Rights Violations, Nihilism Underlie Today’s Bad News

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published August 19 by Grand Junction Free Press.

Bad news knows no shortage these days. What common threads underlie the brutal headlines?

In London and around England, gangs of young hooligans looted shops, set fires, brutally beat journalists, and murdered a man as he sat in his car.

As a pretext, the rioters named the police shooting of the violent gangster Mark Duggan. (The Mail‘s Paul Bracchi reports the officers involved specialize in “fighting black-on-black gun crime,” but obviously that cannot be true because England banned most guns.) Alleged police brutality cannot justify the systematic destruction of the innocent; something deeper lies behind the rioting.

Somebody on the BBC referred to the violence as the “Blackberry Riots.” The thugs organized themselves with mobile computers and social mediaover the internet. They used the fruits of capitalism and voluntary economic exchange to destroy shops, cars, buildings, and people.

The rioters flagrantly abused people’s basic rights to life, liberty, and property; this much is obvious. Beneath this lies a fundamental nihilism: the destruction of values for the sake of destruction.

Or consider the latest craze in United States cities from Boston to Chicagoto Philadelphia: gangs of pampered teens organize “flash mob” crime sprees using information technology, looting goods and in some cases brutally beating residents.

Could such troubling cultural nihilism possibly have anything to do with the fact that, throughout much of the West, the typical student learns that producing wealth manifests greed while voluntarily trading it entails exploitation?

Students also frequently learn that human beings blight the earth and immorally reshape nature for human benefit.

Consider the English soccer star David Beckham, whose family recently welcomed their fourth child. New human life creates a time for celebration and rejoicing, right? Wrong. “The birth of their fourth child make the couple bad role models and environmentally irresponsible,” according to people-haters cited in a Guardian article.

But we need not focus on young rioters or anti-human environmentalists to find examples of cultural nihilism. We can find more civilized variants in the federal government.

Consider the flippant remark of Alan Greenspan on Meet the Press about the credit downgrade. (Remember that many years ago Greenspan criticized the very existence of the Federal Reserve before making himself the former head of that out-of-control monster.) He said, “This is not an issue of credit rating. The United States can pay any debt it has because we can always print money to do that.”

In other words: “Debt problem? What debt problem? The U.S. government can legally counterfeit dollars to pay off debt!” Never mind that such inflation debases the money supply and forcibly transfers wealth from those who earn it to those first in line for the government’s counterfeited dollars.

Or consider John Kerry’s remark on the same show calling Standard & Poor’s reevaluation of U.S. credit “the tea party downgrade” — ludicrously blaming those who warned about the debt bomb for its explosion.

Back up and consider the underlying problem: “Government spending in the United States has steadily increased from seven percent of GDP in 1902 to 40 percent today,” USGovernmentSpending.com summarizes. Last year the federal government alone spent around $3.5 trillion, more than $10,000 for every man, woman, and child in the country.

We come frighteningly close to an economic death spiral, in which increasingly high taxes and government spending further discourage productive effort. At a certain point, people simply give up and say to hell with it. As the French economist Frederic Bastiat warned, at its worst “government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”

We call for a renewal of values. Each individual human life is precious; every man is an end in himself. You are right to live your life, to strive for happiness, to reshape the natural world for your prosperity and enjoyment. To define and achieve your life-promoting values constitutes the height of a moral life.

As human beings, we survive through reason (as Ayn Rand pointed out). Our capacity for reason allows us to interact with others in a peaceful, voluntary, and mutually beneficial way. We share love in marriage and friendship; we trade goods and services through the marketplace.

Every person has the right to live his own life as he judges best, consistent with the rights of others. You have the right to use your property as you want, to produce the things you need to prosper, and to voluntarily exchange the fruits of your labor with others. The government properly protects those rights.

Today’s culture tolerates, even celebrates, the pervasive and systematic violation of individual rights. It devalues the individual person.

Our confidently bright future requires a reaffirmation of our nation’s core values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of enlightened happiness.