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L. Neil Smith's
Number 717, April 21, 2013

Being threatened by the Taliban or by
Albert Gore is pretty much the same thing

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Whose Life Is It Anyway?
by C. Jeffery Small

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Special to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

The provocative movie, Whose Life I It Anyway?, was released in 1981. It stars Richard Dreyfuss as Ken Harrison, a sculptor who is paralyzed from the neck down after a horrible automobile accident. When it becomes clear that he will never recover any additional use of his body and that his life is reduced to nothing more than the care that is offered by others, Harrison decides to end his life. However his wishes are blocked by those opposed to euthanasia and suicide. The story depicts the struggle between two views of life and confronts the question of whether Harrison—or any of us—are truly the ultimate masters of our fate, holding an absolute right to direct and dispose of our own life as we see fit?

Many other films such as The Truman Show, The Matrix or Dead Poets Society explore the question of the level of control that we actually exercise over our own lives, but none is so explicit as Whose Life Is It Anyway? In each of these stories, the underlying conflict is that of individualism versus collectivism: Do we, as individuals, possess the exclusive sovereign right to determine the course of our life, or are we in some way subservient to a collective group which holds sway over us and may dictate requirements and actions that must be obeyed, even if they violate our desires and will? To state the issue plainly, the simple question is, "are we free or are we slaves?"

This country was founded on the enlightenment principle of individualism. The Declaration of Independence states in no uncertain terms that each person possesses rights, and that "among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." And not only do we possess these (and other) rights, but they are "unalienable", meaning that they are an inherent, absolute and unassailable part of our nature as individual human beings. Nothing could be made clearer, and yet, as time has passed, fewer and fewer people in this country understand and adhere to these fundamental truths. Bit by bit, the age old principles of collectivism have reasserted themselves and are now poised to destroy the essence of what has made America unique in the history of the world.

It was not so long ago that statists had to make an effort to disguise their underlying principles and endevour to sneak them in beneath the conscious awareness of a public that still retained an American sense of life — by which I mean a respect for the virtues of self-motivation and self-responsibility, a belief that hard work was the source of reward and advancement, and an expectation that everyone was entitled to keep and dispose of that which they earned. However, six terms of Clinton, Bush and Obama, coupled with another two generations having been indoctrinated in government schools, has transformed the values of our society such that the cockroaches may now skitter about in the bright daylight without fear, openly spouting their collectivist goals. For example, here is Melissa Harris-Perry in a promotional spot for MSNBC, waxing on about a few collectivist notions which are to her, apparently, self-evident.

Well, like all progressive leftists, she stands on the shoulders of FDR and his Second Bill of Rights, proudly declaring that everyone has a "right to healthcare, and to education, and to decent housing, and to quality food, at all time [sic]," while neither bothering to ask who is responsible for providing and paying for these goods and services (the answer is "the collective"), nor considering what the implementation of these so called "rights" do in undermining the original inherent rights possessed by all individuals. Oh well, no time for that as you "Lean Forward!"

The other standout line was:

"People who work hard and sacrifice and save their money and make major contributions—
we think that they should earn a little more

Be self-sufficient, be responsible, make a major contribution, and the unspecified collective "we" just might decided that it's OK for you to earn a little more. Just how much? "We" will get back to you, but you can certainly forget about that 1% nonsense!

These sorts of views have become pro forma in the Obama age, but a new spot that recently aired, stretches into new collectivist (at least for the U.S.) territory.

Wait! What was that? Could you please run that by me again.....

We have never invested as much in public education as we should have, because we've always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven't had a very collective notion of these as our children. So, part of it is that we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it's everybody's responsibility and not just the household's, then we start making better investments.

Melissa Harris-Perry

[Emphasis added]

Ten years ago, would anyone on a major network have dared speak these words and then expected to retain their job? What a difference a decade makes. When conservatives argue that the institution of family is under attack, you have to look no further than Melissa Harris-Perry to see that it's true. And there's no longer any need for subterfuge. It's collectivism brothers and sisters, and we're proud of it! The state reigns supreme and individuals—whether adult or child—belong to us, to do with as we please.

Well, there was justifiable blowback from all quarters once word concerning this piece made the rounds, and Harris-Perry was forced to respond.

While there were a few patently disingenuous attempts to misrepresent some of the source of outrage being directed at her video, on balance I thought that Harris-Perry did a pretty reasonable job of identifying the actual core issue in this debate, while laying out her personal world view. Here is an excerpt:

Unless it is the core philosophical issue of our entire history: the balance between individual rights and collective responsibilities. ...

This is about whether we as a society, expressing our collective will through our public institutions, including our government, have a right to impinge upon individual freedoms in order to advance the common good. And that is exactly the fight we have been having for a couple of hundred years.

Are we a loosely affiliated group of bootstrapped individuals, or are we a people tied to one another through collective responsibility, to care for our young, our elderly, our poor, even our infrastructure.

Melissa Harris-Perry

[Emphasis added]

Well, it is good to see someone on the left at least identify and acknowledge the existence of the individualist viewpoint, even while going on to dismiss it without presenting any substantive arguments, just as she offers no reasons in favor of the "collective responsibilities" position, apparently expecting us to simply observe that it is self-evidently correct. This is a window into the state of today's culture—where viewers of programs such as this wait to be instructed in how and what to think, without the need to burden themselves with facts, rational analysis or the mental integration of thought into fundamental principles. Such a process would demand answers to a variety of questions, starting with:

  • What precisely is a "right" and how does it adhere to an individual?

  • What is the difference between a "negative right" such as the the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and a "positive right" such as the right to health care, housing or food?

  • What is a "collective responsibility" and how does it adhere to an individual?

  • Who decides what collective obligations must be met, by whom, and how is this to be enforced?

  • What justifies the imposition of a collective obligation on an individual who does not accept the premise of that obligation?

  • If goods and services are a "right", who pays for or provides them?  Why?

  • What standard is to be used to weight the "common good" against the "impingement of individual freedoms"?

  • Is the initiation of force an acceptable means for men to deal with one another under any circumstance?  Why?

The previous vidio clip is an abbreviated version of a longer segment that can be viewed here. Starting at the seven minute mark there is a panel discussion which includes Matt Welch, the Editor in Chief of the libertarian Reason Magazine. Now, of course, Welch has been selected to present the "opposition" point of view, for exactly the same reason that NPR relies upon David Brooks to represent the "conservative" viewpoint—because both can be counted on to concede the progressive premise on most issues. Nevertheless, it is instructive to watch the first few minutes of this discussion in order to see precisely how not to defend liberty. Here is an excerpt of Welch's comments:

The premise of [your statement] was wrong. We don't lack for spending on public education in this country. ...

We already have a social contract where we have said everywhere that every kid has a right to public education. That exists, and yet public education is not performing. So that is what we need, I think, to confront, not some notion that it is our overly private sense of our children that we somehow have to break through. No, we've broken through that actually, and what we haven't done is translate that into better education.

Matt Welch

[Emphasis added]

While Harris-Perry has just laid out the philosophical question of individualism versus collectivism and continues to try and steer the conversation back towards this topic, Welch falls over himself conceding the existence of a "social contract" that binds us all to one another with a communal duty, while granting that the state breached the sanctity of the family unit long ago and there is nothing left to discuss on that subject. Welch is not interested in defending the individual rights of the child against compulsory indoctrination, or the individual rights of the parent to determine the best course for their child's development, or the individual rights of the taxpaying adult that is forced to fund the education of other people's children. Instead, his concern lies with more pragmatic matters: the economic efficacy of education spending. In the cause of freedom versus slavery, Welch effectively argues for the latter and Harris-Perry wins, by default, in a TKO.

So we return to the original question: Whose life is it anyway? If you're waiting for someone like Matt Welch to defend your right to exist on your own terms, then I'm afraid you have already lost the battle. It's up to you to get vocal in identifying and demanding your rights. Speak up at every available opportunity. Do not allow the collectivists like Melissa Harris-Perry to go unchallenged.

Whose life is it?  "It's MY life. Keep you mitts to yourself and get out of my way!"

External links to reprints of this article:
Small Thoughts Blog
John Galt Pledge Site

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