You Don’t Live in a Bubble
I work in the pharmaceutical field. It’s not my career of choice, but in this economy any job is sacred. Specifically, I refill people’s nebulizer breathing medications. Not all, but a good portion of my patients got to where they are by ruining their lungs with years of smoking. Now Medicare is paying for their expensive treatment. It is their body and they can do whatever they want to it.
Earlier this year, I lost my uncle to lung cancer. We weren’t close, we hadn’t even spoken since my Grandfather’s funeral almost 10 years prior. But, now my cousin doesn’t have a father, my dad, aunt and uncle don’t have their sibling, and my grandmother had to bury her son. It was his body and he could do whatever he wanted to do.
This post isn’t meant to be a diatribe against smoking, although I think that would be meritous. My purpose is to use the social ill of smoking to poke some holes in Libertarian theory.
There’s a phrase I like to use to describe cavalier libertarianism: “I can do whatever I want, even if its the wrong thing to do.” To me, this pretty much sums up everything that’s wrong with libertarianism, especially the right-wing, individualistic, objectivist version. Capital L Libertarianism, as I’ve seen it called. The libertarianism associated with the modern Libertarian political party. You may not believe this, but I am a proponent of personal responsibility. I go to work every day, feed and clothe my children, and pay as many bills as I can on my salary. But personal responsibility has become a code word for Randian isolationism, Objectivism, a philosophy I whole-heartedly oppose.
For me, personal responsibility must include how my actions effect those around me, and society as a whole. Anything short of that, looking out for myself at the expense of others, should be called personal irresponsibility.
Libertarians, Randians and modern conservatives see themselves as living in a bubble. They fail to see how greater society benefited their own good fortune, or how their actions can negatively affect others. It can be difficult to argue against this view, as it seems to make sense on a very basic level. But the world is complex and inter-connected. Direct lines are hard to draw. When society functions properly, it is not apparent, but below the surface.
So let’s look at how “Its my body and I can smoke if I want to” fails the personal responsibility test:
- Tobacco is grown in some of America’s richest farmland. That land is not used to grow food, driving up food prices.
- Billions are spent in Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance on preventable, smoking related illnesses. This threatens the solvency of our public health systems, and raises premiums on everyone’s private policies.
- Second hand smoke poisons the air for non-smokers.
- Greedy tobacco companies get rich by poisoning their customers.
- Greedy pharmaceutical companies get rich off of the illnesses of their customers. (Yes I’m aware that I personally benefit from this, and I am actively trying to change that.)
- People have to bury their loved ones and suffer through cancer and other illnesses that could have been completely prevented.
- Much much more.
So you can see how the irresponsible choice to smoke negatively impacts every other person in this society. Also, the rest of society (Medicare, Medicaid, insurance pools etc.) positively benefit the individual smoker. You can use this as a model for many different issues. Of course, some actions have more and farther reaching impacts than others, but remember, you’re never in a bubble, and you are responsible for how your actions affect others. Responsibility, for yourself and others, is an integral part of freedom.Follow @rhythmjones