About the Author
Carl S. Milsted, Jr. Ph.D. Who is this guy, and why should you be interested in his political ideas?
I'd prefer you answer “Who cares?” and simply let the ideas on this web site stand or fall on their own merits. I have endeavored to be complete in my arguments; the ideas do not rest on my authority.
Still, reading takes time, so some of you may want evidence that the time will be well spent. Others may simply be curious as to who I am or how I came up with these ideas. Finally, this political bio allows me to thank those who provided inspiration as well as make it clear that I didn't come up with these ideas out of the blue. I understand the mistakes of the extremists because I have made them myself.
So here it is: my political bio and how I went from radical libertarian to holistic politician. It's a long story, and not necessary to understanding the important ideas on the site. Feel free to click one of the buttons on the left at any time.
I received my Ph.D. in physics from the University of Texas at Dallas in 1991. I started off majoring in general relativity, but then switched over to theoretical nonlinear optics after realizing that my odds of discovering a starship drive were effectively zero, and I wanted to be able to get a job after getting my doctorate.
I was correct on the first point (no starship drive), but wrong on the second (no job in nonlinear optics). Instead, I ended up working for assorted beltway bandits writing software related to satellite tracking and radar. I did get to use a bit of my general relativity knowledge when doing a bit of quality assurance work on the Global Positioning System (GPS). Time dilation from the earth's gravitational field is enough to introduce significant clock error—when one billionth of a second of clock error means a foot of range error.
So, what does this have to do with Holistic Politics? No much, save that when I borrow metaphors from physics, I'm not just gee-whizzing; I actually studied quantum mechanics, chaos theory, relativity, and nonlinear multi-dimensional differential equations. Also, both as academic and military industrial complex worker I got to see plenty of government waste up close—as part of the problem. Finally, interest in science came with interest in science fiction, which happens to be the literary form that speculates the most on alternative forms of government and society. (I'm referring to science fiction books, not the bug-eyed monster and superhero films produced by Hollywood.)
My Anarchist Days
I got into Holistic Politics by spending many years doing just the opposite: Binary Politics. For close to a decade I called myself an anarcho-capitalist, damning all who advocated government as thieves. Note to extremists: keep this in mind whenever you feel like my critiques of extremism are personal attacks. I was once the anti-government equivalent of the deep environmentalist, the religious fanatic or the communist.
The story of how I got into binary mode, and how I got out might prove instructive. And even if not, it gives me opportunity to credit those who provided much of the ideas and inspiration for this site.
I started off with normal enough ideas as a child: cops and superheroes were the good guys. Hippies and drugs were threats to America's future. My father was a Jimmy Carter Democrat, and sometime mayor of the small town we lived in. My mother was a bit more conservative, with a strong love of animals and the environment. My only anti-authoritarian tendencies were a vague uneasiness towards scouting with its uniforms and ceremonies and the usual school-boy resentment of school rules.
Then I discovered the science fiction works of Robert Heinlein in junior high. Between Planets was a shocker: the bad guys were the government! In high school I got to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Heinlein's most anarchistic work; I declared myself and anarcho-capitalist.
One other major influence was the public school system itself. I grew to hate it: being stuck in a classroom with people who didn't want to learn, wasting my time learning bogus things, being held back in how fast I could learn what I thought interesting and important I still hate the public school system. I would abolish it yesterday if I had the power. It is the source of much ignorance, crime, immorality, and childhood misery.
I hate the system, not those who try to make it work. Without the altruism and dedication of a substantial number of teachers, the system would be far worse. It is my fondest hope to unshackle such teachers, that they can focus on students who want to learn, and teach without micromanagement from above. In particular I would like to thank my high school American History teacher, a liberal Democrat, who also coached the debate team. She taught me much while putting up with a great deal of obnoxiousness on my part.
I learned more on the debate team than in most of my classes. To anyone still in school who wants to build his or her brain, I highly recommend debate! It couples adrenaline and competitive spirit to thinking. Debate is to academics what sport is to exercise. I spent many a happy afternoon at the community college library digging through science and news magazines and other sources for material on the debate topic of the year. Sophomore year, when the issue was energy policy, was particularly intense. I learned many things on the issue that are relevant to this day.
Debate was also my eventual lifeline out of binary thinking. I was hooked on intellectual combat, so I sought out those who disagreed with my right-libertarian views. Through my undergraduate days at the University of Richmond, I spent a great deal of time debating (and sometimes harassing) the liberal/socialist minority.
I wish to especially thank history professor, Dr. Martin Ryle, who opened his home one evening per week for debate sessions on matters political and philosophical. The Society for the Advancement of Epistemology, as the group came to be called, was made up mostly of lefty students, so the debate was frequently me against everyone else. I loved it.
Such debate led me to continually refine my thinking. A lost argument was a call for more research. I soaked up writings by Murray Rothbard (For a New Liberty and The Ethics of Liberty), and to a lesser degree Ayn Rand. Though such debate served mainly to make me research my own positions, it did make me hear the other sides. Over time outside wisdom soaked in.
A strong recommendation: avoid echo chambers! Don't just listen to news, or worse, talk radio, that reinforces your own prejudices. If you are liberal, read Forbes or The Wall St. Journal. If you are conservative, read Mother Jones.
During my grad school days I discovered the self-described lunatic fringe of the libertarian movement: the Loompanics book catalog, Basement Nukes and How to Start Your Own Country by Erwin Strauss, The Principia Discordia by Malaclypse the Younger, The Abolition of Work by Bob Black. I used to get catalogs in the mail with armored personnel carriers for sale on the front cover. What fun!
Ironically, it was the lunatic fringe that freed me from Rothbard's meme and allowed me to be less radical. Loompanics published two short books, The Myth of Natural Rights by L.A. Rollins and Natural Law, or Don't put a Rubber on your Willy by Robert Anton Wilson, that showed me that Rothbard and Rand were wrong. You cannot derive an ethical system without making ethical assumptions; you cannot cross the is-ought barrier with logic alone.
It was a disturbing revelation. My sense of certainty was undermined. I actually experienced vertigo. Natural rights theories are ultimately unprovable. You cannot prove that a government must respect natural rights without invoking some other moral principle. And that other moral principle cannot be proven without yet another, and so on ad infinitum.
Ultimately, moral philosophy rests on aesthetic preferences. I love liberty because...I love liberty. I don't like being pushed around; I hate filling out forms; I hate to see people rotting in jail without good reason; and I love the prosperity that results from a free economy. These are my values. I cannot prove that you should share them.
I was humbled. No longer could I claim to prove to others that they were objectively wrong for invoking the might of the state to fulfill other values. I was left with:
- Reminding people that liberty is valuable in and of itself.
- Pointing out ways to fulfill other values with a minimal loss of liberty.
I was also liberated. All along, I had values other than liberty. I loved nature, clean air, national security, and family values. I felt for the plight of the poor. No longer did I have to suppress those values in favor of the Zero Aggression Principle (ZAP). No longer did I have to limit my repertoire of social problem solutions to those compatible with ZAP. I was freed to try to maximize my complete set of values, vs. those of the movement I joined.
The Libertarian Activism Days
I joined the Libertarian Party back in my freshman year in college, in 1981. For a few months I went to local meetings, but then dropped down to just paying my dues and bugging people I knew. The meetings were held in a scary part of town and the people there weirded me out. (I have since come to enjoy hanging out with weird people.)
I did not get truly active in the party again until the latter half of the 1990s, well after I had broken away from Rothbardian orthodoxy. But by then the party had moved as well, or so I thought. Outreach materials began to dwell less on the Zero Aggression Principle and more on the idea of socially liberal/economically conservative. The Nolan Chart and the World's Smallest Political Quiz became the favored outreach tools. The party had moved from binary politics to linear politics.
(The Nolan Chart looks like a two-dimensional chart, but both dimensions relate to the amount of government. There is really just one underlying value being measured: desired amount of government.)
After being an active follower for a few years, I started pushing ideas of my own in 1999. That year I wrote the first version of The Enhanced-Precision Political Quiz as a lightweight Windows application. My idea was to have a finer gradation between libertarian and authoritarian positions on each issue. For example: How much should taxes be cut? Should we legalize all drugs or just marijuana? My hopes were to recruit more moderate libertarians into the party and to gather data showing which radical stances were the biggest deal-killers. An online version of this quiz, and data gathered, are at http://www.quiz2d.com .
My second idea was the Economy of Scale Project. A large fraction of Libertarian Party effort goes into hopeless campaigns meant to promote the party vs. get the candidate elected. Unfortunately, such campaigns often do little more than promote the candidate, which is useless since the candidate isn't seriously trying to win. My idea was to better promote the party and issues through such paper campaigns by printing issue-oriented yard signs to go along with similarly-styled candidate name signs .
The effort was moderately successful, and I was elected as an alternative regional representative to the Libertarian National Committee (LNC) at my first national convention in 2000. I ended up attending more meetings that the primary representative, and served on the Strategic Planning Team (SPT).
Some good ideas were hashed out by the SPT, and I thought that there was consensus that the LP platform was too radical. (I was wrong; most just wanted some wordsmithing done.) Unfortunately, the ideas were poorly promoted, so I started writing a column for Liberty for All promoting these ideas and strategic ideas of my own. The essays are archived here .
In the Land of Bunk
It was during this time that I realized that I could leave the Beltway area and take my job with me. (I had already left Logicon/Northrop-Grumman for a smaller outfit, where I telecommuted.) A friend of mine was chairman of the Libertarian Party of Buncombe County NC at the time; he invited me to check out the area. It's beautiful, the people are friendly, and hippies are everywhere. When walking in downtown Asheville, I saw a hiker finishing off a joint in broad daylight. I was sold. If “The Party of Pot” cannot win here; it cannot win anywhere.
I moved and went native: let my hair grow long and started my collection of fine tie-dye shirts. The Asheville area is indeed a great area to introduce new ideas. The area has a wide range of cultures: fundamentalist Christians, Wiccans, New Agers, old guard mountain people, wealthy retirees, not so wealthy hippies, and more. Nearly every faction has its own newspaper. I cannot keep track of how many newspapers are in print here at any moment. Asheville has the diversity of a big city but is small enough to enable outreach on a low budget.
The party there was already active and I joined in and gave it my best shot. We tried pushing a somewhat moderate form of libertarianism, with an emphasis on social issues in order to go after those in the upper left of the Nolan Chart. We knocked on hundreds of doors, dropped thousands of handouts, ran radio and newspaper ads, attended forums, hosted our own forums, got plenty of press coverage, and...Nothing. Vote totals for our candidates were the tiny numbers typically received by Libertarian candidates.
Moderation didn't work. Triangulation didn't work. Getting press coverage didn't work. Hard work didn't work. What was wrong?
My moment of enlightenment came at Hempstock. Pro marijuana activists held a rock festival in front of City Hall. Placid hippies mellowed out listening to bad bands singing praises of their favorite herb. Speakers, including a Libertarian candidate, damned the Drug War in between sets. What better place to register people as Libertarians? In North Carolina, the Libertarian Party was the only third party on the ballot, the only recognized party that supported ending the Drug War. So I and several others walked through the crowd with registration forms in hand, trying to get people to count themselves as Libertarians.
We were rejected. Oh, I got some people to register to vote—as independents. But the Libertarian message was uniformly rejected, even though this was a pro-legalization rally and we were the pro-legalization party. The reasons they gave for not registering Libertarian were enlightening: “I'm concerned about the environment.” “I'm worried about big corporations.”
Eureka! The Nolan Chart is wrong; it does a terrible job of describing the Hippie Left. These freedom-loving progressives rejected the Libertarian Party not because they wanted more government control of the economy per se; they rejected they Libertarian Party because they were concerned about the environment and private concentrations of economic power. The key to reaching out to this demographic was finding the subset of libertarianism compatible with these concerns. I began writing a book on a small government approach to protecting the environment. When I realized that I didn't have time to produced a polished book, I switched to writing a web site. HolisticPolitics.org was born.
Other Upper-Left Influences
Hempstock was the trigger, but other influences were pushing me towards this perspective for some years. I have already listed some of them: ongoing engagement with intellectuals on the Left, a long interest in energy and the environment, etc. Two more deserve mention.
The Abolition of Work by Bob Black made the strongest case for Freedom from the Boss—a stronger case than even the advocates of socialism or unionism. Black attacks work itself, and points out how authoritarian the workplace can be, that a libertarian who sides with corporations and business owners is on the side of authority. Black's proposal—eliminate work—is rather ridiculous. But his line of thinking leads to many interesting places: ways to reduce the total amount of work, ways to better distribute the work that needs to be done, ways to make it easier to change jobs or be your own boss, and more.
The other major influence was a short essay by David Brin Brin in LP News. In that essay he pointed out that historically the biggest enemy of economic liberty was the aristocratic Right. Socialism as the enemy of capitalism is a recent phenomenon. A longer article of his on the subject can be found on the Libertarian Reform Caucus web site . Speaking of which...
An Attempt to Reform the Libertarian Party
The Libertarian Party was failing to gain traction because it was wrong. It was too extreme in its call for shrinking government and was insensitive to other concerns such as the environment, the poor, and concentration of economic power. But it was right on many issues, and its underlying theme—government is too big—is correct. Since there is no political party of the Upper Left, why not expand the existing Libertarian Party to fill that niche? The radicals who make up the party could then be an extreme wing of such an expanded party just as there are extremist factions within the Democratic and Republican parties.
2004 was a disastrous year for the Libertarian Party in terms of election results. It had few, if any, victories in partisan elections. (Yes, some Libertarians had won some low-level non-partisan races, but you don't need a political party to get people on the ballot for such races.) After over 30 years of existence, the LP was still a failure when it came to getting freedom-oriented politicians elected.
With these facts in mind I called a strategic planning meeting of Buncombe County LP activists. We agree that the overly radical platform was an albatross around the neck of serious candidates. We considered three options:
- Distance ourselves from the national LP platform via a local resolution.
- Start a major internal effort to change the national LP Platform.
- Break away and start a new party.
We opted for the second option, and the Libertarian Reform Caucus was born. For close to two years I was webmaster and primary organizer. We pushed the ideas of gradualism, a bigger tent, and sensitivity to concerns other than the size of government. We signed up over a thousand members, raised money, ran ads in the libertarian media, and had a major presence at the 2006 national convention in Portland Oregon.
We were partially successful. Most of the old platform was repealed. But the binary-political membership oath survived. Many of my longtime friends in the party are angry with me. I may be the most hated person in the LP. 'Tis not fun, and it would take several more conventions to turn the LP into a viable political party—assuming it is possible at all. I've decided that it would be far easier to start a new party from scratch than to reform the existing LP, and have handed off control of the Caucus to others.
I no longer call myself a libertarian. According to the Nolan Chart definition, I am a libertarian, but according to the Zero Aggression Principle definition, the definition that still defines Libertarian Party membership, I am not. I yield the battle over definitions to the purists. Calling a reasonable freedom-lover, such as I have become, a moderate libertarian is like calling Ted Kennedy a moderate communist or George W. Bush a moderate fascist.
The best way to carry out the ideas on this site is still to be determined. Perhaps a new political party is needed. Or maybe we just need Upper Left factions within the legacy parties. Maybe focus on non-political actions such a developing eco-technology, better private schools for the poor, and/or better capital markets is the way to go.
For now I shall focus on finishing up and promoting this web site. Later, I'll see where the interest lies. A book? A new party? A ___?