[Same post as before, but this time with a title. Arg.]
Lucy Steigerwald points to an annoying Vox article about libertarianism by Drew Brown with the cringe-inducing title “Why Libertarians and MRAs Sound the Same When They Talk About Feminism.”
The piece starts out with some real issues of women being harassed by assholes, and private employers firing said assholes, which doesn’t bother me a whole lot. However, once the author starts discussing libertarianism, the piece becomes a loony tune:
At first it might seem sort of surprising that a libertarian would come to the defence of a guy getting fired for saying sexist shit in public. I mean, the whole movement is essentially designed to uphold employers’ rights to do almost whatever the fuck they want to their underlings.
See what I mean? The libertarian movement’s basic philosophy rests on the foundation of the non-coercion principle: You can only do whatever you want to other people if you have their consent. I suspect Brown is confused because he disagrees with some of the things employees have consented to, such as low wages or working conditions he doesn’t like.
But it’s possible that because the guy was fired from Hydro One, Ontario’s government-owned (at least for now) electricity company, this could be seen as an act of state repression as heinous as food safety regulation or public transit.
Maybe. It’s kind of complicated, having to do with whether the guy had a duty to behave himself as a representative of his employer, and whether the limits imposed by his employer pass some tests of legitimacy for government agencies. Here in the U.S., this would be a constitutional issue related to First Amendment limits on how governments can control their employees’ speech, but this all took place in Canada, which turns out to be a whole different country.
And if you don’t think food safety regulations can be hideous form of state repression, you probably haven’t been paying attention to how those regulations are enforced. Food safety is a great thing, but it also becomes an excuse for shutting down competitors to politically powerful agricultural interests, expanding the fiefdoms of government bureaucrats, and weirdly puritanical crusades against things like raw milk.
So then why would a libertarian spring to sexism’s defence? A cursory visit to the Manosphere can show you a statistical link between libertarians and anti-feminist men’s rights activists. Even self-identified “libertarian feminists” like Jessica Flanigan note a tension between the goals and values of libertarians and those of feminists.
And she come out in favor of libertarianism whenever the feminist goal of discouraging sexism crosses over into coercive tactics. So…not the best example.
When you look at it this way, it’s not hard to see that libertarians and men’s rights activists are two sides of the same reactionary coin.
Weirdly, that link goes to a post about how libertarianism is supposedly related to the neoreactionary movement. For fuck’s sake, neoreactionaries want a return to monarchy! The author just thinks libertarians and neoreactionaries are closely related because, for completely different reasons, they both oppose his liberal ideals.
Brown then goes on to explain what MRAs are all about. It’s kind of long, but remarkably nuanced.
MRAs are the disaffected losers of a male-dominated world. They are legitimately upset that they have to put up with all the bullshit that traditionally masculine gender roles impose on men (do dangerous work; live and die by your dick; defer to “naturally” nurturing women in child-care custody battles; etc) but they don’t enjoy any of the payoffs they were promised for playing along. Patriarchy is a pyramid scheme, and for every Don Draper at the pinnacle there are a thousand Pete Campbells underneath them, whining that they can’t get their due.
At this point, Brown is on the verge of stumbling on the basic relationship between MRAs and the libertarian movement. People who used to control everything are starting to feel political power shift to other groups — from whites to people of color, from men to women — and that frightens them. And when people who frighten you are in control of the government, making the government less powerful begins to look like a good idea. And calling yourself a libertarian sounds a lot better than admitting you’re a racist or a sexist.
Unfortunately, Brown goes in a completely different direction:
You can see why these people would get along with libertarians, who are also very emotionally invested in maintaining bullshit social and economic hierarchies under the veneer of individual rights.
First of all, libertarians believe that people should be able to form whatever social and economic hierarchies they want to, which they should be free to maintain or tear down as they see fit, as long as no one forces anyone else into the hierarchy by, for example, enacting the hierarchy into law.
Second, it’s not a veneer, you jackass. It’s a guiding principle. And I guess Brown realizes that, because he then launches an attack on individualism:
One of the basic premises of libertarianism is that only individuals exist. There is no such thing as a group or a gender or a race or a nation or a community of any kind.
Not quite. Believing there’s no such thing as a group or a gender or a race or whatever would be silly. He’s misstated the principle. It’s not that only individuals exist. It’s that only individuals matter. That is, government policy should be evaluated on the basis of it’s effect on individuals, not on nebulous or questionably defined social groups.
This doesn’t mean there’s nothing wrong with a policy that harms a group such as women or people of color. But the policy isn’t bad because it harms the group, it’s bad because it harms the individuals that make up the group.
Obviously, the idea that we all go through life as isolated individuals and that group identities (race, class, gender, sexuality, etc) don’t define us in any meaningful way could only seem plausible to a white man of at least moderate financial means—or anyone bound up in the aspirational fantasies of whiteness, masculinity, and economic elitism. Whiteness, and especially straight male whiteness, is treated as the de facto standard from which others deviate, to such an extent that a straight white (cis, able-bodied) man can completely forget his experience is not universal. From within that perspective, it’s easy to see freedom as consisting in, and only in, being left alone to do whatever you want with your money.
It’s the only definition of freedom that doesn’t involve oppressing others. That some straight white cis able-bodied men claim this kind of freedom for themselves while taking it from others — Thomas Jefferson is the archetype — doesn’t mean that being left alone is a poor definition of freedom. It just means that some straight white cis able-bodied men are hypocritical assholes.
Both libertarians and MRAs are dedicated to missing this point. They speak in the language of individual rights and equality because by reducing all the complexity of the social world down to a set of isolated units, they can pretend that everyone’s privileges and disadvantages are rightfully earned.
I don’t know about MRAs, but us libertarians reduce the complexity of the social world to a set of isolated people because when it comes to evaluating public policies, isolated people are easy to understand: They all matter, and they all matter equally. From where I sit, it’s people who divide us into tribes that are trying to take advantage of us, regardless of which tribes they call their own. Conservative tribalism is every bit as bad as liberal tribalism.
Even the imagery of the “Nanny State” is hilariously sexist—as if the government is a giant woman, nagging the boys to do their homework and making them go to bed before the good TV shows are on.
It has nothing to do with gender. When the government outlaws sex toys or toy guns or Big Gulps, we call it the “Nanny State” because nannies take care of children, and the government is treating adults like children.
[…] if there’s one place where libertarians and MRAs often overlap, it’s in being smug, condescending pricks on the internet.
Right back at ya, bro.