Stand up for Yourself

- October 7, 2020

This article from the Winter 2020 edition of the IPA Review is written by IPA Research Fellow, Peter Gregory.

One of Renee Gorman’s first acts as National Manager of Generation Liberty was to send members a sticker featuring the famous Ronald Reagan quote: “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted. It belongs to the brave.”

Frenzied attacks are being carried out on Western ideas, culture and history by groups who are tiny in number but nonetheless motivated, organised and brave. Contrast that with the staggering cowardice of governments, corporations and the media. Reagan was right: 2020 belongs to the brave.

Dave Rubin’s Don’t Burn This Book: Thinking for Yourself in an Age of Unreason, about classical liberalism and young people acting with courage, comes at a good time then. Pushing back against the dehumanising influence of identity politics requires courage. Starting a business in a country with the highest minimum wage in the world, among the highest electricity prices and a $176 billion annual red tape bill, requires courage. Paying back Australia’s out of control debt will require courage. And all this against the backdrop of an increasingly hostile and expansionist superpower in China—another threat that requires courage.

Rubin is the star of The Rubin Report, a YouTube show with 1.24 million subscribers that features guests such as Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro. When we interviewed Dave for The Young IPA Podcast in April—an interview that has had more than 40 thousand downloads—he said: “You gotta slay your dragon. When you slay that thing—only good things will happen.” Dave knows a thing or two about the importance of slaying dragons. He remained a closeted gay man until the age of 25, turning to alcohol and drug abuse to manage the depression caused by hiding his true self. In his book Rubin says his inability to be honest with himself and those around him “nearly broke me”.

The enormous positive impact coming out had on his life was a salient lesson for when he found himself “hiding in the closet yet again: this time, for my political beliefs”. He moved to California in 2013 to become a high-profile presenter for The Young Turks: a left-wing news and opinion network largely based on YouTube. He was a registered democrat, had voted for Obama twice and believed he was off to fight the good fight with his fellow liberals. He characterises his left-wing “factory settings” as “2-D arguments” such as “Democrats = good, Republicans = bad, progressives = humane, conservatives = merciless, socialists = generous, and capitalists = greedy, etc.”

The Rubin Report informs and inspires millions around the world.

However, a series of incidents made Rubin question how liberal his so-called liberal colleagues were. First was the disgraceful and racist smearing of black conservative David Webb. Rubin knew Webb personally and considered him a friend, so he was shocked to hear his new colleagues describe Webb as an “Uncle Tom of the conservative movement”, among other things, on air. Second was Ben Affleck’s famously petulant performance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maherwhere he called neuroscientist and author Sam Harris “gross” and “racist” for suggesting that criticism of religion is often conflated with bigotry towards its adherents. And third was the reaction of some progressives to the Charlie Hebdomassacre, which Rubin argued constituted rationalising terrorism.

Rubin’s conversion to classical liberalism—a philosophy he expounds throughout the book—was completed by the skewering he received in 2016 on The Rubin Report at the hands of black conservative radio host Larry Elder. Rubin presented systemic racism in America as fact to Elder and spent the rest of the interview being schooled by the “Sage of South Central”. An interview, incidentally, that has been doing the rounds again on the internet since the death of George Floyd. This anecdote is contained in the aptly named chapter, ‘Check Your Facts, Not Your Privilege’.

Rubin’s apostasy brought on his own personal crisis. The abuse, smearing and outright lies peddled about him as The Rubin Report shone the spotlight ever more fiercely on the postmodern left caused Rubin to start losing his hair and sink into what he describes as “a weird form of PTSD”. After a particularly severe panic attack Rubin conceded he had “no more fight left” and decided to give up The Rubin Report.

As he went to call Larry King (Rubin’s mentor and boss) to resign he had a “quiet realisation” and understood he “was down, but not out”. He gave himself “a good old-fashioned reality check”, remembering his grandfathers fought in World War II—a real war, not a culture war—and that he shouldn’t be “too afraid to exercise my own damn voice”. His decision to stay the course and stare down those seeking to destroy him has enabled The Rubin Report to inform and inspire millions around the world.

Maybe it’s odd to hear an organisation such as the IPA talk so much about a personal quality like courage. When I tell Uber drivers I’m completing an economics PhD and work at a think tank, they ask how the economy is going (not well). They would be surprised to know I was writing an article about courage.

If the future is to belong to liberty, we are going to have to be brave.

The reason we talk to young people about the importance of courage is because the enemies of liberty weaponise shame instinctively; an impulse that has gone into overdrive in the last few weeks. This is old news for anyone with garden-variety liberal or conservative views. The simple reason for this weaponisation is they are wrong. How else mask the flaws of an economic system that has failed over and over and over again? Or a catastrophic environmental viewpoint that doesn’t stand up to even the most passing of scrutiny? Or a racialist worldview in significant agreement with white supremacists? Equipping young people with the courage, reassurance and solidarity to stare down the weaponisation of shame is a critical function of Generation Liberty. Dave’s book achieves this too, as seen in chapters such as “Don’t worry you’re not a Nazi”, “Stop hating (straight) white men, America, and Western values” and “Never surrender to the mob”.

For people like Dave (and myself) to urge never surrendering to the mob is easy. We are paid to stir. If someone has kids and a mortgage, is it realistic for them to announce in a staff meeting that they think compulsory diversity training at their workplace is patronising, unnecessary and dehumanising? The book could have been improved by a more detailed exploration of how ‘standing up to the mob’ looks in everyday life. Scott Pape, the successful author of The Barefoot Investor, provides scripts to follow when negotiating interest rates and fees with financial institutions. Something like this may have been useful for people considering navigating the fraught conversations necessary to not be a pawn of the identity politics machine.

This book’s audience is mainly young people and those new to classical liberal ideas. If you have many decades of liberalism behind you, there might not be that much for you in this book. However, it would make an excellent gift for the young or emerging libertarian, classical liberal, or conservative in your life. During his interview with us on The Young IPA Podcast, Dave said:

If they can get you to shut up when you’re 18, 19, 20, they’ve basically got you for the rest of your life. And I think a lot of college students think, “I can just kind of be quiet now, I want to get the grade, I don’t want to upset the professor, I don’t want my friends to think I’m a weirdo, but then when I get out of college, then I’ll start telling people what I think.” And it’s like, “No you won’t.” … It’s a better way to live to be who you are than to shy away from something so that maybe you’re accepted. That’s no fun way to live.

If the future is to belong to liberty, then we are going to have to follow Rubin and Reagan’s advice. We’re going to have to be brave.

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