Carbon Monoxide vs. Oxygen

Carbon Monoxide vs. Oxygen April 19, 2018

Fun fact:  Hemoglobin has 200 times the affinity for carbon monoxide that it has for oxygen.  That’s why giving oxygen to victims of carbon monoxide poison does nothing to help them.

Under the right circumstances, hemoglobin gives up oxygen to your tissues and takes on carbon dioxide, which it in turn gives up in your lungs as you exhale and then inhale oxygen.

But once it gloms on to carbon monoxide, it never lets go.  That red blood cell is now useless to your body.  When billions of red blood cells are rendered useless, there is nothing to be done but a complete blood transfusion.

I think of that as I read this.

Libertarianism is to Catholic teaching as carbon monoxide is to oxygen. Conservative Christians constantly mistake the former for the latter as hemoglobin mistakes the former for the latter, with similarly fatal results.

Libertarianism’s core blunder is the proposition that property rights are more important than basic human dignity and the right to life. In its most chemically pure form (as proposed by Rothbard), it proposes that parents have no obligation to their children since children cannot pay for their parent’s services and are parasites demanding free stuff. But even when it is not that freaking insane, it still proposes that individuals owe nothing to the common good. So it sees the state, for all intents and purposes as stealing from the sovereign individual by taxation and imagines that individual initiative and the god that is the free market will fix it all.

Catholic teaching–ever since Jesus said to render to Caesar and Paul said to pay your taxes since the state is God’s minister to see to the common good–recognizes that the common good is a real thing and that it is a matter of justice, not charity, to contribute to it. And since the function of the state is to ensure justice, the state therefore has a right to tax to see to the common good, such as old people not dying on the street in penury and sick people not having to busk on the internet to keep their child from dying of leukemia.

Christianists hate all this, because they are, in fact, intensely selfish and do not, despite their lies about “personal charity”, want to give a nickel to help desperate people, whom their metrics for measuring the “deserving poor” tend to always find some fault with that bars them from being “truly deserving”. Instead, they lie that “state theft” deprives them of the power to be “charitable” but if we get rid of the state then their overwhelming charity would finally be “unleashed”.

Here’s reality: If they *did* put the needs of the poor first and not their own narcissistic desire for honor for being “charitable”, they would not care *how* the poor got their help, as long as they got it. But because it matters more to the Christianist that he gets credit for helping the poor than that the poor get help, he falsely protests that the state taking a few bucks from his paycheck to make sure old people do not die on the street in poverty and sick people get the medical care they need, is “robbing him of the power to be charitable”.

All this is a lie. But it is a hugely popular lie because Libertarianism, like carbon monoxide, *looks* to many right wingers (and even some lefties) like “freedom”.

More precisely, it looks like subsidiarity, which is one of the pillars of Catholic Social Teaching. Looks like, not is. Real subsidiarity, like libertarianism, says that the person(s) closest to the problem should handle the problem as a rule. So if there is a pothole in the library parking lot, the library staff should get it fixed, not phone the White House and demand the 101st Airborne parachute in to fix it. Only when the local authority can’t handle it do you go up the ladder of authority and get the city, county, or state involved.

But metastasized, cancerous Libertarianism takes just a fragment of this idea and uses it to make war on the rest of the Church’s social teaching: the dignity of the human person, the common good, and solidarity. Instead of understanding the true meaning of Subsidiarity–that each person have a shot at participating in the work of the Kingdom of God for the glory of God and the common good of each of our neighbors–the hyper-individualism of Libertarian ideology reduces subsidiarity to the notion that I get to keep all my money and the state (and the least of these it protects) can go to hell.

So members of the freak show Party of Trump are increasingly plain-spoken about indeed ending both Social Security and Medicaid and, as Libertarians always do, spinning a tale about how the free market will magically replace it.

But, of course, all this is a lie. There was no paradise of care for the elderly and the sick in the 19th Century when the laissez faire capitalist paradise of Libertarianism was the norm. There was poverty and death for millions who toiled like slaves and died like flies. And when the system wrecked itself in 1929, what happened was that the state stepped in and did its job and provided a reasonable system first with Social Security and, thirty years later, with Medicaid and Medicare.

What the nihilist predators of the GOP want to do is make war on the poor and weak and bleed them of every nickel in their envy and avarice. And like all heretics, they perform the trick of taking a fragment of the Tradition–in this case, Subsidiarity–and use it as a stick to beat the rest of the Tradition: the dignity of the human person, the common good, and solidarity.

Christians, in contrast, embrace the whole of the Church’s social teaching.

If you want to know more, see my series on Catholic Social Teaching:

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