How viewing ourselves as housepets has left us fighting like cats and dogs.
How viewing ourselves as housepets has left us fighting like cats and dogs
Sometimes when we make fun of others we end up saying more about ourselves.
A friend recently tagged me when posting this cartoon on my Facebook timeline. It is from a website called LeftyCartoons where there are many similar and mildly entertaining cartoons.
This cartoon is supposed to make fun of Libertarians. The idea is that Libertarians benefit from the services provided by the state, or they benefit from comfort provided by the fortunate nature of the society they are born into, but that they don't acknowledge it. They don't want to "give back".
I should take this moment to point out that I am not a Libertarian. I am registered independant. I also do not believe that any of the following conditions are the result of a conspiracy. The cartoon above just hapens to encapsulate one of the errors in the popular view of the proper role of government. It illustrates this popular view while it attempts to attack another political party. It is the erroneous view that is used by the cartoonist that I am pointing out, but that view exists within both major political parties. It just happens to be coming from leftycartoons.com this time, and it just happens to be attacking Libertarians.
It says quite a lot that this cartoon has been popular among liberals for a few years. The artist is Barry Deutsch and the cartoon first appeared on leftycartoons.com but has since been shared on hundreds of web sites and Facebook pages.
Comments under the image run the gamut from "I'm going to repost this!", "Awesome", "...they hate government but have not bothered to present a viable alternative.", "LOL! Libertarians ... would be horrible pets!", and "It's funny cuz it's true.". On May 23, 2011 the "Mother Jones" editors blog said, "This is the thing we're most in love with today.". To that post there was the reply, "Libertarians piss me off so much.", presumably because they don't make good housepets.
The artist has a lengthy comments page on this cartoon here: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/2009/06/09/from-the-mailbag-if-libertarians-were-housepets/
The image is three years old and is featured in hundreds of shares and posts on hundreds of social networks and blogs. Many of those posts have hundreds of comments.
It would be hard to make the case that the bloggers and re-posters and commenters did not get a good look at the cartoon, or that they did not have time to consider the context of the cartoon.
Who's Hand is That?
So now let's look at the context of the cartoon and discuss it. After all, this touches on some of the larger rifts in an increasingly fractious political landscape.
The image depicts citizens as house-pets of a beneficent government. The animals lounge around in the government provided housing while eating the government provided food. But these housepets are Libertarian and aren't as grateful as they should be. The dog is given his bowl of food and bowl of water and an area to run around in the backyard. The fish is given a fake treasure chest to make him feel at home and as long as the high-pitched squeal of the filter keeps going he will have clean, oxygenated water. The cat get's tender kibbles, a clean litter-box and get's to watch re-runs of "Gilligan's Island" while being gently petted by his master.
Libertarian housepets would not be prone to "give back" in this scenario, the cartoon suggests. They would be unappreciative of everything they were given by their master. They would be uppity.
But as readers of leftycartoons.com and other Libertarian-averse people were chuckling and high-fiving each other about how bad Libertarians would get along in such a household one question kept running through my mind:
Whose hand is petting the cat? We can't see his face in the image. We are not on his level. Is he not a housepet? He is a human! It is his house that these housepets live in!
Presumably he represents our government. I don't know if he represents all government employees, only elected officials, or only lifelong bureaucrats. But the question is still the same: what method of appointment or election transforms a lowly housepet into the master of the house?! Can the majority of housepets elevate one of their own into the housemaster position? Do you have to be ordained by an existing housemaster?
Is this how so many hundreds of my liberal friends see the role of government? Are we ready to consign our role to that of housepet in our government overlord's house? And who will people that house? I have heard my friends say that government officials are more accountable to them as providers of goods and services than private companies are. But do they really believe that the electoral process moves you up a rung on the evolutionary ladder? That it moves you to a level where you can provide food for the lowly housepets?
But It's Just a Cartoon
A popular theme in the comments is that Libertarians are individualists. So it could be construed that the meaning of the cartoon is just to indicate that such individualistic people don't appreciate contributions they receive from society as a whole. In other words, let's look at the cartoon as if the hand petting the cat was just an error. Maybe the artist didn't really mean to show that. Maybe the hand represents society in general, or "the people".
Libertarians are Individualists
"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you.
But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory.
Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."
Elizabeth Warren, the Special Advisor for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Forget for a moment that the roads were paid for by the rest of us by working in your factory.
The argument tells us that no one is truly a self made man. In order to be a self made man you would have to generate your wealth without the use of government built roads, government certified food, and sometimes even extends to EPA protected air.
This is a false test. It is simply a false requirement to demand that a person who believes in the value of individuals' values and choices must neglect all other individuals. Let me show you why.
Libertarians believe in free trade. It may be the area where Libertarians differ most from the other two major parties. So, how is it that a person who supposedly sees no value in the contributions of others still seeks free trade? If a Libertarian individualist thinks they are the only individual of value why would they seek trade with others?
Libertarians believe that free trade with other individuals is a matter so precious that it should not be adulterated by a third party. They believe, as far as I can tell, that trade with other individuals is an expression and a pursuit of values. Who's values? Not the church's or the state's, but someone who has largely been forgotten; their own personal values. If Libertarians were such isolationists why would they make free trade one of the cornerstones of their platform? Even Barry Deutsch says, "They're entirely focused on economics…"
Property and Values
It is easy to understand why my liberal friends would not hold the concepts of property and trade in high regard: They don't believe our values are noble. Literature from Marx and Engels and right through to the present day focus on man's debased desires brought to light by a free and unregulated market.
The socialists, and all the literature that still paints the socialists as great heroes, decry any manifestation of popular desire as mass-market consumerism. "Big business" that the left, and many on the right, attack is the business that provides for "the small people". All big business sells to mass markets.
Any desire for more than your bowl of food or your clean litter box is labeled as greed and shame is heaped upon you along with scorn. You, and your lowly desires, are said to be the cause of all the problems in the world. Those who have achieved great wealth are said to be the cause of those who have not.
Even the artist of the cartoon criticizes Libertarians because "they're entirely focused on economics and on government as the enemy of liberty". The cartoon came out in 2008 so it is meaningful that the artist was still saying someone was "entirely focused on economics". That was before the throngs in the streets were leading the charge against the 1% (of the economy).
From what I can tell by talking to my devout liberal (and conservative) friends, and from reading the tomes of literature they say is required, they view trade as a dirty, lowly, unmentionable crime. In a week of watching TV at my friend's house the only transactions we saw were between criminals. In the former Soviet Union personal property was literally a crime.
So our values are totally degenerate and free trade of them will only lead to a further and further "commercialization" and debasement of society. Man cannot be left alone to make his own judgments… until it is time to vote!!! On Election Day something magical happens to the wants of the average citizen.
The voting process, remember, turns our common housepet into one of the humans in the picture who then has the capacity to make purchase and value decisions for all the other housepets living in his house. They get to regulate the other housepets' desires.
What We Lose When We Don the Collar
The worst thing about the popularity of this cartoon is not the housepet mentality. Some people may want to be coddled by their government. That is their choice. Good for them. At least they know what they want. But what is worse is the attacks against people who don't want to be housepets.
This cartoon is a good example. Independent thinkers who have more planned for their lives than receiving the apportioned necessities from the appropriate government agencies are branded as cold, mean, and heartless or as bad housepets. Tea Party-ers who have better things to spend their money on than government waste are called racist terrorists. There is a whole ecosystem and mechanism of groups who will guilt and shame individuals into conforming to the social norm and, finally, to paying the housemaster's rent. That is, after all, one thing that should be kept in mind in the context of this cartoon. While some of the pets are complaining, all the food, clothing and the very house of the housemaster is paid for by the housepets. Even his very elevation above the other housepets is ordained and funded by the housepets.
I wish I was finished with my description of what is wrong with this picture but there is more. The view that we are housepets and that all good things come from the housemaster has us fighting amongst ourselves. Since we can only expect to receive things from this single source of wealth and goodness, the government/housemaster, we must constantly bark, flap and splash, or claw in order to gain favor. Instead of laws we are governed by pull. We are constantly looking over each other's shoulder to see that the others have not taken too much. The time we could spend producing wealth ourselves is spent regulating the wealth of others.
Oddly, while we all have opinions about "how much is too much" or as our president said, "at some point, you've made enough", we seem to have a blind spot when it comes to government. We feel quite justified in estimating the maximum wealth that should be achieved by our rich neighbor, but we seem to have no clear idea how much power should be ceded to our housemaster/overlords. When the question arises during a problem or crises: "How much power should the government wield?" the answer always seems to be "more". But this is not how we treat wealth. There must be limits on wealth, right? But not on power? In fact another reason the Tea Party was vilified was because they talked about limited government. My friends were shocked and had never seemed to consider the idea. "But we need government!" they would say, confusing limited government with eliminated government.
If any of my liberal friends are still reading this I will be very happy. It seems they are the focus of my attention in this post. I should point out that it is only because the cartoon came from leftycartoons.com and it was my liberal friends who were passing it around. If you have read this far I am happy, but there is still mch to go. You should be aware of where this idea came from that government is here for the purpose of regulating our lives, collecting our wealth, and ruling over us. After all, that idea is much older and did not originate with the liberals. This cartoon is merely a sign that modern liberals in America have not entirely shaken free of the rule by right that our Founding Fathers sought to abolish from these shores so many years ago.
So I really like this cartoon, but maybe not in the way the artist intended. Barry Deutsch has done us a great service by laying out the left's view of the proper role of government with such plainly understandable imagery. It illustrates not just a difference of opinion, and not just between the right and the left, but an error between how we view our government and the reality of the people we elevate to the master's position. It is an error that is leading to all the strife between the warring factions of pets and has left us fighting like cats and dogs.
"If people cannot be trusted with freedom, how can they be trusted with power?"anonymous