Rand Paul wants to be an amoeba

There is a lot that’s appealing about the Libertarian approach to governing.  We’ve all experienced the idiocy and paralyzing beaurocracy that only big government can bring.  The appeal is in its simplicity.

I write computer programs by trade and preach daily the merits of simplicity.  The simplest solution is not only easier to understand, it tends to have fewer “corner cases” and fewer bugs.  The trick is to frame issue in such a way that a few simple “truths” can adequately describe and control the problem you’re trying to solve.

So the prospect of governing in this way feels right to me.  A few simple rules.  Simple guidelines to help set the boundaries for these rules.  A reasonable, understandable set of rules should be more than adequate to govern reasonable men.

And there’s the rub.

People, humans, folks, citizens are not reasonable.  They’re practically incapable of being the reasonable, rational creatures we imagine ourselves to be.  From sex-drive to cognitive dissonance.  Hubris and pride to outright greed, people will not follow the reasonable path.

Anyone who thinks a simple set of normalized rules can keep humans in check is kidding themselves.

That’s why I often say that a true Libertarian government is a fairy tale.  It sounds nice and makes a nice story.  But it can’t be real.

But wait, it’s worse than that!

One of the guiding principles of Libertarianism is a kind of rugged individualism.  Let each man be responsible for themselves and their family.  At its most extreme, they want to privatize education, roads, fire protection, crime fighting etc.  Every man for himself.  Some even try to sell us a bill of goods that individuals are more efficient than large, unwieldy governments.

For the time being, I’m going to sidestep the issue of measuring “efficiency” between individuals and large entities.  It sounds good but is ultimately meaningless.  Besides, it all boils down to confusion + corruption + waste vs economies of scale.

But the economies of scale carry with them something more important.  Like the ability to do some things at all.  It doesn’t matter how much more efficient you are, if you can’t do something you’re no match for something that can.  An alligator is far more efficient at using food than we are, but they will never build a skyscraper or fly to the moon or invent antibiotics.

And neither would the Libertarians.

The Libertarians want to be unregulated and unbound from their fellow men.  They don’t want to pay taxes for education or roads or fire protection.  They want to keep what they have and share it only at their own discretion.  They’d like to undo most of what we actually call “civilization” and revert back to being nomadic wanderers.  Isolated, self-reliant and ultimately selfish, scared and intellectually lazy!

The human body, is a collection of cells.  They’re diversified and specialized and… organized.  They’ve been provided a blood supply (roads, food, energy) and interconnected with a myriad of electrical and chemical communication systems.  There are antibodies and white blood cells to protect against intruders as well as systems to rid the cells of waste and repair damage.

And these cells are limited in where they can go and what they can do.  The brain gets to determine (in large measure) what all the cells will do.  It regulates the heart rate and pressure, it regulates blood supply and the lungs.  It senses hunger, pain, temperature and takes actions to survive and thrive in various states of these factors.  Sometimes the best course for the human is less than optimal for one or more groups of cells.  But the cells themselves can’t make those kinds of decisions.

The cells themselves, unfettered by rules and regulations would be amoebas.  Protozoa.   On a good day, something with a flagellum that’s capable of moving on its own.  These are the Libertarians.  Let’s stop and consider what they’re capable of in comparison to a well regulated society, like a human body.

To be fair, a large national government is messy.  Humans are messy.  They’re nondeterministic in the extreme.  They’re greedy and clever and sometimes downright mean.  No simple set of black and white rules can ever hope to control them.  People come in shades of gray and all the colors of the rainbow.  They need a government that’s similarly colored.  The result will be a patchwork of inconsistencies and reactionary rules.

They need to agree to being regulated in a way that keeps the playing field level and helps the society as a whole rise (way) above the reach of its individuals.  If I pay for your kids to go to school, my life will be better.  If you discover the cure for cancer, all our lives are improved.  If one of us stumbles, we pick them up and help them along.  That’s the allure and the promise of society.

But where does the government get the authority to tell us what to do like that?  Yes we know it’s in our best interest. (don’t even try to pretend you don’t know that in your heart – I’m having none of that)  In a democracy, the government gets its authority from us.  We give it.

We make mistakes, we give it to the wrong folks or the folks we give it to turn out to be not who we thought they were. (or Libertarians)  So it’s up to all of us to really work hard to make the government we have better – even (dare I say it?) leaner and less bloated. Government growth is like gravity, you have to fight it every minute of every day – just don’t kid yourself into thinking zero government is the goal.

Governing is hard.  Civilization is hard.  Passing laws that account for situations you haven’t dreamed of yet is hard.  Living with others – hundreds, thousands, millions  is hard.  In the animal kingdom, the animals with the biggest brains use them to navigate complex social structures.

To shy away from interaction and the regulation that must come with it; to opt for isolation rather than try to muddle through the the complex interworkings and communication to keep 300+ million people pushing in roughly  the same direction is essentially cowardice.  It’s settling for less than we’re capable of as a nation to avoid mistakes and heartache and rough going.  Libertarianism is a fatally flawed scheme that makes for great soundbites.  But it’s ultimately too simplistic to be considered a real form of government for anything but a small village.

Brian Cox, 5/21/2010

4 Responses to “Rand Paul wants to be an amoeba”

  1. SteveM says:

    Great post, Brian.

    I’ve often tried to understand how libertarianism could solve the problems of being part of a world community. It might have worked a hundred years ago, but with communication being what it is today, as Americans we (whether people like it or not) are a small part of the world – not an entity disconnected from the rest of the world.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. robin allen says:

    Loved the blog. Heard about it through Tom Evans. Good to see you’re doing so well – keep up the rants.

    Loved the latest Rand Paul news and his BP comments. It is now “unamerican” to criticize corporations.

    Thanks for lending your voice.

  3. BroDawg says:

    The garden-of-eden political system in which Libertarianism works did once, in fact, exist. It was called the Hunter-Gatherer society. If anybody didn’t like what “policies” or “initiatives” or “regulations” were being imposed by other entities, they could simply say, “Screw you guys, I’m gone. Please walk in the opposite direction of my path.” Once crops were planted & goats penned, rules became necessary & since the farmers & ranchers that later evolved into city-dwellers eventually all but the destroyed the true Libertarians with their leathal combination of organization & germ warfare, the question has become – how much authoritarian repression is necessary to keep order and yet allow for an improving society.

    In terms of the American Experience – I think the question of weather a strong central government could beat a weak central government in head to head competition was settled pretty decisively in 1865. The weak central government didn’t really foster a great economy at that time either.

  4. I value the blog.Really thank you!

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