Reluctant Misanthrope

A misanthrope is one who has a general hatred, distrust or disdain of the human species. There are all kinds of reasons why someone might become a misanthrope. Many of those reasons are irrational and/or based on highly subjective, personal experience rather than on rational principles or scientifically defensible facts.

Plan of the area of Midsummer Common designate...

Plan of the area of Midsummer Common designated under the Anti-Social behaviour act. Designated Area Hatched (Grey). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a pro-social, humanistic, tolerant, and generally broad-minded sort of person. Nevertheless I am also a reluctant misanthrope for reasons I think are not only rational but possibly even logically inescapable.  There is scientific justification for my arguments, but I’d rather save supporting evidence for another time and just present the basic outlines of my case against humanity here:

Basic Arguments

1.  Humans can be sorted into three broad behavioral categories or bio-psycho-social phenotypes that are established through the interplay of nature and nurture:

2. In the USA nowadays our population is divided between the main behavioral phenotypes (SPS, SAS, and OS) roughly  in these proportions:

SAS (10%) |<——>|<—————————- OS (70%) —————————->|<————->| SPS (20%)

3. People in all three types can be highly intelligent, creative, resourceful, and competent but for convenience I’ll characterize the strongly anti-socials (SAS) as “the wolves;” the omni-socials (OS) as “the sheep;” and the strongly pro-socials (SPS) as “the cats.” Wolves, although they are anti-social towards the other two categories, often act in large, well-organized, hierarchical packs. Sheep operate in herds of many sizes, shapes, and types and form various kinds of relations with wolves and cats.

Cats tend to be intelligent, creative, liberal, and progressive but they also tend to be idealistic to a fault and to have big egos. This leads to conflicts among themselves over relatively minor differences. They have many core values and beliefs in common, but they have difficulty pulling together and synchronizing their political and economic actions. While paying very pious lip service to the common good, they tend to place things like creative autonomy,  self-actualization, personal enlightenment,  etc. (i.e. being “mavericky” free thinkers) far ahead of intellectual, political, and social norms which they may even find repugnant and confining (even if those norms are highly utilitarian and pro-social).

Cats have a broad spectrum of ideological specializations (competing “boutique” ideologies) that tend to keep further splintering into smaller and smaller factions. Examples (to mention only a few) include relatively mainstream classical liberals, progressives, leftists, socialists, trade unionists, etc., as well as:

A similar degree of political and socioeconomic fragmentation is produced as cats follow their individual artistic muses, social and cultural preferences, career paths, etc. We are addicted to our mavericky idiosyncrasies. They make us feel special, superior, and they stimulate the endogenous neurochemical intoxicants to which we are addicted. As “cultural creative” types we preach collective consciousness and the common welfare but in fact we are more often occupied with distinguishing ourselves, “going our own way,” etc. than in harnessing ourselves to pragmatic social standards or norms no matter how universal.

The collective forest (our ethical common ground, our commons of basic enlightenment values, standards, and norms) is often lost for all our diverse intellectual, political, and social trees and branches. In this regard, in our ego-stimulating self conceits,  we are just as bad as (perhaps worse than) the wolves and the sheep.

4. In the end our fierce, creative independence; our idealism; and our social conscience all fail us. The wolves use corporate media, public relations, legal and political influence, shiny consumer objects, wages and salaries, etc. to exploit the obsessive-compulsive, narcissistic, and self-indulgent aspect of a cat’s nature. They keep us chasing laser pointers and toys on strings– and  thereby they divide and rule even the most fiercely independent cats.

5. But its not the wolves and sheep that I’m most disappointed in. It isn’t the predictably predetory behavior of wolves; or the foolish, irrational behavior of sheep  (driven by instincts, emotions, and unconscious calculations of self interest) that makes me a reluctant misanthrope. I’m most disappointed– no, disgusted– at we cats. We artfully avoid coming to grips with the widening gap between 1) our hopes and ideals for civilization and the planet, and 2) our actual collective accomplishments as cats. Despite progress in certain areas of social and cultural development, if we take honest stock of the big picture we find that civilization has moved closer to disaster and dystopia in our generation, on our watch.  Our institutions are increasingly helpless to cope with trends like peak oil, peak minerals, peak food, peak water, peak habitat, peak biodiversity, peak equality, peak justice, etc.  Despite the fact that fairly obvious (often empirically proven) solutions to these problems have been around for decades we seem helpless to turn the ship of civilization far enough and fast enough in the right direction. Why? Our usual answer is that we are outnumbered and overpowered by the wolves and the large percentage of  sheep they control.

The real answer is that we are outmaneuvered and outplayed. As 20% of the population (and in many ways the most enlightened and resourceful 20%) the 60 million or so of US cats might have the potential and the means to turn civilization on a dime if we played the game a certain way.

We are, after all, each trying to put his or her best foot forward–it just isn’t the same foot at the same time making the same size step in the same direction. Despite the fact that most cats are all pulling in a progressive general direction, our timing, our exact compass bearing, and our precise quanta of effort are all over the place. Cats are not synchronized swimmers. We’re more like drunken sailors. Nevertheless, 60 million cats pulling in unison as one virtual tugboat probably could move the ship of civilization in any direction we chose. The problem is not insufficient means–it is inadequate method. The problem is entirely one of coordination. A virtual machine made up of sixty million cats acting in their historically default manner has no functional command and control system. Cats aren’t like ants or bees who stigmergically act in concert. Sheep are a lot like that but cats are (if anything) just the opposite. Throw a stone at a group of cats and each will bolt off in a different direction. We can’t hold a virtual tugboat of cats together for very long, much less steer a coherent course, unless we do something different– say invent a new set  of cat-compatible social design and engineering methods with empirical quality controls. Otherwise, any virtual tugboat made of cats will immediately begin to fall apart as it runs in erratic circles and zigzags. It is on us– if we don’t alter our historically typical cat nature the wolves and sheep will keep pulling us towards the edge of the world. If we do alter ourselves in whatever way necessary to act both rationally and in concert we might well be able to alter that course. In order to succeed, cats must be able and (more importantly) willing to see ourselves as we truly are–creatures of ego, vanity, and self-indulgence. Yet typically we look in the mirror of our mind’s eye and imagine ourselves as beings of enlightenment and high moral sensibility. Of all creatures I think we cats have the greatest potential ability to see ourselves as we truly are–but do we have the courage and the will to submit to such mental and emotional self-discipline? Each of us is by nature already willing to endure great suffering and sacrifice in order to pursue his or her own personal heroic, idealistic, and esthetic narratives. But are we willing to endure equal suffering in the service of a collective norm, a standard narrative with measurable objectives and rigorously empirical quality controls? That’s not normally, naturally, or historically how we roll– which is why I’m currently a reluctant misanthrope. Can that change?

There are hundreds of good pro-social plans, solutions, projects, organizations, movements, tactics, etc. We each have our favorites. But are there any two or three of those that all 60 million of us will commit to act upon in some measurable way (say by contributing ten dollars or ten hours per month)? If so–if that would happen–then those efforts would probably succeed and ALL the other pro-social, progressive projects (including your own pet projects) might follow like dominoes.

My suggestion for a simple, initial, common agenda for the 60 million most pro-social humans in the USA:

1. Organize into 12-member consciousness-raising circles or juntos (clubs) to meet physically in person at least once a month. These clubs would network with each other to form bioregional, national, and international networks. This club of clubs would operate democratically and follow the principle of subsidiarity (i.e. any matter should be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralised agency or authority capable of addressing that matter effectively). The core theme of “consciousness-raising” spans all pro-social agendas, organizations, projects, etc. but also specifically focuses on developing real cognitive and metacognitive group practices.

2. Also contribute time and/or money on a regular monthly basis to the occupy (OWS) movement  and your local Democratic Party organization.

Are you as disappointed in the overall net accomplishments of your generation (and yourself) as I am?

Is individual and collective effort of a different quality and different order of magnitude possible?

I don’t think adequate consciousness-raising is very likely, but I do think its possible.

Your reluctant misanthrope,

Poor Richard

Related PRA 2.0 posts

Related video

Davey D sits down with hip-hop historian, technologist, & entrepreneur, Lasana Hotep. They talk about the difference of how technology is utilized in urban communities compared to predominately white suburban communities and the paradigm shifts that encompass them. (OLMNews w/ Davey D)

Mono a Mono?

Was monotheism an advance in human understanding?

What if the historical trend towards monotheism were principally reinforced by its utility as a pretext for authoritarianism?

The animism and polytheism (or pantheism) of early humanity did not preclude the appropriation of religious motifs and beliefs by sociopolitical institutions or hierarchies, but they may have made it more difficult for such hierarchies to grow into permanent monopolies of orthodox dogma.

The word orthodox is from the Greek orthos (“right”, “true”, “straight”) + doxa (“opinion” or “belief”, related to dokein, “to think”) (Wikipedia)

Perhaps ideology is a stage in the development of authoritarian culture analogous to monotheistic theologies. Each “brand” of theology and ideology rolls up and obscures a pantheon of diverse ideas. Converts don’t need to drill down very deeply.

Ironically, the growing influence  of science on society may contribute to a popular misconception of scientific or academic certainty that can be exploited to forge even tighter monopolies on culture and thought. The evil twin of science, pseudo science or “scientism,” is seductive to many.

Theology, ideology, and scientism lend themselves equally to the agenda of authoritarianism. The real war for the hearts and minds of humanity is not between the Right and the Left, or any of their many academic, theological or ideological proxies. The real war that underlies everything else is between orthodoxy and pluralism. Conformity and conflict are two sides of one coin. We need forms of civic equality and conviviality that are not based on uniformity.

Nature abhors a monoculture.

“The etiology is psychiatric” — Helen Caldicott


Related: Town Hall Meeting: Class war, Culture war, or Holy war?

The Reactionary Mind

Check out these new books on the philosophy,  psychology, and neuroscience of political ideologies:

1. The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin

(Video from Conversations w/ Great Minds – Thom Hartmann interviews Corey Robin. Executive summary: conservatism is fundamentally authoritarian and anti-democratic.)

Youtube link: Corey Robin, The Reactionary Mind

2. The Republican Brain: Why Even Educated Conservatives Deny Science — and Reality

This essay is adapted from Chris Mooney’s forthcoming book.

Video: Thom Hartmann interviews Chris Mooney about The Republican Brain:

YouTube link

3. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

 Jonathan Haidt, C-SPAN BookTV:

“Jonathan Haidt, psychology professor at the University of Virginia, presents his thoughts on the current political and social divisions that he contends separate the Left and the Right. The social psychologist examines the origins of these fissures and explains that people’s moral intuition, the initial perceptions we have of others, propagates the idea that people who view the world differently from how we do are wrong.” (full video)

Video excerpt (10 min):

How do Conservatives and Liberals See the World? (

“Bill Moyers and moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt talk about the psychological underpinnings of our contentious culture, why we can’t trust our own opinions, and the demonizing of our adversaries.”


Check these out! They offer much-needed modern perspectives to help us scientifically unmask, re-frame, and re-brand the right-wing world-view for what it often is: counter-revolutionary (vis a vis the US Revolution and other democratic revolutions), anti-democratic, and anti-enlightenment.  Conservative approaches may have utility under certain socio-economic and cultural conditions, but in general they are increasingly pathological and self-defeating in modern, liberal, democratic  societies.

Please note, I’m not saying that so-called liberal and neoliberal approaches are necessarily better, especially those that actually encourage or provide cover for corruption, crony capitalism (corporatism), neo-feudalism, or other excessive concentrations of  state and/or private wealth and power at the top.

Perhaps the single most important principle adopted by the US Founders was the separation of powers with appropriate checks and balances.  All such schemes aim at some more-or-less ideal distribution of power (and sometimes wealth) across various segments and institutions of society. When that distribution departs too far from the ideal, then some kind of redistribution is wanted. The differences between most conservative and liberal ideologies may boil down to differences in the preferred ratios and mechanisms of that distribution. In my opinion the ideal ratios and mechanisms for the distribution of power (and insomuch as it is a proxy for power, wealth) should be determined by experimentation and empirical data rather than by ideology. Most conservatives and liberals alike are still more attached to ideologies than to science (i.e. empirical data).


Analyzing mixed socio-economic systems

Michel Bauwens.

Michel Bauwens –Image via Wikipedia

This is a response to “Should we worry about capitalist commons?” by Michel Bauwens of the The Foundation for P2P Alternatives. What follows won’t make as much sense if you don’t read that article first.

Avoiding the language trap

As Michel Bauwens acknowledged in an article about theories of property rights subtitled “The Ubiquity of Mixed Systems”, when we try to superimpose political and economic theories, doctrines, and ideologies on actual human society we nearly always end up needing to think in terms of mixed or hybrid systems. As he importantly noted in that article, an “arrangement that works in practice can work in theory.” It is vital that in developing new economic and social theory we work from actual examples, cases, and histories, as Michel did  in “Should we worry about capitalist commons? by basing his discussion on the case of the free software movement.

Michel’s post also takes important steps in describing the relation between the socio-economic status quo at any given time and emergent relations and phase transitions. Michel writes:

It is simply inconceivable that a slave-based empire could undergo a phase transition towards the feudal mode of production, without the existence of proto-feudal modalities within that system; it is equally inconceivable that the feudal mode of production could have a phase transition towards the capitalist mode of production, without proto-capitalist modalities existing within that feudal system. It is the ultimate strengthening and intermeshing of these proto-capitalist modalities, which creates the basis for a political and social revolution that ultimately guarantees the phase transition.

This reminds me of the “include and transcend” trope in the Integral Theory of Ken Wilber and the Spiral Dynamics theory of  psychology professor Clare W. Graves.

Relationships between a status quo and an emerging transition state are often reflected in their respective linguistic and rhetorical idioms. Terminology can include and transcend or it can be provocative and divisive. Often a particular terminology is chosen precisely to signify affinity with one group and/or distinction from another, as in the case of “capitalist” terminology and “anti-capitalist” terminology.

I have learned as a computer programmer that I can take a flow chart depicting the logical relations between a set of inputs, outputs, and algorithms and I can code that sucker in any one of a dozen computer “languages”. What’s more, in any one of those languages I may have alternative choices of data structures, methods, etc. for accomplishing the same ends. Likewise a crafter of detective stories can tell the same story in many different styles and structures. Then that book can be translated into any number of languages.

The underlying logic, values, relations, and specifications of the computer program or novel are in many ways more important or fundamental than the language in which they are embodied. The latter becomes important only in relation to the environment in which the program must run or the book must sell. The same is true when it comes to expressing socio-economic models and theories with language.

One of my personal rhetorical preferences is to use terminology that is familiar and comfortable to people in the center in mainstream culture, especially when I am discussing ideas that may be culturally unfamiliar or uncomfortable to many. By choosing “business” terminology that is native to the mainstream, and even native to my political opponents, I sometimes alienate my own friends on the left. But my intent is a kind of rhetorical “Jujutsu” (a Japanese martial art for defeating an armed and armored opponent in which one uses no weapon).

Wikipedia says: “‘Ju’ can be translated to mean gentle, supple, flexible, pliable, or yielding. “Jutsu” can be translated to mean “art” or “technique” and represents manipulating the opponent’s force against him rather than confronting it with one’s own force.”

Or maybe I just take a perverse pleasure in being provocative towards my own philosophical and political community. Or both.

Actually, there is a good reason for stepping on liberal corns and tipping our radical sacred cows. All too often we liberals (and especially we “mavericks”) have emotional attachments to our chosen doctrines and jargon that are not justified by actual technical utility.  If we are students of history we may have observed how often old intellectual “wine” is simply repackaged in new bottles. How often does the re-bottling really accomplish anything, and how often does it cause unintended consequences such as the wine getting spilt or going sour? Occasionally the new package actually does something new like dispense single servings while keeping the rest fresh. But often it turns out the new bottle does little or nothing more than the old one did. Its the old “distinction without a difference”. (Or is it the other way around?)

In stark contrast, to actually improve the wine itself might require a long, laborious apprenticeship under a master vintner to acquire a thorough and pragmatic knowledge of soils, vines, cultivation practices, harvesting, pressing, blending, fermenting, racking, bottling, and cellaring. Within and between each subsystem there are many elemental, functional, or essential values and relations. The bottle is vital, but it is perhaps the most uncomplicated piece in all of this (less problematic than even the lowly cork), and for a wide range of bottle designs one kind may do just as well as another.

Another analogy that bears on the subject of “sustainable terminology” is a recycling and re-purposing analogy. We can conserve intellectual capital and labor by recycling our “bottles” rather than tossing the old, used terminology in the linguistic landfill and manufacturing new ones from scratch. Perhaps only a small number of cracked or chipped bottles need to be discarded and replaced with new ones. Our new, improved intellectual wine might just as well be re-packaged in the same old bottles as the the old wine once they have been well cleaned and inspected.

I may have belabored these analogies a bit but I have demonstrated how ideas about one thing, such as terminology, can be repackaged in other terminology as foreign to that subject as  enology, or wine making. It is far less a stretch to repackage some new socio-economic understanding or sensibility in old soci-economic terminology with a minimal number of pragmatic tweaks and hacks.

One example I have recently seen is “copy-far-left”. I’m not sure if this term is technically a neologism, a portmanteau, or something else, so I’m just going to call it a “hack” of the familiar word “copyright” and the familiar expression “far-left” which signifies an ultra-liberal or radical political orientation. (The expression comes from the seating arrangements in the French National Assembly during the French Revolution. The most radical members were seated on the far left of the chamber.) But this expression and others such as copyleft, copywrong, and copy-just-right are somewhat subjective and come with various degrees of emotional, philosophical, political, and historical baggage.

I prefer instead the conventional term “conditional copyright” which signifies a copyright that is a bundle of individual and severable rights– any, all, or none of which may be explicitly retained or waived by an author. An author is anyone who has created a work or “added value” to an existing work. It can be argued that all works are derivatives of previous work but that does no harm to the notion of an author as someone who has added value either to a particular work or to the general body of  creative human expression. The latter generalization is perfectly consistent with a conventional conditional copyright, which can serve the same purposes as any of the other copy-whatever hacks. The conditional copyright is simply any copyright that has a specification which explicitly spells out the rights that are (or are not) either retained by the copyright holder or granted to others with or without other special conditions. This has always been the nature of the conventional copyright. The familiar specification “all rights reserved” is simply a special case of the conditional copyright where the entire bundle of rights is retained unconditionally by the specified copyright holder. This is by no means (and never has been) the only legal species of the conventional copyright.

A similar conditionality has long been established in the common law of real and personal property through the same bundle of rights metaphor.

I challenge any of my liberal or radical friends to define a form of property ownership, non-ownership, anti-ownership, enclosure, non-enclosure, or commons that I cannot model with a conditional property or copyright specification without the need for any new terminology whatsoever, proving that new terminology is unnecessary for a full and fair technical or legal discourse. If new terminology is still desired it should be admitted that it serves a poetic, rhetorical, emotional, or ideological need rather than a technical or analytical one.

(Disclaimer:  the only case to which I will not try to apply conditional copyright principles is the proposition that there is no value created or added; or that any value which may be added does not require any formal or legal means of protection because  some other, informal means is sufficient. Also, I’m not a copyright attorney–these conditional copyright principles may or may not be compatible with current national statutes and international agreements.)

“The map is not the territory” (Alfred Korzybski)

Regardless of what terminology we use to discuss socio-economic theories such as “commons-based peer-production” or “capitalist commons“, we should remember that “the word is not the thing” (Alfred Korzybski). We are discussing actual social and economic relations in vivo and in situ.

In our lives we have one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one, and many-to many relations–relations between people and people, people and groups, people and objects, groups and objects, groups and the environment, etc. You can find many of the same, identical relations across many cultures, past and present, spoken of via many different metaphors and ritualized/institutionalized in many different ways.

Our choice of terminology and metaphor should be audience-appropriate, but analytically and technically we need to focus on functional relations, values and criteria. We can call something public, private, civic, social, or common. We can call something a group, a partnership, an association, a corporation, a collective, or a community. But people can differ wildly about what any of those terms mean. Any distinctions we attribute to those terms really arise from a more basic and fundamental class of issues: power, rank, consent, transparency, accountability, democracy, inclusion, opportunity, sustainability, reciprocity, symmetry, justice, fairness, dignity, & etc., etc., etc. Too often when we argue at the level of public vs private or common vs corporate we are arguing about the “bottles” and fail to ever connect with those underlying assumptions, values, and relations that really make the wine what it is.

At the academic level there are heroic efforts to put economics on an empirical, scientific footing. Those efforts are largely thwarted by the influence of money and power. But at the level of public discourse economics is almost entirely a vehicle for ideology (a disease of the mind).

Michel Bauwens is taking important strides towards an interdisciplinary, non-ideological, doctrine-neutral analysis of social, political, and economic relationships and I really dig it. That is the kind of framework  I want to build on. That is the kind of framework we can all build upon collectively and cooperatively no matter what our personal biases may be.

Poor Richard

Related PRA2010 Posts:

Political Compass reading

After taking a brief opinion survey at The Political Compass website, I got the following graph of my own political position. Under my graph is one showing a few well-known people for reference. Turns out I’m more Left/Libertarian than either Gandhi or the Dali Lama.

Political Compass Graph for Poor Richard

Economic Left/Right: -7.50, Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -7.08

The interpretation: I am a strong advocate of “voluntary regional collectivism.”

Familiar People:

Some Political Compass positions

Libertarian Fundamentalism

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it, and a moral code that glorifies it.” – Political economist Frederic Bastiat, The Law [1850]

Such a code is laissez-faire or “free-market” capitalism and libertarian fundamentalists are its zealots. Anti-competitive, predatory, monopoly capitalists and robber-barons in the USA promote this ideology because the word libertarian resembles the word liberty and US Americans have a cult of individualistic freedom.  The crux of libertarian fundamentalism (or extreme libertarianism) is how differently it treats the issues of coercion and tyranny in the private and public sectors.  The ideology asserts (on theoretical rather than empirical grounds) a natural bias towards freedom and justice (and against coercion and tyranny) in the former and the opposite in the latter; and it generally turns a blind eye towards the concentrations (and abuses) of power in the private sector that can be observed in weak states just as often as in strong ones.  Libertarian fundamentalism asserts, again without empirical evidence, that courts of law are more dependable regulatory mechanisms of social and economic justice than democratic legislatures. Many of the most powerful promoters of libertarian fundamentalism are themselves unscrupulous crony capitalists who gain advantage by corrupting and manipulating our legal and political institutions.

Look, I’m all for liberty, freedom, individuality, etc. but on some level these are optimized under a regular order of some kind. Rules. We have these even in war and football. The solution to cronyism is not smaller government, fewer rules, fewer referees. The best alternative to corrupt government is not no government, its uncorrupted government. Solutions are those that reduce corruption and increase accountability.


adam smith on taxes“The subjects of every state ought to contribute toward the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state ….[As Henry Home (Lord Kames) has written, a goal of taxation should be to] ‘remedy inequality of riches as much as possible, by relieving the poor and burdening the rich.’” — Adam Smith


Let us settle this question once and for all with nothing but common sense. Government is the captive of big business. If government were the boss, why would it outsource its police and war powers to private contractors and surrender public property to private entities? The person who is being mugged or raped is the one who is forced to surrender his property and weapons, not the one who does the mugging and raping. Is this clear?  — Poor Richard

No pundits were harmed or jargon used in the production of this message.

Individual responsibility

When I was a schoolboy,  back in the day when “civics” and “social studies” were taught, we heard over and over that freedom or liberty always came with responsibility. But that is too nebulous. As the final words of the US Declaration of Independence solemnly affirm, we must “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”  Individualism must be tempered with an equal measure of cooperation and service to the community of life on earth. We owe a debt to all that has come before and all that will follow. Individualism without an equal measure of formal, committed cooperation and service literally has no place in the modern world. This is the pathology and poverty of the libertarian fundamentalists’ one-sided individualistic position.

Libertarian fundamentalism’s “rugged individualism” is almost impossible to espouse without hypocrisy– at least not without becoming grotesquely Machiavellian and sadistic, as when Tea Party fans cheered Ron Paul for suggesting that uninsured sick people should seek help from the church or shut up and die:

Here’s a partial transcript:

“That’s what freedom is all about: taking your own risks.,” Paul said, repeating the standard libertarian view as some in the audience cheered.

“But congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die,” Blitzer [CNN] asked.

“Yeah,” came the shout from the audience. That affirmative was repeated at least three times. Paul, who has always had a reputation for being a charitable man, disagreed with the idea that sick people should die, but insisted that the answer to the healthcare problem was not a large government.”


Susan Grigsby’s brother Steve died a painful death fighting for care as an uninsured American. Susan watched, horrified, as the GOP Presidential Candidates on CNN’s Tea Party Debate stood silent when the the audience cheered for the idea that we as a society should just let an uninsured man die. Now Susan wants an answer from each and every GOP candidate.


Mike Huben writes at the Critiques Of Libertarianism blog:

“That’s what freedom is all about: taking your own risks”

That’s how Ron Paul described his campaign manager’s early, uninsured death.

However, “When he died on June 26, 2008, two weeks after Paul withdrew his first bid for the presidency, his hospital costs amounted to $400,000. The bill was handed to Snyder’s surviving mother…who was incapable of paying. ”

This is a classic case of libertarians claiming that they are taking their own risks, but somebody else ends up having to pay.  There is a simple reason why libertarians routinely lie this way: their ideology claims they are independent, but the reality of human socialization is that we are interdependent in many ways.  Through families, churches, friendships, professional associations, employment, etc.  We routinely and informally assume responsibility for each other.

Another example from among the hundreds that might be found is this:

“In an interview on Hardball With Chris Matthews on MSNBC, Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah admitted that he wants to bring America to its knees if an amendment is not passed in Congress that would force Americans to live under conservative governance despite which party the people elects. Here is the transcript.

Its too bad for these libertarian fundamentalists that Niccolo Machiavelli, the Marquis de Sade, and Ayn Rand were not among the founders and philosophical progenitors of the United States.

Another error of libertarian fundamentalism, American style, is to abhor the capacity for tyranny in the state and ignore the capacity for tyranny in its alternatives.

Our libertarian fellow travelers are especially fond of asserting, as a characteristic of that entire American school of thought, that governments are awful. In this they are largely correct, since governments exist to serve the needs of those who can afford to constitute them, run them, maintain them and benefit by their operation. Unfortunately, this libertarian willingness to generalize about the organization of governments as thinly disguised protection rackets does not extend to the necessary and inevitable concentration of power, wealth and bad faith in those successor organizations which would follow the collapse of the state-as-Leviathan. Intent as they are upon dismantling and escaping one obvious despotism, libertarians at the same time rather studiously ignore the more direct consequences of the weakening of the welfare functions of the states we have now; chief among those ramifications is the accelerated transfer of wealth, armed staffers, expertise and training functions to corporations, transnational exchange regimes and market affiliations, a one way flow which would result in the eventual reconstitution of states and state-like hierarchies from within corporate associations. (Crow, No Escape)

Naturally there are values and ideas  in classical libertarian thought that I share, but its seductiveness can’t be explained by these alone  (or I guess I might be a libertarian). This post mostly talks about libertarian fundamentalism the way it is found in the US today. It might better be called neo-libertarianism, juvenile libertarianism, or euphemistic libertarianism . As Noam Chomsky explains in the following brief video, a US libertarian fundamentalist is the opposite of a libertarian in the rest of the world, where much of  what we call libertarian fundamentalism might be called neo-liberalism.

Like fundamentalists of all ideologies, libertarian fundamentalists are the unwitting dupes of “the powers that be” (TPTB). Despite their claims to idealism, they are at best the inadvertent enablers of oligarchy.

THE POWERS THAT BE (click image to enlarge)

The main problem that I have with libertarian fundamentalists is that underneath the faith-based, laissez-fairyland dogma they are often (naively or accidentally) anti-democratic, anti-social, anti-scientific and even un-American. Their proposition that all taxation amounts to theft by a corrupt, rogue state does not square with the views of  prominent American Revolution patriots.

Libertarian fundamentalists are also unintentional anarchists.

In their single-minded preoccupation with the very real dangers of state tyranny, they would leave the door open and unguarded against private cartels, robber-barons, and warlords. The power of concentrated mass media (in the “invisible hands” of private puppet masters) to persuade the public against its own self-interest would be unopposed by any representative of the collective public interest.

Ship of Libertarian thought slips over the edge

Scholars have observed “Libertarianism began with some pretty radical thinkers.” Yes, and I have some resonance with  early libertarian thought, but since in all the intervening years they haven’t managed to substantiate any of their theorizing with empirical evidence or real-world examples, their ship has listed sideways off the edge of the real world. Where is an example of a successful fundamentalist libertarian society? The Sudan? Somalia?

Libertarians will protest that their Austrian & Chicago schools of economics have produced a great deal of scientific economic theory in support of free markets, the invisible hand, the rational agent, etc. The problem is that much of this is propaganda, in support of the ruling corporate regime, wrapped up in academic-sounding jargon. It is science fiction, fantasy, and half-truth. Some of this economic mythology is debunked in the Economical Bestiary. Other rebuttals can be found among the links below.

Some libertarian fundamentalists also display the character traits of both Narcissists and sycophants, seeking to garner unearned authority, importance, or financial gain by associating themselves with business leaders, corporate think tanks, or eccentric cult figures such as Ayn Rand who pose as maverick philosophers. Rand devotees accumulate points towards sado-masochistic favors from the mistress in the afterlife by endlessly carping at everyone else in the public square (which they want to privatize). They should never be seated with the adults.

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Poor Richard


Covering  the following topics and much more:

A Non-Libertarian FAQ [More…]
A general introduction to discussion with libertarians, with an extensive discussion of arguments commonly used by libertarian evangelists. This is the original FAQ, little changed from when it originated in 1994.
What Is Libertarianism?
Twenty views of the big picture of libertarianism.
Notorious Failures of Libertarianism
Claims widely adopted by libertarians that are spectacularly wrong.
What Is Wrong With Libertarianism
Libertarianism is based on bad arguments. Here’s a list of some common problems with libertarian arguments.

Dispatches from Libertopia: An Anthology of Wingnut Chestnuts and Democratizing Remedies (Amor Mundi)



(click or hover over images for sources)

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