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There’s always something to howl about

Reflecting upon the Obamanation: “Love of our brothers? That’s when we learned to hate our brothers for the first time in our lives.”

I’ve been thinking about the disgusting spectacle of millions of Americans presuming to have an opinion about whether or not some AIG employee deserves to be paid a bonus. This was once a country where the idea of minding one’s own business was virtually a sacrament. And then I can’t turn on the television without seeing some grandmother bragging that Medicare makes it possible for her to dine on her own grandchildren. And to top it all off, tonight I’ve been trading depressing emails with Joe Strummer about our progress down the Road to Serfdom.

I know people think they understand what I’m talking about, when I talk about political philosophy, but I’m pretty sure that’s not true. The simple truth is this: I am sovereign in my person — and so are you. I do not have the right or power or privilege or duty to push you around by force, and you do not have that right or power or privilege or duty with respect to me. That’s easy to understand when we’re only talking about we two: If I overstep the boundaries, you will surely help me find my way back to the righteous path. But there’s no difference whether we’re talking about two people or two billion people. Each one of us is free in our person, free as a necessary consequence of being what we are.

Does that mean that other people cannot try to push us around by force? Obviously not. It simply means that failing to respond to human beings as sovereign entities, each one of us a unique end in himself, is wrong — epistemologically incorrect, morally unrighteous, politically criminal.

All of economics is based in collectivist premises, which leads to statements that are true but fundamentally irrelevant. Smith taught us that leaving men free to produce is better for everyone — which does not matter, because each one of us is free regardless of the benefits freedom yields for other people. Hayek among others points out that enslaving us is bad for everyone, which also does not matter. The impact upon the collective is meaningless. The only political philosophy appropriate to human beings is individualism.

Ayn Rand understood this better than anyone before her. I’ve been thinking about this particular passage from Atlas Shrugged for a while, and, bless the net, I was able to find a transcript. If you read this, strive to focus not on the particulars but on the principles. What we seek from here is a return not to our accustomed prosperity, but, much more fundamentally, to our all-but-forgotten civilization.

From Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

“Well, there was something that happened at that plant where I worked for twenty years. It was when the old man died and his heirs took over. There were three of them, two sons and a daughter, and they brought a new plan to run the factory. They let us vote on it, too, and everybody – almost everybody – voted for it. We didn’t know. We thought it was good. No, that’s not true, either. We thought that we were supposed to think it was good. The plan was that everybody in the factory would work according to his ability, but would be paid according to his need. We – what’s the matter, ma’am? Why do you look like that?”

“What was the name of the factory?” she asked, her voice barely audible.

“The Twentieth Century Motor Company, ma’am, of Starnesville, Wisconsin.”

“Go on.”

“We voted for that plan at a big meeting, with all of us present, six thousand of us, everybody that worked in the factory. The Starnes heirs made long speeches about it, and it wasn’t too clear, but nobody asked any questions. None of us knew just how the plan would work, but every one of us thought that the next fellow knew it. And if anybody had doubts, he felt guilty and kept his mouth shut – because they made it sound like anyone who’d oppose the plan was a child-killer at heart and less than a human being. They told us that this plan would achieve a noble ideal. Well, how were we to know otherwise? Hadn’t we heard it all our lives – from our parents and our schoolteachers and our ministers, and in every newspaper we ever read and every movie and every public speech? Hadn’t we always been told that this was righteous and just? Well, maybe there’s some excuse for what we did at that meeting. Still, we voted for the plan – and what we got, we had it coming to us. You know, ma’am, we are marked men, in a way, those of us who lived through the four years of that plan in the Twentieth Century factory. What is it that hell is supposed to be? Evil – plain, naked, smirking evil, isn’t it? Well, that’s what we saw and helped to make – and I think we’re damned, everyone of us, and maybe we’ll never be forgiven. . . .

“Do you know how it worked, that plan, and what it did to people? Try pouring water into a tank where there’s a pipe at the bottom draining it out faster than you pour it, and each bucket you bring breaks that pipe an inch wider, and the harder you work the more is demanded of you, and you stand slinging buckets forty hours a week, then forty-eight, then fifty six – for your neighbor’s supper – for his wife’s operation – for his child’s measles – for his mother’s wheel chair – for his uncle’s shirt – for his nephew’s schooling – for the baby next door – for the baby to be born – for anyone anywhere around you – it’s theirs to receive, from diapers to dentures – and yours to work, from sunup to sundown, month after month, year after year, with nothing to show for it but your sweat, with nothing in sight for you but their pleasure, for the whole of your life, without rest, without hope, without end. . . . From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. . . .

“We’re all one big family, they told us, we’re all in this together. But you don’t all stand working an acetylene torch ten hours a day – together, and you don’t all get a bellyache – together. What’s whose ability and which of whose needs comes first? When it’s all one pot, you can’t let any man decide what his own needs are, can you? If you did, he might claim that he needs a yacht – and if his feelings is all you have to go by, he might prove it, too. Why not? If it’s not right for me to own a car until I’ ve worked myself into a hospital ward, earning a car for every loafer and every naked savage on earth – why can’t he demand a yacht from me too, if I still have the ability not to have collapsed? No? He can’t? Then why can he demand that I go withoutk cream for my coffee until he’s replastered his living room? . . . Oh well . . . Well, anyway, it was decided that nobody had the right to judge his own need or ability. We voted on it. Yes, ma’am, we voted on it in a public meeting twice a year. How else could it be done? Do you care to think what would happen at such a meeting? It took us just one meeting to discover that we had become beggars – rotten, whining, sniveling beggars, all of us, because no man could claim his pay as his rightful earning, he had no rights and no earnings, his work didn’t belong to him, it belonged to ‘the family,’ and they owed him nothing in return, and the only claim he had on them was his ‘need’ – so he had to beg in public for relief from his needs, like any lousy moocher, listing all his troubles and miseries, down to his patched drawers and his wife’s head colds, hoping that ‘the family’ would throw him the alms. He had to claim miseries, because it’s miseries, not work, that had become the coin of the realm – so it turned into a contest among six thousand panhandlers, each claiming that his need was worse than his brother’s. How else could it be done? Do you care to guess what happened, what sort of men kept quiet, feeling shame, and what sort got away with the jackpot?

“But that wasn’t all. There was something else that we discovered at the same meeting. The factory’s production had fallen by forty per cent, in that first half-year, so it was decided that somebody hadn’t delivered ‘according to his ability.’ Who? How would you tell it? ‘The family’ voted on that that, too. They voted which men were the best, and these men were sentenced to work overtime each night for the net six months. Overtime without pay – because you weren’t paid by time and you weren’t paid by work, only by need.

“Do I have to tell you what happened after that – and into what sort of creatures we all started turning, we who had once been human? We began to hide whatever ability we had, to slow down and watch like hawks that we never worked any faster or better than the next fellow. What else could we do, when we knew that if we did our best for ‘the family,’ it’s not thanks or rewards that we’d get, but punishment? We knew that for every stinker who’d ruin a batch of motors and cost the company money – either through his sloppiness, because he didn’t have to care, or through plain incompetence – it’s we who’d have to pay with our nights and our Sundays. So we did our best to be no good.

“There was one young boy who started out, full of fire for the noble ideal, a bright kid without any schooling, but with a wonderful head on his shoulders. The first year, he figured out a work process that saved us thousands of man-hours. He gave it to ‘the family,’ didn’t ask anything for it, either, couldn’t ask, but that was all right with him. It was for the ideal, he said. But when he found himself voted as one of our ablest and sentenced to night work, because we hadn’t gotten enough from him, he shut his mouth and his brain. You can bet he didn’t come up with any ideas, the second year.

“What was it they’d always told us about the vicious competition of the profit system, where men had to compete for who’d do a better job than his fellows? Vicious, wasn’t it? Well, they should have seen what it was like when we all had to compete with one another for who’d do the worst job possible. There’s no surer way to destroy a man than to force him into a spot where he has to aim at not doing his best, where he has to struggle to do a bad job, day after day. That will finish him quicker than drink or idleness or pulling stick-ups for a living. But there was nothing else for us to do except to fake unfitness. The one accusation we feared was to be suspected of ability. Ability was like a mortgage on you that you could never pay off. And what was there to work for? You knew that your basic pittance would be given to you anyway, whether you worked or not – your ‘housing and feeing allowance,’ it was called – and above that pittance, you had no chance to get anything, no matter how hard you tried. You couldn’t count on buying a new suit of clothes next year – they might give you a ‘clothing allowance’ or they might not, according to whether nobody broke a leg, needed an operation or gave birth to more babies. And if there wasn’t enough money for new suits for everybody, then you couldn’t get yours, either.

“There was one man who’d worked hard all his life, because he’d always wanted to send his son through college. Well, the boy graduated from high school in the second year of the plan – but ‘the family’ wouldn’t give the father any ‘allowance’ for the college. They said his son couldn’t go to college, until we had enough to send everybody’s sons to college – and that we first had to send everybody’s children through high school, and we didn’t even have enough for that. The father died the following year, in a knife fight with somebody in a saloon, a fight over nothing in particular – such fights were beginning to happen among us all the time.

“Then there was an old guy, a widower with no family, who had one hobby: phonograph records. I guess that was all he ever got out of life. In the old days, he used to skip meals just to buy himself some new recording of classical music. Well, they didn’t give him any ‘allowance’ for records – ‘personal luxury,’ they called it. But at the same meeting, Millie Bush, somebody’ s daughter, a mean, ugly little eight-year-old, was voted a pair of gold braces for her buck teeth – this was ‘medical need,’ because the staff psychologist had said that the poor girl would get an inferiority complex if her teeth weren’t straightened out. The old guy who loved music, turned to drink, instead. He got so you never saw him fully conscious any more. But it seems like there was one thing he couldn’t forget. One night, he came staggering down the street, saw Millie Bush, swung his fist and knocked all her teeth out. Every one of them.

“Drink, of course, was what we all turned to, some more, some less. Don’t ask how we got the money for it. When all the decent pleasures are forbidden, there’s always ways to get the rotten ones. You don’t break into grocery stores after dark and you don’t pick your fellow’s pockets to buy classical symphonies or fishing tackle, but if it’s to get stinking drunk and forget – you do. Fishing tackle? Hunting guns? Snapshot cameras? Hobbies? There wasn’t any ‘amusement allowance’ for anybody. ‘Amusement’ was the first thing they dropped. Aren’t you always supposed to be ashamed to object when anybody asks you to give up anything, if it’s something that gave you pleasure? Even our ‘tobacco allowance’ was cut to where we got two packs of cigarettes a month – and this, they told us, was because the money had to go into the babies’ milk fund. Babies was the only item of production that didn’t fall, but rose and kept on rising – because people had nothing else to do, I guess, and because they didn’t have to care, the baby wasn’t their burden, it was the ‘the family’s.’ In fact, the best chance you had of getting a raise and breathing easier for a while was a ‘baby allowance.’ Either that, or a major disease.

“It didn’t take us long to see how it all worked out. Any man who tried to play straight, had to refuse himself everything. He lost his taste for any pleasure, he hated to smoke a nickel’s worth of tobacco or chew a stick of gum, worrying whether somebody had more need for that nickel. He felt ashamed of every mouthful of food he swallowed, wondering whose weary nights of overtime had paid for it, knowing that his food was not his by right, miserably wishing to be cheated rather than to cheat, to be a sucker, but not a blood-sucker. He wouldn’t marry, he wouldn’t help his folks back home, he wouldn’t put an extra burden on the ‘the family.’ Besides, if he still had some sort of sense of responsibility, he couldn’t marry or bring children into the world, when he could plan nothing, promise nothing, count on nothing. But the shiftless and the irresponsible had a field day of it. They bred babies, they got girls into trouble, they dragged in every worthless relative they had from all over the country, every unmarried pregnant sister, for an extra ‘disability allowance,’ they got more sicknesses than any doctor could disprove, they ruined their clothing, their furniture, their homes – what the hell, ‘the family’ was paying for it! They found more ways of getting in ‘need’ than the rest of us could ever imagine – they developed a special skill for it, which was the only ability they showed.

“God help us, ma’am! Do you see what we saw? We saw that we’d been given a law to live by, a moral law, they called it, which punished those who observed it – for observing it. The more you tried to live up to it, the more you suffered; the more you cheated it, the bigger reward you got. Your honesty was like a tool left at the mercy of the next man’s dishonesty. The honest ones paid, the dishonest ones collected. The honest lost, the dishonest won. How long could men stay good under this sort of a law of goodness? We were a pretty decent bunch of fellows when we started. There weren’t many chiselers among us. We knew our jobs and we were proud of it and we worked for the best factory in the country, where old man Starnes hired nothing but the pick of the country’s labor. Within one year under the new plan, there wasn’t an honest man left among us. That was the evil, the sort of hell-horror evil that preachers used to scare you with, but you never thought to see alive. Not that the plan encouraged a few bastards, but that it turned decent people into bastards, and there was nothing else that it could do – and it was called a moral ideal!

“What was it we were supposed to want to work for? For the love of our brothers? What brothers? For the bums, the loafers, the moochers we saw all around us? And whether they were cheating or plain incompetent, whether they were unwilling or unable – what difference did that make to us? If we were tied for life to the level of their unfitness, faked or real, how long could we care to go on? We had no way of knowing their ability, we had no way of controlling their needs – all we knew was that we were beasts of burden struggling blindly in some sort of place that was half-hospital, half-stockyards – a place geared to nothing but disability, disaster, disease – beasts put there for the relief of whatever whoever chose to say was whichever’s need.

“Love of our brothers? That’s when we learned to hate our brothers for the first time in our lives. We began to hate them for every meal they swallowed, for every small pleasure they enjoyed, for one man’s new shirt, for another’s wife’s hat, for an outing with their family, for a paint job on their house – it was taken from us, it was paid for by our privation, our denials, our hunger. We began to spy on one another, each hoping to catch the others lying about their needs, so as to cut their’ allowance’ at the next meeting. We began to have stool pigeons who informed on people, who reported that somebody had bootlegged a turkey to his family on some Sunday – which he’d paid for by gambling, most likely. We began to meddle into one another’s lives. We provoked family quarrels, to get somebody’s relatives thrown out. Any time we saw a man starting to go steady with a girl, we made life miserable for him. We broke up many engagements. We didn’t want anyone to marry, we didn’t want any more dependents to feed.

“In the old days, we used to celebrate if somebody had a baby, we used to chip in and help him out with the hospital bills, if he happened to be hard-pressed for the moment. Now, if a baby was born, we didn’t speak to the parents for weeks. Babies, to us, had become what locusts were to farmers. In the old days, we used to help a man if he had a bad illness in the family. Now – well, I’ll tell you about jut one case. It was the mother of a man who had been with us for fifteen years. She was a kindly old lady, cheerful and wise, she knew us all by our first names and we all liked her – we used to like her. One day, she slipped on the cellar stairs and fell and broke her hip. We knew what that meant at her age. The staff doctor said that she’d have to be sent to a hospital in town, for expensive treatments that would take a long time. The old lady died the night before she was to leave for town. They never established the cause of death. No, I don’t know whether she was murdered. Nobody said that. Nobody would talk about it all. All I know is that I – and that’s what I can’t forget! – I, too, had caught myself wishing that she would die. This – may God forgive us! – was the brotherhood, the security, the abundance that the plan was supposed to achieve for us.

“Was there any reason why this sort of horror would ever be preached by anybody? Was there anybody who got any profit from it? There was. The Starnes heirs. I hope you’re not going to remind me that they’d sacrificed a fortune and turned the factory over to us as a gift. We were fooled by that one, too. Yes, they gave up the factory. But profit, ma’am, depends on what it is you’re after. And what the Starnes heirs were after, no money on earth could buy. Money is too clean and innocent for that.

“Eric Starnes, the youngest – he was a jellyfish that didn’t have the guts to be after anything in particular. He got himself voted as Director of our Public Relations Department, which didn’t do anything, except that he had a staff for the not doing of anything, so he didn’t have to bother sticking around the office. The pay he got – well, I shouldn’t call it ‘pay,’ none of us was ‘paid’ – the alms voted to him was fairly modest, about ten times what I got, but that wasn’t riches. Eric didn’t care for money – he wouldn’t have known what to do with it. He spent his time hanging around among us, showing how chummy he was a democratic. He wanted to be loved, it seems. The way he went about it was to keep reminding us that he had given us the factory. We couldn’t stand him.

“Gerald Starnes was our Director of Production. We never learned just what the size of his rake-off – his alms – had been. It would have taken a staff of accountants to figure that out, and a staff of engineers to trace the way it was piped, directly or indirectly, into his office. None of it was supposed to be for him — it was all for company expenses. Gerald had three cars, four secretaries, five telephones, and he used to throw champagne and caviar parties that no tax-paying tycoon in the country could have afforded. He spent more money in one year than his father had earned in profits in the last two years of his life. We saw a hundred-pound stack – a hundred pounds, we weighted them – of magazines in Gerald’s office, full of stories about our factory and our noble plan, with big pictures of Gerald Starnes, calling him a great social crusader. Gerald liked to come into the shops at night, dressed in his formal clothes, flashing diamond cuff links, the size of a nickel and shaking cigar ashes all over. Any cheap show-off who’s got nothing to parade but his cash, is bad enough – except that he makes no bones about the cash being his, and you’re free to gape at him or not, as you wish, and mostly you don’t. But when a bastard like Gerald Starnes puts on an act and keeps spouting that he doesn’t care for material wealth, that he’s only serving ‘the family.’ that all the lushness is not for himself, but for our sake and for the common good, because it’s necessary to keep up the prestige of the company and of the noble plan in the eyes of the public – then that’s when you learn to hate the creature as you’ve never hated anything human.

“But his sister Ivy was worse. She really did not care for material wealth. The alms she got was no bigger than ours, and she went about in scuffed, flat-heeled shoes and shirtwaists – just to show how selfless she was. She was our Director of Distribution. She was the lady in charge of our needs. She was the one who held us by the throat. Of course, distribution was supposed to be decided by voting – by the voice of the peope. But when the people are six thousand howling voices, trying to decide without yardstick, rhyme or reason, when there are no rules to the game and each can demand anything, but has a right to nothing, when everybody holds power over everybody’s life except his own – then it turns out, as it did, that the voice of the people is Ivy Starnes. By the end of the second year, we dropped the pretense of the ‘family meeting’ – in the name of ‘production efficiency and time economy,’ one meeting used to take ten days – and all the petitions of need were simply sent to Miss Starnes’ office. No, not sent. They had to be recited to her in person by every petitioner. Then she made up a distribution list, which she read to us for our vote of approval at a meeting that lasted three-quarters of an hour. We voted approval. There was a ten-minute period on the agenda for discussion and objections. We made no objections. We knew better by that time. Nobody can divide a factory’s income among thousands of people, without some sort of a gauge to measure people’s value. Her gauge was bootlicking. Selfless? In her father’s time, all of his money wouldn’t have given him a chance to speak to his lousiest wiper and get away with it, as she spoke to our best skilled workers and their wives. She had pale eyes that looked fishy, cold and dead. And if you ever want to see pure evil, you should have seen the way her eyes glinted when she watched some man who’d talked back to her once and who’d just heard his name on the list of those getting nothing above basic pittance. And when you saw it, you saw the real motive of any person who’s ever preached the slogan: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.’

“This was the whole secret of it. At first, I kept wondering how it could be possible that the educated, the cultured, the famous men of the world could make a mistake of this size and preach, as righteousness, this sort of abomination – when five minutes of thought should have told them what would happen if somebody tried to practice what they preached. Now I know that they didn’t do it by any kind of mistake. Mistakes of this size are never made innocently. If men fall for some vicious piece of insanity, when they have no way to make it work and no possible reason to explain their choice – it’s because they have a reason that they do not wish to tell. And we weren’t so innocent either, when we voted for that plan at the first meeting. We didn’t do it just because we believed that the drippy old guff they spewed was good. We had another reason, but the guff helped us to hide it from our neighbors and from ourselves. The guff gave us a chance to pass off as virtue some thing that we’d be ashamed to admit otherwise. There wasn’t a man voting for it who didn’t think that under a setup of this kind he’d muscle in on the profits of the men abler than himself. There wasn’t a man rich and smart enough but that he didn’t think that somebody was richer and smarter, and this plan would give him a share of his better’s wealth and brain. But while he was thinking that he’d get unearned benefitsfrom the men above, he forgot about the men below who’d get unearned benefits, too. He forgot about all his inferiors who’d rush to drain him just as he hoped to drain his superiors. The worker who liked the idea that his need entitled him to a limousine like his boss’s, forgot that every bum and beggar on earth would come howling that their need entitled them to an icebox like his own. That was our real motive when we voted – that was the truth of it – but we didn’t like to think it, so the less we liked it, the louder we yelled about our love for the common good.

“Well, we got what we asked for. By the time we saw what it was that we’d asked for, it was too late. We were trapped, with no place to go. The best men among us left the factory in the first week of the plan. We lost our best engineers, superintendents, foremen and highest-skilled workers. A man of self-respect doesn’t turn into a milch cow for anybody. Some able fellows tried to stick I t out, but they couldn’t take it for long. We kept losing our men, they kept escaping from the factory like from a pest hole – till we had nothing left except the men of need, but none of the men of ability.

“And the few of us who were still any good, but stayed on, were only those who had been there too long. In the old days, nobody every quit the Twentieth Century – and somehow, we couldn’t make ourselves believe that it was gone. After a while, we couldn’t quit, because no other employer would have us – for which I can’t blame him. Nobody would deal with us in any way, no respectable person or firm. Al the small shops, where we traded, started moving out of Starnesville fast – till we had nothing left but saloons, gambling joints and crooks who sold us trash at gouging prices. The alms we got kept falling, but the cost of our living went up. The list of the factory’s needy kept stretching, but the list of its customers shrank. There was less and less income to divide among more and more people. In the old days, it used to be said that the Twentieth Century Motor trademark was as good as the karat mark on gold. I don’t know what it was that the Starnes heirs thought, if they thought at all, but I suppose that like all social planners and tike savages, they thought that this trademark was a magic stamp which did the trick by some sort of voodoo power and that it would keep them rich, as it had kept their father. Well, when our customers began to see that we never delivered an order on time and never put out a motor that didn’t have something wrong with it – the magic stamp began to work the other way around: people wouldn’t take a motor as a gift, if it was marked Twentieth Century. And it came to where our only customers were men who never paid and never meant to pay their bills. But Gerald Starnes, doped by his own publicity, got huffy and went around, with an air of moral superiority, demanding that businessmen place orders with us, not because our motors were good, but because we needed the orders so badly.

“By that time, a village half-wit could see what generations of professors had pretended not to notice. What good would our need do to a power plant when its generators stopped because of our defective engines? What good would it do to a man caught on an operating table when the electric light went out? What good would it do to the passengers of a plane when its motor failed in mid-air? And if they bought our product, not because of its merit, but because of our need, would that be the good, the right, the moral thing to do for the owner of that power plant, the surgeon in that hospital, the maker of that plane?

“Yet this was the moral law that the professors and leaders and thinkers had wanted to establish all over the earth. If this is what it did in a single small town where we all knew one another, do you care to think what it would on a world scale? Do you care to imagine what it would be like, if you had to live and to work, when you’re tied to all the disasters and all the malingering of the globe? To work – and whenever any men failed anywhere, it’s you who would have to make up for it. To work – with no chance to rise, with your meals and your clothes and your home and your pleasure depending on any swindle, any famine, any pestilence anywhere on earth. To work – with no chance for an extra ration, till the Cambodians have been fed and the Patagonians have been sent through college. To work – on a blank check held by every creature born, by men who you’ll never see, whose needs you’ll never know, whose ability or laziness or sloppiness or fraud you have no way to learn and no right to question – just to work and work and work – and leave it up to the Ivys and the Geralds of the world to decide whose stomach will consume the effort, the dreams and the days of your life. And this is the moral law to accep? This – a moral ideal?

“Well, we tried it – and we learned. Our agony took four years, from our first meeting to our last, and it ended the only way it could end: in bankruptcy. At our last meeting, Ivy Starnes was the one who tried to brazen it out. She made a short, nasty, snippy little speech in which she said that the plan had failed because the rest of the country had not accepted it, that a single community could not succeed in the midst of a selfish, greedy world – and that the plan was a noble ideal, but human nature was not good enough for it. A young boy – the one who had been punished for giving us a useful idea in our first year – got up, as we all sat silent, and walked straight to Ivy Starnes on the platform. He said nothing. He spat in her face. That was the end of the noble plan and of the Twentieth Century.”

The man had spoken as if the burden of his years of silence had slipped suddenly out of his grasp. She knew that this was his tribute to her: he had shown no reaction to her kindness, he had seemed numb to human value or human hope, but something within him had been reached and his response was this confession, this long, desperate cry of rebellion against injustice, held back for years, but breaking out in recognition of the first person he had met in whose hearing an appeal for justice would not be hopeless. It was as if the life he had been about to renounce were given back to him by the two essentials he needed: by his food and by the presence of a rational being.

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  • 29 comments

    29 Comments so far

    1. Don Reedy March 27th, 2009 7:20 am

      I wanted to stop reading once I started, but just couldn’t put it away. And so, so paragraph after paragraph, reading faster, then re-reading, I let myself invest in learning and experiencing once again, as I had during the years of my own “civilization.”

      “But Gerald Starnes, doped by his own publicity, got huffy and went around, with an air of moral superiority, demanding that businessmen place orders with us, not because our motors were good, but because we needed the orders so badly.”

      General Motors? Banks (pick one)? Real Estate salespeople? NAR?

      Greg, as you know, there are multitudes of groups out there supporting various causes. “Friends of the Earth”, “Friends of Animals”, “Friends of The World Food Program”, etc. This post, these thoughts, your passion, will perhaps encourage you to start yet one more blog, one more site for reference…..”Friends of Civilization.”

    2. Doug Quance March 27th, 2009 8:47 am

      Atlas Shrugged should be required reading in every high school.

      A revolution, however, would have to take place before that would ever happen.

    3. Greg Swann March 27th, 2009 8:57 am

      > revolution

      Philosophical revolution, anyway.

      But then:

      > required

      Thankfully, no.

      And:

      > high school

      Thankfully, a private enterprise.

      In a civilization where there is zero systemic coercion, a lot of things we take for granted would have to change. The American patriots didn’t get this, nor did Rand herself. If human liberty is not absolute, then tyranny is merely badly and temporarily restrained.

    4. Doug Quance March 27th, 2009 10:10 am

      Philosophical revolution? Of course. I would hope we never are forced to use our arms to defend our liberties within our borders.

      I wish high school was a private enterprise… but for most – it is a government run enterprise that attempts to indoctrinate students into the belief that the government is the ANSWER to all their problems – when we know perfectly well that, more often than not, it is the PROBLEM.

    5. Richard March 27th, 2009 11:09 am

      “In a civilization where there is zero systemic coercion, a lot of things we take for granted would have to change. The American patriots didn’t get this, nor did Rand herself. If human liberty is not absolute, then tyranny is merely badly and temporarily restrained.”

      Why do you say Rand did not understand that? Her opposition to anarchy, to the *initiation* of force, and demonstration that gov’ts should have a monopoly on *retaliatory force (courts, police, military) sure suggests otherwise!

    6. Al Lorenz March 27th, 2009 11:22 am

      Greg,

      I had to look up epistemology.

      I hadn’t read that passage in 15 years.

      It gives an additional perspective to your “Unchained” event! With all that real estate expertise in one place, maybe a secret land can be identified. Who is John Galt?

    7. Greg Swann March 27th, 2009 3:52 pm

      > gov’ts should have a monopoly on *retaliatory force (courts, police, military)

      That cannot happen without systemic coercion. A government is a mafia of superior firepower within a particular region, the criminal gang so powerful that none dare call what it does crime. The argument in “The Nature of Government” is a reiteration of the arguments leading to the 1789 coup d’etat, which simply puts us right back here. Again: If human liberty is not absolute, then tyranny is merely badly and temporarily restrained. Civilization will emerge on this planet from the widespread adoption of non-coercive dispute resolution systems. Everything else is based in the idea that other people are my property to use, abuse, punish or exterminate if I happen to be aggrieved enough, angry enough or completely out of my mind. If you live in a community where someone can claim as a matter of right the power to intrude upon or expropriate your property and coerce, inflict pain upon, imprison or kill your person, you are not sovereign. It would have been easy enough for Ayn Rand to have worked this out — or Murray Rothbard or David Friedman — but they did not.

      This is me from a long time ago. I don’t know that you’ll be back here, but Teri might get a kick out of this:

       
      You will not rid the world of cannibals by eating them…

      This is me from Usenet on May 7 2001:

      As we are seeing, discussions of non-coercive dispute-resolution tend to be polluted by what I identify as persistent thoughtlessness and ugly bravado, but it remains that the argument for coercive “justice” is undefended and indefensible. Even stripping away the centuries of ignorance and manly posturing, while advocates of coercive “justice” may be seeking good as their end, in the end good cannot be achieved by evil means.

      That’s the first point: Coercive “justice” is necessarily destructive of the egos of the people who attempt to effect it, and it is therefore evil in se. There is a distinction that must be made between response to violence as it is happening and retaliation after the fact. This is a distinction advocates of coercive “justice” consistently occlude. Nevertheless, I disagree with Jim Klein somewhat; I don’t think a violent reaction to violence is amoral. It is an ego-destructive and therefore immoral action. It can be less immoral than failing to act, but the choice between less ego-destruction and more ego-destruction is a calculus of loss. That the one loss is preferred does not make it something other than a loss.

      For a second thing, no human being can ever have the capacity to control the purposive behavior of another, and so the objectives sought by coercive “justice”, as with all objectives sought by coercion, cannot be attained. This is an aspect of the identity of volitional beings as things, an inviolable law of nature.

      Third, and more easily grasped, you simply cannot argue that you have the righteous political authority to do the things you wish to do.

      You do not have the right to hurt people.

      You do not have the right to effect retribution.

      You do not have the right to exact revenge.

      You do not have the right to demand recompense for injuries that might have occurred but didn’t.

      You do not have the right to make an example of Joe so that Jerry will be deterred.

      You do not have the right to teach anyone a lesson.

      Other people’s lives are not yours to dispose of. Not ever.

      Two wrongs do not make a right. Not ever.

      The political philosophy undergirding coercive “justice” is undefended. There is simply no rational basis for saying that Jill is free in her person except when my ox is gored, but I am free in my person even when Jill’s ox is gored. This is simply Rotarian Socialism, and there is nothing new or “radical” about it. See me at Meet the Third Thing.

      Fourth, and obviously–and I weep for my fellowmen that this is so obvious and so little understood: You will not rid the world of cannibals by eating them. Your political philosophy is not only inane and undefended, is is hideously impractical for achieving the objectives you (claim to) seek. You will not rid the world of violence violently.

      I advocate a particular model of non-coercive justice because it appeals to me, but it is not the only possible model. I’ve presented a number of others here, and one that makes a particular kind of sense is to react after the fact solely by correcting the newly-identified defects in your passive defenses; iteratively, you will achieve a safety far safer than anything ever known in human history. (Incidentally, this is exactly what you would do about an “evil” such as lightning or an insect infestation; it is worth your while to consider how much your love of retribution is rooted in religious ideas of vengeance.)

      Janioism is more active than this, using the credit-reporting mechanism to post and collect judgments of restitution for injuries. The surmise is that people in groups will want that kind of lubrication when there are conflicts, but the modus vivendi is that we will never act upon another human being coercively after the fact. If someone defaults on a judgment, he will lack all access to the marketplace, to the trading medium, to all rights of way, to all commerce. His options then will be to make good on the judgment, run away, or starve. But there will be no involuntary social contact, no coercion, no institutionalized or ritualized crime.

      You have the right and the power–the capacity–to do everything you have the right and power and capacity to do. Your rights and powers are not changed by other people’s behavior–nor are theirs.

    8. jay seville March 27th, 2009 7:07 pm

      Greg, when I sent you my spontaneous commentary on Atlas Shrugged and the Obama Administration I did not know you had written this the day before.

      I guess great minds think alike–haha.

      For those of you interested you can see it on facebook as it’s open to everybody. Here’s a line from it:
      “President Obama is today’s FDR administration wanting to usurp the economic liberty of the producing class to the bemusement of the ignorant who blindly take comfort in having Big Brother on their side even while they get stuck in their socio-economic class versus the fluid position of upward mobility that reigns during periods of economic liberty.”

      http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=59874704141

      And for you facebookers out there do not try to friend me–I don’t really get into the friending strangers thing….

    9. Teri Lussier March 27th, 2009 8:57 pm

      I admit I’m still not a Rand fan, but this:

      >A government is a mafia of superior firepower within a particular region, the criminal gang so powerful that none dare call what it does crime. The argument in “The Nature of Government” is a reiteration of the arguments leading to the 1789 coup d’etat, which simply puts us right back here. Again: If human liberty is not absolute, then tyranny is merely badly and temporarily restrained. Civilization will emerge on this planet from the widespread adoption of non-coercive dispute resolution systems. Everything else is based in the idea that other people are my property to use, abuse, punish or exterminate if I happen to be aggrieved enough, angry enough or completely out of my mind. If you live in a community where someone can claim as a matter of right the power to intrude upon or expropriate your property and coerce, inflict pain upon, imprison or kill your person, you are not sovereign.

      This is an amazing statement, Greg. All those things I think, but can’t express. Incredible.

    10. Greg Swann March 27th, 2009 10:19 pm

      > This is an amazing statement, Greg. All those things I think, but can’t express. Incredible.

      And this is all the stuff that got me thrown out of school. ;)

      I love it that you get this. Thanks to the internet, I know everyone in my little corner of the agora, and nobody gets these ideas

    11. Thomas Johnson March 27th, 2009 11:11 pm

      And this is all the stuff that got me thrown out of school.

      Greg: I am amazed they didn’t create Guantanamo just for you.

    12. Teri Lussier March 28th, 2009 5:05 am

      >I love it that you get this. … and nobody gets these ideas

      When I tell people that I write here because it’s my home, and there isn’t another place where I have freedom, I know they don’t understand the full extent of what that means, and they certainly don’t understand what it means to me. I also know that you do understand all that.

      And that’s why I tell you that you are stuck with me. ;-)

      >And this is all the stuff that got me thrown out of school.

      Seriously? I don’t know that story. Coercive justice in action.

    13. Greg Swann March 28th, 2009 7:09 am

      >> And this is all the stuff that got me thrown out of school.

      > Seriously? I don’t know that story. Coercive justice in action.

      No. Usenet. I was being arch. I just pissed ‘em off all the time.

      Libertarian is a nebulous term because a lot of Republicans erroneously apply it to themselves. Serious libertarians can be distinguished by their stance on dispute resolution.

      1. There are minarchists, which is what Mr. Bramlett, who commented yesterday, seems to be. Minarchism entails a minimum state possessing the police powers, usually composed of the police, the criminal courts and the military.

      2. There are advocates of privatized forceful dispute resolution, most notably Murray Rothbard (now deceased) and David Friedman, son of Milton Friedman. In this scenario, you would still be subject to forceful trespass and arrest, etc., but it would be effected by competing free-market entities.

      3. And there is me. My argument is that you never have rightful dominion over other people no matter what they might have done. In the immediate moment, when a violent act is actually occurring in real time, you may have to act forcefully to prevent a worse injury. But, even in that very limited circumstance, you are not the other person’s master, and he is not your slave, no matter how badly he might be behaving. And away from that immediate emergency circumstance, all of your dealings with other people should be non-coercive, even when you are aggrieved.

      There’s a lot more, and I have a lot of different ways of sneaking up on the issue, but everything about this drives libertarian ideologues nuts. Almost everyone assumes without a moment’s thought that, if I suspect you stole my pig, of course I have the right to storm onto your property, guns ablazin’, and take it back. And if I don’t have that right, then surely the Sheriff — public or privatized — does. Meanwhile, neither you nor the Sheriff have those same rights with respect to me. How could you? Ain’t I a free man?

      There’s much more, but it doesn’t matter. I think both of those arguments result from the failure to think through the ontological and psychological precursors to a free civilization. I certainly would not agree to live voluntarily where my person or property could be coerced. Would you? If we wouldn’t, we can never arrive at a consensus-based polity that depends upon forceful dispute resolution. You could argue that we never will, that there will always be a mafia of superior firepower. But it is implausible to insist that putatively free people will suffer the abuses associated with even the most minimal of governments by choice. You might want it for your neighbors, but you wouldn’t want it for yourself. (Which, of course, makes you the wannabe mafia of superior firepower.)

      There are lots of other arguments I can make, but the bottom line is, if you really, really like the idea of frog marching bad guys and teaching them lessons, you really, really don’t like the idea of non-coercive dispute resolution. I drove those poor folks nuts for ten years and more, but then they were rescued by the weblogging revolution.

    14. Teri Lussier March 28th, 2009 8:41 am

      >Ain’t I a free man?

      Oh! Now you are singin’ my song! I read “Ain’t I a Woman?” a few times a year. It’s glorious.

      We don’t get to pick and choose who is free. To do so means we hold dominion over another. We do not hold dominion over each other, to do so means that we are not free.

      Having power, of any sort, over another person enslaves the person holding power as much as the person who is enslaved. We are now enslaved to each other. Masters cannot exist without slaves, we are therefore all enslaved…

      This is where there’s always a “Yeah, but…” And there are no buts. We are all free, or we are none free.

      People don’t see it.

      >No. Usenet.

      That’s rich. On a place where ideas are free… Except. Not *that* idea. Nice.

    15. Richard March 30th, 2009 8:16 am

      I find it rather clear that your argument fails to consider at least two inescapable facts of reality.

      First, those who coercively abrogate the Rights of others are rejecting the very principles upon which Individual Rights stand. In so doing, they exempt themselves from the essential foundations of civilized society. By initiating coercion as their means of conducting human interaction, they invite the use of retaliatory force. Rand understood that such retaliation must not be willy nilly (vigilante justice), and justice must come from a separate, uninvolved arbiter. That arbiter must be the courts, with the police force as the court’s extension into the society.

      Second, in any society of more than one person there is always a certain probability of members who are willing to violate someone’s Rights (thru some psychology &/or vicious design for the unearned). This fact of reality just cannot be escaped. Without a means to rein in such people, they are free to become the thugs, the Mafia and finally, the dictator that recognizes no one’s Rights. This is the essential problem with all forms of Anarchism.

      The idea of everyone operating according to your list of rights is the same impossible, pie-in-the-sky Idealism of the anarchists. It is an absolute recipe for the success of the aforementioned dictator.

      Rand’s philosophy is called Objectivism for a reason… it is founded in the facts of Reality, such as I named above, including an objective epistemology. It ‘sees’ through and rejects all forms subjective Idealism.

    16. Greg Swann March 30th, 2009 9:36 am

      > I find it rather clear that your argument fails to consider at least two inescapable facts of reality.

      Oh, good grief. Are you just here to waste your time?

      If you want to know about political philosophy, I pointed you to two places to begin studying. If you want to affect to worship a very bad 3,500 word article on statism, go do it someplace else.

      Teri, if you want to know what’s wrong with this argument — and with Rand’s politics — ask me and I’ll go through it. It’s okay to pass. The Cliff’s Notes: “Hand-waving.”

    17. Richard March 30th, 2009 1:46 pm

      Greg, for all your romantic idealism, you have not addressed either of the two points I presented.

      To do you justice, I looked at the “two places to begin studying” you suggested. I was grossly disappointed to find that they ramble as an Amazonian distributary. There is no way a focused mind will read them. Worse, the distributaries dump into an ocean of vagueness.

      Tighten the articles up —remove 75%— and perhaps there is a point somewhere. State it, if only in these comments. Otherwise your view floats, as all feelings and no reason. That is, it is Subjectivism, just as I suggested. And, to repeat, your view remains a license for any dictator to step in.

      It never ceases to amaze me, how many bloggers just disregard arguments and smear questioners. Greg, why not answer my two points, head on? Your regulars would, I am sure, be interested.

    18. Richard March 30th, 2009 1:56 pm

      For example, you wrote, “What I want to convey now is this: the Sleepwalkers do not just believe that the premises they try to negate are in fact true, they know it. Each of them proved to himself the truth of reality before he learned how to lie to himself about it… ”

      That is pretty profound, but why? Rand not only saw the same point 50 yrs ago, she explained why. Did you know that?

      In common interest, not in conflict, I suggest you read a LOT more of Rand. After you have read ALL of her periodicals, please read and study “Objectivism:The Philosophy of Ayn Rand” by Leonard Peikoff whilst answering the questions asked in Gary Hull’s “Study Guide [to OPAR]“. Thoughtfully read, repeatedly, her “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” and reread it, several times! You have the intelligence to completely grasp that you and she are not opposites, but she IS so great a genius there has never been a match since Aristotle.

    19. Greg Swann March 30th, 2009 2:06 pm

      If you insist on wasting your own time, let’s not waste mine.

      Answer this question, and this question only:

      Do you believe that you, as a solitary specimen of humanity, have the righteous political authority to trespass on Teri Lussier’s land, to break into her home, to search her premises, to confiscate her property, and to arrest, detain and imprison her person?

      It’s a yes or no question. No tap-dancing, no hand-waving, no extended quotations from the holy writ.

    20. Richard March 30th, 2009 5:55 pm

      Greg,

      The answer was already there, as a resounding “NO”!

      What I have already written in the above comments presumes knowledge of the Individuals Right to Life, Liberty, Property and the Pursuit of Happiness.

      That means No One has any a prioriauthority to trespass on Teri Lussier’s land, to break into her home, to search her premises, to confiscate her property, and to arrest, detain and imprison her person.”

      That is, absolutely, the Objectivist position on Individual Rights.

    21. Richard March 30th, 2009 6:32 pm

      That said, Greg, the issue is not as blindly simple as you wish it were.

      Just as I may not invade Teri Lussier’s home, she has no right to trespass on my land nor to invade my home etc. You know that, Greg, and should therefore have absolutely no reason to ask me if either she or me might have such a right!

      It would be interesting to parse your psycho-epistemology to elucidate why you stooped to asking so manipulative a question, however, such is not the concern of this post and thread.

      Greg, what if Teri decides she can, and does, invade my property and steal jewelry or some such thing? Surely I have a Right to expel her from my property because it is my jewelry and my property. Anything else would surely be an injustice to me. It may even require my resorting to force, in self-defense; or in asking the police to do it for me (time permitting).

      It may even require that I appeal to the courts, such that the police HAVE the right to invade her home to retrieve my jewelry. After all, it IS MY jewelry (and its worth six figures!)

      As I said above, in the act of violating my rights, she has reneged on the entire Principle of Individual Rights, and ipso facto, has forfeited her own Rights! Therefore, as I have explained, the police have every right to invade her home, to remove my jewelry, and even to remove HER!

      She has done harm to me, in terms of my material efforts. She should either compensate me or, in the interest of society’s requirement that such persons NOT be free to behave so adly, should be removed (forcibly) from society. Society DOES have that right, because she has no respect for Individual Rights. As such, her crime is not only against me the victim, but also a crime against all of society.

      The shallow cliche, that “You will not rid the world of cannibals by eating them” is as profound as the ridiculous cliche the ubiquitous Hippie slogan, “Fighting for Peace is like Fucking for Virginity”. Such lines have nothing to do with Reality.

      Surely you, Greg, of all people here, can grasp that little bit.

      Greg, you claim to know something about Rand’s ideas. You must therefore know that Rand is a greater advocate of Individual Rights than was Jefferson. If you do not fully know that, then you have no business mentioning her name in any discussion of Rights. Furthermore, you have a lot of reading to do, before you have any intellectual justification to comment on her ideas.

      Finally, and disgustingly, why do “you people” (whomever that refers to) always stoop to asserting such stupidities as “insist on wasting your own time, let’s not waste mine.” and “No tap-dancing, no hand-waving, no extended quotations from the holy writ.”, rather than actually addressing the argument at hand? Yes, Greg, you are guilty of that shallowness.

      Now, Greg, address the points I made in my comments rather than evading them with such egregious nonsense.

      Or are you unable?

    22. Greg Swann March 30th, 2009 7:27 pm

      >> Do you believe that you, as a solitary specimen of humanity, have the righteous political authority to trespass on Teri Lussier’s land, to break into her home, to search her premises, to confiscate her property, and to arrest, detain and imprison her person?

      > The answer was already there, as a resounding “NO”!

      Good on ya. I’m going to ignore everything else you’ve said, first because it’s inessential and second because it is composed almost entirely of the fallacy of proof by bad behavior.

      Since you concede that you yourself as a solitary specimen of humanity do not have the righteous political authority to engage in the essential police powers, and since you are an advocate of the Objectivist theory of concepts, it follows that no other specimen of humanity can have the righteous political authority to engage in the essential police powers. The Objectivist politics is absurd. There is no one specimen of humanity who can claim the righteous political authority to dominate another human being — which would be the necessary precursor to forcibly forbidding alternatives to a coercive-monopoly dispute-resolution system of any nature. In practice, an Objectivist government would be just as criminal as every other government.

      When you discover that you are wrong, what you should do is check your underlying premises to discover which of them — in this case many of them — are wrong. In any case, if you work very hard, there will come a day when you understand that I know all about political philosophy and you are the victim of one very bad 3,500 word article.

      You have no philosophical basis for upholding the idea of a monopoly state — nor any state for that matter. I can take you apart dozens of other ways, but it’s not worth my time. This is my purpose in writing books and essays — to save time. If you want to learn what I know, go learn it. If you don’t, that’s fine with me. Either way, you have nothing to do with my objectives here, so I am done with you.

    23. Michael Cook March 31st, 2009 9:06 am

      Ironically Greg, while this arguement seems interesting, it goes no where. Many political philosphies have been tried and most have failed. I find it interesting that closest system to what you speak about is in the US (feel free to point me to a better place) and that is probably still night and day from your dream.

      As to why we have never seen it, your philosophy goes against human nature. Look at our predecessors in the wild, they simply take what they want and the strongest survives. I personally think your philosphy would be rather crippling to progress. Even animals practice some form of collectivism and dominance to survive and thrive. 7 billion people doing as they please, even as long as they dont iminge on another’s freedom (which would be impossible, I might add), seems like a recipe for disaster in my personal opinion.

      Finally, it should be pointed out that the Rand passage works in two directions. Certainly an ultra socialist society results in economic hazards, but so too does an ultra individualist society. I dont have the energy or the interest to do more research and have an intellectual discussion about it, but like this article, I think your view is very one sided.

    24. Greg Swann March 31st, 2009 10:09 am

      > 7 billion people doing as they please, even as long as they dont iminge on another’s freedom [...], seems like a recipe for disaster in my personal opinion.

      And, in consequence, you never step onto an elevator without a cop in tow?

      You live in peace, settling your disputes non-coercively virtually all of the time. You have been convinced by con-men that you cannot manage to live without them. You are a stately Mastiff being ordered around by your fleas.

      > I dont have the energy or the interest to do more research and have an intellectual discussion about it

      And this is how that absurd condition came about.

    25. Michael Cook March 31st, 2009 2:46 pm

      “And this is how that absurd condition came about.”

      Touche and LOL.

    26. Michael Cook March 31st, 2009 2:57 pm

      “You have been convinced by con-men that you cannot manage to live without them. You are a stately Mastiff being ordered around by your fleas.”

      I disagree with this statement. Much like in Rand’s fictionary example a few people exploit the system, leading to a few more and a few more, until everyone is either corrupt or leaves.

      This works the other way as well. Most people would be reasonable and respect one another, but as was mentioned above a few people would steal or kill or somehow exploit and that would spread the same way laziness and corruption spread in the “Rand” version. I dont see any difference between the two. There are always outliers in the population and without a means or method to disincentivize bad behavior, it simply spreads. If people were reasonable the collective system would work as well as the individualistic system.

    27. Greg Swann March 31st, 2009 7:20 pm

      > a few people would steal or kill or somehow exploit

      Yes. And others would behave thoughtlessly, with no overt intent to injure. Human beings would not volunteer to live in proximity to one another without some means of resolving disputes. That much is not at issue.

      > and that would spread

      Only if bad behavior were seen by some members of the polity as being economically or socially desirable. The word “seen” implies that the calculation need not be mathematically accurate. The “street guy” phenomenon in New York is arguably a very poor solution to the problem of survival, but the street guys themselves obviously do not reckon by the same calculus I might use.

      > There are always outliers in the population and without a means or method to disincentivize bad behavior, it simply spreads.

      Agreed, and so the task for a dispute-resolution system that is itself at least nominally value-seeking is to “disincentivize bad behavior,” as you say. I would add that, in doing this, the putative cure should not be worse than the attested disease. In our current circumstance, the price of allegedly being safe from crime is the theft of 40% or more of our earning-power. It’s hard to imagine ordinary freelance criminals being quite that efficient at theft.

      Considered purely as a problem of political philosophy, what we want is a polity in which virtually everyone is delighted to be a voluntary member.

      Practically speaking, as seen through the collective lens, this is better in general for everyone, since the freest societies are the richest societies, this being the uncontested conclusion of economics from before Smith to after Hayek.

      But this issue is not one of collectivism, nor even strictly of individualism, but of ethics and ontology: It is simply unjust — criminal — for one person to attempt to dominate another. We are each of us free — as things, in nature — from all the others. It is not impossible to behave differently, but it is wrong in every branch of knowledge we can name: Epistemology, ethics, politics, economics, etc.

      From my point of view, the most significant damage one does by behaving criminally toward other people is upon one’s own ego. Those street guys laugh all the time because their lives are a repetitive, vacuous hell — until they land on the slab in their early twenties.

      In any case, if we start with the presumption that most people want to live in peace, achieving the most and the best they can with the wondrous gift that is the human mind, the political philosopher’s job is to arrive at the best solution attainable for achieving those objectives in a social context.

      We have foresworn systemic dominance. We did it three paragraphs back for epistemological and ethical reasons. And we’re going to do it again right now, this time for political reasons. Why? Because no fully-informed free individual would volunteer to submit to the kinds of dominance we find in even the mildest sort of “might-makes-right” polity.

      You might want for your neighbor to be arrested and cavity-searched, but you would never volunteer to be so abused yourself. And neither would your neighbor, nor would anyone. And so it follows not just in reason but as a matter of practical necessity that a consent-based polity would refrain from every sort of systemic coercive dominance of one person by another. We are concerned with non-coercive dispute resolution systems because, in a society composed entirely of free volunteers, we cannot concern ourselves with anything else.

      At this point, people freak out with their “but what about!” scenarios. But what about a mugging!?! But what about rape?!! Thoughtful people must distinguish events as they are happening in real time from events that happened in the past. Obviously it can be necessary to respond forcefully to force as it is happening in real time, thus to avoid an even greater injury. The cloak that has been used by megalomaniacs for thousands of years, to lend the mantle of justice to sadism and criminality, is to obscure the difference between injury that is happening now from injuries that happened in the past.

      There’s a lot more here. For example, it is absurd to argue that the target of your attestedly justified retaliation has, even in that circumstance, volunteered to be injured by you. Moreover, no matter what worse injury you might be avoiding by your actions, your forceful response will result in permanent damage to your own ego. Batman is insane. Finally, “but what about!” scenarios are interesting to people precisely because that are so rare in real life. You are much more likely to injured by your neighbor’s carelessness than by some cartoonish malevolent bad guy. From the time we scratched our way out of the caves, governments have prospered by scaring people with outsized but all-but-imaginary threats.

      So: Taking account of every caveat I’ve raised so far, how can we create a polity that is mutually and essentially-universally satisfactory to every potential volunteer to that civilization and that, simultaneously, provides a means for resolving disputes among the members to that society that does not result in one or more people attempting to dominate the others, does not result in one or more people being dominated by the others, and yet successfully resolves their disputes in such a way that each one of them would much rather cooperate with the dispute-resolution system than defy it?

      I’ve done a lot of interesting things in my life, but this is the one that I think is the most interesting. This is Utopian in the sense that it is “nowhere” for now. When I first started thinking about these ideas, I thought in terms of a 500-year timeline. Now, with the advent of technological innovations like Ebay and social-relationships-at-a-distance, I think we might see something workable much sooner. If the Singularity leaves us with minds but not bodies, it becomes that much simpler, since only bodies can be coerced.

      But let’s do this:

      Here’s a simple one: A homeowner’s association is a crude kind of mutually-voluntary polity. Abuses are possible, but these will result in the exodus of some volunteers, which in turn negatively affects the property values of those who remain. That price mechanism should result in the self-correction of the abusive behavior in the long run.

      One could argue that nations work this way, also, where escape is possible, but the effects are slower and much less-easily detected. (Where escape is impossible, they create new mountain ranges with the corpses of those who defy the state.)

      But it would be possible to build a free Agora through mutually-voluntary deed covenants, essentially a more-robust kind of HOA. In a situation where a lot of different ideas are being experimented with, it might make sense, since different people might want to agree to different kinds of social organization.

      I can come up with other examples, but the one that appeals most to me is to use the credit-reporting system as the backstop to free-market civil courts. (I assume that it is obvious that there would be no criminal courts, nor any offenses deemed malum prohibitum — “wrong” solely because forbidden by legislative fiat.) But if you feel that I have actually injured you materially, either inadvertently or with the worst of intentions, you would bring a tort case. If the judge finds against me, I would be assessed a judgement (just as things are now, minus the government courts).

      If I make good on the judgement within a reasonable span of time, the wound is healed. If not, people who care about peace and prosperity would boycott me. There is no government-supplied trading medium, so I lack all access to commerce. There are no government-owned rights of way, so I have no easy path of escape. My choices are to make good on the judgement, to run away however I can or to starve at home — but the choice is entirely mine, with no one forcing me to do anything.

      But that would be the rarest of circumstances, essentially a crazy person. Because there are no taxes nor any other impediments to trade, every sane person in a polity like this would be so busy getting rich that none of them would do anything to risk being shunned by the others. As Rand pointed out in the extracted text, Socialism rewards bad behavior and penalizes good behavior. Actual Capitalism — not the Rotarian Socialism practiced now in the United States — rewards good behavior and penalizes bad behavior.

      And that brings us back to your concerns. I thought this

      > I personally think your philosophy would be rather crippling to progress.

      was very funny. Last summer I spent about an hour on the phone with Brian Brady going through all of the opportunity costs occasioned by the practice of Rotarian Socialism in the United States — and the compound-interest value of those opportunity costs. My take is that force is a drag on the economy, and the more force there is, the greater that drag. That again is a collectivist argument, so it doesn’t matter here. Each one of us is free of all the others regardless of the economic consequences of that freedom. But it remains that the freer human beings are, the richer their civilizations.

      What we want, to the extent that we can design a polity, is one in which each of is as free from the constraints of the others as we can be in a social context, all the while aligning incentives with good behavior and disincentives with bad behavior. A very few of us will have to be physically restrained or even killed as a real-time response to acts of violence. And a very few of us will choose to run away or to starve, rather than cooperate with the others. But the overwhelming majority of us will achieve a peace and plenty never before known on earth.

    28. Brian Brady March 31st, 2009 11:08 pm

      “Last summer I spent about an hour on the phone with Brian Brady going through all of the opportunity costs occasioned by the practice of Rotarian Socialism in the United States — and the compound-interest value of those opportunity costs.”

      Moreover it’s a progressive tax, excluding the bright but economically disadvantaged from prosperity.

    29. Michael Cook April 1st, 2009 5:35 am

      “If I make good on the judgement within a reasonable span of time, the wound is healed. If not, people who care about peace and prosperity would boycott me. There is no government-supplied trading medium, so I lack all access to commerce. There are no government-owned rights of way, so I have no easy path of escape. My choices are to make good on the judgement, to run away however I can or to starve at home — but the choice is entirely mine, with no one forcing me to do anything.”

      This paragraph is where I see the major issue. It would seem to me that the rich would own the justice system and moreover be able to do whatever they like and the poor would have to suck it up or suffer unjustly at the hands of the rich. If I was able to gain a monopoly on the water supply system for example or some other natural monopoly, it would be impossible to oppose me. I mention these one off events because they really could lead to a breakdown in the whole system.

      Again we disagree and I have gone farther then I would like with this. Perhaps if that Singularity event does happen, we will be on the same page.