Editorial: What is it With the Koch Derangement Syndrome?

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Since the Rational Standard’s founding in 2015, we have been at the centre of all manner of conspiracy theories, most of them revolving around some mythical financial relationship between the publication and the billionaire Koch brothers. No matter how many times we make our bank details publicly available to the billionaires, however, we have never received a deposit.

In another such theory, and in what can only be classed as sophisticated political satire, Professor Salam Sayyid, an immensely privileged subject of the free society known as the United Kingdom, launched into an incoherent attack on various liberal organisations in South Africa. Among these are the Rational Standard, Progress SA, the Institute of Race Relations, the Free Market Foundation, and the Capitalist Party. International organisations that he takes issue with include the two affiliated organisations of Charles and David Koch, African Liberty, Atlas Network, Students For Liberty, the Cato Institute, and others. All these organisations are in some way involved with advocating for a society where government does not coerce people into toeing its ideological line.

As Sayyid enjoys the freedoms and liberties guaranteed to him by the imperfect British liberal tradition, he finds it greatly problematic that the plebs of South Africa dare seek to enjoy some of the same freedoms.

Lack of substance

The piece hides behind the veneer of well-researched journalism, but is rather an isolated symbol of the behaviour infesting much of modern day journalists. Every bit of info he reports as if uncovering a top secret society, is available on (mostly) outdated public profiles. Not only is the information in the public eye, he failed to account for some of it (such as Martin van Staden and Nicholas Woode-Smith’s role in African Students For Liberty) being outdated. Yet, he presents the information as if it is in the same calibre as Watergate.

Sayyid did not gather any new information. All he did was copy and paste information from Facebook and the profile pages of respective websites, and then added a hysterical conspiratorial flair. He uncovered and clarified nothing that any organisation implicated has tried to hide or explain away.

Past his lack of substantial research, Sayyid at no point engages the ideas at play in this grand scheme he ostensibly uncovered. Instead, he uses emotive terms like “neoconservative”, despite the fact that none of the organisations he targets have any real research interest in foreign military intervention, and “right-wing”, a term today so devoid of meaning that its usage without further ado must always be considered an attempt to manipulate.

Sayyid does accuse these organisations of being for the “free market”, as if this were somehow disparaging. Of course, Sayyid does not define what he means by free market, so allow us to do so for him: A free market is a state of affairs where uninvited third parties, like government, do not use coercion to impose their preferences on consenting and voluntarily-interacting adults. Sayyid clearly has a problem with this, which is unfortunate, given South Africa’s history of trying things his way: With government intimately involved in what free people may and may not get up to. A free market is the polar opposite of the indignity and oppression that South Africans have suffered for centuries.

Sayyid’s lack of proper engagement with the intellectual pursuits of these organisations is to be expected, however. Many academics are unable to truly engage with ideas they disagree with anymore. Capitalism, the free market, liberalism and reason itself are merely negative buzzwords for them. They refuse to engage, which leaves them with hit-pieces like this. This is what happens when one intellectually persecutes based on mere keywords.

The Kochs and funding

As is customary with nonsensical hit-pieces of this kind, the Koch brothers are made the centrepiece of the conspiracy. These right-wing billionaires are nefariously funding and supporting groups around the world that expand their greedy capitalistic influence!

For instance, Sayyid points to the Atlas Network and accuses them of “openly” (gasp!) funding the accused organisations. But here’s the thing: These organisations do not advocate freedom because they get funding; they get funding because they advocate freedom.

And in this respect, whether it’s the Koch brothers, the Guptas, or the North Korean government that is funding advocacy for liberty is irrelevant. The point is that the goal is almost perfect in its justness. The cause of human freedom outweighs any and all other values and public policies, including the much-touted but often-meaningless “transparency” and certainly sovereignty.

This is not to say the Kochs or anyone else is undermining countries’ sovereignty (they certainly are not) — simply that we wouldn’t care if they were.

Ironically, those who launch into incoherent attacks on the Kochs are usually themselves funded by the Open Society Foundation, an initiative of the prominent businessman George Soros.

Like the Kochs, who tend to be inclined in favour of liberty and fund causes accordingly, Soros tends to be inclined in favour of authority and State power, and funds causes accordingly. This is fair enough. Both have their own agendas, and since they can afford it, they support those organisations that believe in those same agendas. But only one of them are criticised — the Kochs — because human freedom, apparently, is no longer in vogue, as Sayyid’s attack on us illustrates.

Stefan Molyneux and race realism

Sayyid’s attack on Martin van Staden is particularly amusing, and downright sad for its total lack of real research.

Van Staden joined Students For Liberty in 2014, when he listed Stefan Molyneux, the anarcho-capitalist and now infamous anti-immigration “race realist”, as one of his influences. It has been well-documented that Molyneux lost his mind around the time of the 2016 American presidential election, when he ceased being an individualist who believes in less government involvement in the economy and in the affairs of peaceful people, and became a racial collectivist who is very keen on such retarded public works programmes as Donald Trump’s wall with Mexico.

Sayyid ascribes all of Molyneux’s post-2016 views to Van Staden by implication, and by further implication to all the organisations with which Van Staden is involved. This is despite the fact that Van Staden has distanced himself from Molyneux’s newly-adopted ideas. Observe the last social media post he made in 2015 about Molyneux:

As you can see, this post was not public. The following, which illustrate Van Staden’s current view of Molyneux, however, are.

Observe the first post he made in 2016 about Molyneux:

See also the following posts by Van Staden through the course of 2016:

Finally:

Stefan Molyneux has not been part of the pro-free market, pro-individual liberty movement for some years. His thoughts on immigration and the freedom of people who are not white Westerners are repugnant to everything libertarianism stands for. For Sayyid to ascribe by implication Molyneux’s views to Van Staden and the organisations he is involved with, when Van Staden has objected strongly to xenophobia and collectivism on record, is intellectually dishonest, but not unexpected from someone who is grasping at straws to try and neutralise his ideological opponents.

Attacks on Progress SA

Progress SA, a liberal student activist group based at the University of Cape Town, is condemned by Sayyid for standing up for academic freedom and a non-racial, reason-based university experience. This comes after the relatively new student society made waves on campus by putting up a variety of posters, forcing many left-wing students and academics out of their echo-chambers. Sayyid also attacked the society for opposing the proposed boycott of Israel.

Sayyid doesn’t explain any of his condemnations. He takes it as gospel that one should be for decolonisation and anti-Israel. This is the typical demeanour of the left in the academe. No reflection. No dealing with the opposing view. Just a simple binary of: “I’m right. You’re wrong.”

And not only that. Sayyid just assumes that the reader will agree with him.

This is the reason why Progress SA is so important.

Its poster campaign forced students and academics who would otherwise be safe in their intellectually-bankrupt echo-chamber, to dealing with opposing views. Even if they do not adopt a liberal approach afterwards, they were forced to at least consider the fact that the opposing view is not just blind evil, but a well thought-out, considered perspective.

Sayyid’s attack on Progress SA is a defence of anti-intellectualism. Why else would he be condemning a student-run body that just wants to provide an intellectual contrast to the overwhelming indoctrination happening on campuses?

It seems Sayyid’s only semi-substantial criticism is that Progress SA receives support from organisations. But to that: So what?

Conclusion

In all, Sayyid’s rant is nothing more than a confused attempt at sophism and rhetorical manipulation. He refers to this conspiratorial network of think tanks and associations that support the cause of human freedom as part of the rise of “white supremacist politics”, forgetting that the Executive Board of African Students For Liberty after the retirement of Van Staden and Woode-Smith includes no white members, and African Liberty is managed by two black Nigerians, and the most recognisable leaders of Progress SA and the Capitalist Party are not white. Sayyid, thus, has no idea what he’s talking about, and is simply trying to score cheap points against a strawman enemy he has erected for himself.

Ironically, this hit-piece actually bodes well for the liberty movement in South Africa. It means that the enemies of human freedom are concerned. And that’s good. Concern by the enemies of reason and liberty is a necessary. Their attacks belie a desperation to shut down a growing movement. It is a simple survival mechanism.

With the growth of liberty movements, intellectuals, parties and other groups that have oppressed students and damaged academic freedom for too long start to become irrelevant.

Sayyid’s piece, as badly researched and ill-thought out as it was, is a good sign for the cause of individual and economic freedom as a whole. It means that we are being noticed.

If it’s not obvious: The Rational Standard will not apologise for and will not equivocate on what we stand for. Liberty is as just a goal that one can believe in. But any just movement needs funding, or it is doomed. As such, we invite the Koch brothers or anyone else committed to human liberation to reach out to us on how to support us financially, logistically, or otherwise.

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