Re: Liberty vs. Extropy

Raymond G. Van De Walker (
Mon, 24 May 1999 23:31:21 PDT

Two list members expressed interest, so here goes. I'm sorry that it's long.

Why I am not an anarcho-syndicalist libertarian: I do not know of a solution to the free-rider problem of military protection. This seems like the central unsolved problem of anarcho-syndicalist libertarians: since they cannot tax, they cannot raise enough military force to defend against aggressive taxing governments. By the way, if anyone knows of a solution, I'd like to hear it.

Historically, radically libertarian societies did not succeed against coercive states that can tax. Consider the Law Merchant in late-feudal Europe, or the legal anarchy of medieval Iceland.

When the communications and organization revolutions of the 15th century hit (mass literacy, double entry accounting, central banks etc.) the coercive governments adopted "commercial codes" to sap the legitimation of the commercial arbiters.
Then the governments conquered everything with the large armies that they became able to raise. The Law Merchant was pushed into its current niche in international business law. (The Law Merchant is a noncoercive customary set of business practices, commercially arbitrated, and enforced by boycotts)

The U.S. was an exceedingly careful _2nd_ attempt to approximate a libertarian utopia while still securing a common defense in this deadly new world.

The U.S. was the real libertarian revolution, and we're living it. It could be improved, as David Friedman points out, but we already have many of the liberties that are possible in a libertarian society.

References, "The Enterprise of Law", also see Dr. De Long's web site

at UC Berkeley economics, on the economics of the industrial revolution.

There's also a fine book called "The Frozen Republic" that explains how

the U.S. missed the utilitarian revolution in politics that occurred in

	England, which led directly to our very stable, but ridiculously 
	ineffective government.

The central weakness of libertarian philosophy is that it gives only negative advice about the nature of a good life: e.g. Don't initiate force, Minimize interference in other people's activities. It lacks advice about what's good.

Many of the U.S.'s social evils seem caused directly by this weakness. Historically, in the U.S., this vacuum was filled by the churches, which promoted traditional virtues that were also taught in school.

In England, hedonic utilitarianism was taken up to justify policy. It never made a big appearance in the U.S., because the revolution and subsequent wars made British thought unpopular up until WW I.

U.S. society now seems to be succumbing to all kinds of problems caused by perhaps, too much liberty for people to be wrong or evil.

For example, the social inertia that I find so galling, seems to me to be simple inability of most people to reason about hypothetical events. Therefore,these impaired non-extropians mis-invest, e.g. in new cars, rather than longevity research.

Extropians on the other hand, are clearly pursuing good things. Long life, greater abilities, new techniques, new lands (Ad Astra!), etc. I would say that Extropians are practical modern utilitarians, pursuing the good, and trying to minimize the evil, primarily in their own lives because it is so hard to effect social changes in ordinary society.

If this analysis is right, freedom is not as limiting for Extropians as other resources. I at least, already have all the freedom I can use,
(except I wish for less taxes) and the very existence of this mailing
list is evidence of the same for its readers. If I could buy a space-ship, I could leave tomorrow. I _am_ free to pursue longevity techniques, and perform computer research.

But _why_ don't classic extropian goals get funded? Well, because about half of ordinary people don't reason about hypothetical futures. (I have references- the buzzwords are 'Piagetian Formal operational reasoning in adults')

Thus, unless an organization tests to remove such impaired people from authority, the organization cannot come to a consensus about nonexistent innovations. Simply
because, since they can't imagine it, they can' t distinguish impossible things from
nonexistent things.

If the formally-operationally-handicapped (the FOH) are eliminated from positions of power in our institutions, the institutions should automatically improve, because the authorities could then imagine improvements, and could therefore carry them out.

Now this is not totally theoretical. I have a case-study. Something like this happened at Hanover Insurance. In Industry Week (in '91 I think)
the management of Hanover described how they did something similar.

Basically, they realized that they were in a static industry, and any improvement would have to come from making better use of their people. By years of hard work, they developed four general principles, which I vaguely remember as: measurement of desired behavior, (an antidote to politics), giving local authority (an antidote to bureaucracy), openness
(an antidote to information-hoarding), and getting rational managers (an
antidote to irrational management).

They realized that they needed rational managers because they found that a lot of guys with good-looking resumes could not apply general principles to real organizations. So, they began screening manager-applicants for (if I remember rightly) the rationality and emotional maturity to carry out HI's management plan. They used psychologists. In my research I found references to pencil & paper tests for formal operational reasoning, as well as one reference to teaching methods.

In the 25 years between ~1965 and 1991, Hanover grew 1600% in a static market.

When I talked to a cognitive psychologist (At UC Irvine) about this, he pointed
me to developmental psychology, and found me my research references, which tied in very nicely with the 1986 article in Reason Magazine by Stephen Barone, entitled " Imagine that there's no. . ." Basically, about 50% of adults habitually do not reason about nonexistent states-of-affairs.

Removing FOH from authority, of course, violates libertarian principles, but I expect it to increase the ability of our society to pursue rational goods.

Why I am not an objectivist:

I don't think altruism is self-deceit. I believe that it's rational, and Ayn Rand is abusing the term to create an attackable straw-man. Here're some rationales:

A world in which the strong do not help the weak has imprudent strong people, because every person has inherent value to themselves, and no strong person can predict when he or she might become weak, and therefore need help. If most strong people plan to give help, then help is more likely to be available when it's needed. E.O Wilson called this "reciprocal altruism" in his famous book "Sociobiology."

Immanuel Kant also proved something very like this in the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals.

In a like way, Jeremy Bentham ( the Utilitarian) said (In Principles of Morals and Legislation) that we all have a duty to minimize the totality of pain and suffering in the world. I'm not sure that it's a duty, exactly, but I agree that the world is a better place with less pain and suffering. I want the world to be a better place, therefore I can accept such a duty, and make my contributions.

In evolutionary ethics, E.O. Wilson in "Sociobiology" described two types of selfish altruism: Kinship selection, and reciprocal altruism. It seems to me that even Randians should not object to these, and these can account for many types of altruism that actually occur in our society.

An interesting example of is public education: industrialists need educated workers. So therefore, should an industrialist give scholarships? Almost all popular public charities have similar economics: we all benefit from educating poor smart kids. We all benefit from feeding poor kids, so that their brains grow and
they can make it in the western civ, and sell things that we want.

I have come to believe that perfect virtue is indistinguishable from perfect prudence.

Also, I read several of Rand's works several times, including her book about objectivist philosophy. Her heroes are admirable, and her villains are despicable. Her philosophy book, however, reads like double-talk to me: I think that she does not prove the things that she wishes to prove.

end of rant., and thank-you if you made it this far. . .

Ray Van De Walker

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