Friday, May 19, 2017

Skewering The Myth Of "Absolute Individual Sovereignty"

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee
  - John Donne

In the fantasies of the Libertarian segment of humanity,  each human is an autonomous "island" unto himself and in an absolute sense. He or she requires no government "nannyism" or oversight (in governance)  since any degree of such limits and impedes the Libbie's imagined absolute "inalienable" right to total individual sovereignty and liberty.  The grandest exposition of these memes probably was compliments of Ayn Rand, in her "bible" : The Virtue of Selfishness. 

For example, on the issue of government financing in a free society, Rand writes (p. 116):

"Since the imposition of taxes does represent an initiation of a fully free society, taxation, or payment for government services, would be voluntary. Since the proper services of government - the police, the army, the law courts - are demonstrably needed by individual citizens, and affect the individual's interests directly, they should be willing to pay for such services as they pay for insurance.....Men would voluntarily pay for insurance protecting their contracts."

One method of such voluntary government financing would be a government lottery

and (ibid.):

"A fully free society is one that has been constitutionally reduced to only its most proper, basic functions"

In other words, Steven Bannon's destruction of the administrative state come to fruition. No oversight or regulations regarding food quality control, so you can get botulism, E coli or salmonella infections at any time, no CDC funding so if the Bird flu strikes you're on your own, and no regulation of worker safety so you can be killed on the job any time and no one will care - at least in the company that developed the meat cutter or other machine that did you in.

All of these memes have been regurgitated again in an essay, 'A Controlling Concept', by Iloilo Margaret Jones, appearing in the April issue of Intertel's Integra.   In her opening paragraphs Ms. Jones professes that each day she begins her commitment to one overarching concept: the "absolute sovereignty and inviolate nature of each human being on Earth."

She never elaborates on what she means by "inviolate nature" of each human, but in the context of her essay as a whole it likely means no human can be "violated" by any external entity, especially a government.  This assumption is supported when she writes:

"Government, as we all know, is for maiming and hamstringing productive people very, very slowly and keeping us alive and functioning just enough to continue to produce a bit of 'marginal utility' for the state'. Then we wonder why so many people need Prozac and other opiates!"

Actually, "so many people need Prozac" because of the widening gulf of inequality spurred on by: 1) wage stagnation since 1973; 2) job losses driven by automation and globalization, as well as  (3) a perverse capitalist imperative (exhibited in corporations) known as Pareto utility. See e.g.

And if one is lucky enough to have a job it is more often than not in a proto-fascist corporation. These can dictate how underlings wear and style their hair, when they can eat, how long they may use the rest room (and how many times an 8-hour day), how often drug tests are imposed, as well as invoking the right to rifle through belongings in your desk any time they want. They can also monitor you through the day using hidden cameras, and freely inquire concerning off-hours alcohol consumption, exercise habits as well as childbearing intentions. Why doesn't Iloilo Jones bitch about these corporate infringements on her precious "individual sovereignty and liberty"?  Well, because "government" is the standard go-to 'tackling dummy' for all dedicated libbies. Like the 'great Satan" is to the Iranian mullahs.

Jones even goes so far as to try to recruit the Declaration of Independence to her cause, writing:

"The Declaration of Independence was written to free humans from oppressive government . Unfortunately, it took only a few years for many of those same authors to decide to put into place a replacement government, organized and created with enough flaws to allow the present conditions to prevail. What happened to the inalienable rights elucidated in the Declaration?"

Here, she mistakenly invokes the Declaration as the cornerstone of individual rights and governance when it is in fact the Constitution - written later- that articulates these in the Bill of Rights.  The "replacement government" she slams is none other than the one that is constitutionally -based. The Declaration was not written to "free humans from oppressive government" but to posit a basis for Americans to revolt against British rule. As summarized  in Wikipedia:

"The Declaration of Independence is the statement adopted by the Second Continental Congress meeting at the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies, then at war with the Kingdom of Great Britain, regarded themselves as thirteen newly independent sovereign states, and no longer under British rule. Instead they formed a new nation—the United States of America."

The Declaration also laid the basis to remove a government if it fails to adhere to the Constitution and principles of liberty enshrined therein, e.g.

"Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government"

But again, this is taken to be in the context of a working Constitution, not in some libertarian "individual liberty" vacuum. "Consent of the governed" is then manifest through the representatives of the people who form the government and they are sworn to uphold the Constitution. It is not, as Iloilo imagines, a prescription for individual anarchy devoid of any constitutional contexts and by extension governance, say in the federal system established under the Constitution.

Governance, further,  presumes and demands the non-passive act of governing, which means the projection of force for enforcement of laws  - arising from the Constitution, or federal, state and local statutes.  Someone is invariably and actively setting standards of expected action, and also providing the means to uphold the standards. In other words, force inevitably backs up governance. Why do you think cities maintain police forces, and the nation a large volunteer standing army - along with assorted weapons to control crowds?  It is to sustain coherent and FORCE-ful governance.

The libertarians, then, espouse a philosophy which cannot possibly work in the real world - because that world implicitly recognizes and declares government the primary agent of force, i.e. to enforce laws. Look around for a "force-less" government, i.e. which retains adherence and respect for its laws with no use of force. I defy you to name one.

If governments aren't enabled to enforce their laws , what’s the point? It’s all an exercise in mental masturbation. People can do whatever they want: set up sex store emporiums or pot shops next to schools, or sell cocaine  and semi-automatic weapons in open stalls on the sidewalks of major cities!  Freedom thereby becomes perverted into a veritable "free for ALL". In other words, unless governance declares limits to actions - and someone (coercively) enforces governance, a functional society becomes  impossible. Maybe there IS a docile libertarian principle of “governing suggestion”- but this in no way is the same as “governance”. I also warrant such "suggestion" will always remain that and never be adopted.

One of the examples assorted libertarians invoke is that public tradespeople or entrepreneurs ought to be free  to decide with whom they trade. Thus, the druggist, the restaurateur, the hobby store, the home renovation store owner - whoever- ought to be free to decide with whom they trade. Of course, this is a prescription for absolute chaos. If every person, corporation, etc. could decide with whom they trade we'd have market bedlam. Economics would be in an even worse predictive position than it is presently.

In the preceding context it was inevitable Iloilo Jones would take on taxes, the favorite target of Libertarians since the year dot. According to her:

"I am against any tax.  In my eyes there is no acceptable level of taxation, being as it is the use of force to steal production."

Yes, this lady really wrote that and is a member of Intertel, an organization made of the top 1 percent of I.Q.  She literally, despite that qualification, believes she shouldn't pay a red cent for any tax, never mind that taxes cover such civil necessities as roads and highways, military defense, and protection of the population - e.g. by the research of NIH, CDC and other agencies- from pandemics or other health threats.  So she'd rather risk worms in her brain from eating unregulated pork than pay a buck in tax. Oh, her solution for military defense, you have to read this to believe it:

"I would support and join a volunteer militia too!"

Really, Iloilo? I am sure the one million man North Korean army will be elated to hear that as well as the three million man Chinese army - especially if both decide to invade the US of A if enough of you libbies get into power!  Seriously, Iloilo appears to be caught up in the 1770s when "volunteer militias" were the main national defense. She needs to bring herself up to date on modern warfare, maybe starting with World War I?

Her polemic against taxation echoes Rand's from her 'Virtue of Selfishness'.  Recall Rand's statement again (p. 116):

"Since the imposition of taxes does represent an initiation of a fully free society, taxation, or payment for government services, would be voluntary"

Hence, her appeal to a "lottery" to pay for military needs. Well, that would have to be a hell of a lottery to cover everything from F-35s to manning over 600 bases around the world!

One of Jones' most nonsensical statements I've saved for the last, where she writes:

"If a conflict arises between individual and public good, then public good, existing as it does as a only a fictional collection of the good of separate individuals, must be abandoned for the good of the individual."

Let's pierce this codswallop in one fell swoop. Consider the "anti-vaxxers" adamantly gaining support that their stance - to refuse any and all vaccinations - is part of their "personal liberty" and an  "individual good".  Hence, any demand - say from CDC or other gov't agency  - they get vaccinated, against measles, whooping cough, mumps, diphtheria etc. is unwarranted because the anti-vaxxers are really just a "fictional collection" of separate individuals.  All vaccinations must be "abandoned for the good of the individual", i.e. the anti-vaxxers.

But we know the public collective of a vulnerable society is real  and hence its "good" (not getting sick from an unvaccinated idiot) is as well. Recent evidence shows this with assorted measles outbreaks, as well as whooping cough in various places. Hence, these "fictional collectives" of anti --vaxxer individualists pose actual health threats to the rest of us. As any specialist from the CDC can tell you, it is precisely "herd immunity" which protects the aggregate, say from a future smallpox pandemic. This is assuming that horrific virus ever emerged again (even from a biological attack or release, since both the U.S. and Russia retain samples).

What this example also shows is there can exist no "individual good" apart from the societal or aggregate good. If healthcare is a universal, collective good - as it is - then it follows there can be no "individual good" that foregoes it.   If Ms. Jones somehow contracts Avian flu or an E. Coli infection - it behooves the larger society to learn how she was infected. The reason is that these infections can impinge on the overall public good, i.e. the health of the larger society. If the larger public good didn't really exist - as she claims - there'd be no worries about possible epidemics or pandemics, such as occurred with the Spanish flu in 1918. (Up to 100 million estimated killed by that virus).

Thus, if no investigation of her condition was enabled or allowed, and a pandemic or widespread infection occurred, it conceivably could affect the entire national productivity. (Indeed, some gaming of future infections, say from a Bird flu pandemic, contemplates up to 50 percent of the working U..S. population being disabled.)

Prof. Ernest Partridge highlighted Jones' mode of erratic thought in his 2012 article, ‘Liberals and Libertarians’:

Now consider the implications of this denial of the "independent existence" of "the public" and "society." If there is no "public," then there are no "public goods" and there is no "public interest." If there is no "society," then there is no "social harm," or "social injustice" or "social (and public) responsibility." It then follows that government has no role in mitigating "social injustice" or promoting "the public interest," since these terms are fundamentally meaningless."

Hence, if Jones' postulate of government having no role in establishing a "public good" were true, then it follows logically it should have no role in halting a Bird flu, smallpox, or diphtheria epidemic. Nor should it have any role in investigating a massive salmonella or E. coil outbreak, never mind how many people suffer loss of kidney function from the latter and need dialysis.  Why do so if no public good, i.e. that affects the larger society, exists?

A few things for Iloilo Jones and her Libertarian friends to ponder.

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