THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 597, November 28, 2010
"If you want to be free, you must grant that freedom to others"
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
We hear the message from every quarter: "Help thy neighbor", "You are your brother's keeper", "It takes a village". These are all expressions of the philosophy of altruism, which prohibits a self-interested and therefore a self-responsible concern for one's own wellbeing, substituting in its place an external focus on the welfare of others.
In the personal arena, a constant exposure to this message results in a society where people are trained to pay very close attention to the actions of their friends, neighbors, and even complete strangers. Since they have been instructed to be responsible for the safety and wellbeing of others, it often becomes necessary to intervene in their lives in order to advise against mistakes or actions that are judged to be foolhardy or dangerous. And this leads to the establishment of the busybody as an accepted social norm. Do you choose not to wear a bike helmet, or recycle, or shop at the local organic grocery store? The busybody has no hesitation in informing you of your errorand feeling great about itregardless of whether or not you desire and have invited their input. After all, it's only for your own good, and they have been told that this "selfless" intrusion into your life is the essence of the morally good.
However, there can be a problem. Sometimes the other personthe object of these good intentionssimply will not listen to and adopt the recommendations that are being offered, so generously, in their own best interest. It can be frustrating when someone else doesn't see, understand and accept what is so clearly the proper way to think and act. Maybe their problem stems from a poor upbringing and exposure to the wrong influences. Or possibly they are distracted by other concerns, leaving them with a dangerous blind spot. Or, as is often judged to be the case, they may simply not be smart enough to work out out the optimal course of action on their own. Whatever the reason, the busybody, looking for other ways to help, turns to government the repository of forcein order to make sure that these misguided people are made to do the right thing. Here are a couple of examples:
Busybodies in private life are annoying, but when these same people move into government where they can impose their views upon others, not through persuasion, but by force, they then become a very real danger. This country was founded on Enlightenment principles which held the sovereign individual, in possession of inherent rights, as the fundamental unit from which more complex social organizations were then formed through mutual voluntary association. However, the influence of altruism has slowly transformed our culture towards a collectivist view, where many people now see "society" as the preeminent social unit, with the individual citizens as subservient components, each owing a moral duty to the group. And where political leaders were once seen as representatives, entrusted with the task of protecting the rights of all citizens so that they might determine their own course through life in pursuit of their own definition of happiness, the collective shift has created fertile political ground, allowing the busybodies to acquire positions of power, transforming them into totalitarian masters intent upon ruling over the lives of their subjects.
Over the years, like a Chinese water torture, the transformation from freedom to oppression has occurred slowly, drip by drip, so that each incremental change was never large enough to cause the American people to rise up in rebellion. Starting out with a limited mandate to manage the post office and post roads, governments, without any express constitutional authority, simply started to assume control over all manner of transportation from cabs to buses, to trains to subways and air travel. Aviation and shipping ports, along with most utilities and communication mediums were nationalized. Total control over the money supply was achieved through the creation of a fiat currency coupled with regulation of the banking system, after which they began branching out to regulate industry after industry, until they had accumulated the power to effectively intercede across the entire economy.
Not satisfied with that, the autocrats also wished to control even the most minute details of our personal lives. Under the guise of "public safety", they began to regulate and license one occupation after another. Starting with medicine, profession after profession fell under government control, granting to these political rulers the power to decide if, and under what conditions, we would be allowed to practice our trade. And once the licensing system was firmly established, the fiction of public safety was dropped, and controls on up to 500 occupations including manicurists, flower arrangers and fortune tellers were implemented. And while they were cementing their ability to dictate our means of earning a living, these politicians also created legislation giving them the power to manage our education, retirement and medical care while redistributing wealth to control the housing and feeding of some, at the expense of others.
Today, they instruct us on how we may transport our children. They tell us what we can eat, drink and smoke. They determine how and what we may build on our property, and require us to seek supervised permission should we wish to remodel a bathroom. We must submit to being groped at an airport, and our computer can be confiscated and searched at will without a warrant. School children are forced to perform mandatory community service, and two years of mandatory national service is currently being proposed for all adults. And on and on it goes. Every step in this abusive accumulation of power and exercise of control, has resulted in the loss of each citizen's individual rights, while always being justified by the altruistic claim that it is done with only the best interest of others as the goal. Could that be so? Even if we disagree with the results, are the politicians truly well-meaning in their intentions, having only our best interest at heart?
Every once in a while an opportunity presents itself to strips away the facade, allowing us to see the true nature of those politicians who claim to be our benefactors. Such an event recently took place in New Castle, NY, as reported here and here.
Four thirteen year old boys had a dream of becoming entrepreneurs by buying a hot dog cart and starting a small business venture. In order to purchase the cart, they would need to save a fair amount of money, and so, with their parent's approval, they decided to spend their weekends making cupcakes, cookies and other baked goods and selling them at a nearby park. During their first outing, the boys had great success, earning $120 in sales. On the following Sunday, two of the boys returned to the park and set up their table. A man with his wife and two children was passing by. He stopped to ask the boys what they were doing, and they eagerly explained. He then walked away to make a telephone call. The boys assumed that he was calling his friends to come down and support their cause, but instead he had phoned the police who arrived a short time later and told the boys that they were breaking the law and must stop. It turns out that in order to sell cupcakes, they would have to obtain a two-hour vendors permit from the city at a cost of $175, as well as provide a certificate of insurance for $1 million. So much for the entrepreneurial plans of four enterprising youth. And who was the individual who ratted them out? None other than New Castle Councilman Michael Wolfensohn.
Did Mr. Wolfensohn care enough about the boy's dreams and the lessons they would learn from their hard work to simply let the matter slide and instead help them by purchasing a few of their goods? NO. Did Mr. Wolfensohn make an effort to explain the need to obtain a permit and then help the boys navigate the bureaucratic system and find a way to continue without breaking the law? NO. Did Mr. Wolfensohn have the simple decency to talk directly with the boys, explain his concerns, and ask them to please halt their sales activity? NO. With all of these possibilities available to him, what Mr. Wolfensohn did was treat these innocent children like common criminals and, like a snitch, turn them in to the cops. And now, Mr. Wolfensohn is puzzled, because, of course, he only did it for the public good!
Wolfensohn is your typical busybody, who, by being
elected to even the modest post of town councilman, has been
transformed into a
Yes, we have a serious social disease, and if we do not inoculate against it very soon, it is going to kill us.
Here is a copy of the letter I sent to Mr. Wolfensohn and published on various public sites.
You can share your own thoughts with Mr. Wolfensohn by sending him an email message at: email@example.com
And if you have a comment for one of your Senators or Representatives, you can find their contact information at: Congress Merge