Bad Company Part I: Libertarians vs. Socialists

In the vein of common goals, Dr. Scott Rodin has written a wonderful article about a conservative, evangelical Republican’s take on why we must address climate change now.

His post is very insightful – getting to the root of why people, myself included, often have negative knee-jerk reactions to ideas that the should endorse.

Rodin speaks about the problem of “us vs. them” and the extreme power of subconscious associations.

As a conservative evangelical Republican, for many years he laughed at environmentalism because he associated it with people who he felt did not share his values. The loudest champions of environmentalism were, after all, big government liberals, atheists, nature-worshippers, and Democrats. He couldn’t possibly espouse a view that they also held – right?

I find myself frequently in this same boat. I’ll find myself reacting with instant disgust or suspicion to an idea solely because of who proposed it; even if it would help to make a better world, if it is proposed by someone who I perceive as somehow different from myself, I am likely to view it in a very negative light.

Let’s look at some of these differences, and how they blind us to our common goals:

Bad Company Part I: Big Government vs. Small Government

One remarkable thing I learned during the era of Occupy Wall Street was how much Libertarians and socialists have in common. When they were on the ground speaking and working side-by-side, they described almost identical visions of the future. Soon, a very happy camaraderie was formed.

Why, then, do these groups react to each other with revilement, disgust, and suspicion?

The idea seems to come down, essentially, to a difference in tactics. Both parties want a world where the individual is free. To socialists, that means that the individual has the resources they need to pursue happiness; to Libertarians, that means that the individual is not weighed down by laws that prevent them from pursuing happiness.

They’re both right.

At the end of the day, their disagreements come down to disagreements over tactics.

Libertarians believe that government, when entrusted with power, will always become corrupt; they advocate individual power and responsibility as the only way to prevent this from happening.

Socialists believe that profit interests, when entrusted with power, will always become corrupt; they advocate social responsibility and governing power as the only way to prevent that from happening.

Why can’t we have both?

Both sides seek to protect the people from those who would curtail their freedom – but they disagree about who is the bigger threat.

So why don’t they come to the table and talk to each other more? Why not compare notes and statistics? Why not find compromises that appease the fears of both?

The answer largely comes down to what Dr. Rodin discussed: the deep-seated psychological problem of “us vs. them.”

There is a certain image of the Libertarian. In the minds of non-Libertarians, Libertarians are most frequently white men, often wealthy, who are afraid of losing their money and power and don’t understand the larger threats to society. In the minds of non-Libertarians, Libertarians are inherently violent and dangerous; they love guns and will find any excuse to be angry at other groups. In the minds of non-Libertarians, Libertarians are delusional; they believe, against all evidence, that poverty stems purely from laziness and that capitalism always produces good results.

To listen to anything a Libertarian says, then, would be to place oneself in bad company.

There is a certain image of the socialist. In the minds of non-socialists, socialists are most frequently young people who are too young to understand how the world really works. Often, they are poor and desire “free handouts,” or wealthy and delusionally self-righteous. In the minds of non-socialists, socialists are inherently dangerous: they talk of violent revolution, and would blindly place power in the hands of a deeply flawed government. In the minds of non-socialists, socialists are delusional: they believe, against all evidence, that government is ethical and wise.

To listen to anything a socialist says, then, would be to place oneself in bad company.

And yet, any socialist or Libertarian will tell you that these stereotypes are far from true.

So why do we give them such power over us?

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