Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Bleeding Heart Libertarianism

I confess freely that I might be accurately described as a "bleeding heart libertarian."

I honestly believe that it is an objective good to care about my fellow man, his health, her welfare, their socioeconomic outcomes. But unlike a liberal, I will not try to convince either you or myself that is a purely altruistic concern, or that you should put their welfare before your own.

I believe that because I believe it to be rather obvious that my personal welfare and that of my neighbors and fellows are inextricably entangled, and that the only sure way to ensure my rights and to meet my needs is to be rather insistent about theirs not being infringed.

Indeed, I would much rather be loud and obnoxious about trespasses against others than against myself. It means I can meet the enemy on the ground of my own choosing. My tender concern here is better advised by Sun Tsu than by Mother Theresa, frankly.

Liberty is in many ways a paradoxical concept. Frankly, liberty is made possible by choices and most of our choices are made possible by infrastructure and agreements made, held and maintained in common, which, unavoidably, are enforced by regulations by one means or another; in secular societies, short of truly unreasonable expectations of one's fellow man, that regulation and infrastructure is provided by and overseen by government; a body which in my view of libertarian philosophy is the "trusted third party" in any exchange of value.

As a Libertarian, I believe in a free market, by which I mean a market in which all persons are able to participate on an equal footing, trading what they have for what they wish at a fair rate of exchange so that everyone involved feels as if they got the better end of the deal. If that sounds like an idealized and highly simplified description of capitalism, it is. It's also, you may note, an idealized description of Communism, in that it really is "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs." If you ignore the ugly black Marx on the idea, it's pretty much the definition of a fair trade within a properly regulated free market. "I do this, I need that. You have that, and you need this." It works fine, every day in every small town in North America - though of course none would call it Socialist, much less Communist.

(There may be a lesson in this as to what happens when you try to make common sense compulsory, inasmuch as those who see the need pretty obviously have none to begin with and are therefor bound to fail by definition.)

Nonetheless, left to their own devices, and without the advantage of the information provided them by Limbaugh and various free-lance parasites of the left and the right, the idea that co-operation is a lot easier and a lot better and for damn sure cheaper than conflict is pretty obvious.

Communism and Capitalism as philosophies useful for the exploitation of others assume that "needs" are a negotiable, or subject to the definition of others. A cynical, free market, second-amendment absolutist like I realizes that the only way in which MY actual needs are negotiable or definable to YOUR advantage is this - if you get in the way of my needs, how much damage are you prepared to suffer and inflict before one of us meets their needs over the dead body of the other

Civilization is a means of meeting basic needs without violence, and even more importantly, without the overhead of having to prepare to defend against it on a routine basis. Any political philosophy (and depressingly, that seems to be all of them, including the political party disguised as the Southern Baptist Conference) that willfully denies this reality will sooner or later experience some form of hot lead enema, and is therefore by definition worth less to any sensible being considerably less than the powder required to blow them to hell. It's a bitterly obvious truth that the usual response to this clearly obvious calculation is to artificially inflate the price of powder, rather than the real worth of the philosopher.

I don't know about you, but I have a very basic need to avoid hot lead enemas. Therefore, at the most basic level, I try my best to arrange things so that meeting MY needs does not require denying others having their needs met. Aside from being a Libertarian, I'm a lazy bastard, and I don't want to work that hard just to break even. And that, folks, is what zero-sum politics is, a situation in which a consistant break-even would be the only rational strategy - except that, of course, the cost of being in the game in the first place makes break-even strategies impossible. The only way to truly win, then, is to create conditions in which all the other suckers in the game lose.

Unless you are smart enough to realize that it's stupid to play that game. And frankly, you don't have to be all that smart to realize that, or to choose to play a non-zero-sum game.

As someone who does not let dogma and wishful thinking blind him to reality, I observe and argue that an "unregulated free market" is a contradiction in terms. Sooner rather than later, someone will realize that by cheating they will gain an advantage. This means that everyone else must play dirty - or not play at all. So now we DO have regulation - and it sucks. Further, that means that the ultimate question of who prospers is not the person who brings the best product, service or idea to the table, but the person who is able to use force most effectively to reduce the options of others.

Virtual though this force is, it cannot be argued that it is in any effective sense different in outcome than a fist to the face or a gun to the head. This, then, brings the ideal of "lazez-faire Capitalism" into focus as being an inherent violation of the Libertarian ideal of "non-initiation of force," because in Lazez-fair Capitalism, the winner is determined by who uses their force first and most effectively. Whether or not this exception is well understood or admitted by libertarians to my "right," it is nonetheless an obvious thing - and it brings an obvious libertarian response to the fore.

"The fact that you act as if you have the right to use force against me to gain my co-operation entitles me to use such tactics and such means of evasion, retaliation or subversion as I think best, without consideration of the consequences to you or yours."

Civilization developed, to explore a third option; the attractive possibility of banding together, hunting down the cheatin' bastards and prevent them by such means seem expedient from ever doing that again. After all, a rogue war-lord or President is no less dangerous than a rogue cougar. It could easily be argued that he's a lot MORE dangerous - a rogue cougar can kill only one person at a time, and won't kill more than they actually need to eat.

This cannot be said of George Bush.

Or, in all fairness, of Bill Clinton; who's record in terms of the use of military force for political advantage is only better in terms of having a lower body count.

That pretty much sums up the social and political climate we live in at the moment. Charitably, it is a clusterfuck. And I have to say, some of the worst offenders in terms of justifying the underpinnings of this particular clusterfuck are my fellow Libertarians.

The problem, of course, is that most self-described Libertarians are no more libertarian than most people who call themselves conservatives are Conservative. They are, indeed, as genuinely rare as Democrats that actually value the exercise of democracy. That is to say, only to the extent that the the philosophy enables them to play a zero-sum game at the expense of their fellows. No person who truly values liberty can in consonance deny it to others save when those others confuse liberty with the license to prey upon others. Then, those that value liberty should view those persons for what they truly are - their most personal and immediate enemies, who will have to be dealt with, sooner or later, by one means or another.

Because we, as a people, are lazy, short sighted, intemperate, selfish, uninformed and more than willing to allow ourselves to be shat upon in the name of "a little security," we have come to accept, somehow, that we deserve no better leaders than we have.

After all, we would have to choose to be worthy - to expect of ourselves standards that would allow us to hold our leaders to them without feeling like total asses.

So we live in a culture - using the term in the loosest sense - where a "libertarian" values his liberty in comparison and by means of denying as much liberty to others as they can manage, where a "democrat" values democracy only to the extent where it can be contrived to achieve predetermined conclusions, and where "republicans" are terrified of the consequences of permitting the election of representative representatives from the states to the Grand Old Republic.

Our political leaders can only compare themselves favorably, it seems, to televangelists, in terms of living up to the terms of their implied contracts with their social constituents. Certainly polls agree that in general, that's our opinion of them. But then, while having adulterous affairs with the vulnerable and under-aged may be no great recommendation for higher office, it is not a disqualification by definition.

But we accept that standard in our moral leadership, while proudly proclaiming, "This is a Christian Nation." Well, yeah, by THOSE standards!

It seems the more "Christian" you wish to be seen to be, the more likely it is that you are actively guilty of something that should disqualify you from being christian by definition.. Well, people get the leaders they deserve; and the church has no immunity in that respect. Pardon me if I cordially refuse to follow your leaders, political or moral.

You could contract a social disease that way, as one of the better possible outcomes.

Goodness, we have come to a point in our culture where we have begun to reasonably suspect that those who most deride drug usage use drugs by definition, that those who moralize the loudest against sexual misconduct are perps by definition and worst of all, even so cynically believing and accepting this truism as having far more truth to it than it should - we have yet to punish those most conspicuously guilty of such outrages in any significant way.

Well, folks. I don't think it's particularly prideful of me to say that I'm an exception, and to the extent possible I try to hold others accountable to an acceptable standard of behavior that is nonetheless more forgiving than what I expect of myself.

And that, folks, is what makes both civilization AND a decent degree of individual freedom possible at all - the expectation that we will each first govern ourselves, that we will ensure that we, at least, are not examples of what we should most despise - and therefore not be shy of expecting the same of those who think themselves qualified to lead and worthy of being an example to others.
"Evil flourishes when good men do nothing." -Edmund Burke

Well, that should be good men and women - and not because I'm being politically correct. It's because I'm pointing out that we should expect twice the response that Burke could.

I ask of you, my good fellows of all genders; how deep does it have to get before you decide to start doing something about the evil seeping into your life?

"What can I do" is a stupid response. Noticing, pointing, and grabbing either a virtual mop or a virtual rifle is what is required. If it's gotten to the point where it's grown teeth and is attempting to eat your children - such as the evil of this war most certainly is - it's due to you and your failure as a citizen, just as it is mine. Let us at least try to act before the virtual must become actual, and our only choices are reduced to which end of the gun we are on.

This IS a Republic, with a Constitution, with rights taken with blood and thunder from the cold dead hands of people no worse than those occupying Washington right now. How ELSE could it be? And how could you possibly defend the right to expect anything better at this point in time?

I am a bleeding-heart Libertarian, and I would GREATLY prefer not to suffer so. I hate seeing the rights of my fellows and their economic options reduced by those too greedy and stupid to realize that they are twirling their mustaches in glee on their way to their own private Armageddon, the place of decision where the only decision left to the great majority will be which of that most arrogant, foolish and careless minority will first to go up against that wall. The fact that they undoubtedly deserve such an outcome does not make me willing to pay the price of enforcing it. I would much rather that enough were dragged kicking and screaming into the light by their moral and intellectual betters - that would be you - to make a difference.

It's a damn foolish thing to get between a free person and their needs. The only thing more foolish is to think that standing anywhere NEAR such a fool is an insurable position. Our Museums of History are littered with the shattered artifacts that sort of fool bought to commemorate their "victory" over those they thought sufficiently oppressed. But then, perhaps that is why our dear social betters are so resistant to the funding of those museums. Denial comes in many forms, does it not?

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