Monday, May 24, 2010

On the business end of someone else’s freedom

I agree entirely with the New York Times in this editorial:
By denigrating several of the signal achievements of modern American society, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act, Rand Paul has performed a useful service for voters who are angry at their elected officials. He has helped to illuminate the limits and the hazards of antigovernment sentiment
Many Americans are sputtering mad, believing that government has let them down in abetting a ruinous recession, bailing out bankers and spending wildly [a conversation about the utility and necessity of the recovery program will have to take place another day]. But is Rand Paul really the remedy they had in mind? His views and those of other Tea Party candidates are unintentional reminders of the importance of enlightened government.
I would add “oblivious” to “unintentional.”

Some say (I borrowed that from Katherine Kersten) that the problem is that Rand Paul is just a political ingénue. No, Katie Kieffer is a political ingénue. Paul is just being Rand.

The editorial continues:
In a handful [italics mine] of remarkably candid interviews since winning Kentucky’s Republican Senate primary this week, Mr. Paul made it clear that he does not understand the nature of racial progress in this country.
In other words, Rand did not make a gaffe; he is a gaffe.

In previous posts, I’ve also noted the startlingly blasé attitude of both Paul and Kieffer about the oil spill in the Gulf, the news of which grows more ominous by the day. We’ll let Kieffer sum it up:
Wouldn’t it be better to occasionally clean up an oil spill than to become a socialist country without individual freedoms and private property rights?

0502-Fisherman-oil-spill.jpg_full_380 But sometimes, somebody is on the business end of the “freedom” that libertarians espouse. Like these guys, fishermen in Louisiana. (Christian Science Monitor photo) Perhaps Kieffer can ask them about what’s happening to the value of the boat they’re sitting on. Or the prospects for the oysters and the shrimp, i.e., their livelihood. Or maybe the toxic effects of the oil dispersant that BP is using.

Cleaning up is going to involve a lot more than dusting the apartment, Katie. In his op-ed piece in the Star Tribune yesterday, Brian O’Neill, one of the attorneys for the Alaskan fishermen after the Exxon Valdez spill, observed that the case has taken most of his career. And sorry, Brian, but you’re no youngster.

It beggars the imagination to think that someone would actually believe it better to put the Gulf economy, the livelihoods of the guys in the picture, and the marine environment through the wringer for decades to preserve the “individual freedoms and private property rights” of — are you ready? — British Petroleum. (Just as an aside, this is the outfit, or one of them, anyway, for which we put the Shah of Iran back on the Peacock Throne; that worked out so well.)

This not simply an “accident” as Rand Paul suggests. The well was apparently much deeper than permitted, and it lacked two safety valves that it should have had. Why? To save money, of course:

When asked why BP wouldn’t install a deep-hole valve, [radio host and Pensacola attorney Mike] Papantonio says, “Because the deep-hole valve when deployed could cause BP to lose the well site and redrill. They were cutting cost to save money.”

After 560 some words, we’re finally at the point of the post.

Why are libertarians defending this stuff?

A defect in the ability to empathize is almost certainly part of the answer.
Enthusiasm among scientists has been spreading as growing evidence suggests that "mirrors" may explain the roots of human empathy and altruism as well as provide insight into such disorders as autism and even schizophrenia. But that's not all. In the past few years, dozens of studies have linked mirror neurons to the emergence of language, abstract reasoning and even self-awareness or consciousness. "The self and the other are just two sides of the same coin. To understand myself, I must recognize myself in other people," says [neuroscientist] Marco Iacoboni. [italics are mine]
Walking a mile in the other person’s shoes, that’s what it used to be called. Anyway, that’s not something that libertarians are very good at:
Along with dozens of studies in neuroscience journals, mirror neurons have also taken a place in the folk psychology battle over how to frame human nature. Alan Greenspan and the rugged individualists may love Ayn Rand's libertarian vision of each person alone against the world, but another set prefers to think of humans as inextricably tied to one another, creating codependent realities and sharing inter-subjective space.

As the world becomes more crowded, and people become more interdependent, whether they want to or not, there is an increasing need for a government to keep one person’s freedom off of another person’s lawn.

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