Order Begins At the Margin

No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.

– Voltaire

No sentence better summarizes the social plight we humans face than that penned by Gregory Bateson: “the major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.”  As our centrally-directed, vertically-structured systems of institutionally-imposed order continue to reveal their destructive character, thoughtful minds are becoming increasingly aware that the rest of the universe functions in a quite orderly fashion, without the conscious design of political agencies, academicians, special interest-directed “experts,” and other self-appointed “authorities” over their fellow humans.

To the extent we identify ourselves (i.e., derive our sense of being, our sense of “who” we are) with external forces ((e.g., a tribe, nation, political system, religion, ideology, or other collective entity) our lives quite literally become an abstraction, an idea. The man who, at a business conference, introduced himself as “I am Xerox,” is an example of this syndrome. So, too, are the millions of men, women, and children, who have been carefully conditioned to think of themselves as indistinguishable from the political systems of whose purposes they are willing to kill or die. The person whose car is emblazoned with a bumper sticker that reads “proud parent of a Marine,” is advertising to the world that he or she has fulfilled their duty of helping to train their child to become a fungible resource for the owners of the state to dispose of as suits its interests. When Louis XIV reportedly declared “I am the state,” his words were, for him, a cost-free declaration with which he stood to profit from the millions of subservient French people for whom such an idea, internalized for themselves, was wholly destructive to their personal being. Boundaries of Order (L... Shaffer, Butler Buy New $2.99 (as of 01:55 UTC - Details)

We are social beings who could not survive without some form of cooperative organization with others. This basic fact is confirmed in the birth of a child, in which the mother’s body releases the hormone oxytocin – popularly called the “hug” hormone – that induces the mother to love and care for the child. Were it otherwise, and were the mother able to expel the baby with no more regard for its well-being than might otherwise attach to vacating bodily waste, the human species would have expired tens of thousands of years ago.

The practices in which we engage – along with the ideas that rationalize such behavior – confirm Bateson’s insight. So, too, do the words of the late Richard Weaver who observed that “ideas have consequences.” Our minds may be capable of concocting an endless supply of self-deceptions to which the forces of nature will not oblige themselves to conform. Intelligence – the factor that we humans like to imagine separates us from other life-forms – often leads thoughtful persons to identify the source and character of such forces. When our ancestors abandoned the idea of a geocentric universe – grounded in the daily experiences of the sun appearing to orbit the earth – in favor of a heliocentric model, humans were confronted with that ceaseless conflict between the dynamics of nature and our thoughts about how the world works.

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The admirable efforts to harmonize such differences were demonstrated in earlier common law cases in which judges sought to discover the regularities that underlay peaceful, productive, life-sustaining practices. As the judicial system increasingly became the coercive arm of the state – defined as an entity enjoying a legal monopoly on the use of violence within a given territory – men and women with ego-driven ambitions for power over others helped to transform the judiciary’s role in creating the rules by which society was to be governed. Little, if any, attention was to be accorded such concerns as the “customs, usages, and practices” that integrated commonly-held expectations as to how societies should function. Under the new, self-styled “progressive” banner, such customs – which found so much of their substance in a respect for the inviolability of property and undertakings grounded in contracts – become the targets to be destroyed in favor of divisive ideologies hatched in the minds of the power-hungry. “Justice” becomes the redistribution of violence. “Rights” no longer apply to the liberty of free individuals, but are assigned to collectives that enjoy the support of those who control that state’s dispensary of “rights” (e.g., to argue that “black lives matter” is the essence of the “progressive agenda, but to suggest that “all lives matter” is “racist” to those challenged by the specter of clear thinking). Nor do moral or other transcendent principles have any bearing upon the thinking of those who have no capacities for such inquiries – having long ago substituted public-opinion polls for direction – and for whom deeper, the philosophic questioning would be a hindrance to their ambitions.

This brings us to 2016. Political elections, by their nature, can never be the means for significant social change. In the words of Emma Goldman: “if voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” But political efforts often reflect underlying pressures and stresses that establishment owners want to keep submerged. In the make-believe confrontation between Trump and Hillary, there is no outcome for which liberty-minded individuals can cheer. While I admit to enjoying Trump’s twisting of the diapers of the establishment owners, whether Trump or Hillary prevail will keep the state in the healthful condition of which Randolph Bourne warned. Hillary seems the most dangerous of the two. Nor does the presence of the Libertarian Party candidates offer hope for greater liberty. Gary Johnson is such a hodge-podge of contradictions to even the most meager of libertarian principles (e.g., he supports state issuance of driver’s licenses, the banning of cigarettes, prohibiting business owners from discriminating against gays) as to be no more a champion of liberty than was Ronald Reagan who described himself as “libertarian.”

The real contest for “change” comes from two men who are not even on the ballots: Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders. 2008, 2012 campaigns of Ron Paul were so focused on deeper philosophic responses to modern government practices as to elicit resounding “boos” from an auditorium packed with conservative Republicans, for daring to suggest the “Golden Rule” as a basis for a foreign policy. No “libertarian-lite” candidate he, in his insistence upon free-market, private property systems.

In Bernie Sanders, one sees the mirror-opposite of Ron. As a self-described “socialist” who recognized – like the late Socialist Party candidate, Norman Thomas – that socialism had already been adopted by the so-called major two parties, Sanders proposed going all the way with his ideology for losers: “free” everything! “Free” college tuitions; “free” health-care; wages to be determined by governmental fiat, etc. Sanders represents the essence of political collectivism, taken to whatever ends will get him elected to power. His vision of becoming a “lawgiver” has its roots in such politically-driven mandates as found in the 1754 B.C. Code of Hammurabi!

While the processes of change will never be fostered by the systems whose very existence depends on the maintenance of the status quo, they remain very much alive in a world in which the political ordering of society no longer satisfies the expectations of those who support it. Drawing upon Thomas Kuhn’s history of scientific revolutions, a “failure of existing rules” to account for differences in observed behavior can provide the impetus for a major paradigm shift in scientific understanding, provided, however, that a relatively better theory is available to produce the shift. A Libertarian Critique... Butler Shaffer Buy New $5.50 (as of 03:05 UTC - Details)

You may have noticed that the social world in which you live has become more and more decentralized: secession movements abound throughout the world; religious organizations are becoming more numerous, many being run by the members themselves without any hierarchical structuring; major chain hotels face increased competition from local B & B’s and Airbnb’s; cab companies that once enjoyed multi-million dollar monopoly medallions issued by local governments, now face challenges by unlicensed cab-networks such as Lyft and Uber; large independent and chain grocery stores encounter more competition from home-grown food, community farms, and farmers’ markets; top-down information systems – such as the mainstream media used by  establishment owners to reinforce their desired public mindset – are being supplanted by horizontally-networked systems (such as the Internet) that expand both the means and content of information; government schools must contend with parents who choose for their children to be in private schools, or to be home-schooled, or even unschooled; the decentralized management of business organizations has become more prevalent over the years – including half a century ago when I was helping my business clients to adopt such practices. A number of towns and cities in such places as Europe, New Zealand, and elsewhere, have entirely abandoned traffic laws – speed limits, traffic lights, etc. – in favor of allowing drivers to exercise the liberty and responsibility of negotiating with other motorists. This has reduced traffic accidents, sped up the flow of traffic, and provided a greater sense of social connectedness as drivers negotiate with one another for priorities rather than reacting to machine lights.

Does a vertically-structured, centrally-directed, pyramidal model reflect the way nature is organized, such that the conscious incorporation of that principle into the design of human social systems will produce the desired orderly patterns observed in the rest of the universe? And if, like the incongruities of the erstwhile geocentric model, this long-standing social paradigm is causally connected with the rampantly destructive, anti-life nature of the institutional order, is there an alternative archetype that would better serve humanity? Is there an underlying dynamic here that might provide the basis for a major paradigm shift away from the failed and destructive traditional social model premised on the idea of the order being imposed from above? In Kuhn’s words, has the deadly crisis now confronting mankind derived from “the blurring of a paradigm” that now threatens the extinction of our species and, if so, can our intelligence discover a life-serving model?

I suggest that such an alternative can be discovered in the marginal nature by which life – and, perhaps, all of the nature – manifests itself. Life exists and functions locally, and as individual organisms with self-serving, purposeful inner operating systems. Life functions at the margins, to where its energies have been distributed. In the words of Ludwig von Mises: “Human life is an unceasing sequence of single actions.”

Our inquiry might begin with the recognition that how we think of ourselves is wrapped up in abstractions – words – that have no existence apart from our minds. “Mankind” is not some single-willed, colossal organism that drags itself across the planet. “Society,” “mankind,” “the masses,” “community,” “Americans”, or any other group categories, provide convenient ways of discussing the only vibrant, acting, sentient, observable beings on the planet: the billions of diverse individuals, each with unique DNAs, kept hidden behind collective imagery fabricated in our minds.

Only individuals are conceived – by two other individuals – are born, die, suffer pain, dream, bleed, enjoy love and happiness, have unique experiences, make and act upon value judgments, suffer infections and heal, cry or laugh, criticize or exalt, or any other expressions of human action.

The ten-millionth victim of a war or genocide didn’t suffer greater pain than the first who died. Such a truth is indifferent to the politically-minded, for whom only collectives, not individuals, have meaning. This dehumanizing mindset was reflected in the 2006 response of then White House press secretary, Tony Snow, to a question about the deaths of 2,500 American soldiers in Iraq: “it’s a number.” This same way of thinking allowed former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright – who, as a young child escaped from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia – to dismiss the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children resulting from Clinton policies against that country. Such deaths were “worth it,” she declared. “Mankind” will never enjoy “peace” or “liberty” other than as individuals who end their conflicts with others or remove their shackles.

The study of economics best illustrates the contrast between collective and individualized systems through which we conduct the pursuit of our material interests. My undergraduate years introduced me to Keynesianism, a macroeconomic approach that led me to regard this field of study as little more than a system of political accounting. I later became a student at the University of Chicago Law School and took numerous economics classes with Aaron Director, whose marketplace approach emphasized the competing motivations of individual actors. This micro economic emphasis had little to do with “gross domestic products,” or the tracking of “Dow-Jones industrial averages,” or “unemployment rates,” other than as consequences of how market participants might express their supply/demand preferences in response to marginal changes in prices.  In the process, I realized that economic decision-making that focused on autonomous individual choices was more productive than politically-structured, collectively-enforced mandates for an essential reason: individual actors and resource owners are closer to the conditions and motivations for which a transaction is undertaken, than are distant officials disinterested in the individual consequences for collective decisions. Discovery of  the division of labor principle – wherein individual The Wizards of Ozymand... Butler Shaffer, Butler... Best Price: $8.38 Buy New $12.33 (as of 05:45 UTC - Details) actors specialize in the production of goods and services at which they are most adept – has produced the “multiplier effect” that has made the marketplace a far superior generator of wealth than any systems of state planning.

“Learning” is another activity that takes place, locally, by individuals. Infants crawl on floors, experiencing the details in their environment they find of interest. If they put an object in their mouth, adults may scream that the baby is trying to eat it when he or she is just using its most highly developed sense – of taste – to learn more about the item. “Children” do not learn the multiplication tables: this boy or that girl do so or it does not get done. Perhaps the contrast between centralized and decentralized has been most vividly demonstrated in the pioneering work of Maria Montessori, whose emphasis upon student-centered, rather than teacher-centered learning, has helped to free the minds and actions of children.

Science historian Paul Feyerabend’s premise of “epistemological anarchy” – the idea that in the search for truth “anything goes” – reflects our need to respect the uncertainty and unpredictability that attaches to what we think we know. Given that our understanding of the world is inherently subjective, the humility underlying Feyerabend’s insight is essential to our endless searches for “truth.” Indeed, “anarchy” may just be a synonym for an order that arises spontaneously, without anyone presuming to create it.

As a means of encouraging social order, the private property principle is consistent with the idea that “anything goes.” As I developed in my Boundaries of Order book, private ownership is inconsistent with all political systems. The state, regardless of its form, functions only through taking, regulating, or destroying the property interests of those it presumes to rule. An owner, confining his/her decision-making to what they own, may do whatever they desire with what is theirs. This is what is meant by unrestrained liberty. It is when this principle is respected that a peaceful social order arises. That such conditions imply decentralized behavior in local settings reinforces the model of life as a marginally organized phenomenon.

Other examples from human experience confirm the creative consequences of individually-centered behavior. Western Civilization, itself, was grounded in such decentralist conduct. Great literature has come from the likes of Shakespeare, Dante, Bronte, Whitman, Dickinson, Shelley, Goethe, and Alcott, not from federal writers’ projects. Speculative philosophies and systems have arisen in such minds as Aristotle, Locke, Smith, Rand, Douglass, Mill, Aquinas, and Nietzsche, not from public opinion polls.

Nor can we forget that the great works of such artists as Van Gogh, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Botticelli, and Michelangelo derived from creative individual minds, not from paint-by-the-numbers kits. Individual composers of music, such as Beethoven, Bach, Strauss, Brahms, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Chopin, and Mozart, were able to find their great works from within themselves.

Important inventions have been made by such individuals as Edison, Tesla, Gutenberg, Archimedes, da Vinci, and the Wright brothers, not collective labor union brotherhoods. Scientific discoveries and theories have been the products of such individuals as Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Curie, Pythagoras, Galileo, and Mendel, not from government R & D grants.

The personal inventiveness that produced the greatest contribution to the physical well-being of human beings, the Industrial Revolution, is reflected in such names as Carnegie, Bessemer, Chrysler, Ford, Firestone, Westinghouse, and Rockefeller. Many business firms continue to bear the names of the entrepreneurs who created them. The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company was named, nearly forty years after his death, for Charles Goodyear, the inventor of vulcanized rubber. Such creative individuals – not politically-connected guilds or gangs of Luddite machine-breaking rioters – helped mankind learn how the pursuit of self-interest can generate material wealth.

Flocks of birds or schools of fish suddenly swooping and swarming as though en masse are explained by students of such behavior as resulting from the marginal transmission of information from one bird or fish to its neighbor. In the process, a change of direction occurs with no one organism in control of the decision. On a much slower level, we humans engage in such practices at sporting events by producing a “wave” emanating throughout the stadium.

The marginal nature of behavior in biological systems can also be observed in the development and functioning of individual cells in the body. In ingesting proteins as well as expelling waste, or reacting to toxins, individual cells may engage in direct contact with one another. Should a bacteria have contact with a cell, the trespassed cell may send out a signal to other cells that activate the immune system. In Restraint of Trade:... Butler Shaffer Best Price: $55.00 Buy New $70.32 (as of 05:50 UTC - Details)

Quantum physics is helping us discover the marginal nature of change. A pan of heated water becomes warmer not a result of a gradual, collective change in the water itself, but in individual molecules suddenly jumping (i.e., a “quantum leap”) from an unheated to a heated state. As more and more molecules make such individual changes, the pan of water becomes increasingly warmer. As we become more aware of the localized dynamics of how nature organizes and expresses its energies, we may one day discover how the merger of Darwinism (i.e., random genetic mutations) and Lamarckism (i.e., how changes within an organism can be passed on to descendants) might help us unlock the deeper secrets of evolutionary processes. In the geneticist’s motto, “cherish your mutations,” we might find the seedbed of a new paradigm.

The failures of collective, vertically-structured, institutional systems to provide their promised social order are abundant. They are, in fact, often encapsulated into pictures of what we like to think of as human history. Philosophies, religions, and ideologies that are forcibly imposed upon the minds of people rather than being the result of individual inquiries into the nature of humans in a complex universe have produced so much of human conflict and destructiveness. So, too, have political systems – grounded in divisiveness and defined by their monopolies on the use of violence – generated the wars, genocides, police brutalities, torture, and other anti-life practices that Randolph Bourne described as being “the health of the state.” If conflict and violence are expressions of the realities of nature, as we so thoughtlessly babble to ourselves, why need they be forced upon us? On the other hand, if our lives are made better by the individual pursuit of our self-interests, would it serve any purpose for the state to mandate such behavior? Is it not evident that the persistent destructiveness of the traditional model of social order illustrates Thomas Kuhn’s “failure of existing rules” to serve the well-being of all humanity? If civilizations have been created by individuals and destroyed by collectives, might life be better enhanced by rethinking who we are?