Saturday, July 5, 2014

Porcfest 2014 Trip Report

This year I went for the third time to the Porcupine Freedom Festival, usually referred to as Porcfest, in New Hampshire. I went in 2011 and 2012, but missed 2013. So many notable things happened that I started taking notes because I knew I would otherwise forget. I wanted to convey to other libertarians just how great of an experience it can be. So I've compiled my notes into this post. You can also see all of my pictures from over the week, including the ones embedded in this post.

I feel I should mention upfront that just the other day I read a very sobering point made by George Donnelly about the future of Porcfest. I don't want to spoil the positive tone of this blog post prematurely, but this is a very long post and a lot of people may drop out before getting to the end so I'm putting it at the beginning. I hope he's wrong or at least blowing it out of proportion, but it's definitely worth considering.

We arrived on Monday evening. I had come from California on a redeye, and I expected to crash in the hotel early that evening. However no such thing happened, it was already that exciting. The events at Porcfest generally culminate on the weekend, but over the years things have been getting set up earlier and earlier. In 2011 things got happening by Thursday. This year vendors were already up by Monday, maybe even Sunday.

Tuesday morning I went to Grass Fed Revolution for breakfast.

We chatted up a guy named Ben, who turned out to be a reporter for the Washington Post. He was not a libertarian, but he appeared to be having a good time none the less, and he had come with his friend who was a reporter for a DC based libertarian publication called the Washington Free Beacon. We knew how zany the antics of Porcfest are, and that it must be even more so for an outsider, so we eagerly talked with him for about an hour and told him to take notes. I drew him a crude Venn diagram of various strains of libertarian political ideology.

He got our names. Neither my name nor my diagram were ultimately mentioned in the article, but my friend Kamil was quoted. If you read it, you might imagine our disappointment with how we were characterized after such a friendly and open discussion. I guess I've learned my lesson when it comes to DC reporters. Should I have expected no better from a non-libertarian publication? Well, compare this to the Planet Money feature about Porcfest 2011. I would go so far as to say they were even nicer than they needed to be. Ben's friend, not surprisingly, put us in a much more favorable light.

A little later I ran into my friends Brian Sovryn and Stephanie Murphy. I had a nice chat with Brian about various crypto-currencies and secure communication platforms. Then I talked with a couple of guys who turned out to be former scientologists. They had not disavowed Scientology entirely, however they were against the organization. They were similar in outlook to the Free Zone folks. They seemed reasonable enough. We mostly agreed about the issue of psychiatric over-medication, but also that psychiatry is appropriate in certain cases. They just believed that Scientology offers some sort of technology that can help the average healthy person excel. We didn't talk about any religious aspects.

I saw an interesting talk about cooperative business models. This topic has been very interesting to me lately. I love the idea, but I have my doubts about the economics, particularly the fact that effective entrepreneurship is necessary for any speculative venture. One insight I gained in a discussion afterwards is that entrepreneurship can be taught to others if only they are allowed to practice it within a cooperative. I saw a talk by Mike Vine about the creation of a new regional cultural identity called Arcadia, which would exist north of New England. It would encompass New Hampshire and Vermont, and stretch all the way up into some of the eastern provinces of Canada. It turns out that there is now a Free Province Project centered around Prince Edward Island, which is part of this region. He gave some historical context for the movement, and in particular the name Arcadia.

In the evening, I ventured into what functioned as the LRN media room for the duration of Porcfest. Many podcasts and radio shows were recorded and/or broadcast from there. The show being broadcast (Internet only) at this point in time was Peace News Now, hosted by Derrick J Freeman. The guest on the show was a woman who was attending Porcfest. Earlier that day, she had decided to walk topless through the vendor area of the event, known as Agora Valley. Several people had complained to Porcfest security, which was being performed by a volunteer organization known as The Church of the Sword. The security agent strongly encouraged the woman to cover herself up. The discussion of the show centered around freedom and gender equality. However, being a libertarian show, I objected to the conflation of social freedom and political freedom. It was, after all, on private property, and rules can apply. I was invited onto the show for two segments to express my point. I don't see the broadcast on the show's site just yet, but if it shows up, it should be the episode from Tuesday, June 24 2014.

That said, I think that if Porcfest is to be an experiment in libertarian society (and many think it is) I believe that the Free State Project should make a deliberate point of releasing the reins to at least approximate a scenario with multiple adjacent property titles owned by people of differing preferences, to see how well the market and free bystanders really resolve issues peacefully and without unduly marginalizing anybody.

Later on I was hanging out outside and chatting with a group of people. At one point, one guy excused himself and started to head down the hill. A moment later we noticed he fell over. A few of us went to help him out, but he seemed content enough to be on the ground. It turned out he had consumed Bacardi 151, weed, and some shrooms. He was amazingly articulate given all of this, but he kept periodically blacking out for a few seconds at a time. I was impressed overall with the situation, because of the initiative of the bystanders, and because of the way he took our word that something was wrong, despite that he felt like he was okay. It was also a libertarian approach; no demands on him, no judgments for the drugs he took. Just a strong suggestion to convince him he needed help, and he was reasonable in kind. We helped him along to a safe place where an EMT could take his vitals, and he turned out to be fine. We concluded that he just needed some food, which he got. Later that night he got back to drinking. Live free, I guess. (Or die)

Even later that night I caught up with my friend Drew, who had just come in that evening. We had a long chat about, which he does some work for, and for which I'm the resident Bitcoin "hater". I ended up coming back to my hotel room at 3am.

That was Tuesday.

On Wednesday morning we met a very interesting Muslim. He was a white man named Will. He was from Tennessee, had a long beard, and a straw hat. He had a deep southern accent which was occasionally interrupted when very deliberately pronouncing Arabic or Indian words. His wife is Gujarati, and he was cooking Indian food. He had set up a mosque tent, which I believe was used by a couple other Muslims in attendance. He was keen on smoking his "hillbilly weed". He explained to us that the only reason there is a ban on marijuana in many Muslim communities is that hundreds of years ago it was used as a political tool in a certain region to marginalize the Sufi population who were fond of hashish. This is a technique that was arguably copied in the United States vis a vis the Mexican population. He told us that he had interviewed four "rockstar" imams on the subject, and they at least agreed that medical cannabis was acceptable. I don't recall what he said about recreational.

The interesting talks that day were the Hacking Facilitation talk, and the Mesh Networking talk. The former was basically about how to run a meeting and making sure nobody is marginalized, nor dominates the conversation. The presenter's experience was from Occupy Boston, but she later applied it to professional scenarios. The Mesh Networking talk was basically an introduction to the subject, but at the end there was talk of organizing a mesh network for Porcfest 2015, which I tentatively plan to try to organize.

One of the fun aspects of Porcfest is the use of alternative currencies. Silver and Bitcoin are the most popular. This year a couple vendors accepted Dogecoin. I wanted to trade an ounce of silver for some Doge, but it was hard to find someone to trade with. I had the idea of creating a Currency Exchange Board, a simple sign-up board to find people who wanted to make a trade. I set off to the local small town hardware store, and sure enough they had what I needed. I set up the board near the Bitcoin Not Bombs tent, and even made some advertisements around the campground the next day. It was a very minor success, but it was still fulfilling to contribute to the Porcfest economy. However, in the end I got my Doge though a personal introduction instead.

I also relearned a lesson about the market, which is to pay attention to the behavior of your customers. This board was repurposed as a craigslist of sorts, to sell phones. Later it even turned into Craigslist Missed Connections: a lady who made bitcoin earrings in response to a comment I made at Porcfest 2011 wanted to show them to me. She learned that I was the one who created this board, and used it to get my attention.

Interesting antics that day included a guy in a loin cloth. Apparently that did not warrant a chat with the Church of the Sword. Also, it was rumored that Chris Cantwell was on the pemesis. He had been banned from Porcfest for writing brazen blog posts supporting killing police officers (in certain situations), and also apparently being a drunken mess at last year's Porcfest.

The main event that night was the Big Goth Dance Party, a Porcfest first and hopefully not last. I talked to a guy who wore a KMFDM shirt (I'm a fan). There was also a guy wearing a Pinochet shirt. He was likely the only person at Porcfest who was a fan of a dictator. Afterwards I went to hang out in The Satoshi Saloon, and ended up signing the Statement of Intent to move to New Hampshire for the Free State Project. I also had an interesting chat with a Russian lady who had attended, if I recall correctly, almost every Porcfest.

On Thursday, the interesting talks were about Thick vs Thin libertarianism, and an abortion debate. The abortion debate apparently had started well before Porcfest in the Facebook comments section as soon as it was announced. Ultimately it ended when somebody commented "let's save this for Porcfest where everybody is drunk and armed". Fortunately or not, the actual debate didn't generate any sparks, it was just a sharing of various perspectives and hopeful future solutions. At night, a group of us went to a small private musical performance at a campfire by Jordan Page, who played in one of the official event tents later in the week.

On Friday I was running out of silver and Federal Reserve Notes, so I ended up spending some of my bitcoin on eggs. The only bitcoin I had was from being paid for writing a few anti-Bitcoin blog posts on, so I was reluctant to spend much of it. Later that day I found a way to avoid going into town for an ATM by buying silver pieces from the Suns of Liberty Mint with PayPal.

Though there had been no confirmed sightings, Chris Cantwell's presence was felt at Porcfest that day:

These posters, it turned out, were put up by his lackeys, he never showed up. They were vandalized over the course of the week. I'm by no means a fan of Cantwell, but I found all this to be quite funny.

There was a PGP key signing party. The guy running it wanted to bring his own SKS server but forgot. However I actually had one on a Raspberry Pi that I brought. The party was sort of a mess in the end, though. These things are pretty hard to run smoothly. I attended a workshop to learn basic CPR. Turns out that there are defibrillators which are very easy to use these days, located in most large establishments. I watched part of an episode of The Bitcoin Group get recorded. The Friday keynote speakers were Nick Gillespie, who spoke on the wonders of Pop Tarts, and Joel Salatin, who spoke on the wonders of organic food.

That night was the Big Gay Dance Party, which is the biggest event at Porcfest and by now an annual tradition. Around the time this was getting started, Porcfest received a surprise appearance by none other than Vermin Supreme!

I chatted with him after the party. It turns out that he's more of a socialist anarchist, though he doesn't have a problem with markets. His main concern with libertarians was that he believes that mutual aid (not charity) is paramount to a successful free society. However he came to be comfortable with the Free State crowd when he saw that they actually practiced mutual aid. Not many left-anarchists, at least the ones I've seen on the Internet, seem to have any tolerance for anarcho-capitalists, so it's nice to see that we can find more in common than we think once we get to know each other.

On Saturday, we watched a talk by Lyn Ulbricht, mother of Ross Ulbricht, who is accused of being the former proprietor of the Tor-based drug market Silk Road. She related a message from him to us, saying that, with our help, he hopes to attend Porcfest 2015. Seems unlikely to me, but aim high, I suppose. Jeffrey Tucker spoke as well, in his usual uplifting tone, about how technology will soon outpace the state's ability to regulate it, ultimately ending in the state's collapse. However it depends on us continuing to create the technology. Bitcoin was the obvious example. I had a chance to have a very brief chat with him, as well as Nick Gillespie, who was still around that day.

Later that day there was a panel talk called How Not To Be A Creepertarian. It was an excellent open and understanding conversation about socially awkward male libertarians, and the women who are made uncomfortable by their advances and lack of ability to interpret social cues. I wish this sort of tone could be taken in the San Francisco tech scene (which, granted, faces somewhat different problems) but that seems to have devolved into mutual hostility.

Later, Jeffrey Tucker was seen performing in a (painfully long) play called The Night of January 16th by Ayn Rand. This was amusing to me because many years ago he performed in a play written by Murray Rothbard, making fun of Ayn Rand, called Mozart Was a Red.

I chatted with a vendor who was selling various 3d printed ornaments, including jewelry made of pieces of the functioning 3D printable gun, the Liberator. He had a holstered copy of this gun, in Porcupine black and yellow. Elsewhere at Porcfest, there was a "rifle raffle" for an AR10.

Saturday's keynote was done by Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne. He is of interest to the libertarian movement because of his push to get to accept bitcoin. Interesting to note that he was also involved in some lawsuits against some Wall Street hedge funds (which rendered applause from the libertarian crowd; leftists take note). He was warned that he would be the subject of federal investigations in retaliation, and sure enough he was the subject of six of them (and cleared on all of them, if I recall correctly). However, his talk was mainly about the history of (classical) liberal philosophy. He starts the lineage from the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament, and explained that liberal philosophy developed in Holland before it came to England. (I later approached him to ask if he'd read the seemingly blatant libertarian passages in the Tao Te Ching, and he had.) He also mentioned Snowcrash as an "anarcho-capitalist handbook".

That night was Liberty Feud, hosted by Robert Murphy, which was basically Family Feud where the survey was taken among Porcfest attendees. I had a couple great conversations that night, including clarifying an economics question with Robert Murphy, and discussing general libertarian views with Jonathan Waller, a British dude from Japan. My night ended at the campfire at four in the morning, where somebody was selling jello shots to fund a political campaign.

All in all it was an intense yet relaxing week. So much went on that it felt like two weeks, and by the end of it I all but forgot what I did for a living. In some ways it feels like coming home for a week once a year. The specter of a police raid notwithstanding, hopefully this convinces some libertarians out there to check it out next year.