves. The LP does have an attractive vision; however, we have not explained that vision to the populace. Even smart people don’t really understand what we stand for. Are we just Republicans who like to smoke pot? Are we Democrats who have studied a little economics? I have a friend who is a near genius prosecutor who always confuses libertarianism with anarchy. She’s not doing it to be snarky or because she is dense, but because she really does not see an appreciable difference (much like many libertarians can’t see the appreciable difference between the two main statist parties).
    I would wager to guess that the biggest marketing problem we have is that people have gotten scared to be without the friendly stare of Big Brother and feel intimidated by the concept of freedom in the sense that we mean it. People find it conforting to believe that an all knowing government is there to solve all their problems (the same theme is of course prevalent in organized religion). How can we explain to America, in comforting and non-arrogant language, the benefits of libertarianism? Until we do that, we are doomed to get .5% of the vote and mutter between ourselves on websites such as this. Any suggestions?

  12. Swede-
    Suggestion number one would be to delete all Hit and Run archives, or at least the thread where people argued that Bill O’Reilly, and all employers for that matter, have the RIGHT to sexually harass their employees unless the employment contracts say otherwise.

    I have repeated time and again–nobody’s gonna vote libertarian so long as it is perceived as the party which stands for the financial equivalent of “might makes right.”

  13. Swede – I agree, and reading Jonathan’s article and the poll numbers within lead me to believe it’s all too true that folks want to be taken care of. I mean, independents lean more dem. They don’t want to be able to handle their own retirement. Huh?

    What has always gotten me is that people who can be somewhat mistrustful of government when it comes to certain things (the WoD or Iraq), are all too willing to let the government run the schools, take care of their health, take care of their retirement, etc.

    I don’t get it.

  14. Let me try putting my advertising skills to use here:

    LIBERTARIANISM–because your boss doesn’t have enough power over your life.

    LIBERTARIANISM–because low taxes are the single most important human right.

    LIBERTARIANISM–Fuck everyone else.

  15. (And I know my last post is not entirely accurate, but that’s how we’re perceived by most folks. That perception needs to be changed if possible; otherwise, we may as well give up and spend our time on more useful pursuits, like trying to invent a perpetual-motion machine.)

  16. “stay-out-of-my-space” is the “ugliest” aspect of libertarianism? The hell?

  17. “stay-out-of-my-space” is the “ugliest” aspect of libertarianism? The hell?

    Perhaps he was tired of hearing it from all the women who rejected him in singles’ bars.

  18. Jennifer and Lowdog,

    You both bring up excellent points. Dems and Reps like government intruding on aspects of life that they want to change, but want it out of their life when it suits them. They are inconsistent. We are realtively consistent when it comes to reducing government influence. However, does this consistency make us seem irrational? I mean, the whole sexual harrassment/O’Reilly thing does make sense from a true Libertarian standpoint, but that position does not make for an attractive platform. Are we too in love with our ideological purity versus political success to allow for some government influence? Do we really have to stay so consistent in our opposition to the Drug War that we have to trumpet legalizing all drugs (marijuana and crack equally) when that position, rather than a more moderate one calling for legalizing just marijuana, costs us not just votes but general credibility?

  19. “stay-out-of-my-space” is the “ugliest” aspect of libertarianism?

    Heh. He certainly said a mouthful about his own will to power in that sentence. How dare you impugne my right to butt into your life?

    You forgot
    LIBERTARIANISM – We’ll close the schools
    LIBERTARIANISM – Dope, Guns and fucking in the streets
    LIBERTARIANISM – Open the borders!

  20. Well, to repeat something else I’ve posted here many times before, libertarians will never get anywhere politically unless they realize that governments are not the only organizations, and heads of state not the only individuals, whose power over those beneath them needs to be kept in check to ensure a truly free society.

    LIBERTARIANISM–Because EVERY man is an island.

  21. Swede,
    You are asking the million dollar questions.
    I think the Kelo vs. New London case was a great example of how libertarians would interact with the powers-that-be that most people could understand and empathise with. We need to give people more of an idea of what they might expect should a libertarian actually succeed in gaining an office. The reality would be much less scary than the stereotype. We need to ensure people that we are not just a bunch of reefer addicts who are out to yank away all their safety nets.

  22. mk,

    however, the stereotype you put forth sure beats being a bunch of safety net addicts who are out to yank away all my reefer.

  23. Swede –

    Intellectual purity leading to ridiculous overbroad arguments is hardly something libertarians have a lock on. I suspect that characterization has to do with the perception of libertarians as selfish, would-be upwardly mobile members of the middle class.

  24. The main problem with libertariansim is that people are want to control some (or a lot) of other people’s lives (politicians, religious leaders, big corporations, labor unions, crooks, thugs, etc.) OR they want others to control them (politicians, religions leaders, etc).

    True libertarians don’t want to play that game, but most people don’t trust and don’t like the rest of the human race to follow this path.

  25. the stereotype you put forth sure beats being a bunch of safety net addicts who are out to yank away all my reefer

    Granted, but if you were to win an election, what would you do? what could you do that would matter?

  26. mk,

    Sadly, I think that most reforms that a libertarian would pursue after taking office would be met either with an uninterested sigh from the general populace or violent, angry reaction. Legalize pot? Freaked-out, screaming mothers on TV and damning footage on Fox News at 10. Closing down some arms of the federal bureaucracy? Even more freaked-out gov’t union spokesmen and federally funded artists, teachers, and broadcasters pulling their hair out. Weaning the country off of the government (and I don’t only mean cutting the outflow of benefits, but allowing people to do things they weren’t able to before) would probably require a succession of libertarian presidents with both houses willing and a supreme court willing to read the bill of rights at a fifth-grade level.

    I’m not trying to be a downer, but I think our society is in a “wierd loop” of government benefits where almost every group gets something they want and are unwilling to let go of, and end up seeing any attempt to limit government as an attack on their sacred personal issues.

  27. Nice poem Jennifer!

    I think part of the problem with the constant mis-representation of libertarianism is that people simply can’t think in the terms of political philosophy. They are too accustomed to issue oriented thinking- simply matching personal feelings about particular issues as best they can to one of the major parties. The concept of having a consistent philosophy that applies to all issues, even if the results for some issues go against what you thought you wanted, makes peoples’ heads explode. “what! How can you be for drug legalization *and* against gun control? *poooof* *boom*”

  28. the more attractive libertarian vision (people wandering around in robes, picking flowers and writing poetry and ignoring each other and enjoying the silence, or something like that)

    Who the hell would want to live there?

  29. My first move as an elected libertarian would be to decentralize the Fed. Is there a particularly good reason why the Dept. Of Agriculture needs to be in DC? Things are pretty expensive around here. Let’s sell that building and get you guys some new digs in Bumfuck, Kansas near where all that agro action is going down. I’d give the current employees the option of moving out to Kansas or taking severance pay. The positions that were left vacant could simply not be replaced.

  30. “Stay-out-of-my-space” is the “ugliest” aspect of libertarianism?

    Another way of saying it: how dare you tell me not to tell you how to live!

  31. I kind of like that new slogan the LP has been using: I’m pro-choice on EVERYTHING. Since I live among the liberal elite of Chapel Hill, I’m thinking that bumper sticker will go well with “My President is Charloton Heston”.

    Seriously, what’s wrong with that? Everyone can agree on choice, even if you choose to sleep with Bill O’Reilly.

  32. Stevo, this is an excellent point. It ties in to why people get their news from late night comedians — they like the value added by a downstream provider. (How’s that for catchy industry buzzwords, you “cybernauts”? Kinsley’s never stopped that jackass “Look at me I’m hip to the net” schtick since staffing the insufferable Slate).

    If there’s an important news event I’ll probably hear the “lite” version in watercooler conversation, or on a promo read by the local news bimbo. Next I’ll hear about it on NPR, or if I want the official record, If I want a perspective that I hadn’t considered, I’ll read reason, or wade into H&R.

  33. Meatspace?

    I think that’s the first time I’ve heard that term since late 1999.

    Jesus Christ.

  34. Meatspace?

    I think that’s the first time I’ve heard that term since late 1999.

    My thoughts exactly. He must have been using the “Cyberpunk Thesaurus, 1998 Edition, with Expanded William Gibson Appendix”

    By using “modems,” cberpunks are able to access “data’ through a medium known in the underground as the “internet.”

  35. I’ll just say, I value the Constitution and Bill of Rights more than I value the moral judgements of my senator.

  36. And my ample mis-italicization, misspellings, and use of single quotes when I meant to use double is why you shouldn’t post and drink cough medicine at the same time.

  37. Hey, could we do a libertarian poetry thread?
    ( I know it’s ridiculous to even ask for an anarchist poetry thread.)
    And shouldn’t meatspace be kept refrigerated?

  38. “I kind of like that new slogan the LP has been using: I’m pro-choice on EVERYTHING. Since I live among the liberal elite of Chapel Hill,…”

    I’m in Durham. When I had a car that had a rear bumper that was big enough for bumper stickers, I put:

    “I’m pro-choice on everything: Vote Libertarian”…on the LEFT side of my rear bumper, and

    “Enough is enough: Vote Libertarian” on the RIGHT side of my rear bumper.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t notice an upswing in Libertarian votes in Durham in any of the years I had the car.


  39. How about…

    Libertarianism: The first hit is free.

    Seems like a good marketing strategy to me.

  40. Kinsley sounds more like a disaffected techno-utopian than anyone else I’ve ever heard. I can only guess that he wasn’t around pre-www and the net was about the same only archie and veronica were the best ways to find porn.

    The rallying cry of the early cybernauts was “information wants to be free.”… where the path between you and your dream was frictionless.

    He thinks the ‘net to be the great dystopia but his argument misses the mark. Does he not understand the term free? He complains because he thinks information isn’t free yet it is exactly that freedom he bitches about. It seems to me the information is unobstructed, unguarded, open and frank so he is complaining that the “information” is too free. Clearly he fails to distinguish free expression from free beer. But hey, if he’s passing out free beer, I hope he gives me a call.

  41. Hey, could we do a libertarian poetry thread?

    Here I sit, all broken-hearted
    Tried to revolt, but can’t get started.

  42. There once was a young man from Cato
    Who tried hard to limit the state-o
    But he said, when he got
    Half a ‘cent of the vot,
    ” ‘Smore rewarding to just masturbate-o.”

  43. Kinsley sounds more like a disaffected techno-utopian than anyone else I’ve ever heard.

    George Gilder

  44. Funny, I think I stumbled upon Reason because the commentary was touted as being astoundingly civil and thoughtful. Even the trollish people are fairly reasonable.

    As for bastions of libertarianism online, the best I’ve found so far is

    For now it’s a private beta (email me if you want an invite, I have a few left over). It’s really hard to describe what it is. Above all else, it’s encrypted and peer to peer – so only your friends know what you’re up to.

    The overall structure involves topics of interests and links between friends of friends. Each has a forum, chat, photo and file sharing area – and it’s all tied together with a sort of “buddy list” called the “roster” that lets you see who (and what topics) are active at the given moment – as well as a recap that explains what went on when you were away.

    Best of all, everything has permissions. So if you love LARP (for example) but don’t want your friends to know, you can set it with one of 5 levels of privacy.

    The best example of what makes it great was a recent invasion of hundreds of users of the forums – called the “SA Goons”. For a few days, they were running around being dorks – popping into the main public chat and saying “poop” – then dissapearing. What was amazing was how the employees handled it. They did NOTHING.

    It turned out, the SA Goons wanted to chat mostly with themselves anyway, and once they figured out how to make a “private meem” (a highly secure invite only area) they dissapeared. You can still see a lot of them online – but they mostly do whatever they do in their private meems. What you can’t see doesn’t hurt you.

    There’s a “Libertarian Ideals” meem – amazingly it has only 5 people. The nice thing is that there is nothing stopping someone from creating a better meem.

    imeem is truly the most liberating experience I’ve had online. No moderators, no ISP’s snooping. Just you and what you like.

  45. Thanks for proving my point, guys. You’re dweeby pissy-fits who can’t even muster up a clever insult.

  46. Michael Kinsley,
    Be patient. We’re working up to a good one…
    take it away Stevo Darkly.

    When Stevo cuts you off at the knees, Mr. Kinsley, know that we back him up 90 percent.
    In the meantime… thppffphxpp!

  47. Oh, God, Ruthless, the pressure! I appreciate the vote of confidence, but — me? Why me?

    Let’s review my history of participation on my thread so far:

    1) I hurled an insult of sorts at Kinsley, but it’s more of an inside joke — my favorite William Shatner line in Star Trek IV.

    2) Then I kind of agreed with one of Kinsley’s points — that people are ruder online than in real life. However, I disagreed with the assertion that this has anything to do with libertarian philosophy.

    3) David Rollins at July 25, 2005 03:17 PM paid me a compliment (and simultaneously insulted Kinsley). But to be honest, I can see only the most tenuous connection between what David said and what I said. In fact, I’m not 100% that David didn’t confuse my post with someone else’s.

    4) I posted a couple of self-deprecating poems about libertarianism.

    I’m about to go on vacation in a couple days, so I can’t really work up the fire for a really good insult.

    Maybe it would be more appropriate to just be really polite to Mr. Kinsley instead?

    Thanks for your critique, Mr. Kinsley. It gives us all something we should think about.

    Meanwhile, anyone hankering for abuse can always post a gentle criticism for the harmonious collectivist communitarians over at

  48. Works for me, Stevo Darkly.
    Take that, Mr. Kinsley!

  49. Are we too in love with our ideological purity versus political success to allow for some government influence?

    I’d say that’s about it. The Libertarian Party was created for ideological purists who didn’t want to swallow the kool aid and work within one of the major parties. The people who were willing never left. The only way the Libertarian Party could win votes would be to position themself as a centrist group and attempt to force out one of the current major parties. This would in turn lead to a bunch of purists leaving the party and founding a new fringe group to complain about how nothing ever gets done. No capital L libertarian really wants the party to become a national player. It would put them out far too much. Although, it wouldn’t hurt the party at all to get away from the “LIBERTARIANISM- Because Granny doesn’t deserve her old age pension, and is a dirty THIEF for even asking” mentality.

  50. You know, if the real Michael Kinsley ever showed up to insult me, I do believe I would put that on my resum? under my list of accomplishments.

  51. Stevo, if I seemed confused it’s because I had been picking flowers and making music. And when I say “making music”, of course, I mean I had been to the gun range with my new Benelli shotgun (thanks for the advice, mediageek).

  52. My biggest problem with his vision is that in a libertarian utopia, you would have to either own the flowers or pay for the privilege of picking them.

  53. LIBERTARIANISM — Because your crack baby isn’t my problem.


  54. So doe sthis mean that in Libertarian Utopia, we all become members of The Polyphonic Spree?

  55. David-

    No problem. Glad I could be of service. 🙂

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