Before the expected Ben Folds’ “Rockin’ the Suburbs” “Let me tell y’all what it’s like/Being male, middle-class, and white/It’s a bitch, if you don’t believe” response can envelope this post, I want to offer a few caveats.
I have strong libertarian tendencies, ones that have drawn me to a Henry David Thoreau sort of thinking grounded in rejecting authority and appreciating that adults should be allowed to live as they please within the constraints (see below) that acknowledge a simple but inescapable truth: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main” (John Donne, Meditation XVII).
And I know some self-declared Libertarians who are somewhat evangelical about their ideologies but, none the less, routinely demonstrate that they have souls—even as they haven’t rectified the disconnect between being a soulless Libertarian (a redundancy) and living life in any sort of humane way. And thus, I am not really holding forth below about those Libertarians who ultimately do not live by what they profess.
The lazy Libertarian lie depends on several failures of logic.
One is the “damned government” argument such as those who refuse to wear helmets while driving a motorcycle or rail against the shrinking areas allowing people to smoke (although laws still permit adults to smoke in their homes and cars while under-age and non-consenting children are present, and are thus inhaling the toxic smoke that the law prevents them to inhale by purchasing cigarettes).
This argument is, at its core, a fundamental cluelessness about individualism—in short, the lack of awareness, see Donne above, that individualism simply does not exist.
Taking risks—no helmet, smoking—never has consequences only for the risk taker. Trauma and illness resulting from this risk taking stress unnecessarily a health care system that impacts everyone else.
Despite these “I did it my way” risk takers’ choices, EMS and medical staff are ethically obligated to keep them alive, often a tremendous drain on their time and at great costs (trauma care in the ER and after, cancer treatment, etc.).
Another of the great logic fails is the “I built this” crowd, the ugly but enduring lie of the self-made billionaire.
All individual wealth in the U.S. is built on other people’s labor and facilitated by (brace yourself) the “damned government”; for example, there are no business ventures possible at the degree experienced in 2018 without the road and highway system in the U.S. (brace yourself: publicly funded).
And the entire free market fetish for property and personal property is possible only because of the legal and justice system that monitors a relatively high level of property safety.
And this brings us to poster boy Paul Ryan, an incredibly dishonest Libertarian (when it suits him) who cherry-picks his Ayn Rand adolescent rants.
Like the political Rands, and the cartoon Randites like Rush Limbaugh (who pronounces her first name as “Ann”), Ryan has profited handsomely from his white man Teflon and his American mythology sound bites grounded in lazy Libertarian lies.
And as James Fallows has documented, Ryan lies “in ways large and small.”
Behind the hairdo and the suits, Ryan has been trafficking in the racism and poverty-hating that some think was created by Trump.
Like Ayn Rand herself, Ryan has announced the end to his career in politics (brace yourself: Ryan is the “damned government”) and is poised to received $79,000 annually for life (brace yourself: tax dollars just handed to him for doing nothing).
Ultimately, Ryan embodies the great big pile of excrement that is the lazy Libertarian lie: My ideology is mostly about what I want for you, but not at all what I want for me.
You see, there simply are no rugged individuals. Not a damned single person who has pulled themselves up by the bootstraps.
Like the horrible literature and vapid philosophy of Ayn Rand, these are not enduring American myths, but calloused lies in no way grounded in reality.
They are designed to aggrandize the wealthy and demonize the poor; yet they are lies about both.
The sinister irony of these lazy Libertarian lies is that the wealthy and privileged are more likely to be the immoral and unethical class in the U.S. than the working class and poor.
My libertarian urges of boyhood, grounded in Thoreau and Emerson (not Rand), ended with my boyhood.
I grew up, physically, intellectually, and morally.
I recognize and appreciate collectivism, community, and collaboration.
A turning point for me was John Dewey’s pragmatism, an argument that either/or thinking fails humans. In short, Dewey argued that it is a false choice between individualism and collectivism—that they are symbiotic, not antithetical.
Any libertarian urges that remain—and they do because I certainly fear totalitarianism and regret that so little of life in the so-called “free” U.S. is actually free—are always tempered by what has come to be for me the greatest acknowledgement of the moral imperative of collectivism that grounds me, by Eugene V. Debs:
Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
My freedom is inevitably bound to everyone else’s freedom—and this is the great moral truth denied by the lazy Libertarian lie.