Power: Why the Right Fails at Individualism
Over their dead hands. Don’t tread on them. They see themselves as freedom-fighters; advocates for the individual against the power of a distant, corrupt government. The impulse which prompts in them skepticism over the value of giving government power over their daily lives is a healthy one. Unfortunately, for them it carries with it a giant, gaping blind spot: corporations.
A wholly-formed individualist would shudder at the idea of ceding our institutions to whoever can wrangle up enough wealth and power to dominate them. He would scoff at the idea that we should gut democratic provisions that prevent such concentrations of private power from ruling over us from afar, passing down feudal edicts from behind gated privilege. He would favor legal measures that make individuals the decision-makers in their lives rather than governments OR corporations and robber-barons.
The ranks of the right do not contain many of these wholly-formed individualists. But it is bursting with half-baked ones. Ones who viciously hate the idea of another man having power over them, but only so long as that man is foreign or a government official. If he comes in a business suit with shiny shoes, the previously rugged individualist pretends not to notice him and signs away control of his life without protest. This is Atlas’ true Shrug – the shrug of indifference as control over the individual is given away for free to Madison Ave, Wall St., K Street, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Tyson, Dow and Exxon-Mobil. The right constantly reminds us that our government is corrupt because politicians take money from private power in exchange for favors, and while they bravely stand against the government for taking the cash, they never cease to defend the rights of the private powers that pay the bribes.
They do not recognize their true enemy: concentrated power. Yes, we really should prevent our government from becoming too powerful. But we should do the same for ALL institutions. Our local police shouldn’t have too much power over us. Our military shouldn’t have too much power over us. Goldman Sachs shouldn’t have too much power over us. Microsoft and Google shouldn’t have too much power over us.
Someone who doesn’t recognize their own enemy is extremely valuable to that enemy. So these half-baked individualists have been employed to huge success by the most powerful organizations in the world: corporations. Today they have “tea-parties” in which they participate in an absurd game of charades in which it’s an affront to their freedom for government to implement a safety net, but not for Monsanto to become lord and master over their farmland. They draw a meaningless line between public and private power, benefiting no one but the wealthy elite.
It seems to me that someone truly interested in maximizing the power of individuals over their own lives would generally accept the idea of using the democratic process to limit others’ power over them. But this is not the case with Republicans and Libertarians today, because they see the democratic process ITSELF as too powerful, while transnational corporations escape their eye.
They insist that they love freedom. But to them, freedom is a symbol, not anything real. It’s a pin that they wear, a sticker that goes on the back of the Tahoe, but little more. It’s a song to sing, a flag to wave, a self-image. An uninsured woman with breast cancer is “free” only so long as she is not saved by tax-funded medical care. A mother whose child died from Ecoli contamination is “free” only so long as the company who killed her child is not hindered by safety regulations. Our children are only “free” so long as companies are allowed to advertise junk to them. As such, the freedom they advocate is that enjoyed by rats in a dark sewer.