Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Light Came On

A light came on in my head. A moment of insight that still has me reeling. No, it's nothing profound that has never been thought of or said before. It's my own little spark of connection, simplification, and...awe.

My entire adult life has been spent reading about, thinking about, and talking about libertarianism, always struggling with the issues of public policy and 'how we get there from here' kind of subjects. The reason for all of the study, thought, and discussion is that the world is full of people who discount libertarian ideas as false, impractical, or idealistic. Of course, my argument has been that the ideas are true, eminently practical...and what's wrong with idealism if the ideals are right?

With a few notable exceptions, hardly anybody changes their minds during an argument or discussion. Usually people, especially poorly informed or misinformed people, bury themselves deeper into their belief system when they are challenged. I suppose this is natural. Nobody wants to be wrong. It strikes too close to our definition of ourselves, and we fear recanting, looking foolish, losing face, and believing we are lesser persons for having been corrected by another. The longer we hold a position, the harder to admit it has been proven false.

I have been operating under the assumption that if I could just find the right comfort and convince, and...and...convert. So I played with words and arguments, forming them the way a never-satisfied wannabe sculpture artist tortures clay, to make all men into libertarians like me. Always failing. Always trying again. And again. I can be a bore at parties.

It was all so unnecessary. The light that came on was the realization that, without any argument, all men were already libertarians. All men and women, universally, around the world and across cultures and across national boundaries and regardless of religion, race, occupation, or gender, are naturally libertarians. Civil society could not exist if they were not, for libertarianism is nothing more, and nothing less, than treating other people and their property with respect. We all do this everyday and everywhere. Human interactions are overwhelmingly made up of personal contacts between equals. We live near, sell to, buy from, trade with, and leave alone others every single day. At no time do we feel it is our right to steal, maim, intrude, or kill. Those things are wrong in all cultures and all political systems. A society in which killing and stealing is every one's right is doomed to failure as it descends into war and flight. A non-libertarian society will not be a civil society, it will be a wasteland.

The struggle is not to sell libertarianism, but to illustrate the disconnect between our personal morals and our political convictions. It is no more right for me to put a gun to my neighbor's head and demand forty percent of their cash than it is for me to vote for someone to hire someone to put a gun to my neighbor's head and demand forty percent of their cash. Proxy politics removes the thought of moral culpability, but it does not remove the reality. Voting for politicians who vote for an aggressive war in which ninety percent of the casualties are civilians has the same moral dimensions as personally shooting an innocent, cowering Afghan peasant woman. We cannot be excused from the crime because our vote was filtered through politicians, generals, layers of military officers, until it arrived in the hands of a half-boy-half-man with an attitude and a gun.

Personal libertarianism must be reconnected to public libertarianism. That is our most urgent task and our moral duty.

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