Update: This was just a rant when I was in a bad mood. In actuality I like helping people, especially friends and fellow libertarians. So take the following with a grain of salt. However I do wish more libertarians had better manners when the approach others for help. SK
I don’t mind giving free advice. Really. I do it a lot.
But libertarians sometimes are inept at social graces. They ask for help in a demanding, entitled way; they ask for legal advice without realizing that the attorney who does this is liable for malpractice even if he doesn’t get paid; they often are clueless about standard professional letter-writing standards. Typically I get an unsolicited email from a strange libertarian, something like this,
See this link–it’s an interesting article about [xyz]–why does the author think [abc]?
[or: I am starting a business and need some advice. How can I tell if [xyz] is patentable? Do you think this is a good idea?]
Etc. etc. Note the many problems: mispelling my name; informally and inappropriately taking the liberty of calling my by my first name; failing to politely introduce yourself and to politely explain why you are writing and exactly what you want from me; giving me an out in case I do not have time; etc.
I mean, libertarians are often just hopeless in this regard. It’s one reason I sometimes despair about our movement, and moan “DOOMED” to myself. And it’s notorious to have libertarians who are moochers–some guy you met at a conference one time 7 years ago calls you out of the blue, “Hey, I’ll be in Houston for a few days, can I stay at your house?” I think there have been a couple of LP Presidential candidates who could not even campaign in some states because of outstanding arrest warrants … for failure to pay child support. The problem is our movement attracts a disproportionate share of losers and marginal types simply because they have less to lose from advocating our radical philosophy. Competent, smart, successful types have financial and other opportunities in the real world that tempt them to eschew marginalized radicalism. Just the way it is. Sad. What you gonna do?
I was reminded (remound?) of some of this, this morning, when I stumbled across the witty message by GTD expert Merlin Mann, who makes it clear here the of all the emails he gets, he has instructed his assistant to make sure he sees the ones from actual clients actually willing to pay him actual money (no doubt, as opposed to all the imposing freeloaders out there):
Hello, I’m Merlin Mann. That one guy from the internet. Hi. Thank you VERY much for your note and your time. These are valuable things.
I get so much great email every day. SO much. SO great. But, unfortunately, I do get way more of it than I could ever do anything responsible with—unless I got lots of help. Which I do.
Consequently, my ninja assistant, Erica, looks over all my messages-including the note you were kind enough to send just now-and, then she tells me what, if anything, I need to do about those messages.
She’s great like that. LOVE that Erica. Good people.
Work & Money: An Admission
Because I’m a selfish little homunculus of a man-happily charged with stewarding an exquisite young family as well as a career that’s increasingly difficult to either explain or manage-I have instructed Erica to dedicate an unaccountably large amount of her time to working on things that are related to my paying work as a writer, speaker, and freelance helper-of-people.
Thus, if you have written about trying to give me money in any form or fashion, please do not be squeamish about pointing this out to Erica in any subsequent correspondence; Erica and I have talked about this topic at length, and we both agree that money is very important with regard to work.
In fact, from what I can gather, “money” has, in practice, become SO heavily associated with “work” that many Americans would not actually “do” a given “job” were they not “paid” to “do so.” Just from what I can gather.
This is really charming and witty. I’m about to hire Merlin myself for a bit of inbox zero/GTD/43 folders consulting.
As for ineptness in communication, I also see this as editor of Libertarian Papers. I often get letters from authors who make all sorts of mistakes. For example, the often fail to make it clear that it’s a submission. I’ll get an email with a horribly misdescriptive subject line, such as “the fed,” with the body saying “Hi, I’m wondering if this would be suitable.” Or, “Hoping you find this of interest.” With a file attached. No mention of Libertarian Papers. No “Dear Editor.” So I have to ask, “Is this a submission for publication in LP?” Another horrible mistake is pleading for their article’s importance. When this is done in the first email, it’s a bad sign. I can almost always predict the article will be crap. “Dear Sir: I’ve attached my paper, which I have worked on for 13 years. I believe it is an extremely important thesis that will lift the libertarian movement out of its doldrums and presage a world of liberty within 33 years!!” Even worse is when an author is rejected and then argues with me about this or demands a better justification for the rejection. When this happens, literally 100% of the time the author is a crank.
By the way, I stumbled across this delightfully practical article the other day (no offense, libertarians), How to Ask for a Reference Letter (h/t Gary Chartier), which provides excellent advice on professional, polite ways to word overtures to people when you ask them a favor. How to start the letter, how to give your target a way out of your intrusive requests, and so on.
Come on, libertarians, learn. Yes we can!