Sunday, September 25, 2011

Right Wingers Want to Turn Back the Clock to 1900

From AlterNet:

And Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), assuming the vanguard of Tea Party reactionaries, deemed a FEMA response unnecessary, remarking, “We should be like 1900… I live on the Gulf Coast; we deal with hurricanes all the time. Galveston is in my district.”

There it is: the GOP fantasy laid bare. Return the United States to the way it was in 1900. In the grotesque flight of fancy occupying the minds of ultraconservative politicians and activists, 1900 was a simpler time, a time when Uncle Sam wasn’t always busy poking his nose into everyone’s affairs, a time when anyone could start a business and make a good living if he worked hard enough, a time when America respected her Christian roots and everything went like it came. But this 1900 is a myth; the disparity between it and actual history is enormous.


The problem facing the right wing is that it is difficult to cherry-pick which features of modernity to do away with and which to retain. After all, a government incapable of protecting its citizenry from harmful toxins and poisons (that is, one without an EPA and an FDA) is precisely the type of government that is incapable of breaking the Ku Klux Klan’s stranglehold on the legal, social, economic and political affairs of the South. A government so limited that it cannot provide disaster relief (as it could not without FEMA), is precisely the type of government so limited that it cannot protect 10 year olds from the horrors of the unregulated meatpacking industry. Perhaps conservatives find it lamentable, but the expansive view of the commerce clause that came into fashion during the Great Depression (and the progressive view of government of which it is emblematic) has been the precondition for much of the freedom from horrific exploitation and terrifying danger Americans enjoy today. By dogmatically clinging to the supposition that the only type of freedom that matters is freedom from the government (since that’s who has the guns), conservatives deprive themselves of a suitably fulsome regard for freedom. They ignore the horrors to which 1900 subjected America without the government protections that have arisen in the intervening 111 years.

More here.

You gotta hand it to all those conservative libertarian types vis a vis the Democrats: the libertarians offer us theory and thought, while the Democrats offer policy and legislation. And, unfortunately for the Democrats, theory and thought provide an intellectual framework for making sense of the world--policy and legislation, in stark contrast, tend to make people's eyes glaze over. So the libertarians have managed to capture just enough of the nation's political imagination to cause havoc in Washington.

Unfortunately for all of us, libertarian theory and thought are bullshit. Seriously, their ideas are dead-on-arrival once they hit reality. I'm really starting to believe that, as intelligent as many of these libertarian types seem, they just have absolutely no understanding of the vast complexity of the modern world.

Now I'm not talking about the corporations and the vastly wealthy here. The whole "small government" schtick directly benefits them in terms of low or no taxes and allowing capitalism to run wild. The plutocracy stands to become all the more wealthy the more libertarian our society becomes. Instead, I'm talking about the rank-and-file, the people who honestly believe that "government is the problem," the people who honestly believe their lives would be greatly enhanced if the government would just get out of business's way, the people who think freedom for corporations is exactly the same thing as freedom for individual citizens. They're the people who don't get how complex planet Earth has become in the 21st century--the vastly wealthy, on the other hand, fully understand modern complexities; they just don't give a fuck if Americans end up living on dirt floors with no running water, constantly on the verge of sickness and starvation, as long as they're making money.

What the rank-and-file libertarians don't get is that there are historical reasons why we currently have what they like to denounce as "big government." That for countless laws and regulations there are antecedents that made passing them seem to be an extraordinarily good idea at the time. That without such laws or regulations, there is absolutely nothing standing in the way of these antecedents becoming huge enormous problems once again. That capitalism is a force like fire, which when safely and constructively used can create great things, but when used haphazardly can destroy everything. They naively and without good reason believe that the burning and desperate greed-force that exists within humanity is essentially benevolent, and will help far more people than it will hurt, even though history is full of examples that prove such childlike notions to be fantasy. In short, libertarians base their thoughts and theories on assumptions which are demonstrably wrong. And when your foundational assumptions are wrong, your entire theoretical framework collapses on itself.

Or, to put it another way, we live in a big world, with countless big businesses always trying to make more money in whatever possible way they can manage, good or bad. We work and consume and do business in a big economy, with big huge enormous cash flows. We live under the threat of big dangers, like natural disaster, or capitalist man-made disasters, or war, or riots. In the modern world, everything is fucking BIG. But we're small. So we're total fools if we don't have "big government" in order to deal with all these millions of big issues.

Libertarians just don't get that. They foolishly imagine that we live in the relatively small world of 1900, which, even then, was still pretty big. All their fancy rhetoric and theorizing utterly ignores how vast everything is. Consequently, all their fancy rhetoric and theorizing is simply so many words. To take them seriously is to court disaster.