Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Every once in a while a piece comes along which is simply too rich in falsehoods, nonsense, and contradiction to pass up. Jim Harbison's latest effort, which appears in "The Bulletin" (29 July, A7 or is one such. Harbison strings together assertions unsupported by anything other than what the author regards as self-evident truths. Some are nonsense, some are false, some contradict his principles—so what? What matters to him is denigrating anything which he dislikes with a nasty-sounding term.

Harbison defines communitarianism as a doctrine making the state dominant in and controlling of the lives of individuals—a kind of totalitarianism. But it does little more than elaborate Aristotle’s remark 2500 years ago: “man is a social animal.” So it tries to establish boundaries between the individual’s responsibilities to society and society’s responsibilities to the individual—without infringing on an individual’s responsibilities to himself and others.

Harbison asserts that federal and state governments operate according to this doctrine –an assertion devoid of sense or support. The term denoting this doctrine is not part of ordinary political parlance. Wikipedia’s discussion of its “Influence in the United States,” states that “Reflecting the dominance of liberal and conservative politics in the United States, no major party and few elected officials advocate communitarianism.”

Under the pretense of criticizing an academic doctrine and its non-existent practices, Harbison unleashes a reactionary attack on anything not to his liking. “To create their utopian society more activities are identified as unacceptable or criminal such as diabetes, smoking, name calling, heavy energy consumption, neglect (in their view), driving when you could ride your bike or take public transportation. Other examples include areas of public health versus individual privacy, prayer in school, advocate taking your child away because of obesity, or codes enforcement that criminalize behaviors such as failure to cut your weeds or recycle your trash.”

Let us look at his first list:

Diabetes: let’s approve of it and stop paying for its treatment.
Smoking: let’s allow it everywhere and disregard that secondary smoke adversely affects others. (Harbison believes that smokers have rights to smoke when and where they please but affected non-smokers do not have rights to enjoy those times and places without risks or adverse effects. He believes that some people are more entitled to individual rights and personal freedoms than others are.)
Name-calling: let’s act as if name-calling is not abusive and harmful. (His logic would approve calling his wife—what?—and allowing libel, slander, and privacy-violating materials spread on the Internet.)
Heavy energy consumption: let’s continue reliance on unstable regimes and risks of economic losses and disruptions.
Neglect (in their view): let’s imagine what neglect is A-OK.
Driving [instead of bike or bus riding]: let’s identify those who define driving as “unacceptable or criminal.”

Now let us look at his second list:

Public health versus individual privacy: suppose we try to figure out which is “unacceptable or criminal.” Both seem like good ideas to me.
Prayer in school: let’s determine whether he refers to individuals praying by themselves, or classes or assemblies praying as a majority differently from the faiths of a minority. Let’s ask whatever happened to “personal freedoms” in his advocacy of majoritarian prayer in the schools.
Advocate taking your child away because of obesity: Let’s identify who is urging this action. Let’s wonder at his paranoid imagination.
Codes enforcement that criminalize behaviors such as failure to cut your weeds or recycle your trash: Let’s allow neighborhoods to run down so that depressed housing values can decline even more. Let’s find an instance of someone penalized for not recycling trash.

Forget Harbison’s rant about communitarianism. Ask the question: what kind of world does Harbison want us to live in? Answer it: a smoky, weedy, trashy one with lots of abusive, neglectful, obese, diabetic, and cancer-prone people praying to God in gratitude as they drive their gas-guzzlers through stop signs and red lights, and just enjoy the heck out of their personal freedoms.

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