Wednesday, July 22, 2015

All is Allowed, Nothing is Possible

Much like the Soviet Union co-opted Marxist rhetoric to justify Russian imperial ambitions, so do American libertarians co-opt the language of radicals from Bakunin to Bookchin to justify their own material comfort.

Case in point: John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods. The organic "green capitalism" grocery chain beloved by white liberals and supplied through cheap prison labor. That might seem a little incongruous at first - an avowed supporter of personal liberty benefitting from state incarceration - but it really makes perfect, awful sense when you factor in Mackey's hatred of unions and labor rights. 'Cause prison workers don't get that kinda liberty at all:
And it’s not just that Colorado’s prison laborers are cheap: Smith made clear that, as director of a prison labor program, he had more ways to motivate an employee than an ordinary boss. What would happen if a worker was late? I asked. “Straight back into the general population,” Smith said.
But that's par for the course for "libertarians" these days, isn't it? What once included such anti-property revolutionaries as Proudhon has degenerated into rationalization for the status quo. Rand Paul, of the perennial dark horse candidates, even took the side of the police against outraged protesters of Baltimore - a position that both goes all the way back to his father in the 1990s and reflects the dominant sentiment among the conspicuously white middle-class males who identify with the L word.

The most pressing "liberty" issue in America today - besides a woman's liberty in reproductive health - is the rate at which police assault and murder unnarmed citiznes. But you never hear modern libertarians talk about it; their victories thus far consist of lionizing Edward Snowden while conveniently forgetting all about Chelsea Manning. This highlights the solipsism at the heart of modern libertarianism: Manning exposed US complicity in war crimes while Snowden exposed a meta-data collection project. The thought of other office drones reading their emails is a much more threatening and galvanizing issue to libertarians than the murder of a couple thousand brown people whether abroad or in their own neighborhoods.

It gets down to the ugly guts of American culture, specifically the culture of not-too-rich but not-poor white dudes. The sorts who spend more time on Reddit than on dates and who swing their atheism like a cudgel, eager to "debate" religion despite their only experience being the bland Protestantism of Middle America. "Libertarianism" for this vast cohort isn't so much a coherent political theory as an identity, like a gamer or a furry (both disproportionately represented in this same crowd). The very name Reason Magazine is a signal to these sorts: "Come, our analysis is rational. If you parrot our pundityr, you too shall be as logical and infallible as Mr. Spock." They decry the opinions of others as sentimental  while celebrating their own cranky fixations as some empirical Good. They are, put simply, insufferable assholes.

And they never achieve real power. They can be born to it, like the Trumps and the Pauls and the Mackeys who arrived in this world with all the hard work of accumulation and network building done by their parents, but there's a noticeable lack of people who started from poverty and followed the Horatio Alger path to the Fortune 500. There is only hereditary plutocrats and a mass of suckers. While that's nothing new in history, these neofeudal dupes then go and piss all over the great works of the original libertarians, embracing the "privilege of some founded on the slavery of the rest" because it furnished them with an Xbox. They are not only authority-worshipping reactionaries but mendacious creeps who conflate the full expression of human liberty with rote, blinkered consumerism. Their ideal "freedom" is nothing but a gilded cage.

The late, great Joe Bageant said it best:
Freedom is freedom, and you have it across the board or you do not. It does not come piecemeal and is not defined by any single freedom. Human freedom is holistic -- full spectrum. It covers everything because, well, it's freedom.
The world of American libertarianism, with its reactionary twerps and hypocritical oligarchs, is about as far from freedom as you can get. It deserves to join it's cousin, Soviet Communism, in the trash bin of history.

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