By Alexander McCobin
Delivered at the New Hampshire Liberty Forum
February 20, 2016
Section 1. Introduction
First off, I’d like to thank the Free State Project for inviting me to speak.
There is something ironic being here today, though, isn’t there? Less than 2 weeks ago, the state voted overwhelmingly to have a socialist become the next president of the United States. The vote was split between a democratic socialist or national socialist, but either way, the support was for a socialist. Yet, just before then, the Free State Project reached a historical milestone: gathering 20,000 signatories to the Free State Project Pledge to move to New Hampshire to make it the freest state in the union.
I want to congratulate the Free State Project on reaching this remarkable milestone. There were many who doubted that it was possible. I admit, I was one of the skeptics for a while. Yet, as Matt Phillips described last night, it would be all too easy for the momentum to go away now that this goal has been reached. The conditions are ideal for it. On the one hand, those who have been working for this for over a decade and a half can breathe a sigh of relief knowing they accomplished something great. On the other hand, the state itself has recently indicated that it is not as friendly to libertarian ideas as many once believed. More importantly, it’s now time to get 18,000 individuals who have not yet moved to New Hampshire, uproot themselves and drastically change their lives. Honestly, it has the potential to be the perfect storm. And the next few years could feel like hell for you. That’s why I’d like to remind you of the words of Sir Winston Churchill: “If you are going through Hell, keep going.”
This is a message for the entire liberty movement. For years, we have been riding high with a seemingly endless wave of support from the success of Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012. We are entering a time when we will face great difficulties in standing up for liberty. We also live in a world of transience. It’s ironic that today, when people are living longer than ever and so have more time than ever, there seems to be less interest in making commitments that extend over time. Now, more than we have ever needed it in the past decade, we must embrace the virtue of PERSEVERANCE in the pursuit of a free future.
Section 2. Meaning of Perseverance
Perseverance is steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. There are four important qualities to this virtue: vision, action, adaptability, and patience.
It’s easy to visualize what perseverance means in sports. There are countless movies that depict the power of hard work in striving for your dream. They can visually depict the blood, sweat, and tears that go into developing one’s physical fitness. They can do it all in about 2 minutes with a catchy montage set against an inspiring song like Eye of the Tiger. What is most important is to see physical development as an element of personal development. The reason Rocky 6 may be my favorite of the Rocky movies is because it does just that. It takes the next step and applies the principles Rocky has learned in the last 5 movies to life in general. During one powerful scene with his son, Rocky says: “Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
Section 3. How to Persevere
For those who are thinking, “This is all well and good in theory and Hollywood movies, but what does this mean for me? How am I supposed to apply this to my life, and particularly, my work for liberty?” On the one hand, perseverance is the kind of quality that cannot be taught via lecture or readings. It is a quality you have in side and must practice in order to strengthen. My goal here is to talk about the importance of practicing this virtue and finding ways to apply it to your work for liberty. But I will offer 3 tips for how to persevere:
Section 4. Examples for Inspiration
Fareed Zakaria has said that the “The reason that libertarianism seems narrow and naive is that having won 80 percent of the struggles it has fought over the last two centuries, it is now forced to define itself wholly in terms of the last 20 percent. Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice if you were in Prussia in the 1850s, but in America in the 1960s? Libertarianism has become extreme because the world has left it no recourse.”
Libertarianism is not extreme because of our ideas. Libertarianism is extreme because we persevere with our ideas, whether they are popular or unpopular. We should learn from our forbearer movements and take their work as inspiration for our own:
Section 5. Perseverance and Students For Liberty
I can’t speak anywhere without tying the topic back to Students For Liberty. SFL is a US based nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate, develop, and empower the next generation of leaders of liberty. When we founded SFL 8 years ago, there was no libertarian student movement to speak of. Yet, today, SFL has over 2,800 pro-liberty student groups in our network and over 1,400 trained volunteer leaders in over 100 countries on all 6 inhabited continents. Last semester alone we ran 59 conferences for over 6,000 attendees. And we are still going strong.
There have been a number of reasons for SFL’s success, including external forces such as bad presidential administrations, new technologies, and the Ron Paul campaigns. But more than that, SFL’s success has been due to the people involved in the organization, and their embodiment of this virtue.
Section 6. Conclusion
Keep in mind: It will hurt. Others will doubt. You will fail at times, but you must find a way to learn from them and maintain the belief that failure is not an option. But remember, to close this as I opened, with words of wisdom from Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never, never, never, never, never give up.”
What does South Park have to teach us about strategy & planning? A lot, actually.
Matt Stone & Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, recently shared their #1 rule on writing a compelling story with a class at NYU. The short version: No scene should ever be disconnected. Every scene should logically flow from the scene beforehand. If the connection between scenes is not "THEREFORE" or "BUT", the scenes should be cut/changed. If the connection between scenes is "AND THEN", meaning a scene does not building upon or challenging the previous scene, then "you're f****d".
This makes obvious sense. A story is supposed to be interconnected. Every element of the story should strengthen the overarching narrative in some way. If you have disconnected elements, you're not building a single, compelling narrative.
The same goes for developing any strategy or plan. Whenever you're putting together a plan for a business, student organization, event, or project, you should make sure that every element of the plan build upon what has come before. If one section of the plan is connected to another with "AND THEN" rather than "THEREFORE" or "BUT", you have a problem.
Compare these two plans for an event:
Event A: We'll have Person X speak, and then we'll serve food, and then we'll let people talk.
Event B: We'll have Person Y speak to a group of 20 students to introduce Idea Z they may have never considered before, therefore we'll want to facilitate a conversation amongst the group about the idea so they can really internalize it, but they will be hungry after an hour so we'll need to supply food and refreshments to keep them happy.
Both events are utilizing the same basic elements, but Event B is almost certainly going to be more successful than the former because the organizers understand the connection between each element and can align activities to them.
More importantly, though, making sure there is a logical connection between the elements of the event helps eliminate unnecessary elements (which will likely cost you time and money otherwise). Here's another example of how this might happen:
Event C: We'll have Person H speak, and then we'll sell Books by Person G, and then we'll have a short talk by Person J, and then we'll invite people to go play foosball.
If the only things connecting each element of this event is "AND THEN", the event isn't going to make sense to participants and you'll be wasting a large amount of your energy and resources on activities that aren't designed to achieve your ultimate goal.
This is the second post in a series about my holiday in Asia. The second place we stayed for an extended period of time. We actually landed in Hong Kong on Christmas Eve, but we left within 24 hours for Bali. When we returned, we spent several days in the city and it was absolutely wonderful.
The first thing I realized was that Hong Kong is an amazing city. It's beautiful. The architecture is unique. The islands are enchanting. The technology is advanced - riding on the subway was actually an enjoyable experience. And the vibrancy of the economy is infectious - walking down streets that included local vendors selling live fish and major multinational banks next door to each other was an inspiring sight. One of the most interesting things about Hong Kong is how it seems to embrace its contentious history. You see the interplay between Chinese, British, and local Hong Kong identities. Instead of downplaying any of them, you can see their melding throughout the city in the signs, shops, and practices of the city. While there is a vocal localism movement in Hong Kong today advocating for an emphasis solely on the latter of these 3 cultures, it is apparent that the reason there is a vocal movement is because of how strongly Hong Kong has been and still is influenced from diverse cultures and histories.
One night in Hong Kong, I had the pleasure of spending an evening with 3 impressive libertarians from the island. One is the founder of Hong Kong Students For Liberty. One is the president of the Princeton Libertarians back in the US (from Hong Kong, though). And one is a supporter of their work. Throughout the dinner, one of the topics of conversation was about how restrictive the Hong Kong government is, particularly on economic issues. As an outsider, I was surprised to hear this because Hong Kong is consistently ranked as the most economically free place in the world (e.g. by the Economic Freedom of the World Index). Back in the US, it is common for libertarians to think of Hong Kong as the economic utopia one dreams of. No doubt this is also partly due to Milton Friedman's portrayal of Hong Kong in his PBS series:
As I learned about the local policies, I began to appreciate what they were saying about zoning outside the island, difficulties for small businesses in contrast to large ones, etc. There are also serious threats from the mainland government to the political integrity of Hong Kong and the freedoms that its people enjoy compared to the mainland. But, I also began to realize something else: It is a natural tendency for people who spend a lot of time thinking about freedom and oppression to focus on restrictions of their liberty than the liberties they enjoy. I see this often in the US as well, fellow libertarians claiming that the US is incredibly restrictive and fails to recognize the full set of rights of humanity. It should go without saying that there is no perfectly free place in the world; there is work to be done everywhere to promote freedom. However, some places are freer than others. We ought to appreciate it if we do live somewhere that is comparatively more free while also working to make it even freer. (Something I believe describes everyone I had dinner with that night.)
The last lesson to take away is that freedom leads to prosperity, not just in economics, but in culture as well. My wife was enamored by the fashion and how "cool" the people in the city were. I was blown away by the diversity and quality of the food. And we both agreed that we saw our best live jazz performance to date when we stumbled upon a place called Fringe. It does not do justice to the full experience, but here's a recording from the show (and check out Trio Soundscapism on Facebook):
My conclusion: Hong Kong is one of the most exciting cities in the world. Its unique history and embrace of freedom today has led to incredible prosperity. While there is work to be done and threats to the future freedom of the city-state, it is an inspiring and exciting place to learn from.
I have only ever received one movie recommendation from John Allison, the former CEO of BB&T and the Cato Institute: Whiplash. After it appeared in theaters a year and a half ago, he emailed me and basically said, "you should watch this." John is one of the most impressive and inspiring leaders I know, so when I received this email, I paid attention.
In the movie, a student passionate about drumming, Nieman, gets the chance to perform under the tutelage of one of the most accomplished, demanding, and overbearing instructors in the world, Fletcher, and follows Nieman's rise, fall, and rise again in the pursuit of excellence of his craft. It is an artistic portrayal of Jim Collins' famous line, "Good is the enemy of the great." The overriding message of the movie is the unfathomable nature for most people of the requirements to excel, which are:
Some might challenge this by saying that this is actually a much darker story than the one I depict here. I agree that this interpretation has merit, and don't think one should watch the movie believing everything Fletcher did or Nieman accepted was appropriate. What matters most, though, is what you primarily take away when watching the movie: Do you appreciate the core message that excellence requires hardship and unrelenting dedication? Or do you see it as a morality tale of the ills of pushing the limits?
Here's another way of putting it: Which interpretation will do more to help you in your journey? There's a reason John Allison recommended the movie to me and the rest of SFL. And so, i'm going to say here that if you haven't seen Whiplash yet, you should do so as well.
One year ago, Jeb Bush was considered the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Last night, he received only 3% of the votes in the Iowa Caucus. The obvious message is that the United States doesn't want another Bush presidency -Democrats don't want it, Independents don't want it, and even the Republican Party's own base doesn't want it. What may be less obvious is how Jeb Bush brought about the ascendency of Donald Trump as a front-runner.
There's a lot to be said about the echo chamber that dominates Washington, DC across party lines. (Great articles on this are here and here.) It is something that especially dominates the Republican Party elite, though, who were convinced they were going to defeat Obama in 2008 and 2012 when the rest of the country made clear they were going in another direction. Both times, Obama's greatest appeal factor was that he was not Bush. The Republican Party ignored this and lost presidential elections because of it. This time around, the Republican Party ignored it and is at risk of losing the party itself. (Some have said that a Trump nomination would change/compromise the ideology of the Republican Party - see this, this, and this. Republicans ought to be worried about a more fundamental problem - that a Trump nomination, or even his success to date, would change/compromise the viability of the Republican Party as a serious player in the future.)
Trump's unique role in the primary race was from the start and still is, the anti-Bush candidate. Consider this:
This is a place to share my passion for liberty, thoughts on leadership, and other musings.