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In the News Reason Online, the online presence of libertarian political magazine Reason, is featuring a book review of Cory Doctorow's book, Little Brother. Little Brother re-imagines George Orwell's classic, dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, as a modern cyberpunk thriller for a young adult audience.
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American psychology
by Quag7 on Fri 26th Sep 2008 22:13 UTC
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I've always thought that the reason for suspicion of regulation or intevention in financial markets is that the American mind equates this with things like censorship, illegal search and seizure, eminent domain, and so forth.

To an American who opposes government involvement in the economy and social affairs, these are all the same thing. Many Americans see the very wealthy and think, "That could be me." The US does not have the same kind of class consciousness you find in other parts of the world (where it exists, it is racial - acting "too white" or whatever, the crabs in a bucket thing).

Libertarians certainly are the vanguard of people who think this way. To them the "initiation of force" involved in banning a book has an analog in things they call "restraint of trade" or other regulations.

This is also a masculine culture, where self-sufficiency is, at least among libertarians and traditional conservatives, one one of the major values. The hostility to the welfare state comes either from moral grounds (robbing Peter to pay Paul, aka initiation of force by Paul), utilitarian ones (trickle-down economics, basically), or just an outright hostility to rewarding dependence. Most Europeans do not have the same worldview or perspective. I have tried to understand both.

Increasingly I am of the mind that different peoples of the world are in different situations, and that maybe one political system that is appropriate for one people is not appropriate for others. I am fairly certain I wouldn't personally feel any less free living in, say, Sweden, than I do here in the US. But I don't really connect myself to guys like Warren Buffett so there you have it.

But getting back to this, the same hand, then, that regulates banking, to these folks also is the same one that "meddles" in economic affairs. Honest libertarians and conservatives see this as an opportunity for a lot of rich people to rightly lose their shirt, along with (what they probably regard as) careless investors being taught an important lesson (My personal objection is the way these loan products were "encrypted" into the market in a way no reasonable person could ever untangle, but that's a separate issue).

In recent years, I have noticed that corporations especially walk like little fiefdoms, talk like little fiefdoms, and in essence act largely with impunity. Corporations may not be government, but they are close enough for me to have the same distrust and suspicion of them as I do government. The subtle difference of sovereignty that seems important to libertarians is one I do not share. And as I believe government ought to be restrained by law, as much as possible, I have come to believe the same of corporations.

We also live in a country that, some people say, starts false wars. If you haven't heard of it, read the articles on the Tuskeegee Syphilis Experiments or COIntelPro or MK-Ultra, or even Japanese internment during WW2. There's a whole history of horrible abuse and authoritarianism in the US that gets a lot of people wound up about state power (understandably and in most cases, in my opinion, rightly.)

Our own cultural and political history is rooted in a small, non-interventionist government. This goes a long way back. It will not change. The US's alleged "obsession" with firearms is part of this. When people understand Second Amendment people in the United States - truly understand them rather than stereotype them, make strawmen, or imagine they have an understanding of this from television) - most other things will also be understandable.

The sovereignty of the *individual* is what I think lies at the basis of most of this kind of political thinking. That "in the beginning" there is the sovereign individual who then grants government powers in the interests of protecting his rights and interests. Sovereignty flows from the individual to the government, and not the other way around. This is, in American thinking, not nearly as abstract as it sounds. This is very nearly a national religious belief. It is a radical reconception of the relationship between the individual and government - proposed by radicals, implemented by radicals, and still lying, often dormant but still present, in the soul of most modern Americans.

I don't apologize for this. I'm happy to live a country that despises statism to the degree so many Americans do (the ones who aren't hypocritical about it, which many, admittedly, are).

But what I don't understand or share is this idea that modern multinational corporations are distinctly separate from governments or that, even in a kind of libertarian utopia, they could or would ever allow themselves to be limited to that. The money and power amassed in such entities is a *self corrupting mechanism*. And even if you can somehow get the government to not tap your phones and arrest your protesters, I'm not sure you'll ever get corporations to not act that way. Corporations *will* pollute rivers, streams, and air, because they operate with impunity, paying fines as a *tax* or *cost of doing business*. If absolute power corrupts absolutely, my opinion is, so does money. As matter is a kind of "frozen energy," so, too, is money a kind of "frozen power." I used to be on the other side. I used to be a libertarian. I am not anymore.

In the vacuum of political power, economic power will step in. That's just my political position.

But arguably, given the US government's conduct in recent years (with help from their corporate friends in Halliburton and defense companies), I would posit that if you are not an American, greater American contempt for government can only help you and the world situation at large. My only hope is people begin to understand that while power corrupts, money does too. Money is simply frozen, transferrable power.

You are free to disagree with this assessment, but I really think people abroad think they have an understanding of American attitudes, or think they understand Americans as simple, deluded people, and in some cases this is fair, but in many cases, it isn't.

I've lived here now for 36 years and I still cannot posit a grand unification theory of the United States, everything I just typed notwithstanding (even it is only broadly or generally true).

How one country can contain Mississippi and San Francisco and still be the same country, I do not know.

But I despise unchecked government.
And I despised unchecked financial/economic power.

The effect, to me, is the same. The consequences are the same.

That said, I could be wrong, and no one gets kicked away from my table for thinking differently. We all walk in our own shoes, and we all come from different countries, backgrounds, civilizations, and no one is omniscient. I wonder how my thinking would be different if I grew up in another country. It might well be. But I also wonder how the thinking of people who grew up in Europe or elsewhere might be different if they grew up here.

The hardest thing in my life is to detach myself from my own ideas and really try to understand what it is like for others. I think Americans are particularly bad at this. I don't apologize for a lot of the things people try to tar us with, but this is definitely a weakness of ours as a culture.

The Internet helps.

Sorry for all the politics; I really do try to stay on topic here.

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