Opinion | Guns, Germs, Bitcoin and the Antisocial Right

What do these examples have in common? As Thomas Hobbes could have told you, human beings can only flourish, can only avoid a state of nature in which lives are “nasty, brutish and short,” if they participate in a “commonwealth” — a society in which government takes on much of the responsibility for making life secure. Thus, we have law enforcement precisely so individuals don’t have to go around armed to protect themselves against other people’s violence.

Public health policy, if you think about it, reflects the same principle. Individuals can and should take responsibility for their own health, when they can; but the nature of infectious disease means that there is an essential role for collective action, whether it is public investment in clean water supplies or, yes, mask and vaccine mandates during a pandemic.

And you don’t have to be a socialist to recognize the need for regulation to maintain the reliability of essential aspects of the economy like electricity supply and the monetary system.

Which is why I’m calling the modern American right antisocial — because its members reject any policy that relies on social cooperation, and they want us to return instead to Hobbes’s dystopian state of nature. We won’t try to keep guns out of the hands of potential mass murderers; instead, we’ll rely on teacher-vigilantes to gun them down once the shooting has already started. We won’t try to limit the spread of infectious diseases; instead, we’ll tell people to take drugs that are expensive, ineffective or both after they’ve already gotten sick.

What about Bitcoin? I don’t think it’s even worth trying to make sense of Abbott’s tortured logic, why he imagines that promoting an environmentally destructive, energy-hogging industry will somehow make his state’s electricity supply more reliable. (An energy grid overloaded by crypto mining helped set off the recent crisis in Kazakhstan.)

A better question is why Republicans have become fanatics about cryptocurrency, to the extent that one Senate candidate has defined his position as being “pro-God, pro-family, pro-Bitcoin.” The answer, I’d argue, is that Bitcoin plays into a fantasy of self-sufficient individualism, of protecting your family with your personal AR-15, treating your Covid with an anti-parasite drug or urine and managing your financial affairs with privately created money, untainted by institutions like governments or banks.

In the end, none of this will work. Government exists for a reason. But the right’s constant attacks on essential government functions will take a toll, making all of our lives nastier, more brutish and shorter.