I’ve been mulling over a few things since posting about price gouging the other day. First, there was an excellent comment by one of this Blog’s star contributors, Kyle Bennett. Here’s an advertisement to get you to go read the whole thing:
But collectivism is based on a fundamental contradiction – the idea that people can as a group
have ideas, thoughts, interests, etc. Individualism is a simple fact of
nature. Human minds cannot share concepts, and thus cannot, through any
gymnastics of thought, create a group that has the same attributes as an
In order to maintain the ideology of collectivism, then, one must
go to increasing lengths of fallacious logic in an attempt to reconcile
the root contradiction. Since that contradiction is irreconcilable,
these attempts are also contradictory. So then those new contradictions
have to be resolved, and so on and so on.
The result is that businessmen have to be evil because it is
impossible to reconcile the root contradiction if businessmen are good.
But then that contradiction has to be reconciled, and so we find that
the nature of money and trade must be redefined, then the nature of law
and government must be redefined. Then when that redefinition of law
and government is found to be incompatible with the US’s founding
ideals, those ideals must be redefined, history must be rewritten to
eliminate the facts that reveal this contradiction. The founding
fathers must be cast as demons in an attempt to negate their ideals.
Greg Swann added his comments as well, via an entry in his own blog. I guess that even my parenthetical mention of the social utility of price gouging was too much for Greg, but that’s just fine.
What Smith said, in essence, was, "Should the king choose to set us
free, it will be better for everyone, including the king." This is
morally and ontologically retarded. If the king can regulate your
freedom, then you actually have no freedom, merely license, which
license can be revoked at any time. And whether or not freedom promotes
any sort of supposed economic good, for everyone or for anyone, is
irrelevant. Liberty is the only condition in which human beings can
thrive as human beings. What Smith — and every alleged "freedom-loving" utilitarian economist ever since — is saying is, "I have no moral argument to offer against cannibalism, but it is normally impractical." Now that’s a powerful argument for human liberty!
This may seem like a quibble, but it’s not. As Kyle Bennett points out
in the comments to Richard’s post, the battle is always individualism
versus collectivism. (Kyle gets the ontology of this wrong and it leads
him badly astray; if I get time, I’d like to address that.) All
of economics, not just the Communist half, is a branch of collectivism.
Even the Austrians slip again and again into defending an alleged
"utilitarian collective interest." Until we as libertarians learn that
we must always carry the debate back to individualism–no matter how many points we seem to be scoring with collectivist arguments–the game will always be theirs and we will always be fighting a rear-guard action.
In response to a personal query from Kyle, Greg expounds in an email copied to me, the gist of which is the notion that collectivism is the foundational human behavior expressed in culture, and individualism is the exception. It’s an interesting idea.
It is wrong to speak of any human behavior as being natural, since all purposive human behavior is an artifact. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to argue that collectivism — Abel — is the ground state for human cultures and individualism — Cain — the radical exception.
There’s more: Missy Rand gave Ellsworth Toohey a wonderful speech when he was doing his last dance with Peter Keating. Something like, but for the contributions of as few as a dozen men down through history, we’d all still be living in caves. Some one brilliant man had the individualist idea. He treasured it and propagated it well enough that other unknown geniuses were able to improve upon it. Some of those who learned it valued it enough that they protected it and preserved it through dark ages. There are other ideas that Rand was talking about, as well, but the idea of individualism is the fountainhead of all ideas. The man who abstracted that idea — we can call him Cain because we don’t know his name — that man is the greatest benefactor in all of human history. Without him, none of the rest might ever have happened. The wheel was invented once, copied thereafter. The impeller, Archimedes’ screw, was invented once, copied thereafter. There are around 250 known human cultures on the earth and all of them, save this one, are the kind of bad imitations of animal behavior I discuss in Curing the Incuriosity of the East. Might the flame of individualism have sparked in another, later mind, had it ever been fully extinguished?
It’s possible. But the odds from experience are 250 to 1 against…
You know, you can strip it all away, and it all comes down to values and production of same. Human beings, collectively, are net producers of values. That is, we as a species produce more than we consume, and that excess value production generally equates to growth or wealth.
But individually, we don’t, do we? In fact, isn’t it the fact that there are individuals who won’t or who do not want to perform at the norm of the species that gives rise to collectivism? Isn’t it a desire to lift up the "less capable" and "compassionately" make excuses for the lazy that makes us irresistibly turn to collectivism? Isn’t that the bottom line?
No, it’s not. Look at natural collectivism, best expressed by a beehive or an anthill. Each entity is individually a net producer of values for the collective. They don’t complain about it or rebel, because this is their perfectly natural state. Each individual has a role, and that role is all about the collective as a whole.
So, then, what is it? What is it that so urges our societies and cultures to attempt to model themselves after beehives and anthills?
Isn’t it really about making sure that no one (except the Queen) is better off than anyone else? Isn’t that really the core "value" — the eternal struggle — and what every culture on Earth has been geared to "achieve," save this one? Is that not the relentless catechism of the left in America? While the rhetoric certainly talks about uplifting the "downtrodden," isn’t the focus, really, more about toppling the "privileged?" Do they even do a good job of hiding it? Do they not play upon the unearned greed and larceny of the heart of the lazy and envious, transforming them into the "victims" of who, in reality are their greatest benefactors and the "benefactors" of who, in reality, are their greatest enemies?
So collectivism has always been around. It has perhaps been the modus operandi of human beings since the dawn of civilization. Communism was merely a more naked and brutal form of it, but the goals have essentially always been the same.
But the more important point is that this is a philosophical battle; a battle entirely of ideas. There’s no way around it. You can talk economic efficiencies all day long, and where you’re going to find yourself is essentially arguing how a beehive or an anthill is efficient. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of any ways they could be more efficient.
…Unfortunately, the most effective propagator of ideas in history, religion, has been asleep at the switch, usually preaching their own form of collectivism (one for all and all for God). Of course, that’s an artifact of the historical inability to distinguish the church from the state. Well, here’s free advice from an atheist to Christians: mold the story of Jesus into one of individualism. You do know why he was killed, don’t you? No, it wasn’t for your "sins." He was killed because he challenged the power of the omnipotent collective in the form of the state. Take it. Run with it.