(My Clovis News Journal column for February 1, 2013)One of the self-evident tenets of libertarianism is that of self ownership. You own your life, and the products of your life.
If you didn't own yourself, you couldn't give your life to someone else since it wouldn't be yours to give. That has implications in every aspect of life, from the interpersonal to the religious.
Just as no one else can claim to own your life, no one else has any claim on the products of your life without your explicit agreement. Being born in a place, and choosing to not leave, is not an explicit agreement, taxation apologists to the contrary. To be required to hand over the products of your life without your consent is slavery. To be forced to buy products or services you don't want is theft. Both violate self ownership.
Just as you can't belong to any individual, you can't belong to society. Your obligation to society is expressed by your obligation to not attack or steal from any individual. That's it. Everyone else has the identical obligation toward one another, and when it is violated, defensive actions are a proper response.
Self ownership means that it can be proper to act selfishly. It also means that if there are consequences from acting selfishly, you accept them rather than trying to use force against others to avoid the consequences you set in motion.
Selfishness is not the automatic evil that some would try to make you believe it is- as long as you don't violate anyone else or their property. Selfishness can lead you to donate to charity if it makes you feel good. Selfishness can convince you to help a friend so that you can strengthen that friendship bond. Selfishness can cause you to be a good neighbor so that others will be good neighbors to you. That is as it should be. Even the most apparently selfless person wouldn't be if there were no benefit- physical or spiritual- for them. Sacrificing others or their property to make yourself feel good is not selflessness.
Since you own your life, it is your responsibility to maintain that life. No one has an obligation to help you, although they may want to if you have been a good friend or neighbor. Or, if it makes them feel good about themselves.
Owning your life is an awesome responsibility. It is one you can't avoid by pretending it doesn't exist, nor by trying to delegate it to someone else. It is your responsibility whether you accept it or not.