Friday, November 16, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #320: Everybody Is Stupid Except for Me by Peter Bagge

In the first decade of this century, Peter Bagge did a lot of cartooning for Reason magazine. (He might still do so; I don't know. As far as I know this book doesn't have a sequel, so I vaguely guess that he moved on.) It was all more-or-less topical stuff, since Reason was a topical magazine with a Libertarian slant, and eventually there was enough of it to make a book.

This is that book: Everybody Is Stupid Except for Me, collected those Reason strips (single-pagers and longer pieces) in 2009, organized into a number of thematic chapters about the general kind of thing that Bagge is complaining about there.

Now, don't get me wrong: Bagge may be a libertarian, but he's not a crank. Well, not fully. My guess is that he's lived in liberal-wonderland Seattle for so long that he had to react to that somehow, and standard conservatism came with things like god, guns, and war-mongering that he never was interested in. And Libertarianism is one of those beautiful political philosophies, like Communism, that devotees can both argue the permutations of endlessly and claim that it's never been tried in practice, so it will obviously be perfect if we would only try it.

Bagge is also not always clear about exactly what he does believe in. He's clearly annoyed by the "libertarians don't like roads" ideas, but...libertarians often do say that all activity now run by the government (fire and police protection, ensuring safe food and water, the military, social programs, and, yes, roads and infrastructure) should instead be done only by private industry. Maybe Bagge isn't that kind of libertarian, but it's a little like saying you're a Communist and then complaining when people bring up Karl Marx.

Anyway, Bagge hated the Gulf War, bans on contraception (though he was also skeeved out by reporting on swingers), modern art, Christian rock, malls, the kind of people who he finds in casinos (though, as a libertarian, he's fine with gambling being legal), Seattle's monorail project, public funding for sports stadiums, Amtrak, the war on drugs, the hard-core homeless (he calls them "bums"), and, of course, politicians, particularly the liberal ones running for President in 2008.

In general, he's against governments spending money on things, or any taxes he has to pay, or anything else that might interrupt his life or make him think about things he doesn't care about. Libertarianism tends to be a philosophy of selfishness at the best of times, but Bagge really leans into it.

He generally avoids grumpy-old-man mode in the stories here, partly because he's of the my-opinions-are-so-nuanced-it-will-take-several-pages-of-text-heavy-panels-to-explicate-them and partially because he still has a lurking tropism to want to let people kick out the jams and go crazy. (Potential topic for discussion: young punks turn into old libertarians.)

This book is very topical, and all of these topics have moved on from where they were in 2001-2008. So reading it today can be quaint -- oh, how precious that he thought that worrying about healthcare was absurd! And some of those politicians were not always completely truthful when they carefully answered reporter's questions! Oh, shock, let us all clutch our pearls.

The world has gotten vastly more stupid since this book came out. You can't blame Bagge (or libertarians) for the stupidity, though it is more-or-less his end of the political spectrum that has blown up everything in American society for no good reason and with no actual solutions.

But at least we can keep complaining about the government spending money on people we don't like!

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