Monday, December 5, 2011

10 Reason Why Libertarianism is Bullshit

NOTE:  Comments are CLOSED 
for this post

I have encountered some libertarian atheists, and a video of Penn Jillette talking about his version of libertarianism I screamed BULLSHIT!

1.  It's impossible.  Libertarianism is impossible except for survivalist nutters and hermits.  Humans need a social structure because we're a social species.  Trusting that humans can moderate their own behavior on their own is just a fantasy.  If we were as sparsely distributed as wolf packs, we could get along in our small groups without intervention from a higher authority in theory.... but the matriarch or patriarch would be the higher authority so even that isn't strictly libertarian.  Anyway, we're long past the point in evolution where we could manage our behavior without a formal structure.  Michael Shermer theorizes the optimal size for a human community to manage without any oversight is about 150.  Those days are gone.

2.  It's naive.  It assumes people are basically good.  This is a nice thought, and a refreshing break from the Christian belief that all people are sinners who need to be saved, but it's just plain wrong.  Just as we differ in our DNA we differ in our personalities.  Some of us will go through life making very few decisions that negatively impact others, and some of us are sociopaths.  At its best, government protects the truly good from the sociopaths.  Without a government, we would be reduced to lynch mobs which can only avenge bad deeds, not prevent them.  And we certainly wouldn't have something like the FBI, which can trace the path of a serial killer from one area to the next based on DNA evidence, etc.  I think the people who believe that "survival of the fittest ergo libertarianism" probably assume they are the fittest themselves.  They don't think that they would be the victims of a sociopath.  Bernie Madoff counted on this kind of hubris to make his illegal millions.

3.  It's cold-hearted.  For example, regulations about safety in cars aren't needed because over time car companies would be forced to make safer cars or they'd go out of business.  So the people who died in fires caused by exploding gas tanks in Ford Pintos, or in wrecks caused by the design of their Corvair were just collateral damage in the evolution of better cars.  People who died because of unregulated businesses did nothing to deserve that fate, except perhaps not be able to afford better cars.  And the pseudo-Darwinism of libertarianism really doesn't care what the strong do to the weak.  Rich and powerful people are good and deserve to be rich and powerful.  The poor and powerless deserve what they get.

4.  It ignores history.  We haven't always had a U.S. government.  It's only a little more than 200 years old.  But we do know earlier forms of society.  We've had monarchies.  We've had theocracies.  We had the ancient Roman & Greek systems that privileged people with money.  Modern democracy certainly has its failings, but we really be better off returning to "less" government considering what our previous systems gave us?

5.  It's not natural.  The underlying assumption of libertarianism is that government is an artificial construct that interferes with natural behavior, which they believe works just fine on its own.  There's no evidence that humanity could have survived without some form of social organization.  The instinct for survival that causes some to climb to the top of the heap and others to hide from the climbers just doesn't result in a society that works for large numbers.  It probably won't work for small numbers, either. 

6.  It ignores human failings.  We no longer live in family groups in tiny villages, and if Libertarianism became the "law" of the land, we would pretty much have to go back to that.  In our distant past, we helped each other within our own group and competed against other groups for resources.  Surviving without a government would require all of us to gather into small groups for protection and predation.  Child abuse and spousal abuse would again be perpetrated with no recourse.  Victims of alcoholism or mental illness would have no access to services, and their families would suffer.  A small group's only hope of survival when "infected" with a defective member would be to ostracize that member.

7.  It ignores human compassion.  Libertarianism denies the instinct to help others, which has been shown in other species as well. Government taking a role in "lifting up" the poor is an extension of the instinct we would follow individually in a smaller group.   By blaming the victim, libertarians can imagine themselves the agents of their own good luck.  There's no place in their worldview for helping the blind, the deaf, the physically impaired, or the children of these people.  The mentally ill who are incapable of working for a living due to their illness?  *shrug*  At least religions have charities that make a dent in these issues.  Secular libertarians leave the powerless to their own devices as if blindness or mental illness were somehow the victim's own fault.  There have been hundreds if not thousands of examples of other animals helping each other or even other species, so compassion seems to be instinctual.  I have yet to meet a libertarian who has a relative that needs help to survive.  If I had the power to curse people, I'd curse libertarians with multiple sclerosis.  Let's see how many ways they make use of the ADA law's provisions.

8.  It ignores Somalia.  Somalia is the perfect example of libertarianism in action. There's basically no government in Somalia so we can see what would happen.   Without a government, pirates and tribal groups terrorize others.  Women and children are mistreated.  Disease is rampant.  There's no viable business other than crime.  It's a chaotic mess.  Why would anyone want to copy that model?

9.  It's selfish.  On the surface, Penn Jillette saying that he doesn't know what's best for someone else seems humble and charitable.  But really, sometimes he would know what's best.  He would know that a woman being beaten on a daily basis by an abusive husband would be better off if she could get out of that situation.  He would know that someone with asthma would be better off in a world with less air pollution.  His pseudo-humility covers up a basic unwillingness to get involved.  Or, he's got his head in the sand when it comes to the problems of society and of individuals that are just too big or complicated for a family or small group to help with.

10.  It's provincial.  It ignores the fact that the economies and socieities of all the world's nations are now interconnected.  If someone lives in the country with well water, septic tank and a burn pit for their garbage, they can fantasize they are not relying on the government.  But then when their four-year-old comes down with cancer, they're only too happy to take him to the big city hospital for chemo that was studied using federal funding.

So...  I call BULLSHIT on libertarianism.  It's a stupid position to take.  Even if it could be implemented it couldn't succeed.  Its thinly veiled social "darwinism" but without any of the nuance of true evolutionary theory.

Penn Jillette on libertariansim:

Ford Pinto video:


Jason R. said...

On an intuitive level I would agree with your post. I have to read some of Shermer's ideas. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject. And BTW, I enjoy reading your posts.

LadyAtheist said...

Thank you!

Plasma Engineer said...

I think Penn is libertarian courtesy of the society around him. US defence policies make your country relatively safe, and within that context it is safe to be a libertarian.

So - I agree with your points and I like to think that Penn has some interesting things to say. However, I'm half way through his book atm, but it is not a book that I would be happy to be seen reading in public (whereas I carry The God Delusion on planes just to start conversations).

LadyAtheist said...

I think he would have a different position in Somalia. It's true we are safe from external threats, and we are relatively safe from other types of suffering. One of my favorite libertarian quotes is from a former Republican presidential candidate (actually I'm paraphrasing because I can't find it): "We don't need a safety net. When I was younger I was on food stamps and welfare and nobody helped me." *facepalm*

L.Long said...

Reading Heinlein as a young lad I thought libertarianism and anarchy were OK but later came across a statement in one of his books
.....I'm a rational anarchist meaning the rules are not really necessary for me but being rational I realize that as a group living together we need some rules to live by....
So it may work for 1 or 2 people in association but where has any MIXED group of people ever lived in harmony for longer then 15min?

Infidel753 said...

Very sensible observations. In my experience libertarians are the kind of people for whom bloodless Platonic abstractions are more real than messy concrete reality. If anyone in an Ayn Rand novel says "That's just theory", you know it's one of the bad guys.

I've had some experience trying to debate them, too. If there's one group that's capable of even more egregious reality-denial and rejection of inconvenient evidence than religionists, it's libertarians.

LadyAtheist said...

Anything not based on actual evidence is prone to extreme denial of reality!

r503 said...

I'm not a fan of American Right-Wing Libertarianism either, mostly because of its naivete toward how corporations operate. Without government regulations (i.e. minimum wage, overtime, anti-discrimination laws, etc...) we'd all be victims of whatever authoritarian fascist mini state we happen to work for.

That said, I take issue with a couple of your points, mainly 2, 4, and 5.

There are examples of successful anarchist societies in history. One of my favorites are the Native-American Iroquois. Here's a quote of a quote from Howard Zinn's A People's History of the U.S.:

"No laws and ordinances, sheriffs and constables, judges and juries, or courts or jails - the apparatus of authority in European societies - were to be found in the northeast woodlands prior to European arrival. Yet boundaries of acceptable behavior were firmly set."

The fact is that anarchism can and has worked and that there are other ways of dealing with crime and social issues other than with police and coercion and institutionalized government. The only thing that makes American Libertarianism a bad idea is the transparent desire to preserve and encourage economic inequality.

ogre said...

With all respect for Howard Zinn (and I have a great deal), I think he was either ignorant on the subject, or he's being misunderstood. Or rather, brutally misconstrued.

The notion that the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois is not their word) were an anarchy is flatly absurd. They were a preliterate society, so no, there wasn't written law--but they had wampum belts that contained key stories in pictographic form, and they had a very clear form of government (on which, in part, the US government is based--not an anarchy at all). There were (and are) chiefs who are elected and hold office as such (and can be removed from office). They sit in consultation, and come to agreement. That's not an anarchy. They enforced their decisions. People could be punished and that's a fixture of a structured society. That it lacked roles like "sheriff" doesn't make it an anarchy. That's just projecting one's own culture's approach and experience as a normative thing. Hell, the idea of sheriff and constable didn't exist in the old Germanic societies, but no one ever suggested that they were anarchies, nor that the Roman Empire was overrun by an anarchic mob.

And yes, Libertarianism as fantasized in the US is silly, presupposing that the limits that are imposed and enforced by the federal and state governments would somehow magically be maintained by the Little People if all the structures that maintain them today were removed. Except for the ones that the Libs (individually) don't like.


Anonymous said...

Libertarianism is just rebranded anarchy. Much the same way that the "Tea Party" is just the rebranded John Birch Society and Xe is just rebranded Blackwater.

Mecha Velma said...

Penn Jillete is one of those "I've got mine, fuck everyone else" Libertarians, like Wrong Paul. I've debated Penn on the merits of Libertarianism and made him delete his posts and run away like a little bitch.

I've got the uncensored debate copy and pasted on a photo on my facebook account.

Libertarianism is also strictly anti-constitutional. If all government functions (including the maintenance of public lands) were privatized, where exactly would one's constitutional rights apply?

Ali Nazifpour said...

Although I identify myself as a libertarian I agree with everything that you say. However, I believe that such people are not really libertarian. I think a true libertarian will oppose power in all forms- governmental, corporations, rich people, religious, etc. To me a true libertarian will oppose business as much as government.

And I completely agree with what you say about altruism. We do need to be altruistic and have social systems that help people- and I agree with socialized medicine and education. Again, if this seems contradictory it's because people misunderstand libertarianism.

We need to distribute power so nothing in the society is too powerful. That's how I define libertarianism.

Flint said...

Just to add to the discussion about stateless polities and the Iroquois, folks might want to consider this article of mine.

"Where License Reigns With All Impunity"
An Anarchist Study of the Rotinonshón:ni Polity

I don't think I'm particularly absurd, but you might think so.

Lady Atheist might wish to take a look at it because it shows a form of democratic horizontal organization that did have a mechanism of dealing with justice beyond the blood feud. Ofcouse, it's communal economics would be something Penn Jillette would reject.

A lot of Lady Atheist's rant would not apply to social anarchists; or as the rest of the world calls them... anarchists or liberatians.

Jay said...

10 Reasons Why This Article is Bullshit:
1. It's possible. To start, Lady Atheist's (LA) understanding of Libertarianism/anarchism is wrong. Libertarianism/anarchism is the absence of a state (or ruling class), not the absence of social structure. This structure is most often some form of non-hierarchical direct democracy. LA is right; there would be chaos if humans lacked a social structure, and that's why we anarchists, like every other form of governance, have a social structure.
2. It's not naive. Again, this goes back to the point that "we're not advocating a society without structure!!" Just like LA suggests, "it's wrong to assume that all people are good." Now as it is possible that humanity is good, no one can prove this as we are still working on that whole 'nature vs. nurture' debate thing. Because of this, we must assume that people can be corrupted, and in doing so, we should leave no available position of higher power open to be corrupted. Power should be decentralized and shared amongst the masses as much as possible for, as LA suggests, people are not all good, and therefore shouldn't be trusted with higher power.
3. USA "libertarianism" is cold-hearted; libertarianism isn't cold-hearted. Libertarianism was a term first coined in Europe by leftist-anarchists. Being anarchists (against forms of authority and hierarchy), they were clearly against the tyrannical and hierarchical reign of business. People who want to put up a factory that pollutes the local environment would have to gain the consent of the local community being effected, or else that would be authoritative and oppressive. You can thank the USA's Libertarian Party for deceiving Americans into thinking that unregulated capitalism is libertarianism.
4. LA ignores history! Better yet, she seems to misunderstand history. She makes the argument that "we would be returning to less government" and uses examples like monarchies, theocracies, and oligarchies to refer to forms of "less government." She is saying that these governments are smaller, than the US. Now, why our physical government is in fact larger (yes, we have more departments and such), its scope of government (which is what matters) is nowhere near as big as the monarchs of feudalism.
5. It doesn't need to be natural. There is a social structure. -_-
6. It's not primitive living. It's not a bunch of autonomous tribes. While some forms of libertarianism are autonomous, they typically involve some form of multi-level governance. Because of things like, the fact that every small town cannot sustain its own hospital, military, space program, and airport, it is clear that these 'towns' would have to work together in some form or another on varying issues.
7. WTF? If you're going to argue that compassion is instinctual then you've just taken out reason #2 and any other argument pertaining to humans not lending a hand when others are in need.
8. Somalia was a shitty example. Yes, there is little government in Somalia. However, this is because it's war torn. It is one of the most violent countries because war and rampant poverty (which again can be thanked because of war). Somalia is a shit hole because it's a war torn, third world country. Regardless of your government type, war torn + third world is a recipe for disaster.
9. Don't refer to a pop culture icon when criticizing a political ideology. It just makes it that much more obvious that you've compiled a list of '10 elementary arguments I've heard used against libertarianism.'
10. Back to the fact that only a few of us believe in true autonomy.

So... I call BULLSHIT on this article. It's just another misinformed/deceived citizen of America. If there's one thing this country is good at, it's manufacturing consent.

Anonymous said...

Jay, you are making the fatal mistake that all small government people make. In small republics, corruption is even greater and more dangerous. Madison explains this very eloquently in Federalist #10. Most of our liberties are better protected in large republics where the greater good of the nation is the focus. ""Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other. Besides other impediments, it may be remarked that, where there is a consciousness of unjust or dishonorable purposes, communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary."

Anonymous said...

Hey guys, I read the article and all of the additional comments. I think this article might be helpful in explaining how Libertarianism at it's core is actually about social cooperation. Let me know what you think, because I think it gives more insight into the ideas of Lady Atheist and the commenter Jay...

LadyAtheist said...

Comments are CLOSED for this post.

Steanu said...

I agree with all you posted. I cannot stand Libertarianism, it's cold-hearted and it's too easy. it's easy to put yourself before others but doing the right thing is always hard. I also believe that there should be moderate government that benefits us like Healthcare and education also It's big government (Or THE FED) that protects Women's rights, Civil rights, etc... Though don't tell the Paulbots that, they just don't like facts given to them.

Anonymous said...

I am a Christian who has stumbled upon this post and I commend you for writing it. I disagree with libertarian ideology just as much as you do and I think that the world needs to hear these things the next time before some libertarian scare tactic forces them to join them.

L. J. Liburd said...

I agree.

U.S. libertarianism is awful. They don't even use the word in its proper sense, it was originally used to by an anarchist-communist to differentiate his views from mutualism.