"History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind." ~ Edward Gibbon
The 'Singapore' Factor: Towards Anarchy and the Market Order
I admit it. When I see the Scottish highlands, hear the lilt of the accent or far away bagpipes, or sample a rare single malt whiskey, I come over all sentimental and proud. You see, my dad was a Scot, and although I have only ever visited Scotland three or four times, it still evokes a sense of history and "love of country" in me.
However, I was actually born in England, of an English mother, and spent my formative years there, and am a long-time devotee of English comedy. So being a Sassenach by birth and a Scot by lineage does suggest some potential conflict. But it gets worse. Most of my adult life was spent in New Zealand, so any mention of rugby greats the All Blacks raises the pride-o-meter. I've also spent several years in Australia, confounding my loyalties and sensibilities even more. But as the Aussies say, "No worries mate!" And to cap it all off, I'm married to a Chinese national, so take a greater interest in such things as the rise of China, Sino-Japanese relations, and chopsticks than I normally would.
You could say I'm culturally "confused"!
This got me thinking about the nature of attachment, and the need for a sense of belonging.
It all comes down to family--and the familiar. In fact, it doesn't even have to be a genetic link, as my own experience has proven. What's more, such feelings can spill over to other allegiances. We can create "family" at will, so it seems--as is illustrated by this interesting and amusing article--which pointed out another loyalty of mine: An Apple a Day Keeps the Music at Play
And it's true. You can grow "familial" feelings from all sorts of associations. So it's obvious the desire to belong does not just originate with genetic factors (which we cannot choose), but also environmental factors of our own choosing.
I call this the "tribal" gene - a built-in desire and requirement to attach ourselves to affiliated groups. And try as I may to stand tall as an individual - I cannot discount the very real bonds of family and the familiar.
Is this a bad thing? Yes and no. As anyone who has enjoyed a sports match, or the Olympic Games, a family get together, or a dinner with like-minded friends knows - such events generate a sense of community and belonging. And as such, they are positives in our human experience. In fact, such experiences are part of what makes life worth living.
However, the very same need can be manipulated and turned in upon itself - in particular when disagreements or aggravation is present BETWEEN such groups. Bad next door neighbours; an inter- tribal showdown; a soccer match riot between supporters of different teams; or a war between nations.
Familial loyalties can be exploited very easily - and once anger is raised, mob psychology and irrationalism can take over. Gang warfare. Street riots. World war. It doesn't take much to move from the rational to the irrational - when it comes to expressing such loyalties. On the coin of life, it appears that hate is the flip side of love.
I was going to title this essay "The Scourge of Nationalism", and denounce it outright. But the more I looked into it, the more I realised that this primal sentiment is not something that can simply be shrugged off or discarded. It needs to be peacefully redirected.
Politicians know how to play the "nation" card - or the "race" card. They are masters of manipulation when it comes to the practice of divide and rule - of turning the love of something into the hate of something else.
It all comes down to the issue of scale. A feud between families, or even gangs, is limited in size. Sure, it can spill over and cause minor problems in the social order - but in the larger scheme of things, such skirmishes are not a threat to humanity.
However, the larger the familial group, the bigger the potential threat. If a gang has only 100 members, then it can only do so much damage. But if a "gang" has 100 million members, then things can very get ugly - fast!
This is the situation we find ourselves in - in the modern world of the mega-nation state. The "old" world was on a much safer scale, size-wise, with its hundreds of principalities and limited means of violence. But that all changed with the arrival of the 20th century and the first of the World Wars. And when you add advanced military technology into the mix, it becomes highly volatile.
So, the problem to be solved - by all men and women of good will - is how to limit the capacity for intertribal violence on a national and global scale? How to set in place societal forms that make it that much harder for such violence to flare up? And to answer that question, one must look to oneself. For just as "charity begins at home" so does changed behaviour.
In this respect, I am with the Christians. If I understand Christian teaching correctly, then at its centre is the idea of individual responsibility. If you want to be a force for good, then YOU need to be good. The defeat of evil starts at home. And as the Bible says, "Blessed are the peace makers".
The next question is this: what is the single, most potent source of evil in this world? Big question, but with a surprisingly simple answer I believe.
The source of evil - which starts within the heart and mind of a single human individual - is the desire to FORCE another human to do one's will. The evil becomes manifest when such a desire is acted upon.
From this you can draw a simple maxim - that no one has the right to initiate force against another. No ifs, no buts. The only possible excuse for the use of force is in self defence - when some identifiable entity is initiating force against you. In other words, when someone else STARTS it - and starts it against you.
That idea is so easy to understand, that even a child can grasp it - but apparently such understanding gets harder as we grow up!
On a personal level it means not beating up your wife or husband to enforce your will; not settling an argument with your fists; not trying to live by stealing money off someone else; not bloodying the nose of a supporter of another sports team; not shooting a person who disagrees with you and wants to be left alone.
Pretty obvious sort of morality really - on a personal level. But when we raise the stakes and look at the institutional level, we see violations of the no initiatory force maxim on a grand scale.
Regular readers of my writings will be all too well aware of the myriad ways in which the state has institutionalised initiatory force as a matter of policy. It is at the root of any modern society - democratic or otherwise. At every turn force is being initiated against you by the state. If you don't know this, then you are asleep!
And the reason the state gets away with it, is that people are ambivalent about the use of force. In fact, many people are just plain busybodies, when it comes to wanting to interfere in other people's lives - and are quite happy to use force to ensure compliance with their wishes.
For example - drugs. If you want to take marijuana, or heroin, then it's really nobody's business but your own. It's your body. Sure you may be damaging it - but in a sane society you'd have to pick up the tab yourself. However, other individuals don't like the idea of you taking drugs, so use their influence with politicians, and the political process, to outlaw such drugs and make them illegal.
Trouble is, making drugs illegal doesn't stop you wanting them, or stop other people from wanting to make money by supplying them to you. And in a rational society, whatever business dealings you have with another would be your own concern. But none of that matters, because the busybodies have won - and got their desire (to stop you taking drugs) put into law. Now, if you try to get drugs, you will be fined, imprisoned or killed - depending on which country you live it. Bottom line is you will be forced to comply with the wishes of others - in a matter with which they should have absolutely no concern.
The initiation of force.
Another example: You run clothing business, but you are finding it hard to compete with all those clothes coming in from China. Your solution to the problem is to force others to buy your clothes, either by prohibiting such imports, or having a duty imposed on them, so they end up more expensive than yours.
Of course, you cannot do this alone - so lobby the government to bring in laws to achieve your ends. Naturally, you won't argue your case as a matter of forcing people to buy YOUR clothes, or forcing them to pay more for obviously cheaper clothes. No, you will create a "public interest" argument - and win the support of fools.
The fact is, that in a free society I should be able to contract to buy clothes off whomever I wish - in my home country, or from anywhere around the world. What I, as a buyer, and my trading partner, as a supplier, agree to do is no business of anyone but us.
The initiation of force.
A final example: Your unemployed neighbour envies your new car. He cannot afford such a luxury. He would never think of forcing you to give it to him, or to give him the money to buy his own. But this same individual will have no qualms about voting for a government that will tax you more (as a high earner) in order that he can gain an increase in his unemployment benefit.
The initiation of force.
And so the initiation of force - as a practical policy for achieving what you want - trickles up through the administrative organs of society, to the very top - the government.
The state is the magnification of the desires of the majority who comprise it. And war is the ultimate consequence. War between individuals within such a state, and war between states themselves. War is the HEALTH of the state. The state operates on an anti-morality that, if consistently practised by all individuals, would bring society to its knees.
So when, one day, the goons arrive on your doorstep, break down your door, drag you out of bed, take you and your family into custody without charge, abuse you and rape your wife, then imprison you without trial - spare a thought for how it all began.
The tribal gene is responsible for a lot things - many of them a reason to celebrate life. But it's a two-edged sword which can be used in an "us against them" situation - and the only way to deal with such disputes is through peaceful resolution. Any resort to force, as a means of achieving one's ends, is fuel on the fire of state-sanctioned violence.
To be free, you must live free. To have peace, you must be peaceful. That means repudiating the use of initiatory force to achieve your personal objectives - whether done directly by you, or by your proxy, the state. Start today - you have nothing to lose but your chains