On Libertarianism

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Just a few notes on the subject of libertarianism.

Over the last two years I’ve toyed with the idea that perhaps I’m a libertarian, and not a conservative in the classic sense. The biggest reason I considered the possibility that libertarianism best described my politics (in fact, it doesn’t) is my hatred of bureaucracy and red tape. I’m not joking; my blood pressure was probably lower during Taliban rocket attacks on FOB Warrior that it is when I have to deal with bureaucracy.  I get hives when I think of the hoops I’ll have to jump through just to accomplish some very simple tasks on a daily basis in the Army. The Army is a huge bureaucracy. Now, I understand the power of bureaucracy, I really do. Max Weber stated that one foundational difference between Western societies and non-competitive societies is that the West figured out how to use bureaucracy to maximize efficiency. Modern armies must be bureaucratic.

The spirit of bureaucracy seems to be that it grows like kudzu and people don’t ever seem to want to trim it back. Consider the US tax code, somewhere over 79,000 pages as of 2013 and having almost tripled in size since 1984. Conservatives and Libertarians like to focus on the tax problem, but the growing number of micro-regulations in America is astounding. Another aspect of bureaucracy that I’ve noticed is that bureaucrats tend to think of all bureaucratic rules in moral terms. Breaking bureaucratic tradition is tantamount to heresy, thus, the rules, no matter how petty, seem to become more important than people and they have near-equal moral gravity as do the 10 Commandments. A bureaucrat’s mind grows calcified and inflexible, unable to deal with a chaotic world without reference to regulation.

Max Weber points out the Wicked Problem of bureaucracy: It most definitely makes a civilization more economically and industrially powerful, yet it may, in the process, make individual people more unhappy. This is somewhat of a paradox in that the intuitive assumption is that a powerful society would create happy people, and happy people should create economically powerful states. This may not be the case. The statistics regarding Americans’ consumption of antidepressants, suicide rates, divorce and the general sense of dissatisfaction is society certainly lend credence to Weber’s dystopian view. The disturbing aspect is that our rationalized measurements of successful societies will not lead most to the conclusion that a highly bureaucratized society is failing. If Aristotle is correct, our real bottom line should be happiness and personal realization, not money or mere efficiency. Both money and efficiency are only valued in their relation to our happiness.

Another problem with bureaucracies, but one that Weber does not touch on, is that there is often no way to use logic to figure them out. You either know the rules because each individual rule is taught to you, or you don’t. And the rules are subject to change at any given moment. I have a severe problem with any system so complex that no one can know all the rules, and a system which an individual cannot use logic to figure out the system on his own.  The case of mathematics, engineering, and computer science allow people to use their basic knowledge of the rules in order to find answers to more complex problems (knowing that 2+2 =4 allows one to figure out that 10×2=20; not so with bureaucracies).

And so, without diving too far down the rabbit hole, as I’m prone, that sums up the reasons that at one point I leaned toward libertarianism.

My biggest problem with libertarians is that in arguing for the rights of people to take part in certain activities, they always seem to miss the fact that many of these activities are in fact bad. Actually, they don’t miss that fact, they are only hyper-fixated on our government’s stance on certain drugs, and laws controlling so-called victimless crimes like prostitution or socially “avant-guard” activities, like gay marriage. There are other activities that fall into these categories.

When I ask a a person who claims they are libertarian if they would want their children to smoke pot, become strippers or prostitutes, or even live a gay lifestyle, they invariably respond with: “Well no, but I would love them anyway.”  This of course is not the point. The point is that 99% of people know these things are not good for humans and when we stack enough victimless crimes on top of one another, it becomes pretty easy to find victims. We can argue all day about our right to snort methamphetamine, and regardless, if you  regularly snort meth, you will destroy yourself and others around you. The fact that we cannot rid the world of meth-heads, prostitutes and strippers, does not mean that our central message should not be: If you’re a meth-addicted whore, you’re stupid and I don’t want you around. Period. As the apostle Paul stated: Everything is lawful, but not everything edifies.

Secondly, I think libertarians massively underestimate how fragile a civil society is, and how much the soldier and police officer keep us in peace. The state’s monopoly on violence is a necessity. One need only look to times in America, such as right after Hurricane Katrina, when for short periods of time and in limited areas, the police were non-existent. It takes a very small percentage of psychopaths to ruin it for everyone, as the Columbine incident and others show us. many libertarian complaints about American “police state” or “surveillance state” seem mostly theoretical. Instead about worrying what the NSA could do to them, as an experiment, they should try not paying their taxes for a few years. There’s no theoretical power when it comes to the IRS: They will seize your bank account and property without a warrant if you don’t pay taxes.

Thirdly, while I do like my individuality, I also know, that just as with the apparent peace in civil society held together by a thin blue line, people who work in teams and groups are stronger. A person, as an individual, even the best trained and toughest, is strained to the max in a survival situation on their own. Only bands of like-minded people can grow in areas not directly related to the procurement of food, shelter and means of defense. I believe many people tend to underestimate their reliance on those around them. That said, there is a difficult balance to be struck between individuality and the benefits of a unified group, as is apparent in the army.

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3 thoughts on “On Libertarianism

    uvalduvalcuckoo said:
    April 11, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    Quite a bit of interesting material but one question…why do you refer to prostitution and gay marriage as so called victimless crimes. Both involve two consenting adults (and excluding fraud or coercion) how could either seriously be said to have a victim? You can come up with a scenario where a wife is the downstream victim, but it’s not prostitution that’s victimizing her, it’s her spouse’s infidelity.that is. I’d throw in drugs and gambling as well in the mix although the argument that there are direct victims b/c of some drugs is a little stronger..

    If you look at very populated cities, they are almost always ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’. I think part of that is b/c Freedom is really nice when you live in a rural area b/c you can isolate yourself from others. In a city like NYC or San Fran, everybody’s behavior will affect a lot of other people and that gets very bothersome. Everyone has different lines in their minds related to where law should be used to stop something (that line is always on the other side of ‘my’ behavior) so put enough people together and there’s not a lot of free space.

    There’s one point though that’s seldom made. There are countless discussions about Drugs for instance. Do we really need a Federal Drug enforcement agency and one that overlaps with state agencies? Do we really need Immigration/Customs joining in every single drug bust or seizing domain names? Couldn’t city wide laws suffice? If a city wants to have prostitution, gambling and over the counter heroin – they can’t do it – but I think that woudl answer a lot

    magus71 responded:
    April 11, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    Bill,

    As far as prostitution goes, and it is the same deal for promiscuous sex, the assumption by modern society is that this does not harm the person engaging in it. I myself take the view that it is one of the reasons so many girls are bat-shit crazy nowadays. I’m not sure it’s harmless. For one, I have my own observations about females who are strippers, prostitutes, porn stars and generally easy: They’re unhappy and crazy. They cannot make anyone else happy. I do not buy the argument that they are crazy and unhappy because society does not accept them; I believe society does not accept them because they are unhappy and crazy. Now, this does not mean I believe that laws should be enforced that try to stop this behavior, but what I see from libertarians, is the desire to prove through rational argument that this behavior is good. They want to prove it is good, so that they no longer have to argue about whether the government should try to stop it. I argue it is not good, but am on the fence as to if the government has a real interest in enforcing these laws. What should happen, but what libertarians don’t do, is tell people not to do these things. One reason for this is a similar phenomena seen in liberals; They are smart, highly educated people who assume everyone will think things through, rationally, based on scientific studies of some sort. Which is why most liberal intellectuals may think it’s ok to legalize meth but wouldn’t do it themselves. Same thing for libertarians except they like more economic freedom. The message that this is harmless has spread and has had deleterious effects on the fabric of society, particularly the family.

    Yes, cities tend to be liberal. But what happens is that you have the educated liberal elite I mentioned above, living in their gating communities and practicing good habits for themselves, but giving the exact opposite message to the seething masses pounding at the gate. As I stated in my article, they know better than to practice the habits they endorse for the poor. The poor would be in the country side, if there were food stamp distribution points, free methadone, and a massive state infrastructure that they had immediate access to.

    Anderson said:
    April 16, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    Very valid points in your response to Bill. Especially your last paragraph.

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