Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Controversies--7--Darwinian Evolution--IV

I consider Darwinian evolution the Achilles Heel of the libertarian movement. The political problem with many, if not most, libertarians, is their undiscriminating view of any restriction on what they see as their "freedoms" or "rights". By undiscriminating, I mean that they make no distinction between an abridgement of their "freedoms" by a local or state government and by the Federal government. They get as exorcised about a city council passing a restriction on the sale of fast food as they do about Federal wiretapping infringements. This has always bothered me about them and I have often asked myself, why can't they see that our government system was never intended to provide some sort of absolute freedom, but to provide checks on Federal government power.

The problem came to me forcefully in an experience I consider almost providential. I came home one night, picked up the paper from the porch and the mail from the mail box. The mail included a copy of "The Freeman", the journal of the Foundation for Economic Education. Glancing through both, I noticed that both contained an article by the libertarian economist, Walter Williams. As is my custom, I read the paper immediately and saved the journal for reading later in the evening. The article by Williams in the paper contained the best explanation of the problems with Nazi Germany that I have read anywhere in so short an exposition. Of course, von Mises's "Omnipotent Government" is better, but that is a book of 200-300 pages. I have always been interested in Nazi Germany because my father was involved in the war crimes trials and I grew up there and returned for my mission, where I talked with hundreds of Germans about their feelings about Hitler and the Third Reich. Williams explained that much of the problem stemmed from the Germans' willingness, even eagerness, to pass responsibility that rightly belonged to individuals, families, and local governments onto the Federal government. Later that evening I read Prof. Williams' article in the Freeman. It was almost a controdiction of his earlier article, if not directly, certainly in spirit. He castigated various city councils and county commissions for passing laws and ordinances with which he did not agree and called them "Lifestyle Nazis". From the earlier article it was perfectly clear that he knows that "Nazi" means "National Socialist" and whatever you may think of a person who passes a zoning law or a smoking restriction in a cafe, you certainly cannot accuse them of being either "National" or "Socialist" without greatly distorting the term. As I read his articles I asked, why are they that way?

It became clearer to me in another of Prof. Williams articles, when again he was denouncing a city commission for passing a smoking restriction of some kind. This time he exclaimed, "They are trying to take away my right to be unhealthy." I decided that the political problem with libertarinism is that they wage an idealogical battle for freedom on all fronts and ignore the real major problem. Rather like an army being attacked by tanks and missiles spending as much time looking for hornet's nests to eliminate. I am convinced that if the Libertarian Party is ever going to make an impact in America, that the one right they will have to give up is "their right to be unhealthy", but as a practical matter, (with the exception of some very outstanding libertarians like Ron Paul) that is the one right that they demand before all others. And I have to ask, why? And the answer is, of course, that they have some very bad habits which they are determined to defend before anything else.

Which brings me to Darwinian evolution. Why, in modern America, would anyone defend the use of even the mildest drugs, much less the more powerful recreational drugs such as cocaine and heroin? The answer is that they are powerfully stimulating and people enjoy using them. My own feeling, however, is that, for most people at least, they would loose their appeal if those people knew that they were self-destructive. They don't know that because they have been convinced by Darwinian thought that life at every level is reducible to chemistry and physics and therefore, no matter how irresponsible a person's lifestyle, i.e. no matter how much his lifestyle and habits may degrade his life, it can be restored, and maybe even enhanced, by the physical and chemical means.

We often hear that the polical spectrum forms a circle as opposed to a line, with the far right--the libertarians, meeting with the far left--the ultra-liberals, joining. On this issue this is largely true. They both have almost unbounded confidence in the ability of modern medicine to overcome any lifestyle problem with the application of physics and/or chemistry. What they disagree on, of course, at least nominally, is who should pay for that application. There is, however, I believe, a bit of residual and even rather deep-seated suspicion in the majority of our people, that "the right to be unhealthy" is not worth fighting for and even worth voting for.

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