The Costs of Control

As a software developer I want to tell you some things about autonomy, so that the story below makes sense. Autonomy is really very important in software development. The reason has absolutely nothing to do with computers and everything to do with economics. If you want a really very clear self-aware and powerful example of Hayek at work then join a modern software development project.

This is what a modern project team takes for granted:

  • We do not know the solution.
  • We should try stuff and see what works empirically.
  • We will be able to work it out if we constantly inspect and adapt everything (especially ourselves).
  • None of us knows the whole answer.
  • The knowledge required to do so is largely implicit.

If that sounds like a summary of I, Pencil or a chapter from Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty, then this is no co-incidence. A project team is like a mini-economy. Cooperation is the constant reality and the invisible flows of knowledge that cannot be enumerated or written down are just as crucial. Monetary exchanges happen at the edges of the team, and are a constantly present factor in every decision.

What does this mean in detail? Well it means that rather than everything running according to an agreed plan, with everything laid out like the procedures manual on a submarine, it means you must occasionally wing it. It is not uncommon to log onto a server and just have a poke about, with a clear goal but no clarity of method. This is why you see large numbers of people with effectively root access to production servers (i.e. the privilege to see and change anything). It is a security nightmare but is required to Get Stuff Done. You just have to trust people – they must have autonomy.

The above is largely a summary of why the next story I am about to tell is so gobsmackingly stupid. Anyone who thought they had reached the end of my series of posts about LPUK and was finally getting some hardcore philosophic theory is about to be disappointed. This story was told to me by the UK Libertarian Party’s missing Press Officer, the bloke who was at Liberty League who wasn’t Sean. The unacknowledged “middle” Press Officer, after Sean and before the noteworthy nationalist pagan David Parry. The guy whose name never came up on the LPUK website, the guy they didn’t mention in the David Parry inaugural press release.

This man’s name is Gunnar Hardy, another American volunteer and now the Press Officer for the International Alliance of Libertarian Parties. Gunnar likes to think of this as a promotion and I am sure he will enjoy manning IALP’s stall at FreedomFest in Las Vegas.

 

Gunnar Hardy

Gunnar Hardy

Once upon a time a developer wanted to log into a server.

Gunnar was appointed Director of Public Relations and volunteered to take on the task of refreshing the current, stale, Libertarian Party website. Blessed with such a job title (and the business cards to prove it) it’s natural that he expected a degree of autonomy. He says he wanted something “slick, sexy, better than the other party websites out there”, and to make it profitable: prioritizing merchandise sales and membership. That might not be your intellectual cup-of-tea but it is a clear and reasonable goal for a party taking just £1000 in revenue, and furthermore Gunnar was doing the work.

He reviewed the designs submitted by the existing South African web developer and rejected them. Putting his trust in his network of contacts he reached out to someone who did the development for projects Gunnar has worked on before and he started out on a new creative path. Having built the basic layout up to a high standard, it was time to log in, deploy that framework and integrate to payment and eCommerce services.

His request for credentials was denied.

Be careful what you believe, I might have hacked into your eyes.

Laughing_man_logoThe Libertarian Party is a group with (rightly) fewer than 70 members yet is apparently such a high profile target that administrative access to it’s servers for volunteers is simply not permissible. Who would target such an entity? Apparently I would. Yes, me the guy who provided the negative outlier in a study of latent hacking stills conducted on behalf of Northrop Grumman by utterly flunking a hacking test. Me who failed to spot the publicly disclosed contradiction in the Libertarian Party accounts for a whole two years. Somehow, for them, I am a Super Class A hacker fixated on the destruction of their party. Rather than the poorly motivated critic and under-resourced blogger I see, they see The Laughing Man, bent on revenge for crimes against humanity. If I was not so wedded to objective reality my ego might have been soothed, instead, I struggle to report this with a straight face.

This deserves a straight face

The personalities at the top of the Party are clearly still fighting a largely imaginary battle. Rather than looking out with hope they look inwards with fear and suspicion. The controversy triggered by Anna Raccoons April 2011 sting is still ongoing for them. In their mind there is still an organised faction fighting them, the truth is people are struggling to remember to keep up with them.

This climate of fear has serious consequences. It must be hugely off putting to start with, and seems to put off even them. One of the few outward looking activities they have organised was a social gathering in Bristol. Gunnar tells me that Andrew was there and he launched into a heated debate with a new member. Andrew was always incredibly keen on his specific policies. He once strained his credibility by pushing hard for a motion to make the Libertarian Party a Constitutional Libertarian Party, an unpopular measure that failed completely to attract the necessary votes. Rather than resigning, he shrugged that off. How did the debate in Bristol go? Andrew “continued to shut down, disrespect, and berate the man just for the simple reason that he didn’t agree with Andrew” this was the new member’s first face to face contact with the party. It is no surprise that he left a few days later. During the 2011 split Andrew continually spoke as if he faced a faction of anarchists, seeking to make the LPUK an anarchists’ party. This was clearly untrue, many of the loudest voices in what was really the “pro-audit faction” were minarchists but I wonder whether he actually believed his story? Was this conversation in Bristol his effort to screen new members for ideological differences?

Perhaps it was the way Gunnar stepped in to defuse that situation, perhaps Gunnar is just too opinionated on business matters (he is a business student) but when he resigned his letter described the atmosphere within the party as “hostile”. It is clear he and Andrew did not get on. For his part, Andrew would shower Gunnar with requests to make contact with various groups and public figures and get various things done. Gunnar felt unable to rely on David Parry since David did not often contribute to what was needed. Their relative ages notwithstanding, it is clear Parry was the disengaged junior volunteer and Gunnar the involved and engaged director. Andrew didn’t seem to appreciate that Gunnar was left carrying the whole marketing function of the party on top of his studies. He filled his dorm wall with lists of LPUK priorities and tackled them in the best possible order, but eventually Gunnar was forced to push back and tell Andrew to adjust his expectations.

They disagreed over the website a couple more times. Andrew wanted biographies of party figures added to the page in a way that Gunnar felt would interfere with the user’s journey to join or buy from the party and insisted the site should stay “slick” and “fast”. Yet for all Andrew’s demands he failed to keep abreast of the commercial reality of what was going on. The South African developer (rightly) queried her money and Gunnar was surprised with the news that Andrew had committed to paying her £300.  Andrew heaped the blame on Gunnar for “breaking the contract” – a contract that predated his involvement.

The tipping point came when Gunnar, quite at random, used the story of Andrew’s resignation from this site in place of a news item in a private demonstration server. He copied and pasted one of my Libertarian Home articles to test the new Libertarian Party website. The inner circle exploded with activity. Long dormant NCC members became active again, and started flying around the country for meetings. Despite “resigning” Andrew was still very much in charge at this time. Gunnar was cast as a Libertarian Home spy, or Marxist spy or an agent of the Government sent to disrupt it’s growing minarchist nemesis. Gunnar left in short order.

Privately he wrote “Albeit I’m young, I am a professional and not out for vengeance. I would like my story to serve as a warning”. For Gunnar the worst thing about this tale is that he might see history repeat itself. It is one thing for one party to end up this way, quite another if this becomes a pattern for the movement. It needn’t be the case.

Oh, and another thing….

hillary-htThat is not the end of the story.

Guy Montrose – the best thing to happen to the party since the Southwark drinks – the guy who got the Facebook page going and turned it into something actually useful and the guy that founded IALP (an organisation Andrew is desperate to be associated with). That Guy – he left too. Time for a break. Didn’t want to talk to me about it. No drama, please. Did Gunnar’s persecution as a “spy” have something to do with it? I don’t know, but it seems likely.

What I am certain of reporting is that a second secret, unacknowledged, member of staff left the party shortly afterwards. She demurely declined to comment too, but when I asked her to prove she was ever part of the Party she could not find any evidence she was there. The only evidence that this part of the story is true is her mention on the IALP website (which Gunnar also produced) and a posting on Andrew Wither’s Facebook that confirms that Hilary Hackleman was once Deputy Chairman of the Party. The recipient of yet another senior job title who was never mentioned on the Libertarian Party website, new or old. “No resignation letter was necessary I guess, I didn’t even really exist.” she said. Gunnar believes her exit was certainly prompted, in part, by his mistreatment.

slick-lpuk-website-demo

The website Gunnar commissioned

I’m not sure exactly why, but Tom – administrator of the LPUK Youth Facebook page – also left the scene at about the same time.

Gunnar’s says his posts on Facebook were deleted after he handed over access to the Facebook page to Liam Hillman (LPUK’s nominations officer). David Parry’s self-promoting press release is a work of art, reminiscent of the State Science Institute’s vague condemnation of Rearden Steel it talks about David’s elevation within the party as if he were crossing into virgin territory:

Parry has contributed (behind the scenes) to Libertarian gatherings across the decades. However, he now feels the need to firm up his commitments

There is no acknowledgement that he is something like the sixth person in the role in just seven years (preceded by Gunnar, Sean, Ken, Chris and Gavin). Gunnar has been erased from the official Party record. His influence sucked down the memory hole. The website he built rejected in favour of the inferior South African version, for no reason except for the fear that acknowledging the reality of what has been going on will cause the Party bubble to burst.

It seems as if the people doing all the work at LPUK were kept in the closet and only those people trusted by Andrew Withers were acknowledged properly. I can only conclude that this is another means of suppressing the imaginary opposing anarchist faction within the Party, of limiting the “damage” these people can do. The fact that they have gone shows the danger in this fearful approach to life: who is going to do the work now? Who is going to help you recruit another round of volunteers? If the party rebuilds itself now it will be thanks to a third round of new volunteers. The number of such volunteers who have not worked out who you are is dwindling. It is time to shut up shop and leave a space for others to fill.

The constraints Andrew applied get in the way of an efficiently functioning party. His unwelcoming attitude is driving away members. His persecution of those that dare to disagree with him is causing his volunteers to depart in droves. His failure to confront the reality that his party filed contradictory accounts due to errors on his watch makes it impossible for the well informed to contribute, leaving him to rely on ignorance as a hiker relies on quicksand. He cannot go on TV. He seeks to work outside the country he wishes to influence as that is the last refuge where he is unknown.

Such is the cost of wanting to be in control. If his control was taking us anywhere it would be tolerable. It is not.

  21 comments for “The Costs of Control

  1. Jul 9, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    Each generation of libertarians ends up wasting their energies in faction fighting. My generation did it (including me) and now the next generation is (to some extent) doing the same.

    Truly libertarians are like cats – as in “herding cats”.

    We believe in voluntary cooperation (in Civil Society), but we have great difficulties living up to this in our own dealings. “Hulk Smash!” is not really part of Civil Society.

    I suppose this is natural – after all someone who has the type of mind that rejects what they are taught in the education system (who sits there thinking “what this teacher is telling me does not sound like the truth – their fundamental assumptions are wrong”) and by the media (I broke several radios as a young person – in a rage about the lies on the news, specifically lies about “cuts” in government spending in the 1980s), is not likely to play well with others. A lot of interaction is based on people just accepting things for which no reason or evidence is given – but which people just believe (without thinking about them). We are not very good all that – we tend to question things (that is why we are libertarians).

    “What you are doing is all wrong – it is costing the organisation vast sums of money” (the Paul Marks approach to communication with the powerful) is not likely to make a person likable in any organisation (even commercial ones do not like this approach – especially if the top people really are doing everything wrong and costing the organisation vast sums of money).

    All the above is part of the reason that I do not believe that a “Libertarian Party” would work.

    Perhaps we need to work with normal people to keep us sane (or at least to help us bite our lips) – to keep our cosmos turning into chaos.

    • Jul 9, 2015 at 7:40 pm

      What did your generation argue about Paul?

  2. Jul 9, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    Everything Simon – and we still are.

    Philosophy, history, economics, personalities – and so and it got worse over time.

    I think it got worse because we no longer could see a good reason to work together. The fall of Mrs Thatcher being the start of it – far from perfect (very many faults), but at least vaguely “on our side”, no one could say that about Mr Major (“lesser evil” is the least nasty thing one could say about him).

    Some people found new allies which they (perhaps sincerely – I can not see into their souls) held-hold to be useful in the effort for freedom – “allies” we would have hunted (and been hunted by) in the Cold War days. Enemies of “the rich” and “big business” and supporters of “Social Justice”.

    Of course the American libertarian movement had split over such things decades before.

    Ayn Rand grew to despise some libertarians so much that she would not use the word “libertarian” to describe herself – in spite of both being a philosophical libertarian (a believer in human agency – free will) and a supporter of political libertarianism (in the minarchist form) – political libertarianism being an absurdity if people are just flesh robots whose every action is predetermined.

    Frank Meyer (an ex Marxist – turned enemy of the Cong) lived to see a large slice of the American libertarian movement ally with the Cong (and accept an “interpretation” of American, indeed Western, history, where the enemy was always in the right – almost regardless of who the enemy was, the Confederacy, Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany, Soviets and international Communism, Islamists, whoever……).

    We used to nod our heads sadly (in our little conferences) about the divisions in the Libertarian movement – and then divisions hit us.

    And the generation before us also – for there were splits and divisions then also.

    Perhaps the STATE is the key here – and not just as enemy.

    Somewhere such as Texas (and some other such places) it is possible to have some respect for the state – for Governor Abbott. He is not a libertarian – but he is (at least to a limited extent) on the side of less collectivism.

    That is not really possible in most places.

    “Why should that matter to anarcho capitalists”.

    Actually I know anarcho capitalists to whom such things matter a great deal.

    In real life one has to pick a side – or opt out and hide like a rat.

    So it is good if one can have some respect (even a little) for the side one picks.

    Better the CIA under William Casey – than the CIA under whatever jerk is director now.

    Put it in business terms…..

    I have some respect (that is NOT the same as thinking them perfect – not by any means) for the “boo-hiss” brothers Koch (Charles and David Koch).

    I have no respect for Warren Buffett – not something special to me, his father would have no respect for him either (the father he claims to have loved). Playing with the state for money is one thing – but what Mr Buffett did in 2008 was a step too far (hard to come back from supporting Comrade Barack – Warren’s father would have turned his back on his son for that).

    So I would not like it if my only choice for a side was Warren Buffett.

    Ditto – the Great Northern (J.J. Hill) rather than the Union Pacific (the Harriamans) in the 19th century.

    Not because J.J. Hill was perfect (he was not) – but he was better than the other side.

    Even anarcho capitalists have (in the end) to pick a side in real life.

    But if all the sides really are worthy of no respect (none) then it is time to shove the firearm in one’s mouth (deep and pointing up) and squeeze the trigger. Better than the hide like a rat option.

    One reason I dislike it when people pretend that both sides were equally to blame for the Cold War or for World War One (or whatever).

    Because it was not so.

    • Jul 10, 2015 at 5:40 am

      So you never disagreed over things like a third of income vanishing? I ask, because I believe that were it not for this we might have compromised and done something.

      We did NOT disagree over ideology or strategy. That is significant.

      • Tim Carpenter
        Jul 10, 2015 at 12:11 pm

        I think there was a good deal of cohesion and reason-based compromise on that front during my involvement.

        But maybe I am biased.

      • Jul 15, 2015 at 12:51 pm

        We thought “the politics is what is important” for years – but, in the end, the history and the philosophy mattered.

        As for theft and so on – Chris Tame (as he was dying of cancer) accused various people in pro freedom organisations (such as “FOREST” and Institute of Economic Affairs) of being crooks and so on.

        This may have been so – but I wish that Chris had not been encouraged (by a certain person) to spend his last days on such stuff. And encouraged to denounce “big business” (and whatever) in words that are easy to take out of context.

        Yes people are often financially dishonest – but there is a time and a place to expose them. And there are things that are vastly more important.

        For example, years ago, I watched (I was at the meeting) where the Society for Individual Freedom (or whatever it was called exactly) was taken over by rather thuggish tactics – aimed at pushing out the old ladies and gentleman and taking the money from the account.

        But there are more important things than denouncing people for such things. “Naming names”.

        I made my own position clear at the time.

        By apologising to the ladies and gentleman (who I thought of as so old – some were about the age I am now) and helping them on with their coats and so on.

  3. Jul 9, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    People in Eastern Tennessee (especially Congressional Districts One and Two – although Three has its interests – look up “the Battle Of Athens” some time), tend to pick the right side, and have done from the 1860s to the present time.

    Not the perfect side (there is no such thing) – but the right side.

  4. malpoet
    Jul 10, 2015 at 9:35 am

    Unfortunately Simon you cannot get away from the personalities. Withers, Parker-Joseph & Hillman provide a combination of egotism, delusion and thuggery which is self reinforcing and unlikely to go away.

    You are the super hacker threat and I am the Marxist infiltrator sent by Common Purpose.

    As recently as May, Withers went to Norway to speak to a group of libertarians and told them how they must protect their organisation against people like you and me (his speech is on Utube). I hope they only gave him the coffee he talks about and didn’t pay his fare or accommodation.

    Withers lied about the number of members LPUK has. The reality is probably that most of the decent people have gone and that the LPUK will continue to be an irrelevant handful of embittered men who believe themselves to be persecuted by powerful forces.

    • Jul 10, 2015 at 10:05 am

      He comes across as incredibly paranoid in that video.

      Nice of him to mention an Objectivist who cannot speak to normal people. Anyone can turn up to the pub and make their own mind up about whether he means me.

      • malpoet
        Jul 10, 2015 at 4:07 pm

        Sorry Simon. He definitely means you and I am the Common Purpose. It is funny, but it does do damage to libertarians for him to be going around saying this stuff.

  5. Zach Cope
    Jul 10, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    An attack by LPUK is a form of flattery Simon, but only a mild one, as LPUK are irrelevant compared to Libertarian Home.

    It was US liberty media that led me to Atlas Shrugged, and that, along with my own concerns about the corrosive nature of ‘eligibility’ in tax funded systems that led me to articles such as http://libertarianhome.co.uk/2013/11/could-direct-care-shame-the-nhs-into-reform/ on Libertarian Home.

    I have no doubt that the debate and learning from attending Libertarian Home meetings, reading LH posts and being robustly challenged on my writing has informed by own personal politics.

    LPUK has had no influence or reach in my own journey, although I read their manifesto before the election and was struck at how their policies on violence (‘defence’) seemed a major part concern to them.

    Individual liberty in the 21st century can only succeed if we believe people can be trusted as adults, and LPUK don’t seem to live to that philosophy.

    As to political parties I am unsure as to whether elected political power is more effective than influencing and discussing views and opinions. Certainly it seems the role of an elected politician must be tedious in the extreme.

    And hackers? I defer to my favourite American Pacifist Anarchist, Brian Sovryn, when he states ‘Hackers are Heros’.

    Would you rather be the chancellor of the exchequer or inventor of Bitcoin? I know which route to liberty I support.

  6. Jul 11, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    Anyone that has spent time looking at ‘grass roots’ political parties will know that internal divisions and hubris on the part of it’s leaders is what strangles nascent movements in their cradle.

    I have not been engaged with the UK libertarian scene for long ( about 3 years) but it saddens me to hear that the same forces that kill off most ideological currents are at work in the LPUK. Which by the way, until it was mentioned here on LH, I never even knew existed.

    It should be obvious to everyone involved in a political party that there has to be an appropriate balance between politics and ideology. Too much emphasis on ideology leaves parties ignored, unelectable and divided. However, too much stress on politics results in vacuous manifestos and a handful of phyrric electoral victories.

    For the Libertarian movement to go foreward, we will have be inclusive, organised and united.

    • Jul 12, 2015 at 6:24 pm

      Jordan

      It is worth repeating that there were no ideological divisions. There was a controversy over whether to audit the accounts and/or whether to close down the party (Andrew favoured the latter until Simon F stopped him).

      There was not even a leadership struggle until after the new leader was unanimously elected by what remained of the NCC and Andrew changed his mind.

      No ideological split, no strategy to split over. It was about money and only about money.

      Simon

      • Jul 12, 2015 at 7:09 pm

        Oh, ok I’m at least glad to hear that ideological differences aren’t behind the LPUK’s difficulties.

        But from what I’ve seen so far, and that video malpoet posted Andrew looks like someone who hasn’t done the party many favours, at least not recently….

        • Jul 12, 2015 at 7:17 pm

          It is incredibly encouraging to think we dodged the usual bullet.

          • Jul 15, 2015 at 1:09 pm

            You may have “dodged the usual bullet” because you have a real jobs. For example you work in computing.

            Once people become dependent on politics (including political writing) for their income (and that of their families) all sorts of bad stuff tends to happen.

            I remember a certain person ending up working for the Islamic Republic of the Sudan (and other nasty organisations) – because he needed the money.

            If one does not have a private income then “get a trade” is good advice.

            Computing, or a plumber, a carpenter, an electrician.

            A friend of mine (the deputy headmaster of a private school) has three sons.

            One is a plumber, one is a carpenter, and one is an electrician.

            They all earn more than him.

            And their words are their own.

            There is never a question of “I have to say this to put bread on the table”.

            A leader of a Libertarian group (that has access to money – accounts) needs to either have a private income, or have a job (a job that pays decent money – unlike me). A job that is NOT linked to his (or her) political work – that is NOT about writing and so on.

            Even “I have a business” is a bit dodgy – as where does the business stop and the political organisation begin?

            The accounts can become confused.

            With the “I will pay the money back – really I will” and the “well I need the money in order to be able to carry on my political work” self deceptions.

      • Jul 15, 2015 at 12:59 pm

        A warning not to become dependent on politics for one’s income.

  7. Jul 15, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Mr Withers (and so on) do seem to be rather paranoid.

    Perhaps they have been reading too much conspiracy theory on the internet.

    That happened to various libertarians in the “old days”.

    They became somewhat unbalanced.

    Always seeking financial reasons for things (for policies) that people (quite mistakenly – but sincerely) believed in.

    “Who is paying the government to do X” is usually (not always) a daft way to proceed.

    People in government (both Civil Servants and politicians) normally (normally) do what they sincerely (but wrongly) believe to be right.

    “They can not believe X – they must be being paid” is just wrong.

    People often sincerely believe things that are quite wrong.

  8. Ken Ferguson
    Jul 16, 2015 at 7:32 am

    “With the “I will pay the money back – really I will” and the “well I need the money in order to be able to carry on my political work” self deceptions.”

    Paul

    I agree with most of what you say but those who are as paranoid and self deluded as above really have no place in politics, far less a libertarian movement. Property rights are a pretty fundamental cornerstone of libertarianism and those unable to respect them in their own lives should find a new credo.

    What was astonishing at the time was not the criminal self-delusion of one individual but that a significant proportion of members of the then party and executive were happy to avoid any confrontation and let matters be left uninvestigated.

    They behaved like victims of a conman refusing to believe they had been duped and what should have been a simple purge was not effected and the sad affair could subsequently be represented as an “ideological split” in the party.

Comments are closed.