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Libertarianism Comics Follow-Up

So, in the vein of my commentary here, which I reproduce below:

At the same time, however, look at Mercury. There’s a labor dispute and the author, in developing an analogy to 20th century history, happily references the United States (gee, would that be the same US government he caricatures as the Eeeeeeeevil World Government spending (HAW HAW) CONTINENTALS) sending a boat to guard the tribe from the Panamian government in the same way a “belter ship” would somehow guard the workers from retaliation by the wealthy employers.

Never mind that such a labor dispute, absent a government, would’ve been settled the way it was in the Gilded Age: send in the Pinkertons. None of this “Create a provocation” business, it would be just straight up the bosses telling the workers to quit getting ideas.

And in another instance, a shop proprietor legally (because ofc governments passing anti-discrimination laws is baaaaaaad) can discriminate against “beltapes”, but la-di-da, changes his mind when another rich guy with socially egalitarian instincts (Seamus) wants to dine there. Discriminatory behavior shouldn’t be subject to the benevolence or malevolence of the wealthy.

And check the latest strip. One of the guys casually suggests “spacing” the lot of workers in the labor dispute on Io, and the other one doesn’t object on humanitarian grounds. Oh no. “Recruitment is expensive. AND I own some Gensaxwal stock.”

It’s all about money, money and more money with Libertarians.

I’d like to follow up and note that the recent plot arc of rebels invading the ship to “deal with” the pilot, crew and passengers really points up the necessary Plot Armor that is given to the main characters, but which does so in a way that almost renders Seamus, Nicole and Murphy Mary Sues. While the other people interviewed by the rebels are venal, mercenary, unpleasant and in general wastes of space, the trio of Seamus et al are praised in almost glowing terms, and it becomes obvious he has a history with them that includes compelling them (unsuccessfully) to stop executing people they run across.

It’s patently obvious that Libertarians set great store by the Great Man Theory of historical development – the idea that the movers and shakers of history are but a few select individuals rather than a much broader pictrue which takes into account not just political and economic leaders recognized by “official” accounts of history, but also the social forces among populations as a whole and even unrecognized leaders left out of the official accounts.

As a result fictional stories such as the aforementioned “Quantum Vibe” almost inevitably have to contort their plotting in ways which are oddly reminiscent of a completely different sector (a-ha! Now we get to the theme of my blog. :P ) – Christian fundamentalist End-Times writing, such as Left Behind or Edge of Apocalypse.

In fact, the story of Joshua Jordan is an interesting parallel to Seamus O’Murchadha’s, although Seamus is generally kinder and far less of a jerk to those he considers his good friends and family. But both men are, if not the centerpiece of the story, certainly major players and excused from their actions in ways which would not pass muster for realism or for the test of “would the same thing happen if someone else were in the same situation?”

Just as the almost Mary-Suish release of Seamus et al from the rebel tribunal in QV tends to leave one a bit skeptical about the depth of plotting in the series, so too does the entire arc of Josh’s brushes with Congressional hearings and courts of law. In both cases it’s as though the arcs were designed to show off the main character(s)’s “virtues” rather than for any attempt at a realistic resolution-of-conflict (in the literary sense: we know there is person-vs-person, person-vs-nature, and person-vs-self) which then moves the story forward in an organic sense.

And that is the failure of works of fiction that are purposely constructed around ideologies*: they become at times ham-fisted vehicles of presentation, rather than riveting stories in their own right.


* I don’t excuse Bellamy’s Looking Backward either. While aspects of it are memorable, the sheer Utopia it creates is far too perfect, and while the reader is invited to have hope for what a future world might be under Bellamy-style socialism, the narration is somewhat heavy-handed in that respect.

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13 thoughts on “Libertarianism Comics Follow-Up

  1. There does seem to be a conceit that EVERYONE wants to be a Great Person(tm) in some fashion. That some might not want any part of world-recognized glory doesn’t seem to fit in their understandings (certainly not the parts which think that everyone is self-centered/selfish by virtue of merely EXISTING. I think one or two people even claimed that every ATOM in the universe is selfish on account of existing!). I’d guess that libertarianism understands its implicit rallying cry as something along the lines of “You, too, can know greatness! Everyone has the potential, once all the possible disincentives are removed!”.

    It’s a bit like the over-extended version of the American Dream that Gore Vidal alluded to, that some of the blue-collars here have a tendency to fully expect that one day, they’ll be as wealthy and powerful as the corporate archons. (The contrast was to British workers, who don’t expect to have such a thing, and probably don’t WANT to, lest they catch whatever the archons caught to make them so unpleasant.) Apparently, with both the extra-aspirational workers and the libertarians, contentment with being honorable isn’t enough. Only guaranteeing that they’ll be remembered for the ages will do it. If your name isn’t recorded in much outside of genealogy books, then you must not have done things right.

  2. It’s patently obvious that Libertarians set great store by the Great Man Theory of historical development – the idea that the movers and shakers of history are but a few select individuals rather than a much broader pictrue which takes into account not just political and economic leaders recognized by “official” accounts of history, but also the social forces among populations as a whole and even unrecognized leaders left out of the official accounts.

    First off the phrase, “Movers and Shakers,” came from a poem about artists usually not remembered which claimed that they –these forgotten lowly artists– controlled the destiny of the world.

    — One man with a dream, at pleasure,
    —— Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
    —And three with a new song’s measure
    —— Can trample a kingdom down.

    (Full text.)

    But more importantly, people who think this need to be forced to watch the James Bond movie GoldenEye:

    Boris: She’s a moron. A second-level programmer. She works on the guidance system. She doesn’t even have access to the firing code.

    People who understand how the world works understand how utterly screwed he is when he says, “She works on the guidance system.” (Which he says with such disdain.)

    She’d never make it into history, but her job is incredibly important.

  3. One of the guys casually suggests “spacing” the lot of workers in the labor dispute on Io, and the other one doesn’t object on humanitarian grounds. Oh no. “Recruitment is expensive. AND I own some Gensaxwal stock.”

    This isn’t the main point of your post here, but I’d like to address it – one of the biggest problems I see with hard-core libertarianism is the way it relies on humans to always be economically rational beings, valuing profits over their pride and their prejudices. In the real world, that’s not the case – people who have power over others often get strongly attached to that power and status, and resent having to give it up*. A more realistic version of the above conversation could very easily involve phrases like “Who the **** do these workers think they are?” and go down the path of debating whether to kill them all immediately or try to scare them into line by killing just the ringleaders.

    *This effect is obviously stronger in cultures that value honor/status/etc over monetary wealth – just imagine what a typical antebellum plantation owner would have said if you offered him a higher income and standard of living, at the cost of giving up control over his slaves and letting them treat him as an equal – but it absolutely can arise anywhere, including modern American corporate culture. And since people in real life very seldom have perfect information on what actions will make them the most money in the long run, it’s easy for bosses to, say, fire the young employee who’s insufficiently deferential to his elders and keep the brown-noser despite the former being demonstrably better at the job.

    • Given all the emphasis on giving things value by imbuing one’s effort into them, I think the reason WHY the libertarians in question expect profit to be prioritized over pride is because, for lack of a better way of putting it, you ARE your wallet, in their eyes. The foremost instinct is self-preservation, and if you regard the things you’ve fostered, created, and acquired as extensions of yourself, then prioritizing profit and avoiding any sort of net loss is the same as self-preservation.

      If we’re still talking stories written by L. Neil Smith, I think I remember him approvingly alluding to Heinlein’s idea that a well-armed society is a polite society (…So how do we get a polite society whose politeness ISN’T incited by a nimbus of dread?!), and–more importantly–Mao Zedong’s observation that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”. He obviously didn’t like Mao’s political ideals, but he sees that precept on its own as completely valid. Basically, he doesn’t think any precept, benign or malign, is going to have ANY validity or ability to be taken seriously unless it’s backed up with potentially lethal force. I have not seen anything that directly translates to such by him, but I’m guessing that he regards pacifism and its ilk as inherently insane, on account of being maladapted to every last bit of the universe (and maybe the COSMOS, given the extradimensional origins of his Elders).

      It seems he regards the basal fabric of existence as, first and foremost, paranoid self-protection. It’s like what he said in “Contact and Commune”–the universe is such that evil (i.e. parasitic impulses/persons) will always exist. Therefore, one should embrace being ready to fight and kill a parasite at a moment’s notice. As for why people who prioritize their own specific well-being above anything else would band together, I’m guessing it’s mostly because a group can fight better than a single person can–and that should quail would-be parasites even more. I guess you could say that with Smith, love isn’t the basal impulse; fear is. Especially since the drive for self-preservation can be argued to be a form of fear in and of itself (i.e. fear of reverting to total inertness).

      • Paranoid self-protection is indeed a powerful force – which is why so many humans in history have chosen to give up part of their liberty to a strongman who promises to keep them safe. To go back to my initial point, it’s baffling to me how hard-core libertarians keep failing to notice that loads of people don’t share their priorities. A substantial chunk of the population is made up of people who value interpersonal status and relationships over absolute wealth, or who would rather bow to a lord than have to go about their lives constantly prepared to engage in lethal violence.

        On a semi-related note, consider the opening scene of The Godfather. This guy has come to Don Corleone expecting a simple fee-for-service transaction – he hands over some cash, some thugs go deal with his problem, and he and the Don need never have any contact with each other ever again – but that’s not the way Don Corleone does business. Don Corleone wants this guy to “show respect” by calling him Godfather and asking for his friendship, because he finds no-strings-attached cash less useful than building up a network of “friends” who can be counted upon to do him favors in the future.

        In fact, it’s easy to imagine an almost-identical scene, set in an L. Neil Smith Libertopia: a man angry that his daughter’s attackers only had to pay a fine while she’s permanently scarred, a justice system that offers him no recourse unless he can suddenly get a whole lot richer, and a shadowy crime lord who offers help and asks only for his loyalty in return.

        • An example on the absolute wealth thing: let’s say tech advances to the point where you can have your own personal asteroid. Landscaped just the way you like it, hundreds of square miles of terrain, breathable air, food generators, medical robots, and so on. All physical needs taken care of. Obviously all books, films, etc., as well as communications. Everyone can have their own.

          I’d be happy with that. But I think many people would start to feel unhappy that they had no way of having significantly more or less stuff than their neighbours.

        • Huh, looks like replies can’t nest any further than this.

          Anyway, what I’m saying is that it’s not just “do I have more stuff than other people” – it’s “do other people consider me someone they should show respect and deference to”. Tell the feudal lord he can have a better standard of living, but all his serfs get the same, and nobody’s going to bow to him or treat him like he’s in charge any more, and there’s a decent chance he’ll refuse.

        • I set the nesting level to 4 so comments wouldn’t get absurdly squashed with this theme I use. :)

          It is interesting that most folks, when asked about their ideal income, will pick one that most closely approximates their neighbors, with the ideal bein everybody making about $100k a year.

          There is, however, a sizable fraction of the population that is unhappy with that essentially egalitarian setup and actively wants more. The problem is these people become the game-breakers for the would-be-$100k-ers because then the WB1Kers get unhappy that they’re now perceptibly making less than someone else and feel they need to scramble to get more money.

          Firedrake’s “every person a livable estate” idea has a lot to recommend for it, provided we can ever straighten things out on this here planet.

  4. Also, for a look at how profit-seeking can conflict with status-defense, I recommend the 2003 movie The Cooler, about a mob-run casino in Las Vegas. The gangster managing the casino naturally wants it to make money, but he also expects his underlings to obey and defer to him and hates that his bosses have sent in some young guy with a business degree to tell him how to “improve” the place by making it less old-school glitz and more accessible to the common tourist. Even the mob bosses aren’t 100% thrilled with the transition, as it winds up filling their casino with badly dressed riff-raff who have zero respect for old guys in tuxedos – iirc, one of the bosses actually winds up beating up a t-shirt-wearing tourist who heckles him for taking too long rolling dice at a table game.

  5. If we’re still talking stories written by L. Neil Smith, I think I remember him approvingly alluding to Heinlein’s idea that a well-armed society is a polite society

    I actually recently read ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’, which noted that, more often than not, a *violent* society is a polite society – after all, if any offense might be met with force, it pays to be cautious. In contrast, as a society becomes more ‘civilized’ it actually becomes less polite, as insults are shrugged off instead of retaliated against.

    • So the question is, how do we get the best of both worlds–the politeness in the former, the lack of a pall of dread in the latter?

    • Another factor that encourages politeness is repeatedly interacting with the same people. If I’m living my entire life in the same small community, and the guy who sells me milk also goes to my church and his wife is friends with my sister, screaming at him over a minor milk price increase is probably going to tarnish my reputation in the whole community for years. In a large community where people are constantly moving in and out and there’s little to no interconnection, the milk guy and I have no acquaintances in common and it’s easy for me to buy milk elsewhere, so there’s basically no social penalty for being as asshole to him.

      (Query – do any “an armed society is a polite society” advocates actually endorse allowing retail workers to shoot asshole customers? And do they have a solution for how to enforce politeness when you’re interacting via phone or internet with someone far enough away that finding and shooting them would entail significant travel time and expense?)

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