It’s uncommon for me to find myself in agreement with hard right-wing Republicans and opposed to moderate, mainstream conservative, and liberal members of Congress. However, with respect to the GIVE Act, the bill that restarts and revamps a national civilian service program for young people, this is indeed the case. (Here is a listing of the yea and nay votes from the Senate, just to prove exactly whose votes I agree with and whose I don’t.) I’m not going to let this bother me, though. I know what I think about it and I figure that you take what support you can get.
Some of the objections that have been raised to this bill are erroneous and relate to specific details of the legislation. My objection is of a different nature. I don’t (yet) fear any sort of authoritarian mandatory service policy. I don’t fear a conspiracy to produce a generation of kids who idolize Big Brother a la 1984. My opposition is not even based on a particular provision or provisions of this legislation, because that would imply that if those provisions were changed, it could make the bill palatable for me. Rather, my objection to this bill is philosophical and principled. I am philosophically against the idea that regular individuals, who have not done anything to parasitize or harm society, owe it any sort of debt of service, paid or unpaid. I am against this bill and the ideas underlying it because I object to the notion that there is any obligation or responsibility on the part of regular people to “give something back” to society if they have not done anything to take from it in a significant way, or that those who choose to do so on their own are entitled to special benefits and rewards for it. My opposition is based on a 180-degree disagreement in personal worldview, not a nitpick of detail.
“Well,” the reader might say, “that doesn’t sound very liberal to me! You call yourself a liberal and think such a thing?” Actually… no, I don’t call myself that. Not anymore. I don’t know how to define myself briefly, but I do know that I don’t seem to fit any current political label, and I am not going to waste time trying to fit one anymore. A couple of years ago, I might have jumped through all kinds of mental hoops to persuade my own mind that I could actually support this kind of bill rather than going with my true beliefs. However, I don’t work for any politician anymore, and I don’t have to do any sort of mind games with myself to support a given political orthodoxy or conform strongly with a political “tribe.” I’m still in favor of most liberal economic policy that involves large companies, and I am very strongly socially progressive, but on some points, I have found myself in rather strident opposition to the liberal viewpoint. My best friend might say that this means I am gradually returning to what I was as a teenager, a hardcore Objectivist Libertarian. I doubt that; I’m too much of an economic populist to return to laissez-faire support (at least while I remain out of the upper class), but I acknowledge that there are elements in the Objectivist philosophy that I was deeply attracted to at that age and have never truly given up, despite the mental contortions I performed in the intermediate years. One of them is the idea that there should be material rewards for a voluntary “good deed” or voluntary community service. (Read more…)