Saturday, March 09, 2013

Hating on the Libertarian

Talking to a leading thinker, I happened to mention our shared hostility to libertarians, and wondered a bit about it's origins. It's a visceral thing, we agreed, and not really much about policy. In my case, anyway, it's not like my feeling that most Republican politicians are dishonest scoundrels. The anti-libertarian feeling is something more primitive.

In some symbolic terms, Cain was the quintessential libertarian. When asked about his late brother, he replied "Am I my brother's keeper?" That's the crucial problem with libertarians - they don't think that they are keepers of their brothers.

Edward O Wilson and others have argued that the key difference between humans and our closely related chimpanzee cousins was the development of what he call Eusociality. Jonathan Haidt had another phrase: humans are 90% chimp and 10% ant. That eusocial 10% made all the difference, and allowed humans to live and work in closely cooperative groups, become top predators, practice agriculture, and develop culture, science and civilization.

The key thing that makes eusociality possible is group selection. As critics like George C Wilson and John Maynard Smith have noted, group selection always tends to be undermined by defectors - those who pursue self interest at the expense of the group. In ants and bees, group selection is enforced by biology via reserving reproductive rights to the queens. Humans depend on cultural means.

Libertarianism is an intellectual critique of the group interest. In primitive hunter-gatherer groups, individuals who too recklessly pursue their individual interests at the expense of the group are dealt with harshly - by expulsion or murder.

So at its core, disapproval of libertarians is based on their failure to incorporate that 10% ant that makes us fully human. So that the critique Ayn Rand's characters always get of failing to "be human" is dead on.