I had a friend/co-worker once joke to me that “You libertarians care too much.” So I pushed her a little further to see what she meant by it and it seemed to boil down to that fact (at least it was her perception) that we fixate too much on liberty for the individual above all else; and care little for the down-trodden and oppressed. At the time I felt misunderstood and indignant.
Fast forward two-plus years and I’ve been worried that my friend might have had something to her comment. Ever since there has been a little piece of me on the lookout trying to test her assertion: Are libertarians too fixated on individual liberty and might that be a bad thing? Are there other moral metrics that weigh more heavily on some cosmic scale?
I will admit to having moments of political fervor in the exciting days of the Ron Paul campaign of 2012 and to my dismissal of the mainstream news because ‘they’ are trying to scare me and take muh freedom! I will admit to distrusting the government and cheering whenever Lew Rockwell calls those in the government criminals. And I still hold to those opinions and emotions. Surely it’s not a sin to have a little enthusiasm when it comes to your values, right? Who could be against Freedom?
Then last year I began to listen Jordan Peterson on YouTube. If you have listened to him you know he has some subjects he likes to drive home. One of which is Ideology and the problems that spring from it. Dr. Peterson’s working definition of Ideology is: a biased, one-size-fits-all answer to every question. Furthermore, having an ideology is easy. We can twist reality to fit our talking points. “It’s the fault of insert boogeyman.”
But that does not always line up with the facts and our theories do not always play out in reality as we might hope.
If we imagine the totality of our beliefs as a building, then in this metaphor an ideologue’s building might only consist of a steel skeleton. It is a perfectly stable structure on its own, but we cannot expect it to support life. Life would become an unyielding and miserable affair. In our metaphor we need to hang some subordinate values on our steel structure. That way we allow ourselves floors, walls, windows, and maybe a shrubbery (one that looks nice and isn’t too expensive).
Luckily, Libertarian and Classical Liberal thought has a long and storied history from which to choose our values. So are we susceptible to veering too far one extreme another, of putting ideas on a sacred pedestal? Maybe. If our outlook is built only from the Non-Aggression Principle without nuance, then we are bound to encounter others who do not want to live in the structures we propose.
But how to choose and where to start? Jonathan Haidt writes about evolutionary psychology and his book “The Righteous Mind” details six moral dimensions: Care-Harm, Fairness-Cheating, Loyalty-Betrayal, Authority-Subversion, and Sanctity-Degradation, and Liberty-Oppression. Libertarianism relies heavily on the last dimension, but to others that makes us seem cold and unfeeling; or irreverent and childish. Libertarians should not forget about the other moral tastes and we can find these values in the people we trust and rely upon most; our family and closest friends.
Speakers and specialists I admire have their own warnings against a myopic Libertarianism. Dan Carlin compares the ready-to-revolt minority to a gangrenous finger that seems such a small problem, but causes a life-threatening infection. Jordan Peterson talks about the Gini coefficient which expresses inequality in a given set of people and how, in a static hierarchy, crime flourishes.
In order to convince others of our views (and even make friends) we need to make concessions to their concerns and address them head-on. If we police our own speech and views for misconceptions and failings, it makes us stronger and wiser.
This was a guest blog written by Jordan Noe, who will likely be posting more in the future. His thoughts and opinions will be featured some going forward on the Conversation of Our Generation. If you would like to join the Conversation of Our Generation like Jordan, message me through the Contact page of the blog and I would be glad to consider adding your thoughts to the blog as well!
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