Learn Liberty: First, when did you join the Learn Liberty team and what is your role?
Sloane Shearman: I came to work at Learn Liberty shortly after I graduated, in September 2013. As part of the Digital Strategy team, I work closely with Learn Liberty producers throughout the video creation process to help us reach as many liberty-lovers as possible.
LL: How did you find your way to the philosophy of liberty? Are there any thinkers in particular that got the ball rolling?
SS: I was working as a counselor on a crisis and basic needs hotline during the 2012 election when I first started critically evaluating public policy and the political system. I made friends of varying political stripes and ideologies, one of whom gave me a copy of Frédéric Bastiat’s “What is Seen and What is Unseen.” I finally had an answer for the inefficacy and absurdity that I saw within government-run aid organizations, though their workers and supporters were often the kindest of people. The essay radically changed my worldview, and I couldn’t return to my former way of thinking.
LL: What are you reading right now?
SS: I try to always be reading one nonfiction and one fiction book at a time. Nonfiction: Good Profit by Charles G. Koch. I’m fascinated by how he uses a scientific mindset to drive his visions, personally and professionally. Fiction: We the Animals by Justin Torres, which was given to me by a friend for my birthday. It’s a short novel, but the prose is so enchanting I already know I’ll read it again.
LL: What’s your favorite Learn Liberty video and why?
SS: It’s a tough call, but I’d have to say “Acts of Resistance: Warsaw’s Blinking Lights.” The video tells the story of how Radio Free Poland communicated the ideas of freedom while under the oppressive Soviet regime. I’ve always been deeply moved by stories of rebels, resistors, and happened to be reading the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman at the time (much of which is set in Poland under another oppressive regime- Nazi occupation). Paired with Lindy Vopnfjord’s amazing music, it’s an unforgettable illustration of Learned Hand’s reminder, “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it[.]”
LL: If you could have a lively dinner conversation with any three classically liberal thinkers, living or dead, who would they be?
SS: Leonard Read, the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and author of works such as “I, Pencil.” I greatly admire his philosophy, and the tenacity with which he lived it: that individuals could change the world, and that they could be found anywhere- the ivory tower, high schools, the local bar, on airplanes, or anywhere else.
Friedrich Hayek, Austrian economist and Nobel Prize Winner. My desk is next to his image and his quote, “We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage.” I keep a copy of his essay “The Intellectuals and Socialism” on my desk, which I find increasingly relevant in the age of the internet, when there are few experts and many opinions. I’d like to ask him what revisions, if any, he would make to his framework of social change today in light of evolving institutions- such as the rise of Silicon Valley and the precipitous state of higher education.
Last, but certainly not least, would be Alexis de Tocqueville. I read Democracy in America last year and have been haunted by it since. The nature of Tocqueville’s prophetic wisdom is disquieting- he’s not an author to seek when looking for certainty. His tenuous nuance, however, has affected my thinking greatly and I am better for it. I hold him in particular regard for his recognition that strong communities and their secondary institutions are necessary for a free society.
LL: What music have you been listening to lately?
SS: I recently “discovered” Andrew Bird, so lots of his work, on repeat. I bounce around, but recently that’s meant Sylvan Esso, Metric, Pinback, Cloakroom, and Tycho. When I’m writing or doing art I prefer cello music, like Break of Reality or Zoe Keating.
LL: If you were in charge of government and had the power to unilaterally change one government policy permanently which one would you change and why?
SS: It isn’t a piece of legislation, but I’d eradicate what’s called “rational basis review” among appellate courts within SCOTUS’s jurisprudence. Under rational basis review, courts evaluate laws- such as those to do with education, employment/occupational licensing, or other unenumerated rights- to determine whether they further a legitimate government purpose hypothetically or in reality. That means that if someone (such as industry insiders) can convince a court that being a florist is so dangerous it needs to be licensed, hundreds of people could be out of a job. It is an insult to the judicial branch and the purpose it serves in a constitutional government.
LL: What does liberty mean to you in one sentence?
SS: Liberty is waking up in the morning and knowing that your life is the result of your choices, your efforts; the opportunity to build your life as you want it to be.
LL: What’s the best movie you’ve seen in the last year?
SS: I recently watched The Lives of Others and it affected me profoundly. The story is of a Stasi agent in East Berlin assigned to surveil a playwright and his girlfriend, an actress. I’ve always been attracted to artists, writers, scientists, poets, engineers- dangerous people, to those who would try to control or oppress them. I was impacted for that reason, of course, but also for the optimism it provides in the character of the Stasi agent- but I won’t ruin the film for you.
LL: Do you have a favorite pro-liberty quote?
SS: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” -Albert Camus