Review: A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

I apologise to whoever recommended this book in the comments but I can’t recall who it was! Thank you anyway, as this book is delightful.

The town of Grafton in New Hampshire has (according to this book) been a somewhat independent sort of place, keen on low taxes and small government. It has also been a town with a long history with bears. Hongoltz-Hetling tracks the history of the “Free Town” project where some internet libertarians got it into their heads to tray and concentrate their numbers in a single town.

For details of some of the shenanigans (and the impact on bears) this article in the New Republic covers a lot of ground.

“But tracking headlines on human-bear encounters in New England in his capacity as a regional journalist in the 2000s, Hongoltz-Hetling noticed something distressing: The black bears in Grafton were not like other black bears. Singularly “bold,” they started hanging out in yards and on patios in broad daylight. Most bears avoid loud noises; these casually ignored the efforts of Graftonites to run them off. Chickens and sheep began to disappear at alarming rates. Household pets went missing, too. One Graftonite was playing with her kittens on her lawn when a bear bounded out of the woods, grabbed two of them, and scarfed them down. Soon enough, the bears were hanging out on porches and trying to enter homes.”

The author even brings in some speculation around the role of toxoplasmosis in the events — the parasitic disease carried by cats that may have behavioural impacts on infected mammals. With the local bear population consuming a proportion of the town’s cats, maybe bear behaviour was being impacted by more than just inconsistent human reactions to the encroaching bears.

More broadly and more pertinently to some of the previous topics of this blog, the book charts the impact of a community dealing with right-wing entryism as a means of affecting political change. Prior to the town’s experience with the libertarians (and very much the wackier kind rather than the Republicans just pretending kind) the Moonies had also once set up shop there as well.

The tone of the book is wry, humorous and sympathetic towards the often eccentric and independent minded citizens of Grafton. That relatively gentle tone shifts when the inevitable encounters of humans and bears turns more violent. There are many distressing aspects to the story as inevitably there are cases of violence and neglect towards humans, domestic animals and wild animals (and from wild animals too…and from domestic animals as well in the case of one very protective llama versus an intrusive bear).

And as I was writing this review, the day’s XKCD popped up with a synchronicitous topic:

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8 responses to “Review: A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling”

  1. Well, if xkcd’s punch line was true, we’d have bears around all the time whenever anyone mentions King Arthur. Stomping around eating novelists, members of Monty Python, users of a highly-regarded flour to make quarantine loaves.

    I typed the above a couple of hours ago and then fell into Linguistics Twitter, which I have only now emerged from.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s a tad bit anglo-centric to assume that the “true name of the bear” is what the Indo-European root would have become if it had survived (but with sound shifts) into modern English, rather than, say, the Indo-European root word itself or the root word in some other language tree.


    • Yeah, xkcd gets some interesting reach. At least in part because Randall Monroe keeps finding or getting asked weird questions and he’s willing to go out and find people who would actually be capable of answering them. Just go through the ‘What If?’ archives there to see him describing adventures in finding somebody who might actually know how to answer something.

      Of course, it’s hardly his first brush with languages, either, given that he’s friends with Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics fame) who studied computational linguistics in University.

      Liked by 3 people

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