Some of the most fascinating people and ideas are in our immediate circle of acquaintances. I have enjoyed interviewing some of my friends for the blog, and I’ve learned interesting things by asking questions I don’t typically ask of people I already know.
Today’s interview is with my good friend Leon Drolet. I worked for Leon many years ago in the state legislature, and it was, in part, his influence that helped turn me away from politics and to what I think is the more productive world of ideas.
Leon is one of the most honest, entertaining, and sometimes shocking individuals I know. The last thing his self-proclaimed giant ego needs is more praise, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say he has influenced me in important ways. He likes to joke that he takes credit for everything, but in my case, he is due some credit for some successes I’ve had. Of course, I reserve the right to blame him for all of my failures as well.
IMM: I’ve described you as a rabble-rouser because, frankly, I don’t really know what else to call you. What do you say when people ask what you do?
LD: I usually tell people that I’m not sure what I do, but “it has something to do with ‘liberty’, I think”. My goal is to advance liberty in all ways I can be effective at it. Those ways are varied: often political, sometimes educational. Sometimes I write op-eds and engage in media interviews, sometimes I run for political office (I’ve been elected six times to state and local office). Sometimes I create public events like rallies and grassroots groups, sometimes I work to change laws and state constitutions through petition campaigns and elections. Sometimes I assist college students who want to learn more about libertarian ideas, sometimes I organize forums for libertarian networking. Sometimes I work on projects that engage the public on a specific libertarian concept – like civil rights being for individuals instead of for identity groups. How can I describe all of the above in a simple sentence? So, I don’t – it is more fun to tell people that I do not know what I do.
IMM: Are you doing what you want to do?
LD: I try to avoid things I don’t want to do.
IMM: What is the theme that runs through your various activities and employments? What is your goal?
LD: My goal is to find and implement ways for libertarian concepts to gain wider recognition and appreciation in society. And to have fun doing it. I’m not interested in drudgery, so I pursue that which I love in fun and interesting ways. Ideally, I would create and strategize and showboat and laugh through each liberty-advancing venture, but I have to do some less-interesting logistical and bureaucratic execution work. It would be nice to have staff to do the boring stuff.
IMM: You’ve been in and around the political game quite a bit, yet I know few people as dismissive of the importance of politicians and ready to downplay the role of politics in changing the world. Is this a contradiction?
LD: I hope so. Oscar Wilde said, “The well bred contradict other people. The wise contradict themselves.” and I need all the advice about appearing wise that I can get. I do political work because I lack skills more useful to society. Before I learned how social change really happens, I thought political change was key. So I invested in learning political campaign skills: how to best utilize resources in election campaigns, how to target voters and hone messages, how to engage others in the political process, etc. Those are among my skills now, for better or for worse.
IMM: What are some common misconceptions about politics? What would people be surprised to know?
LD: People think politicians matter – and to prove it, they point to one or two politicians they think have mattered. While there are exceptions, 95% of elected officials don’t matter and the world would hardly change had they never been elected. Politicians’ decisions are molded by many factors around them. If you learn to see the forces that create a politician, you can predict what they will do 95% of the time. If you learn to affect the factors influencing politicians, you can steer a great many politicians. This is far more effective than trying to elect “good” politicians one at a time. “Good” politicians will still do bad things if the incentives aren’t right. Change the incentives.
IMM: You have a habit of making light of everything. There never seems a bad time to joke for you. Is this a conscious approach to life, or just the way you’re wired?
LD: Life is too precious to be bored and humor, especially the absolute worst cringe-inducing humor, is rarely boring.
IMM: Most public figures work hard to keep up an unoffensive image. You love being in the public eye, yet you don’t really sugar coat your radical ideas and sometimes unserious approach to life. How have you been able to get away with it?
LD: Tell people what you really believe and, if it is unorthodox, use humor. Especially self-deprecating humor. People appreciate humility and the ability to recognize (and to put into approachable context or ‘frame’) one’s own relatively less popular positions on issues or ideas. People respect someone, and engage them on their ideas, if the person is consistent and fun and humble. Of course, I am the most humble person the world has ever seen…
IMM: Can you sum up your philosophy?
LD: Customize life to fit your values to the maximum extent possible. Love and exalt that which is truly beautiful. Die proud of the life you led.
IMM: Have you always seen the world this way, or was it a journey? Did you come by your beliefs easily, or with some difficulty?
LD: Like everyone, I evolved. The most important step in that evolution was recognizing that discovering truth is the highest value, and that logic and reason are the most reliable avenues to discover truth. Being able to recognize my biases and accept responsibility and be aware of my many deep flaws are the most difficult parts of my journey.
IMM: What kind of legacy do you want to leave?
LD: I want society to be a freer place because I have lived on Earth. My ego demands that my life have mattered – that people will be better off than had I not been born. I want to be proud of my life and to have enjoyed it greatly.