Thank you, Thomas, for your Big Freakin’ Book
By Neil Lock
I have the PDF of “Kn@ppster’s Big Freakin’ Book of Stuff” by Thomas L. Knapp. There’s lots of good stuff here, though most is very US-centric. Meaning, that it won’t be understood by those from east of the pond, except for a few oddballs like me.
(Factoid and disclaimer: Of the 48 states of the contiguous USA, I have only visited 37.)
I started out intending this as a blog comment; I didn’t intend it to be a book review. But it seems to have grown. So here we go…
I haven’t met Thomas, but I have had cordial exchanges with him on a UK libertarian blog. I read RRND, which he edits, regularly. And I’ve read, and sometimes agreed with, quite a bit of the work of his C4SS friends. Which makes me receptive to his thinking – even when I go a different way. Perhaps, as a result, my comments may be unduly kind.
Being what I am, a bottom-up thinker with a long-ago degree in mathematics, I’ll start with a technical matter. I strongly applaud Thomas’s efforts to make his prose easy to read. I took his Introduction and four essays at random, and used Word to measure the Flesch Reading Ease of each sample. Bitch about this index if you wish, but can you define a better measure of readability?
Two of these sections, including the Introduction, scored above 70. Unusually easy reading, indeed! Two more scored above 60 – the level to which I aspire in all my own writing. The fifth was down at 51; perhaps it was a complex subject, or just an off day. But even that is way above most newspaper editorials. And, may I suggest, above the great majority of blog posts on liberty sites?
Thomas has changed his political views over the years. And for the better, I think. The book shows the change clearly; and that alone makes it useful as a document of our times. I like to think that, in 50 years or so, historians will pore over works like this, asking questions like: “How the hell could so much bad stuff possibly have happened?” And “Why did even the most intelligent people take so long to see through the crap?”
Thomas says he has moved from “right” to “left.” I’m not happy with either of these labels; but I do understand what he’s saying as I’ve been through much the same myself. My equivalent was from confused brought-up-as-a-conservative (no clear view or idea of direction) to radical individualist (bottom-up view and forward looking). And I think I detect another positive change in his thinking; that is, that he now understands the futility of trying to play the enemies of liberty at their own political game.
Now, I don’t agree with by any means everything in this book. For example, I take a rather more conventional view on copyright than Thomas does. I reject any suggestion of alliance, or even engagement, between libertarians and greens. (The big problem with greens is that they aren’t interested in truth.) And I’m not sure how well Thomas understands the vital difference between ethical obligations and political principles. I may be being unfair to him on the last, as the essay on this subject is from 2001 – I’d be interested to know what he now thinks. But all that said, there’s a lot of good stuff here..
If there is one improvement I might suggest, it would be to precede each essay by an introduction explaining the context, and any culture-specifics which might not be understood by all readers. (For example, I had to look in Wikipedia to find out who is “Miley Cyrus” and what is a “twerk.”) As the book stands, it is only of interest to US libertarians and anarchists, and to their eccentric friends like me. I think it could be made much more effective and inclusive by aiming it at the rational reader who has no cultural preconceptions, and by making it clear just what prompted each essay.
In conclusion, the book gives a fine and very wide-ranging selection of the work Thomas has done over the last 20 years. And the later essays in Part 6, and several in Part 7, are particularly good. So thank you, Thomas, for your Big Freakin’ Book!