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From: (Steve Harris
Newsgroups: sci.physics,talk.politics.misc,,,
Subject: Re: . 2.7 Million Morons
Date: 30 Nov 2003 18:20:30 -0800
Message-ID: <> (Edward Green) wrote in message

>>I'm beginning to think that what mean by "libertarian" and what you
and Ken mean may be two different things ...

For example, the thug/police issue.  Am I mistaken in believing that
protection of individual rights is a legitimate function of the
government in the eyes of most libertarians?  (It would help if we had
a concrete version of a libertarian creed to refer to).  Now you and
Ken seem to be considering that this is not the case, as you argue
that in the absence of something under "libertarianism", we would
either get criminal government or else government government, i.e.
government.  I had thought police powers were something even the
libertarian government was supposed to keep ... libertarianism is not
anarchism (there I go, arguing group good/ill, despite myself).  So
maybe you argue that too _small_ a police force is not stable, and
will leave a void either filled by criminal activity or police growth?
 But that's a different question than whether government should
perform police functions, to which the little L-word replies "yes".<<


Well, according to REASON magazine, at least 2/3rds of people who call
themselves "libertarians" at libertarian conventions really are
anarchists, or "anarcho-libertarians". The rest are "minarchists" who
seek to diffuse and distribute government as Ken suggests, not do away
with government altogether.

For reasons that Mati has explained and I've also argued before here,
anarcholibertarians really don't get it. A rose by any other name
would smell as sweet, and a skunk would smell as bad. In any society
you'll have bastards who need to be dealt with by arrest and
imprisonment, and without some agreement on who gets to do that
without retribution, you just get family feuds, ala Capulets vs
Montigues. That path, and trying to avoid that happens then, is how we
got to our present pluralistic system. If you let the family feud
thing go to the literal end you get a bunch of competing
warlord-controlled territories like the worst places in Africa, and if
one of the warlords wins out totally, in these days of modern
technology of repression, you get Saddam's Iraq. Not a good thing.

Now, there's no point in trying to pretend that police states like
Saddam's are not governments, but just bands of thugs with the most
guns. The difference between a "real" government and a band of thugs
controlling the prisons is not in external reality, but in your mind.
It's merely a difference in who has "proper authority"---- but *that*
is a totally subjective matter. Like beauty, "authority" exists solely
in the mind of the beholder. Grant it in your mind to the guy with the
gun, and you're dealing with "government," albeit perhaps bad
government. Withhold that consent, and even in the case of the police
you're merely dealing with thugs in uniforms (if they are being nasty
to you), or with good neighbors wearing silly clothes, if they are
helping you..

Which is why my favorite way of twitting anarcho-libertarians is to
just tell them to realize that the Federal government doesn't have any
proper "authority" over them, and that thus they live in an anarchy
*already.*  So they should be happy, having attained their goal by
mere mental execise. No use whining that it's not the kind of anarchy
they want. That's sort of a given with any anarchy, unless they admit
that what they really want is an anarchy where if necessary they can
call down Fire from Heaven on neighbors and local warlords who really
annoy them. Which, I suspect, in their heart of hearts is the state
which these anarcholibs *really* lust for. Most of these people are
narcissists anyway, as you will discover if you go to a few
libertarian conventions. The fantasy of controlling their own armies
goes perfectly with such psychologies.

Now, if we agree that minarchy is good, and that Big Government leads
to problems with information processing, we get to the hard problem
that Ken has been addressing, which is by what mechanism(s) do we do
the best diffusion of power and local governance. So as to meet our
goal of distributed parallel political/social information processing,
which would let politics work as well as our economy does. This is a
very, very hard problem. The smallest basic unit of local government
is the smallest unit of people who control a court and a jail, and
presently that would be at the city/county level. In fact, counties
used to be able to administer the death penalty (you got hanged by the
sheriff), but that kind of thing is no more. Slowly as time goes on
and technology improves, authority has diffused upward toward the
state, then the Feds. It's been hard to stop since we agreed on a
Federal income tax which was collected from persons individually, but
then partly distributed back to larger groups, with strings attached.
That encourages diffusion of control toward the feds, and there's
little that can be done about it so long as we continue to agree that
this fed tax can be used for anything that the States and Communities
can do competently for themselves.

I don't agree (with one reservation) that smaller government has been
tried in the past, and didn't work. I think it *did* work very well
for the level of average wealth which existed at the time. The
robber-barrons didn't hold a candle to the modern IRS and bite it
takes out of your paycheck every month.

A major exception involved civil and human-rights problems. It seems
after much experimentation that group ethnic prejudices work at a
scale which is too large to allow them to control local politics and
local government, courts, police, etc. But I hope we can learn that
*single* narrow lesson empirically and move on, without being forced
to apply it to all other political matters, large and small. Bills of
(Human) Rights should be federal things, perhaps even world government
things. Our problem here after the American Civil War was not lack of
existence of Federal rules on human rights, but failure to enforce

But that doesn't mean it needs to be made a federal issue if your
toilet is stopped up, or you can't pay your rent, or you don't have
enough money to buy your stomach or cholesterol pills (I see we're
preparing to spent up to a trillion bucks or so at the federal level
on this last, though).

As for the rest, no, I don't think laissez-faire created the Great
Depression. There's a good argument (made by Friedman) that the
Depression only happened as soon as there was enough central control
of the nation's banking system, to make it all go down with some local
stress, as happens to power grids that are all tied together.

As Ken has argued (and I've argued in the past as well) the real
problem is that the average person does a lot of economic information
processing each day (shopping counts, even working at one paying job
vs. another counts), but we all do comparatively little political
information processing. Money matters far outweigh, for most of us,
time spent serving on juries, school boards, campaign committees,
deciding who to vote for, and the like. We used to have things like
Community Chests (remember that Monopoly card?), but they're all gone
now, replaced by Federal and State programs in which people are
assisted by standardized paper forms and computer programs which
decide if they are deserving of aid, without anybody who knows them
personally being able to have any input into the question at all.
Imagine if we ran our criminal justice or tort system that way!

And this problem of lots of economic processing but little social
processing is not entirely because we get paid for doing the one, but
not (or at least not at the same rate) for doing the other. The ironic
thing is that humans don't *need* to get paid for doing social
information processing anymore than labrador retrievers need to be
rewarded for jumping into lakes and streams. Social information
processing (of which gossip is only a part) is one of the main things
what our brains evolved to do, and we do it for sheer entertainment.
We crave it. You can't stop us from it. Our brains are not only
tool-using machines and mate-finding machines, but also as much (or
more) witch-finding and blame-making and social judgment machines. If
we don't get enough of it in real life, we look for reality shows and
crime shows and survivor shows on TV where we can decide people's
social merit by proxy. Example: coming soon is a show where some
schmuck will even go around having *all* of his major life decisions
controlled by vote of his viewing audience. I kid you not. And I
predict it will be a hit. Women in particular will love it. I refuse
to apologize for that remark. Anybody seriously doubt me?

But of course, it's a drug. A million people deciding and thinking
about the social or life problems of some small group of moron actors
on TV, may all get some counterfeit emotional payoff for it, but they
get it without doing any social-work that does the real world any
good. So it's like opiates that give you the feeling of accomplishment
without any real accomplishment. Not good for society.

As I've said here before, the mass entertainment media is a far worse
problem for our basic civil political society than any chemical drug
problem. And for reasons that are not appreciated. It has nothing to
do with violence, and everything to do with artificial substitution
for basic human interactions which make up the very fabric of good
politics, just as surely as basic individual buying and selling make
up the fabric of a macro-economy.

The solution?  I have a wonderful one, but the margin of my sociology
book is too small to contain it. J :)  Basically, we need to start by
killing our TVs and start living more like the Amish. Hmmm. Okay, I
admit the problem that I don't really want to go that far, even though
it does seem to work for the Amish. I'm an addict of mass
entertainment, too. Though what you're reading is not self-irony,
since this letter and the time I've spend on it, I think counts as
fair-game social information processing. But I've done plenty of
*other* stuff in my life that felt like social interaction or
social-work without actually BEING real social interaction. And I feel
some regret about that. I can only say that for much of that time, I
didn't really realize what I was doing.

I'm awake now. I hope I've awoken some of you reading this, too. I see
I've woken Ken Muldrew up, there in Canada, at least. Good. First step
to solving a problem is recognizing it. Don't watch soap opera or
crime shows if you're lonely. Interact with some real human beings
instead. It doesn't even matter of it's by letter or email or
newsgroup (right here!), so long as it's one human communicating with

Steven B. Harris

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