Study their behaviors. Observe their territorial boundaries. Leave their habitat as you found it. Report any signs of intelligence.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Village Anarchist

As a polemical atheist, I tend to wince when I see someone knowingly described as a "village atheist". A village atheist is an atheist who moves in such confined intellectual circles that merely adopting and asserting atheism is sufficient to establish a lazy and local sort of intellectual and moral superiority, untested by confrontation with anything approaching the best critiques of atheism. Or as atheist blogger Moira Breen puts it:
I detest the puerile effusions of all village atheists. "Me so smart! Believers so dumb! Me so brave! Believers moral cowards needing crutches!" Well, I'd say you a leetle bit smarter than the fathead fundies who apparently inhabit the intellectual stratum into which your natural gifts have delivered you
In the small and somewhat balkanized world of libertarian activism, a similar dynamic produces what I propose to call the "village anarchist". The village anarchist uses a bumper-sticker-sized radical worldview to shock the conformist majority and to prop up his shaky belief in his moral and intellectual superiority. (Ironically, anarchism is neither morally nor intellectually superior to market-smart minarchism.) The village anarchist is horrified at the prospect of losing his radical non-conformist status by having too many people agree with too much of his position. The village anarchist seeks to snatch disagreement from the jaws of consensus in order to preserve the intellectual and political exclusivity that his self-image depends on. The village anarchist doesn't really want anarchy or even more liberty; he just wants enough liberty so that his political activism generates neither personal risk for himself nor any chance that the unwashed masses will taint his beliefs by adopting them.
Will I name names? No. One can never be sure that any given person fully counts as a village anarchist, but I know so many libertarian purists whose behaviors are so plausibly explained this way that the analysis surely applies to a signficant fraction of them.

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