There’s a line in the movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” that nails it: “When legend becomes fact, print the legend”. The “rugged individual” is pure legend.
Only men ever think of themselves as “rugged individuals” who believe down to their atoms that “they alone can fix it”. They’re absolutely wrong, of course — like a man driving around lost, too arrogant to ask for directions — even from his phone. Women know biologically that no one alone can do anything. One cannot bear and raise a child by oneself. One can try — but one won’t succeed; neither mother nor child will thrive or flourish if left to do all that completely on their own.
As Hillary Clinton wrote, “it takes a village”.
Libertarians love the idea of the rugged individual. But then, libertarians think Ayn Rand can write.
Libertarianism is nothing more than a bunch of 6 year old boys running around braying “You’re not the boss of me!”. They think that’s what freedom is — it’s all the perks of doing whatever the hell you want with none of the responsibilities. And if their freedom and yours contradict each other? Guess whose freedom is going to get the priority? Spoiler alert: it won’t be yours.
The word “freedom” is like the word “God”. Ask ten people what it is, you’ll get ten different answers. And just like the idea of “God” is limitless, so, too, is the idea of freedom. That would be awesome if everyone’s idea of “God” was the same. We’d all be talking about the same creator-of-everything using the same language. We don’t, of course.
What makes it more problematic is that some peoples’ idea of “God” contradicts other peoples’ idea of “God”. Their conflicting ideas (God’s a raging psychopath vs God is love) can’t co-exist.
Similarly, if your idea of “freedom” is having all the guns you want, of any caliber, which you can fire freely from your front door at all your neighbors’ houses, that’s probably going to bump against your neighbors’ idea of freedom if they think it means NOT getting shot by you. Someone’s going to walk away from this feeling “less free”.
Right wingers are all about celebrating the rugged individualist — the “I alone can fix it” guy whose genius deserves every penny that falls into his pocket. Too bad that guy doesn’t exist. Only a male could think “he alone” could fix anything. Horse shit. There is not a human being in the whole history of humans who did anything alone. A woman would never say that because women know — biologically — how impossible it is.
A woman can’t get pregnant alone. It takes a male to do that (although women can orgasm alone just fine without their orgasm causing pregnancy). And once a baby begins growing inside of her, she knows she will need at least one other person to help get the baby out. Yes, yes, she could birth the child solo. But if she can’t get food for herself — because exhausted — she won’t be able to feed that baby and both mother and infant could die. Death and childbirth have a long history together and that’s WITH tons of help.
Then to raise that child? To feed it, educate it, clothe it, entertain it, put up with it — it takes a village just like Hillary Clinton once wrote that it does.
No group? No individuals would be there to join it or be part of it. The group wins right there. The individuals need the group more than the group needs any particular individual.
When RW shitheads walk around Coronavirus World maskless, they’re making a political statement: no one’s the boss of them. If they have coronavirus — or even a common cold — they believe it’s their RIGHT to give it to you and you have no “right” to refuse it. Sure, maybe you could try a little harder to not breathe in the RW-ers viral particles — no one’s “making you” breathe those. But that’s just putting the onus on others to prove their rights are as good as the RW-ers rights.
The simple fact is all “freedom” has limits. It has to or it becomes destructive. Have all the freedom of speech you like but if you shout “fire” in a crowded theater, you’ll also have a legal problem. Your freedom likely caused harm and even death to others.
No American is free to drive as fast as they like down a neighborhood street. No American is free to set fire to their neighbor’s house. No American is free to stop another American from voting. See? Limits.
Ever see a sign like this — “No shoes, no shirt, no service”?
Ubiquitous in some places, right? No one really ever had a problem. They get it. No shirt or no shoes is kind of unsanitary when you walk into an eating establishment. No mask shouldn’t make any difference to you walking in.
A lot of our freedom springs as much from common decency as law. Divorce freedom from decency and you get anarchy — and not the good kind either. It would be swell if humans could live in freedom and harmony with each other. A lot of us can. But we’re not the problem here.
In personal freedom world, your freedoms end where mine begin and mine end where yours begin. If we really want to live that way then either we’re always negotiating with each other — with one of us winning and the other losing. In Group Freedom World, we all understand where our freedoms begin and end. That’s because in Group Freedom World, freedom isn’t “free”. It comes with responsibilities and obligations.
Voting, for instance, shouldn’t just be a “benefit” of freedom, it should be an obligation. Want freedom? Maintain it. Likewise it’s an obligation to make sure that every single American gets to practice the exact same freedoms. If one single American isn’t getting every bit of their group freedom then the group is failing. We can only be as free as the least free among us.
When a mass shooter finishes killing, our first question is “who’s responsible for this?” That is, who beyond the shooter himself? The irony is WE are responsible for allowing this individual to think they could do this — assert their freedom over everyone else’s. The second amendment is a gun control amendment. That’s what the words themselves say (“well regulated militia” seems to suggest a group run by rules not guns). And the amendment says that the militia gets to decide to “keeps and bears” those arms. The amendment doesn’t say “own”. That suggests that, at all times, the militia owns the guns (and then decides who keeps and bears them situationally).
Imagine if we taught young Americans what freedom was in the abstract — and that this benefit came with responsibilities? We could teach it alongside how the rest of our system of government works. It seems we’ve abandoned teaching our children what makes us special. America is special. It can be.
If we can live up to the ideals we were founded on, America will be special. Exceptional even. That’s the part where “all people are created equal” at least where the law is concerned. Where our freedoms are concerned too.
It only takes one personal freedom loving asshole to undermine everyone else’s idea of freedom.
In the Pantheon Of Bullshit, Libertarianism has its own vestibule.
This is from the Institute For Humane Studies at George Mason University:
“The libertarian perspective is that peace, prosperity, and social harmony are fostered by “as much liberty as possible” and “as little government as necessary.”
Or, put another way: “You’re not the boss of me”.
That’s really the libertarian philosophy — it’s how a little boy thinks. A selfish little boy. Rand Paul took a test for coronavirus last week. Something motivated him to take it. Fear perhaps? Regardless, Rand took the test but apparently assumed he’d test out negatively (in which case why would he have taken the test?). To his surprise, he tested positively for coronavirus.
There’s a reason most critics & academia as a whole turned its back on Ayn Rand — she’s as bad a writer as she is a philosopher. Atlas Shrugged & The Fountainhead are badly-written sentence after badly-written sentence amounting to twaddle so self-indulgent and puerile it should be laughable. And it is — except to the club of angry little boys who think Rand’s a genius.
Rand took herself very seriously as a philosopher. And while parts of her objectivist philosophy are indeed sensible, it’s sensible in the way a broken analog clock is right twice a day. For example — Rand “considered all knowledge to be based on sense perception”. That’s great — if your senses perceive everything. Too bad our senses don’t.
We don’t perceive every kind of light for instance which is why cosmic rays beyond sunshine are invisible to us. That doesn’t mean they aren’t there, it simply means we’re not equipped to see them. Our perceptions in other words are incomplete. Only an idiot — or a stupid little boy — would assume their perceptions WEREN’T incomplete.
As the coronavirus crisis is driving home to us — a successful human society depends far more on its ability to work together than it does on any “rugged individual”. Sure, sure — we need our rugged individuals to fill out the mix. But, actually, there’s no such thing as a “rugged individual”. That’s a characterization “rugged individuals” give to themselves. As in, “Hey, don’t you tell ME what to do, I’m a ‘rugged individualist’!”.
Don’t tell ME not to go outside my house when I want to. Don’t tell ME not to socialize in close proximity with my friends. Don’t tell ME not to go to the Senate gym & swimming pool even though I might be contagious with a deadly virus that’s sweeping the globe. What will Rand Paul say if he succumbs to the virus. Will his daddy insist that Rand’s death — like the virus itself — was just a hoax?
There’s a reason why most libertarians (aside from Ayn Rand) are men. Ayn must have had a selfish little boy’s brain chemistry. She thought in those terms & wrote in them. Laissez-faire capitalism is crony capitalism. It’s corruption. How can it not be?
It’s a philosophy only a selfish little boy — who’s also a bully — could love.
Ask just about any American “What do you get for your tax dollars” and I’ll bet you next year’s minuscule tax refund they’ll reply “Nothing. We get NOTHING!” There’s even a chance they’ll spit, too. Several times.
Want to lose an election? Tell an American you’re raising his taxes. Doesn’t matter what the raised taxes are for, the American will assume it’s bullshit. It must be bullshit — because no one can ever seem to tell us what our taxes pay for except in the very abstract: our taxes pay for the military and Congress and the president and “government”. We see most of that (if not all of it) as money out with nothing coming back in return.
Oh — occasionally what comes back in return is a $100 toilet seat or some other expensive boondoggle that did no one any good except the politician who made the deal. You couldn’t buy or invent worse press.
In Europe, by contrast, they pay a huge tax bill. But they get so much in return. The Danes, for instance, pays the highest taxes in the world. Yet they’re also the happiest people in the world. Those taxes are buying them complete health care coverage and educational expenses. The Danish government spends more money on its youngest and oldest citizens per capita than any other country. And every Danish tax-payer knows this.
Belgium’s citizens pay 4% corporate tax rate, 21% VAT and upper limit of 50% on personal income. Belgium still ranked 18th in the world in GDP and consistently ranks high in the quality of life ratings published in the United Nations Human Development Report. It’s not perfect. An influx of immigration has strained the economics — but that’s because Europe’s economies aren’t really geared to absorb immigration the way America’s economy is (and always has been).
On the flip side — in the interest of fairness — there’s Italy and Greece. They approached the same desire for social democracy but without the discipline required. It does require discipline.
If Americans walked into a restaurant and were told, more or less, to fork over X dollars for their meal — sight unseen — they’d balk for sure. Rightfully so, too. It doesn’t help that Americans don’t see the government as theirs or representative of “them” but as some interloper and part-time thief.
What if We The People — in order to perfect our imperfect union – re-imagined our government and how we fund it from the point of view of its citizens. You know: “We The People”.
What if, instead of just paying taxes — or having them taken from us by an unseen and unstoppable hand — we had paying taxes explained to us. What if we gave Americans a solid civic education that made it clear how they, Americans, are an essential part of this Great Experiment in Human Self Government?
What if we made passing a real civics test part of any high schooler’s high school graduation. It should be hard, too. No pass? No graduate. It’s for real. What if, as part of that education — and it doesn’t have to be a dull, trying experience; we could just as easily make it exciting — as exciting and meaningful as actually being an American.
And what if part of the excitement of being an American was the healthcare your tax dollar was buying you — in addition to the military protection, the infrastructure, the college education, the supplemental pension and the assistance if you need it? The data set says that populations that don’t have to worry about losing their homes should they get cancer — they’re happier than, say, US.
The data also says that people who don’t spend half their working lives paying for their educations also are happier than Americans. We could bring Guaranteed Basic Income into the conversation but — another time.
Americans have a bad habit of telling themselves things about themselves that simply aren’t true. We loves us some mythology, we do — especially when it paints us as rugged individualists. Yes, sure — there are lots of Americans who fit that description. Part of America’s lure is that anyone from anywhere can come here and — if they’re willing to work hard enough — accomplish anything. But no one – NO ONE – every does that alone.
We keep bumping into the sharp edges of our own hubris. That is, the white minority of this country continues to paint a phony picture that Americans (white guys in their minds) are exceptional just because they’re who they are. They have bought into a phony mythology that, left to their own devices, each white man is a great commercial success just waiting for his moment to shine. Taxes on such a junior level captain-of-industry are budensome.
American exceptionalism is its diversity. Its exceptionalism does not extend to rich white guys and their money. It doesn’t extend either to the phony belief that Americans, somehow, are different — that we love “freedom” more. No, we love keeping money in our pocket more. We love indulging our greed and calling it by a nicer name — “prudent”.
Americans need a tax system that 1) taxes them fairly and with the understanding that those tax dollars are meant — ever dollar spent — to benefit them, their family, their community, their state, their country. If there’s waste — let’s get at it with a sledge hammer FFS! The goal is for Americans to see their taxes as their money that their government is spending for their benefit.
An itemized tax bill — as itemized as a tax return — would be nice. Even nicer — if the line items showed not just the outflow of tax dollar to the government but the inflow of benefits (assuming health care & college & the security that you won’t die a pauper). If Americans could see their taxes in terms of a cost-benefit analysis — where they were clearly getting something — they’d think of their taxes very differently.
I doubt they’d ever be happy paying taxes but at least they’d understand their taxes — their relationship to them. It could even quiet their moaning about taxes. I’m not holding my breath though.