As most economists and political scientists agree, capitalism is “the private ownership of the means of production” and socialism is “the public/state ownership of the means of production.” Where they disagree is on which is preferable to achieving their ideal socio-economic outcomes, fair enough, but that aside, what cannot be denied is the fact that each and every person is themselves a means of production. Which begs the question, who owns you? Under capitalism, you own yourself (self-ownership). Under socialism (and it’s variants communism and fascism), you guessed it, the public/state. I don’t know about you, but I reject slavery in all its forms, including socialism. Do you? And that’s today’s two cents.Open This Content
It’s vogue these days to claim that capitalism is responsible for the suffering and deaths of more lives than has been communism or socialism. The argument goes that when capitalistically produced food, drugs, medical care, et cetera, are withheld from those who can’t afford it, the resulting suffering and death (which numbers in the billions, orders of magnitude greater than communism or socialism) was thereby caused by capitalism. Interestingly, the same “greed” which produced the aforementioned goods and services supposedly keeps entrepreneurs and capitalists from simply giving it all away. Remove capitalistic “greed” from the world, and not only are those who can’t afford these goods and service no better or worse off, but those who can must now join them in their suffering and death. Gee, if only the world ran on wishes and dreams. And that’s today’s two cents.Open This Content
Gun control is predicated on the belief that private citizens cannot be trusted with firearms. That the state should have a “monopoly on violence” because it is less violent than individuals. And that firearms should be taken away from private citizens because only the state is responsible enough to handle them.
There is, however, a major problem with this: States are statistically far more violent than individuals. After all, in the 20th century alone, 262 MILLION people died at the hands of their own governments.
The term for this sort of atrocity is “democide.” It is one of the reasons the Founding Fathers included the Second Amendment in the U.S. Constitution – to allow citizens some form of protection against agents of a tyrannical government meaning to do them harm, as the Founders were forcibly disarmed as colonists by the British prior to the American Revolution.
You can read the full article “Democide: Understanding the State’s Monopoly on Violence and the Second Amendment” at Ammo.com.Open This Content
The instant, simultaneous, total state takeover of the “civilized” world revealed how dire our situation is.
The battle of this generation is liberty against technocratic control; living, organic order vs. dead, clean chaos.
Order is natural, emergent, dynamic, unpredictable, useful, creative, and meaningful. It can’t be wholly contained, but it can be harnessed, guided, played with, adjusted to, and discovered in a continual dance. It is moving into the future. It is an infinite, positive-sum game.
Chaos is stripped down, unnatural, incapable of growth or change, dead or decaying, empty, and devoid of depth. Once natural order is made wholly legible and containable, it has been killed. Life and control are anathema. Chaos is the result of attempting total control. It freezes the present and reverts to stagnate snapshots of the past. It is a finite, zero-sum game.
Chaos is not the result of freedom or the state of nature, order is. Chaos is the result of efforts to defy the freedom of the state of nature. Chaos results when liberty and life are stripped from the world and all that remains are sanitized elements easily countable, reducible, and containable.
Architect and philosopher Christopher Alexander made a life’s work of studying the concept of “aliveness” in footpaths, windowsills, buildings, neighborhoods, and natural and designed systems of all kinds. His books offer many side-by-side photos of homes or other scenes, and ask the reader to, on a gut level, decide which is more “alive”. Every single person agrees easily and quickly. We know the more living from the more dead when we see it, but understanding why is difficult. Alexander made great progress. Living systems are in harmony with natural human tendency. For example, humans are phototropic. We also like to sit after more than a few minutes. So a chair placed near a window harmonizes with these subconscious patterns, while a chair facing a windowless wall does not.
Social architects (who dwell in brutalist buildings that suck all life from the ground where they stand) do not observe and contemplate life. They calculate and scheme control. They want legible, definable utility, based on static definitions and stale answers without questions. They kill the human spirit the way a giant parking lot kills the view.
The Great Sanitizer
The state and the obsessive, maladjusted, soul-dead busybodies who pull its levers are always seeking to remove impurity and unpredictability from the world. That is the same as removing life itself. This is what Ayn Rand meant when she called collectivist, command and control philosophies “anti-life”. That is the essence of what they are. To control is to kill.
The state wants to aggregate, categorize, sort, label, and track. James Scott describes in his several works the driving force of the state to make all persons and property “legible”. If they cannot be defined into conceptual submission and measured until all surprise is extinguished, how can they be controlled? So states set about to kill the creative, generative forces that make life worth living.
C.S. Lewis, in the final installment of his sci-fi space trilogy, That Hideous Strength, describes a scientific institution (called N.I.C.E.) with aims at global domination. The reason isn’t a lust for power per se, but a desire to make the world clean, free of germs and dirt and bugs and unpredictability, and all the shifting variables which make complete legibility impossible. In other words, they want to snuff out that pesky thing fueled by liberty that we call life.
Stranger Than Stories
These ideas used to seem a bit much to me.
Sure, some people are control freaks. Yeah, religious devotion to science is a contradiction to all reason and sometimes gets nasty. Yes, unspeakably awful ideas like eugenics have been a major part of every government in modern history (much as they might now deny it), but total rule by technicians whose greatest foe is unpredictability? Isn’t that the stuff of bad Bond villains?
It is the outlook I see as the greatest present threat to all that is good and true and just and humane.
Total global lockdown – the literal imprisonment of entire populations without even the pretense of wrongdoing by the state’s own absurd and shifting standards – and introduction and embrace of oxymoronic phrases like, “Social distancing” came about not out of fear of some feigned foreign enemy or revolt against some unpopular dictator. They came about in an instant solely because the idea of planned chaos (to quote Ludwig von Mises) has so overcome the notion of spontaneous order.
Devotion to the fiction that men with guns and laws and stolen money can control microscopic pathogens we barely understand animated the acquiescence to complete boot-licking servitude. Anything – anything! – but unpredictable organic nature in all it’s life-giving danger and beauty. We must collectively pretend we can eradicate uncertainty, all physical and spiritual casualties be damned.
When Science Died
The oxymorons in the air are rooted in a deeper one.
“Belief in science”.
That’s a phrase people have been unironically uttering with increased frequency for at least a few decades.
“I believe in science” is a contradiction in concepts. It is meaningless, used only to signal superiority by unthinking people who are scared of unknowns.
Belief means to assume the truth of something and act on that assumption without fail. Science means to assume the fallibility of everything and never stop trying to prove it false. I would like to be charitable and say that people simply mean this in a tongue-in-cheek way, to say they are religiously devoted to questioning everything.
Except the complete opposite is true everywhere you see “belief in science” trotted out, or true skeptics called “deniers of science”. The scientific process is nothing if it is not a perpetual threat to the consensus view. Yet the word has come to mean nothing more than blind defense of the consensus view. Scientism is antithetical to science.
Similarly, those who question mainstream ideas (not merely ideas, but the violent imposition of those ideas) are called “believers”, and those who crouch and lick the hand that whips them are called “skeptics”. If Orwell never seemed relevant before, he surely does now.
A History of Inhumanity
Those with rabid, hateful, desperate, lurching faith in state agents to neatly destroy organic order and replace it with clean chaos are naive about the power of the state to do harm. Even granting stupidly charitable assumptions about the state’s goals being good to begin with, bureaucracies being capable of carrying them out perfectly, and no unintended consequences resulting, there is no instance in the history of the organized crime that calls itself government where states did not venture far beyond what the public knew or desired.
Did you know every single state in the United States had forced sterilization programs at one point? Health departments with an explicit goal of reducing the population of blacks, handicapped persons, poor people, and other “undesirable” individuals surreptitiously injected people to prevent them from procreating. The last state to finally end the practice was North Carolina, and it didn’t end until the 1980s.
Citizens are aghast at the atrocities of Stalin, Mao, and Hitler. We would’ve resisted such horrors! Except most of the time we don’t know they’re happening. Because we trust the scientific central planners.
Liberty is Life
We don’t understand reality.
Hayek famously said the “curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design”.
Not just economics. The task of every thinking person is to discover the limits of our knowledge. To replace answers with questions, arrogance with curiosity, intellectual death with life.
One of the greatest casualties in rule by diktat is experimentation and discovery. We don’t know anything about the human body, virology, epidemiology, or any of the other specialized fields of human health. The absurdity of assuming one small body can accurately surmise and prescribe a single path for all people in all places and times is beyond the pale.
Millions of messy experiments. People with dramatically different risk tolerances, trying dramatically different approaches. Sharing their feedback. Profiting from effectiveness, losing from error. This dynamic churn is the source of all progress. To decree a single plan backed by the threat of murder (as every single government law is) is to destroy humanity’s best hope of flourishing.
Julian Simon famously shot down the doomsdayers who fear human life and liberty above all (excepting of course their own) by winning a bet about the availability of resources as population expands. But his bet was a gimmick compared to the profound insight of his masterful book, The Ultimate Resource. Simon points out that individual humans, free to explore and try and fail and succeed and compete, are the source of progress not only for the human race, but the entire natural world.
We are relentless problem solvers. But we do it in messy ways not fun to watch and even harder to catalog in textbooks. We teach and learn through experience and consequences. We progress when we do the most outlandish things all the smart people thought were pointless. Our glories and triumphs are utterly illegible. Historians and bureaucrats have no choice but to guess, fudge, lie, and misinform, because to accurately chart the true path and nature of progress is impossible.
We don’t know what ingredients matter most or what will work best. That is precisely why we need the free and open contest of liberty to discover it.
It is the same with ideas. John Milton said it is best to let truth and falsehood grapple, because truth is the stronger in the long run. The sycophantic obeisance by every major media outlet and online platform to moronic political power-seekers is the opposite of this dynamic discovery process. Labels and warnings about “fake news”, removing ideas that deviate from those spouted by humanity’s lowest lifeforms (politicians and bureaucrats), and propping up “official” ideas are bad for curiosity, bad for liberty, bad for progress, and bad for life.
Historian Thaddeus Russell (driven from academia by the mindless literatti) documents how the least reputable people tend to expand human freedom, and thereby progress, opportunity, happiness, and meaning. I don’t think you have to be a deviant or a scoundrel in order to enhance liberty, but I do think those who resist the drive for a sanitized world will be labelled as such, and those already labelled as such are less likely to cave to prestige and pressure.
The cold dead hand of Communism could no longer control Poland, not because respectable ideologues educated enough people on the virtues of freedom, but because the illegal underground market became bigger than the respectable above ground one.
Humanity needs gray markets, black markets, shady people, fringey people, all kinds of people running all kinds of experiments. Ideas bumping into ideas and exploding into new ideas. Bad ones. Good ones. Easy ones. Hard ones. Dangerous ones. Safe ones.
Unpredictability, unknowability, dynamism, the organic nature of emergent phenomena, entrepreneurship at the edges, opposition to expert consensus – that is human liberty. That is life.
We don’t need more experts. We don’t need more controls. We don’t need to eradicate variability. We need gritty, dirty, messy, imperfect, unpredictable, wild, untamed, dangerous, beautiful human freedom.
Fuck the cold metallic gloved dead hand of human chess playing technocratic ghouls who want to squelch and contain and document and track and sterilize it to death.
The man who knows freedom will find a way to be free.Open This Content
“I urge you to beware the temptation of pride–the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.” – Ronald Reagan’s “Evil Empire” Speech
During the Cold War, folks like Ronald Reagan accused their domestic opponents of believing in the “moral equivalence” of the United States and the Soviet Union. Having lived through the era, I am confident that believers in moral equivalence existed. Knowing the relevant history, I agree that this was an absurd belief. However bad the United States was, the Soviet Union was vastly worse.
If you want to nitpick, admittedly, we never find literal moral equivalents in real world. Why? Because in a continuous world, one side in any conflict is bound to be at least a little worse. Still, careful examination of real-world conflict does occasionally uncover not moral equivalents, but moral approximates. Though the two sides’ moral status is not precisely equal, they are morally more-or-less the same.
It’s easiest to identify examples that are far away in time and place. During the Wars of Religion, who was worse – the Catholics or the Protestants? During World War I, who was worse – the Germans or the Russians? During the War of the Roses, who was worse – the Yorks or the Lancasters? You could plead ignorance. Yet even if you studied the history for a year, you would plausibly conclude that the two sides were moral approximates – both sinned so egregiously that it really is hard to know who was worse.
For recent and ongoing conflicts, assertions of moral approximation naturally inspire far more pushback. If we were rational, however, the opposite would be true. The very fact that people have strong emotions about recent and ongoing conflicts is a strong reason to discount their judgment. Furthermore, when a conflict is recent or ongoing, we usually lack a great deal of not-yet-released relevant information. No one is likely to scare up shocking new revelations about the Lancasters, but in fifty years we’ll have a much better understanding of what the Trump administration actually did.
Those limitations in mind, here are the top three moral approximations I am willing to defend.
1. Communism and Nazism are moral approximates. Why? Both movements were fanatical attempts to build dystopian societies – and both self-righteously murdered tens of millions of innocent people. Contrary to much propaganda, Communists did not have noticeably better motives. Both groups imagined that a totalitarian society would be a big improvement over the status quo – and recklessly embraced the necessity of mass murder to get there.
2. Socialism and fascism are moral approximates. Why? Socialism is a toned-down version of Communism; fascism is a toned-down version of Nazism. As toned-down versions, they aim for much less, and murder far fewer people in the process. Yet the vision of both movements – society as a big family with a common purpose – remains dystopian. And while their methods are far less brutal than Communism or Nazism, socialism and fascism both casually advocate pervasive coercion for flimsy reasons.
(My main doubt here is that while I’ve repeatedly publicly debated socialists, I would not so engage a fascist. Doesn’t that show that I think fascism is markedly worse? Not exactly. The main reason I don’t debate fascists is that avowed fascism is now so low-status that its adherents are low-quality and scary. In a world where fascists were as mainstream as socialists, I would debate them).
3. The Democratic and Republican parties are moral approximates. Why? Both are dogmatic, emotional, and demagogic. Neither party internalizes the maxim that with great power comes great responsibility – or dwells on the possibility that they might be mistreating people who don’t agree with them. Both parties say they want various radical changes, many of which seem very bad. The policies Democrats and Republicans actually impose when they have power are similarly mediocre, though that doesn’t stop them from rhetorically making mountains out of molehills. On immigration, for example, the Democratic-Republican debate basically comes down to whether the border should be 98% closed or 99% closed. Though I prefer 98% to 99%, it’s approximately the same.
I am well-aware that both Democrats and Republicans will protest angrily being lumped together; in their eyes, the differences between their parties are “huge.” My question for them: In 200 years, how big will these “huge differences” look to historians? Yes, during the Wars of Religion, Catholics and Protestants mutually called each other servants of the Antichrist. Today, however, we can plainly see that both sides were unhinged.
Similarly, if you carefully studied the politics of, say, France in 1970, would you really conclude that the arguments that enraged contemporary French partisans were, in fact, a big deal?
Back in 2016, many Democrats told me that Trump’s election exposed the sheer evil of the Republican Party. In a way, this understates. I say that the mere fact that a man like Trump did well in the primaries shows that the Republican Party is rotten. However, I’d say the same about Bernie Sanders’ success in 2016. The mere fact that a man like Sanders did well in the primaries shows that the Democratic Party is rotten, too.
You could respond, “Suppose Democrats and Republicans really are moral approximates. Shouldn’t an economist, of all people, still be eager to discover the slightly lesser evil?” My answer: If I were America’s kingmaker, then yes. But when I’m just one voice among tens of millions, no. While I’m always happy to share my views with curious Democrats or Republicans, I’m too much of a puritan to ever join either party.
P.S. Lest anyone misinterpret me, I think the Democratic and Republican parties are markedly better than socialism and fascism, which are in turn markedly better than Communism and Nazism. Mathematically: D≈R>>S≈F>>C≈N.Open This Content
The word “crypto-communist” has a paranoid, McCarthyite connotation. But during the Cold War, numerous communist intellectuals and politicians deliberately concealed their commitment to Marxism-Leninism. Why? To be more successful intellectuals and politicians. A few crypto-communists even managed to become national leaders. Fidel Castro gained power in 1959, but only announced his communism in 1961. Nelson Mandela presented himself as a reasonable democratic reformer. Yet after his death, the African National Congress openly admittedly that Mandela had been on the politburo of the South African Communist Party for decades. Ho Chi Minh joined the Communist Party in 1920, but in 1945 he loudly posed as a moderate democratic reformer – famously quoting the U.S. Declaration of Independence to charm the West. Juan Negrin, last prime minister of Republican Spain, was also very likely a crypto-communist.
Which brings me to my question: What about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders? Is he a crypto-communist? Sanders has sent decades worth of frightening signals – praising Soviet bloc regimes, honeymooning in the Soviet Union, and such. Indeed, he’s said and done almost exactly what you would expect a sincere Marxist-Leninist who wanted to be a U.S. Senator would say and do. Note, moreover, that Sanders came of political age during the 60s and 70s, when communism made a big comeback in the U.S. radical left.
True, this hardly proves that he’s a closeted communist. Alternately, Sanders could be a communist dupe, or a even a true believer in “finding the good in the bad.” The upshot: We have to settle for a probability that Sanders is a crypto-communist, all things considered.
When constructing such probabilities, Bayes’ Rule is usually helpful. As you may recall, the Rule states that: P(A|B)=P(B|A)*P(A)/[P(B|A)*P(A) + P(B|~A)*P(~A)]. In this case, we want to know the probability that (A) Sanders is a crypto-communist given (B) his track record. Piece-by-piece:
1. What’s the probability of Sanders’ track record if he is a crypto-communist? Here, I’d go high. Most crypto-communists in Sanders’ position would look like him. I give this 75%.
2. What’s the probability of Sanders’ track record if he isn’t a crypto-communist? Sanders view have long been extremely unpopular, but quite a few non-communists on the radical left would have shared them. So I’ll give this 1.2%.
3. What’s the prior probability of being a crypto-communist? Even during the 60s and 70s, this would be low, but not astronomically low. .3% seems plausible.
4. What’s the prior probability of not being a crypto-communist? 100%-.3%=99.7%.
Plugging in to Bayes’ Rule, I get 15.8% – a low but hardly negligible risk that Sanders is a totalitarian hiding in plain sight. Needless to say, you can alter this final estimate by fiddling with the value of the numerical components. But you’d have to change them a lot to get the probability below 5%.
Which brings us to a big related question: When does the risk of crypto-communism become disqualifying for a presidential candidate? I say even a 1% chance should be totally disqualifying, but I fear that most Democrats – and many non-Democrats – will demur. So what risk would they consider acceptable? 5%? 10%? I don’t know, but plausibly revising (1)-(4) to get below a 5% or 10% threshold is no easy feat.Open This Content