Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Libertarian in Conservative Drag

Until Fran’s post a few weeks ago, I’d never heard of the idea of political cross-dressing.  Now that I know what it is, I find that I do it a lot.  I especially like to doll myself up for conservatives.

There is a tendency for those who call themselves conservatives, especially social conservatives, to think of libertarians as dopers and perverts who want to see their preferred vices embraced by society at large, or at least legalized.  At the very least, their ideas and attitudes are viewed with suspicion over their real-world practicality, which the conservative, being a conservative, is not going to embrace despite his penchant for the general ideal of liberty.  The libertarian “just takes a good thing too far.”

I certainly can’t speak for all libertarians.  Maybe there are some out there who want marijuana legalized so they can smoke the stuff freely.  But most of the ones that I know, myself included, are pretty much boy scouts.  I don’t have much interest in that kind of thing.  So, what’s in it for me and others like me?

My libertarianism is mostly informed, as you might guess, by my attempt to understand the monetary and financial system and seeing how government “regulation” and involvement completely corrupted the entire economy and quite a bit else along with it.  This is not exactly a new and insightful point of view – the idea that government pretty well corrupts anything and everything it touches. 

But what was particularly captivating, for me at least, was the way that once it was allowed to creep down to the very core of the valuation and exchange system of the economy, the monetary system, and unshackle it from the ancient principle of gold as an absolute and physical repository for economic accounting, the entire thing became completely disconnected from reality, taken over by an almost demonic animating influence, al a the conspiracy in That Hideous Strength.  To read a history of how government and the banking system systematically dismembered every last inhibiting accountability to the ancient standard of gold-as-money, which to that point had been primarily enforced by human convention far more than law, and to see the effect that it had is really quite bone chilling.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the individual actors involved were bumbling idiots who had no idea what they were doing, only that they needed some kind of release for the consequences of their own particular fraud, and yet the clear intent of the entire movement, animated by God-only-knows-what and which took upwards of a century, was to place the entire economy on a foundation which had no external accountability, only the whim of a select few overseeing masters.  Today, we are inheriting the consequences of this long process.

At almost every step, the same fraud was perpetuated.  “We’re changing the rules, just a little, but we’re still using gold.  Don't worry.”   First, it was actual gold as money.  Then, gold deposit receipts, a.k.a. bank notes or paper money, exchanged in lieu of gold but redeemable for gold, if desired.  Then, a Federal Reserve that could create money from nowhere, but somehow that money was still “backed by gold” and could be redeemed by the few antiquated “unsophisticated” types of people who chose to do so.  Then, the Great Depression, and the need to suspend gold redemption, and eventually seize all gold and adjust the exchange rate to fix the accounting disaster created by the Federal Reserve in the 1920’s.  Then, a ban on gold coinage altogether, for fear of upsetting the FED’s monetary games, made necessary by "economic necessity" and the Cold War, of course.  Finally, suspension of any pretense of exchangeability of gold altogether when the dollar was floated in the 1970's.   Through the hand of government, the point was reached that nobody cared about gold -- the old, outdated value system -- anymore and just accepted as government fiat what the valuation system for the economy was going to be.  In fact, if you are somebody who holds to ancient principles of monetary conduct, and rejects a completely government scripted money-value system, you are considered a screwball, a dinosaur, a crank, or worse, maybe an enemy of the state and the public at large.  You will be ridiculed and hated.  Talk about turning evil to good and good to evil!

But it would take some time, motivation, and a lot of research for the average person to find out the way things used to be, back when people cared about such outdated things.  People have other things to worry about, and they’d rather leave these types of concerns to the nice government men to take care of for them.

I shudder to think what the future holds for us when abortion, euthanasia, childcare, and other such issues have been so thoroughly imbued with government attentions.

A particular article which discussed such effects on issues more contemporaneous with the cares of most conservatives caught my attention some while back.  Here is a snippet:

First, the problem with the European model, namely: It drains too much of the life from life. And that statement applies as much to the lives of janitors--even more to the lives of janitors--as it does to the lives of CEOs…

… To become a source of deep satisfaction, a human activity has to meet some stringent requirements. It has to have been important (we don't get deep satisfaction from trivial things). You have to have put a lot of effort into it (hence the cliché "nothing worth having comes easily"). And you have to have been responsible for the consequences.

There aren't many activities in life that can satisfy those three requirements. Having been a good parent. That qualifies. A good marriage. That qualifies. Having been a good neighbor and good friend to those whose lives intersected with yours. That qualifies. And having been really good at something--good at something that drew the most from your abilities. That qualifies. Let me put it formally: If we ask what are the institutions through which human beings achieve deep satisfactions in life, the answer is that there are just four: family, community, vocation, and faith. Two clarifications: "Community" can embrace people who are scattered geographically. "Vocation" can include avocations or causes…

…Put aside all the sophisticated ways of conceptualizing governmental functions and think of it in this simplistic way: Almost anything that government does in social policy can be characterized as taking some of the trouble out of things. Sometimes, taking the trouble out of things is a good idea. Having an effective police force takes some of the trouble out of walking home safely at night, and I'm glad it does.
The problem is this: Every time the government takes some of the trouble out of performing the functions of family, community, vocation, and faith, it also strips those institutions of some of their vitality--it drains some of the life from them. It's inevitable. Families are not vital because the day-to-day tasks of raising children and being a good spouse are so much fun, but because the family has responsibility for doing important things that won't get done unless the family does them. Communities are not vital because it's so much fun to respond to our neighbors' needs, but because the community has the responsibility for doing important things that won't get done unless the community does them. Once that imperative has been met--family and community really do have the action--then an elaborate web of social norms, expectations, rewards, and punishments evolves over time that supports families and communities in performing their functions. When the government says it will take some of the trouble out of doing the things that families and communities evolved to do, it inevitably takes some of the action away from families and communities, and the web frays, and eventually disintegrates.
If we knew that leaving these functions in the hands of families and communities led to legions of neglected children and neglected neighbors, and taking them away from families and communities led to happy children and happy neighbors, then it would be possible to say that the cost is worth it. But that's not what happened when the U.S. welfare state expanded. We have seen growing legions of children raised in unimaginably awful circumstances, not because of material poverty but because of dysfunctional families, and the collapse of functioning neighborhoods into Hobbesian all-against-all free-fire zones.
Meanwhile, we have exacted costs that are seldom considered but are hugely important. Earlier, I said that the sources of deep satisfactions are the same for janitors as for CEOs, and I also said that people needed to do important things with their lives. When the government takes the trouble out of being a spouse and parent, it doesn't affect the sources of deep satisfaction for the CEO. Rather, it makes life difficult for the janitor. A man who is holding down a menial job and thereby supporting a wife and children is doing something authentically important with his life. He should take deep satisfaction from that, and be praised by his community for doing so. Think of all the phrases we used to have for it: "He is a man who pulls his own weight." "He's a good provider." If that same man lives under a system that says that the children of the woman he sleeps with will be taken care of whether or not he contributes, then that status goes away. I am not describing some theoretical outcome. I am describing American neighborhoods where, once, working at a menial job to provide for his family made a man proud and gave him status in his community, and where now it doesn't. I could give a half dozen other examples. Taking the trouble out of the stuff of life strips people--already has stripped people--of major ways in which human beings look back on their lives and say, "I made a difference."
I conclude that government is not at all up to the task of upholding our values, and is, in fact, inimical to them.  Taking over the functions of other institutions, determining right and wrong behavior, and politicizing then neglecting every aspect of our lives and value systems is not helpful, it is hurtful.  Government should not be entrusted with anything that is important to anybody, least of all our most cherished principles.  It should be appointed the bare minimum that allows society to function.

So, conservatives out there…

-- if you want to ensure that marriage becomes a meaningless institution, by all means, put the government in charge of defining what it is.

-- if you want the family thoroughly discredited and destroyed, by all means, have the government engaged in supporting the family, through welfare programs, public education, drug enforcement, vice regulation and the like.

-- if you want the church ground into oblivion, by all means, have the government become a source of social welfare and moral authority.  Give people no material reasons to come to church whatsoever.  Just make it a fun place for people to get together and talk about… well… whatever!

Basically, if you want to completely destroy social mores, by all means, put the government in charge of them.  Get government involved in any way you can.

But if you care about any of these things, by all means take care of it yourself and keep the government strictly out of it!

Do not think that taking government out of the equation and shrinking it down will result in anarchy and a loss of all values whatsoever.  Think of it this way.  There is no rule stating that cars should be made of steel, yet virtually every car you will encounter will have a great deal of steel incorporated into its design.  This is because steel is the best material for the job. There aren’t many good substitutes. If you “have faith in your faith,” then by all means have faith that your values will survive and flourish when left to stand on their own merits, and that chaff will go the way of chaff.

Time was, people had many more places to turn when it came to such questions besides national government.  In medieval times, there wasn’t really even much of a notion of the idea of a nation.  Governing authority was couched in many different institutions, from feudal family and nobility structures, to the church, which had real clout back then, to the king and his power apparatus.  We like to think of ourselves as sophisticated and materially prosperous, but I have a feeling that the people who lived back then had far richer lives in many respects, particularly when it came to variety and depth of social awareness, and probably felt much more secure in their values and the perpetuation of those systems that they cherished.

One of the most recurring motifs in fiction is to pit a human civilization against some alien group with a social structure like colonizing insects:  armies of mindless drones with no concept of “self” that do the bidding of some queen for which issues of ethics or morality are unknown and/or of no concern.  These beings are driven by biology and exponential growth, not value structures that govern behavior.  The story usually ends in such a way that the humans' value systems allow them to triumph over the enemy, and we all get to feel really good about ourselves.

I am beginning to wonder if we haven’t turned that story on its head.  Some time ago Jonah Goldberg wrote a book called Liberal Fascism, which I read only recently, and is yet another of Fran’s recommendations.  (Aside:  if Fran ever recommends a book, and especially if he starts quoting from it, by all means, drop what you are doing and read the durn thing.  You’ll be glad you did.)  In that book, Goldberg talks about the history of the Progressive movement, how it “progressed” into fascism, how it basically makes a religion of politics and the state, and how it now colors almost every aspect of political thought, despite nominal revulsion expressed by the political right.  Although the book doesn’t address it, the corruption of the money system was intimately tied up in this movement.  It took more than a century, which is why nobody really recognizes it or bothers about it.  Again, we take it all for granted.

In our unthinking embrace of Progressivism and fascism, which as he points out, now animates as much of the left as the right, I wonder if we have not become a bit less human, and a bit more like those alien bugs.  Does collectivizing and nationalizing childcare in the public schools, collectivizing and nationalizing finance, collectivizing and nationalizing our moral codes, and nationalizing basic charity through welfarism, not push these concerns out of mind and “let the government take care of them?”  How well does it take care of them – how well has it taken care of them in the past?  Does this not ensure that these ideals will be utterly corrupted and destroyed, and our civilization becomes like the thing it most hates?   I do not want my civilization to become like a hive of bees – mindless, selfless workers who do not understand nor want to understand their world, leave all value judgments to the Authorities, and fulfill their role as breeders and workers just as they’re told. 

I say, screw the statists.  All of them, whatever side of the aisle they sit on.  My values are too important to leave to those not-so-nice government men.  I want them to stay far, far away from anything that I love.  I want the job done right, and I intend to do it myself.  I will not have the government corrupting my marriage, church, values, and especially not my children.

Preserve social mores – get the government out of them.  Make them sacred, keep them sacred, and keep filthy hands away.  Begin by liberating yourself from the Progressivist mindset that I can assure you that you harbor.  Read Liberal Fascism if you don’t believe me, and even if you do.  Read about the disgusting things done in the name of “progress,” and see if you don’t find a little of your own thinking in them.  Then, read C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy.  See how the rot goes all the way to the top.

Give some serious thought to libertarianism.

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