I Wonder

I wonder how many aspects of human life are not imaginary abstractions? Birth, death, food, and reproduction are not imaginary, I suppose, although much of what passes for thought in our minds is imaginary. However, it seems to take considerable effort to imagine something that has never existed before, like Leonardo da Vinci imagined his flying machine. I wonder what would have happened if somebody had imagined a useful connection between Archimedes' screw and the toy steam engines that entertained folks centuries before Christ. Maybe Julius would have become the founder of the Caesar Motor Company instead of becoming just another politician stabbed in the back by his buddies. But they had plenty of slaves to do the manual labor in those days and the idea of building a machine to do the work was plainly unimaginable.

I wonder what the odds are that a native male child born today in an Amazon rain forest would grow up to become an astronaut? Considering the short life expectancy, the high mortality rate, the endemic drug addiction, and the narrow focus of social life on internecine rivalries, it would seem that the odds are high against such a child acquiring the necessary imaginary abstraction of himself piloting a rocket to the moon. If he can't think of it, he can't do it.

I wonder why our ancient ancestors accepted the organizing principle of the sword and slavery as the only kind of government they could imagine? I wonder why this principle is still accepted by people living today? I suppose I should forgive the ancients for their lack of foresight, hindsight, or any insight at all into their repeated failures to create a durable society, because the use of physical force to get what we want is buried deep in our animal nature. I cannot forgive the people living today, however, since it is plain for all to see that the sword means extinction and that our enslavement is nearly absolute. I wonder why we can't imagine a better way to do things?

I wonder what would have happened if people living in America and in Europe during the 1800s would have listened to the likes of Frederick Bastiat, Etienne de la Boetie, and Henry David Thoreau and acted on their advice to mankind? What if France had become the first political jurisdiction in the history of mankind to suspend all meddling in the private affairs of individuals and businesses? What? No tariffs? What if France had instituted a cash and carry justice system? What? No taxes? Would America and England have lagged behind when the world's wealth began to pour into and out of France? Would this example have been ignored by Italy? Spain? Russia? Without tariffs in America, whence the Civil War? But of course, they didn't listen. Who could imagine what would happen if people ruled themselves one by one and nobody was put in charge?

I wonder if we human beings have a genetic disposition for doing things that don't make sense? We have tried the sword and slavery model of political government over and over and over and it always fails, so we decide to try it again. We're kind of like the kid hunkered down in his rain forest hut, snorting dope and trying to dream up three ways to get even with his mother's cousin's nephew in the village downstream; we can't imagine anything else. I wonder what he'll wonder when the radioactive rain begins to fall?

Last, but not least, I wonder how many people have read The Art of Community by Spencer H. MacCallum (Institute for Humane Studies, Inc., 1970) I finally stumbled across this book and read it recently. Mr. MacCallum is a good writer and a careful scholar who presents an imaginative alternative to political government without ever exactly saying that's what he's doing. Well, maybe that isn't what he intended to do, but that's what he's done, and it's no more mysterious in operation than your local shopping mall. It makes my wondering whirl.

July 28, 2001