Independence Institute’s 25th Anniversary Banquet

P. J. O’Rourke offered a perfectly delightful address at the Independence Institute’s 25th Anniversary Banquet, held in Denver on November 19. He mostly blasted leftist policies but saved some of his best lines for Republicans. For example, he said that building a wall between us and Mexico would be a boon to the Mexican ladder industry.

I captured a number of interviews on camera:

Activism and Writing Letters to the Editor

I led an “Activism and LTE Workshop” October 6 (thank to the Independence Institute for lending me the space). Here are my modified notes.

The type of activism we should pursue is Intellectual Activism, marked by presenting reasonable arguments based on logic and evidence to the public. The goal is to reach active minds in the culture through various means of communication.

Intellectual activism may be contrasted with a couple of bad types of activism. Intimidation is what we think of regarding the typical far-left protest, where the goal is to scare people, break property, and throw stuff at police. Any sort of threat or violence falls into this sort of bad activism.

Sophistic or postmodern activism uses language as a battering ram or a weapon to change policies, irrespective of the facts. This is the modern version of what the Greek Sophists did: use language to persuade people through deceit and trickery rather than through sound arguments. On the left, this sort of activism is marked by postmodernism, using language as a social tool rather than as a means of conveying the truth. This sort of activism involves distorting statistics, cherry picking data, taking quotes out of context, and pushing logical fallacies. This sort of activism often relies upon crafting some “narrative” to spin one’s policies or vilify one’s opponents, as with calling opponents of Obamacare an unruly mob. Closely related is the obsession with unfounded conspiracy theories.

The primary goal of intellectual activism is to present the case for liberty and individual rights to the public. Generally this is done by presenting arguments in written or oral form. Other goals of intellectual activism can be to promote a positive article, person, or group, or to draw attention to some cause.

Many types of activism can be good or bad depending on the context. For example, rallies can be great, but if the participants are off message they can be counterproductive. Partisanship, or beating up the other side, can be appropriate if partisan attacks are rooted in the facts and if they put principles above politics.

So what are the types of intellectual activism? This can best be seen in graphic form (thanks to my wife Jennifer for creating the image):


The image illustrates the roots of activism, the main three divisions — activist training, politics, and mass communication — and the written and oral branches of mass communication.

Note that one particular campaign of intellectual activism can involve multiple branches. For example, promoting a good article written by an ally might involve writing a blog post, posting a social media link, and mentioning the article in a letter to an elected official.

Obviously, intellectual activists generally specialize in a few branches, though a well-rounded activist can swing easily among various branches.

Writing letters to the editor is one small branch of the tree, but it is an important one. The ability to write a good letter to the editor is an essential skill of any good activist. If you can write a good letter, you can also write a good blog post, learn to write a good op-ed, and translate your skills to oral communication. That is why the workshop I led focussed on developing this skill.

I recorded my presentation on writing letters, so I’ll turn the reader over to those YouTube videos. Some of my material finds inspiration on the article by Robert W. Tracinski, “How to Write an Effective Letter to the Editor.”

Part 1

Part 2

Denver 9/12 Rally: Freedom Forever

In my speech at the Denver 9/12 rally, I discussed the fundamental moral and political choices our nation faces. To illustrate these themes I described how the problem of pre-existing health conditions, and the resulting difficulties of buying insurance, is primarily a product of political controls, starting with tax-driven, non-portable, employer-paid insurance.

See People’s Press Collective for the report.

Lu Busse, chair of The 9.12 Project Colorado Leadership Team, said the proper response to the cry, “health reform now,” is “freedom forever.” Of course, real health reform means reestablishing freedom in medicine, so the two goals are wholly consistent.

Chuck Moe:

Amy Oliver:

Jon Caldara:

Sam Adams Alliance Awards Videos

I went to Chicago on April 18 to pick up an award from the Sam Adams Alliance. My speech is transcribed elsewhere.

I strongly encourage other liberty-oriented activists in Colorado (and around the nation) to check out the Sam Adams Alliance web page and think about entering the contest next year.

Now the Sam Adams Alliance has released a short YouTube video with highlights of the event.

The video of my speech, and the introduction by Paul Jacob, is also available:

The organization’s YouTube page offers more videos of the event.

Return to Civility

I have no problem with knock-down, drag-out debate. But the key word is debate, which implies arguments invoking reason and evidence. For example, I let Bob Beauprez have it over his endorsement of health-insurance mandates. And I make a strong case against mandates. I don’t even mind some good, old fashioned name-calling, so long as the name has some plausible justification given the evidence presented. For instance, I suggested that some of the arguments of animal rights groups are dishonest, but only after I subjected those arguments to a lengthy critique that demonstrates my conclusion.

But too many people, especially in comments on blogs, are just nasty, without any justification. (That’s why I allow only moderated comments on my web pages.)

Consider the following e-mail that I received on October 21. It’s not worth quoting, except to offer an example of the sort of comments not worth quoting. Crandallsaz**ATSIGN**msn**DOT**com writes regarding a 7News piece featuring my wife and me:

I am so sick of people going on t.v. and saying, “It’s not enough, we cant live off food stamps”.

It was NEVER intended to be the full budget for any family. Food Stamps is intended to HELP pay for groceries, not pay for ALL groceries. It is a subsidy.

On the other hand, I just saw the piece on 7 News, and I don’t believe for a second that those two lived on their claimed budget. We don’t get food stamps, and follow the ads & coupons carefully, never even considering buying higher end things like steak, etc. and there is no way in hell a couple could live off of less than $200 per month. I consider that claim a bold-faced lie. And one more thing, what an IDIOTIC statement that was, to eliminate food stamps all together and rely on hand outs. That moronic idiot needs to spend 12 months working at Social Services to get a grip of reality. That little man is FAR out of touch with reality. Like a spoiled child.

Brian in Evans.

I replied:

You are quite mistaken, and your rudeness is uncalled for.

You can see every single food receipt, and an itemized list of all food items purchased, for the month of August, at the following web page.

Please do not write to me again unless you can communicate civilly.

Thank you,
Ari Armstrong

Brian in Evans replied, “You are an ARROGANT IDIOT. You’re Arrogance is sickening.”

So, after calling me a liar without a shred of evidence, and after receiving from me overwhelming proof of the veracity of my claims, Brian accuses me of sickening arrogance. I mean, come on.

Unfortunately, gratuitous rudeness is not restricted to e-mails and blog commentary. Here are some choice quotes from Doug Giles from his recent column at

How to Shut Up an Atheist if You Must
By Doug Giles
Saturday, October 20, 2007

… Suck, for you thick atheists, is a slang word which means to make or to be really, really crappy (kind of like how our culture becomes anytime you guys mess with it). …

…prissy anti-Christs… pissy God haters… no-God numb nuts… comfortable and cocky atheist…

[E]verywhere I go and speak — be it in conferences, on the radio, on television or in print — I’m going to encourage the tens of thousands of Christians I address that every time and everywhere they get crapped on by an atheist with unfounded arguments to open their mouths and slam dance them with facts found in these two new brilliant books from Regnery [by Dinesh D’Souza and Robert Hutchinson].

Yes, I can feel the love of Christ descend upon me through the words of Doug Giles.

At least Giles does offer some arguments presented by others. (They aren’t very good arguments, but that’s a subject of another post.) For Giles, though, these arguments become weapons of propaganda, intended not to win an honest and spirited debate, but to “shut up” the other side.