Saturday, 14 February 2009

It's Damn' Hard To Be Moral

A favourite argument against libertarianism in general and libertarians in particular is that they lack responsibility and act only to gratify their own wishes; a 'to hell with all the rest of you' attitude. Such selfishness is held up by the socialist left as a - nay, the - reason why society can't be left to its own devices; those who by virtue of mental impairment or poor upbringing or impoverished circumstances would be further disadvantaged, preyed upon by the stronger elements within society. Those who oppose libertarianism envisage a 'night-watchman state' as a throwback to the Georgian era, in which a quarter of all women in London were thrust into prostitution, children abused, education denied to the poorer classes and safeguards existing only for those who could afford them. It is a grisly image, thronged with the twisted bodies of emaciated youths cowering at the sides of their tattered, gin-ravaged parents; one in which the clogged gutters lie thick with ordure, and rats gnaw at the bodies of dead cats, and the delicate elbow-length gloves adorning society misses are stitched by the light of a single candle, high in a rotten-roofed garret, by a consumptive girl whose handkerchief is stained with blossoms of blood. The soul instinctively recoils from such an existence; and the socialists, casting themselves in the light of benign caregivers, hold up their communist manifestos and say 'aren't you lucky to be living in a world in which we provide for your comfort and safety and anticipate your every need?'
   No. To understand our needs we must be free. If others have determined what our needs are, we have been denied that which fundamentally separates us from the animal kingdom: the power to reason. Without reason, the State can own us, as anyone can own anything that follows blindly. Libertarianism is that unique social ideal that states that only the individual may possess themselves: literally, 'self-possession'. And, in possessing the self, they may do whatsoever they wish with it as long as - and this is a fundamental and essential caveat - they do not injure others. Libertarianism takes upon itself more truly than any other system the 'do unto others' motif. Rather than being the hotbed of drugs and promiscuous vice that so many would wish to portray it as, liberty as conceived by libertarians comes with a heavy price tag. For to be moral not because the State says so but because the basis of one's convictions rests on the belief that each and every person has the innate right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness is surprisingly difficult.
   Let us examine, for instance, the charge that all libertarians are interested in is legalising drugs. Now, consider whether it is better not to take drugs because the State says so, or because one has worked logically through all the ramifications of drug-taking. One must consider the effect that drug-taking has upon their own finances, upon their family, upon their health and upon their psyche. They must consider what acts they may perform, based upon the experiences of other drug users, when under the influence of certain narcotics and whether they may endanger another's liberty or property. They must consider whether they will be able to hold down their job; what the effect may have upon their friendships; whether it will put a strain upon their family; whether, if they are a parent, they wish their children to witness them in a state of artificially induced euphoria; what will happen in a financial context if they decide to rid themselves of an addiction; how and when they can go into society when using drugs or quitting them; and whether their health or sanity may be irreparably damaged through either one time or long term exposure to their narcotic of choice. Now, if they have carefully and logically assessed all the factors involved in drug-taking and decide that it is not worth the risk, they should be able to make that decision; similarly, if they believe that they are responsible enough an individual to be able to adequately handle the consequences, they should be able to make that decision also. 
   Drug-taking is merely one example. There are hundreds of others; hundreds of other little denied opportunities that we never consider. For we have become morally lazy and ethically inept. If a State puts everything into place for us, and legislates for every manifestation of human behaviour, there is little for us to consider except that such and such is 'not allowed'. We are obediently, meekly herded like sheep, surrounded by warning notices at every stage, told that we must think like this or aspire to that or act in such a way as to make us 'good' citizens. But one cannot be 'good' if one has not the freedom to decide upon what goodness entails. And it is no accident that those living in over-developed and over-intrusive states have the highest levels of depression, alcoholism, violence and suicide. Being forced into artificially constructed 'normal' behaviour is, essentially, insane. As Eric Fromm has it, 'Mental health is characterized by the ability to love and create, by the emergence from incestuous ties to clan and soil, by a sense of identity based on one's experience of self as the subject and agent of one's powers, by the grasp of reality inside and outside of ourselves, that is, by the development of objectivity and reason.'

4 comments:

  1. I like the way you address common arguments against libertarians, some of which I share, which made me resistent to being called one, even though I am!

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  2. Thank you very much: I'm growing ever-more sick of current society's (using Edward Bernay's Propaganda as a blueprint) tendency to do our reasoning for us, and its largely successful attempt to convince us that we must be saved from ourselves!

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  3. Mara,

    Your last sentence typifies the attitude of the Westminster government to the Scottish government where they give permission for a few token gestures but stifle any real power that would benefit the population as with paternal/maternal benevolence they dole out the pocket-money but keep limits on where and what it is spent.

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  4. -Indeed; whilst stirring up more resentment by making it appear that Scotland possesses greater liberty and receives more benefits than the UK, thus disempowering all of us by isolating us from one another.

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Life is to be lived, not controlled, and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat -Ralph Ellison