Sunday, December 13, 2020

Why I'll never be a libertarian.

Some weeks I can find tons of things to talk about for my weekly post. This week, for instance, I could join the chorus of condemnation of an old fart who called our First-Lady-to-be "kiddo" in a Wall Street Journal op-ed (things went downhill from there). Or I could address the escalating violence, and threats of violence, against election officials around the country because they refuse to overturn the will of the people and let President Trump have another term in office.

But today I'd rather talk about bears.

Evelyn Villing | Pixabay | CC0

Specifically, black bears in Grafton, New Hampshire.

You see, bears are opportunists. And they're smart. One of my favorite stories about Colorado is the one about a guy who left fast-food wrappers in the back seat of his car, which he parked near his house in a canyon outside of Boulder. A bear smelled the wrappers and broke into the car. The door slammed shut, and the bear tore up the car interior trying to get out. Some poor sheriff's deputy was tasked with opening the car door to let the bear out. Lucky for him, the bear was more interested in decamping than in attacking the deputy. (I tried just now to find a link to the story, and discovered at least one of these incidents happens every year.)

What prompted this recollection was an interview I read on with Matthew Hongoltz-Hettling, who has written a book called A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear. (You were waiting for the libertarian connection, weren't you?) It seems that in the mid-2000s, a group of libertarians went shopping for a small town that they could use as a demonstration project for a libertarian utopia. They settled on Grafton -- a town of about 1,000 people -- and proceeded to set up their Free Town Project. First, they erected makeshift housing -- tents and such -- in the woods. Then they gradually took over the town's government and did away with all those town services libertarians don't think governments should have to provide: things like trash pickup and the library and most police activities. 

The lack of trash pickup is what got them in trouble with the bears. See, there's a reason there are rules for burying your trash and locking away your food supplies in bear country: bears are both smart and opportunistic, as I said above. So when some of the libertarians decided to be radical and dump their trash however they wanted, and when others deliberately fed the bears because they thought it was cute -- well. The bears became a problem. 

Of course the town had no animal control officers, so people started trying to handle the problem their own way: shooting at the bears, setting off firecrackers, setting traps, and so on. That made the bears angry. Black bears generally don't attack humans, but an angry black bear will. And they have -- at least three times -- for the first time in the history of the state.

In the Vox article, Hongoltz-Hettling makes the point that the libertarians who tried to turn Grafton into a utopia weren't the white-supremacist type. Instead, they're the kind who believe that government should provide only the bare minimum in services in order to keep taxes low. Their theory is that individuals should be able to pick what they do -- and what they spend their money on. If schools aren't important to them, they shouldn't have to pay for them. If they don't want to pay for trash pickup, they should be able to bury their trash. And if they want to shoot a bear who's digging up their buried trash, that's okay, too.

What these folks refuse to acknowledge is that there's a social compact that goes along with being human. We agree, by virtue of being members of a society, that certain practices are for the good of the community, even if we don't benefit directly from them. Government is our vehicle for providing services that benefit the community, and we pool our money to pay for those services via taxation. We may not have kids in school, but we pay taxes to support the schools because it's in the best interest of the community for kids to be educated. We may not want to pay the town for trash pickup, but regular trash pickups are to the community's benefit.

If you don't want to pay for any of this stuff, fine -- you can do what these guys did and try to set up your own utopia. But as my friend Yvonne Hertzberger said when I shared the Vox story on Facebook: When you live laissez faire, you might get eaten by a bear.

And that's why I'll never be a libertarian.

These moments of beary laissez-faire blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Speaking of doing what's best for the community: Mask up and social distance! The vaccine's coming, and I don't want any of you to get sick when we're so close.

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