Vince Miller, As I Knew Him

Sunni's picture

I didn’t know Vince Miller very well on a personal level, despite working fairly closely with him at Free-Market.Net. But that experience—along with others, of course—truly revealed the measure of the man. It’s still very difficult to try to put all my rambling thoughts together, particularly since front and center is my keen pain at not having let Vince know what I think of him ... but it’s important to me to try.

I’d known of the International Society for Individual Liberty long before they bought FMN, but it took me a while to grok what they did. Most of FMN’s other partner organizations were more traditional think tanks, focusing on public policy in some way, which usually meant focusing on politics—trying to sway public opinion in order to “improve” laws and lawmakers. Even though I held some disdain for that approach even while I was an FMN editor, seeing so much of that kind of leashitarianism gave me a sort of blindness to what ISIL was doing. They published pamphlets, as I discovered after something I wrote was included in one, to my surprise; and they were behind getting that Jonathan Gullible book into myriad languages—but what did all that really do?

I got a peek into what it accomplished after Lobo returned from his first ISIL conference; and then more after his first time teaching at the Liberty English Camps. At the same time, I was working with Vince at FMN ... but it wasn’t until much later that I began to comprehend how much of him is manifest in these projects, and many more. As I’ve said, I can’t claim to know Vince’s history well; others who do have written movingly about several elements of Vince’s life. Tim Starr put it very well, when he stated [at that last link in the previous sentence] that “Vince made ISIL the ‘Johnny Appleseed’ of the freedom movement ...”. Rather than prescripting and proscripting how individuals “should” live, ISIL addressed the core issue: the value and necessity of liberty in a person’s life. In doing so, Vince’s primary metric seems to have been whether a proposed idea advanced individual liberty or not.

Largely due to the uncertainty and tensions that carried over from FMN’s demise, working with Vince wasn’t always easy. He was concerned about financial aspects of the deal, and understandably so; I (and others at FMN, I’m sure) was very concerned about not being a drain on ISIL too. I also was focused on trying to heal relationships damaged in the fallout of Free-Market.Net. Vince’s seeming cluelessness—or perhaps, lack of interest and care—regarding the politics of FMN and especially Freedom News Daily was frustrating at times. For someone like me, who’d easily transitioned from paper to the wonderful world of electronic communications, the fact that Vince invested significant time printing out ISIL material himself seemed an agonizing waste of his considerable talents. I only now see that his time spent printing was probably an enjoyable retreat for him.

Thus, the difficulties were primarily centered on means, rather than ends. Every time we spoke or emailed, Vince was calm, focused, and upbeat. At first, his comments invoking “Saint Ayn”, as he frequently called Ayn Rand, were a minor irritation to this recovering Randroid; after I’d detoxed completely, I found it ironically amusing on several levels. Vince’s stories about his exploits “at church”—his Sunday shooting sessions—were thoroughly amusing. Since we shared an interest in firearms, we hoped to go shooting together; but, despite Vince attending a Liberty Round Table conclave, it sadly didn’t happen.

As I got to know Vince better, and see him in action, I recognized that many of our differences were mostly due to different strengths, talents, and/or habits, rather than anything substantive. One thing he helped me realize was how much of the FMN and FND drama that had seemed so important to me at the time was really just egos preening and often, competing with other egos. That sort of thing was entirely absent in all of my interactions with Vince. Despite all of his contributions to the freedom movement, I never once heard him so much as hint that anyone owed him anything for his efforts. He never spoke of taking credit, nor of someone else stealing his or ISIL’s accolades—he seemed focused on getting things done, not any sort of score-keeping. Vince’s approach also seemed to go the vaunted “voluntary cooperation” mantra one better: ISIL collaborated with many individuals and pro-freedom organizations, thereby practically guaranteeing ongoing interest in a project. One of my favorite such projects is the Philosophy of Liberty flash animation, created by the late Lux Lucre (Kerry Pearson) and based on Ken Schoolland’s written words. As is the case with Ken’s Jonathan Gullible book, that simple but profound flash has been translated into many languages. I was thrilled when the Georgian version was unveiled at the Lessons of Liberty Camp last year.

Focusing on liberty worldwide also struck a deep chord within me. As a child, I saw through the shallow pride of nationalism and rejected it; and I daresay it has long been a source of bewilderment to some of my friends in The Family that I do not share their view that the USSA is necessarily the best place for freedom to perform a phoenix act. I had suspected that the desire for freedom burned brightly in other places, and had a rather indistinct sense of being right via working at FMN and with ISIL; but I really had no idea how brightly it burns until I participated in the aforementioned Georgia camp, as well as the Lithuania Liberty English Camp last year. Feeling that desire from the students as well as many of the organizers—even when the language barrier wasn’t successfully surmounted—and helping to feed it with information and ideas remains a powerful motivation for me. And I don’t think it’s exaggeration to credit ISIL fully for those experiences. My life has been so enriched by my participation, and moreso by wonderful friends whose paths would not have crossed mine if not for the camps.

I know I’m rambling ... many of these thoughts came to my mind not as part of a eulogy, but rather as things I’d wanted to tell Vince after he emerged from that medically-induced coma to help treat his respiratory problems. I knew that was a serious step, but I thought—probably like Vince himself when he made the decision, as well as many other friends and well-wishers—that the odds of things turning out the way they have were pretty slim. And despite my efforts to try to organize things better, explain more clearly, I just don’t think I can ... in retrospect, I think that, just as Vince was an unassuming but powerful individual, his influence upon my thinking and approach to liberty went unrecognized for a long time. It really wasn’t until I started thinking about all this, upon hearing about Vince’s illness, that much of these rambling thoughts started to come together, and I started to really grok what ISIL is about—and by extension, what Vince’s life work was.

I’ve been in an ongoing blog conversation over the past couple of weeks that, among other things, has focused on differing perspectives on personal freedom. For one participant, “personal” seems to center on relationships, and more specifically, cutting down or eliminating relationships with statists who are threats to living free. I understand that focus well; but to me that seems a very narrow view of personal freedom. It also seems, among other things, an invitation to make purity issues a nasty battleground among individuals who should be cooperating, and collaborating, much more than we seem to be.

To my mind, Vince Miller’s life is an excellent example of what I mean by pursuing personal freedom: living life the way one wants with little regard for the chains the state tries to set upon one; and finding or creating ways to eliminate false barriers between individuals from different cultures, relgions, nations, or other groups, and then working collaboratively to advance freedom in economic and other ways. My understanding is that Vince could have probably had a prosperous life, pursuing printing and related businesses that he enjoyed and had skill at. Instead he chose to made advancing freedom for all peaceful individuals his life’s work. Given the way he lived his life, the pleasure he took in what he did, I don’t think he had any regrets about his choice.

The word hero seems to me to be lightly bandied about these days, especially on another pro-freedom site doubtless familiar to many of you reading this ... arch an eyebrow at a statist and earn the label there, it appears. But that word has never been used lightly by me; and individuals do sometimes lose that status for me. Over the several days it has taken me to stumble these words out, I have realized that Vince Miller is a hero to me, as much for the things he has accomplished as for his way of being throughout it all. Vince was not a perfect person—there is no such thing—but his positive perspective and unwavering devotion to real personal liberty, with no celebrity attitude about him, recommend him as an excellent role model at the least. I cannot repay Vince; but I can do as he did—“pay it forward”, in whatever ways I can. Certainly they are on a much smaller scale than his; but every bit helps.

hope...

Sadly, I not only didn't know Vince, I didn't know he existed until I read the first notice of his declining health. I suspect there are many like that in the freedom community, and it's too bad we can't get to know them better when it might count.

By that I mean that some of us get discouraged and even bitter because we may see so little that seems like progress or even hope of progress. Far too many of us have little or no understanding of who or how many around the world are also looking for liberty - or who may already be finding it!

I've never held that America is the "only" hope for liberty in the world, heaven knows, but I have seen and heard little to indicate anything else - and I welcome with open arms any information that can give us hope that we in America are not alone.

Perhaps it would be of great service to liberty, and to those who labor for it, to explore and document the efforts of others in the world. I would publish and post that sort of information across the full spectrum of the liberty community, and I suspect that many others would do likewise.

You did write some about your experience in the camp last year. Perhaps you could expand on it, and - just perhaps - you might encourage some of those you met there to share their experiences with us. What a gold mine! :)

Perhaps ... sometime in the future ...

Perhaps it would be of great service to liberty, and to those who labor for it, to explore and document the efforts of others in the world. I would publish and post that sort of information across the full spectrum of the liberty community, and I suspect that many others would do likewise.

My direct experience in this area is very limited. I’d hoped to return this year and gather more data, so to speak ... but that wasn’t to be. Part of the reason why I invited The White Russian and later, Polka, to become conspirators was in hopes of them sharing their stories as well as freedom-oriented news from their respective parts of the world; but like everyone else, they’re busy. I recently learned that The White Russian is now an entrepreneur—so she’s even busier than before.

I did promise more information regarding my adventures ... so perhaps I will tell some tales in the coming weeks. Now, to your other comment, emphasis mine:

I've never held that America is the "only" hope for liberty in the world, heaven knows, but I have seen and heard little to indicate anything else - and I welcome with open arms any information that can give us hope that we in America are not alone.

I suspect the name “Ayn Rand” will ring a bell for most visitors here. ;-) Her white-hot hatred of collectivism did not originate in the USSA—it was her experiences in Russia that fired her passion. I’ve been out of the family network for a while, but James Shikwati is someone who’s a champion of liberty in a very unlikely place—Africa.

I can’t say much more at present ... my mind is close to full with projects and concerns and thoughts. When I’m in this condition focusing is a challenge. I think I’ll bask in the sun and enjoy the garden for a bit.