In Defense of Clear Thinking

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The ultimate
result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the
world with fools.

~ Herbert Spencer

My academic
life in college was largely spent studying what were then referred
to as the "liberal arts." History, geography, economics,
philosophy, art, literature, music, psychology, and the genuine
sciences, were among the various subject areas we considered essential
to becoming mature, self-directed, learned individuals. We also
studied one or more foreign languages, not simply to help us navigate
our trips to other lands, but to provide us with the perspective
that there are other people on the planet who think, live,
and speak differently from us.

This approach
to learning helped to provide us with the means of thinking clearly,
rationally, and logically; to help us understand causal relationships
in analyzing the interconnected and unpredictable complexities of
our world; to distinguish fact from fantasy, and transcendent truths
from fashionable opinion; all for the purpose of living as responsible
individuals pursuing our respective self-interests with others.

I won't dwell,
here, on how most colleges have long since abandoned such purposes
in favor of curricula that [1] focus on career skills, and/or [2]
serve the ideological policies of groups with social/political agendas,
whose members have largely taken over the so-called "social
sciences." One of the numerous adverse consequences of this
transformation has been to produce many college graduates who are
unable to bring the art of critical thinking to an analysis of events.
An example is found in the incapacity of so many persons to identify
causal connections between actions undertaken by political systems
and the consequences thereof. When government officials intervene
in economic decision-making [e.g., mandating minimum wage laws]
that produces adverse consequences [e.g., increased unemployment],
even seemingly well-educated men and women fail to see the relationship.
Indeed, economic ignorance tends to feed upon itself, a fact addressed
in Murray Rothbard's comment that "[i]t is no crime to be ignorant
of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and
one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is
totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic
subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance."

Another example
of the disordered thinking produced by the failure to develop causal
explanations of events began occurring right after the recent shootings
in Tucson. How easily have people fallen for the statist lines that
these killings were "caused" by private gun ownership,
talk radio, the Internet, hostile rhetoric, or some mushy sense
of a "failure to get along." I am surprised that the statists
have not tried to exploit the shootings as another symptom of global
warming! The comments made by politicians, government officials,
and media flaks, have all acknowledged the presence of an atmosphere
of anger in America, but none have addressed the cause
of such widespread resentment.

Nearly four
decades ago, I wrote an article — titled Violence As a Product
of Imposed Order — that was published, in 1975, in the University
of Miami Law Review. At the core of this article was a discussion
of what is known as the "frustration-aggression" hypothesis.
Briefly stated, the idea is premised on a recognition that each
of us is motivated by the pursuit of what we consider to be our
self-interest. Without any need for forcible direction from
others, we will organize our energies and other resources in an
effort to maximize our well-being.

When our self-directed,
self-serving undertakings are forcibly interfered with by others
[e.g., the state], our purposes become frustrated, a consequence
of which is often a resort to aggression. A number of contributors
to the study of aggression tell us much of the dynamics regarding
aggression. Two such commentators observe, "[a] person feels
frustrated when a violation of his hopes or expectations occurs,
and he may then try to solve the problem by attacking the presumed
source of frustration." In words that seem to have particular
application to our present world, another adds: "I believe
we are witnessing at all levels of our social network a conflict
based on dualistic thinking, the polarities of which are personal
or individual freedom as against social structures maintaining the
functions of regulation and control." Another scholar expresses
the point more succinctly: "[w]hen our drive to master the
environment, or take from it what we need, is obstructed, we become
angry." As two others observe: "the feeling that one has
little control over his own destiny may lead to attempts to restore
oneself as an active agent. This may involve attacking those who
appear to be influencing and controlling the individual."

The voices
of institutionalism — whose function it is to constantly remind
us that "all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds"
— will reject notions that the forces of the status quo have any
causal connection to the violence and other aggression that surrounds
us. When, during the 2008 Republican presidential "debates,"
Ron Paul introduced the idea of "blowback" as an explanation
for the terrorism of 9/11, Rudy Giuliani revealed himself as intellectually
unfit for any government office by expressing shock and resentment
at Paul's analysis. What Paul was explicating, of course, was the
"frustration-aggression" hypothesis: if X attacks Y, Y
may choose to retaliate by attacking X. Children on the playground
understand this basic fact, even if former New York City mayors
do not. Those with even a rudimentary understanding of physics will
recognize the proposition as Newton's "third law of motion."

Those who refuse
to recognize the causal connection between state action and the
epidemic of anger sweeping the world, would do well to ask this
question: why do political systems have to rely on the use of
violence to accomplish their ends? Violence forces life to
abandon its own purposes, and to move in directions it does not
want to go. What could be more frustrating, more conducive to aggression,
than to deny to life its very sense of being? Individuals and firms
operating in the free market don't employ such methods. Indeed,
this is what clearly distinguishes the state from a free
market system. Buyers and sellers in the marketplace prosper
by appealing to — not frustrating — one another's
purposes. Voluntary transactions are not only profitable to each
of the participants, but to society as a whole. Why, then, the attraction
of some, and the sanction of so many others, to violent
methods of dealing with one another? Why do we persist in pretending
that such practices serve any purposes beneficial to life? Why do
we condemn the victims of state-generated conflict, compulsion,
and brute-force for their counterattacks? Why do we not grasp the
obvious fact that we are destroying our lives, as well as the lives
of our children and grandchildren, by refusing to withdraw our energies
from the kind of antiquated, organizational thinking that life,
itself, can no longer tolerate?

The vertically-structured
systems through which the institutional order has long operated
are in a state of collapse. In large part because of technologies
[e.g., the Internet] that are diffusing the control of information
into the hands of the millions rather than just the few, our social
systems — and thinking — are rapidly becoming decentralized. The
political establishment has mobilized its violent powers in a desperate
effort to shore up its weakened foundations and reinvigorate the
status quo. But such efforts will no more halt the ongoing transformations
than did the Luddite machine-breaking riots curb the Industrial
Revolution.

What
the state's increasing resort to coercion will do, however, is to
further expand the sense of frustration people experience in their
efforts to promote their self-interests. As economic dislocations
continue to spread; as wars against the rest of the world widen
the paths of destruction; as individual lives are subjected to more
expansive and sophisticated police-state surveillance and intrusions;
as men and women experience an ever-diminishing sense of the material
and emotional quality of their lives; the resulting frustrations
will produce more aggressive reactions.

As a result
of institutionalized conditioning, we have grown up with certain
expectations of the political system. Among these are lies such
as that government exists to protect our lives and other property
interests; that the state is necessary for the creation and maintenance
of social order; and that we — the ordinary people — control
it. In recent years, men and women have gotten fleeting glimpses
of the man behind the curtain, and are beginning to see through
the fraud and deception that has long been practiced upon them.
There is a growing awareness that the system does not serve its
avowed purposes, thus producing a frustration of expectations which,
in turn, produces more aggression. Even as the statists try to shift
the blame for all of this to the Totos of the world, centrifugal
forces continue their redistribution of social energies, and neither
"all the king's horses nor all the king's men" will be
able to stop the process. As we discovered, along with Dorothy and
her friends from Oz, you cannot lose your innocence more than once.

January
17, 2011

Butler
Shaffer [send
him e-mail
] teaches at the Southwestern University
School of Law. He is the author of the newly-released In
Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition,
1918–1938

and of Calculated
Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival
.
His latest book is Boundaries
of Order
.

Butler
Shaffer Archives

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