Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Libertarian Ethic

Because I am a staunch opponent of the drug war on both practical and philosophical grounds, I have recently begun investigating drug rehab programs that I can assist with either monetary contributions or volunteer time. This I feel not only helps people who I feel desperately need help from their fellow human beings (i.e. those with drug problems), but has the added benefit of adding legitimacy to my position that drugs should be legal for adults to consume. [Aside: the requirements for a program I would support are that it not promote a helpless-victim “addiction as disease” mentality, be anti-prohibition, and preferably be non-religious. I am currently looking into some options and I will post an update with what I discover.]

I mention this because it brings up a broader idea: as I have grown more libertarian in my political/philosophical views, I think that I have actually become (to a degree, and on a broad, non-specific scale) more moral, thoughtful and compassionate. This runs counter to the belief that many people have about libertarians believing in “every man for himself”. Here’s my explanation for this (and don’t get me wrong, I still have a long way to go in living the kind of life I think I should be): The libertarian perspective removes responsibility from government and places it the hands of individuals. As this idea has become more ingrained in me, it has led me to start using that responsibility to do good in the world. For example, I believe in the power of the free market, which requires me to make smart and ethical decisions as a consumer (i.e. if I don’t believe that factory farming is ethical, then I need to only buy free-range animal products; if I believe in renewable energy, then I must but power from green producers (if available) and/or financially support alternative energy research. Putting my money where my mouth is, as the saying goes). What is interesting to me is that as I have become more libertarian and freedom-oriented, I have become more interested in making responsible choices and being an ethical member of society. Which supports my theory (with one self-referential data point, which is of course meaningless, but bear with me) that as people are granted more liberty in their own lives, and as a consequence perceive themselves as having a greater role in the society around them, they will move towards becoming more integrated – economically, socially, and morally – with the surrounding world. As we have let government take over more and more of our lives, we have become less and less interested in playing a role in the direction our society takes.

When we give people responsibility, they will make (by and large) good, ethical decisions with it. For too long, we have outsourced our morality to the government – we haven’t needed to think about helping others, because we’re good little citizens and pay our taxes and the government takes care of society’s problems (as if paying taxes with the threat of jail as the alternative implies some sort of morality…it’s more of 'coerced giving' than true compassion, but that’s another discussion). But if you want, as I do, to live in a world with less government and more personal freedom, you must be prepared to accept the responsibility that comes with it. People will never be perfect, and people will always make mistakes, and there will always be murder, crime, and inequality. But when we remove the government from it’s pole position in our consciousness and as our de facto moral center, we can release the well-intentioned member of society that has been hidden behind it. Over time, freedom will encourage people to really look (maybe for the first time) at the society around them and see how they can play a positive role in the world.


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