Sunday, July 2, 2006

Intelligent Design vs Intelligent Government

People who have not bought into religious propaganda, do not think Intelligent Design has much legitimacy. Despite the best attempts from fundamentalist quarters to force Intelligent Design on the impressionable minds of our children, the dogma has so far been met with a tepid welcome, and IDers are scrambling to change their plans.

And yet, there is one equally ridiculous idea that persists in our schools, our media and our culture - the dogma that order in society cannot possibly be the result of natural interactions, but rather must be created and sustained by transcendent design. This dogma, we can call "Intelligent Government".

Granted, the comparison is not quite fair. For one thing, our interactions in society are designed, if only because they are the result of human action. This is why I used the term "transcendent". It is not the idea that human planning is needed that is ridiculous, but rather the idea that one central, coercive organization is necessary for social order.

There are many similarities between Intelligent Design and Intelligent Government. Belief in Intelligent Government is a mark of scientific ignorance, more specifically ignorance of economics, just like belief in Intelligent Design is a mark of ignorance of biology. The power of free markets in economics is completely uncontroversial, and the debates mainly revolve around the existence of intermittent "failures" of markets. In biology, the truth of Neo-Darwinism is also completely uncontroversial.

Another marked problem with both dogmas is that intelligence is not on display. The design we see in nature is definitely not intelligent, and lists of basic engineering blunders in the human body and other animals can be found on many sites (here are examples from Wikipedia and Seed Magazine).

Likewise, government intervention never manifests any sign of basic intelligence - from American foreign policy creating its own enemies, to a War on Drugs that targets the least deadly drugs, protectionism which "protects" people by keeping them in menial jobs and making products more expensive, a War on Poverty that implements laws against the poor, and a welfare state that keeps people in poverty by denying them savings, nothing governments do ever correspond to the facts of reality. This is, of course, because government intervention serves ruling class values, never the values they claim to fulfill.

Intelligent Design tries to make its case by showing that there are things in nature that natural processes simply cannot account for. This is an argument from ignorance.

Intelligent Government is quite the same. Its advocates routinely point to things in society such as roads, police and charity, and argue that because they see no way for these things to happen in a society without government, government must be necessary. This is no less of an argument from ignorance, but an even more outrageous one because we already know from history that every single thing they invoke came, at one point, from the interactions of private individuals, not government. Furthermore, government is parasitic in nature and depends wholly on private expertise, and as such there's no possible reason to assume that such expertise would not exist without government.

The most obvious argument against Intelligent Government, however, is not part of this analogy : how can the use of force for exploitation possibly bring order ? As the most prominent form of criminal agency by far in any society, it seems rather that government is the opposite of order. "Intelligent Government" is a hollow farce with even less credibility than the religious dogma of "Intelligent Design".

1 comment:

James Pyrich said...

"Transcendent" is a good word--"emergent" also works.