A Matter of Scale
Imagine that you and five or six of your friends decide to go on a camping trip in the woods. What would your reaction be if one of those friends said the following?:
“It sounds nice, but who are we going to appoint to be in charge? I mean, someone who tells the rest of us how to behave, makes all the important choices and tells us what we can and can’t do, and punishes us if we disobey? Because without that—if we each just decide for ourselves what we’re going to do—obviously this camping trip will devolve into violent chaos!”
Would you consider such an opinion and suggestion reasonable, useful and necessary? Or would you find it bizarre, irrational and kind of creepy?
Now let’s suppose that, notwithstanding the weird suggestion of your one uber-statist friend, you all embark on this camping expedition anarchist-style, as a bunch of equals figuring things out along the way by consensus and agreement, instead of by coercion and domination.
After hiking for a while you encounter another group of people, about a dozen of them, out backpacking. You see the other group setting up tents for the night, and once again your anxious friend speaks up: “Now we definitely need to pick a leader, a ruler to speak on our behalf and represent us in our dealings with this group of strangers, otherwise they might kill and eat us, or enslave us!”
Then suppose you go over and chat with that other group of campers, and they mention that there is some big camping event in the area, and there are many hundreds of campers around. Now your uber-statist friend urgently implores you to listen to him: “With all these people around, strangers whose histories and motives we don’t know, how can we afford tonot appoint a master now!? Anything could happen if no one is in charge!”
You might then ask him if he really thinks that, even if your little group picked a leader from among you, hundreds of strangers would suddenly obey you. And he might respond, “Well, no, it can’t just be from our group; all the people together have to choose a ruler!”
Aren’t “law-makers” also just people? Aren’t they also sometimes unpredictable, careless, malicious and sadistic? In fact, aren’t politicians universally recognized as being less honest and more power-happy than the general public?
“WELL I DON’T TRUST PEOPLE AND I WANT SOME MAGIC SPELL TO MAKE EVERYONE BE NICE!!!”
- As unpredictable or nasty as some people may be, there is no magic spell to make everyone be nice, or to always protect the good people from the bad people.
- Giving someone power over you isn’t going to make them less of a threat to you, and isn’t going to make them more honest or virtuous than they were before. (In fact, as the saying goes, “power corrupts.”)
- It’s just a bunch of people out camping. Chill out.
But then the question becomes, at what scale do you suddenly think that human interaction and peaceful coexistence requires, or is even helped by, giving some people permission to forcibly rule everyone else? How big does the crowd have to be before you think a coercive ruler is going to make things better? Mind you, organization and cooperation—which occur all over the place, every day, on a voluntary basis—are not the same as authoritarian power. In fact, true cooperation and violent domination are mutually exclusive.
Around the world and throughout history, people in positions of “authority” have committed far more theft, assault, terrorism and murder than normal people, by a huge margin. To trust people more when they have the power to forcibly extort and control you is just plain stupid. Anyone who says that “government” and political “authority” are necessary for, or conducive to, civil society, is merely repeating blatantly absurd lies—lies taught to him by those who want to rule over others.