The Moment of Truth — February 28, 2007

Libertarianism is the First Refuge of Yahoos

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the chlorine in David Hockney’s swimming pool.

Penn Gillette has a radio show. It’s like the Rush Limbaugh show, except it’s on FM instead of AM. All quotations from him below are slightly paraphrased by necessity, since I don’t have a perfect memory, but I guarantee they communicate the meaning Gillette intended to convey, and do not make him sound any more ignorant than he did during the actual broadcast.

The other day he had Matt Stone and Trey Parker on his show. It was a meeting of the pro-corporate bad boys. I always have fun watching Parker and Stone’s work—South Park is an endlessly funny show. I have fun watching Penn, too, when he almost drowns or blows up or otherwise mutilates his friend Teller. The three entertaining cusses share a philosophy, however, which, in my estimation, is punk-ass. It’s a philosophy espousing the dictum that the problem with corporations corrupting government is that government exists. If government didn’t exist, there would be nothing for corporations to corrupt. Corporations would be able to work their naturally utopian miraculousness upon the world, uncorrupting and incorruptible, creating a consumers’ paradise. Government is the source of all problems. And liberals, as the ones who, ostensibly, love government the most, are terrible people.

But despite their shared philosophy, I think even Trey and Matt were a little nonplussed when, while talking about how crazy Mel Gibson is and why his reputation for insanity might make you want to see Apocalypto even though it sucks, Penn came out with this gem of reasoning:

“Mel Gibson is super-wealthy, you know why? Because Jews didn’t like his movie. Ironically, because the Jews wouldn’t finance his movie, he financed it himself, so he got to keep all the money.”

There are two lessons here: First of all, you have two choices when financing your movie. You can finance it yourself, or you can get the Jews to finance it. When people say, “Hollywood financed it,” or “It was financed by a studio” or “It was financed by George Clooney and his friend Steven Soderberg” or “It was financed by a group of Chinese investors from Hong Kong” or “It was financed by a lesbian coven from Trinidad,” what they really mean is it was financed by the Jews.

Another way to interpret the first lesson might be: there are two choices in film financing: Mel Gibson or the Jews.

The second lesson is: invest in hate speech against yourself. Then, if the Nazi you invest in makes money, you’ll get some, too! In fact, if you don’t invest in movies that portray your ethnic group as bloodthirsty Christ-killers, you’re stupid, and Penn Gillette will make fun of you.

How is that libertarianism? Well, I think what Penn is getting at is, that’s the wonderful thing about profit motive as the only ethic: you can actually make money by helping people to hate and slander you. Back in the olden days, before capitalism came and revolutionized society, if, say, the Inquisition wanted to torture you, you couldn’t make money from that torture by investing in the Inquisition. It was either convert to Christianity or run away. There was no buying into your own persecution.

That’s all changed now. These days, buying into your own persecution is almost inevitable. It’s been explored thoroughly by the neo-Marxist philosophers of the Frankfort School and by others since then, and is considered so ubiquitous and insoluble a conundrum of advanced capitalist society that it’s become the common cold of social criticism. The paradoxical nature of the concept has confounded even the best-intended attempts to communicate it to the consumers of mass culture, who could have the most to gain by understanding it. Such attempts have proven to be dangerous undertakings. Founding editor of The Baffler and punditological gadfly Tom Frank has, in the course of his cultural analyses, undergone excessive exposure to this theoretical common cold, attempting to write from the perspective of both the sneeze and the tissue, to the point of becoming ensnared in a spider web of logical snot from which only a few boogers of coherence are retrievable, most notably something like: “it’s not cool to be cool anymore.”

But Penn Gillette hasn’t gotten the word that it’s not cool to be cool anymore. He’s succeeded where better minds have failed. He’s not going to get entangled in any mucous of sophistry. Penn Gillette eats snot for breakfast! Buying into one’s own persecution presents no problem for him, because he focuses on the “buying” part. Buying is an aspect of the Holy Trinity of libertarianism, after all, the other two being Selling and Owning. All those European Jews in the 30s who didn’t invest in Mercedes, Shell Oil, Ford Motor Company, etc, could have become millionaires by helping the Nazi regime. The fools! They missed out sharing in the great wealth created by the concentration camp system, all because of their political correctness. They could have been exterminated as shareholders in a profit-making enterprise, instead of as paupers. That’s why the Jews will always lose out to the anti-Semites—they refuse to share in the wealth created by anti-Semitism. They’re just cutting off their noses to spite the master race.

It’s the same reason environmentalists are losers. If they invested in companies that poison the water and air, they’d make a lot of money. But no, they care more about their misguided principles and their not-yet-profitable alternative energy sources than they do about corporate profits. That’s why, in the grand scheme of things, people who give a shit about anything but ownership and profit will ultimately be left out in the cold. Assuming there’s any cold part of the world to be left out in. But of course, global warming is a fraudulent idea manufactured by those same anti-corporate losers. Ha ha! Let’s laugh at them! Whining losers!

These pro-corporate bad boys, they know how to win: you don’t bite the hand that spreads butter on your bread. Libertarianism is the best of both worlds—you can be a cutting-edge bad boy without having to say or do anything particularly dangerous, like criticizing your overlords. Courage means nothing, after all, if you don’t make money from it. So why have any?

Denouncing government for interfering in corporate profit-making—all the coolest people are doing it: Steve Forbes, Grover Norquist, most politicians, the executive board of Union Carbide, and Penn Gillette. You know, the rebels who live by their own rules. Standing up against the Hollywood Jews and Amnesty International and those whiney Indians coughing up blood in Bhopal! Thank goodness there are brave people like Penn Gillette to mock scientists, liberals and poor people. Why can’t those whining jerks lighten up and suspend their mute partners upside-down in giant water tanks in Vegas like the rest of us reasonable folks?

Libertarians do claim to set themselves apart philosophically from far right Republicans, and I’m sure many of them are sincere. There is surely no substantive kinship between the political opinions of Penn Gillette and, say, George W. Bush, is there? Is the critique of the financial stodginess of the Christ-killing Jews merely an isolated case of boobery by an otherwise insightful comedy magician? Other great quotations from Penn Gillette: “I want the corporations to have more money.” “I’m against Net Neutrality, by the way.” “Yeah, ten feet of snow falling on the East Coast—tell me again about global warming.”

Yes, he’s a hero, a maverick, an original thinker. Again, you can tell the difference between Gillette’s show and Rush Limbaugh’s by the modulation of the radio band, not by the philosophy of the host. Rush can’t make it on FM, where the audience is young and hip. The audience for Limbaugh’s show likes him because he’s a demagogic, reactionary blowhard. By contrast, the audience for Penn Gillette’s show likes Penn because they haven’t realized he’s Rush Limbaugh yet.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!