Firefly Is Not a Libertarian TV Show

FireflyI saw over at Reason Magazine that they published one of those dreadful articles, “The Five Best Libertarian Television Series.” I’m not going to look it up, because it is nonsense and frankly, I don’t feel that the racist and elitist Reason deserves a link. The list included things like House of Cards, which really isn’t a libertarian show. Ditto for The Wire. Apparently, any series that shows the government in a negative light is libertarian. It also contained South Park, which really isn’t libertarian so much as iconoclastic. But given that the creators seem to be libertarian with a much bigger ax to grind against liberals than conservatives, I figure Reason thought that was enough.

The last show I had heard of was Penn & Teller: Bullshit! That’s an interesting choice. I only saw one episode of it and it was definitely what passes for libertarianism in this country: it was a total whitewash and apologia for a huge multinational corporation. They took on the very important issue of whether Walmart was really providing minimum wage jobs. And what a surprise: Walmart pays more than minimum wage on average! Of course, unless even the CEO was paid minimum wage, the average wage would have to be higher. It was an amazing example of straw man argumentation. But the show was more than that. It also showed a whole lot of great things that Walmart was doing for their employees. That’s the great thing about libertarians: corporations don’t even have to pay them to create PR material.

But what most struck me was that many Reason readers were upset that Firefly was not on the list. The only libertarian thing about the show is Mal who talks a lot like a libertarian. But he’s not a libertarian of the kind that reads Reason. He isn’t an idealist. He just wants to be left alone. And he doesn’t live in the United States or Sweden. He lives under an authoritarian government — one far more invasive than even that in North Korea. What I’m saying is that Mal isn’t a libertarian idiot who claims that paying taxes is equivalent to slavery. And he certainly isn’t an Objectivist who who doesn’t believe in altruism, given that Mal is one of the most altruistic characters in the whole show.

The main thing that makes a libertarian a libertarian is their resistance to paying taxes. I wrote about this just yesterday, Why Do Libertarians Tend to Be Republican? I mention this because I know there are libertarians who would claim that the show is libertarian because Mal is self-sufficient. Indeed he is. But I don’t know where libertarians got the idea that they are especially self-sufficient. After all, as Ha-Joon Chang discussed in, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, people in poor countries are more entrepreneurial. Libertarianism doesn’t appeal to these people; it appeals to a bunch of privileged idiots who are just convinced that “they did build that” or at least they would have if only the government had gotten out of the way.

Mal in Firefly has actually headed out on his own. It would be equivalent to disappearing into federal land or taking to the high seas. The libertarian plan is to whine and complain that the government is oppressing them at the same time that they take advantage of every government program available. And more! They actually distort the political system to push more of that sweet, sweet tax money to themselves. Show me a libertarian and I’ll show you piles of government subsidies from student loans to government contracts.

The thing about Firefly is that it is about a group of people who all care for each other. Trust me, I know the libertarian counter to that: those people choose to be part of that group. Well, so do we. There really are places that libertarians could disappear to if they really wanted to. That probably wouldn’t be the case in their libertarian utopias, because literally every square inch of land and sea would be owned by someone — or perhaps just “one.” But of course libertarians don’t run away from it all because they like the things that our mixed economy provides. Well, I’m being unfair. Some people do this, but it usually ends in incest and other less than utopian outcomes.

So please libertarians, keep your ideology off Firefly. I see why you think it is “libertarian.” I’ve long seen it. But there is a very big difference between “This government is authoritarian!” and what you believe, “All government is authoritarian!” Remember, George Orwell was a socialist and Aldous Huxley was a liberal. Huxley was also a mystic, so sorry atheist libertarians. Of course, Joss Whedon is a humanist. Most of us aren’t that fond of government; we just think it is a hell of a lot better than living in Walmart World.


I will provide an exception for drug users. There are libertarians who just want to be allowed their drugs and are tired of paying so much for them and being thrown in jail. I understand such libertarians. But such libertarians would never even consider voting for the Republican Party given that they are responsible for the original War on Drugs and then for really ramping it up under Reagan and then Bush. I am assuming here that drug libertarians are not as clueless as the rest of them.

One Big Problem With the Marshmallow Challenge

Alfie KohnThe inclination to wait depends on one’s experiences. “For a child accustomed to stolen possessions and broken promises, the only guaranteed treats are the ones you have already swallowed,” remarked a group of social scientists at the University of Rochester. Last year they conducted an experiment in which children were encouraged to wait for “a brand-new set of exciting art supplies” rather than using the well-worn crayons and dinky little stickers that were already available. After a few minutes, the adult returned. Half the kids received the promised, far superior materials. But the other half got only an apology: “I’m sorry, but I made a mistake. We don’t have any other art supplies after all.”

Then it was time for the marshmallow challenge. And how long did the children wait for two to appear before they gave up and ate the one sitting in front of them? Well, it depended on what had happened earlier. Those for whom the adult had proved unreliable (by failing to deliver the promised art supplies) waited only about three minutes. But those who had learned that good things do come to those who wait were willing to hold off, on average, for a remarkable twelve minutes.

—Alfie Kohn
S’More Misrepresentation of Research
From The Myth of the Spoiled Child

Joni Ernst and the Wonderful Food Pantries

Joni ErnstJoni Ernst is the woman likely to become the next US Senator from Iowa because she castrated hogs as a child. This is supposedly some kind of clever implication that she will go to Washington and “cut pork.” No one seems to be willing to say the obvious: it’s a terrible analogy. It makes no sense. And personally, I think it is a lie. I had a very good friend in grammar school who lived on a farm and I remember being there when they were castrating sheep. The children were not involved. But who knows? Bottom line: it’s only a metaphor and a very bad one at that. The main thing is that Joni Ernst is a conservative freak.

Radio Iowa uncovered a recording of the candidate, Ernst Carries Concealed Weapon “90 Percent of the Time.” Because, you know, freedom. But Jonathan Chait brought my attention to one little section of the wide ranging discussion that also included ending federal involvement in education and even more cuts to food stamps, even while she continues to support price floors on foods that make food more expensive. Again, you know, freedom.

The point of all this freedom is that the private sector can do everything better:

We have lost a reliance on not only our own families, but so much of what our churches and private organizations used to do. They used to have wonderful food pantries. They used to provide clothing for those that really needed it, but we have gotten away from that.

Actually, no. Conservatives have this very strange idea that the government got into the poverty elimination business because it hates, you know, freedom. That’s not actually true. The government got into the anti-poverty business because the private sector was not dealing with it. The public sector never deals with this nor should it. Did the private sector get rid of child labor? No. Will it get rid of poverty? No. It isn’t what the private sector does and people like Joni Ernst are delusional.

Ernst claimed that private organizations “used to have wonderful food pantries.” I don’t actually know what she means. Earlier this week, I was doing some work at a church that has a food pantry. It isn’t wonderful in the sense of overflowing with food. This isn’t because a great deal of food doesn’t come through it. An enormous amount of food is given to the poor by the church. This is despite the food stamp program that Ernst wants to cut even more.

But what would Ernst know about the these “good ol’ days” when the government didn’t help poor people so that churches and private organizations could have wonderful food pantries? Joni Ernst was born years after the War on Poverty started. If she saw “wonderful pantries” it was probably because they weren’t needed as much as they are now because of government anti-poverty programs that conservatives have repeated cut funding to over the past three-plus decades.

I remember Bill Maher saying that it was okay to vote for a Republican because sometimes what you need is an angry old white guy to manage your money. I more or less agree with this although the last forty years have shown that Republicans are useless in this regard too. But what I can’t tolerate are people like Ernst who claim that they really care about the poor and that’s why they want to stop the government from doing anything for them. Joni Ernst has lived a sheltered life where her ideas about the deserving and undeserving poor come from television. It’s outrageous that she’s even competitive in a statewide race anywhere. That she is clearly leading in Iowa almost makes me give up all hope for democracy and the future of this country.

Conservative and Liberal First Names

Most Conservative and Liberal Names in America

This image is via BuzzFeed, Here Are The Most Conservative And Liberal Names In America. These are first names. It comes from data about political donors. Anyone who has made more than two campaign contributions since 1980 is on the list. Then names that showed up less than a thousand times were eliminated. So that’s the data.

What is interesting here is that all the most conservative names belong to men and all the most liberal names belong to women. That isn’t shocking. It is well established that women are more liberal than men. But I just wasn’t expecting it to be so overwhelming. CrowdPac, the group that provided the data, has a tool where you can check various names. It’s fun.

But here’s the thing. I tried every name I could think of. I couldn’t find a single female name that wasn’t liberal nor a single male name that wasn’t conservative. I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating: women really are the better sex.

Poet George Mackay Brown

George Mackay BrownOn this day in 1921, the Scottish writer George Mackay Brown was born. He is known mostly for his poetry and since that is all that I’ve ever read, I will stick to that.

He was actually from the Orkney Islands — an archipelago just north of Scotland. And he spent pretty much his entire life there. He was born into a very poor family and was himself greatly limited because he suffered from tuberculosis from a young age. But at least he could write. In fact, in his early 20s, he began to do some writing for the local paper.

His hometown was Stromness, which even today has only a population of about two thousand people. Since before Brown was born, it had be “dry” — not allowing any alcohol. But in 1947, the town lifted the ban. So at the age of 25, Brown had his first taste of alcohol. He liked it. He later wrote, “[T]hey flushed my veins with happiness; they washed away all cares and shyness and worries. I remember thinking to myself ‘If I could have two pints of beer every afternoon, life would be a great happiness.'” Apparently, many people thought he drank too much for the rest of his life, but I don’t especially see evidence of that.

His first book of poetry, The Storm, was published in 1954. It sold quite well. But it wasn’t until the mid-1960s that he was able to support himself. Until then, his mother had supported him. I find his work charming and direct. But not easy. Here is “Taxman” from The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown. I don’t fully understand it. But I like the slice-of-life quality to it: the harvest done, the celebration starts, the taxman comes?

Seven scythes leaned at the wall.
Beard upon golden beard
The last barley load
Swayed through the yard.
The girls uncorked the ale.
Fiddle and feet moved together.
Then between stubble and heather
A horseman rode.

And here is a wonderful spiritual poem, “Beachcomber.” I won’t try to interpret it even though it begs for a thorough discussion. Just enjoy:

Monday I found a boot —
Rust and salt leather.
I gave it back to the sea, to dance in.

Tuesday a spar of timber worth thirty bob.
Next winter
It will be a chair, a coffin, a bed.

Wednesday a half can of Swedish spirits.
I tilted my head.
The shore was cold with mermaids and angels.

Thursday I got nothing, seaweed,
A whale bone,
Wet feet and a loud cough.

Friday I held a seaman’s skull,
Sand spilling from it
The way time is told on kirkyard stones.

Saturday a barrel of sodden oranges.
A Spanish ship
Was wrecked last month at The Kame.

Sunday, for fear of the elders,
I sit on my bum.
What’s heaven? A sea chest with a thousand gold coins.

Happy birthday George Mackay Brown!