Exclusive to STR
March 30, 2009
- Introduction -
In Marooned in the Quantum Wrongness Field (April 2007), I took a humorous look at a serious subject: the wrong-headed common beliefs underpinning much of the violence, injustice, and misery in this world.
Some believe that no actual "quantum field of wrongness" exists, but in fact the entire universe -- from electric charge to light and from space to time -- exists in the form of quanta; therefore Wrongness must also. Q.E.D.
Like the universe itself, the Quantum Wrongness Field is essentially infinite in scope, leading Einstein to quip that "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." Actually, the particular stupidity prompting that famous quote was the use of atomic weapons against Japan -- a reminder that Wrongness is not only a major annoyance but can have epic and deadly consequences.
In fact, extreme and widespread Wrongness has been an ongoing horror for mankind throughout history. As we move from the early atomic age into the great unknown of the fast-approaching technological singularity, widespread human Wrongness may literally put an end to the human race. Twenty-first century hyper-tech combined with The Two Great Evils of pandemic Statism and emotional damage (the major causes of Wrongness) may be more than we can survive as a species.
That's not exactly funny, and I will dispense with attempts at humor for the remainder of this essay. Below, I dissect a particularly harmful element of Wrongness and show why love and freedom are both critically necessary yet must be handled very differently in political terms.
- Compassion versus Liberty : A False Dichotomy -
In terms of feeling, I'm a socialist: I want a fair and compassionate world. In my own little world -- that is, my own family at home -- socialism is indeed the norm. My wife and I share with each other (and with Zoomer, our five year old Papillon) not because of laws or because anyone is forcing the issue but because it feels right to do so.
On the other hand, intellectually, I'm a libertarian: coercion is inefficient and destructive. I want freedom for all because it works so much better than coercive central planning.
But wait: I also want freedom (for myself and others) because freedom feels better than unfreedom. Coercion is cruel. Tyranny is miserable. It feels sick and twisted to be either a master or a slave.
So I'm a libertarian in terms of feeling as well as intellect. And indeed, freedom is also the norm in my house: I am no more interested in coercing my wife to act or think in certain ways than she is in coercing me. We each have our own lives, our own interests, our own talents and preferences -- and we are each free to express those interests, talents, and preferences. We have enough overlap in our natures to be compatible and enough differences to be interesting to each other and for each of us to bring strengths to the relationship in areas where the other might be weak.
Freedom clearly works better than unfreedom, but it is equally true that a healthy society characterized by fairness and compassion works better than a sociopathic society where injustice and cruelty are the norm. So, intellectually, perhaps I'm a socialist after all.
Which is it, then? Socialist or libertarian?
The answer is "both" and "neither." I have described why on several occasions (Blinding by Paradigm, for instance), and the essence of my argument is that love and freedom are both necessary and are connected to and dependent upon each other.
There is a critical difference between love and freedom, however: love for others cannot be implemented by force. That is, love cannot be required, while freedom for all absolutely can and must be required. Indeed, the non-aggression principle ("do not aggress against others") is a command by its very nature. The non-aggression principle is also the most basic of human laws and one that can be enforced in a variety of ways, including via defensive coercion where necessary.
But how do you command someone to love? By violating the non-aggression principle, coercion harms and eventually destroys love. How can you use coercion, defensively or otherwise, to make someone love you or to show compassion to others?
The answer to that question is: you can't. While love and compassion must be widely supported and explicitly acknowledged as human needs, in order to effectively foster that love (or compassion or universal brotherhood or whatever you prefer to call it) the support must be voluntary. Otherwise, you end up destroying love and the foundations for love in the long term.
I repeat that support for compassionate behavior and for a compassionate viewpoint must be explicit (i.e., spoken of in direct, unambiguous language), frequently voiced, widespread in the culture, and effective enough to create and sustain reasonable levels of individual and societal health, but none of that requires government edicts or laws, and indeed none of it can long survive the levels of coercion involved in large, intrusive governments.
As a practical matter, the young in particular must be treated with respect and compassion because early experience creates later character and guides later behavior. The foundation for a compassionate sense of connection with others is developed early in life or not at all.
Voluntaryism (aka "civil society") is the necessary framework for all this -- for both compassion and freedom. Coercion is the polar opposite of freedom and the enemy and corruptor of love.
The State is an organization based entirely on violence, threats, and corruption, no matter what we are told or what we want to believe. The incredible human power to misperceive reality, combined with real but largely unmet (and thus, in adulthood, neurotic) childhood needs for strong and loving parents have kept this basic truth about government hidden from the mass of humanity. Also hidden is the obvious and logical truth that follows from the nature of State power: that the State has never created either love or freedom, and never will. Whatever love and freedom we do enjoy comes not through government efforts but despite the efforts and actions of government. Even with the best of intentions, coercive government corrupts and ruins compassion and erodes prosperity; see my Complete List of Poor Nations That Have Adopted Socialist Governments and Then Become Prosperous for a discussion of this dynamic in Sweden , the United States , and elsewhere. (For a wider discussion of the topic, see The Worst Way to Do Anything: Why a Healthy World Requires Freedom from Coercion).
Furthermore -- and something that must never be forgotten -- coercive State power reliably attracts psychopaths (for examples see, oh, all of human history) and empowers them in horrifying fashion. Whatever you think government should be doing, psychopaths will have other ideas, and they -- the power-hungry -- will be the ones in charge of that power in the years and decades ahead. The last 30 years of U.S. history show this toxic dynamic in excruciating detail. For that matter, our entire national history from 1776 on shows the relentless growth of State power despite strong and deliberate attempts, especially by the founding generation, to restrain that power.
Compassion versus liberty is a false dichotomy, and a particularly dangerous one. Both compassion and liberty are necessary, and in a healthy society the two qualities reinforce and foster each other.
A society without compassion cannot remain free, because love is the lubricant and anti-corrosive for the market and for society itself. Love cannot be imposed by force but must be widely fostered, protected, and expressed. Thus, it is the culture -- not the apparatus of the State -- which must foster love and compassion.
Coercion, including State coercion and even coercive funding (via taxes) for allegedly compassionate programs, can only degrade and destroy love in the long run. A fair and compassionate society requires freedom in order to avoid becoming a toxic power-source for the psychopaths who are drawn to coercive power structures. Note that "fair and compassionate" does not mean, and cannot mean (under government mandate or otherwise), complete economic equality any more than complete equality in height or intelligence or anything else (other than the right to freedom itself) can be imposed by force. Human differences are part of life, and it will always be true that some people have the drive and talent to gather more wealth than others; the only question is, will such people have State power structures available to help them do so coercively. Consider corporatism (bailouts for the rich, anyone?) as well as the end results of socialist-style governments for examples of why government power creates harm, even when used for a supposedly good purpose.
In short, an unfree society works poorly, no matter the stated aims of those in power, just as a society without love and compassion works poorly. Coercion is cruelty and State coercion becomes more deeply and widely cruel over time as State power attracts and then empowers psychopathic personalities.
Love and freedom thus truly require each other. As I've said before, the combination of love and freedom will be our only salvation -- if we embrace it in time.
The size of the Quantum Wrongness Field being what it is -- near-infinite -- there is much more to say on the matter. Next up: Will Misperceiving Evil be the End of Humanity?