lights of our media had hoped to avoid grappling with the ideas
of Ron Paul, which represent such a challenge to the status
quo, largely by pretending he didnít exist. If they refused
to take his candidacy seriously, maybe no one else would either.
in the wake of Ron Paulís surprising $4.2 million fundraising
haul on November 5th, the press had to say something.
And although some of the usual suspects were actually quite
reasonable about it, for most others you could almost hear
the smug chortling as they typed their stories. No more willing
to face Paul in a battle of ideas than they had been on November
4th, but forced to acknowledge that ignoring him
didnít appear to be working, they have resorted to character
assassination as their best bet. An excellent case in point
is Andrew Leonardís treatment on Salon, entitled "Ron
Paulís Internet cha ching."
youíre writing an article trashing Ron Paulís supporters, you
can go one of two routes. You can either paint them as violent
thugs and white supremacists, or you can ridicule
them as pointy-headed geeks. These appear to be mutually
exclusive tactics, for the obvious reason that no one wants
to admit being afraid of a geek. Yet we point out for purists
that technically many geeks are racist, in that they
do not believe Klingons should have unrestricted access to Federation
territory. But we digress.
Leonard explains Paulís online success through the simple formula
that geeks master the Internet, and geeks tend to be libertarian.
Hence, Ron Paul owns the Internet:
can wonder, who are these people? Where did they come from?
Is this stream of [Ron Paul donors] some kind of roll call
for techno-libertarian America? Because thatís supposed to
be the explanation for all this, right? Geeks skew libertarian,
and so the technically savvy swoon for Paul, a one time Libertarian
Party candidate for president. From its initial emergence,
the Net has always provided a nurturing home for libertarian
sympathizers. That equation may have been diluted as the Internet
became more mainstream, but the passion still lingers: In
a very straightforward way, the Ron Paul campaign represents
the revenge of libertarian cyberspace. We have the technology,
we can rebuild society! Better, stronger, less government!
Leonard doesnít stop there. He pushes further than other hatchet
jobbers, and explains exactly why it is that geeks tend to be
nature of their work, programmers count on being able to precisely
manipulate reality through their manipulation of code. When
it works, when the computer does as it is told, it is an intoxicating
experience, as anyone who has written so much as a "Hello
World" script knows. Absolute power! Itís the best! And
if something goes wrong, itís not because there was something
wrong with me, itís because there was something wrong with
the code. So tweak it, figure out the correct algorithm, and
all ambiguity will be erased, all problems solved.Ö
is a point at which this analogy does not hold. Because computers
donít always do exactly as they are told, especially when
they are networked together. Software is buggy, and reality
can never be anticipated perfectly enough to capture once
and for all in an algorithm. Just ask the hedge fund quants
who got burned on Wall Street in August. Software is hard,
and so is government. Cruft accumulates.
point we must warn our readers: As far as we can tell Ė and
weíre experts at this, folks Ė in the above quotation Leonard
has somehow contorted himself into using an incorrect stereotype
as the basis for an invalid argument, where the conclusion applies
to himself rather than his opponent. More succinctly, it is
a hypocritical non sequitur anchored in a falsehood. Consequently,
you may get lost in our delicate unraveling of the nonsense,
but please keep in mind that Leonard left us no choice.
Is Leonardís depiction of computer programmers accurate? Because
one of us was actually a professional programmer on Wall Street,
we can confidently say "no." How does Leonard go wrong
in his caricature? Let us count the ways:
wrong with the code" IS "something wrong with me,"
for pretty much every programmer weíve ever known. Programmers
are tormented by bugs they canít find or that cause serious
errors in their programs. If you are a professional programmer
and a bug is found in one of your programs, it means that you
made a mistake, you failed to think some issue through all the
way. Leonardís portrayal of this situation is as fatuous as
contending that professional baseball players donít think theyíre
at fault when they strike out with the bases loaded, since,
after all, it was their swings, not themselves, that
are to blame!
computers donít always do exactly as they are told, especially
when they are networked together." Networking computers
makes no theoretical difference whatsoever. All modern digital
computers are mathematically Universal Turing Machines, which
means they all have the same theoretical capabilities and determinism.
Five computers hooked together in a network are no different
(theoretically) than one big computer performing all of the
functions of the networked quintet. (There are, of course, numerous
practical considerations that might favor one or the other of
the above pair of configurations, such as performance, cost,
security, crash resistance, and so forth. But there is no task
that one of those setups is theoretically able to perform but
not the other.)
is buggy..." The introduction of this here is absurd, since
he just handled it totally differently in point number 1!
As we have
made clear, Leonard doesnít know what heís talking about when
it comes to computer programmers. But okay, letís stipulate
for the sake of argument that computer geeks are power hungry
control freaks who want to set up rules for everyone else to
follow, even though the real world is complex and human beings
canít be controlled as easily as machines or lab rats. Does
it follow then that these people would be attracted to libertarianism,
and in particular to Austrian economics? That is a far-fetched
proposition, given that one of the central arguments used to
support a libertarian approach to politics Ė especially emphasized
by the Austro-libertarians, of which Paul is an example
Ė is that human social life is way too messy and unpredictable
for any effort by the government to "engineer." Attempts
to centrally plan a society are doomed to failure.
for Leonardís hypocrisy: Except perhaps for some hardcore individualist
anarchists who object to the very idea of running for political
office, the people who oppose Paulís policies do so because
they believe that they have a set of rules for people
to follow, that will give a better outcome compared to the spontaneous
one that would occur in Ron Paulís deregulated vision. In short,
it is Andrew Leonard and the other smug commentators, not the
libertarian geeks, who have "control issues."
we will provide our own explanation for the undeniable connection
between geeks and libertarianism. First, geeks are more introverted
than, say, football players and so spend more time thinking
about weighty topics like a fiat monetary system. Second, geeks
(and particularly fans of fantasy and science fiction) are dreamers,
who like to imagine a better world. Third, nerds (this is distinct
from geeks Ė nerds are smart, whereas geeks merely have geeky
interests) are independent and self-reliant, and would do well
in a world based on individual merit rather than a popularity
Leonard is right that the Internet is home to the geeks. But
he gets just about everything else wrong. If he wants to smear
Ron Paulís supporters, we hope he tries harder next time. For
encouragement, he should ask himself: What would Spock do?