Charity: it's for God damned communists.

Charity: it’s for God damned communists.

Today we have Scott Parker, who begins his tale of redemption thusly:

During college, a friend admitted he was confounded by my politics. He didn’t know how to reconcile my libertarianism with my other commitments. We were Buddhists and vegetarians, and I knew exactly what he meant. The tension centered around compassion. He wanted to know how someone concerned with the world’s suffering wouldn’t adopt a more compassionate political perspective.

How to reconcile? Let’s see, you personally believe in Buddhism and practice it. You, I assume since the vegetarianism is in reference to”compassion,” are concerned about factory farming and the suffering of animals, so you personally do not eat meat. And you personally believe that a small government is the most effective pragmatically for society (and more wealth and more success leads to more money for charity!) or morally (it’s my life, my money, my choice!) or even both (free markets are best, small, decentralized government is more efficient and more choice is moral). You chose all three beliefs. None of them conflict with the others. This hand-wringing over the contradictions within are a screamingly false scenario.  Since it’s the entire first graf, it’s hard to want to keep reading. But let’s all the same.

Parker has the ghost of fair point buried in the rest of his vaguely written piece, that libertarianism or free markets can sound too easy a solution in our big, complex world. But that is only to and coming from people who don’t know what libertarianism or free markets means. People say communism works only on paper (though it doesn’t really) and that being true of libertarianism instead is a popular liberal critique of the latter. Parker notes this, and he notes that he now believes libertarianism doesn’t work in the real world. This sounds profound, because it implies that he, and other critics, have taken the time to actually consider the ideology before dismissing it. But they haven’t. It’s just a variation on the asinine idea that saying “the market will take care of it” is somehow equal to saying the government will take care of it, or the deus ex machina will. See: lots of liberal jokes about the invisible hand.

Saying the market will take care of it is simply saying that voluntary decisions will be made, leading to a likely to be localized solution to, say, a lack of restaurant diversity or transportation options in a city. And there are concerns over this. No respectable libertarian believes in utopia, only improvement.  And they wonder over who will help the very poor or disadvantaged. They have written books upon articles upon books about every facet of this. And somehow, often, even in our crony capitalist, big government world, people will see a problem and try to solve it, either because they are motivated by enlightened self-interest or because people, for myriad reasons, do actually work hard in other to help people who are down on their luck, either temporarily or permanently. They do. But liberalism demands that we ignore the stunning voluntary generosity of people, because it is inconvenient to the ideology that some people must force others to help others. (But help often means in a bureaucratic, stifling manner that may include zoning or health regulations or other laws that unquestionably restrict voluntary charity.)

So why does someone like Parker, who claims to have read certain (unnamed) books on libertarianism imply with every word that he was the first libertarian to consider compassion, or to worry about the poor? Why does he not mention a single scholar, author, thinker, or anyone else to demonstrate what he believed before, and what he believes now as a healthily nuanced liberal?

Because it’s about feelings in the end! And Parker felt bad.

 My thoughts and feelings were at odds. The feeling nagging me was that I couldn’t reconcile my humanity with my ideology any more than my friend could for me. Over time, that feeling became a reason in its own right.

It’s hard not to think he just gave in to peer pressure. He convinced himself he couldn’t possibly care about people without wanting to force others to do so in a rigid, legalistic fashion.

But why is (supposed) rigidity only the domain of the libertarian (or, we presume, the communist)? Why is, people will figure out their own lives and the lives of their loved ones, and maybe help figure out the lives of the people in their cities or neighborhoods or blocks, somehow a one-size fits all, abstract, clunky philosophy? And of course “more government spending, more federal oversight, we’ll hash it out in Congress” is not? And when does Parker’s new noble, compromising and “messy” virtue become slightly less virtuous, after the second Iraq war? A couple of drone strikes? The war on drugs?

Parker is reminiscent of one of those people who responds “run for office!” or “vote!” when you express moral qualms over something, even something they as a progressive should agree is wrong, such as war or injust imprisonment. Say, aren’t some things just wrong? Rape is surely wrong, but isn’t decades in prison, with the potential for rape, over the consumption and sale of a substance? Murder has got to be wrong, the ultimate wrong. So maybe murder by missile and drone is the very same thing, no matter who voted for what, or how neat and tidy the process of getting there happened to be?

It’s not lazy ideology to say that the onus should not be on the person whose life is being ruined to prove it should not be. (Not to mention, voting and running for office is more likely to lead to no change at all.)

Libertarians philosophy is chock full of thinkers and writers, none of whom Parker bothered to mention. But more importantly, government, not libertarianism, is the entity that tries to fill every crevice of human experience and existence without nuance. It is the intellectually feeble answer to every real or imagined ill. And what is more smug than believing you know best how strangers should live their lives, and you know it so damned well, it’s going to happen by force?

Previously on Salon’s Praise Me, I Am No Longer a Libertarian: ‘What’s The Point of This Salon Article By a Man Who Went From Libertarianism to Liberalism?’

  • markbuehner

    Well said. Let me sum it up- there’s nothing compassionate about compelling other people to give up their time or money to help others. Liberalism, in practice, is often little more than an indulgence allowing people to feel good about themselves by embracing an ideology that costs them personally very little, in favor of actually getting out and helping people themselves. I dont need to help out at the soup kitchen, i’m in favor of higher taxes.

  • Scott Bieser

    I call bullshit on Scott Parker. I don’t believe he was ever actually a libertarian. I think he’s one of those progressives who are alarmed at how the corporate left has lost its cachet with so many younger people these days, and is trying to fight the re-alignment he sees going on around him.

  • Mike Huben

    Because it’s about feelings in the end! And Parker felt bad.

    Why didn’t you just come out and call him a girly-man? Oh, and don’t forget to snicker at how few guns he must own as a Buddhist.

    I like libertarians like you. Your excuses are SO lame: “He wasn’t a TRUE libertarian”, “wanting to force others to do so in a rigid, legalistic fashion”, “murder by missile and drone”. Strawmen, bullying, and denial. If somebody exercises their freedom to deny your beliefs, you are outraged. It is so funny, so ridiculous.

    • Lucy Steigerwald

      Talk about strawmen. My entire point is that his crisis over the “conflict” of being a libertarian, a vegetarian, and a Buddhist is made up in his own head. The line about feelings related to his FEELING that there was some kind of conflict/other people thought so without ever explaining why that might be.

      I have no interest in denying his right to free speech. I just wasn’t impressed by his piece, or his logic.

      I would never call someone a “girly-man” because that’s a bullshit, anti-feminist slur. I’ve fired a gun four times in my life. You don’t know me, but you’re making assumptions about libertarianism. And calling my piece “bullying” is hilarious.