Is libertarianism compatible with non-conformist individualism?
For context, I am a pragmatic libertarian living in Japan. Having experienced a substantially different culture from the US through this difficult COVID situation and contrasted it to the situation in America, it got me thinking how a conformist society that follows shared social mores and legal rules actually reduces the need for de lege authoritarianism.
Tolerance, openmindedness, individualism, non-conformism and non-judgmentalism are values socially liberal Americans such as myself pride ourselves on. We feel we have to accept people for what they are or whatever they want to be because America is a wide open hodgepodge of cultures, nationalities, races, values, experiences, poverty levels, religions, educational backgrounds…It’s the beauty of America and also makes it extremely complicated. Moral relativism is almost the nature of the beast, and if you judge people for even how they behave, you can be perceived as intolerant for ignoring the context of said behaviors.
At the extreme ends, America has always had problems with addiction, gun violence, crime, etc. which makes authoritarian laws cracking down on these things easy to argue for. We libertarians understand that gun possession and heroin use are victimless crimes and creating black markets leads to more crime, and criminal records on victimless criminals creates more poverty, but practically speaking, we can’t be naïve and deny that many people possessing guns and taking hard drugs will end up creating victims.
Libertarianism seems to presume either:
a.) most people act like rational adults who care about the rights of others so we don’t need authoritarian laws or
b.) some people will be irrational and violate the rights of others, but that’s just the cost of living in a free society.
The former is idealistic and the latter amoral, which is probably why libertarianism has trouble catching on politically.
Nobody would mistake Japan for a libertarian paradise. The economy is overregulated, the government is bloated and I certainly can’t imagine it legalizing weed or handguns anytime soon.
And yet in many ways it feels freer than the US. There are de lege authoritarian laws (stiff penalties for drug use, for example), but there doesn’t need to be a “war on drugs” or a “war on guns” in Japan per se because hardly anybody is seeking out those things in the first place to consider them a social problem. On the other hand, you can drink in public as long as you don’t cause any trouble, and prostitution laws are hardly enforced. The cops don’t have to carry guns in most cases. Violent crime is one of the lowest in the world, and with relatively egalitarian wealth, property crime is also low. The law generally turns a blind eye to yakuza business operations like gambling and escort services, as long as their violent crime doesn’t spill over onto the general population.
There just isn’t the need for heavy-handed enforcement of laws because even the criminals generally follow (or pretend to follow) the socially expected rules.
Most of the “authoritarianism” in Japan is de facto more than de lege – meeting your boss or parent’s expectations, following arbitrary dress codes and company/school rules, behaving the right way in public, not getting fat/overeating or being slovenly and unsanitary, suppressing your whimsical, unrealistic dreams and being cautious not to insult others so you don’t lose face. Most Japanese people don’t ask “why?” or stand up to the arbitrary b.s. – they follow the rules, or otherwise accept the consequences of being seen as a social outcast and failure.
I think COVID and the controversy about masks, lockdowns and vaccines highlights a perfect point of contrast between American nonconformist individualism and Japanese conformism.
Of course it is ideal not to require masks and vaccines and implement mandatory lockdowns. Intelligent, rational, compassionate people should wear masks and get vaxxed if they can to protect the vulnerable, and should follow guidance to stay home when rates are out of control so society can get back to normalcy asap.
Unfortunately, much of America apparently isn’t intelligent, rational or compassionate, or maybe they’re just contrarian and stubbornly anti-authority, so either you let coronavirus spiral wildly out of control, imposing severe healthcare costs on society, or you impose authoritarian restrictions to try to force people to do the right thing.
99% of people in Japan wear masks indoors in public because they’ve been asked to and it’s the right, expected thing to do, and you’ll be judged by everyone around you if you don’t – not because there are laws forcing them to. In fact, the Japanese have been wearing masks whenever they get a cold since the Spanish flu, because it’s the polite way to minimize spreading their germs, and society appreciates them for their thoughtfulness instead of shaming them the way Americans would. I’ve never seen a single angry confrontation about mask usage, and people seem to understand universal mask usage is the cost of having semi-normalcy.
In a society as morally relativistic and nonconformist as the US, the likelihood of people abusing their freedoms and endangering or violating the rights and safety of others is much higher than in a society like Japan where people conform to social mores and prioritize the safety and health of others over themselves. If Japan legalized guns and drugs tomorrow, I’m not convinced much would change about Japanese society because social pressure and conformity would minimize the percentage abusing drugs, and gun shop owners would not want to get sued for selling guns to a mentally ill person or criminal.
Can we practically have a libertarian society without strong social pressure, judgmentalism and conformism to collective social values to minimize the occurrence of irresponsible behavior and violations of the rights of others?
Article from r/Libertarian: For a Free Society