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Great Libertarian Movie

in Liberator Online Archives, Libertarian Movies by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the President’s Corner section in Volume 19, No. 11 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

“Still Mine” (2013) is one of the best libertarian-themed movies I’ve ever seen. It’s based on a true story. Still Mine movie posterIn 2007 Canadian Craig Morrison, 88 years old, set out to build a small home where he could care for his wife, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s. He began building it himself, on his own land, with his own hands, using lumber he sawed himself — as he’d done other times in the past.

But this time he ran into trouble — from new restrictive building codes and oppressive bureaucrats who ultimately threatened to bulldoze his home and throw him into prison.

“I thought this was a free country, that we had liberties and freedoms like we used to have, but I was sadly mistaken,” Morrison told a local newspaper. “All I wanted to do is build a house, and I was treated as if I was some kind of outlaw.”

This film is based on that story. It’s a gripping tale of one fiercely independent man facing a soulless bureaucracy. It is more than a political story. It’s about families, about aging, about love, about responsibility.

“Still Mine” is marvelously done and has received rave reviews from critics. The Canadian Globe and Mail called it “a cautionary tale of the tremendous power of the state over the individual in an age of pervasive bureaucracy. It is, indeed, a profound parable of irretrievably lost independence and casually forgotten freedoms.”

“Still Mine” stars James Cromwell, renowned for decades as a character actor, in his first lead role. His performance is wonderful (as are the other performances in the film). I was curious if he had more than a passing interest in the politics in the story.

Turns out he did. Cromwell’s father, John Cromwell, was an award-winning actor and director — who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. That left a mark on his son. In the 1960s James Cromwell did guerrilla theatre protesting the Vietnam War and fought segregation in the South. He was part of the Committee To Defend The Black Panthers, which worked to free unjustly imprisoned members of that group.

In an interview at RogerEbert.com, Cromwell said the following about the political message of “Still Mine.”

“My watchword has always been ‘Resist Authority’ and I have been involved with radical politics since the sixties…

“Somebody wrote a review [of "Still Mine"] where they said ‘Somebody who does not obey the law cannot be a sympathetic character.’ What about Gandhi? What about Martin Luther King? What about the suffragettes or those for gay rights or the people who have always stood up to oppose unjust laws and regulations?

“They have always been our heroes and in that respect, I personally think that Craig [lead character in "Still Mine"] is a hero. It is on a small scale but he says that this does not stand and cannot stand. It is not human and it is not caring. Those are the politics of this film.”

Although in one interview a few years ago he said he was a libertarian, in another more recent one he described himself as a progressive. Whatever his politics, he’s always been an outspoken champion of the downtrodden and the underdog, and in interviews he frequently urges people to “question authority.”

“Still Mine” is a beautiful film in many ways, and watching it is like seeing one of those great Institute for Justice ads about citizens resisting unjust government come to life.

It’s on DVD. I highly recommend it.

The Surveillance Scandal: The Right — and the Wrong –Terms

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online Archives by Sharon Harris Comments are off

“In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the 

Privacy or Liberty?human kingdom, define or be defined.”

So wrote the great libertarian Thomas Szasz.

Define or be defined. That’s a key principle of effective communication.

You can see this at work right now, in the unfolding scandal concerning government surveillance and the resulting public debate.

Those who defend such programs are using specific words to attempt to redefine and change what is at stake in this debate.

“I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security, and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” President Obama said this month. “We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”

Similarly, I’ve watched TV pundits and talk show hosts discuss this issue over and over again — always using the word “privacy” and talking about “the debate over balancing security with privacy.”

What’s going on here? The president and his supporters are attempting to define — or perhaps more accurately, redefine — the debate.

They want us to see this, and discuss this, as a question of “privacy” and “convenience” versus “security.”

Or even better for them, as Obama puts it in the quote above: “100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience” versus security.

They want these words and phrases to define the debate because, if we debate using these terms, they win.

The argument that we must compromise on “privacy” and “convenience” sounds so reasonable. After all, don’t we all routinely relinquish some privacy for other values? For example, we voluntarily give websites like Facebook our personal information, in exchange for the value of being able to use their services. We give credit card companies detailed information about our financial and personal lives for the benefits of using their cards.

As for “convenience,” it sounds unreasonable — in fact, downright selfish — not to be willing to give up something so trivial as a little convenience in order to protect Americans from terrorism.

That’s the argument the administration and its defenders want to make. It’s how they want to frame the debate.

But “privacy” and “convenience” are not what this debate is about. Not at all.

It’s about liberty. The Fourth Amendment. Fundamental Bill of Rights freedoms. The Constitution. Basic rights. Core freedoms.

“Privacy” and “convenience” are squishy, malleable, non-political terms. It’s easy to imagine “striking a balance” between them and something so vital as security.

But it’s far harder to imagine “balancing” your fundamental liberty. Anyone familiar with politics and history can see that such balancing acts quickly tip over to the government side.

They want to change the debate. Don’t let them.

Don’t use terms like “privacy” and “convenience” when discussing this issue. You lose every time these words are the ones used to describe what’s at stake in this debate. Politely but firmly object to them if politicians and others use them.

Point out that this debate is about liberty. The Fourth Amendment. Fundamental Bill of Rights freedoms. The Constitution. Constitutional guarantees. Basic rights. Core freedoms.

This is also a great time to memorize, and quote, the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

And the words of President Obama, in 2009: “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

Define — or be defined.