Humanism vs Libertarianism Redux


In my last post, I tried to make the case that libertarianism and humanism were mutually exclusive. One of the responding commenters, a self described “christian humanist libertarian”, took umbrage at my post and posted that he was offended by my post. This in turn led to a somewhat heated exchange in the comments.

I reread my post and realized that I didn’t do a very good job of elaborating on what I thought was one of my most important points – the egocentrism of libertarians. And it is precisely that arrogant egocentrism that is at the heart of most libertarian thinking and that I find the most offensive.
The problem with most libertarians is that they assume that everybody (or at least those that matter) have the same exposure to life experiences, the same access to resources, the same access to opportunity, the same number and types of role models, and the same access to education that they do or have, not to mention the same values and abilities. And that is the primary fallacy in their argument. None of those things are equal between any two people.

Consider these two examples: a white male of European descent, raised in a suburban neighborhood, growing up free from want, deprivation, and hunger, living in a safe environment, free from physical danger, educated in a good school system, with plenty of good, positive role models. Contrast that with an African-American (or Latino) youth growing up in an inner city environment, born to a mother who had no prenatal care, malnourished from birth, living with constant food insecurity, surrounded by nearly constant physical danger, forced to attend a failing school, with no positive role models in his life, with the only successful people that he sees being pimps and drug dealers and pro athletes (if he’s lucky).

There is no way that these two situations are equivalent, so to insist that these two people have equal opportunity is nonsense. So to then assume that these two examples will have the same values, the same work ethic, and will react in the same way to potential opportunities (or, for that matter, even be able to equally recognize opportunities) is utter nonsense. In fact, two people from similar environments but with different psychological makeups will react differently in identical situations. To assume otherwise is to deny human nature.

Now throw in the libertarian ideal of removing what little access the inner city youth had to anything resembling a safety net, take away his access to education (remember, libertarians want to dismantle the public school system and do away with the Department of Education), take away his access to health care (do away with Obamacare, Medicare, and the Department of Health and Human Services) and you have widened the enormous gap between these two examples into a chasm. Now explain to me again how this is alleviating human suffering?

Granted, my two examples are somewhat polar extremes, but they do show the range of human diversity that we need to contend with in our society. And therein lies the difference between the humanist and the libertarian. The humanist wants to humanely work with the diverse elements and try to achieve a society that works for everyone within the context of the diverse cultures/value systems. Libertarians, on the other hand, want to create a homogeneous society where everyone holds the same values that they do, and does what they think they should do in their arrogant egocentrism, using a cold, unforgiving, cruel economic hammer to bludgeon those who won’t get with the program.

(Just as an aside, I find it quite amusing that the stated ideal of limited interference by “authority” is embraced on a voluntary basis by having everybody do what they are supposed to do according to their libertarian beliefs. It’s their ideal that is the “right” one. Nothing quite like arrogant hypocrisy.)
To be continued……….

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3 Responses to Humanism vs Libertarianism Redux

  1. An honest skeptic would strive to better understand libertarianism, instead of wrasslin’ with straw men such as “the egocentrism of libertarians.”

    An honest skeptic would inquire into what sort of magical thinking says that “people are not to be trusted” is axiomatic, but “people who have badges and titles and the ability to make decisions which harm others, with little negative feedback, are more trustworthy than people who bear the responsibility for their own actions.”

    An honest skeptic would not equate “being libertarian” with “voting Libertarian.” Parties are political organizations. Their stated ideals may or may not correlate with their actual behavior.

  2. Brian says:

    I’m sure glad you’ve addressed this issue! I’ve “for a long time” considered myself a Skeptical Humanist. Although I’ve recently started to question my humanist viewpoint. I do a fair amount of reading and podcasting and have discovered that a fair amount of people that consider themselves a Humanists are also Libertarian. And My reaction has always been “Wait, What?” To the point in which I am questioning what it is to be a Humanist. I even discover on the American Humanist Association website there’s an article “Why Humanists Should Vote Libertarian”. Thinking, How can an organization that considers Kurt Vonnegut honorary president and received the 1992 Humanist of the Year award want you to vote Libertarian. That got me Thinking maybe I got this whole thing wrong and should just go back to the Secular Progressive moniker. Or maybe a lot of people that consider themselves either a Humanist or a Libertarian don’t fully understand the terms. But I digress. If you’ve read any of Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman or dare I say Ayn Rand? you’ll realize apathy runs deep and Humanism was not part of their vocabulary.

    • The Militant One says:

      Where I think a large part of the problem lies is in “magical thinking” – the “faith”, if you will, that the poor or disadvantaged will come out alright in the end, even though history has shown very clearly that without serious intervention by some sort of authority or governing body, that ain’t gonna happen. Not only that, but I have to wonder if there isn’t an underlying sense of arrogant superiority lending an attitude of “if they can’t cut it or don’t want to follow my example, they deserve to suffer”. In either case, it goes against rational thinking and humanist values.

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