succumbing to peer pressure

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The socialist and the libertarians

A couple of my friends are libertarians. Men I like and respect and whose opinions are typically well thought out. I like discussing politics with them because we're all fairly calm, rational people, so despite our diametrically opposed positions, we usually have very interesting, fruitful conversations. But I am always left with this lingering feeling that at the base of their economic beliefs is an inherent mean-spiritedness. I know that's unfair, but bear with me. Perhaps this fundamental difference between us is more related to our current status in life than actual social/political beliefs. Both men I'm referring to are married with children, so when they think about redistributing wealth*, they're thinking about having less with which to provide for their families. Whereas I'm just thinking, well, that's less spending money for going out with my friends on the weekends. So perhaps when I 'grow up' I'll also feel differently about this idea of fairness.

But on the other hand, both men readily admit that fairness isn't something they're interested in - life is unfair, some people are dealt really crappy hands, and that's just the breaks. They are, in my opinion, sympathetic to the plight of others, but mostly unwilling to make personal sacrifices, on a large, general scale for potential strangers. Which just seems so small minded. Both men, if confronted with a friend in need of help, would help. With money, with time, with whatever was needed and they had to give. So why is it so impossible to overlay that framework on the general public? Why is it so easy to say that some people aren't going to have healthcare or be able to afford groceries or rent or heating, and that sucks, but that sucks for someone else, without realizing that at any moment you could be that someone else! And it's not that either man is particularly comfortable - both have struggled and worked hard to get where they are, so it's not like I view my current comfort and stability as fragile and they don't. In fact, I think it's because they've both worked so hard - they have this feeling that they and their families made it, so everyone else should too, and shut up and quit whining in the mean time. And I'm just not ok with that. I don't think I'll ever be ok that. I know it's exhausting to think about society in general and not just your little niche, but how can you not?

*actually, none of the three of us will be on the giving end of any wealth redistribution plan, considering all of our economic statuses. But people never seem to get that either. And all of us 'get stuff' from government plans - police forces, fire departments, roads, street lights, the postal service, public school, food and drug regulations, public hospitals, emergency assistance and clean-up for natural disasters, etc. etc. etc. A lot of that government provided stuff may not be great, or even adequate, but for a non-trivial swath of America it's all there is. And for the rest of us, it ain't like we're living in our own little sustainable corners where we provide everything we need and use in life. So shut the hell up about how you hate the 'welfare' state, because you're benefitting from it too.


Blogger Amelia said...

so many libertarians are men. somebody call lawrence kohlberg and carol gilligan!

12:15 PM  

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