Remember when you could afford Showtime and watched that show Bullshit (shows stop airing when I can’t watch them, right?)? Penn Jillette, star of said show, is a raging libertarian, and as such wrote an article for CNN Opinion on Wednesday called “I don’t know, so I’m an atheist libertarian”. It’s fairly short if you want to read it, but if not, I’ll summarize: Piers Morgan asked him some admittedly stupid questions during an interview like, if you don’t believe in God, how does everything exist, or some other nonsense like it. Penn admits that he doesn’t know and goes on to explain that not knowing is a noble and important distinction that he draws between himself and all these other assholes that claim to “know” “things.” Not knowing, and not being so arrogant as to push his lack of knowledge on others, is the reason he’s a libertarian. That’s right, this smug comedian-magician, who has an entire show dedicated to pointing out how dumb people are, is a libertarian because he just doesn’t know. (Side note: have you ever met a libertarian? With only one exception, every single libertarian I have ever met has been an incredibly arrogant white guy who thinks they’re the first person to ever discover the Constitution and Keynesian-competing economic theories. I digress.) He goes on to say:
It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.
Whoa, what? I don’t recall voting for the government to use guns to give people money. But according to Penn and his hordes of college-aged male followers, all government is force. Many will say all government is violence. Penn justifies it thusly:
People try to argue that government isn’t really force. You believe that? Try not paying your taxes… When they come to get you for not paying your taxes, try not going to court. Guns will be drawn. Government is force — literally, not figuratively.
Oh shit man, you just blew my mind! But then all country clubs are force too. Don’t believe me? Try going in without paying your membership dues! They will physically remove you from the club, and that’s not a figure of speech! Don’t forget apartments! Try not paying your rent! They will not let you stay if you say that you really want to! Apartment dwelling is violence! And strip clubs! Try having sex in the Champagne Room! The bouncer will throw your ass out on the street! Literally! Strip clubs are robbing us of our liberty!
Anyway he ends the article by saying that he doesn’t know what’s best so he’s not going to force anyone to do anything. You know, he supes thinks we should help people and he hopes those poors will get taken care of, but since government is one giant gun, it’s not fair to use it to get kids medicine. If Penn doesn’t know the answer, well, then there isn’t one, and the best we can do is hope for spontaneous charity.
Now, I know I’m a classic progressive who just wants to make all your decisions for you and kill you if you disagree with me, but I can admit that I don’t have all the answers. Social issues are hard to solve. I do hope that individuals will step up and help their neighbors. I think it would be great if the government didn’t have to do anything. I would love to live in a world where living wages evolved naturally and the free market made health care affordable for all!
However, unlike the pinnacle of humility and reason that is Penn Jillette, I do know some things. I know that self-regulating markets don’t. I know that time and time again corporations have proven that they care a hell of a lot more for profit margins than they do for human life. And I know that in one of the richest countries in the world no one should starve to death.
There aren’t a ton of countries where a self-proclaimed former carny-trash and weird kid can grow up to be a famous person who makes a shit ton of money and writes for CNN. America is pretty great that way. We have a booming entertainment industry. We create roads so patrons can drive to your Vegas show and we provide police to protect you from your stalker fans. We aim for a society where boys and girls of any race can grow up with the privilege of believing their well-off parents had nothing to do with their success, start telling everyone to get on with the boot-strap pulling, and decide that the government, elected by and accountable to them, is evil and should be dismantled… providing you with more devotees. You’re welcome.
America gives you a hell of a lot, and because of that you have to pay membership dues to do business here. Or call it rent for living here. Or refraining from sex in the metaphorical Champagne Room, which would be maybe adhering to certain regulations like filling out your DBA correctly or something, I DON’T KNOW. My point is that it’s not “bullying” to ask you to contribute financially to the upkeep of the organization that allows you to make a whole lot of money. It’s not self-righteous to say that we have an obligation to provide evidence-backed support to those other club members who need it.
Penn, you’re not a bully but you’re also not the weird kid. You’re that jerkoff who watches the weird kid get the shit beaten out of him even though you could help. I know, I know, you gave your lunch money to that kid yesterday after he was already black and blue and stuffed in a locker, but at the end of the day you refuse to support a system that will help that kid and all the others like him out of trouble because it might take you a few days longer to buy a backup floating table for the talent show.
Considering, however, that the entire theme of this essay is “if I don’t know the answer no one should even try to know,” you are pretty fucking self-righteous.