Stupid Things Libertarians Say III: Stupid, Evil, Children
I’ve been writing about how Libertarianism is stupid: because it doesn’t take into account any part of the real world. But just as there comes a point when silence is betrayal, there comes a point when active, willful denial of reality transcends the line between stupidity and active evil.
The Slacktivist has discussed this phenomenon of willful stupidity many, many times. For example, here. And the conclusion he draws is simple. To be this stupid requires not just a lack of knowledge, but a constant and active denial of reality. Never tell them otherwise, and it is understandable if someone thinks the world is flat. But to show someone the history of the 1870-1920 period in American history, and still have them insist that a full, unfettered free market is the solution to everything from the recession to Chlamydia is a delusion that requires a certain effort to maintain.
Now, don’t get me wrong. One of the things I love about this country is its incredible tolerance for cranks, creeps, freaks, and jackasses of every stripe. You can believe whatever you want, however you want, as loudly as you want, and hell, if it’s weird enough, you might even make a buck. The Emperor Norton was the sort of all American whackjob that I love. This all-American tradition runs the gamut from the harmless, like Norton, to the…well, at best, mixed result of William Jennings Bryant, to the hostile and hateful madness of Fred Phelps. There is a common thread that runs through these men, a certain mad strangeness, given a separate twist in each one fixing his destiny to a different star. But Libertarians are another expression of this uniquely American strangeness, and ones that are usually worth tolerating.
Lately however, a particular virile and unpleasant little strain of libertarianism has been sweeping the nation in the form of the Tea Party. Now, these little bubbles happen from time to time, and, frankly, they’re kinda cool. A very interesting look at the nature of democracy, and of America itself. But this one has never sat well with me. Maybe it’s the leaders; I always kinda liked Bill O’Reilly-the “Cantankerous old bastard who says whatever he thinks” is who I want to be when I grow up (except not, you know…stupid.) But Glenn Beck creeps me right the hell out.* Or maybe it’s the undercurrent of racism in the virulent and irrational hatred of Obama that gets to me. Whatever it is, from its inception, the Tea Party has given me a certain uncomfortable twist in my stomach. As though there was something more than the usual right wing histrionics involved.
But I couldn’t put my finger on it until yesterday. And I had a rare moment, of slowly growing realization. Realization and a cold, pure rage I don’t think I’ve ever felt before. See, I was arguing with one of the Tea Party trolls that occasionally wanders through any decent blog. And this person, about as welcome as a leper at a buffet, was asked what, in his (or her) perfect little Libertopia, would be done about disabled people. Not access ramps, or push button doors, or parking spots…not anything as civilized as that. No, just how, without legislation like the Americans With Disabilities Act, could disabled people find a job?
I’d like to quote the “response” in full.(Emphasis mine.)
“The fun thing about the free market is that I don’t have to come up with a solution; other people have the freedom to innovate and come up with solutions. It’s much harder for the statist since they have to invent some sort of one-size-fits-all solution to accomplish whatever kind of social engineering they are trying to pawn off on society this week. If the handicapped can help someone make money, then someone will make it their business to help them do so.
Ok. We can discard the first sentence as “I don’t have to think about my philosophy based around destroying many fundamental parts of our society. FREEEEEEEE
DOM MARKET!” And the second is the usual “HAW HAW! Trying to run a government is hard!” bullshit. But the third sentence…do you see it?
If the handicapped can help someone make money, then someone will make it their business to help them do so.
Honestly, I was kicking myself that it’s taken me this long to see it. It was one of those slow dawning moments of realization, like standing in line at Starbucks, listening with half an to the lady behind you, only to slowly realize that she was telling you the pancakes in her basement told her to kill all her cats. The mind recoils at some things, even when they stare you in the face, as too inhuman. As things so antithetical to basic human decency as to defy belief.
And the hidden idea behind that statement up there is such a belief. Something that crosses the line from fatuous and defiant stupidity to active evil. And that idea is really quite simple. Tea Partiers/Tea Baggers/Beckians/Randites…whatever the hell they call themselves, believe that the only value a person has is their earning potential. Either you are useful to make dollars, or you have no worth.
“Well, sure.” You say. “A little messed up, I suppose, but what’s so bad about it?”
Well, think about it. Think about what it means to literally say (or imply) that the only worth people have is their earning potential. It’s always been there, the disgusting statement “If you don’t work, you don’t eat,” has the same basic thread running through it. You aren’t worth feeding, you aren’t worth keeping alive, unless you’re working.
Now, of course, the obvious thing is for all the libertarians to go “Well, yes we want to cut all social services and privatize everything and eliminate the government, and leave everything to the gentle hand of the free market but but but we don’t want to KILL anyone!” Like fucking shit you don’t, Charlie. And, unfortunately, the “but but but I didn’t meanto!” argument doesn’t fly with anyone. Gun goes off and shoots the little old lady in the apartment above? Get drunk and drive home and plow into a busload of nuns? There’s no “whoopsie!” clause in the real world.
But even that isn’t the most disturbing thing. What bothers me most isn’t the minutiae of whether or not they want to let the poor starve to death or actively go out and cap them. What concerns me is that isn’t a concern at all. There are, as far as I can tell, no Tea Baggers going “Um…guys? What happens when we win and we get rid of everything?” Michelle Bachmann does not sit around at night planning out the details of her idealist society. She has no answer to the question “So, do we just dump all taxes immediately, or would it be better to scale down until private industry can catch up with the demands currently being met by the private sector?”**
That isn’t a step five hundred question. That’s a step-fucking-two question about a concept that dozens of commentators and millions of protestors spend hours hammering on. Lower taxes. No taxes. Fair taxes. They can tell us in detail exactly what the tax rate should be, and exactly who should be taxed (and more importantly who shouldn’t be taxed.) They’ve got step one (elect Tea Party candidates!) and step 1000 (Free Market Bliss!) They’ve just got no fucking idea how to get there. More importantly, they don’t seem to understand that their actions have consequences, that should they magically be transported into the halls of power tomorrow, they’d be expected to do stuff. That doing that stuff would change things. That changing those things would impact the lives of real people who feel real pain, real sorrow, and cry real tears when their job goes away.
There is a term for the place that Tea Party Libertarians seem to be stuck. The developmental psychology pioneer Jean Piaget called it the “Preoperational stage.” See, the stage after the Preoperational stage of human development is called the Concrete Operational Stage. And the Concrete Operational stage of human development (generally occurring in the 7-11 age span) is the one that lets us realize that other people are their own separate beings, with desires, wishes and thoughts independent of our own. In many ways, it is the place we learn empathy, because the root of empathy is understanding at a deep and fundamental level that other people feel just as we do. That they hurt and cry and love and hope and dream, just exactly like we do. And this is a concept that Glenn Beck and his ilk have fled from- remember all the flap about “empathetic judges?” Essentially, the Tea Party exhibits egocentrism, the inability to distinguish between themselves and others. Not only are they not asking about the possible effects of their policies, they seem to be literally incapable of comprehending such effects, a classic presentation of egocentrism if ever there was one. And egocentrism is one of the defining aspects of the Preoperational stage.
Of course, there is more evidence for this. In the Preoperational stage, children and libertarians exhibit centration: focusing entirely on one aspect of a situation versus all the others. Witness this in relation to their single minded focus on the effect of lowering taxes, or the magical effects of the free market. The fact that the free market has a beneficial impact in many situations is the only detail they seem capable of grasping and the idea that there is a problem the free market cannot fix seems to literally be beyond their comprehension.
Children in this stage also exhibit animism, the belief that inanimate entities are capable of actions and have lifelike qualities. Again, the fixation on the free market, on capitalism, on the economy, seems to almost present it as an independent agent. At the very least, capitalism is seen as a fundamental law of nature somewhat akin to the laws of motion; an immutable fact, rather than a human invention under human control. (And one general note on Glenn Beck, the heavy use of simple representational imagery is developing in this stage. I’m just sayin’, I haven’t been that fixated on drawing simple shapes on a chalkboard since I was, well, six years old.)
Finally, children at this stage are incapable of understanding conservation. For example, they are not able to grasp the idea that if you pour liquid from a short, wide container into a tall narrow one, that it is the same liquid throughout. Again, the Tea Party seems fixated on the idea that if you change the outward appearance of a thing; in this case the economy, you will somehow change the thing itself, that problems and issues are not conserved. That there is no inherent structure to these things, but that they just are, as if sprung out of the ether to which they will return when things are set “right.”
It seems to me that the Tea Partiers are not fully functional adults, as that word is traditionally understood. They are children somewhere from the age of two to seven. And this is most frightening of all. Simply put, this stage of mental development is sociopathic; children from two to seven do not care about the feelings, wishes, beliefs, or others. More properly, they <i>cannot</i> care about them because they do not comprehend them.
Are they truly evil then? If there is truly this lack of comprehension? And the answer is: of course they are. These people are not idiots. Well, not in the technical sense. They are intelligent. They can feed, dress and drive themselves. They can run businesses, and carry on conversations. They can understand movies and that people are separate entities. What it comes down to is willful stupidity. Anyone can be willfully stupid: your boyfriend simply cannot be cheating on you. Of course she still loves me. One more round of blackjack and my luck will change.
Being willfully stupid is part of the human condition. But it seems that what this Tea Party nonsense requires is not the mere suspension of disbelief, nor denying the facts, but a level of systemic denial that requires its adherents to function on the intellectual level of small children. Children who cannot understand that other people have feelings. Children who cannot understand that problems have many sides.
Children who are still somehow adults. And responsible for their actions, for their madness, for their reductionism, and for the damage they have done and will do in their blind fits of uncomprehending pique.
It is not their lack of understanding that makes them evil. It is the will necessary to maintain that illusion. The will that makes them stupid, evil children.
*Seriously, am I the only one who thinks that Beck would be the perfect person to cast as a Nazi? I mean, I don’t want to call him an actual Nazi, but if I had a casting call for “Auschwitz Guards,” Beck would be perfect. And not for just the “normal” Nazis, but the extra fucked up ones. Like Mengle. Can’t you just see him playing Mengle? Creepy, isn’t it?
**Ok, in all fairness, she probably does have an answer. But that’s only because she will have a full blown Pavlovian response to the words “no taxes now” and go into foaming paroxysms of orgasmic joy at the thought. So yes, in the strictest, most technical sense of the word, she does have an answer.