Of course I wanted to be Spock. How could you not? He was always supremely competent, perfectly serene, and—most importantly—immune to the tempests of emotion. A teenage boy too curious and intellectual for his own good could hardly expect to be anything but “fascinated.” It is a tribute to Leonard Nimoy’s brilliance in this role that his character became the most beloved in the Star Trek franchise, for these very reasons. No other actor who played a Vulcan in the many series over the decades that followed ever approached the success Nimoy attained. His influence on the culture goes far beyond those of a mere actor on a TV show, and enters the realm of those select few who have built ideas and references that will be cherished for generations.
But I and many others feel his loss on a personal level. And the reason is—as Virginia Postrel has so well put it—the glamor of Spock. He projected an ideal. Or so I thought at the time. As I grew, I realized what the Star Trek franchise itself realized—and what Leonard Nimoy knew all along: the whole point of Star Trek is that Spock is wrong.
Spock’s struggle with his humanity made for great dramatic (and comedic) moments—but the point of the series, the point of the character, is to dramatize the value of that humanity. Spock is at his greatest, not when he is the brilliant scientist, but when he is Jim’s friend, when he slyly jokes with McCoy, when he realizes at last that “logic is only the beginning of wisdom.” In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, we first see Spock about to receive the Kolinahr medal—to commemorate that he has at last extinguished the final trace of emotion from his brain. At the last second, he is denied the award, because he still can relate to his human friends. He is ashamed of this, and seems secretly to resent Kirk and others for it. It is this that Spock must overcome. Over the course of the series and the films, what he learns is how to embrace the emotions he has struggled against. It takes death and rebirth before for him to discover how to do this, and at last, in the beautiful reconciliation scene at the end of Star Trek IV, he tells his father that the Enterprise crew “are my friends.” This is his true moment of triumph.
Nimoy knew this about Spock all the while. He knew that the character is only just hiding his feelings, hiding himself—and that he must learn to embrace who he is, not to pretend it’s not him. It was this element that made his character more than a boring robot—that made him, as Kirk says in the funeral in Wrath of Khan, the most human soul in the series. That was also a lesson that took some time for a certain unpopular, bookish kid, who twenty years ago was the second president of the Eisenhower High School science fiction club, to learn.
Spock was a wonderfully fun pop symbol, and it’s amusing to recall some of Leonard Nimoy’s tendency to nuttiness (his awful poetry; his worse records). But I’ll also take a serious moment to mourn the loss of a man who managed to bring something serious and important into my life, and probably yours.
Some days ago, as guests at the International Students for Liberty Conference prepared to hear from one of their heroes, Ron Paul, three students--Aarón Shelby Baca, Mackenzie Holst, and Cory Massimino--presented "An Open Letter to Ron Paul," taking Paul and his allies to task for their bigoted and anti-libertarian positions.
Baca, Holst, and Massimino were shouted down as they tried to make their case, by students so wedded to groupthink and partisanship that they would prefer to shut their ears to the truth. One cannot imagine a less libertarian attitude. But on the other hand, there are those like Baca, Holst, and Massimino, who will stand up for the truth and stand up for freedom even when those values are threatened by their friends. And those who love truth more than their friends, and love freedom enough to resist their own "side," will always have a truer claim to the label "libertarian." I for one congratulate Aarón Shelby Baca, Mackenzie Holst, and Cory Massimino for their bravery and their honesty in setting forth this long-overdue challenge to the libertarian community.
Here is the text of their letter:
Dear Dr. Ron Paul,
We would like to preface this letter by pointing out it is written with the utmost respect and appreciation for all you have done to contribute to the freedom philosophy and human liberty. However, as principled supporters of liberty, we find your appearance at the International Students For Liberty Conference troubling for a few reasons. Most of which relate to your past and current associations with certain individuals and organizations that we find un-libertarian.
We believe many of the people you have aligned yourself with and continue to align yourself with are libertarians only in name and their true ideology is one more akin to a bigoted and authoritarian paleo-conservatism. Your appearance at Mises Circle in Houston, Texas just a few weeks ago is a prime example of this.
The prevalence of an age gap in the libertarian movement has been underscored by the ideas discussed in conferences such as the Mises Circle and put forth by the Mises Institute itself. “Millennial” or “Second-wave” libertarianism is not going away and there seems to be irreconcilable differences between these new libertarians and the old guard, which includes figures such as Lew Rockwell, Hans Herman-Hoppe, Walter Block, Gary North, and yourself. In this letter, we would like to highlight the downright absurdity promoted by this obsolete style of thinking, as delineated in the racist, homophobic, and sexist undertones present in these thinkers’ writings.
The themes of bigotry at the Mises Circle and in many of your colleague’s writings are obvious. At the Mises Circle, Lew Rockwell, founder and chairman of the Mises Institute, compared the life of people under modern nation states to literal chattel slavery. We admit the state is a gang of thieves writ large. But this analogy is downright offensive to people have suffered actual chattel slavery as well as people who have relatively great living standards under modern states. Libertarians can expose the evils of statism without resorting to bad metaphors with blatantly obvious racist undertones.
Hans Herman-Hoppe, distinguished fellow of the Mises Institute, wrote just last year that, “it is societies dominated by white heterosexual males, and in particular by the most successful among them, which have produced and accumulated the greatest amount of capital goods and achieved the highest average living standards.” Hoppe has also advocated violence against homosexuals and other people who live lifestyles he doesn’t approve of, “There can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal. They-the advocates of alternative, non-family-centered lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism-will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order.” The racist and homophobic themes in these passages speak for themselves.
Walter Block, senior fellow at the Mises Institute, has argued, “Feminists and gays aren’t libertarians.” Also on the topic of homosexuals, Block has written, “If a seventeen year old is an adult, and voluntarily wants to have sex with an adult homosexual man, I may not like it. I may be revolted by it.” If that wasn’t clear enough, Block has made his bigoted views explicit, “I am a cultural conservative. This means that I abhor homosexuality, bestiality, and sadomasochism, as well as pimping, prostituting, drugging, and other such degenerate behavior.” In addition, he has put forth the idea that “lower black IQs” could explain productivity differences between blacks and whites. Again, the arguments speak for themselves.
Gary North, an associated scholar at the Mises Institute, is an outspoken Christian Reconstructionist and supporter of biblical theocracy. North advocates capital punishment by means of stoning for women who lie about their virginity, blasphemers, nonbelievers, children who curse their parents, male homosexuals, and other people who commit acts deemed capital offense in the Old Testament. These views are certainly not representative of the libertarianism we’ve come to know and love.
And then there’s you. The now infamous newsletters that had your signature several years ago contained rhetoric referring to people of color as “animals”, asserted that homosexuals with HIV “enjoy the pity and attention that comes with being sick,” and went so far as to sanction anti-semitic views.
When questioned about these newsletters in 1996, you told the Dallas Morning News, “Given the inefficiencies of what DC laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.” You didn’t dispute the newsletters and you certainly never condemned this: “If you have ever been robbed by a black teenaged male, you know how unbelievably fleet of foot they can be,” which appeared along with your signature.
Bigoted subtext has consistently been condoned by so-called “pro-liberty” individuals; a contradiction of the most offensive degree. Liberty cannot exist if individuals of any group are viewed as inferior, whether it is outright, or merely in the connotations of an argument. Suppression means the absence of liberty; something the founding fathers of Libertarianism built up a wealth of rhetoric against. Hypocrisy to this extent cannot be permitted any longer in the libertarian movement.
In Ludwig von Mises’ classic work, Liberalism, he identified tolerance as a fundamental value of a free society, “Liberalism demands tolerance as a matter of principle, not from opportunism. It demands toleration even of obviously nonsensical teachings, absurd forms of heterodoxy, and childishly silly superstitions. It demands toleration for doctrines and opinions that it deems detrimental and ruinous to society and even for movements that it indefatigably combats. For what impels liberalism to demand and accord toleration is not consideration for the content of the doctrine to be tolerated, but the knowledge that only tolerance can create and preserve the condition of social peace without which humanity must relapse into the barbarism and penury of centuries long past.”
This isn’t about guilt by association. It’s about condemning evil, illiberal ideas and being clear about your principles. You continue to hide behind your prestige, refusing to admit this intolerance exists, although it was your name signed on the papers, and you who allowed this bigoted mentality to perpetuate by being closely associated with the Mises Institute. As the icon of the libertarian movement, you have a duty to eliminate this intolerance, not sit back and let it destroy the cause you helped create.
Do you think the Ludwig von Mises Institute has really embraced its namesake’s crucial insight here? Do you think you have? If not, then tell us. Condemn all forms of bigotry and intolerance as unlibertarian. Denounce these connections and the ideas of sexism, homophobia, and racism that have infected the Mises Institute and by extension the libertarian movement. Reclaim Mises and true liberalism. If libertarianism is to advance in the coming century, we must continue to build a community of peace, acceptance, and tolerance and whether you like it or not, it starts with you.
Sincerely and For Liberty and Tolerance,
Aarón Shelby Baca, Mackenzie Holst, and Cory Massimino
Unlike ordinary licensing rules that require a person to have a degree or pass a test before getting a license, these laws have nothing to do with whether a person is qualified. Instead, they allow established companies a special opportunity to object whenever a person applies for a license. When an objection is filed, the would-be entrepreneur must attend a lengthy and expensive hearing, to prove to state bureaucrats that there is a “public need” for a new company.
That’s no easy task, given that most of these laws are written in such vague language that nobody knows what they mean. What is a “public convenience and necessity”? Typically it’s whatever the government says it is. And if officials decide new competition isn’t necessary, they can deny a person the right to start a new business, no matter how skilled or qualified he may be.
I expand on my comments about R.E.M.'s classic song, "Losing My Religion," here.
The passage from the Psalms that I cite is from Psalm 137, when the captives hung their harps upon the willows, weeping as they remembered Zion, but "they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth."
Today is the birthday of one of our greatest—and least well-known—founding fathers, Thomas Paine. Although one of the best-selling authors in history, whose Common Sense largely persuaded the public to endorse American independence, Paine is often overlooked in the roll-call of American founders. That’s in part because of his notoriety as a religious free-thinker later in life, and it’s in part because his variety of classical liberalism led him to endorse early forms of wealth redistribution which gained disrepute among many of those who would otherwise be expected to keep his memory alive. It’s really a shame. Paine was a great genius and a brilliant spokesman for liberty, who deserves to be mentioned alongside Jefferson and Adams in every evocation of our founding.
Incidentally, for those of us who cherish economic liberty, check out this passage from Rights of Man, in which Paine—making the case for the superiority of the revolutionary French constitution over the mish-mash of corruption and rent-seeking that was Edmund Burke’s prized British “constitution”—emphasizes that the former protects the right to earn a living, while the latter does not:
The French Constitution says there shall be…no monopolies of any kind—that all trades shall be free and every man free to follow any occupation by which he can procure an honest livelihood, and in any place, town, or city throughout the nation. What will Mr. Burke say to this? In England…with respect to monopolies, the country is cut up into monopolies. Every chartered town is an aristocratical monopoly in itself, and the qualification of electors proceeds out of those chartered monopolies. Is this freedom? Is this what Mr. Burke means by a constitution?
In these chartered monopolies, a man coming from another part of the country is hunted from them as if he were a foreign enemy. An Englishman is not free of his own country; every one of those places presents a barrier in his way, and tells him he is not a freeman—that he has no rights. Within these monopolies are other monopolies. In a city, such for instance as Bath, which contains between twenty and thirty thousand inhabitants, the right of electing representatives to Parliament is monopolised by about thirty-one persons. And within these monopolies are still others. A man even of the same town, whose parents were not in circumstances to give him an occupation, is debarred, in many cases, from the natural right of acquiring one, be his genius or industry what it may.
How sad that much of the same can be said of the United States today.