Home » Other » Some Thoughts on Libertarianism

Some Thoughts on Libertarianism

First: Apocalypsereview is a very bad blogger. Sorry about that. :(

Second:

There was cause to discuss things like the Probability Broach and other comics that have been featured on Big Head Press’s website. Most notably I have read the “Escape from Terra” and “Quantum Vibe” arcs; I couldn’t really get into the others.

Anyway, some common themes leap out at me:

1. The stories are set in a far enough future to allow the characters to be space explorers within the solar system; the author clearly has a fascination with space exploration, and likes to show his work.
2. The stories, while they have engaging plotlines in their own right, are largely showcases for the author’s Libertarian political views.

Because of #2, this is where implausibilities rapidly start to mount up.

To begin with, all the major conflicts in the comic series are always initiated by an obviously caricatured Big Worldwide Earth Government and/or subsidiaries thereof. It is supremely ironic, as well, that the author blithely features corporate-backed governments without in the least recognizing how nongovernmental forms of coercive power also emanate from large monopolistic corporations dominating the economies of places in the solar system.

Flowing from this, how do the Libertarian “belter” settlements get the things they don’t have, but they need them to survive? They have to trade, don’t they? Yet I don’t see any evidence of a wide trade between Earth and the outer settlements, which would surely have had to spring up if only because the asteroid belt could specialize in, say, mineral extraction and water extraction, while Earth, having the pre-existing manufacturing base, could supply necessary final goods like books, food, machinery and what-have-you.

The stories try to handwave the relative economic isolation of the settlements by insisting that settlements use gold as their currency, while the Evil World Government uses “Continentals” (haw, haw! GEDDIT? Continentals! – the sheer hamfistedness of this reference to a worthless currency would be absurd if it wasn’t so matter-of-fact in these comics), and happily prints money as they need or want to obscure pressing economic problems.

As a result the exchange rate obviously fluctuates wildly and so trade flows are understandably restricted.

Just to really hammer the omgevilgovernment thing home, in one of the comics the Moon’s government is run by a bunch of people who are barely smarter than morons, and they have intrusive security screening at immigration, plus overly complex exchange controls. And then to put the cherry on top, the omgevilgovernment tries tilting the deck against the main character by having her arrested on trumped-up charges and throw into jail. The deus ex machina of a sympathetic judge and a wealthy patron of the main character leap in to save the day.

Which reminds me, everybody’s rich in this series, naturally. Or has a buddy who’s rich. Like in some cases, fabulously fucking rich who can command absurd access to resources with no conception of where the materials would come from or how long it would take to get them built (although there is a kind of effective immortality through the “rejuv” process…), and there is never a case where a rich person could ever possibly use their economic and financial power to coerce anything from anyone.

Unless of course it’s an EVIL rich person in which the author again unthinkingly brings up all the kinds of abuses rich people could undertake and blithely handwaves the lack of a government to be a countervailing agency in a dispute involving a rich person and a poor person. But then to put the cherry on top of that sundae, characters in a comic even admit that a wealthy person could hijack an arbitration process and get a verdict in their favor.

It’s like the author can consider issues like economic coercive power, or regulatory/corporate capture of a government, etc, but only in isolation and without reference to an analysis of a deeper and more fundamental problem underlying the stories he’s trying to tell: that in order to ‘sell’ Libertarianism as a viable doctrine, he has to create caricatures of governments, turning up their bad aspects to eleven, while presenting an idealized frontier society as the basis for “real true Libertarianism”.

10 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Libertarianism

  1. Libertarianism is for people who don’t have the guts to be full-on anarchists.

    Neither, I suspect, is practicable with human beings as currently constituted.

  2. I’ve only read Probability Broach, which iirc was entirely set on terra firma, but excellent point about everyone being rich. One of the silliest things that occurs early in PB is that the protagonist, hailing from Earth-Prime and owning nothing of value but his gun and the clothes on his back, promptly acquires a fat store of cash through no effort of his own, and since everything’s so cheap in Libertopia he never needs to worry about money again in the course of the story.

    And not only is it a total deus ex machina, it gets really disturbing when you look at the process by which he acquires the money: one of the Bad Guys’ agents tries to kill him and is captured in the process (largely because the protagonist’s Libertopian counterpart keeps his police insurance paid up), said agent is taken to a private jail and incarcerated in the protagonist’s name, paid for by a loan from the aforementioned counterpart, and then said agent commits suicide while in jail, therefore the jail owner has to pay a large penalty fee to the protagonist for letting his prisoner die.

    Think about that last part for a moment – in Libertopia, if a prisoner dies in jail in a way that the jail owner theoretically should have been able to prevent, the person who put them in jail in the first place gets paid. Plus you can put someone in jail just by showing up with them in restraints and saying they committed a crime against you – in fact, that’s pretty much the only way to put someone in jail, since there is no public law enforcement. It’s like… I’m sure it’s possible to design a criminal justice system more susceptible to abuse, but you’d really have to work at it.

    • {blinks} I didn’t think hyper-libertarians like Smith would have been in for the debt-payment idea of imprisonment, whether private or governmental. Because I can’t shake the feeling that that’s the idea here–the gaoler has to pay you for the debt the prisoner can no longer supply. Either way, it sounds like those who wrong you can pay by becoming your indentured servant, or otherwise be something akin to your property.

      It doesn’t exactly help that among all the scenes of history, Smith’s said that his idea of the one closest to genuine Utopia was the Wild West. Also, there was one section in “Contact and Commune” (I couldn’t bear to do more than skim it) where the Elders (a race of sapient nautiloids) suggest that the nature of our universe’s natural laws means evil is inevitable–and that things are working better if evil has to be MORE violent and fierce, simply because that means the society isn’t being rotted by sloth. (Oh, there’s also the claim that anyone who commits evil is actually yearning to die, but can’t quite bring themselves to commit suicide. In other words, three kinds of people–good people, self-suicides, and those subconsciously and specifically seeking to commit Suicide by Cop.)

      • I re-read the relevant bit to check, and yeah – in PB’s Libertopia, if you commit a crime against someone else, you have to pay restitution, with refusal to pay resulting in a society-wide shunning so you either starve, leave, or give up and pay. No prison terms, no community service, just cold cash paid directly to your victim. (Note that the prison referenced earlier is merely a short-term holding cell for a man awaiting trial, and the money is paid on the theory that allowing the prisoner to commit suicide is legally the same as allowing him to escape, and is thus negligence on the jailer’s part.)

        So basically, you can get away with violent crime as many times as you want if you have enough money. The only other deterrent is the possibility of lethal self-defense by the intended victim, though that is a fairly high probability given that the culture’s saturated with the messages that (a) you’re not really free unless you have lethal defensive force at your disposal, and (b) killing someone who’s attacking you is always 100% justified and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. There is actually a scene where the Earth-Prime guys is watching a Libertopian western, in which a wise older sheriff-type guy reassures a young newbie that he shouldn’t feel any guilt for killing a would-be thief, because trying to steal is signing your own death warrant, so really the thief’s death was Suicide by Cop. (The idea that humans should find violent death upsetting no matter who was responsible doesn’t seem to be popular in Libertopia.)

        And then, to take the cake, the Libertopians are totally horrified when the protagonist, having shot two assailants and captured a third, yells at and threatens the captured man in an effort to make him explain the attack. Because it’s totally fine to kill people in a fight, but interrogating someone who’s surrendered is unspeakably barbaric!

        • What little I remember from Smith’s own website suggests someone in love with adrenaline rushes. Between the adoration of the old west, and speaking highly of the sensual rush of killing and dressing wild game (not THAT sort of sensual, mind you…), we are talking one VERY yang personality.

          It doesn’t help that he freely admits to exalting discord, strife, and adversity, as he thinks these, not becalming/bewitching comfort, are the key to becoming stronger, more hale, and (of course) more wealthy. Hence “Contact and Commune” having human (re-)contact with the Elders at the asteroid Eris, and the Elders exalting the precept they call the “Anvil of Adversity”. (I guess “Tempering Gale” didn’t make the cut…)

          I guess Smith thinks that when a person sees themselves as unable to get stronger “fairly”, they necessarily go mad with despair? Add in what seems to be hero-worship of Ayn Rand…

  3. And yet the libertarians I’ve spoken to insist, swear up and down, and get offended if you suggest otherwise, that they’re not advocating a “might makes right” state.

    “Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.” =P

  4. Libertarians definitely deserve a lot of respect. Although anarchism is much better. The libertarian doesn’t exaggerate about how evil the secular government is, they have it spot on. I was fortunate enough to have a Hebrew professor who has a lot better things to say about libertarians than any other political party.

  5. Gold? In the asteroid belt? Really? They are aware it’s only a good currency on Earth because it happens to be rare here, right? The idea of using a raw material as currency for a starfaring society is frankly just absurd, anyways… energy, if anything.

  6. There seems to be a strong goldbug tendency in the modern libertarian movement. It doesn’t make much sense as a long-term investment even here and now (I was looking this up for a time travel story, and if you’re going between now and say 1913 raw gold is way down the list of arbitrage items); the only time the goldbugs have a point is immediately before a currency crash (that doesn’t destroy civilisation, because you need someone to buy the gold off you afterwards), and it’s not surprising that the parasites who sell to them want them to think that a currency crash is coming Real Soon Now.

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