Thursday, March 16, 2006

Debunking statist arguments - Against individualism

Individualism is primarily a moral position - a position according to which the individual and individual needs are more important than that of any manufactured collective. But individualism in the moral sense is based on an ontological position. We are individualists because we recognize that there is no such thing as a human collective, only individuals. In this sense, we can define individualism, in the ontological sense, as the position that there only exists individual human organisms (and their political extensions such as buildings, bodies of regulations, and so on).

Or more simply expressed : you can't point at something called "society" that exists without individuals or beyond individuals. It's all people. And bodies of laws and regulations are written by individuals, buildings are built by individuals, etc. Everything we call "society" is the interaction of individuals and their values.

This is mind-bogglingly uncontroversial, so statists have to try to confuse the issue by inserting moral issues into an ontological debate. Kangas is no exception. In his article "There's no such thing as society… only individuals and families" (the position which he incredibly calls a "myth"), he brings out moral concerns of needs into an ontological issue :

Whenever two or more people enter any sort of cooperative relationship, the result is by definition a social group. Group survival is much more effective and efficient than individual survival, but coordinating group survival results in a need for social policy.

That's fine, but what does this have to do with the ontological issue of whether or not there is such a thing as "society" ? Of course cooperating in groups is more efficient and effective than being alone. That's the whole basis for non-coercion, a principle which Kangas rejects. So how can he use this as an argument ?

Well, this is rather vague, so let's look at his main text for more information.

To say that there is no such thing as society is demonstrably false. Humans are born in groups, raised in groups, work in groups, play in groups, defend their interests in groups, and die in groups. These groups are organized, specialized, interdependent, and greater than the sum of their parts. In fact, individuals owe their very existence to group behavior -- namely, the pair-bond, or the union of mother and father.

This is just plain lying. INDIVIDUAL humans are born, not groups of humans. INDIVIDUALS are raised, work, play, defend their interests, and die. The fact that individuals participate in social and economic groups does not make them part of a collective entity. They remain, forever, individuals that come together because of the harmony of their values (whatever values are promoted by their cooperation).

Once again he is confusing the MORAL issue (that people assemble in groups to pursue their values) with the ONTOLOGICAL issue (that only individuals exist).

Then he argues that people on the "far right" (ah, the smell of a Poisoning of the Well in the morning) are wrong to say that individual behaviour explains everything. As an example he talks about a car factory that has thousands of employees, and argues that their cooperation is not spontaneous. Then :

The larger a company gets, the less personal and direct control a president has over it. He must delegate out an increasing share of authority and responsibility, and is more dependent than ever on others to help him run things, investigate conditions, inform policy, and make recommendations. Thus, the structure that evolves takes on a life of its own, and cannot be traced back to any single person.

I'm trying not to insult a dead man too much in these entries, but this is mind-bogglingly, atrociously fucked up. How can anyone sane not look at a giant factory and see the actions of everyone contributing to the product ? Does ANYONE actually think "hmmm... that president sure builds a lot of cars". Of course not ! If the factory is well-run, every single individual plays a role in its functioning. And the functioning of said factory can still be traced to the actions of every single individual that participates in it. How could it not ? There is nothing besides or beyond individuals that can act.

So how does society really work, from the individualist standpoint ? Society is a group of individuals. These individuals want to live a better life, so they decide to come together to cooperate on various enterprises. By doing so, they concentrate their work and are able to produce more. By producing more, they both get benefits from trading the result of their work, and benefit the rest of society by making these resources available. Technology makes their cooperation more and more efficient. This is called "progress".

And then other people, who have nothing to offer except their powers to persuade or threaten, decide to hire a lot of people with swords or guns, call themselves "government", demand half of your new resources every year, and use those resources to make themselves more and more popular, and gain more and more power. But that's another story...

Well, this is the last of my entries about Kangas' "Liberalism Resurgent FAQ". It's not that the rest of his FAQ does not contain bullshit (it definitely does), but rather that he argues a lot more about conservative arguments (which are equally bullshit) than he does against individualist concepts, so it goes outside of the topic of this blog. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoyed these debunkings as much as I did.