I read Andrew Sullivan’s blog most days and stumbled across an ongoing feud between Sam Harris, who is pondering just how rich is too rich (a valid concern in today’s world), and Timothy Sandefur, a Libertarian blogger. One thing I agree with Sandefur on is his criticism of Harris for characterizing taxes a needful “theft”. This is piss poor reasoning on Harris’ part. I would argue instead that taxation isn’t theft since the person being taxed is aware of the obligation. No one forces you to be a citizen of a country. Certainly you’re born into a country and citizenship but you don’t have to remain in that country once you become an adult. You have a choice in the matter. If you don’t like the taxation here, then by all means, go somewhere else. However, its understand that in the U.S. (and every other nation on earth) that if you want to live there, you have to pay into the societal pot, n’est pas?
However, it wasn’t that line of thought that really irked me. No, it was Sandefur’s response to Harris’ reasoning regarding the “luck of birth”. Harris posited that too many people take credit for having been born healthy, to their family, in a certain time, etc. Things which none of us have any control over whatsoever. It’s an extremely valid point. I am ever mindful of how I was born with an IQ several standard deviations above average that has allowed me to go on and accomplish things that my siblings were incapable of. That I live in the U.S. at this point and time, where as a woman I can go to school and work without facing imprisonment, torture and death. I don’t take credit for any of this, but many libertarians would. Or at the very least they would say, “I’m just lucky and it sucks to be you”.
Sandefur fails to address this aspect of Harris’ argument. Instead his response is emotional, reductionist crap. He should be careful of flinging accusations of illogical arguments himself. Libertarians and other conservatives always get frothy whenever anyone starts talking about “mutual responsibility” and “societal obligations”. They seem to have missed PoliSci 101 where they describe the concept of a “social contract”. My response is always the same, if you don’t like living with the rest of us and sharing with the rest of us, please do us a favor and leave. I wholeheartedly encourage you to resettle someplace else and try to create the conservative paradise you so yearn for…..and when all your hard work fails to produce a utopia and instead delivers a Lord of the Flies scenario….we’ll welcome back the survivors and help you. Because that’s what decent human beings do. You can’t live in society, benefit from that society and refuse to contribute to it at the same time. That’s like going to a potluck without a dish. You can do it once in a while, but all the time? Then the concept of the potluck falls apart. Everyone except for yahoos like Sandefur understand that society is like an ongoing potluck.
Beyond the potluck metaphor that I use here, Harris’ point is still valid. ”There by the grace of ________ go I.” That blank could be God, Goddess, Mother Nature, the randomness of the Universe, Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc. Why should you give up your hard-won earnings, because it COULD have been you. If we do have souls and we do come back around again (and again, and again) next time it could be you. An atheist like Sandefur rejects this argument out of hand, of course. Because he knows everything, obviously. But let’s accept his premise that he’s right and the soul coming back again is bunk. Then what about bad things happening to you in your lifetime Sandefur? You’re only lucky up until the day something crappy happens. No one has good luck every day of their life, do they? I’m betting not. In which case, you may at some point need that societal net of which you’re so scornful. This reasoning doesn’t rely on religion but on mathematical odds–permutations if you will. Next time it might be you who is unlucky or someone you love, like your parents, your child, your lover, etc.
Why don’t guys like Sandefur get the message? Maybe it is failure to teach basic civics in our schools? Or it’s too much Randian BS being pushed by the conservatard pimps at FOPGOX News? Or the consistent message of consumerism and greed with which we are constantly bombarded with? Or perhaps its a complete failure by their parents to instill a shred of empathy in them? I’m thinking its all of the above. Whatever the cause, I’d love for them to experience their libertarian paradise. If I’m wrong and its successful, I’d be the first to say “they were right”. Somehow I don’t think it’d work out that way. In fact, only the lucky ones will survive and they’ll claim it was all their effort instead. Sigh…….