The Right Wing II: A Short Critique of the Libertarian, Composing, 16/09/2014

Continued from last post . . . Let me explain. I’ve discussed before how I’ve settled on the basic structure of the Utopias manuscript. It will be in three parts, the first two of which I have a solid outline for. The first part analyzes the totalitarian tendency of a technological world. It's not a new concept, but I think it's a new spin on a well-known idea. The second describes the metaphysical response to this problem, how we can accept that we have, essentially speaking, been transformed into machines, while understanding that this doesn’t annihilate our freedom. Being a machine, being a technological man, creates a new kind of freedom with new responsibilities. The arcs of both these thirds are laid out: I know what they’ll look like.

The last third remains up in the air. I know it will articulate a broadly anarchist political philosophy, which over the last week or so, I’ve decided to call network politics and networked societies. But I’m not yet sure how precisely to lay out the principles of network politics or argue for it specifically.

I suspect that one of the problems will be convincing an audience to take anarchism seriously, because it has a major competitor already, at least in North America. When you think of a political philosophy that is against state control of the economy and society, encouraging small scale activism and resistance to maintain fundamental freedoms, you don’t think today of anarchism, but libertarianism. 

My core problem with Ayn Rand was that
this advocate of individual liberty allows
so little freedom of thought among those
she has influenced.
While I have my sympathies, I can never be a libertarian. For one thing, while I agree with the libertarian distrust of government, I cannot accept their utter faith in the free market to remedy all. Even at its best, the adjustments to natural balances of truly free markets cause too many economic and ecological casualties on the way. Too many self-identified libertarians have come to believe too much in the corporate propaganda that ecological damage is not actually a serious issue that people should worry about. I don't just mean the lie that human industry and agriculture has nothing to do with climate change, but the belief that deforestation and desertification is a natural process. It's certainly natural in the sense that it exists, but it's anthropogenic in that modern desertification is driven by human industrial agriculture.

As well, a private corporation that raises its own military-style security force to secure its markets and resources is not practically all that different from a colonial empire, which a libertarian would oppose if it was the work of a state.

Libertarianism also depends on a concept of an isolated individual and his freedom to an unrealistic degree. The wages of workers are determined by what employers are willing to pay and what the most desperate individual is willing to accept. It is always your free choice to accept the low wage that the market determines, but a choice is not materially free if your only alternative to subsistence poverty is starvation.

Even more disturbing than this notion, which at least has some backing in the classical science of economics from the 20th century, is the terrible hostility I’ve discovered in libertarian circles to community values. One of my most popular posts (thanks to some viral appearances on reddit, appropriately enough) was the one describing my falling out with two libertarian friends of mine. 

They taught me a lot of lessons about the most extreme forms of this philosophy. One of these extremes was the conclusion that all forms of what they called ‘leftism’ were ultimately about state control of every aspect of life: the police, the economy, health care, city infrastructure. They often told me that the dream of every leftist was the Nazi state because this was the only government that actually succeeded in controlling an entire society and making it move as one. Ironic for my purposes, because mid-20th century totalitarianism is the closest we've come, according to the theoretical framework of the Utopias manuscript, to self-consciously forging the genuinely mechanistic man.

This worship of state control is actually contrary to how the left often defined itself in one of its most hopeful periods, the 1970s. Colin Ward wrote about how a left-wing argument in a capitalist country was for state controls over the economy, while a left-wing argument in a communist country was for a free market, because leftism was a movement for decentralizing power. 

Today, however, because popular thought conceives leftism in terms of moronic grids in 'political compass' web apps, the left is thought of only in its capitalist context as advocating for state control of society and the economy. Even though right-wing figures are most comfortable with state-controlled police subjugating towns of restless minorities like Ferguson and militaries invading countries like Iraq for deceitfully patriotic ideologies, the right has successfully laid claim to the mantle of decentralizing power because of their notion that private corporations should control all aspects of human services. 

This is despite how much people suffer from unaffordable prices of fully privatized health care, retirement funding, and wages determined by employer dispensations rather than the cost of living decently in a region. Because a free market determines it, it must be good.

So libertarian discourse would understand any attempt to form solidarity among a community as an imposition on an individual’s liberty. Even politeness and the basic moral obligation of one person toward another is an imposition on freedom that oppresses the individual and his liberty. It wasn’t only these two that said it: some of my talks in libertarian circles on reddit discovered this attitude as well. It appears common enough in some libertarian literature (particularly the sort influenced by Ayn Rand) that it’s worth contending with. To be continued . . . 

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