Thursday, July 5, 2012

Kurt Andersen and The Downside Of Liberty

Kurt Andersen has an editorial in the New York Holy Times called "The Downside of Liberty".  He gets it half right:
THIS spring I was on a panel at the Woodstock Writers Festival. An audience member asked a question: Why had the revolution dreamed up in the late 1960s mostly been won on the social and cultural fronts — women’s rights, gay rights, black president, ecology, sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll — but lost in the economic realm, with old-school free-market ideas gaining traction all the time?

There was a long pause. People shrugged and sighed. I had an epiphany, which I offered, bumming out everybody in the room.

What has happened politically, economically, culturally and socially since the sea change of the late ’60s isn’t contradictory or incongruous. It’s all of a piece. For hippies and bohemians as for businesspeople and investors, extreme individualism has been triumphant. Selfishness won.

From the beginning, the American idea embodied a tension between radical individualism and the demands of the commonweal. The document we’re celebrating today says in its second line that axiomatic human rights include “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” — individualism in a nutshell. But the Declaration’s author was not a greed-is-good guy: “Self-love,” Jefferson wrote to a friend 38 years after the Declaration, “is no part of morality. Indeed it is exactly its counterpart. It is the sole antagonist of virtue leading us constantly by our propensities to self-gratification in violation of our moral duties to others.”
IMHO, we've experienced prosperity because our founding documents declare that people should be left the hell alone. 

People make their best decisions when they're trying to decide what to do for themselves and for their own.

If a dude wants to sleep with another man, own 300 guns, get higher than the space shuttle, eat between 6 to 11 helpings of bread and pasta per day, or even fail to read the Harry Potter books, that's his business. 

Selfish?  Maybe. 

But here's another kind of selfishness, and here's where Kurt Andersen goes off the rails. 

When person A forces person B should give his stuff to person C, then person A is one selfish son of a bitch.  Especially if person A takes a wee little bit off the top of the transaction for himself and for his supporters. 

There are lots of ways to be unselfish with your stuff.  Churches, charities, donations to panhandlers, foundations and outright gifts. 

But fighting to keep a pack of Chicago con artists from getting their hands on more of your stuff isn't selfish.  It's common sense. 

There are a lot of people who care about the poor, the uneducated, the hungry and the great unwashed and who want to do something about their problems.  But they want to do it on their own terms, not those of The Teleprompter Jesus. 

So who is more selfish, the guy who wants to control his own stuff, or the egomaniac who wants to control everybody's stuff?

1 comment:

Mark said...

"Selfish" is good. Re-defining it as a moral judgment is bad. The selfish take care of themselves so as not to take from others; they can help others who cannot help themselves. See Ayn Rand "The Virtue of Selfishness".