Thursday, August 18, 2011
Remarks: do individual liberties add up? (and more)
Perhaps in the spirit of someone writing a mathematics text and having just proved a “big” theorem, I wanted to add some “post script” ad hoc remarks to yesterday’s missive.
I spent the mid and late 90s and early 00’s in the world of libertarianism, and I still concur with the spirit of someone like Jesse Ventura or John Stossel – but I also have come to realize that our individual rights, if implemented and defended literally and ideologically, can add up to a world that is unsustainable. Sometimes indifference (or aloofness) can spill over into neglect or even indirect aggression. It’s hard to tell when one person’s idiosyncrasy turns into something others will emulate, as if “infected” by a prion template, leading others to fall in a line of dominoes.
While my political writing started (as I noted yesterday) in a personal area, it migrated into an activity where I seem to spend a lot of energy “warning” people of the megadisasters that can happen. Yup, they are more of a threat to someone like me, who values his “global individualism”, than to others who are willing to live more locally through family ties. But many potential catastrophes (such as coronal mass ejections) could be mitigated by proper preparation, but our just-in-time society doesn’t seem to have the incentive to invest in the prevention of the prolonged disruption caused by these problems. It is indeed a paradox of “individualistic capitalism” that it will not properly defend itself over the long term. One big area of my attention has been demographics, which leads to my next “remark”.
There is something else that crawled of the woodwork during the nasty debt ceiling fight. We say we value human life as an absolute, and the longer lifespans and medical advances are indeed presenting all of us with a new kind of challenge. There are always individuals (children, elderly, and some other adults of all ages) who are dependent and vulnerable, partly because of circumstances beyond their control. Logic limits the range of possible strategies: the public can take care of them (through more taxes or revenues, individual can take care of them within the family unit and community (and this challenge applies also to those who did not “choose” behaviors that lead to having children), some combination of these will care for them, or they will perish. But by holding fast to an ideological position that people should not be taxed to pay for other people’s elderly and children, the “Tea Party” is putting more pressure on internal family responsibility, and not just to those who have kids. It’s pressing a change in the social contract, back to more the way it was a half-century ago, when young men expected to be given “responsibility” “anyway” and tended therefore to rationalize sexual double standards.
That’s why “upward affiliation”, as the only motivator for interpersonal engagement, falls short in a moral sense.
When I got into writing and journalism, I was motivated in large part by a desire to explain why the “world” had come down upon me the way it had when I had not “harmed” anyone and thought I was going to be productive (with academics and music). Once again, I think of the “Janus faces”: someone like me is affected disproportionately by seemingly arbitrary but collective social standards (which ensure that everyone has some skin in the game, but which proved very humiliating for me, at least sexually, during my "coming of age"); but someone like me also is likely to have an out-of-proportion effect on others without sharing all their risks. That’s what asymmetry is all about.
I heard a quote this morning on GMA, “I never knew what it was like to be loved until I got sick.” These days, with medicine and longevity the way they are, we hear a lot about accepting more immediate interdependence. That is a bit of an adjustment for me; I great up with the idea that, yes, one had to deal with a lot of gender-based posturing, but grown-ups take care of themselves. Adults know that they won’t be on this planet forever, but they remain active and independent as long as possible. When the end came, in old days, people accepted it, particularly if the loved-one had been active until the last days (as with my father). That seems less so today.