The circumstances in which I first became aware of George Scoville didn’t seem to me to portend much promise. He was in the middle of a Twitter argument with Kevin Eder (@keder), in which George was asserting that social conservatives had used the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision to effective advantage in order to win numerous electoral victories since 1973. George’s tone seemed to indicate that conservatives have cynically employed abortion as a wedge issue at the ballot box for the last 40 years, rather than seeking to actually reverse the ruling. “Another Libertarian dissing the ‘Religious Right’,” I thought.
Fast forward a month or so. I was in one of the antechambers in the basement of the Capitol Building, where 50-75 bloggers in town for FreedomWorks’ first annual BlogCon had just concluded a briefing by the Republican House Leadership communications’ team. I was standing along the wall talking to various folks when I saw, in my peripheral vision, a lanky fellow approach and stand off to the side, waiting to speak with me. He offered his hand and said, “I’m George Scoville…@stackiii on Twitter…and I wanted to introduce myself.”
I didn’t refuse the handshake or react with some similar militancy, but I was wary…which I later realized would probably have puzzled George, since he would have had no way of knowing I had observed his (by then) weeks-old conversation with Kevin. I explained that I was in general, a fan of the Cato Institute and some libertarian thought, but that I was a strong social conservative. George smiled broadly and sincerely and replied, “That’s fine. We all need to be talking to each other, whether we agree or disagree.” I knew at that point, George and I could be friends…and indeed, we are.
I have come to realize in the succeeding months that George unswervingly adheres to the credo of amiable interaction. He is simply one of the most congenial guys I have ever met, unfailingly willing to engage, and always agreeable. Add to this a prodigious intellect that is rigorously applied to contemplation of the philosophy of life in general, throw a healthy dose of political science into the mix, and a captivating analysis ensues. I hope you’re ready for some probing insights in this week’s feature…a genuinely cerebral exercise…because that is what you’re about to receive.
George makes a number of provocative statements here, but I’ve met him and I know he means them; he isn’t a flamethrower. These sentiments emerge from a carefully considered examination of the facts, which wins my respect every time. I don’t agree with everything he says, but 1) I know I don’t HAVE to in order to maintain a dialogue and 2) I was stretched mentally by so much of he wrote here, and the vast bulk of it found me responding with resounding inner affirmation. The arguments George advances in favor of involvement in the process and of a reality-based approach to politics are, for example, not only compelling; they are also alluringly sensible!
But I’ll let him tell you more about it…
10 Questions for George Scoville
1. I really know very little biographical information about you, and I’m guessing the same applies to many readers of this column! Where did you spend your formative years and how did that influence the person you have become today?
I was born at Lackland AFB outside San Antonio, Texas—my father was stationed there—and we lived there for four years before moving to Belleville, Illinois (just outside St. Louis, Missouri) when my dad was transferred to Scott Air Force Base. When my father retired from the Air Force as a Major, we moved to Nashville, Tennessee. As anyone who has spent more than a day or two following me on Twitter (@stackiii) can tell, I call Tennessee “home,” and I consider myself a native Nashvillian. I’m the second of four children, and the first son (but the third George on my father’s side—my mother’s side also has two Georges!) My dad went into private practice as a cardiologist when we moved to Nashville, and my mother was a homemaker until I was in the fifth grade. She resumed teaching at that point, a vocation she initially took up while my father was in medical school, before my older sister was born, in exchange for student loan forgiveness. Mom is still teaching today, over 20 years later—Latin, ugh—and I suspect my dad will be trying to help people until his hands just won’t go anymore.
Thanks to these great parents, I have had the great privilege of traveling all over the country and of seeing parts of the world many people never see in their entire lives—and I’ve met a lot of really neat people and done a lot of interesting things along the way. I went to high school in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, for example, and my roommate in my senior year was the oldest son of an Iranian political refugee who worked for the Shah and who fled the Middle East for New York during the Islamic revolution in the late 1970s. Or there was the time I was chased off a summit run on the Grand Teton in Teton National Park in Wyoming by a ferocious lightning storm—I even got zapped with ground shocks a few times. In a sense, I spent my “formative” years all over the place, since every place I’ve ever been or lived has left a meaningful impression on me. I have lots of stories to tell.
If I had to list life’s most important values, they would be (in no particular order): honesty/integrity, hard work and personal responsibility/accountability, humility, unconditional love for family, relentless curiosity, courage, and of course, liberty. I have a wonderful family—my two parents, two sisters, and brother—to thank for many of these values, but also an up-and-down, seasoned life, full of all sorts of experiences, impressions, and observations. And I have failed to consistently live up to each and every one of these values at one point in my life or another.
2. You are the first feature I’ve done for this column who, candidly, would probably not self-identify as either a conservative or a Republican, but as a libertarian (perhaps even with a big “L!”) How did you reach the point in your ideological journey where you are today?
It’s funny you mention the big “L”/small “L” distinction—I was actually once a Libertarian Party contributor and member….once. But no, I’m a small “L” libertarian. I won’t get into it too much right now, but there’s a strain of libertarianism called fusionism; this is probably closest to the place I call my political home. I grew up in a Rush Limbaugh-oriented home, but I hated talk radio—as far as I was concerned, the radio was for music, and he went national in ’88. How many seven year olds are really interested in politics? My family and I frequently discussed current events at dinner when I was a child, and in the rare instances we watched television during our meal, it was usually CNN’s Crossfire. So I got used to the Tucker Carlson/James Carville style of back and forth pretty early on (even if I wanted to sneak away from the table and watch Beavis and Butthead in another room).
I self-identified as a conservative for a long time, and I was once a Republican Party activist—I was even the president of the College Republicans at my alma mater (Belmont University), and once appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal opposite the Young Democrats’ president when Senators McCain and Obama came to our school for their town hall debate. I was a libertarian then, too, but I was really afraid I wouldn’t get into graduate school if I didn’t have lots of interesting items on my résumé to supplement an above-average-but-not-stellar transcript—you know, really make myself a competitive candidate. (Harvard still rejected me…not that I’m bitter…). To that end, I also co-founded Belmont’s first right-of-center editorial rag, the Right Aisle Review, and served as its first managing editor.
Studying both in a formal classroom and in life’s classroom shaped my ideas about the world more than anything. I have undergraduate degrees in philosophy and political science. The most influential works for me in political philosophy were John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (I was particularly taken by the sections on the freedoms of thought and speech) and Václav Havel’s Open Letters (he was imprisoned in his youth by Soviets and later catapulted to the presidency of Czechoslovakia during the Velvet Revolution). I also got my first exposure to public choice theory, game theory, and institutional design studying comparative politics and American government in political science. In the large block of time I spent away from college before finishing, I did everything from running businesses to working minimum wage jobs, working side by side with people from all walks of life. I have also been unemployed a few times—totally down and out.
There’s a great quote from 18th century French political theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality that says “It is very difficult to reduce to obedience someone who does not seek to command.” I have stood in the gas chambers at the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau, and I have witnessed first-hand the brutal poverty in Honduras, where total bureaucrat salaries alone nearly equal all tax receipts, and off-budget deficit expenditures are the norm. These experiences (and many more) have in some way fundamentally oriented my thought process toward a general skepticism, if not outright suspicion and mistrust of any person or group who would seek political power over another person or group—regardless of their expressed intentions. Working as an intern (and even as a paid employee) representing federal contractors and corporate interests—getting a front row seat at the sausage factory, seeing all that public choice theory play out in real time in our nation’s capital—probably most turned me away from America’s major political parties. It also turned me away from wanting to seek public office, which I often romanticized in my youth.
3. Many of us in activist circles, however, count you as a good friend (definitely) and an ally (in many ways). What are some key areas of common ground between libertarians and conservatives, and then, where do we tend to diverge most sharply?
I’m a people person—I consider myself extremely lucky to have friends from all sorts of backgrounds and belief systems, each of them having myriad ideas about the world and how we should spend our time here. So if you’re reading this—thanks!
Conservatives and libertarians share, I think, a general wariness about an overbearing state apparatus. We share a belief in the importance and value of taking responsibility for one’s circumstances, whether it’s suffering the consequences of a bad decision, or making the most of an opportunity. I think we share an understanding that, for example, though perhaps well-intentioned (perhaps), the welfare state traps people in perpetual dependency. We share a respect for private property and a moral reverence for individual achievement—we come from the same Lockean philosophical tradition in that sense. We are also descendants of the same Madisonian tradition that recognizes the need to constrain government from overstepping the boundaries of its legitimate functions.
Where we differ, I think, is in how we define what constitutes a legitimate function of government. Whereas libertarians recognize national defense as a legitimate function of government, for example, modern conservatives favor the use of offensive tactics to achieve national security goals— the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war is a good example of this modern conservative belief. Libertarians are wary of the fiscal costs and moral costs of using preemptive war, and are generally distrustful of the Pentagon—a bureaucracy with more layers to it, more opportunities for abuses and mistakes, than any other department in the federal government.
Conservatives are also descended from the Edmund Burke trustee model of representation, in which the agent/representative acts upon his or her own ideas and knowledge, regardless of the agency loss to the interests of the principals/voters. Conservatism strikes me as a cultural movement in addition to a political movement, and as such, it carries a very clear set of norms, mores, and social prescriptions that, when coupled with the Burkean trustee model of representation, leads conservatives to use the instruments of public policy to try to manifest cultural changes in society—including, for example, “English-only” initiatives, or telling people who they can and can’t marry, or what they can and can’t smoke. Creating public policies to manage these areas of human affairs are not legitimate functions of the state to libertarians—we believe that in most human affairs, especially in who we associate with and how we dispose of our physical selves, we are the best governors/managers, not the state. We take a very austere interpretation of the concept of self-ownership.
These inclinations and preferences, for libertarians and conservatives both, are rooted in moral philosophies, so in that sense, the two groups are still very similar. In fact, all political theory is simply individual moral philosophy scaled to society as a whole. The moral principle upon which modern liberal man (“liberal” meaning “free,” not “left”) built contemporary society is utilitarianism—liberals, conservatives, and libertarians all seem to believe in the principle of “the greatest good for the greatest number of people,” and to each group that means finding ways to reduce harm. Each group also has its own utopian vision. Libertarians tend to think that reducing harm means reducing the state’s interference in private life, conservatives tend to think reducing harm means using government to create and maintain order in society, and liberals tend to think reducing harm means using “good government” to restore structural imbalances in the distribution of resources and opportunities in society. We’re all after the same thing—a more perfect world—we just all happen to come at the question differently.
Some of what each of us thinks constitutes “harm”—the stuff we want to eliminate from society—can be answered with empirical research. That’s why places like Heritage, Cato, and the Center for American Progress exist, to observe society from an empirical perspective and to answer essentially the same questions: Is what we’re doing right? And if not, what could we be doing differently? Some of our questions, though, can’t be verified empirically. This is where we, as ideological camps, come into the most conflict. So often all of us are so persuaded by the merits of our own convictions that we become willfully ignorant or inherently dismissive of other perspectives. Libertarians, conservatives and liberals all have their own version of an echo chamber.
4. Tell us about your responsibilities with the Cato Institute and how you obtained your position there.
Really, I was just in the right place at the right time. I moved to Washington for graduate school in 2009 and took a job as a policy analyst in the public sector division of a trade association of IT companies—I worked on federal civilian and defense procurement policy, homeland security policy (federal cyber security and information sharing), and energy policy (green IT acquisition and smart grid). I also had some new media responsibilities there—helping them develop and organize their website, opening them up to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, and even the early planning for a blog about technology policy. The organization was actually the product of a merger of four smaller associations, and when they began to consolidate and shed costs, I figured I would likely be one of the first expenses on the chopping block since I was the new guy.
Cato had listed a Manager of New Media position on their Jobs and Submissions page, and I applied for the job (with a little prodding from Jon Henke, whom I gratefully count as both a friend and a mentor). Truthfully, I wasn’t sure I was qualified for the job, but we justified it knowing that I’ve been online since the dawn of the commercial web. I “built” my first blog on the Tripod platform in 1998. (You couldn’t do very much with that platform!) I wrote then about my high school’s varsity men’s and women’s hockey teams. I didn’t really start blogging about culture and politics until 2005 or 2006, this time on MySpace’s platform. That evolved into writing notes on Facebook, and eventually to dabbling in full-service content management platforms like Blogger and Word Press. Yes, MySpace was my gateway drug. I came to Washington for an internship in the summer of 2008 at the height of the last presidential cycle. My professors at Belmont required me to blog about my experience (in addition to other requirements) in order to receive academic credit, so I built a site on Blogger (it’s no longer there; don’t bother looking) that dealt with the Arab-Israeli conflict—the topic of one of my seminars that summer. I also started using Twitter that July, since it was one of the bells and whistles of the very impressive online operation of the Obama machine.
A quick aside about my Twitter handle: “stackiii” has been my online moniker since the late 1990s, when I signed up for my very first Hotmail account—I don’t check it often, but I still receive mail at email@example.com. “Stack” is a shortened version of my middle name, “Stackhouse,” and as I mentioned earlier, I’m the third “George” in my family. The “iii” is actually a Roman numeral “III.”
When I returned to Nashville from Washington that summer, I started my first WordPress.com site (Intelligence, Please) where I blogged about my two loves: philosophy and political science. Between blogging there and starting to use Twitter, I really began to understand how social media seemed to be changing politics—and I also started to meet and tweet with lots of great people, many of whom I count among my friends today, and some of whom I’ve even had the privilege of meeting in three dimensions. I started seeing trackbacks from professional political blogs in Tennessee, and I was hooked. I brought on a few other contributors to help share the load, and eventually we all kind of fell off as our lives took different directions.
Jon Henke invited me to blog at The Next Right, and Melissa Clouthier invited me to blog at Liberty Pundits, so even though Intelligence, Please had kind of shut down, I was still blogging—and still meeting people online. It wasn’t actually until Constitution Day 2010 when I had settled at Cato that I created The Dangerous Servant, my first self-hosted Word Press site, where I currently blog about public policy from a Madisonian perspective (academic coursework permitting, of course). A Madisonian blog founded on Constitution Day—one of my most accidentally awesome coincidences ever!
Anyhow, Cato hired me, and my responsibilities are pretty similar to all the things I’ve been doing for the past few years anyway: I manage Cato’s Twitter channel and Facebook page, I help edit the Cato@Liberty blog, I post a round-up of Cato scholar news clips on that blog each morning during the week, I edit an email newsletter called the Weekly Dispatch (sign up here!), which is sort of like a multi-part blog post wrapped up into an email that reaches about 23,000 subscribers, I work with our multimedia producers to edit and optimize podcast and video content for search engines and YouTube, and I am in charge of blogger relations for Cato—meaning I pitch scholarly work to bloggers that I think will be of interest to them against the backdrop of the news cycle. As my full-time school schedule permits, I occasionally travel to conferences to network with other bloggers and movement activists, and I host a monthly lunch with some of my counterparts at other libertarian organizations in DC to discuss new media strategy, usually with an outside presenter, like someone from Facebook’s DC office for example. I am also constantly testing out new interactive tools to help Cato reach a broader audience, and to engage that audience in new and innovative ways that create valuable, lasting experiences.
5. What are some of your favorites in the following categories: Books, Musical Artists, Foods, Movies, Sports…and some other miscellaneous additions you want to throw into the mix?
Oh, wow—I could go on and on here, so I’ll just mention a handful for each.
- Books: Fahrenheit 451, Catcher in the Rye, Hamlet, Republican Party Reptile, and The Odyssey
- Music: Phish, Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers, the Grateful Dead…pretty much anything in the blues genre, or that came out in the 1970s. I’m also a huge fan of the Baroque period in classical music and late 1980s/early 1990s hip-hop.
- Foods: I’m from the south, so I love comfort food—pretty much anything deep-fried, smoked, or with lots of bacon. Barbecue, cornbread, and sweet tea made me the man I am today, but in another life I worked in a commercial kitchen and experimented with many different types of cuisine. I may not like it, but if it’s edible, chances are I’ll try it.
- Movies: I am a lifelong devotee to the STAR WARS saga. I watch lots and lots of movies, and I like too many to name—I like Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, John Ford, Baz Luhrmann, and Peter Jackson as directors.
- Sports: I bleed gold and blue for the Nashville Predators (NHL ), and ice hockey is my favorite of all professional sports. My grandfather, father, and I were all named for George Erskine Stackhouse, an ancestor of ours who played for the Yankees when they were still in Baltimore. He became a PR guy for the team a year after they moved to New York, but he died not long after. Suffice it to say I root for the mighty Bronx Bombers every year.
- Odds and ends: I’m bilingual (French), right-handed, a dog lover, an amateur cyclist, a collector of Christmas-themed neckties, and a once-avid video gamer (Xbox). I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I don’t use drugs. My left ear is pierced twice, and I have five tattoos. If money were no object, I would spend the rest of my life globetrotting—seeing the world, exploring, meeting new people, and helping out wherever I could. Oh, and I’m an honorary Canadian citizen, natch.
6. A couple of the raps to which libertarians tend to be subjected are as follows: 1) Libertarians are unrealistic purists when it comes to rolling back government controls and regulations, and 2) Libertarians don’t properly distinguish between a Republican Party which tends to lean towards limited-government views with vastly greater regularity than a Democrat Party hell bent on pursuing socialism. How do you respond to both contentions?
To the first part of the question, I talked earlier both about being turned off of major party politics, and about how each ideology has its own utopian vision. I’m idealistic, but I still vote for major party candidates, and I came to Washington to study public policy—to try to become part of the process. This probably separates me from a lot of small “L” libertarians. I think different libertarians take different approaches to politics. Some ally themselves with candidates, and some identify with issue causes. Some think the system is rigged, and they don’t participate at all. Throughout my political life, I’ve always been of the opinion that politics doesn’t happen without relationships, whether you’re trying to win an election, pass a piece of legislation, or even promulgate a regulation through the federal bureaucracy. No collective action can be achieved without relationships, and not participating is the quickest way to make sure nothing a person wants ever happens—that or it’s a helluva gamble.
I certainly have a political philosophy that I hold dear because of how carefully I have tried to cultivate it, and that philosophy contains ideals—but at the end of the day, we all have to operate within the framework the world presents us. That’s why I vote and get involved, and that’s why I encourage everyone else to do the same (though economists argue that the framework the world presents us renders voting irrational). I’m content to be a libertarian incrementalist, if you will. I’m also an economist, and I understand why we pay taxes, and why certain activities are subsidized. Are my ideals about the relationship between the state and free people unrealistic? Maybe. I don’t think they’re any more unrealistic than the progressive notion that affirmative action laws will somehow bring about an end to racism, or the conservative notion that laws defining marriage as being between one man and one woman will somehow bring about stronger families (less divorce, less infidelity, less domestic violence, less unwed motherhood, etc.).
Libertarian political philosophy is pretty specific about the things we need government to do for us—to protect us and our rights to private property from the force or fraud of others, for example. There are a lot of very vocal anarchists in the world who try to pass themselves off as libertarian and because of their volume and exposure, the rest of us get a bad rap. It’s unfortunate that these groups get the attention that they do, and that when I introduce myself as a libertarian to a liberal or a conservative, those other groups are the people with whom my new acquaintances associate me. But I’m not the kind of guy who will quit being a libertarian just because some crazy, racist secessionist or 9/11 truther calls himself one. I don’t think conservatives will quit being Republicans just because Olympia Snowe sold them out on a crucial Senate vote, either.
To the second part of your question, there are differences in the rhetoric of the Republican and Democratic parties, to be sure. There are intoxicatingly persuasive orators on both sides of the aisle. You’re absolutely right when you say the Republican Party leans toward limited government views, and that the Democratic Party pursues socialist policy. There has been a long-standing relationship between conservatives and libertarians (since the 1920s, when liberals of the day kicked us out into the cold), and that’s why the Republican Party leans limited government. The Democratic Party pursues socialist policy because the modern liberal project, created by the progressive base, was inspired largely by Karl Marx and the birth of social democracy in Western Europe. After being around politics and public policy for a while I’ve tried to train myself to tune out the voices and watch where the feet go—I’m not concerned with what they say, I’m concerned with what they do. I don’t think any American politician in either party—unless they’re as safe as Bernie Sanders on the left or Jim DeMint on the right—really wants to get to where they say they want to go. They’d render themselves obsolete in so doing!
Put charitably, the similarity between the Republican and Democratic Parties is more a function of our electoral and political institutions than the malfeasance of individual policy actors, and too often, libertarians attribute the similarities to malfeasance. If the U.S. had a proportional representation system like, say, Germany, we’d have far more competitive elections, better candidates, higher rates of political participation, and a weaker legislature…meaning they wouldn’t be able to do much because they’d have to form broad coalitions to achieve a majority vote in the chamber. (This is harder to do across, say, ten political parties than it is across two.) The interests of all the political players I detailed above would necessarily have to be tied more closely to their constituents’ interests.
For politicians, there are just too many incentives to do the wrong thing. For Republicans, the wrong thing is voting to uphold the welfare state; for Democrats, the wrong thing is voting to expand the security state. At the end of the day, a politician’s interests (re-election) are inherently mismatched to a voter’s interests (prudent policy). When you look at their records, a majority of Republicans and a majority of Democrats are equally culpable for the mess we’re in today. If I, as a libertarian, am not properly distinguishing between the two parties—and by “parties” I mean formal parties and elected officials, not individual activists or activist groups—I eagerly await a convincing argument to the contrary. This is in many ways a very cynical view of American politics, and I don’t deny that. I don’t think the view is unfounded, however.
A lot of libertarians stop there, and point and say “See, they’re both screwing us—to Hell with them!” I think to act upon the cynicism is as unfruitful as it is unwise. Political activism is important precisely because politicians have short-term goals of re-election. Help a candidate get elected, and then if he screws up, support his challenger. It is unlikely that the composition of the legislature in the U.S. will ever be changed—the process of amending the Constitution is too difficult, and getting representatives and senators to go along with it would be akin to asking a death row inmate to pull the switch on himself. Just because our system favors mismatched interests doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take advantage of the way those interests are juxtaposed against one another to try to get what we want.
7. Do you think you’ll see a non-Republican, non-Democrat President elected in your lifetime?
I don’t think so, no—not unless we change the way we elect people. I mentioned earlier that our political outcomes are to an extent a function of our electoral systems and institutional arrangements. One of the components of Duverger’s Law, named for French sociologist Maurice Duverger, says that plurality election rule tends to favor a two-party system. That means any electoral system in which a candidate simply has to get the most votes to win (rather than a majority—like Bill Clinton didn’t have 50%+1 in 1992, he just had more than either George H.W. Bush or Ross Perot), and it’s a winner-take-all election, manufactures two major competing parties (meaning two parties with any chance of efficiently and effectively creating a voting coalition large enough to make them capable of winning). Because this is how our elections work in America, it’s no wonder that the Libertarian Party never wins anything. So there’s actually a science to why libertarians lose elections—it’s not just that we’re crazy!
8. I see you tweet with a fair amount of frequency about Emily Passini…so clearly, her existence isn’t a secret and she must be a meaningful person in your life! Care to share anymore?
Haha, of course—Emily Passini is my beautiful and caring girlfriend. We have been dating since April 1, 2009 (yep, April Fool’s Day). We met in 2005—though we actually argue over whether it was ’04 or ’05. She was working for former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen’s administration at the time, and I was a full-time bartender. We met one night through mutual friends, and we hit it off pretty well. We even went out a couple times, including one of my all-night poker games! But she moved to New Jersey to work on some state legislature races, and I wasn’t really in a position to be dating at the time, so nothing ever came of it and we lost touch.
You know that old romantic saying to the effect of “If it was meant to be, they’ll come back after you let them go”? In early 2009 Emily unexpectedly reappeared in my life—again through mutual friends. She had been in the private sector for a while and had just moved back to Nashville. I invited her out for coffee, just to catch up. Emily said, “Why don’t we get dinner?” and I said “Sure.” We joke with each other to this day that we went on our first date and that I didn’t even know it was a date—I’m just not a guy who takes much for granted anymore. Anyhow, we never looked back after that first dinner date.
It was a little bit tough when I moved to DC for grad school—she still lived in Nashville. Luckily she worked for a company that required her to travel, so she could, for example, fly from Nashville to St. Louis on business, but then book her return flight to Baltimore and come spend a few days with me before either going back home or going to another city for work. We were miles apart, but still able to see each other about once every two weeks for a few days. She took a job here in Washington last March, and I moved in with her in July—we just renewed our lease, so things are going pretty well!
She has been so great to me and for me in so many ways. She is a triathlete—currently training for (and blogging about) a half Iron Man event in Rhode Island this July—and her dedication to her training sets a great example for someone like me, who isn’t always as focused on the task at hand as he probably should be. Her dedication is also a great example for me, because before 2010, I hadn’t been taking very good care of myself physically for about ten or so years. But since we’ve been together, I’ve quit smoking, run a 5k (she helped me raise $1,000 for AIDS research for that race, too), taken up cycling, and I’ve lost over 20 lbs. in 2011 already! Her tenderness is a constant reminder to me that the world isn’t the dark and gloomy place it can seem to be sometimes, and she gives me plenty of opportunities to shed my hyper-analytical side and to let loose the caring and compassionate side. Her steadfast patience with my full-time work and school schedules and her unwavering support for the things I do to make myself a better person are truly humbling, and she has been a great teacher of what it means to really love and support another human being—what it means to truly be a partner, if you will. To borrow from Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, she makes me want to be a better man. She is my friend, my lover, my travel companion, and my rock—every day with Emily is an adventure, and I can’t wait to see where we wind up.
9. Are you a person of faith and do your viewpoints in this regard color your outlook on political policy?
I was baptized in the Episcopal Church as an infant, and confirmed in the same when I was in junior high. My grandfather on my mother’s side is an Episcopal priest, and I was a very active member of my churches growing up, from being an acolyte to singing in the children’s choir. I went to Sunday school regularly, and participated in the youth group when I was in junior high and high school. Remember that trip to Honduras I wrote about earlier? That was a two-week mission trip to a girls orphanage in San Pedro Sula called Nuestras Pequeñas Rosas (“Our Little Roses”).
There is a quote attributed to Mohandas Gandhi that says, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians.” That, of course, doesn’t apply to all Christians for me. Suffice it to say that I believe in a loving, caring, creative, and protective God, but I don’t care too much for some of the people claiming to represent him in this temporal and corporeal sphere. I am definitely not a religious person—and that is a very deliberate choice.
I do, however, consider myself to be quite spiritual—I pray, reflect, perform charitable acts, and read religious/motivational texts, for example. Many of the world’s religious teachings are both inspiring and beautiful—they represent ideal forms for the human spirit and our metaphysical potential. Many of the world’s religious teachers have been anything but inspiring or beautiful, and I think that’s sad.
A lot of libertarians are atheists and agnostics, and many of those are outright hostile to organized religion—Penn Jillette is the greatest example that comes to mind. Libertarians are hostile to religion partly because of the many ways in which the political and spiritual spheres have merged in public life throughout history, and because of the devastating consequences societies with marriages of these types have produced. Myself, I don’t see much point in attacking religious institutions. Correlation isn’t causation, and we all have human failings, whether we’re wearing the cloth on Sunday or not. My life is one that needs to be anchored in some higher purpose or plane of existence; I prefer for that anchor to be a voluntary spiritual bond than the involuntary political chains of collectivist servitude. For me and organized religion, “live and let live” has been a great maxim by which to live.
As far as politics and public policy go, I’ve talked already about being innately skeptical of people’s wills to power—that skepticism for me doesn’t stop just because a political candidate attaches a well-meaning or otherwise beautiful religious teaching to their platform that I just happen to agree with. The world’s religions, too, have their versions of utopia, just like libertarian, conservative, and liberal political ideologies—and here too, we all must operate within the framework of reality and human experience, and guard against fundamentalism.
10. In terms of your career, where would you like to be in 10 years?
At 30 years of age, I still don’t know precisely what I want to be when I grow up. I’ve worked in so many trades and have been exposed to so many things already that it’s hard for me to nail down a specific path. And there’s very little limit to the things I’m still curious about and interested in exploring. So instead of trying to talk about where I’d like to be in terms of my career in ten years, here are the criteria I hope I’ll be satisfying:
- I hope whatever I’m doing is honest.
- I hope it makes me happy.
- I hope it supports me and whatever my family turns out to be in the next 10 years.
- I hope it is meaningful to someone else.