The same can be said of the soi-disant Wall Street "derivatives" that so nearly brought down the World's economy four years ago. The sellers of those items were as much taking advantage of the greed and/or ignorance of their customers as some frat boy takes advantage of the coed he has--unbeknownst to her--fed the drug Ecstasy. Because of the hidden complexities that we face in the financial world today, caveat emptor is no longer sufficient defense for the banker or the stock broker who steers his client into one of these schemes.
We are increasingly confronted by a world where amorality seems the fastest way to get ahead, and where morally-based action is the most certain way to be left behind. We have libertarians and conservatives who argue that unlimited freedom for its own sake is the answer to all of our problems. It is a world where the amoral and the sociopath seem to have taken control.
Sociopaths and their actions are not necessarily criminal, let alone evil, in the eyes of our modern society. Clinically, sociopathy is about a lack of empathy for the effects that your actions have on others. Men such as Mitt Romney and George W. Bush are--in my opinion among others--sociopaths, not psychopaths. Mitt Romney's placing the dog in a kennel on the roof of the family station wagon is the act of a sociopath. George W. Bush's making fun of Karla Faye Tucker's plea for clemency is the act of a sociopath as well. These men simply cannot imagine what it is like to be placed in the positions they are asked to make decisions about: they have no compass of empathy. They are almost certainly too cowardly to knowingly step over the line from clueless to criminal without a patsy and lots of plausible deniability.
To quote George Bernard Shaw in the Preface to Major Barbara (1905), "The faults of the burglar are the qualities of the financier."
I will continue to quote Thomas Jefferson (in his letter to Thomas Law in 1814), because his point of view in this statement corresponds exactly with my own: "Self-interest, or rather self-love, or egoism , has been more plausibly substituted as the basis of morality. But I consider our relations with others as constituting the boundaries of morality. With ourselves, we stand on the ground of identity, not of relation, which last, requiring two subjects, excludes self-love confined to a single one. To ourselves, in strict language, we can owe no duties, obligation requiring also two parties. Self-love, therefore, is no part of morality. Indeed, it is exactly its counterpart." ( The Complete Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition ; Volume 14, page 140; 1904.)
For the sociopath, there is only "me:" the sole target of tribute for anything positive, including rewards; the automatic exception for anything negative, especially punishment. For a sociopath, right or wrong is measured by personal success. And if they are successful, they are very often admired by American society until, like Bernie Madoff, they make a mistake, and then they are made a lesson of for the edification of the masses.
In spite of what borderline right-wing sociopaths such as Ayn Rand and her adherents believe, you have no more freedom realistically than the least free individual in your community. As Mikhail Bakunin pointed out in God and the State (1871), "I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free. The freedom of other men, far from negating or limiting my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary premise and confirmation." It is for this reason that individuals should only be imprisoned because they represent a clear and present danger to their community, not because they are engaged in an activity not approved by some portion of the community. Most offenses against the community--from the village to the nation-state--should involve fines (including confiscation of property after due process), community service, and in extreme cases enforced medical treatment. I fully understand that the last is problematical at best, and wide open to abuse by the state. For this reason I would suggest that it should only be applied as a last-ditch alternative to imprisonment.
Thomas Jefferson, in a 1789 letter to James Madison, made an observation that is similar to Bakunin's, "What is true of every member of the society, individually, is true of them all collectively; since the rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of the individuals." (The Complete Writings of Thomas Jefferson; Memorial Edition, Volume 7, page 455; 1904.)
I believe that freedom, without an equal concomitant level of responsibility is not liberty--it is license. Yet from where I stand, modern libertarians seem have a desire to maximize their personal freedom, while minimizing those things for which they must actually take responsibility.
Two of the men most responsible for the establishment of the libertarian ideal in the Nineteenth Century, John Stuart Mill and Prince Pyotr Kropotkin, would never recognize the mutated monster that has grown from their ideals.
Most of us have heard of John Stuart Mill. A child prodigy, his works, including On Liberty and Utilitarianism, mark him as one of the five great philosophers of the Nineteenth Century. (The others are Hegel, Marx, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche.) His philosophy is built around the rights and the responsibilities of the individual, and the interconnectedness of those two ideas. Mill's ideas, together with those of America's Founding Fathers (Jefferson, Madison, Paine, Mason, Hamilton, Jay), are those upon which libertarianism, in many of its forms, are often said to be founded.
Fewer of us have heard of Prince Pyotr Kropotkin--a Russian noble and renowned scientist (he was the first to demonstrate that the lines of geological structure for Asia did not run east-west, or north-south, but northeast-southwest)--who, based upon the ideas presented by Charles Darwin in his books On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Species in the Struggle for Life, and Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex , became the foremost initial proponent of anarcho-socialist libertarianism, based upon the concept not of myopic, unrelenting individualism, but of "Mutual Aid."
Mutual Aid:A Factor of Evolution is the title of Pyotr Kropotkin's most influential book; his personal contribution to Charles Darwin's theories concerning the evolution and survival of the Earth's myriad competing species. It is also his theory for the direction that humanity must take if it is to continue to thrive and prosper. Basing his theory on Darwin's writings, the book was originally written as a rebuttal to T.H. Huxley's The Struggle for Existence in Human Society (1888). But it is more than that: it is also a refutation of Hobbes's Leviatha n, Burke's A Vindication of the Natural Order, Thomas Malthus's reactionary An Essay on the Principles of Population, and Herbert Spencer's seminal works of social Darwinism, the series of books and articles gathered together to form his Synthetic Philosophy (1855-93).
Initially inspired by a lecture given by Dr. Karl Fyodorovich Kessler, an eminent Russian zoologist and Dean of St. Petersburg University, "On the Law of Mutual Aid," in 1880, Kropotkin expanded Kessler's theory (something Kessler himself had been unable to do beyond the "rough sketch" stage of his initial lecture, having died in 1881), basing his theories on his own observations from his time in Siberia as both a soldier and a political prisoner. Kropotkin then added the work of French philosopher Alfred Espinas, whose doctoral dissertation on the subject had been published in 1877. Kropotkin fully developed his theory of Mutual Aid between 1889 and 1902 in a series of articles. These were edited together in 1902 for Mutual Aid:A Factor of Evolution , in 1902.
One of the first facts that Kropotkin notes is that Darwin himself warned against too narrow an interpretation of survival of the fittest and the struggle for existence. He points out that in chapter 3 of Origin of Species Darwin states that these concepts must be taken in the "large and metaphorical sense including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny." ( On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Species in the Struggle for Life, and Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex; Modern Library, New York; p.52.)
Kropotkin continued in the third paragraph of Mutual Aid's first chapter, " While [Darwin] himself was chiefly using the term in its narrow sense for his own special purpose, he warned his followers against committing the error (which he seems once to have committed himself) of overrating its narrow meaning. In The Descent of Man he gave some powerful pages to illustrate its proper, wide sense. He pointed out how, in numberless animal societies, the struggle between separate individuals for the means of existence disappears, how struggle is replaced by co-operation, and how that substitution results in the development of intellectual and moral faculties which secure to the species the best conditions for survival. He intimated that in such cases the fittest are not the physically strongest, nor the cunningest, but those who learn to combine so as mutually to support each other, strong and weak alike, for the welfare of the community. 'Those communities,' he wrote, 'which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring' ( Descent of Man, 2nd edition, p. 163). The term, which originated from the narrow Malthusian conception of competition between each and all, thus lost its narrowness in the mind of one who knew Nature."