Eulogy for Steve Kangas

Last updated 03/18/07.

Published on: February 24, 1999

Over the past 25 years, I've had many electronic friendships, friendships established through computer chat, mail, and now the web. But never have I established such a political kinship and strong working relationship as with Steve Kangas.

Just under three years ago, I received some admiring email about my Critiques Of Libertarianism site from Steve, which began our friendship. He had just encountered libertarian arguments the hard way: he had argued with David Friedman (one of the few decent anarcho-capitalist theorists.) He directed me to his web site where I found the beginnings of Liberalism Resurgent.

The reason Steve and I saw so eye-to-eye was very straightforward: we were both skeptics. We arrived at our positions and defenses not because of ideology, but from our desire to reject obvious false claims. We made a good team. Steve specialized in the latest real-world social research that supported populist liberalism. I specialized in the philosophical and theoretical faults in conservative arguments, and the practical presentation to internet audiences. Two different skeptical routes lead us to much the same conclusions.

Working together with Steve was entirely different than arguing with his public persona. I've reviewed my mail from the first 6 months I knew Steve: 128 messages, dealing with all aspects of constructing and promoting his site, and no arguments. Steve was playful, and had a wicked sense of humor. I'd make suggestions for reorganization, readability, new arguments, things that should have been removed, etc., and in a few hours or days a document would be reworked and resent to me. One or two of the documents underwent 5 revisions to boil them down, keep them on target, and give them punch. It was exhilarating: Steve was doing prodigious work, work that I had always wanted to see accomplished, and he was doing it in ways I would not have thought of myself. I was really happy to contribute.

But the real benefit to both of us was that we were working on a joint, coherent world-view. His needs for his documents drove me to better understand my own ideas and their implications. We both enjoyed numerous "aha" moments as we punctured standard conservative and libertarian arguments with new (to us) understandings. Many of those are described in Myth: No one has a right to my property. We used almost everything we discussed. The only project we didn't pursue was my idea for a graphic symbol of liberalism: three hands in scissors, paper, and stone positions, representing balance of powers.

Steve recruited me to Suite101. Sneaky guy: he first asked me to criticize a post on the 2001 hypothesis, knowing that I'd want to skewer it. Then he pointed me at his politics articles, and engineered encouragement for me to take an editor's topic. His Progressive Politics topic doesn't seem to be available at the moment: I'd like to see Suite101 resurrect it and preserve it in memory of Steve. They need to have a place for defunct topics, if only so that past discussions can be searched and links can be made to the old articles. Or else his articles ought to be copied to where ever his Liberalism Resurgent site ends up. (It won't be lost in the long run: a number of us have made backups to reinstall depending on the fate of the current site.)

Steve was a militant atheist. He was outraged at the vast harms committed by the fraud of religion, both in history and in his own personal and family experience. His religious skepticism developed around adolescence, as it does with many of us, a sense of outrage at having been mislead by those we trusted. A section of his

Long FAQ On Liberalism is devoted to this as well.

For the past year or so, Steve was hot on the trail of a major conspiracy theory of his, involving CIA relationships with big business and major conservative foundations. He gave a general outline of his ideas in The Origins of the Overclass. Steve apparently worked on his site until mere days before his death, and had long term plans to turn it into one or more books.

Thus, it's very strange that Steve should be found dead in a 39th floor bathroom at One Oxford Centre, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, immediately outside the offices of 4 ultraconservative Scaife Foundations. An apparent suicide, with alcohol and handgun. It takes rather strong corroborative proof to make me consider conspiracy theories, but I do wonder about this one.

I never met Steve physically: the closest I came was a few lengthy phone calls. He seemed a very independent guy, revelling in his ability to pursue his own chosen ends, to follow his own convictions. I well remember being that way myself: its pleasures and its loneliness. We never discussed his personal position much: we were too excited by the subjects we worked on in common, and he sounded so optimistic about his future plans. Perhaps he didn't know how much he was appreciated, respected, and valued. It's so easy for guys not to share that way.

Ironically, about three years ago Steve told me that a friend of his had tried to commit suicide, and that he was wondering much to try to help her. I told him: "While you're not going to be responsible for her, you might wish for the rest of your life that you had had an opportunity to help, as I have wished for a dear friend who committed suicide when I was 21. I just hadn't known he was depressed or likely to commit suicide, and have wished that I could have tried to talk him down." I have this very sad feeling of deja vue. I'll truly miss Steve.

[NB: Steve's old Liberalism topic has been made available.] Counter image omitted.

Copyright 2001 by Mike Huben ( mhuben@world.std.com ).