I didn’t know what I was thinking. It sounded great at the time when I first heard about it in my junior year of high school. Even then I thought that drugs shouldn’t be illegal, and burning the American flag was definitely a matter of free speech. The government had no place telling me I couldn’t read this book, or listen to this music, or watch this movie that had boobs in it. Who did they think they were? Yes, Libertarianism not only appeals to our sense of self-determination, it also appeals to our inner child. The child that wants everything. We don’t need no stinking nanny state. Or public education system.
By the time I was 19 I was reading Ayn Rand and swallowing it chapter and verse. She became my prophetess, I’ve read Atlas Shrugged five times. Five. Times. That would be considered torture if read to a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, I did it willingly, and I bought into it. I became an evangelist for Objectivism, but within a year or so I mellowed. I still believed in a lot of what Rand wrote but I wasn’t quite so zealous. For years thereafter, I just went around in my own cloud of Libertarian Randroid bullshit and nobody really challenged me on it. I thought it was because I had a superior argument that could not be broken. It wasn’t until relatively recently that I realized it was because I was exhausting and out of touch with reality to the point where people just patted me on the head and sent me on my way.
Oh, my wounded pride! To think that all these years I had been so… right! Meanwhile, all of those Libertarians I supported and voted for and their close allies in the Republican party were smiling at me and others like me knowing that I was a useful idiot to them. They would throw me into a shark tank in a second and tell me to just pull myself up by my own bootstraps and sail away on their yacht.
It was my husband, who was then my boyfriend around the time I started to shift, who challenged me on a lot of the shit I was talking. We would have these epic political discussions and unlike others who simply backed away slowly, he would counter my points. He would ask me to go into a better defense of them. Stock answers didn’t work anymore. Appeals to freedom and liberty didn’t seem so effective. All of the things I believed in so strongly didn’t seem so strong anymore, and over time I realized that I had been craftily duped. This is why I understand how so many working-class people can vote against their own interests and support candidates completely hostile to their very existence. I did the same thing, and I’m sorry.
Many of us hold onto beliefs simply because we lack contrary information, and then when it is given, we hold on because we don’t want to admit we were wrong about something. I think, though, that this is one of the biggest reasons we don’t change: We don’t want to explain why to friends or family who were ideologically similar. It’s tough to change directions, and let’s face it, when we do change we’re not often equipped to defend these new ideals against a barrage of criticism coming from our former ideological cohorts.
For me the change was gradual and I tried to work in my new appreciation for progressive principles into my Libertarian framework. There are some common threads, such as, many progressives and Libertarians agree that the drug war is immoral, wasteful, and creates more crime than it prevents. It should also be noted that Libertarianism has shifted hard to the right as well, with many believing there should be no government and that the Non-Aggression Principle is all we need to live by. This is naive folly at best, but as the tide of Libertarianism moved in that direction, many of us who were more traditional or party-oriented felt set aside.
But here’s what it comes down to for me. Libertarianism is for the privileged. Like me. Like many people who live in first-world countries with governments based on the democratic process. For all they whine about being oppressed by the government, the truth is that most of them don’t know what real oppression is. Paying your taxes isn’t oppression. Having armed juntas burst into your home, kill you, and sell your wife and children into sex slavery is oppression. Being targeted and murdered for being gay or LGBT-allied in Uganda is oppression (and a form funded by U.S. right-wing Evangelical conservatives who, surprise, don’t like big government). Being black in America and being harassed and attacked by police for the crime of sitting on a public bench waiting for your children is oppression. It pains me to think that I once thought of myself as “oppressed” because taxes. Again, I apologize.
We can always have a healthy debate about what we spend tax dollars on, and in that respect I still agree with a lot of Libertarians. We should not be the world’s police force or arms dealer, we should not be in the business of waging war and mass murder abroad. We should be taking more care of our own citizens here and making sure Americans have a better standard of living before we consider foreign aid (not that I am against all foreign aid, though). And we should not be lecturing anyone on human rights while we still torture prisoners of war and hold them without charges or trial and while private prisons are one of our nation’s largest growth industries. But there are far too many people who would rather tear it all down and replace it with… nothing. No state. No government.
Again, what a whiny, self-centered, over-privileged, white and entitled mindset. Or as George Carlin once eloquently stated, “GIMME IT, IT’S MINE!!!”. Libertarians are the Veruca Salts of the political world. Don’t care how, they want it now. Don’t care if people aren’t paid a fair or living wage, I got mine. Don’t care if the power structure in this country favored you in your scholastic and employment pursuits, you “earned” it. Don’t care if it costs taxpayers less money to have a universal health care system, taxation is immoral because it’s “theft” and letting people suffer and die from treatable/curable medical conditions they can’t afford to access is somehow not immoral. It’s only gotten worse as the ideology has shifted more towards social Darwinism, and of course they want as little government as possible, BECAUSE IT BENEFITS THEM!!
This was a difficult conclusion to accept because I used to think, no, it benefits everyone, but that’s just not the truth. Trickle-down economics didn’t work either. Feeding into greed only creates more greed. Giving the already rich and powerful more money, more power, and less regulation only gives them more incentive to chase more money, more power, and total market anarchy. It doesn’t benefit those of us with zero chance of breaking into that stratosphere, but we keep selling the myth of Horatio Alger and pushing the narrative that we can all be the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg or Warren Buffett, and that’s just not true. Most of us are going to live rather average lives (and that’s okay). We’re going to be people who punch a clock for a living working for other people. If we’re lucky we will have our own small business and we will raise families, form communities, and have kids that grow up and play together. There will be a few among us who do rise to amazing success, and we should all strive to be successful, but billionaire or bust is a bad way to chart your life’s course. It’s far better to have a system in place that benefits all of us, not just those at the top with the hopes that the crumbs cast off from the table will be enough for us to survive on.
I am sorry that I wasted so many of my prime years preaching a bunch of arrogant, entitled bullshit. While there are some good points that Libertarianism brings to attention, they are becoming lost in a sea of self-worshiping assholery and dreamy-eyed visions of anarchic paradise. I am writing this in hopes that it wakes people up from their delusions of what it would be like, but I am not holding my breath. I just had to get this out there in hopes that one person will at least think twice before going off on some rant about “liberty” and “freedom” as if these were somehow inalienable absolutes.
They’re not. Get over yourselves.