By Dave Scotese
As a child, I was good at math. I had a good memory and a dangerous curiosity. I broke a lot of my older brother’s toys trying to see what they looked like inside. I only attended public school for a few years before my parents sent me to the same Catholic school as my older brother and sister. My siblings went to public school after elementary, but my high school years were spent at St. Michael’s College Preparatory Highchool of the Norbertine Fathers. After two years of (inexpensive, state-subsidized) community college, I spent two years at University of California, San Diego’s Revelle College, earning a BS in Cognitive Science. While there, the editor of the college newspaper inspired me to read ATLAS SHRUGGED (it was her favorite book).
Once the Internet started taking off a couple years after I graduated, I noticed that it presented a tremendous opportunity for cooperation. I felt that the world was a bit retarded in its progress. Hunger in Africa, wars, ongoing crime, and other social ills seemed easily conquered by a few billion humans cooperating. I didn’t accept the reasons commonly given: People are Greedy. Original Sin. Selfishness. These reasons didn’t stand up to my logical scrutiny. People simply weren’t cooperating, and that was the crux for me.
The problem I perceived was information overload. I wanted to find a website that would allow the readers to increase or decrease the likelihood that other readers would see a piece of writing. That way, information that was useless would only have to be seen by a few people before it got filtered out. My friend and fellow co-worker, Jeff Hardy asked “Like slashdot?” I’d never heard of slashdot, so I checked it out. One of the posts I found at slashdot mentioned Condorcet Voting, so I checked that out too. Here’s a link. It is one of the best mechanisms for identifying consensus, but it isn’t used much. Around that time, the company that employed me as a software engineer split up and my division moved to San Francisco. I found a new job several months later where I met Brian Gladish, again giving life to my logical mind through computer code.
Since I shared an office with Brian, I asked him about voting in an attempt to find someone who’d agree with my assessment of Condorcet Voting. He suggested that when we vote, we are attempting to control the ways in which we will violate each other. It took him a while to make me understand that my behavior would be different if I were allowed to do things I wasn’t permitted to do, things that are against the law but which, since I’m ethical, don’t cause anyone any problems. I’ve since learned that a more important reason for ethical behavior is that we tend to see the same people over and over, which gives karma a strong boost.
Brian was making some progress when he asked if I had read ATLAS SHRUGGED and I said, “Yes.” He said that explained some of the advanced understanding I seemed to have. I still remember sitting in church with my mom (my dad was in the choir), thinking about what Rand had said about Original Sin in that book, because her logic just felt more valid to me than anyone else’s. In any case, Brian’s point about voting put a damper on my enthusiasm for Condorcet Voting. I had already given up trying to find a website that used it, but had also already started building one myself. Voting doesn’t have to lead to coercion, after all.
Litmocracy.com was based on the voting method. I used it to accomplish my goal of filtering out the less appealing writing submissions. The name Litmocracy was suggested by a member who has become a good friend of mine, Don Eminizer. A lot of the people who signed up at Litmocracy engaged in discussions about the issues that Brian had brought up. This was partly because my website was designed as an exhibition of a better way to elect rulers, but it was also partly because Brian had converted me to the non-aggression principle and that came out in my comments and forum posts. More precisely, he had uncovered it by introducing me to Austrian Economics and helping to tear away the layers of brainwashing that the mainstream media installed in me. I have to thank my parents for saving me from some of what goes on in public schools.
I’ve always been a closet psychologist, asking questions that often penetrated a bit too deeply and made people uncomfortable around me. I had found a site through slashdot called Everything2, which also leveraged visitor input to improve and motivate quality. My profile there explains “I have been cursed with a validity checker. I cannot help but question the validity of every piece of knowledge I encounter.” Thanks to Brian, my validity checker was no longer a curse.
One of my independent study courses in college ten years earlier was based on the structure of knowledge in a single human mind. From tutoring students in math classes I had never taken, I noted that information that wasn’t tied to some kind of foundation tended to float away. I never had any use for such “free floating” information, which made me bad at (school) history. Now that the technical and social progress of the human race fascinates me, I have a framework by which to judge and evaluate political systems and history. As an adult, my validity checker has saved me from accepting lots of government propaganda. I can only hope it inspires my three daughters in a similar manner. This is a powerful motivation for me to study and understand history so that I can explain it to them in a way that has an honest and solid foundation, and saves them from assimilating the perverted lessons that our culture teaches.
While hopping around the Internet looking for more people who might be swayed toward liberty and away from statism, I found the Campaign for Liberty. This is the organization through which Ron Paul attempted (and continues the attempt) to convert the Republican Party into a force for liberty. One of the members, Nicole Cooper, started a book club called “Campaign for Liberty Book Club”, so I started visiting her house every month and a half or so, where we all met. At one of the meetings I met Aaron Brown (of Radio Free Market) and he mentioned voluntaryist.com as something that sounded like me. I checked it out, and, sure enough, it’s spot on.
If you have a validity checker too, you may be wondering about my interest in the Campaign for Liberty, since it is connected to electoral politics. My support existed because the effects of political power disturbed me more than the existence of political power. I have become less sensitive to those effects and more concerned about their source. I support the things Ron Paul says, but I don’t support the repeal of bad laws. What he explains is that they are bad laws, and he concludes that they should be repealed. I agree that they are bad, but I conclude that we should ignore them. George Smith’s essay, Party Dialog, re-awakened this strategy of ignoring and encouraging others to ignore bad law, rather than playing the political game. While getting them repealed is a safe way to avoid being punished for ignoring them, it’s wasteful and inefficient, and it allows the pretense that legislation is respectable to continue. It’s simply easier to ignore them and protect myself from those who attempt to enforce them.