Dispatches from the Suburbs of Hell

Heaven is for the obedient. Hell is for the wrathful. What of the ones in between? We wind up in the Suburbs. Our sin is individuality. Our punishment is boredom. But at least we're in good company.

Location: New England, United States

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Freedom from Common Sense

Well, well, well. I can't say I'm surprised. The health care debate has gotten ugly, and is only getting uglier, as detractors and critics disrupt town hall meetings, spread misinformation throughout the Internet, and in some cases launch personal attacks on the President and his family. All this, over a health care reform proposal, that hasn't even been passed yet. And is increasingly likely to not pass in its current form, if public opinion is any gauge. If that happens, then I'm sure we can call it a victory for someone. For Libertarians, maybe. For freedom-minded individuals who don't want the evil government telling them what to do. Hooray.


Before I get into the meat of this, I'm going to admit something up front: I am biased. I despise Libertarianism. In my experience, "Libertarian" is a code word, like "maverick" or "rebel," a word reactionary gun-toting bastards use to try and convince themselves that they haven't bought whole-hog into the extreme right-wing philosophy and are still thinking for themselves. The most disgusting, hate-filled speech I have ever heard, about Jews or fags or all those goddamn foreigners, has come out of the mouths of self-identified Libertarians. Now maybe you could argue, based on this, that I simply just haven't met a "real" Libertarian. Honestly, based on what I'm seeing, I don't think I want to.

Unless historical and philosophical study counts as "meeting" someone. In which case, I'm quite familiar with the first Libertarian, Thomas Jefferson. His views on government still resonate in the United States: his belief in as small a government as possible, in the virtue of the gentleman-farmer, in the inherent right to independence in each individual. His example is the one Libertarians often look to as a model, and his ideal government - the republic of self-sufficient men - is still one a lot of us idealize. And it's a great idea; it sounds pretty cool, this grand society of agrarian philosophers, asking and expecting nothing that they can't earn by their own industry. Unfortunately, in the modern United States, it seems painfully stripped of relevance.

Because American society - Hell, HUMAN society - has changed too much. We are all interconnected, interdependent on one another in ways that Thomas Jefferson could never have foreseen. In his day, much of North America was wilderness, and it was entirely possible for a man to go out and carve himself a life with his own two hands. There was an abundance of natural resources, and an abundance of space. There was simply no great call for public works, or unemployment relief. Or health care. There just weren't enough Americans then to make it necessary.

Now we are a nation of some three hundred million. There is no wilderness anymore, no homesteads to build, no frontiers to conquer. The United States of 2009 is one of the most diverse, most powerful nations on Earth...and yet we continue to live as if it's 1799, and we have an endless frontier before us. We continue to labor under the delusion that everything is just fine, that we can get along just fine without the government meddling in our affairs, that if we just work hard and keep to ourselves, we'll make it. That doesn't work any more. And we need to stop deluding ourselves into thinking it does. There needs to be progress; we simply can't keep going around in circles, driven by knee-jerk reactions against anything government-related. That's the most damaging thing, of course: the knee-jerk nature of these town hall protests. People, who I guarantee you have not read the publicly-available text of the reform proposal, turning out in droves to protest it, simply because it represents the government trying to actually GOVERN something. God forbid. Somehow a call to fix an obviously-broken system is an attack on civil liberties.

This is my problem with Libertarianism. I'm a Progressive. As a philosophy, I find Libertarianism incompatible with Progressive thought. Libertarians don't want things to change. Change would be bad. Change would mean giving something up, would mean compromising, or being forced to accept something not in keeping with their personal views. It is not a philosophy of a functional modern society. It may have worked three hundred years ago, when all you needed or expected out of life was a good harvest and a working firearm. It doesn't work today, and someone who wants to MAKE it work today is basically trying to wind back the clock. Like a mad Chinese Emperor declaring that no more progress shall be made, so are those who break up these town hall meetings. Everything's fine, and how dare the government insinuate otherwise? It's not like the government knows what the people want. It's not like this is a democracy or anything.

We're just so far away from Jefferson's crazy naive dream, where every man was a farmer first and a philosopher second. The Libertarians I have known are not philosophers; they were proudly ignorant men. They had no use for literature, or scientific study, or languages (they did know a little Greek: "Molon Labe"). They professed to know what they knew, and that was good enough for them, and to Hell with anyone who wanted them to know more. That's the attitude that needs to change. We don't care about the intelligence or the well-being of our citizens. We have it in our heads that it's just not our problem; we're fine the way we are. And if the government tries to make things better, somehow it will get in the way of earning an "honest living." As if you can't be smart, healthy, and honest all at the same time.

Yeah, so maybe I'm not being fair to all those "real" Libertarians out there, who are rational, sensitive individuals, who may well have genuine, intelligent misgivings about increasing the role of government in our everyday lives. But I've never met one of those. So I have no reason to change my mind yet. I can only stand by, and hope and pray that they don't get their way. Or else we're just back to where we started again.


Anonymous Mayzshon said...

Ahh, I wish I'd come across this post earlier. You have put into words my feelings on Libertarianism, far more eloquently than I ever could have. I see you haven't posted here in a while, but I hope you get back to it.

5:08 PM, December 13, 2009  

Post a Comment

<< Home