Saturday, June 21, 2014

Savagery and Laziness

It's long been my conviction that the only interesting political change that is available to us today will come from a coalition of forces drawn from the so-called extreme so-called right and left. This will require that Paul-inspired libertarians and Chomsky-inspired socialists lay aside some of their most deeply held notions about themselves and some equally ingrained prejudices about each other.

As to the latter, it is instructive to listen to Chomsky on Ron Paul's "savagery" and Joe Rogan (a Ron Paul libertarian, last I checked) on the "laziness" of socialists. Chomsky thinks that it is savage to allow an uninsured patient to die in a coma; Rogan thinks it is lazy to play bad songs on the street and ask people to put money in your guitar case. But surely it is sometimes necessary to let people die because the cost of keeping them alive is prohibitive. What is "savage" to Chomsky, I imagine, is letting a poor man die while keeping a rich man alive.

And surely it's okay to play mediocre songs on the street.

Ron Paul is right to point out that behind the uninsured man's situation there is, actually, a choice. You can live from hand to mouth and expect eventually to die in a coma or from the progression of some exotic cancer. Or you can live always fearful of the many ways you might die, insure yourself to the hilt, work hard to maintain that insurance, suck up to your boss so as not to get fired and lose your insurance, and then have the coverage you need should the worst thing happen.

If you don't require people to make such a choice, then too many people become entitled to draw on the productive capacity of the society (and therefore the labor of their fellow humans). Your contempt for savagery is also contempt for my freedom to be lazy. If I'm willing to die of a condition that would be very expensive to save me from, then I should be able to make that lifestyle choice.

Libertarians are very consistent about this when it comes to smoking. One argument for all kinds of state interference in smoking habits is that smokers cost us a great deal of money when they get the cancer they're setting themselves up for. In my utopia you'd be allowed to enjoy a life of smoking as long you paid for your own insurance or simply weren't so damned afraid to die. Chomsky seems to think that composure in the face of death is an attribute of savages.

The more I think about it, the more I can see that both Rogan's and Chomsky's opprobrium are aimed at me. I am utterly lazy and savage by their standards. I'm willing to make do with much less than I have if it will spare me the drudgery. And death is not so distasteful a prospect to me that I'll throw my support behind the perverse incentives of the medical-insurance complex.

I think I'm saying that the left and the right have to check their attitudes about work and death. Paul's take on death may be "savage" but noble. Chomsky's alleged laziness may really just be denunciation of "wage slavery". I think they could agree on these things if they tried.

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