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« The Mind, Part 7,342,941 | Main | Policy Break -- Continuum, Reredux »

September 06, 2002

Policy Break -- Continuum, Redux


You ask a question about matters, as the Buddha remarked, which are truly questionable. I too have extreme doubts about politics. In essence, politics is about power, and power is about coercion: whether exercised by the ballot box or by dictatorial fiat, politics always involves "enforcement" by men with guns (or arrows, spears and rocks.)

The Great and Powerful Oz

The Japanese, who are notorious for pursuing decision-making by 'consensus' also have an expression that reveals the coercive underside to that pursuit: "The nail that stands up gets hammered down." Even so hallowed a concept in American life as majority rule, among other things is a great way to push minorities around. (If you had asked a black person in 1920 what they thought of majority rule, how fond of it do you think they would have been?)

Clauswitz's doctrine about war being the continuation of politics "by other means" can just as accurately be turned around: politics is also the continuation of war "by other means."

Military history is quite illuminating on this score: it reveals that Jericho, a fertile oasis, was fortified with mud-brick walls approximately 10,000 years ago, not long after the establishment of agriculture, the domestication of animals and the beginnings of long-distance trading. (And it was fortified with sophisticated stone defenses within a few thousand years after that.)

Obviously, as economic advances have made some human communities highly productive, it has also made for a human "food chain"--human "carnivores" who prey on the productive labors of the human "herbivores."

Perhaps I am unduly pessimistic on this score, but there are times when it seems to me that governments are just bigger and more successful versions of the street gangs that run many neighborhoods here in sunny Los Angeles. If war is the negative outcome of humanity's natural tendencies towards greed and aggression, the business world seems to me to be the positive outcome.

As I go to work each morning I marvel at the scale and scope of the cooperation and trust I see around me. I have thousands of customers and hundreds of suppliers--our mutual interactions are voluntary and blessedly non-coercive (if occasionally fractious and always spiced with a degree of suspicion). They are based around a shared perception of fairly simple rules (essentially, the negotiation of deals and then sticking to them).

The Grand Illusion

I used to think that an element of coercion (i.e., the law) was necessary to keep the system humming, but after 16 years in business and a few experiences with our woeful legal system, I honestly no longer believe that. In the vast majority of cases, agreements that actually need to be "enforced" by the legal system are effectively worthless. I've found it pays better to walk away and try my hand at something new.

And that "pragmatic" attitude is very general: the actual, real-world sanction against most "bad" behavior--as long as it is not violent-- is typically that people won't continue to do business with you. While I wouldn't present the business world as any kind of paradise, I don't think there is any question of which is less bad: business or war.

So, in my own simple way, I can only say that my political beliefs are largely that mankind would be better off to the extent it manages to emphasize voluntary cooperation and that it minimizes coercion. As a consequence, my political responses are usually hostile to the increase of coercive, and particularly idiotically coercive measures--which, in practice, usually means I end up taking "anti-left-wing" positions. (I've long characterized the Democrats as the party of dumb socialism).

But ultimately, I doubt that there is any "political solution" to mankind's problems. The Soviet Union, with its boast that Communism would create "The New Soviet Man", had it exactly backwards: a better system will never come into effect until we have better people. That is, until people (one by one) give up on their "learned helplessness," their unnecessary dependence on others (and the inevitable exploitation that goes along with that dependence), things aren't going to get a whole lot better.

Workers of the world: trust and think for yourselves! You have nothing to lose but your chains!



posted by Friedrich at September 6, 2002


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