Is the glass half full or half empty? If the glass contains liberty and justice for all, that’s a good question to answer. How are we to judge?
Whenever my mind drifts over such questions, I find myself considering two preliminaries. Is it important? Does it matter? For example, if the time of day is the question, it’s not important to me and it no longer matters; ten years ago it was the opposite. If the spot price of gold is the question, it is important to me, but it doesn’t matter because I’m not in any hurry to buy or sell. The fullness of that glass is important to me as a measure of human progress, and it matters because my future actions depend on my answer. As Spencer MacCallum recently wrote, "[I]t is productive to assume that human society … is a work in progress and that we will outgrow/are outgrowing the conflicted behavior of politics." I agree, and I want to know where we stand.
In order to judge, I have two empirical resources available, past and present events, and a hypothetical extrapolation that awaits testing. I am unable to view present events without trying to correlate them with past events. I’ll try to review a few. We have a political executive who promotes lying, cheating, stealing, torture, and murder. I fail to see any substantial difference between this one and all of those who preceded him, although this one is more obvious. We have a secretive elite that manipulates the political process for its own purposes, which as always means trying to enslave the masses to enrich the elite. The state is bankrupt, as usual. So far we could still be living in 1790; today’s political system differs only in size, not in substance.
Our political founders did not see the Industrial Revolution coming, but the political faith absorbed it with aplomb: We don’t know what it is, but we can rule it. And so they did and do, but before they got a vice grip on discovery and innovation, the eruption of innovation between the era of Lincoln and Wilson changed the everyday life and expectations of mankind to this day.
Just as the private and independent achievement of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk in 1903 eluded the genius assembled in DC, so did the achievements of a few unknowns decades later (Jobs, Wozniak, Wayne, Gates, Allen, Ballmer, Berners-Lee). Suddenly the personal computer appeared, but what good was it? It’s nothing, said the elite, said congress, said bureaucrats, it’s nothing, and the state ignored it. (Thank goodness.)
Monolithic assumptions have been fractured by the personal computer connected to the Internet, so today we have multiple remnants competing for attention. There is the political remnant, roughly 20% to 30% of the population who still care to engage in voting, a percentage remarkably similar to the number of public employees. There is a military remnant who still cares to engage in military coercion. There is a remnant who still wants to punish or reform human nature. And who could leave out the elite? Here is a tiny remnant who would like to rule the whole of mankind.
To be generous, let’s say that half of the population has an ax to grind in one leftover niche or another. But what are the other half thinking? Now that people can be arrested, prosecuted, and convicted of thinking something, not doing anything, at least half of our population is at some risk for saying what they think, but will they shut up? No.
Mankind has barely come to terms with the unexpected Industrial Revolution, and now it has a formerly unthinkable reality to cope with: every person’s opinion and judgment plastered all over our planet. This never happened or could have happened before.
The state and the elite would very much like to stop this infernal proliferation of information, and they are buying every means they can to do it, yet I seem to hear laughter echoing from somewhere and I suspect this is one cat they can’t put back in the bag. A few high-tech traitors to mankind can be bought, no question, but can they be paid enough to betray their own interests?
So where do we stand? What about the glass? I think our glass is half full, and I think that by drips and drops it’s getting fuller. Given the chance, people cooperate spontaneously to get what they want, as commerce has demonstrated forever; today people discuss ideas and issues across political boundaries without intermediaries or censors as never before. Predation by the state is obvious, and belittles it. Stealing "elections" is also plain, and discredits the process. DC’s old imperial intentions are laid bare. Who believes a word these crooks say? Their glass is empty.
I have but one hypothetical issue: Who will sell me coercion insurance? When I have a positive answer to that, my glass will be full.
Robert Klassen [send him mail] retired from a forty-year career in critical-care respiratory therapy. He is the author of five books, including Atlantis: A Novel about Economic Government, and Economic Government, which describe a solution to the problem of political government. Here’s his web site.