To my Libertarian friends
First, I’d like to say thank you to the people who have been writing me very nice comments about the PBS Frontline special. It’s cool that people dug it, and it makes me really glad I did it. Thanks!
Second, I had a blast with Reno the other night doing her “Money Talks” show. You should definitely check her out soon.
Also, I’m on my way to the third day of a modeling conference at the IMA (which is part of the University of Minnesota) called User-Centered Modeling. I’ll be speaking tomorrow and I expect to be blogging quite a bit on the other talks between now and Friday.
And with that, I’d like to use the rest of my GoGo Inflight Internet service to start a conversation about the libertarian mindset.
By the way, in spite of my annoyingly opinionated personality, I actually love having friends I disagree with. It feels much more comfortable to be around people who give me friction and challenge my opinions than to be around people who all think similarly to me.
Why? Because it’s a lot easier to spot other people’s hypocrisies than it is to spot one’s own hypocrisies. So if I’m around people who agree with me, we are all very likely being totally blind to something obviously flawed in our mindset, but nobody’s there to point it out.
With that in mind, I really do want this to be a conversation about why libertarians think the way they do- so please comment if you have something to say (and feel free to tell me not to post your comment). I’ll start with what I see as an hypocrisy of the libertarian perspective.
Namely, the cry I hear over and over from the libertarian in the room (whichever one happens to be there) is that big government and welfare and socialized programs are helping people out who should be able to make shit work on their own, whereas they never asked anyone for any help.
This myth of the “pulled myself up by the bootstrap” kind of drives me nuts. It’s like they completely ignore the system in which they lived and (usually) thrived, and how advantaged they are in that system.
When people go into that riff where they talk about how they never owe anybody any money, and they put themselves through college and don’t see why they should feel bad for the students nowadays who owe a collective $1,000,000,000,000 in student loans because they managed to be successful without extra help, here’s what I ask them: do you think you could have been as successful as you are if you’d been born a female subsistence farmer in Africa?
That’s kind of an easy one (and I go from there) but what it does it contextualize the idea of what it means to not ask for help. Namely, when you have a good infrastructure set up with a good education, available health care, etc, then you don’t need to ask for help, because you can help yourself. But it doesn’t mean you’re doing it all by yourself!
So, if you were born into an honest family with a good work ethic and strong skills and intelligence, then yes it’s possible to work really hard and do well, and I’m always proud of people who work really hard and do well, but it needs to be understood that anyone who is a success in our culture is a success partly because our culture allows for such success – and then there’s the individual contribution component which is much much much smaller.
Did you ever notice in the Ayn Rand novel that there aren’t any kids in them? Or for that matter any disabled people, old people, or sick people? It’s a grownup world where you’re either brilliant and yearn to be free from the shackles of petty people trying to repress your innovation, or you’re one of those petty people.
But actually our world isn’t like that at all. We have a community of humans, and like it or not we each contribute to our culture and do our part in defining success or failure.
I always like to point out that I hate laziness, and I have no patience for laziness. It’s a distraction to talk about how lazy whiny entitled kids expect us to pay for their college and then also expect to be given a cushy job afterwards (because libertarians tend to start talking about such symbols of what is wrong with social programs).
Even if there are examples of such people, there are plenty of other examples of people who genuinely worked hard but needed to take out lots of loans and didn’t understand their terms and now are desperately looking for work but can’t find anything. If the conversation is going well I’ll even talk about how if, as a culture, we are raising a generation of entitled kids (which is an exaggeration), then maybe it’s our fault and not the kids’ fault. Because it is.