Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Letting Go of Utopia

I first came in contact with the ideas of market anarchy from an Objectivist background. This was, obviously, not very fruitful. For one thing, I was sold to the idea that anarchy simply meant chaos and violence (as the media tells us it is). And more importantly, I accepted the argument that government was necessary in order to maintain an objective standard of rights, through codification into objective law.

Now I realize the stupidity of this objection, which basically amount to believing that a ritualized and monopolized criminal gang could ever be interested in protecting rights, or limiting itself to said protection. That makes as much sense as trying to find a "kind lion" who would limit itself to herding gazelles.

So to a certain extent one has to let go of the romantic notion that a perfect society, a utopia (which is to say, a social organization constructed of whole cloth), is possible. However, I don't think that one should abandon objective standards simply because they are unrealistic. To Francis Bacon, I have no doubt that understanding the basic structure of matter was utopian, simply because he didn't have the tools to do so, but yet cannot be any doubt that it exists. Likewise, there is good reason for me to hope that a market anarchic system, left to its own devices, would eventually converge towards the perpetuation of natural rights. In fact it seems to be our only hope in that regard.

Where does this convergence come from? From the fact that, untainted by coercive incentive systems, the individual's self-interest will always tend to be close to the self-interest of other individuals. True, people will always have differing value systems, but to a certain extent states exploit this diversity by pitting them against each other within the democratic system. Can people live together with less friction when they are allowed to choose the way they want to live, and thus not forced to battle against other people's competing value systems? I think so.

We can look at case studies from market anarchic systems we observe right here and now. They are everywhere, and yet I don't think we use them as often as we should.

Wikipedia is perhaps the most accessible example of such a system. Anyone can edit articles and participate in the project. People expected, and still expect, pure chaos, just as they expect it of political anarchy. And yet Wikipedia has definite procedures to deal with disputes, and they don't happen often. This is simply because people who participate to Wikipedia tend to agree with the values promoted by the process they have put in place. And so far, even though it has a while to go before becoming a full-fledged encyclopedia, it is very successful.

And what about the most successful enterprise of all of human history, science? In a few centuries of work, with constant persecution from religious and political authorities, the scientific process has turned almost total ignorance and belief in the occult into both a probing of the most fundamental questions, as well as the knowledge necessary to double our lifespan, create worldview networks of information, and generally make our standards of life incomparably superior to that of a mere century ago.

Sure, some people try to undermine the system. And yet these systems work, simply because most people voluntarily choose to rally to the banner of science or wikipedia, and thus share the same general values. And so these people working at counter-purposes usually get little or no time in the limelight, while they are still free to form their own systems. Of course, few people are going to take an Intelligent Design journal seriously, unless they already have a religious worldview, but they are free to listen to idiots.

4 comments:

joaquĆ­n said...

Okay, the "Kind Lion" example had me laughing. Now I'll read the rest.

Aaron Kinney said...

Sweet. The wikipedia example is great.

Andrew Greve said...

Really awesome post, Franc.

arcobaleno said...

Opinion used to be an old goddess. Doxa was a plural, and it was neither true nor false, neither good nor bad in her best days she was young, fresh and full of savour. That's maybe what we are returning to once we have overcome centuries of orthoxy.