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Libertarians tried to take over this tiny American town. Instead, it was conquered by black bears

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Post by Ben Reilly Fri Mar 19, 2021 10:32 am


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The New Republic
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The Town That Went Feral
When a group of libertarians set about scrapping their local government, chaos descended. And then the bears moved in.

Patrick Blanchfield
October 13, 2020
ILLUSTRATION BY JIM STOTEN

In its public education campaigns, the U.S. National Park Service stresses an important distinction: If you find yourself being attacked by a brown or grizzly bear, YES, DO PLAY DEAD. Spread your arms and legs and cling to the ground with all your might, facing downward; after a few attempts to flip you over (no one said this would be easy), the bear will, most likely, leave. By contrast, if you find yourself being attacked by a black bear, NO, DO NOT PLAY DEAD. You must either flee or, if that’s not an option, fight it off, curved claws and 700 psi-jaws and all.


A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (and Some Bears)
by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling
Buy on Bookshop
PublicAffairs, 288 pp., $28.00
But don’t worry—it almost never comes to this. As one park service PSA noted this summer, bears “usually just want to be left alone. Don’t we all?” In other words, if you encounter a black bear, try to look big, back slowly away, and trust in the creature’s inner libertarian. Unless, that is, the bear in question hails from certain wilds of western New Hampshire. Because, as Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling’s new book suggests, that unfortunate animal may have a far more aggressive disposition, and relate to libertarianism first and foremost as a flavor of human cuisine.

Hongoltz-Hetling is an accomplished journalist based in Vermont, a Pulitzer nominee and George Polk Award winner. A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (and Some Bears) sees him traversing rural New England as he reconstructs a remarkable, and remarkably strange, episode in recent history. This is the so-called Free Town Project, a venture wherein a group of libertarian activists attempted to take over a tiny New Hampshire town, Grafton, and transform it into a haven for libertarian ideals—part social experiment, part beacon to the faithful, Galt’s Gulch meets the New Jerusalem. These people had found one another largely over the internet, posting manifestos and engaging in utopian daydreaming on online message boards. While their various platforms and bugbears were inevitably idiosyncratic, certain beliefs united them: that the radical freedom of markets and the marketplace of ideas was an unalloyed good; that “statism” in the form of government interference (above all, taxes) was irredeemably bad. Left alone, they believed, free individuals would thrive and self-regulate, thanks to the sheer force of “logic,” “reason,” and efficiency. For inspirations, they drew upon precedents from fiction (Ayn Rand loomed large) as well as from real life, most notably a series of micro-nation projects ventured in the Pacific and Caribbean during the 1970s and 1980s.

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None of those micro-nations, it should be observed, panned out, and things in New Hampshire don’t bode well either—especially when the humans collide with a newly brazen population of bears, themselves just “working to create their own utopia,” property lines and market logic be damned. The resulting narrative is simultaneously hilarious, poignant, and deeply unsettling. Sigmund Freud once described the value of civilization, with all its “discontents,” as a compromise product, the best that can be expected from mitigating human vulnerability to “indifferent nature” on one hand and our vulnerability to one another on the other. Hongoltz-Hetling presents, in microcosm, a case study in how a politics that fetishizes the pursuit of “freedom,” both individual and economic, is in fact a recipe for impoverishment and supercharged vulnerability on both fronts at once. In a United States wracked by virus, mounting climate change, and ruthless corporate pillaging and governmental deregulation, the lessons from one tiny New Hampshire town are stark indeed.

“In a country known for fussy states with streaks of independence,” Hongoltz-Hetling observes, “New Hampshire is among the fussiest and the streakiest.” New Hampshire is, after all, the Live Free or Die state, imposing neither an income nor a sales tax, and boasting, among other things, the highest per capita rate of machine gun ownership. In the case of Grafton, the history of Living Free—so to speak—has deep roots. The town’s Colonial-era settlers started out by ignoring “centuries of traditional Abenaki law by purchasing land from founding father John Hancock and other speculators.” Next, they ran off Royalist law enforcement, come to collect lumber for the king, and soon discovered their most enduring pursuit: the avoidance of taxes. As early as 1777, Grafton’s citizens were asking their government to be spared taxes and, when they were not, just stopped paying them.


Nearly two and a half centuries later, Grafton has become something of a magnet for seekers and quirky types, from adherents of the Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon to hippie burnouts and more. Particularly important for the story is one John Babiarz, a software designer with a Krusty the Klown laugh, who decamped from Big-Government-Friendly Connecticut in the 1990s to homestead in New Hampshire with his equally freedom-loving wife, Rosalie. Entering a sylvan world that was, Hongoltz-Hetling writes, “almost as if they had driven through a time warp and into New England’s revolutionary days, when freedom outweighed fealty and trees outnumbered taxes,” the two built a new life for themselves, with John eventually coming to head Grafton’s volunteer fire department (which he describes as a “mutual aid” venture) and running for governor on the libertarian ticket.

Although John’s bids for high office failed, his ambitions remained undimmed, and in 2004 he and Rosalie connected with a small group of libertarian activists. Might not Grafton, with its lack of zoning laws and low levels of civic participation, be the perfect place to create an intentional community based on Logic and Free Market Principles? After all, in a town with fewer than 800 registered voters, and plenty of property for sale, it would not take much for a committed group of transplants to establish a foothold, and then win dominance of municipal governance. And so the Free Town Project began. The libertarians expected to be greeted as liberators, but from the first town meeting, they faced the inconvenient reality that many of Grafton’s presumably freedom-loving citizens saw them as outsiders first, and compatriots second—if at all. Tensions flared further when a little Googling revealed what “freedom” entailed for some of the new colonists. One of the original masterminds of the plan, a certain Larry Pendarvis, had written of his intention to create a space honoring the freedom to “traffic organs, the right to hold duels, and the God-given, underappreciated right to organize so-called bum fights.” He had also bemoaned the persecution of the “victimless crime” that is “consensual cannibalism.” (“Logic is a strange thing,” observes Hongoltz-Hetling.)

While Pendarvis eventually had to take his mail-order Filipina bride business and dreams of municipal takeovers elsewhere (read: Texas), his comrades in the Free Town Project remained undeterred. Soon, they convinced themselves that, evidence and reactions to Pendarvis notwithstanding, the Project must actually enjoy the support of a silent majority of freedom-loving Graftonites. How could it not? This was Freedom, after all. And so the libertarians keep coming, even as Babiarz himself soon came to rue the fact that “the libertarians were operating under vampire rules—the invitation to enter, once offered, could not be rescinded.” The precise numbers are hard to pin down, but ultimately the town’s population of a little more than 1,100 swelled with 200 new residents, overwhelmingly men, with very strong opinions and plenty of guns.

survivalists,” even though no one who joined it had any real bushcraft skills. There’s Richard Angell, an anti-circumcision activist known as “Dick Angel.” And so on. As Hongoltz-Hetling makes clear, libertarianism can indeed have a certain big-tent character, especially when the scene is a new landscape of freedom-lovers making “homes out of yurts and RVs, trailers and tents, geodesic domes and shipping containers.”

***

If the Libertarian vision of Freedom can take many shapes and sizes, one thing is bedrock: “Busybodies” and “statists” need to stay out of the way. And so the Free Towners spent years pursuing an aggressive program of governmental takeover and delegitimation, their appetite for litigation matched only by their enthusiasm for cutting public services. They slashed the town’s already tiny yearly budget of $1 million by 30 percent, obliged the town to fight legal test case after test case, and staged absurd, standoffish encounters with the sheriff to rack up YouTube hits. Grafton was a poor town to begin with, but with tax revenue dropping even as its population expanded, things got steadily worse. Potholes multiplied, domestic disputes proliferated, violent crime spiked, and town workers started going without heat. “Despite several promising efforts,” Hongoltz-Hetling dryly notes, “a robust Randian private sector failed to emerge to replace public services.” Instead, Grafton, “a haven for miserable people,” became a town gone “feral.” Enter the bears, stage right.

***

The libertarian social experiment underway in Grafton was uniquely incapable of dealing with the problem. “Free Towners were finding that the situations that had been so easy to problem-solve in the abstract medium of message boards were difficult to resolve in person.”


Grappling with what to do about the bears, the Graftonites also wrestled with the arguments of certain libertarians who questioned whether they should do anything at all—especially since several of the town residents had taken to feeding the bears, more or less just because they could. One woman, who prudently chose to remain anonymous save for the sobriquet “Doughnut Lady,” revealed to Hongoltz-Hetling that she had taken to welcoming bears on her property for regular feasts of grain topped with sugared doughnuts. If those same bears showed up on someone else’s lawn expecting similar treatment, that wasn’t her problem. The bears, for their part, were left to navigate the mixed messages sent by humans who alternately threw firecrackers and pastries at them. Such are the paradoxes of Freedom. Some people just “don’t get the responsibility side of being libertarians,” Rosalie Babiarz tells Hongoltz-Hetling, which is certainly one way of framing the problem.

https://newrepublic.com/article/159662/libertarian-walks-into-bear-book-review-free-town-project

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Post by JulesV Fri Mar 19, 2021 11:41 am

The bears are taking a stand against the libertarians as a matter of principle? affraid

Do not mess with the grizzlies! Evil or Very Mad

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Post by Original Quill Fri Mar 19, 2021 2:53 pm

No doubt it means that libertarianism is unnatural. Wink

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Post by Maddog Fri Mar 19, 2021 3:43 pm

JulesV wrote:The bears are taking a stand against the libertarians as a matter of principle? affraid

Do not mess with the grizzlies! Evil or Very Mad

There are no grizzlies in New Hampshire.

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Post by Maddog Fri Mar 19, 2021 3:48 pm

Would you prefer the bears or these folks taking over your city?


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Post by Maddog Fri Mar 19, 2021 4:37 pm

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Give me the bears. At least they have the good sense to shit in the woods.

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Post by Ben Reilly Fri Mar 19, 2021 10:05 pm

Well, self-styled libertarian Trump supporters shat on the floors of the Capitol building as they tried to overthrow democratic republicanism in America, so I wouldn't rush to talk about homeless grocery poopers in San Francisco as your defense.

For one thing, you're doing the whole whataboutism thing again, and for another thing, it sounds like you're just saying that at least libertarians don't shit on grocery store floors, which is nothing to brag about, really.

There are a number of towns in America that libertarians ruined; I'll post soon about a Texas town where the mayor's front yard ended up as a parking lot for police cars.

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Post by Maddog Fri Mar 19, 2021 10:41 pm

Ben Reilly wrote:Well, self-styled libertarian Trump supporters shat on the floors of the Capitol building as they tried to overthrow democratic republicanism in America, so I wouldn't rush to talk about homeless grocery poopers in San Francisco as your defense.

For one thing, you're doing the whole whataboutism thing again, and for another thing, it sounds like you're just saying that at least libertarians don't shit on grocery store floors, which is nothing to brag about, really.

There are a number of towns in America that libertarians ruined; I'll post soon about a Texas town where the mayor's front yard ended up as a parking lot for police cars.


Libertarian's wouldn't be Trump Supporters.

They have their own party with a not so crazy fucking candidate.

What I'm saying is that town isn't ruined any more than any other town.

Every town, run by every other party has problems as bad or worse as this town.

It's doing fine. As is the rest if NH with the Free State Project going on there.

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Post by Maddog Fri Mar 19, 2021 10:49 pm

The Free State Project is a mass migration of more than 20,000 people who have pledged to move to New Hampshire for liberty. By concentrating our numbers in a single state, we are maximizing our impact as activists, entrepreneurs, community builders, and thought leaders.

Free Staters are neighborly, productive folks from all walks of life, of all ages, creeds, and colors, who are on a mission to prove that more liberty leads to more prosperity for everyone. Those in New Hampshire are reaping the movement’s benefits, both in our freedoms and in our quality of life, but our ultimate goal is to set an example for the rest of the world.

https://www.fsp.org/mission/


If I were to ever leave TX, this is probably where I would end up.

It's beautiful, and are more free than TX.

But I don't see my bailing on my kids and soon to be here grandkids.

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Post by Maddog Fri Mar 19, 2021 10:54 pm

https://porcfest.com/about/

Of course, this would be fun, but I have a third wedding I am funding and attending this September.

Maybe 2022.

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Post by Ben Reilly Fri Mar 19, 2021 11:40 pm

Libertarianism couldn't work and never has -- it's been tried many times in many places by many different people. Much like communism.

Both systems are absolutist and might work if everyone living under the system believed in it, but that's not going to happen because you can't get 100 percent agreement on anything, ever.

Enter liberal democracy, in which political power is pieced out to the people and the majority has the last word on most issues -- until the next election.

Elements of libertarianism are surely good for society -- it's worked out extremely well for gay people and marijuana enthusiasts in America -- and elements of communism are also surely good for society, as anybody who is unable to work and yet gets government money to survive will attest.

There's a reason why there are no libertarian countries and no successfull countries that practice pure communism. It's called the free market of ideas, and liberal democracy has been the clear, world-wide winner.

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Post by Maddog Fri Mar 19, 2021 11:49 pm

Ben Reilly wrote:Libertarianism couldn't work and never has -- it's been tried many times in many places by many different people. Much like communism.

Both systems are absolutist and might work if everyone living under the system believed in it, but that's not going to happen because you can't get 100 percent agreement on anything, ever.

Enter liberal democracy, in which political power is pieced out to the people and the majority has the last word on most issues -- until the next election.

Elements of libertarianism are surely good for society -- it's worked out extremely well for gay people and marijuana enthusiasts in America -- and elements of communism are also surely good for society, as anybody who is unable to work and yet gets government money to survive will attest.

There's a reason why there are no libertarian countries and no successfull countries that practice pure communism. It's called the free market of ideas, and liberal democracy has been the clear, world-wide winner.

But more libertarianism is better than more statism.

Substitute classic liberalism for libertarianism as they are quite close. That concept formed the US but has been abandoned, to our detriment.

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Post by Ben Reilly Fri Mar 19, 2021 11:56 pm

Maddog wrote:
Ben Reilly wrote:Libertarianism couldn't work and never has -- it's been tried many times in many places by many different people. Much like communism.

Both systems are absolutist and might work if everyone living under the system believed in it, but that's not going to happen because you can't get 100 percent agreement on anything, ever.

Enter liberal democracy, in which political power is pieced out to the people and the majority has the last word on most issues -- until the next election.

Elements of libertarianism are surely good for society -- it's worked out extremely well for gay people and marijuana enthusiasts in America -- and elements of communism are also surely good for society, as anybody who is unable to work and yet gets government money to survive will attest.

There's a reason why there are no libertarian countries and no successfull countries that practice pure communism. It's called the free market of ideas, and liberal democracy has been the clear, world-wide winner.

But more libertarianism is better than more statism.

Substitute classic liberalism for libertarianism as they are quite close. That concept formed the US but has been abandoned, to our detriment.  

That's just your own bias talking, you know. Maybe that would be better for you, but you can't speak for everyone.

Enter liberal democracy Smile

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Post by Maddog Sat Mar 20, 2021 12:12 am

Ben Reilly wrote:
Maddog wrote:

But more libertarianism is better than more statism.

Substitute classic liberalism for libertarianism as they are quite close. That concept formed the US but has been abandoned, to our detriment.  

That's just your own bias talking, you know. Maybe that would be better for you, but you can't speak for everyone.

Enter liberal democracy Smile

Yes, I'm biased about protecting liberty, freedom, self determination, self reliance, choice and protection of the minority opinion.

Guilty as charged.

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Post by JulesV Sun Mar 21, 2021 2:31 pm

Maddog wrote:
JulesV wrote:The bears are taking a stand against the libertarians as a matter of principle? affraid

Do not mess with the grizzlies! Evil or Very Mad

There are no grizzlies in New Hampshire.  
The bulls & stags ran them out of town? Suspect



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Post by Maddog Sun Mar 21, 2021 2:36 pm

JulesV wrote:
Maddog wrote:

There are no grizzlies in New Hampshire.  
The bulls & stags ran them out of town? Suspect



OK, that took me a second.

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Post by Original Quill Sun Mar 21, 2021 4:35 pm

Maddog wrote:
Ben Reilly wrote:

That's just your own bias talking, you know. Maybe that would be better for you, but you can't speak for everyone.

Enter liberal democracy Smile

Yes, I'm biased about protecting liberty, freedom, self determination, self reliance, choice and protection of the minority opinion.

Like salt, so necessary for life, those qualities can be poison in extreme measures.  First, liberty and freedom are the same thing.  Second, a bank robber has self-determination and self-reliance.  Third, Hitler and Stalin enjoyed choice and protection of the minority opinion. Indeed, so did southern racists.

Some of those qualities can also be self-contradicting.  How can you have absolute "freedom" and yet have "protection of the minority opinion"?  Self-contradiction is fertile ground for the despot.

Libertarianism is a philosophy that is absolutist, and that's always a danger.  All it takes is one tyrant to take one value, say "freedom", and turn it into "freedom to imprison non-believers"...because, after all, they are counter-reformists, and contrary to the "freedom" movement.  Or, take another example, which actually happened: "freedom" means "freedom to create economic monopolies".  In the late 19th-century, capitalists had visions of taking libertarian values and seizing the opportunity to impose rigid controls on markets that only favored them.  Were it not for Theodore Roosevelt, today we might live in a plutocracy.

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“That's libertarians for you — anarchists who want police protection from their slaves.” ― Kim Stanley Robinson, Green Mars (1993).

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Post by Maddog Tue Mar 23, 2021 12:06 am

Original Quill wrote:
Maddog wrote:

Yes, I'm biased about protecting liberty, freedom, self determination, self reliance, choice and protection of the minority opinion.

Like salt, so necessary for life, those qualities can be poison in extreme measures.  First, liberty and freedom are the same thing.  Second, a bank robber has self-determination and self-reliance.  Third, Hitler and Stalin enjoyed choice and protection of the minority opinion.  Indeed, so did southern racists.

Some of those qualities can also be self-contradicting.  How can you have absolute "freedom" and yet have "protection of the minority opinion"?  Self-contradiction is fertile ground for the despot.

Libertarianism is a philosophy that is absolutist, and that's always a danger.  All it takes is one tyrant to take one value, say "freedom", and turn it into "freedom to imprison non-believers"...because, after all, they are counter-reformists, and contrary to the "freedom" movement.  Or, take another example, which actually happened: "freedom" means "freedom to create economic monopolies".  In the late 19th-century, capitalists had visions of taking libertarian values and seizing the opportunity to impose rigid controls on markets that only favored them.  Were it not for Theodore Roosevelt, today we might live in a plutocracy.

Use the NAP as your guide. It handles most situations..

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Libertarians tried to take over this tiny American town. Instead, it was conquered by black bears  Empty Re: Libertarians tried to take over this tiny American town. Instead, it was conquered by black bears

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