Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Libertarianism

I feel myself being dragged back into politics. Lately I have been trying to avoid the explicitly political and focus, instead, on scholarly work. While it is true that that scholarly work could have political consequences if read, developed, used, etc., but it's not explicitly political. There are political consequences to what one believes about economics, and of course a strong indication of what one's politics are can be traced to one's beliefs about economics, but there is a difference between making the explicit connection and writing about, say how cities create far-from-equilibrium states and thus are more creative and create more wealth.

I would prefer to also write my poems and plays and perhaps even get back to a novel manuscript that's been sitting around, unfinished, for far too long. Now, there are political consequences to art as well, even when it is not explicitly political (and all the great works of art were never explicitly political -- a few satires being the exceptions). This doesn't prevent art from having that effect, though. Why else would tyrannical governments constantly and consistently engage in censorship. The excuse is always the same, that the work is inciting the people and distrupting society, but the fact is that, well, they are right. Great art does that by providing what-if scenarios that challenge the current cultural/social/political situation. That's why it's dangerous to tyrannies. If you want to know if you are living in a tyranny, look at the list of banned books. The longer it is . . .

But neither of these activities are explicitly political. I have also been writing pieces for the Pope Center on education, but those are about transforming education, which again is not explicitly political, even if it will have political consequences.

Somehow my pointing out the absurdity of connecting conservative political rhetoric to the left-leaning, conspiratorial likely-schizophrenic Jared Loughner has resulted in my engaging in more explicit political arguments. Fine. Let me lay it out, then.

I am essentially a classical liberal and, politically, a libertarian. I became a libertarian as I learned economics. The more I learned about economics, the more libertarian I became. But my goal for myself has been to develop a cohesive, coherent world view, no matter where it led me. So here is my basic world view, in a nutshell.

Everything is information. That is the fundamental "element" of the universe. Thus, I have an informational ontology. For something to be information, it has to be both orderly and disorderly, have elements of order and randomness. It must also have redundancy to be able to communicate well. As information becomes more dense and complex, it leads to the emergence of ever-greater complexity of form. (To inform is to give form to, thus information creates form.) This information is neither purely digital nor purely analog, but a combination of both simultaneously. Quantum elements are both particles and waves. Their particleness allows for physical autonomy; their waveness allows them to interact. They are thus interacting individual elements.

We see this at each level of complexity, from the quantum physical to the atomic/chemical to the biological to the mental to the social. At each level we have interacting individual elements. The complexity of those elements allows for greater complexity of interactions, of course, but this is what it all basically boils down to. You cannot eliminate the individual elements and deal only with collectives or aggregates. No, each element interacts in its own way, as we see in spin glasses (at the atomic-interaction level), neurons in the brain, or humans in an economy. We see this kind of social individualism all the way from the quantum physical level to the human level. When social individuals interact on large scales, we get spontaneous orders. When there are only a few elements, one can have any number of simple, hierarchical interactions; but when there are a large number of elements, one has spontaneous orders of various kinds (also known as self-organizing systems or processes). This organization is of necessity bottom-up. The order does not have to be imposed from the outside. On the contrary, attempts to "help things along" only disrupt the process and keep the system simple.

Epistemology and Values.
It is impossible to have perfect knowledge. It is impossible to have good knowledge, especially of things far away. All knowledge is by necessity local. We do not understand things "as they are," because our brains necessarily abstract things and categorize them. Thus, all thinking is abstract. More, our brains create working theories of the world, which adapt to the world as information changes. A pile of data is exactly that unless there is a theory with which to make sense of it. We are thus natural theorizers. We are constantly testing.

Knowledge/information is transmitted most efficiently and quickly in scale-free networks. Spontaneous orders are scale-free networks. The further away one gets from a spontaneous order, the more rigidly hierarchical the system becomes, collapsing the network, necessarily simplifying it, as information/knowledge faces bottlenecks and information is lost as it goes up the hierarchy.

No one can know what is best for you better than you can know it. Each person has their own rankings of values. All anyone can do is impose their own values on others, or allow people to pursue their values as they see fit. You can judge what someone's values are by seeing what they do, but you cannot know what the person's value rankings, which may change from moment to moment, truly are. Knowledge is local and values are subjective. Thus economic/social planning is impossible and interventions will have unintended and very often unimaginable negative consequences.

Ethics allows us to interact with others peaceably. If one's ethics disrupt social order, then one's ethics are in fact unethical. We have become more ethical as a society the more we have extended our ethical behavior -- from family to tribe to city-state to region/fellow religious believers to anonymous others in the spontaneous order society and catallaxy. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not covet (which is wanting the very things others have; to be contrasted with greed, which is wanting the kinds of things others have). Do not rape. Do not bear false witness (which is different from lying -- as there are lies which maintain social bonds). Each of these things strain or break social bonds. Thus, they are unethical. One cannot have an ethics which includes covetousness. Yet, those who advocate redistrubitionism in fact are using covetousness as the driving force behind their ethics. If covetousness is ethical, then stealing is ethical, as that is the only way to get the exact things others have. And if someone doesn't want their things stolen from them? Threaten them with murder. And be sure to murder a few people just to let everyone else know you're serious about it. The connection between ethics and politics should thus be obvious.

We can also thus see that the socialists are ironically named. Their policies are in fact anti-social. They break social bonds. The result is that people are increasingly atomized and desocialized. Welfare statists are less extreme versions, but the motives are the same. In what should be a complexly interacting spontaneous order, we get warring groups in the welfare state. There are those who find that one can gain political power from keeping various groups at war, and they then actively encourage such divisions. One with a collectivist world view sees not individuals, but groups. That group may be a small group, such as a race, a binary division, such as men and women, or "society", but the commonality is that the individual is dissolved, is not taken into consideration. Thus racism, fascism, socialism, and communism are all fundamentally the same in being collectivist. It is a very primitive world view, brought up to date.

The word "politics" comes from the Greek word "polis" meaning "city." Politics is thus the art of living together in a city. We have of course expanded it to mean the art of living together in a nation-state, but the essential principles are the same. We are forced to live in a society of unknown strangers. And we have to get along with them. And we do. Especially when we are left alone to get along.

There are two basic interactions among strangers: 1) if you do something good for me, I'll do something good for you, and 2) unless you do something good for me, I'll do something bad to you. The first is the principle of trade, where both people gain from the interaction. This is known as a positive sum game, and it is the very nature of all economic interactions. The second is the principle of theft, where one gains at the cost of another. This is known as a zero-sum game (it is in fact a negative sum game, as it breaks social bonds), and is the very nature of all criminal transactions. We see the first in the economy; we see the second in government when it oversteps its proper bounds.

And what are those proper bounds? To ensure that only interaction #1 takes place among its citizens and that interaction #2 does not take place. And that would include itself. The proper interaction of government with the citizen should be, 3) so long as you do nothing bad to others, we'll do nothing bad to you. Its role, then, is protection -- to protect us from individuals or groups, including other governments, who wish to murder, rob, rape, or cheat us. Thus its proper role is to maintain the conditions for society to emerge as a spontaneous order. Anything beyond that, and the government is acting as a criminal, no matter what the "intentions."

No government should be allowed to do anything the citizens of the country are not allowed to do. This is the essence of equality under the law -- the law must apply to all equally, whether they are in the government or not. No welfare state or socialist government can abide by this rule. They must of necessity treat people unequally. More, the government must be allowed to engage in what would be criminal activity if it were done by a private citizen in order to achieve the goals of those in government -- who are, after all, trying to impose their values on others. They thus oppose pluralism, because that means others are allowed to pursue their values in nonviolent, noncoercive ways. The welfare statist who wants to gain politically is bound to preach pluralism, but use it to divide people politically where, in the catallaxy, each would be able to achieve their goals. In government, there are winners and losers -- it is a zero sum game. In the catallaxy, there are winners and winners -- it is a positive sum game. But there are only winners if you are willing to provide another with what they want to achieve their goals. There are those who do not want to do that, but rather want to make people accept their values and help them realize their goals. These people are the ones who turn to government for subsidies, bailouts, or to achieve some personal vision.

So this is, more or less, why I'm a libertarian. I am sure that there is much more that can be said, but this is but a blog post. Anyone who wants clarification or to argue any of these points, feel free to leave a comment.

One best discovers truth through dialogue.
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