Bryan Caplan  

Pathological Individualism?

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I just got back from LA, and Ron Paul's signature was everywhere. A random "Who is Ron Paul?" billboard. A mini-rally at the Palm Springs public market. A button on the collar of my flight attendant.

I have to admit that these sightings weird me out. I'm so used to being completely against everything that any publicly visible group is for, I don't even know how to respond. When a teen holding a Ron Paul sign walks past me on the street, what am I supposed to do? Give him a thumbs up? Cheer? Stop him and start arguing about immigration? When my flight attendant asks me what I want to drink, do I say "I sympathize with your button"?

You tell me.


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TRACKBACKS (3 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/784
The author at In the Agora in a related article titled The Cynic's Dilemma writes:
    Even with my highly qualified support for Ron Paul, I can't help but get a grin whenever I see a bumpersticker or a homemade sign for the rEVOLution by the side of the road. It feels odd. Am I chagrined... [Tracked on January 8, 2008 7:55 PM]
COMMENTS (14 to date)
sandapanda writes:

Just stop supporting Ron Paul. Solves the Problem and seems like a good choice in other respects as well.

Pete writes:

Maybe you should empathize with how Arafat must have felt when Palestine was actually given some land... and think about what you would do if your opinions were actually given serious consideration.

Or maybe if you really have strong contrarian opinions you should be negotiating for whatever you can get (not sure who the other party is, but this is a comment in a blog post so it doesn't have to make sense), as a wise man once said in a Washington Post opinion piece.

Zubon writes:

Remember, you are still in a small minority, most likely in the single-digits for one political party (including some independents polling Republican). You can still think of yourself as a member of an oppressed and embattled minority.

Because you are somewhat unusual, how other people react may not be useful to you. Instead, think how you would react in a similar situation. If the flight attendant's button proclaimed support for Hero Games, how would you respond? You can even include reservations by thinking about a button that was for/against the return of some aspect of the 4th Edition rules.

Troy Camplin writes:

I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I ever found myself in a majority of much of anything myself -- but not to worry, since Paul's ideas are still very much in the minority.

fmb writes:

Reflect on the appeal of being a lemming and develop greater empathy with those that succumb.

Give a thumbs up! Say "I like your button!" Take comfort that your ideas are getting mainstream traction. After all, you don't _want_ your ideas to remain an eternally minority position, do you?

Patri Friedman writes:

How about not worrying about any of these questions, and just basking in the warm glow of knowing that you aren't as alone as you thought?

Gary Rogers writes:

I think I understand perfectly well what you are going through because I am going through the same thing myself. Ron Paul is talking pure Lebertarianism and it does not jive with reality. For example, Dr. Paul talks about eliminating the IRS and making taxes voluntary. I like the idea, but we are 9 trillion dollars in debt, not counting the Federal guarantees for student loans, mortgage loans, pensions, etc. I do not believe a debt of this magnatude can be dealt with on a voluntary basis, especially without a culture of responsibility that is learned only through years of self government. (No, our style of government would not be considered self government.) Another example is spending cuts. Although cuts are necessary, the severe cuts Dr. Paul describes would cause a major shock to the economy. Again, things do not change over night and the raw Libertarianism juxtaposed against our current situation is a bit scary. It leaves the feeling that maybe I am not really a Libertarian.

Unfortunately, we are also on an unsustainable path in continuing to accrue large amounts of debt. We are very much like a family that does not have the self discipline to wean itself off of the credit cards. Politicians have trouble talking about this because it is unpleasant, but our future depends on it. Maybe a dose of raw Libertarianism is called for, but it scares me to the bone.

Rick Stewart writes:

The best thing about Ron Paul is Ron Paul.

The worst thing about Ron Paul is Ron Paul supporters.

Everyone can agree with half of what Ron Paul says. Only libertarians can agree with everything. And libertarians want freedom - freedom from belonging to crowds.

This explains why Ron Paul's support comes from so many people doing their own thing to support him, instead of joining 'his campaign.' It is what makes the Ron Paul phenomena so unexplainable - everyone is just doing their own thing.

So, Bryan, don't react to any Ron Paul stuff that other people do. Walk on by. But - do the things you want to do, and that you do best, to further his election and/or message.

As for me, I baked chocolate chip cookies and took them to my Iowa caucus and gave them away to everyone who said they were going to vote for Ron Paul. We won our precinct with 30% of the vote, versus Huckabee and Romney at 22% each.

I did give away more cookies than Ron Paul got votes, however. It's not just the politicians that lie, sometimes it's the voters.

FC writes:

Tell every Ron Paul supporter that you are not an individual.

Wait silently to see if they get the reference.

John Fast writes:
I'm so used to being completely against everything that any publicly visible group is for, I don't even know how to respond. When a teen holding a Ron Paul sign walks past me on the street, what am I supposed to do?
The most important thing to understand is that you have only a really crude Likert scale available. (Like, Dislike, or Neutral/No Opinion.) Once that's clear, everything else should be obvious!

If you agree with a majority of what the sign/button/whatever symbolizes:
1. Point to your own Ron Paul button (if you're wearing one).
2. If you're not wearing a Ron Paul button yourself, give a thumbs-up or OK gesture, or simply wave and smile.
Yes, you're expressing support, but that's more accurate than expressing disagreement or even neutrality.

If you disagree with most of what the sign symbolizes, but you think Ron Paul is the least-bad major-party candidate, you can smile sadly and say something like "Well, he's better than any of the others." (Or you can just ignore it.)

I saw him everywhere in San Diego during Christmas too. I saw a mini-Ron Paul blimp, cars sporting his sign, students doing the same. Ron Paul is big in SoCal--or has some energetic supporters there, anyway.

Rick writes:

Why do self-proclaimed libertarians often denounce, or even dissassociate themselves with Ron Paul. Here comes a guy that is actually talking about the things we claim to hold dearest to our moral values (property rights, individual liberty, personal responsbility, peace) yet we shrug him off. Here we have a chance to show the rest of America, and even the world for that matter, that individual liberty and free markets can work. But why shoot the messenger in the foot? Why not help the man?

Ross Levatter writes:

An on-the-job flight attendant is allowed to wear a political campaign button?

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