“No one can acquire many things without being unjust. … Because it is responsible for injustice, luxurious living must be completely avoided.” (Musonius Rufus, Lectures 20.6-7).
“Humans should use reason to assist nature to supply what is missing and remove what is excessive.” (Musonius Rufus, Lectures 21.2)
Maybe because Stoics emphasize human’s capacity to reason as something that differentiates us from other animals, the group has attracted its share of libertarians who take issue with ideas of wealth redistribution, claiming wealth is earned, not acquired unjustly. Thus, they tend to ignore that the Stoics also say that humans are social beings, which might be more consistent with an interdependent approach to living.
The other morning, I had a comment exchange with one of these guys (yes, they’re mostly male). I quickly noticed my passions rising, something that touched off mental reminders that I need to tread carefully, that I need to step back and assess the situation more rationally. So, I practiced self-control (one of the Stoic virtues), got myself off Facebook, and out the door for a walk.
Indifferent. The word kept going through my head. The ideological frame of someone else ought to really be indifferent to me. And yet, it gets to me. I had some of my most embarrassing rage episodes during a coupled relationship with an Ayn Rand fan. Something about their rhetoric really gets under my skin! Having the tools of Stoicism at my disposal now, I was able to get some mental distance (plus, it was someone commenting on Facebook, not someone I was dating). Out of that distance some insights arose.
Aside from the social consequences of libertarian ideas in economics and the environment, what irks me the most is the doublespeak, specifically around entitlement. Before I unpack this, let me first go on what might seem like a little detour…
“Abuse grows from attitudes and values, not feelings. The roots are ownership, the trunk is entitlement, and the branches are control.” ~ Lundy Bancroft
Lundy Bancroft argues that abusive men share a sense of entitlement. He does not go much into what underpins it, though it’s clear that it stems from religious and/or political ideology. After I first read Bancroft’s book I sensed that an entitlement attitude had played a role in my last coupled relationship (the one with the Ayn Rand fan) – and not from my end, despite numerous accusations to that effect (you know, I dare to want universal health care!). I could not articulate, however, where his entitlement attitude came in.
Until that recent morning walk. I remembered hearing a lot of earnings talk: “I earned your love because of the kind of person I made myself into. I earned being served on by my wife because I worked all day.” and so on. According to whose standards did he earn all that? His own! Telling me that he earned my love is doublespeak for “you should love me because I want you to.” Framing this into earnings talk simply hides entitlement mentality, attempting to hide under a pseudo-philosophy the fact that personal standards are insufficient to support ideas of rights. (Arguing for rights is actually philosophically rather challenging – unless you can say they’re God-given. But I digress…)
Similarly, those white men (and most of libertarians are white dudes) who bring up entitlement as a bad thing in a political context have redefined the meaning of “entitlement.” Despite what Wikipedia tries to make us believe, entitlement is not simply related to the political rhetoric of conservatives about “entitlement programs.” Entitlement simply means “the fact of having a right to something.” So, when these men argue that they have a right to keep the money they (claimed to have) earned, they paint their entitlement into “having earned it” instead, maybe because they think that makes it somehow different. Yet, “I earned that” is just another way of saying “I am entitled to this.” More doublespeak – linguistically denying some people’s rights but affirming your own.
Thus, libertarianism seems to be more of a reaction to the fear of losing one’s privilege. This privilege is couched in verbiage that suggests that it is earned, turning personal preferences for the retention of such privileges into moralized calls for personal freedom. As if being born a white male into (upper) middle class US is somehow under our control! A few others seem to also notice similar slights of hand. In the end, libertarian ideology hides victim-blaming and privilege under the veneer of a pseudo-philosophy.
Personally, I have added a practice for self-control to my life: Do not engage with commentators who display libertarian rhetoric. Just like I chose not to engage with anti-choice folks and others who try to impose their religious views onto everybody else. It’s just a waste of time probably because their ideology is grounded in their personality, which is characterized by lower levels of empathy and a focus on a limited notion of liberty.
P.S.: Shortly after I published this post, I came across a report that seems to illustrate my point well and also shows the dire consequences of the falsely narrow definition of entitlement libertarians use. The U.S. public transit infrastructure is crumbling because “I have a right to use my car (translation: I am entitled to a car)” trumps “They aren’t entitled to free transportation.” The irony is that this attitude has led to all public infrastructure to deteriorate, which hurts everybody in the U.S..