Liberatopia: Now with hungry bears!

 Years ago I was driving someplace and an odd segment came on the NPR show This American Life, which was about a libertarian guy who was spearheading what seemed to me a pretty Quixotic notion: rallying a whole bunch of like-minded libertarians to move to a single state, massing enough numerical strength to force through the engines of democracy a large-scale implementation of libertarian policies. Eventually they would be able to show the world entire how wonderful and glorious things are when there is minimal government, minimal idea of public life, and a strong focus on individual freedom.

I remember this very keenly: so strongly did it hit me that I blogged about way back in 2003 (!), when this blog was barely a year old. Here’s some of what I wrote back then:

The story focuses on one particular Libertarian, an earnest and intelligent young fellow who is steeped in Libertarian theory, and yet he strikes me as so steeped in theory that he doesn’t seem to have a handle on some of the more mundane concerns of life. He completely downplays the inevitable local resistance that his movement is certain to face whenever his twenty-thousand brethren arrive in Vermont or Delaware or Wyoming. His faith in the marketplace strikes me as scary — private companies will pick up the cigarette butts and maintain all the roads, for instance. We’re told that since zoning laws won’t exist in Liberatopia, McDonald’s will be able to build next door to your house if they so desire. But it’s all good, because you’ll be allowed to paint your house any color you want. Well, OK…but I fail to see how being allowed to treat my aluminum siding as a Jackson Pollack canvas really compensates for having what goes on behind fast-food restaurants doing so beside my back yard. (I worked in restaurants for years, and I know damn well what goes on outside the back door when the employees are bored. Especially since Liberatopia will have no drug laws.)

Then there is the surreal moment when the guy discusses, as an example of what he doesn’t like about public parks. He breezily says, “We’ll privatize this common area”. He scoffs at all the regulations typical of a town park — no skateboarding, for instance (this one I can somewhat agree with; there should be more places for skateboard and rollerblade use in this world). But he also scoffs at “No alcohol and no glass containers”, which he thinks is Draconian — but any parent who has ever encountered broken glass around the swings at the playground won’t quite share the same view, I suspect. “Parks” equal “theft”, he tells us: governmental funding of parks equals theft. When the interviewer points out that no private company is simply going to want to operate a free public park, he concedes, “Yeah, it’ll be gated”, and then states broadly that there will be no purely public spaces in Liberatopia. I’m glad the interviewer didn’t ask what happens to the library. I probably would have broken down in tears at this guy’s answer to that one.

This Libertarian travels around Vermont, one of the candidate states for Liberatopia, talking to the locals and trying to get them to sign the pledge promising to move once enough folks are signed up. One guy seems to be hearing these ideas for the very first time, and yet signs on the dotted line almost immediately — we get to hear the scratching of his pen — leaving me to wonder if he’s really thought things through. I wonder what happens when some of these people move and discover just how much they really, truly, deep-down love little things like parks for the kids and libraries and not having to worry about some company putting a set of dumpsters on the other side of their driveway. I don’t know, but something about this whole endeavor makes me envision Bart, after one of Homer’s schemes has predictably turned out poorly, saying: “Bet you wish you’d researched this plan a little, eh, Dad?”

After that, I kind of lost track of (and interest in) the Liberatopia Project, because…well, at that time I could claim that I didn’t have a lot of experience with libertarians, but now, I have had a lot more experience with them, and suffice it to say that while my reaction to libertarianism back then was a bemused “OK there, champ”, my reaction now tends to be “Oh lord, get this nut away from me, and somebody open a window once they’re gone.”

Well, earlier today I saw this article, which is an interview with the author of a book about what eventually happened with the whole “The Libertarians Are Going To New Hampshire!” movement. Last time I looked in on these goons, they were imagining taking over an entire state; they seem to have eventually scaled down their idea to taking over a town, and they actually managed to pull this off in the unfortunate burgh of Grafton, NH.

Maybe I should give a spoiler warning, but come on: anyone with a pulse knows that this whole notion was bound to be a shitshow, and a shitshow it was:

By pretty much any measure you can look at to gauge a town’s success, Grafton got worse. Recycling rates went down. Neighbor complaints went up. The town’s legal costs went up because they were constantly defending themselves from lawsuits from Free Towners. The number of sex offenders living in the town went up. The number of recorded crimes went up. The town had never had a murder in living memory, and it had its first two, a double homicide, over a roommate dispute.

So there were all sorts of negative consequences that started to crop up. And meanwhile, the town that would ordinarily want to address these things, say with a robust police force, instead found that it was hamstrung. So the town only had one full-time police officer, a single police chief, and he had to stand up at town meeting and tell people that he couldn’t put his cruiser on the road for a period of weeks because he didn’t have money to repair it and make it a safe vehicle.

Basically, Grafton became a Wild West, frontier-type town.

Sean Illing

When did the bears show up?

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

It turns out that if you have a bunch of people living in the woods in nontraditional living situations, each of which is managing food in their own way and their waste streams in their own way, then you’re essentially teaching the bears in the region that every human habitation is like a puzzle that has to be solved in order to unlock its caloric payload. And so the bears in the area started to take notice of the fact that there were calories available in houses.

Yikes. Read the whole thing, but as a writer, I have to note that wonderful sentence: “You’re essentially teaching the bears in the region that every human habitation is like a puzzle that has to be solved in order to unlock its caloric payload.” That’s some good stuff, right there!

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