Dissonant Notes

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The History and Beliefs of American Populist Libertarianism (Part 4)

(For Part 1, go here)

(For Part 2, go here)

(For Part 3, go here)

Science as a subject is also hugely controversial in the world of American libertarianism. One would think that notions such as intellectual curiosity, free enquiry, and reliance on fact would be championed by those who promote a marketplace of ideas. The problem with science is that it will oftentimes produce facts which libertarians do not want to hear. The most obvious example of this would be climate change. The facts and reality of climate change are agreed upon by a vast majority of scientists. Yet libertarians would have us believe that the jury is still out so it’s best to wait until there is a consensus. Many also feel that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by liberal scientists/elites in order to enslave humanity. Yes, despite the freely available evidence produced by scientists, libertarians find it easier to believe that almost every scientist on earth is part of a secret conspiracy to bring about a New World Order. Instead of viewing the scientific findings related to climate change as facts, they instead view it as a critique of the free-market and mass consumption and, as such, proclaim that it cannot possibly be true. Then there are the religious libertarians who think God will take care of earth no matter what or, worse, that climate change and the New World Order are actually part of the End Times as laid out in the Book of Revelations. To say that many libertarians welcome the idea of the end of the world is an understatement.

Evolution is also disputed in the world of libertarianism. The should-be-uncontroversial scientific theory (as an aside, a theory in scientific jargon does not mean hunch or intellectual whim; it means an established scientific explanation that has been verified by observation and replicable scientific experiments) about the origins of humanity has come under attack from the religious element of libertarianism. Despite overwhelming evidence from almost every scientific discipline, and unanimous agreement on all scientific fronts, that evolution constitutes one of the most inarguable and well researched scientific theories in the history of science, the American libertarian movement has once again attempted to portray the facts of evolution as lacking a broad consensus. There seems to be a fear that exposure to scientific ideas, especially the theory of evolution, will lead to religious doubt, which will, in turn, lead to atheism and a godless embrace of the liberal agenda. Textbooks have been altered in American schools so that the facts surrounding both climate change and evolution are shown in a less favourable light, while at the same time promoting pseudo-science like Creationism. The reason homeschooling is so popular amongst libertarians is because many of them fear that exposure to other points of view will corrupt and brainwash their children. Homeschooling ensures that children are allowed to digest only pre-approved ideas. It is not meant to promote intellectual enquiry but to restrict it. Libertarians live in fear of the marketplace of ideas and as such seek to control that flow so that their opinions cannot be challenged. In trying to push such intellectually sterile ideas as Creationism into the America’s schools, libertarians use the idea of “opposing viewpoints” and “teaching the controversy”, while yelling censorship if their ideas are dismissed. At the exact same time they work tirelessly to promote the suppression of scientific facts that go against their worldview.

When the Supreme Court recently endorsed gay marriage, the evangelical wing of the Republican Party had a meltdown. The tangled connections between conservatives/Republicans/Tea Partiers/libertarians looked to unravel slightly. While many Republicans and religious Tea Partiers complained that they were being suppressed because their right to dictate the lives of others had been taken away, more than a few libertarians supported the decision on the grounds that the government shouldn’t be allowed to dictate what two consenting adults chose to do. Yet these voices were often drowned out by the more vocal Christian element of libertarianism. Libertarian darling Rand Paul made his position as unclear as possible, stating that adults can have contracts (which is ultimately what marriage is) but that gay marriage was something he personally opposed and which he believed was the result of a moral crisis in America that only religion could fix. Dodging the idea of personal liberty, Paul refused to take a stand and instead invoked state’s rights. The belief that a majority can limit the liberty of a minority is not something Rand Paul loses any sleep over, as long as it is individual state majorities and not the federal government. Despite some libertarians coming out in favour of the decision, gay marriage has more often than not been added to the great pile of grievances that many straight, white Americans, particularly men, have been adding to over the years. In this context gay marriage is used as a signifier that America is changing, and being corrupted, by liberal values. The idea that the country has wandered from the path of Biblical righteousness is strong among those who call themselves libertarian and, when a decision is made by government or the Supreme Court that goes against their beliefs, it is further proof of the tyranny of liberalism and the ongoing oppression of good Christian patriots (whose lives were not changed one bit by the gay marriage decision).

Oppression to the majority of people is the restriction of personal liberty. To many libertarians, however, oppression is restricting their ability to impose their morals on others, with gay marriage being a prime example. The issue of free speech is one that also causes much confusion in libertarian circles. Free speech in America is protected by the First Amendment, which says:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The First Amendment here states that Congress will make no laws that limit free speech. Somehow this has been interpreted by libertarians to mean that people should be allowed to say whatever they want with no consequences. The fact that this interpretation actually creates a government which can interfere with both private lives and private businesses has never occurred to many libertarians (imagine an employee saying whatever they wanted, to the detriment of a business, and the business being told that the employee’s speech was protected). Lacking any real insight into the meaning or purpose of the First Amendment, Republicans/Tea Partiers/libertarians are prone to yell “free speech” the minute anybody challenges their position, or the moment somebody is fired, or forced to apologise, by their employer for saying something offensive. Libertarians play the free speech card to combat PC (political correctness), a term invented to discredit the inclusive language that emerged in academia during the 1980s. The language in question was designed to take into account the feelings of marginalised groups, but it was soon scorned by right-wing commentators who felt that it was akin to the Orwellian “thought police”. The following excerpt is from a speech in 1991 by George H. W. Bush:

“Ironically, on the 200th anniversary of our Bill of Rights, we find free speech under assault throughout the United States, including on some college campuses. The notion of political correctness has ignited controversy across the land. And although the movement arises from the laudable desire to sweep away the debris of racism and sexism and hatred, it replaces old prejudice with new ones. It declares certain topics off-limits, certain expression off-limits, even certain gestures off-limits.

What began as a crusade for civility has soured into a cause of conflict and even censorship. Disputants treat sheer force -- getting their foes punished or expelled, for instance -- as a substitute for the power of ideas.

Throughout history, attempts to micromanage casual conversation have only incited distrust. They have invited people to look for an insult in every word, gesture, action. And in their own Orwellian way, crusades that demand correct behavior crush diversity in the name of diversity.

We all should be alarmed at the rise of intolerance in our land and by the growing tendency to use intimidation rather than reason in settling disputes.”

Bush ended this speech with “And God bless the United States of America.” failing to see the irony in asking for God’s blessing. The fact that Christianity has been the single biggest constrainer of speech and ideas in America’s history is glossed over. To this day, people are punished or expelled for not having the correct religious opinions. Despite freedom to exercise religion also being part of the First Amendment, Christians and libertarians almost uniformly opposed the construction of a mosque in New York because it was too close to where the Twin Towers had once stood. Libertarians demand that Christians be allowed to say whatever they wish and many feel that Christians have the right to impose their morals on others, a belief that became national news in the case of Kim Davis. Christians have literally opposed the same First Amendment that they claim to cherish (in the case of the mosque near ground zero), yet frame PC as some kind of dangerous force that is threatening to undermine the very notion of freedom in America. The use of force mentioned by Bush in his speech has never happened in the name of PC, but has happened countless times in the name of Christianity. The use of force to kill unarmed black Americans is supported in the libertarian world, yet PC is the real evil. Push a libertarian as to why PC is so terrible and you’ll get comparisons to Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Push more for actual real-world examples of the devastating evils of PC and you’ll find that there are none, outside of perhaps a story of a person being fired for saying something offensive (offensive to minorities that is, because if somebody says something offensive to Christians then they should obviously lose their job). Crime is down all over Western Europe and America, and has been dropping since the early 1990s, but this is of no consequence to the PC-hating fearmongers. To them, America is becoming a lawless, fascist, godless country that needs to be restored to its former glory. When a movement sees more danger in PC than climate change, and attempts to shut-down discussion on climate change, it’s hard to discern what kind of freedom they are championing.

Abortion is close to being the most controversial subject in American political discourse (though as we shall see there is one topic in particular that is more controversial). To get to the heart of the abortion controversy, we need to see where science and The Bible come into conflict. On the issue of abortion, the answer is: nowhere. Even though The Bible is the holy book of Christianity which some believe is the literal word of God, it does not see fit to mention abortion once. Even as Christianity grew, no clear consensus on abortion emerged. While many Christians opposed it vehemently, there were others who thought that the soul was not present at conception but only entered the body at the quickening which was, in general, thought of as being around 17 to 18 weeks into the pregnancy. Among those who thought that life did not begin at conception and who therefore thought early term abortions should not be considered murder were venerated Christian thinkers such as St. Augustine, St. Jerome, Pope Innocent III, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Pope Gregory XIV. At this point, 95% of abortions in America occur before 17 weeks, and the majority of those who obtain an abortion are practicing Christians. It is wrong to say that Christians are against abortion. The Bible condemns eating shellfish more than it condemns abortion, and there is no universal agreement in the history of Christianity about when life begins and whether abortion is always wrong. To say that “Thou shalt not kill” outlaws abortion also means it outlaws the death penalty, war, and lethal force from police and private citizens who feel in any way threatened, all things which the majority of Christians support. The fact that most Christians who are against abortion are also against contraception suggests that this is an issue of women’s rights rather than religious beliefs. The Bible forbids neither abortion nor contraception, and the Christian Church has not had a consistent stance in regards to either issue. When examined properly, the overwhelming majority of abortions are uncontroversial from a religious standpoint. Christians and libertarians have once again sought to impose their moral beliefs on others and see resistance to that imposition as oppression.

Christians in America are unique in their belief that the Ten Commandments should hold pride of place in town squares, yet in the same breath they demand the right to break those commandments. Not working on the sabbath day is ignored by the vast majority of Christians, even those who see the Bible as the divine word of God. Yet that is nothing in comparison to the Christian/libertarian view of guns and the right to kill. Guns constitute the backbone of libertarian beliefs in the sense that libertarians appear to believe that freedom is impossible without a gun. Not only that, the culture surrounding guns has resulted in several states passing ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws, which in effect means that a gun owner does not need to retreat from a dangerous situation but can in fact escalate it if they feel threatened. Christian libertarians demand the right to kill if threatened and do not feel that this compromises their belief system. The same people who claim they are being oppressed because the Supreme Court legalised gay marriage also claim that unless they are allowed to break one of the Ten Commandments then they are suffering under tyranny. Gun laws in America have not succeeded in making the country safer. Compared to other industrialised first-world nations, America is far and away the most dangerous in terms of murder rates. Yet it goes beyond merely the dangers of guns. Right now, it is almost impossible to even discuss gun control as the subject has become so politically toxic. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has controlled the narrative on guns for decades and at the merest hint of a discussion on changing the current laws the NRA unleashes a new wave of propaganda designed to whip-up the worst fears of libertarian gun owners. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has no figures on gun deaths because they were banned from doing any research. Each gun massacre in America leads to increased gun sales because many are convinced that Obama and his Big Government elites will try to take their guns away. Libertarians remain convinced that Obama is out to get their guns despite the fact that Obama has not limited gun ownership rights in any way. In fact he has expanded them. Libertarian hero Ronald Reagan supported the Brady Bill, George W. Bush publicly advocated for gun control, yet it is only under Obama that talk of “He’s coming for your guns” has exploded, adopting a narrative that paints Reagan, the man who passed an infamous gun control law while governor of California, as a libertarian hero and Obama, who has expanded gun ownership rights, as a gun-hating tyrant who seeks to impose martial law in America.

American libertarianism has become the home to every disaffected white male who feels threatened by anything unfamiliar. Instead of holding libertarian views in the European tradition, American libertarianism has essentially rounded up the most restrictive, intolerant, and dangerous viewpoints that seek to wipe away the steps society has taken to tackle inequality and poverty. At the core of American libertarianism is unapologetic racism, disgust at femininity and women who stray from traditional feminine roles, as well as a fragile masculinity that needs a gun to feel safe from the non-white hordes which continually threaten America in libertarian End Times fantasies. Here is where the anti-gay, anti-semitic, racist, white supremacist, lost cause/Confederate Flag supporting, anti-feminist, anti-welfare, pro-homeschooling, anti-science, anti-evolution, anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, and gun-loving white males all come together under one big tent. Instead of promoting a free exchange of ideas, American libertarianism produces frighteningly similar outlooks in regards to all major issues. There will be talk of big government, government bullies, and race baiting. The United Nations will be viewed as some evil institution intent on enslaving the world under the New World Order. The Federal Reserve will also be seen as a malignant entity, and cries of “End the Fed” will be legion. Mass shootings will be considered false flags carried out by Obama and the mainstream media (MSM). There will be talk of “Taking back America”, the white fantasy of going back to a time when only straight white land-owning males had any power and where black Americans were either enslaved or disenfranchised and persecuted via violent lynchings, black codes, and Jim Crow. Here is where the white persecution fantasy is whipped up into an apocalyptic frenzy, with mainstream politicians holding similar viewpoints to conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones. Anybody who disagrees is a zombie sheeple, a slave to the elites/establishment, a poor unawakened dupe like those unfortunate souls in The Matrix. While it’s easy to laugh at their opinions, the amount of people who subscribe to such viewpoints are many. With Donald Trump’s popularity continuing to rise despite his hateful attitudes in regards to Mexican immigrants, women, Muslims, and the Black Lives Matter movement, there is every sign that a charismatic politician with a more nuanced approach could easily entice even more followers to the cause, allowing for the creation of an American fascism that reinstates white supremacy as the only real moral code in America, as well as venerating militaristic machismo, thus restoring the fractured masculinity of the white American male. The Civil War, Civil Rights, feminism, and LGBT rights have all been hugely influential and positive in terms of lessening inequality in America, yet to libertarians all these events were an anathema, signs of a corrupt liberal agenda taking away the liberties of good, honest Americans. As the swirl of conspiracy becomes even more violent, and criticisms of these same theories becomes all but impossible, the threat to civil society becomes all the more intense. When countless untruths become enshrined beliefs, the potential for extremism multiplies. Unvarnished American libertarianism is unapologetic white supremacist rage, fueled by the idea that having less control of the agenda than in previous times means oppression. Historically, the tactic to instil white fear has always been blowing the racial dog-whistle in order to unite white Americans. When the subtle language of racial hatred becomes the norm, however, and white fears become heightened due to a black president, then only a fascist dictator will appease the anguished extremists. If you blow a dog whistle enough times, a wolf will come to your door, and those who blow the whistle will not be able to control its hunger. Those libertarians who pray for some kind of End Times struggle may just get what they wish, but only if the rest of America refuses to see the danger. It’s time we started taking the libertarian movement as seriously as it takes itself.

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