It is impossible for any single man – or group of men – to ever design or predict all the details of any society. In order for you to get the most out of this book, I will make a few suggestions which may be helpful.
First of all, if you approach this book with the idea that you’re going to find every possible gap in an argument, or nook and cranny where uncertainty may reside, then this book will be a complete waste of time, and will raise your blood pressure for absolutely no purpose whatsoever.
When Adam Smith formulated the arguments for the free market in the late 18th century, it was not considered a requirement that he predict the stock price of IBM in 1961. He began working with a number of observable and empirical principles, and proved them with rational arguments and well-known examples.
The validity of the “invisible hand” was not dependent upon Adam Smith predicting and describing in detail the invention of, say, the Internet. The methods that free men and women invent and use to solve social problems cannot reasonably be predicted in advance, and finding every conceivable fault with any and all such possible predictions is arguing against a mere theoretical possibility, which is both futile and ridiculous.
That having been said, it is still worth reviewing some possible solutions to social organization that do not involve the monopolistic violence of the State. When Enlightenment thinkers attacked and undermined the exploitive illusions of religion, they were not able to provide a valid and scientific system of ethics to replace the mad moral commandments of historical superstition. It certainly is valuable to disprove existing “truths”, but if we do not come up with at least plausible alternatives, these falsehoods inevitably tend to morph and reemerge in a different form. Thus did the death of religion give rise to totalitarianism – just another worship of an abstract and irrational moral absolute; the “State” rather than a “god.” The unjust aristocratic privileges of the minority that the Founding Fathers so railed against simply morphed into the unjust privileges of the majority in the form of “mob rule” democracy – which then morphed back into the unjust aristocratic privileges of the minority in the form of a political ruling class.
Men and societies all need rules to live by, and if existing rules get knocked down, they simply rise again in another form if rational replacements are not provided. Exposing a lie simply breeds different lies, unless the truth is also advanced.
I have set myself a number of goals in the writing of this book that I wanted to mention up front, so you could understand the approach that I am taking – the strengths and weaknesses of what I am up to, as it were.
First, I promise to refrain from exhausting your patience by trying to come up with every conceivable solution to every conceivable problem. Not only would this end up being grindingly boring, but it would also indicate a strange kind of intellectual insecurity, and an unwillingness to give you the respect of accepting that you can very easily think for yourself about the solutions to the problems discussed in this book. My aim is to give you a framework for thinking about these issues, rather than have you sit passively as I explicate the widest variety of solutions to all conceivable problems.
In other words, my purpose in this book is to teach you to be a mathematician, not show you how good a mathematician I am.
Teaching you how to solve problems is far more respectful than giving you solutions. I have always said that everyone is a genius, and everyone is a philosopher. You do not need me to spell out how a stateless society can work in every detail, but rather to give you a framework which you can use to work out your own answers, and satisfy yourself how well a truly free society will work.
When Francis Bacon was putting forward the scientific method in the 16th century, it was not necessary for him to solve every conceivable scientific problem in order to prove the value of his methodology. It certainly was useful for him to show how his methodology had solved a number of vexing problems, and that it pointed the way to answers in a number of other areas, but of course if Bacon had been able to solve every conceivable scientific problem that could ever possibly arise, there would be precious little need for his scientific method at all, since we would just consult his writings whenever we had a scientific problem that we could not solve.
In the same way, as a philosopher I am interested in teaching people how to think in a new way, rather than giving them explicit answers to every conceivable problem. My approach to rational and scientific ethics – Universally Preferable Behavior (UPB) – is to provide people a framework for evaluating moral propositions, rather than to give them an utterly finalized system of ethics. If such a system of ethics ever could be developed – which seems highly unlikely, given the inevitably-changing conditions of life, society and technology – then no one would ever have to think about ethics ever again, and philosophy would fall into the abyss reserved for dead religions and defunct ideologies, interesting only as yet another example of a temporary historical illusion, like the worship of Zeus or Mussolini or Paris Hilton.
The scientific method certainly did – and does – provide an objective methodology for gaining valid knowledge and understanding of the physical world, just as UPB provides an objective methodology for separating truth from falsehood when it comes to evaluating moral propositions, and the free market provides an objective methodology for determining value in the provision of goods and services, through the mechanism of price.
The value of the scientific method only truly becomes apparent when we abandon religious or superstitious revelation as a valid source of “truth.” We only refer to a compass when we become uncertain of our direction. We only begin to develop science when we start to doubt religion. We only begin to accept the validity of the free market when we doubt the ethics and practicality of coercive central planning. On a more personal level, we only begin to change our approach to relationships when we at last begin to suspect that we ourselves may be the source of our problems.
Much like a river, alternative tributaries only arise when the original flow is blocked. The development of new paradigms in thought is in general more provoked than plotted, and erupts from a rising exasperation with the falsehoods of existing “solutions.” This spike in emotion can sometimes arise with extraordinary rapidity, from a slow build to a sudden explosion – and it is my belief that this is where we are poised in the present when it comes to an examination of the use of violence in solving social problems.
As a vivid, living value, the nation-state as an object of worship and a source of practical and moral solutions is as dead as King Tutankhamun. No one truly believes anymore that the State can solve the problems of poverty, of mis-education, of war, of ill health, of security for the aged and so on.
Governments are now viewed with extraordinary suspicion and cynicism. It is true that many people still believe that the idea of government can somehow be rescued, but there is an extraordinary level of exasperation, frustration and anxiety with our existing methods of solving social problems. When someone says that we need yet another government program to “solve” all the problems created or exacerbated by previous government programs, most people now view this approach as an eye-rolling non-answer.
Of course, we still hear a lot about government “solutions” in the media, academia, and the arts, but most people now understand – at least emotionally – that this bleating arises from special interest groups that are either threatened or protected by the State – the automatic reaction of “increase regulation!” When a problem arises, this demand no longer comes from the people, but rather from those parties that will benefit from increased regulation.
The rise of the Internet has also rocked the mainstream paradigm of “government as virtue.” In particular, the US-led invasion of Iraq has contributed to a final collapse in belief about the virtue of statist solutions to complex problems. It is easier to believe the lies of the past, since we were not there when they were told – it is harder to believe in the lies of the present, since we can see them unraveling before our very eyes.
Thus, our belief that the government can solve problems is collapsing on two fronts – first, we now understand that the government cannot solve problems – and second, and more importantly, we can see that the government is not giving up any of its control over the problems it so obviously cannot solve.
This last point is worth expanding upon, since it is so important, and so often overlooked.
If the government claims to take our money in order to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, but the government clearly does not solve the problem of poverty, but rather in fact tends to make it worse, what then do we begin to understand when the government continues to take our money?
If I take your money telling you that I will ship you an iPod, what realization do you come to when I neither ship you the iPod nor return your money?
Surely you understand that I only promised you the iPod in order to steal your money.
In the same way, the government did not increase our taxes in order to solve the problem of poverty, but rather claimed that it wanted to solve the problem of poverty in order to increase our taxes. This is the only way to explain the basic fact that the problem of poverty has not been solved – and in fact is worse now – but the government continues to increase our taxes.
We are all beginning to understand – at least at an unconscious level – that the government lies to us about helping others in order to take our money.