Liberty, Curmudgeons, and the Right to Be Stupid
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Liberty, Curmudgeons, and the Right To Be Stupid

One of the forgotten hallmarks of a truly free society is that people at large tolerate and respect the rights of others to be disagreeable or stupid. The only organization I know of currently promoting respect for others' stupidity is the Church of the SubGenius. It is my opinion that tolerance for stupidity is absolutely neccessary for society to advance.

If somebody wants to do something stupid, that hurts nobody but themselves, you really ought to let them. It's their life, and their money, and their stuff. And you never really know what good may come of it.

After all, it was stupid to think man could fly; everybody knew God would have given us wings, were we meant to fly. And lots of people died trying to fly. Early aviation was as or more lethal than early automobiles. And yes, early automobiles were quite lethal -- ten times as lethal as modern ones, in spite of going nowhere near as fast. Only a moron would buy one of those hideously expensive automobiles, instead of hitching up his wagon or buggy, or saddling his horse. But those idiots made what we drive today possible.

Furthermore, it was stupid to think that anyone could make a cheap, safe, convenient electric light. Everyone knew that if you wanted light, you either lit your kerosene lantern, or you lit your gaslight, or you started your carbon arc lamp (which created a continuous stream of electric sparks between two carbon rods -- not only noisy but prone to shooting sparks that could cause fires, and it drew a LOT of current). And people watched as Thomas Edison tried ten thousand things that didn't work, and said, "It can't be done, or he would have by now. If he was smart, he'd give it up." Fortunately, he was stubborn and stupid enough to beat the conventional wisdom and invent the incandescent light bulb.

It was almost more than his technicians could do, to not laugh in his face when he told them to make a device to make wood and metal talk, that didn't even use electricity! They made it anyway (he was paying them), and it was the phonograph, and ALL data storage media save books are based in part upon its principles.

Going back to the light bulb, it was a stupid prank that led to them being frosted. Frosted light bulbs give a more diffuse light, that is easier on the eyes, and they are stronger than crystal clear bulbs ... but it wasn't possible to make them. They'd tell the new guy at the plant, "Get me four ohms, a left-handed watt, a case of ampheres, and go frost the inside of those light bulbs." They knew only an idiot would try to do any of those things, until one such idiot came back and said, "I couldn't find any of that stuff, but here's your frosted light bulbs."

Intolerance of stupidity starts with gambling and alcohol, then it moves on to laudanum and hemp, and then a host of other medicines that get abused, then not sending your kids to public schools, and leaving your seatbelt unbuckled, and riding without a helmet, and on and on until subversive books, stupid house colors and Tyree Guyton's art are forbidden.

Nor can we afford to be intolerant of curmudgeonliness. By this, I mean anti-social behavior that nonetheless does not involve using force or fraud on others, such as choosing not to bathe, living without a home, rudeness, crudeness, and even bigotry.

Curmudgeons are the mine canaries of liberty. As canaries in coal mines died from much lower levels of methane than would kill miners, so curmudgeons die from much lower level of government intrusion. The Weavers of Ruby Ridge were white separatists; they wished to live in all-white enclaves and had some rather odd takes on Christianity, but they didn't run off their black neighbors at gunpoint. They just moved away from them. The government thought they would make great informants and government witnesses against their Aryan Nation and Ku Klux Klan neighbors, so the ATF sent an agent to harangue Randy Weaver, for three YEARS, into selling him two illegal shotguns -- the stocks were 3/8" too short for it to be legal without paying a special $5 tax (and filling out a ream or more of paperwork), and the agent even showed Randy where to saw it off. That's the only crime Randy Weaver was ever charged with. And when Randy Weaver told them "You trapped me, but I will not submit, and I will not turn informant" he was pursued and harangued even more. It was for her husband's refusal to turn federal informant that Vicki Weaver was killed.

You may be looking at my examples and saying, "Yeah, but those are different from drugs, gambling, or prostitution." You can say so with hindsight, but all those endeavors were regarded as wasteful of time and money, and harmful to those who did them. Protecting people from some things that waste their time and money that could hurt them -- at gunpoint, if neccessary -- while leaving them to pursue others, just does not work. Either you allow them all, or you wind up forbidding them all. If you manage to maintain some sort of middle ground, it's only temporary and in every case I know of, creeping towards forbidding everything.

The other argument made to protect people from themselves -- at gunpoint, if neccessary -- is that they will be a burden to society, should they do themselves harm. But that's a socialist's position. In a free society, the only people who would take care of those who harmed themselves would be the people who wanted to. If you didn't wish to help keep an overdosed junkie or a drunken motorcyclist who smashed himself up without a helmet on life support, you would not have to.

And you should not have to, either. That is taking what is rightfully yours away from you and giving it to people who've done nothing to earn it, just because they did something stupid. Yes, we should tolerate stupidity, but that's a far cry from subsidizing stupid behavior. One of the very best ways to teach people not to hurt themselves is to let them suffer the consequences of doing so ... and also to let them be an example to others of the results of stupidity.

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