Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Political Activist Seeks Label

If you’re a longtime reader of my blog, then thank you. Notice anything different today? Take a moment, look around, see if you can spot the change… I’ll be right here when you’re done.
--passage of time –

--Barry Manilow in Muzak form fills your ears while you wait--
--Oh Mandy, you came and you brought me some bacon, but you cooked it flambé oh Mandy--
See the difference? I took the subheading off my blog title. No more mention of “gonzo libertarianism.” No mention of libertarians at all. I’ve discarded that label for the same reason I quit calling myself a feminist: because both words have become so contaminated, their mainstream use is entirely different from their original meanings.

Whenever I said “I'm a feminist,” I meant men and women should be legal and social equals. But I quit applying the F-word to myself once I started collecting criticism from other self-described F-words who apparently believe feminism means “attractive women betray The Sisterhood” or “Ditto the women who work in the sex industry” or even “Andrea Dworkin was right: men are scum.”

I’ve written professional articles describing how I paid for college by working in exotic-dance clubs, and had self-described F-words in the comment threads tell me outright that I was a disgusting human being who caused harm to all women, and “should have” remained an impoverished high school graduate rather than dance my way to a college degree. I view feminism as a ladder to help women climb up; they view it as a cudgel to beat women down when we don't behave as they demand. I’m a strong advocate of ladder feminism and utterly abhor cudgel feminism, but the cudgel version is best-known today and I don’t want anybody thinking I adhere to it, which is why I’ve stopped saying “I’m a feminist” in favor of clunkier phrases like “equality for all.”

Which brings me to libertarianism. Or any political label, these days. Pop quiz: in modern American usage, what is the definition of a “political conservative?” I can give you multiple contradictory and equally valid answers off the top of my head: A conservative is someone who believes in smaller government and more personal liberty. Or someone who believes government should be small enough to fit inside a gay person's bedroom, drug user's bloodstream or woman's reproductive system, the better to regulate what goes on within. Someone who believes anything a Republican does is good because it’s a Republican doing it, and anything a Democrat does is bad for an equal and opposite reason. Someone who believes the Bible rather than the constitution should be the law of the land. There’s even conservatives who believe science is a left-wing atheist plot and the single greatest evil in the 6,000-year history of planet Earth. I consider myself a conservative according to the first definition I listed, but want nothing to do with the latter groups.


What is a “liberal?” It could mean “someone who believes in the importance of individual rights and civil liberties.” I’m extremely liberal, in that sense of the word. But it can also apply to someone who believes “anytime anything bad happens, it’s because the government didn’t pass the right regulations,” with a strong subcategory of “someone who believes only agents of the government should be allowed to own guns.”

And quite a few partisan-hack liberals believe “Destroying civil liberties is only bad if Republicans do it; TSA was an unconstitutional monstrosity as a Bush baby, but now that Obama’s president I fully support TSA’s fine efforts to keep me safe. Also, warrantless wiretapping is evil because – oh, wait, it’s Democrats doing it now? Never mind, then.”

I’ve even seen self-described liberals who sincerely believe “individuals must be forced to suffer in the name of the greater good” – like the ones who oppose school choice and believe poor-but-bright kids must remain in their dangerous, failing public schools, because if the poor-but-bright kid can leave and get a better education somewhere else, that would hurt the dangerous, failing school he just abandoned. The school doesn’t owe him a good education; he owes the school the state funding tied to his attendance.


And what is a “libertarian?” If you limit the definition to someone who plans to vote for Gary Johnson in the next presidential election, that’s me. If you stick with the old definition “someone who believes government power over individuals must be kept to a minimum, because power corrupts and attracts the corrupt, and also because adults are better off running their own lives than letting bureaucrats run their lives instead”  … that’s me, too.

But I’m fed up with being mistaken for the self-described libertarians who support the racist drivel of the infamous Ron Paul newsletters, libertarians who support Bob Barr, libertarians who believe “any sort of law protecting a worker’s rights relative to his employer is a net loss for freedom,” libertarians who think Rush Limbaugh made a good argument when he called Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute for thinking medical insurance should cover ovarian cysts and other problems with women’s reproductive systems.

As the Fluke debacle played out on the national stage last March, I wrote “Sandra Fluke Was Not A Fluke: A Secular Crisis of Faith,” my first blog post where I wondered, publicly, if I really wanted to label myself a libertarian anymore:
Limbaugh's rant didn't surprise me at all. Here's what did surprise me: when I'd go on Facebook, or visit various political blogs and forums I'm prone to frequent, all run by people I'd considered political allies of a sort (mainly self-described libertarians who claim to share my mantra "Social liberal and fiscal conservative"), I saw to my dismay how many "libertarians" favor Limbaugh's view of ovarian-cyst treatment over Fluke's.

I saw countless photos of Fluke's face with captions suggesting she wants taxpayers to buy her silk sheets, Barry White albums and vibrating dildos; captions suggesting that only whores want or need healthy reproductive systems. I saw self-described libertarians who view women's hormone pills the same way callous drug warriors view pain medicine for the dying: if there's even the theoretical possibility a drug or medical treatment can be used solely for fun -- a painkiller that can also get you high, a hormone-balancing treatment that can also let you have sex without fear of pregnancy -- then let's pretend these treatments are only used for fun, and furthermore that only irresponsible criminal loser-types would ever use those treatments. Only hopeless-loser potheads would ever use marijuana, only trashy-filth meth whores would ever buy decongestants, and only promiscuous sluts would ever take hormone pills, right?
A couple days later, my friend and fellow blogger Mark Draughn linked to me in a post of his own, which he called “How not to bring women into the libertarian movement.”

He quoted parts of my post, added commentary of his own, then said this:
Like many other radical movements, libertarianism has some very dark corners. Probably the darkest of these corners — the ones we talk about the least — are the corners where all the bigots are hiding.

I think it’s a reaction to shifting political power. There was no such thing as the Ku Klux Klan when white people were completely in charge and black people were literally slaves. But once the slaves were emancipated, white bigots lost some power in the world, and they fought back by forming a terrorist organization, with the goal of keeping blacks in their place.

That hasn’t worked out real well for them: Just check the skin color of our current President. It took a damned long time, but black people have risen up in this country and begun to take their share of political power. Women have been on the same path, gaining in power and influence every decade. These changes frighten a lot of bigots, and when people who frighten you are beginning to control the government, the idea of a smaller government begins to look really attractive. So they start calling themselves libertarians.

(Stripped of the racist elements, that’s a pretty good description of why I’m a libertarian: The people who control our government are frightening me.)

We all know a few of those libertarians. They’re the ones who complain endlessly about the government’s abuse of power, but the only example they ever come up with is Affirmative Action. They’re the ones who can only list “welfare” when asked for an example of government waste. They’re the ones who oppose gun control because “the streets are filled with savages.” They’re the ones who wrote the worst of the Ron Paul newsletters. And when the government wants to restructure healthcare, they’re the ones who only seem really upset about the parts that help women. 

That darkling breed of libertarian Draughn calls out is part of the reason I’m shying away from the label now. But the bigoted libertarians aren’t the only reason. I’m also fed up with the ones who might, for lack of a better word, be called “libertopians”: those who believe that, since X law would not be necessary in a true free-market libertopia, this means X law should not exist now, and anyone who argues for it must only be a freedom-hating statist. Take, for example, the ones who oppose Sandra Fluke – NOT because they hate women, but because they honestly, sincerely believe that making employers pay for health insurance benefits if they don’t want to is detrimental to their freedom.

Yes, it would be in libertopia. But we don’t live there: we live in a country where the laws effectively makes it impossible for most people to buy decent health insurance on their own; either you get it through your employer or you don’t get it at all. Yet even under these warped circumstances, as far from a truly free market as you can get, libertopians insist that “freedom” means employers need the right to pry into their employees’ medical records and make decisions regarding employees’ medical care. And if that means Sandra Fluke’s friend loses her ovary because medical treatment for ovarian cysts offends her employer’s religious sensibilities — let freedom ring! The system works as advertised!

Or consider the libertarians who say they oppose gay marriage because they think government should get out of the marriage business altogether. Meanwhile, they’re willing to stick with the status quo “straight people can marry and get government benefits that wouldn’t exist in libertopia,” then claim that extending these same privileges to gay couples would be a step backwards, freedom-wise.

“Gay couples shouldn’t be getting government privileges” would be a valid anti-gay marriage argument if we lived in libertopia, where NO couples got special government bennies and gays sought to make themselves the exception to that rule. But in our world, our real, utterly non-libertopian world, where such privileges are already doled out to everyone except gay couples, such arguments reek of utter cluelessness at best, rank bigotry at worst.

I’m imagining today’s libertarian-utopians circa 1850: “Yeah, in libertopia, divorce will be legal, and wives free to leave abusive husbands. Until then, though, it would be antithetical to freedom if we pass laws telling men they can’t beat their wives. We can’t let the government interfere with the family! Men NEED the freedom to manage their households as they see fit, and women still have the freedom to just say no to a marriage proposal from an abuser.”

Around the time of the Fluke debacle, some Arizona legislators proposed a law that would make it legal for employers to look at all employees' medical records and fire any women who take birth control pills.

And I know self-described libertarians who supported that law, and opposed any counterlaw banning employers from perusing their employees’ medical records, in the name of supporting employers' freedom. Which, again, might persuade me if we lived in libertopia, but we don’t. If true libertarian freedom requires codifying into law an employer’s “right” to peer into every aspect of an employee’s physical condition and personal life, and fire those who take legal medications the employer dislikes, then true libertarian freedom can go fuck itself with the taxpayer-subsidized dildo it pretends Sandra Fluke actually demanded.

So how do I describe my political beliefs? Liberal, conservative, feminist, libertarian? All apply to some extent – but only if you focus on what they used to mean, and not enough people do anymore.

25 Comments:

Anonymous Jess said...

For mostly the same reasons, for at least a year I've been calling myself an anarchist. Not because I support the atrocities of the Spanish Syndicalist movement, but because I oppose arbitrary authority. Also because I've been perpetually entertained by IOZ.

If we keep our wits about us, the simple mantra of "oppose arbitrary authority" is a perfect guide for the here-and-now. Does a bureaucrat deprive citizens of something they value without due process? Oppose. Does a company change its terms of service after customers have spent time and money committing to that service? Oppose. Do legislators run a lobbyist-dollar protection racket, with each side of the aisle introducing different awful regulations for the opposing side to quash once they hit their funding goals for the targeted industries? Oppose. Are incumbents and regulators colluding to undermine a new market or technology? Oppose. Do people live in fear, deprived of the means to protect themselves? Oppose. Is someone prevented from living as she wills, while not harming anyone else? Oppose.

Most people are so beaten down that they immediately retort with "so you just want to pass a bunch of new laws some anarchist you are". Such is the poverty of their civic imaginations. Of course I made no mention of new laws. In this place and time, our lives must be our opposition. We have to hack and subvert the systems that harm us, and voting for the best candidate (say that without laughing in derision if you can) will play no part in that. I'm not saying that one must challenge all authority, indeed that would be the mirror image of the authoritarian impulse. By judging some authority as valid and other authority as tyranny, we support our vision of a better society. Even our opposition needn't be full-blooded. There is a place for the sit-in and the work slowdown, when used with discretion. We don't have to worry about utopia, because it's gotten so bad that real improvement can be had in any direction.

6:03 PM  
Anonymous SIV said...

Buy your own damn birth control

8:07 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

Point -----> .

. <----- SIV

Ne'er the twain shall meet.

8:16 PM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

Jennifer:

Lots of people call themselves lots of things - doesn't mean they are those things.

You raise entirely too many issues here for me to respond to them all, but I would like to offer one thought: If rights and liberties are not recognized, supported, and respected until or unless we live in "Libertopia," then we will never get there. And if we have to wait until everyone's rights are respected before anyone's are, then no one's rights ever will be.

12:11 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

If rights and liberties are not recognized, supported, and respected until or unless we live in "Libertopia," then we will never get there

Nor will we get there if the default setting in the meanwhile is "rights and liberties default to the rich and well-connected." For example: in less than two years, the individual mandate will kick in, everyone who lives in America will be legally obligated to buy insurance, yet even though I'm paying premiums, "true freedom" demands that my employer gets carte blanche to decide what my premiums actually buy? That isn't freedom; it's the crony-capitalism equivalent of "might makes right."

7:59 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

Or for another example (which I didn't mention in this post because Zod knows it's long and rambling enough already): what actually inspired this -- besides my ever-growing doubts of these past few months -- was when someone yesterday came to my blog via a years-old thread on H&R: some pharmacist refused to fill birth-control prescriptions for unmarried women, or "morning-after" pills for any women.

In libertopia I'd support his right to do so, but in our world, where it is illegal to buy such things unless you first visit a doctor to get written permission, and THEN go through a government-certified pharmacist to fill it, I don't buy the idea that anyone who gets a job as a government "gatekeeper" should be allowed to impose additional hoops through which people must jump. Yet -- of course -- the bulk of the commenters insisted that "true freedom" means allowing the pharmacist with the government-granted medicine monopoly to refuse to hand out prescription medication to anyone who doesn't meet his arbitrary standards of morality.

8:21 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

It isn't "true freedom" for the government to force employers to provide you an insurance plan either. Besides, under Obamacare it's the government that decides what that plan has to cover and what your premiums buy - not the employer; that isn't freedom either. Also, even though you will be legally obligated to have insurance, as far as I know there is nothing in the law that says you must necessarily obtain it through an employer. What's that you say - you can't aford to get it anywhere else? Hey, tell it to your president - you voted for the bastard. I'm sure he'd be sooo sympathetic to your predicament - that is, if he can find time in his busy schedule of sucking up to the unions and the various financial and insurance corporations. There's your real crony-capitalism for you.

The insurance mandate has turned virtually everyone in this country into a serf. "True Freedom?" Hell, we're lucky Obozo and his crew aren't charging us for living and breathing. Oh wait - they are!

9:10 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

It isn't "true freedom" for the government to force employers to provide you an insurance plan either.

I know. What we have now is far from freedom. So, in the meantime, my focus is on "harm reduction."

But if you remember the original article I wrote about Sandra Fluke, my dismay with so-called libertarians wasn't the fact that they disagreed with her opinions, but that they ignored actual political arguments in favor of misogynistic insults. Sneering that someone is a prostitute and a slut and wants taxpayers to buy her a dildo -- that's not principled objection to a political disagreement; that is sheer misogynistic rage.

9:19 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

You don't have some god-given right to be provided with birth control, Jennifer. What would you do if no one found it profitable to sell it - have the government force them to do so? If you don't like the terms someone sets in doing business, do business with someone else...or no one else.

9:28 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

If you don't like the terms someone sets in doing business, do business with someone else.

If we had a truly free market, I would. But we don't, so I can't. The government has artificially restricted the supply in multitudes of ways.

And, bear in mind -- my previous comment about the pharmacist wasn't about the presumed right to be "provided" birth control, or the morning-after pill should I ever have the misfortune to be raped -- I'm simply demanding the right to PURCHASE it. Under the current law, I can only purchase it from one official government-sanctioned gatekeeper after paying for written permission from another, and I do not believe that gatekeeper should then have the right to demand people pass whatever religious tests he pulls out of his ass before being allowed to pass through the gates.

Or the proposed Arizona law I mentioned in this post -- some control-freak misogynist proposed letting employers look through their employees' private medical records and demand employees taking birth control justify it -- no, I do not endorse the "freedom" to have my medical records become my boss' business.

9:38 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

my dismay with so-called libertarians wasn't the fact that they disagreed with her opinions, but that they ignored actual political arguments in favor of misogynistic insults.

If you are refering to Limbaugh, he is no libertarian - and doesn't claim to be, as far as I know; but then I haven't listened to his show in about twenty years either. On the other hand that respectful esteemer of womankind, Bill Maher, does claim to be a libertarian.

9:41 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

Limbaugh's no libertarian, but a lot of so-called libertarians quoted him with gusto. Bill Maher's an asshole, too.

My political principles remain the same, but I eschew the label. I should've done so when the LP started playing footsie with Bob Barr.

9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Same on both counts. Anymore, libertarian apparently means you worship Ayn Rand and believe that business should do anything it wants, whenever it wants. Well, to that I say:

http://www.angryflower.com/atlass.gif

And don't get me started on modern feminism. Just...don't.

-Sean

9:58 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

I'm simply demanding the right to PURCHASE it

Uh...no. You are not - you are demanding the power to make someone sell it to you, whether he or she wants to or not, for whatever reason they choose. That isn't freedom and it isn't a right.

As for an employer: you have no "right" to dictate to him (or to anyone else for that matter) what he should consider his business to be or what he may concern himself with. If you don't like what he concerns himself with, then work for someone else...or for yourself. You don't have a god-given right to a job either. No one does.

10:08 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

I should've done so when the LP started playing footsie with Bob Barr.

If the Libertarian Party thought Bob Barr was some sort of principled libertarian, then each and everyone of them should have run to the john and "appointed Bob Barr." Bob Barr...and to think that people use to say Nixon looked like a used car salesman. Ha!

10:17 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

Uh...no. You are not - you are demanding the power to make someone sell it to you, whether he or she wants to or not, for whatever reason they choose. That isn't freedom and it isn't a right.

I'm demanding that a man who chooses to get a job as an official government gatekeeper not invent his own requirements before allowing me to pass through those gates.

I suppose it boils down to the question "Whose rights are more important" -- the right of a rape victim to purchase the morning-after pill, or the right of a religious nut to tell her "My religion says that YOU have to suck it up."

Ideally, such things would all be sold over-the-counter, in which case the question of whether gatekeepers can inflict their own requirements would be immaterial, since the gatekeepers would not exist. But so long as the gatekeepers DO exist, with legal authority granted them by the government, I don't find it antithetical to freedom to say that those gatekeepers should be limited in their authority.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

Comment from a thread discussing this on Facebook: If the libertarian objections to Fluke merely revolved around employers' religious rights, it wouldn't bother me. But "libertarian principles" didn't inspire the comments about sluts and prostitutes, the photos of Fluke overlaid with captions suggesting she wants taxpayers to buy her lube and sex toys ... no. It's like the difference between my dislike of Obama versus the Stormfronters' dislike of Obama -- my dislike for the man stems from principled love of constitution and country, and when I write about him, even when I'm being insulting, I never make a single insulting remark that wouldn't work just as well against a WHITE politico who does the same things. Whereas the Stormfronters, even if they start out with a legitimate complaint a la "TSA is bullshit," can never keep it up for more than a couple of sentences without devolving into frothing rants about Kenya and niggers and Zionist plots, and "humor" that involves photoshopping watermelon rinds and KFC buckets onto pictures of the White House lawn.

10:23 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

BTW, speaking of who is or is not a libertarian - or who eschews the label: would you believe that thirty-something years ago Ron Paul refused to associate himself with libertarians? When asked why he said it was because he didn't care for their "lifestyles." It's true; I read an interview with him that - if I remember correctly - was published in Reason Magazine at the time. Might have been another noted libertarian journal of the day, but I'm pretty sure it was Reason. This was before he ran for president on the LP ticket. I should try to find my copy of that - I still have all those old publications stored away.

Gotta go for now.

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Wayne said...

Smartass: So what you're saying is that you wouldn't mind if an employer looked into your health records? Oh, hey, look, this guy had a penile implant years ago. I don't like that so I can fire him?

Maybe I'm looking into it to simplistically, but that's the sort of thing I'm seeing. I understand that that person (employer) has rights just like I do, but isn't it my choice what I share with the world at large? Shouldn't my medical history be just that? Mine?

I work in a hospital. Patient confidentiality is paramount. Now you're opening those doors to anyone that chooses to look at them - in the name of health insurance. Why have HIPAA?

Or, another thought. What happens if I don't want other employees of the company I work for to know I have a penile implant. My employer could share that information - inadvertently or otherwise. Again, where's HIPAA? My information is mine. Not yours. In the hospital environment, there are controls in place to safeguard patient information. (most of the time they work). In private industry, as far as I know, none exist.

The argument - pay for your own birth control? Well, pay for your own Viagra.

Better yet, I don't believe that all these kids have ADD/ADHD. That's poor parenting right there; I'm not paying for those pills! Step up and be a better parent!

10:48 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

I cannot speak for Smartass, Wayne, but I suspect his answer is "If you don't want your boss looking at your medical records, don't work for a boss who wants to look at them."

10:55 AM  
Blogger Windypundit said...

I recently made the opposite transition -- finally deciding to call myself a libertarian -- as a way of labeling myself for my readers and getting up off the bench and into the game. With guys like Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, Judge Napolitano, John Stossel, and Penn Jillette drawing so much public attention to libertarian ideas, I figured I should finally join the team, even if I disagree with some of its players.

Before that, I used to say I had "libertarian leanings" or call myself "libertarian-ish" as a way of differentiating myself. I also liked to call myself a "classical liberal." The main disadvantage of "classical liberal" is that most people have no idea what it means. That is also its main advantage. It doesn't have the Ayn Rand/hard money/paleolib/bigot coddling baggage.

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Wayne said...

I assume that would be his answer. I've heard that response to various questions.

So if all employers can look at your records, and you've no clue as to what that employer's personal beliefs are? - good luck with that. Your first interview should be, let's go over my medical record right now, so I won't be disappointed when I've gone through 14 interviews, drug testing, and the invasive physical, all so you can tell me that you don't want me working for you cuz I like a good roll in the hay. And you don't. Oh, and you may or may not tell me what that reason is because, well, it's a free country.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

Even when I considered myself a "softcore libertarian," I still wasn't opposed to the notion that workers have some rights relative to their employer, other than the right to quit. Governments are not the only organizations, and agents of the government not the only individuals, whose power over others must be constrained to preserve freedom.

12:01 PM  
Anonymous Jess said...

Ideally, such things would all be sold over-the-counter...

Ideally ALL things would be sold over the counter. When possible, over the same counter.

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Jess said...

...workers have some rights relative to their employer, other than the right to quit.

I think the people who disagree with this point make the old economists' "perfect information" assumption. That is, they think that the both employer and employee know everything about the job on the first day and on every subsequent day. That is such a ridiculous assumption that I have to question whether those who make it have ever held a job.

In the real world employers and employees both are looking to screw each other over by changing the rules all the time. In utopia, we would handle that by only performing temporary piecework, because the perfect market would always have fairly similar work for a fairly similar wage available on a regular basis. Since we're not close to that, employers and employees both should probably continue to follow the rules they have customarily followed.

Of course, the right to quit is a very important one, which has not been protected in every society.

4:03 PM  

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