The Difference between Libertarianism and Psychopathic Dumbfuckery
Rand Paul is in the news again for trying to blame the United States government, and Dr. Anthony Fauci in particular, for creating the COVID-19 pandemic. He and a few other mouthpieces have insisted, without evidence, that funding authorized by Fauci directly contributed to “gain-of-function” research in Wuhan which may have, potentially, contributed to increasing the transmissibility of the virus. The idea that “gain-of-function” research by the Wuhan Institute of Virology might have contributed to the situation we’re in is plausible, though considering how experts have been warning that a coronavirus strain was a likely candidate for a severe global pandemic for years means that COVID-19 is likely infectious enough on its own. But Paul and others have been asserting that Fauci authorized government funds to go to labs in China (the US has limited funding for “gain-of-function” research to domestic institutions only, no doubt because it’d be political suicide to do otherwise) in an attempt to make it seem as though the government specifically manufactured this crisis in order to take away people’s civil liberties. As with most conspiracy theories, it vastly overestimates the competence of the US government, even though in reality the COVID pandemic has exposed just how thoroughly unprepared and unadaptable American state capitalism was to a crisis of this magnitude. And as with most conspiracy theories, Paul’s statements are cloaked in the rhetoric of liberty, and self-described “libertarians” have been picking up on his rhetoric to push back against things like masks and social distancing restrictions.
In my home province of Alberta, a similar thing is happening: we currently have the highest per capita rate of COVID cases in North America, and it’s been blamed on our “libertarian political culture”. Premier Jason Kenney, who’s spearheaded so many idiotic attacks on teachers, healthcare workers, doctors, union employees, and Netflix that you’d think he was written as the bad guy in an Aaron Sorkin TV show, has even stated that Alberta’s “libertarian political culture” is largely to blame for our general “non-compliance” on many COVID measures (of course his own buffoonery, contradictory messages, pre-COVID attempts to gut the healthcare system, irrational vaccination strategies, and the fact that his party collectively has as much brain power as a walnut is only minimally to blame).
But both Rand Paul and Alberta as a whole are acting about as “libertarian” as a school-shooter, and it’s time to draw the line between acting in accordance with loving liberty and acting like a psychopathic dumbfuck.
The Center for a Stateless Society has published multiple articles on “thick” versus “thin” libertarianism, and while I’m very much of the opinion that “thin” libertarianism mostly amounts to a refusal to closely interrogate what values underpin an opposition to the State and are inseparable from liberty, even in a negative sense (an argument that requires more space than this article to fully outline), a “thin” libertarian is not in any sense being consistent with their principles if they act the way Paul and the COVID “skeptics” of Alberta are acting. Even a consistent “thin” libertarian wouldn’t scoff at the idea that they have to follow guidelines that protect other people or rationalize their opposition away by pulling conspiracy theories entirely out of their ass.
The individual is supposed to be sovereign in libertarianism, and the importance of individual rights and liberty are thus supposed to be derived from this core principle. Being consistent with libertarianism means, then, recognizing that each and every individual is sovereign over themselves, and thus the rights that are derived from this fact have to be respected—if a person is to be interfered with, it’s only justifiable if it’s to preserve individual sovereignty and uphold the rights that each sentient creature is entitled to (after all, “individual sovereignty” as a principle makes no sense if life itself isn’t to be protected). And in order to preserve individual sovereignty and uphold the rights that are entailed by this principle, a minimal amount of effort, even under “thin” libertarianism, is required to ensure that others are in a position where they can consent to any action that affects them, to whatever extent that’s possible, regardless of your personal feelings towards others. A minimal amount of care for others is required, in other words, or else individual sovereignty can’t be truly upheld in any social interaction.
This means, though, that the consent that’s lacking from State-mandates isn’t a problem just because the State is making you care about other people; it’s a problem because any organization that has the powers of a State is, by its very nature, unable to gain your consent. And this is true of an action that’s unilateral in nature, that affects someone else without their ability to consent to it or voice their opposition. And the willful spread of disease is one such unilateral action.
COVID is, like any other highly infectious disease, something that doesn’t respect borders, walls, or personal bubbles: it’s easy to spread, easy to catch, and properly predicting transmission vectors is, for all practical purposes, impossible. The only way to be sure that you don’t pass the virus to others is, if you’re still at risk of infection, avoiding contact outright, or at least taking protective measures as outlined by infectious disease experts. And if you are a libertarian—again, even a “thin” one—then you’re required by the philosophy you claim to follow to act in such a way that you minimize, as much as possible, the risk of infecting someone else with the virus; other people can’t consent to something that can infect them without warning, without their knowledge (until it’s too late, anyways), or in spite of their own attempts to avoid getting sick. If you were being consistent with your libertarianism, you’d be evaluating your own actions to see if what you’re planning to do, or what you’re currently doing, poses a risk of harming some other person—and you’d adjust your behaviour accordingly if you discovered that, yes, you were in fact acting in a way that didn’t take other people’s health into account, that dramatically increases the risk that someone else would get sick no matter what, whether that’s putting on a mask or staying home as much as you can or, if nothing else, not going to a fucking “Anti-Lockdown Rodeo” in the middle of a disastrous third wave.
You’d think that last one would be goddamn obvious.
Anybody who flouts wearing a mask in crowded spaces or gathers in large crowds despite, or even in active protest of, social distancing, is consciously refusing to respect the importance of consent and of the right to bodily integrity that comes with self-sovereignty. Accidents happen and, because viruses like COVID aren’t perfectly predictable (and many of us still have to leave the house, if not to work, at least to prevent ourselves from starving), transmission will happen, though to a muted extent. It doesn’t make sense to rake people over the coals for the imperfections in any disease response that are out of their control. But for people who consciously reject measures intended to keep others safe, that’s an entirely different issue. That’s not libertarianism; that’s an active disregard for what we owe other people. That’s psychopathy, an inability to see beyond the borders of your own selfishness.
Now before people can respond with some derivation of “C4SS Article Argues Freedom Is Slavery; Anarchists Should Obey the Government”, or whatever (since these sorts of people only have two literary references they pull from), I’m not saying that this makes government mandates magically justified. I’m saying that if Alberta had a libertarian political culture then these restrictions would be unnecessary, because people would be following the principles of libertarianism and wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding unnecessary travel voluntarily. They sure as shit wouldn’t be gathering in a rodeo or massive anti-mask protest like Albertans have been. And if Rand Paul was half the libertarian he and his fanbase claim, he’d have sooner swallowed his entire fist than spew the bullshit he’s spewing. Alas we don’t live in that reality, and instead the so-called “libertarians” in both cases are misusing the philosophy to justify their own lack of concern towards others.
It’s also not enough to assume that a person being outside means they consent to whatever dangers that might entail, for two reasons. For one, consent is something that, for it to be meaningful, has to be received loud-and-clear and with as little ambiguity as possible; it matters that people actively say they consent to something. One of the most important things the feminist movement has done with their discourse around consent is emphasize that assuming consent has been given isn’t enough, especially given the potential for the consenting party to not be in the right state of mind to actually give consent (with all the possible trauma such assumption might cause being brought to the forefront in many, many tragic stories). Similarly, because of work or lack of immediately available food or any non-negotiable commitments that can’t be adjusted for COVID, not everyone who’s outside right now wants to be outside, and has a reasonable choice in whether they can stay home or risk getting infected. And that’s not even getting into the possibility that COVID could be transmitted into your home even if you don’t leave it. Assuming that anyone you meet in public has silently consented to potentially receiving the COVID virus (and, thus, you don’t have to do anything to respect their personal health) is completely unjustified; it’s a conclusion you could only arrive at if you want to rationalize to yourself that you respect other people’s rights, even though in action you’re doing anything but. And pretending then that anybody who gets COVID somehow “deserves” it isn’t just the “Just World Fallacy” on steroids; it’s a psychopathic delusion.
I don’t want to minimize the severe (and in many ways, tragic) nature of a psychopathy diagnosis. Our understanding of psychopathy is evolving (not all psychopaths are remorseless, for instance, though the most violent offenders certainly are) and because both genetic and environmental influences often act outside a person’s control, there are legitimate questions to ask about how responsible a psychopath is for their own lack of empathy. But given that a callous disregard for others’ wellbeing is a hallmark symptom of psychopathy, I think the comparison is accurate. And while I used to think, back in my social democrat/state socialist phase, that there was no distinction between libertarianism and psychopathy, having been immersed in the literature and the history of libertarianism as a philosophy, I know now that that’s as far from the truth as possible.
But people like Paul have been trying to justify a callous disregard for others under the mantle of “libertarianism” for years; his father too. And I speak from personal experience when I say that many of the most rabidly right-wing people in Alberta act as if there’s no distinction between libertarianism and psychopathy.
Given what I tried to show is the core of even a “thin” version of libertarianism, we should be clear here: it isn’t libertarianism that’s compelling people to actively ignore the health and safety of others, it’s a psychopathic attitude. Or at least one so indistinguishable from actual psychopathy that using a clinical term conveys more accurate information than any other label.
And what about “dumbfuckery”? Well, even though it’s a myth that psychopaths are more intelligent and rational than the average person, it is true that they’re myopically self-interested. That means that even if a psychopath cares little-to-none about whether other people get COVID or not, it’s in their own self-interest to wear a mask, stay at home when they can, and hope that the virus doesn’t become seasonal, especially given that even mild or asymptomatic cases come with a risk of a psychotic episode. Psychopaths that still have a functioning sense of self-restraint or ultimately retain some ability to process risk will likely be staying at home, leaving the violent offenders and anti-mask protestors as a common group of people that don’t seem to care whether they get COVID or not either.
There’s a long-standing philosophical debate over whether you can truly be free if you’re living a lie, and I won’t get into that here. But certainly the liberty that libertarianism tries to uphold doesn’t require you to ignore expert advice, concoct ludicrous conspiracy theories to justify your rejection of COVID protocols, and utterly close yourself off to any and all evidence that clearly shows what a serious disease this can be, even indirectly by overwhelming the healthcare system.
Hence, these people also deserve the moniker of “dumbfuck.” Put them together and you get: psychopathic dumbfuck.
Alberta doesn’t have a “libertarian political culture”: it has a psychopathic dumbfuck political culture. And Rand Paul isn’t a voice for libertarians everywhere against Big Government™; he’s a voice for psychopathic dumbfucks who want to drag libertarianism into the mire with them as hospitals start rationing care and perfectly healthy 20 year-olds get hooked up to incubators.
This isn’t libertarianism; it’s something else entirely. And a clear distinction ought to be made so that the people who attempt to cash in on the appeal of libertarianism are forced to admit that they have no deeper principles; they’re just, again, psychopathic dumbfucks.