Progress and Fear

I sort of nudged up against this when I talked about Libertarianism, but there is a large overlap between libertarian ideology and woo (defined here as the rejection of evidence-based medicine and science). I don’t think that it’s accidental. I think that it’s maddening, but I think I understand the reasons behind it. Libertarianism, if I’m understanding it correctly, is about being left alone. It’s about an understanding of life that denies the very real and very deep ties that hold us together – ties political, economic, and cultural. By the same token, woo is an understanding of our lives which denies how connected we are to the rest of the world and to the past. We don’t have polio now, therefore, my child will not need a polio vaccine; this, of course, ignores the fact that the polio virus is still out there, that people still get it, and that even in the West I can talk to people who remember polio shutting down towns. They’re both ideologies that rely on relative privilege to work. Your own experience has to be such where you can choose to cut yourself out of the loop, where you get to pretend that what happens to your neighbor doesn’t make one bit of difference to you. I think the suspicion of Big [Entity] in both libertarian and woo thought has to do with this as well. If your worldview is based on that which you can immediately grasp, then large entities, requiring inputs from people who are not you or expertises which you may not possess, are repugnant or threatening.

My thoughts on this are at a fairly early stage of development – please feel free to chime in with corrections or suggestions.

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  1. Going off your final comment about suspicion of the “Big,” I think William James has some illustrative and scathing words on the matter:

    “When you’ve got the true idea of anything, there’s an end to the matter. You’re in possession, you KNOW; you have fulfilled your thinking destiny. You are where you ought to be mentally; you have obeyed your categorical imperative; and nothing more need follow on that climax of your rational destiny. Epistemologically you are in stable equlibrium.”

    This seems to follow on that most basic libertarian belief that “Hell is other people,” regardless of the undeniable ties that do in fact bind us.

    I’m loving your series on the Libertarian ethos and am greatly looking forward to continuing this discussion with you.

  2. I really enjoyed this! Very cool video, great ideas, and I especially liked Tim’s quote at the end.

    Our society has become completely complacent with easy means to ends while ignoring any impact on very real people. But because we do not know them personally, they live miles away from us, are poor, uneducated, etc, the impact on their lives is nullified.

    Take, for example, sweat shops. How many times have you heard someone say how much “it must suck for those people”? Yet who actually stands up and does something about it? No one that I have seen. So, why is that? Because nearly everyone here in the States was born into privilege compared to most of the rest of the world. Plus, in the end, you’re still getting that T-shirt for fifteen bucks, so why argue?

    Thus, fitting perfectly with the idea of libertarianism, we believe that if these people really cared about their situation, they would do something to fix it and become more like us (because obviously, us Americans, we’re, like, the best, right??). Too bad companies keep shutting down unions and doing everything in their power to keep the oppressed oppressed and uneducated about what they could be doing. All while the WTO and others stand by them or cover up what exactly is going on.

    I believe wholly in taking responsibility for your actions and trying to improve your own situation instead of just complaining about it. But why do libertarians insist on that being the end of the story? We are all interconnected, and there is no reason that we could not be educating and helping the people who need it instead of writing them off as failures or as being weak. Not to mention educating yourself fully about what is really going on in the world around you. But ignoring the facts keeps people complacently ignorant. My opinion: libertarianism and this new idea of woo are cop-outs to the cold, hard facts of the world in which we live.

    Cool site!

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