Archives for category: sociology

Is libertarianism or authoritarianism a better government model to build a strong community?

…as answered on Quora….

Three terms here are easily disputable: libertarianism, authoritarianism, and community.

I shall stipulate, at the beginning, “libertarianism” to be the body of individualist thought running from classical liberalism to private property “voluntaryism” (panarchism, or anarcho-capitalism); “authoritarianism” is either (a) statism in some form that makes no pretense for democratic/republican control or (b) any system of governance in which command dominates over rational deliberation, general rule-following (rather than command-following) and compromise; and “community” I take to be society above the family/clan level based on propinquity or regular interaction, but not society at large, and certainly not either the “open society” or “the nation.”

In tribal life, all there was, basically, was family and community — and other families and communities, and individuals wandering among them, trading, gambling, and fighting.

In chiefdoms we see a coalescence of a kind of political governance, and in the early conquering states and watercourse empires we see vast populations with many communities integrated under authoritarian political and ecclesiastical governance.

Were they “strong communities” way back when? To some extent they had to be. But as military organization gave way to industrial institutions, with extensive scope for trade, the nature of both family and community shifted. Liberal ideas came to dominate, becoming quite explicit. In the 1830s, the most advanced form of “democracy” was in the new United States, and Alexis de Tocqueville was most interested in community in that egalitarian context. They were astoundingly vibrant, he found. People set up committees to make community projects when business activity could not fill the perceived need and where government was not even thought of to provide it. I used the word “egalitarian,” for it was “equality of conditions” in America that most astounded Tocqueville. But by this he did not mean equality of wealth, or even opportunity. He meant openness to social movement, a lack of class stratification (as in Europe), a leveling of ceremonial expectations and a lack of pretentiousness in the rich over the poor. What he meant was an amazing degree of liberty, which was his chief interest. What he saw in America was remarkably libertarian, in the sense I stipulated above, for the heyday of classical liberalism was about to dawn with the rise of the LocoFocos and the advance of both free trade and abolitionism.

Community then was voluntary community. You could leave, you had exit rights, and many options to participate at many levels. If you want to see how liberty and community work together for the strengthening of community, Tocqueville’s Democracy in America makes a good case.

But though political liberty increased mightily after that, in some ways — especially in reduction of the tariffs in Britain and France, and the democratization of corporate licensure in America — a number of factors led to a move to statism by the end of the century. Slavery’s suppression in America came at the cost of the old decentralist order, and the rise of nationalism. And everywhere socialist agitation and the labor movement advanced. By the fin de siècle the U.S. was well on the way to progressive statism, starting with a frank imperialism and warfare. We can quibble about the dates and epochal moments, but a turn occurred. The rise of an administrative state in America and Britain made a huge difference; vast bureaus decreasingly controlled by democratic processes meant that a new form of authoritarianism emerged, and also the popularity of wealth transfer programs.

And though authoritarianism is in the question, it was bureaucracies and transfer programs that led to the major hits on community life. Increasingly families were atomized, and individuals, too: free radicals with little to cling onto but the Leviathan State and the political parties that squabble over its control. Nowadays community has withered under the folkways of “bowling alone,” and the scope of statist control of everyday life has greatly increased.

I would call modern society as dominated by statism, with a veneer of democratic control and the actual controls held by the unionized public employee sector, the “Deep State” intelligence agencies, the plutocracy, and the academic/newsmedia/entertainment complex. It strikes me as the opposite of a libertarian system, despite extensive markets (much of it is dirigisme, anyway, and transfer programs completely re-orient society in several anti-social ways). The scope for community has atrophied.

Right now we witness two completely different cultures fighting politically and socially: the explicitly nationalist conservative-progressives against the woke-socialist corporatist progressives. Both of these groups try to get around the tragedy of the commons inherent in a state providing extensive public goods each by finding a way to undermine the scramble for resources by competing ethnic groups. (Pluralistic societies have great trouble finding stability with a maximum state.) The nationalists attempt to build a pan-community melting pot around doctrines of national ideals, symbols, and purpose; the woke folk insist on using ideology to create solidarity among the “ethnic identities” of perceived or defined “out-groups” largely with a goal of unseating in-group people and their traditional hierarchies.

Both of these are fake communities. Both use ideology to promote the solidarity necessary to prevent the tragedy of the commons (overuse of conscript resources, mostly taxes). And the woke-socialist progressives have a revolutionary agenda as well: replacing traditional in-group hierarchies with their own ideological hierarchy.

De-politicized, communities can grow naturally, to meet group needs and express shared values. Politicized, they fight against each other for state resources.

This is necessarily violent, and war has been a necessary component to keep the nationalism going, as should be obvious, while the woke-revolutionary modus is violent by nature, as can be seen in the tyranny of political correctness and in protests that quickly morph into riot and anarchy.

The liberty that libertarians prefer would be much more conducive to peaceful and vibrant community, but that requires reducing the number of public goods provided by state fiat.

And that’s something at which both nationalists and socialists balk.

twv

Herbert Spencer’s ten-volume Synthetic Philosophy.

What are the sociological arguments against socialism? (Not economic) I guess one of the stereotypical ones is ‘makes people lazy and unwilling to work.’ ‘Infantilises people.’ What others can you think of?

The question was asked of libertarians in a private group on Facebook. Many interesting answers were given. But I see a lot of talk but no mention of actual sociologists.

Two should immediately come to mind, for at classical liberal theory’s last gasp stands two pioneering sociologists who could very much be called libertarians: Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner. Both argued against the rising intellectual and political movement in their day, and both brought a lot of intelligence to the debate. I can imagine Sumner being a favorite, in part because of his more vigorous prose, but I just want to sketch Spencer’s arguments as they appear in the latter chapters of The Principles of Sociology: Part VIII, Industrial Institutions.

In the 22nd chapter, titled “Socialism,” Spencer began, ‘Some socialists, though probably not many, know that their ideal modes of associated living are akin to modes which have prevailed widely during early stages of civilization, and prevail still among many of the uncivilized, as well as among some of the civilized who have lagged behind.’ After giving a number of examples of primitive societies in then-recent history — citing the ‘aborigines of North America’ and their system’s brake on thrift and industry; the affable and easygoing ‘Croatian house-communities’ whose high rates of child mortality and lack of education (with the ‘children unkempt and neglected’) and industry still-born because of the share-out ‘sub-divisions’ of communal work but whose group orientation was spurred by the rigors of defense and warfare — Spencer concluded like this: ‘Hence the socialist theory and practice are normal in the militant type of society, and cease to be normal as fast as the society becomes predominantly industrial in its type.’

He of course admitted that a ‘state of universal brotherhood is so tempting an imagination, and the existing state of competitive strife is so full of miseries, that endeavours to escape from the last and enter into the first are quite natural — inevitable even. Prompted by consciousness of the grievous inequalities of condition around, those who suffer and those who sympathize with them, seek to found what they think an equitable social system.’ But then Spencer turned his attention to the many attempts to set up better systems, the utopian community movement — the ‘experiments in living,’ as J.S. Mill characterized them, the movement with which I started my own political inquiries over four decades ago. There he found failure after failure. Problems identified by the sources he cited include

  • too much ‘diversity’ of opinion to make coördination of labor anything like efficient
  • grumbling and frowardness
  • recognition that lack of rewards for extra work must entail general low performance
  • fights on the job, sans punishment; violent discord

Utopian communities rarely sported any kind of success. Spencer regarded it a plain fact that ‘human beings as now constituted cannot work together efficiently and harmoniously’ in the ways proposed by socialist reformers. And he noted that socialists rarely admit this obvious truth — or, ‘if by some admitted, then it is held that the mischiefs arising from defective natures may be prevented by a sufficiently powerful authority—that is, if for these separate groups one great organization centrally controlled is substituted.’

But such resort to force, Spencer argued, would not be sustainable.

He rested quite a lot on what he calls ‘the general law of species-life’ which has it ‘that during immature life benefit received must be great in proportion as worth is small, while during mature life benefit and worth must vary together.’ But ‘collectivists, socialists, and communists,’ ignore this ‘distinction between the ethics of family-life and the ethics of life outside the family. Entirely under some forms, and in chief measure under others, it proposes to extend the régime of the family to the whole community.’ Spencer here pushed a theme we encounter later in F.A. Hayek, who, incidentally, pointedly never read Spencer’s work.

‘The socialist does not ask what must happen if, generation after generation, the material well-being of the inferior is raised at the cost of lowering that of the superior. Even when it is pointed out, he refuses to see that if the superior, persistently burdened by the inferior, are hindered in rearing their own better offspring, that the offspring of the inferior may be as efficiently cared for, a gradual deterioration of the race must follow. The hope of curing present evils so fills his consciousness that it cannot take in the thought of the still greater future evils his proposed system would produce.’

Spencer went on to argue that ‘people who, in their corporate capacity, abolish the natural relation between merits and benefits, will presently be abolished themselves. Either they will have to go through the miseries of a slow decay, consequent on the increase of those unfit for the business of life, or they will be overrun by some people who have not pursued the foolish policy of fostering the worst at the expense of the best.’

We see that today, even in our own semi-socialist Euro-American context. I just finished reading Edward Dutton’s book Why Islam Makes You Stupid … But Also Means You’ll Conquer the World, and his careful speculations add to Spencer’s sociological argument. Dutton follows Spencer, by the way, in advancing a kind of theory that is a no-no among academic neo-Darwinists: group selection theory.

Calling the ‘doctrine of the socialists … psychologically absurd,’ Spencer argued that it ‘implies an impossible mental structure.’

The socialist society ‘must be composed of men having sympathies so strong that those who, by their greater powers, achieve greater benefits, willingly surrender the excess to others.’ Spencer queried the nature of this altruism: ‘The intensity of fellow feeling is to be such as to cause life-long self-sacrifice.’ But what of the beneficiaries? What must be the attitudes of those be? They gain at their betters’ expense. How can they share the same moral attitudes, then, under such circumstances?

Spencer calls this ‘contradictory,’ and the ‘implied mental constitution … an impossible one.’

Then the rubber really sticks to the pavement ‘when we recognize a further factor in the problem — love of offspring. Within the family parental affection joins sympathy in prompting self-sacrifice, and makes it easy, and indeed pleasurable, to surrender to others a large part of the products of labour. But such surrender made to those within the family-group is at variance with a like surrender made to those outside the family-group.’

You see what is coming, though, don’t you? A ready and old communist solution: ‘Parental relations are to be superseded, and children are to be taken care of by the State. The method of Nature is to be replaced by a better method.’ Spencer was obviously not impressed with this, and related it to the aforementioned ‘general law of species-life’: just as ‘socialists would suspend the natural relation between effort and benefit, so would they suspend the natural relation between the instinctive actions of parents and the welfare of progeny. The two great laws in the absence of either of which organic evolution would have been impossible, are both to be repealed!’

So you see that Spencer is — in addition to be a structuralist, functionalist, and a general systems theorist (see Jonathan Turner’s terrific little book on Spencer’s sociology) — an evolutionist. He has thus been attacked as a dread ‘Social Darwinist,’ but see that he is not talking about letting people starve. He was a forerunner to sociobiology, and the likes of that “Jolly Heretic,” Edward Dutton, whose works are certainly thought-provoking.

Now, Spencer readily conceded that something like socialist arrangements might work in some simple societies. ‘It would not be altogether irrational to expect that some of the peaceful Indian hill-tribes, who display the virtue of forgiveness without professing it, or those Papuan Islanders among whom the man chosen as chief uses his property to help poorer men out of their difficulties, might live harmoniously under socialistic arrangements; but can we reasonably expect this of men who, pretending to believe that they should love their neighbours as themselves, here rob their fellows and there shoot them, while hoping to slay wholesale men of other blood?’ Spencer thought that character is an important aspect of social evolution, and that character changes according to circumstance. Most importantly, above the tribal level, and that of chiefdoms, the militant mindset predominates before we ever really get to the industrial mindset, and that the attitudes of militancy that might spur some to dream the socialist dream themselves militate against such a dream.

Now, what is really ‘at issue between socialists and anti-socialists … concerns the mode of regulating labour.’ Earlier in his big book he ‘illustrated in detail the truth, emphasized at the outset, that political, ecclesiastical, and industrial regulations simultaneously decrease in coerciveness as we ascend from lower to higher types of societies: the modern industrial system being one under which coerciveness approaches a minimum. Though now the worker is often mercilessly coerced by circumstances, and has nothing before him but hard terms, yet he is not coerced by a master into acceptance of these terms.’ That is, the general condition of hardship remains from difficult, pre-capitalist times, specific terms of hardship are not, in a mostly free society, themselves coerced.

This is, of course, a distinction modern leftists refuse to acknowledge.

Spencer saw a parallax view problem, here: ‘while the evils which resulted from the old modes of regulating labour, not experienced by present or recent generations, have been forgotten, the evils accompanying the new mode are keenly felt, and have aroused the desire for a mode which is in reality a modified form of the old mode. There is to be a re-institution of status not under individual masters but under the community as master.’

Spencer also insisted that a ‘complete parallelism exists between such a social structure and the structure of an army. It is simply a civil regimentation parallel to the military regimentation; and it establishes an industrial subordination parallel to the military subordination. In either case the rule is — Do your task and take your rations. In the working organization as in the fighting organization, obedience is requisite for maintenance of order, as well as for efficiency, and must be enforced with whatever rigour is found needful.’

So, the socialists’ perennial recourse to force upon the failure of their schemes entails quite a lots of regimentation. And with regimentation ‘must arise a new aristocracy for the support of which the masses would toil; and which, being consolidated, would wield a power far beyond that of any past aristocracy.’

But that specter of what was later called totalitarianism, along with its necessary inequalities, does not faze socialists. ‘Just as the zealous adherent of a religious creed, met by some fatal objection, feels certain that though he does not see the answer yet a good answer is to be found,’ Spencer explained, ‘or just as the lover to whom defects of his mistress are pointed out, cannot be made calmly to consider what will result from them in married life; so the socialist, in love with his scheme, will not entertain adverse criticisms, or gives no weight to them if he does.’

The dream must go on for the besotted. ‘He will continue to hope that selfish men may be so manipulated that they will behave unselfishly — that the effects of goodness may be had without the goodness. He has unwavering faith in a social alchemy which out of ignoble natures will get noble actions.’

In the next chapter, Spencer turned to the problem of individual ownership … self-ownership … the individual’s ownership of himself (or herself). But Spencer is a sociologist here, not a radical libertarian, and his point is to explore such issues to understand the ebb and flow of social change.

‘There is small objection to coercion if all are equally coerced; and hence the tendency to regimentation reappears in one or other form continually.’ Equality thus can breed not only liberty, but illiberal suppression, as well. This is a key observation, and helps us understand not only tyrannical systems but liberated ones. ‘Along with increases in that direct State-ownership of the individual which is implied by use of him as a soldier,’ Spencer explained, carrying the thought over to ‘observe the increase in that indirect State-ownership which is implied by multiplication of dictations and restraints, and by growth of general and local taxation.’ 

In the late 19th century, when Spencer was writing these final chapters to the final segment of his magnum opus, France and Germany were militarizing heavily. This led, a decade after Spencer’s demise, to a continental war, the First World War. And ‘with extensive ownership of the individual by the State in military and civil organizations, there has widely coexisted advocacy of that ownership by the State to which socialism gives another shape,’ Spencer recognized. But in his somewhat more liberal England, ‘with approximation to the continental type in the one respect, there has gone a growing acceptance of the continental conception in the other respect.’

What began as a middle-class Fabian movement grew enormously. 

It is worth mentioning, though, that during this same period the ranks of self-identified ‘individualists’ also grew, according to Wordsworth Donisthorpe in Law in a Free State, published within the year of the edition of Principles of Sociology that sits by my side. Apparently the fin de siècle was a time, like now, of ideological polarization. And the result was war, from which the individualists did not recover, but the statists did, in several forms: fascism, social democracy, progressivism, and socialism.

But that was a few decades later. Towards the end of Spencer’s life, socialists were urging the ‘ultimate absorption of all kinds of fixed property’  and advocating general strikes ‘against rents as an immediate method of procedure’ as well as showing ‘an absolute disregard of all existing contracts, and, by implication, a proposed abolition of contract for the future’ — all of which Spencer saw as a ‘return to the old system of status under a new form.’

Like Hayek after him, Spencer regarded socialism as atavistic.

‘For in the absence of that voluntary cooperation which contract implies,’ Spencer explained, ‘there is no possible alternative but compulsory cooperation. Self-ownership entirely disappears and ownership by others universally replaces it.’

And the political incentives towards this end sound eerily similar to today’s partisan/bipartisan lurch towards ever-bigger government. ‘Naturally the member of parliament who submits to coercion by his party, contemplates legal coercions of others without repugnance. . . [B]eing the creature of his party and the creature of his constituents, he does not hesitate in making each citizen the creature of the community.’

And socialists, in this kind of environment, have a field day, gaining converts. I mean, the promises! But, as Spencer observed, the new convert ‘is not told that if he is to be fed he must also be driven.’

Spencer did not predict revolution, though, despite how often it was advocated: ‘A sudden substitution of the régime proposed for the régime which exists, as intended by bearers of the red flag, seems less likely than a progressive metamorphosis.’

But the end-game seemed obvious: ‘a state in which no man can do what he likes but every man must do what he is told.’

Spencer lets bitterness creep into his treatise: ‘An entire loss of freedom will thus be the fate of those who do not deserve the freedom they possess.’

But how long would the new, collectivist social state last? Spencer did not predict. But he did guess, in his last chapter, how the new socialist order might end. Such orders end, sometimes, with a ‘sudden bursting of bonds which have become intolerable may in some cases happen: bringing on a military despotism. In other cases practical extinction may follow a gradual decay, arising from abolition of the normal relation between merit and benefit, by which alone the vigour of a race can be maintained. And in yet further cases may come conquest by peoples who have not been emasculated by fostering their feebles — peoples before whom the socialistic organization will go down like a house of cards, as did that of the ancient Peruvians before a handful of Spaniards.’

Now, Spencer is often castigated as an advocate of necessary unilinear progress, yet he was, at the end of his sociological work, explaining ‘retrogression.’ 

He tried to paint in landscape, not minute portraiture: ‘if the process of evolution which, unceasing throughout past time, has brought life to its present height, continues throughout the future, as we cannot but anticipate, then, amid all the rhythmical changes in each society, amid all the lives and deaths of nations, amid all the supplantings of race by race, there will go on that adaptation of human nature to the social state which began when savages first gathered together into hordes for mutual defence—an adaptation finally complete.’ He understood that his basic perspective is, to most people, ‘a wild imagination.’ But evolution was not the whole of his Synthetic Philosophy, not the whole of his famous schema, for he insisted that the ‘cosmic process brings about retrogression as well as progression, where the conditions favour it.’ Contra his critics, he asserted an obvious point: ‘Evolution does not imply a latent tendency to improve, everywhere in operation. There is no uniform ascent from lower to higher, but only an occasional production of a form which, in virtue of greater fitness for more complex conditions, becomes capable of a longer life of a more varied kind.’

But he did insist that there are indeed higher forms that can be distinguished from lower forms, the higher ones corresponding to ‘greater fitness for more complex conditions.’

And socialism is not that highest form.

Liberty is.

twv

Notions of right and wrong, variously derived and changing with every change in social arrangements and activities, form an assemblage which we may conclude is even now in large measure chaotic. . . .

Originally, ethics has no existence apart from religion, which holds it in solution. Religion itself, in its earliest form, is undistinguished from ancestor worship. And the propitiations of ancestral ghosts, made for the purpose of avoiding the evils they may inflict and gaining the benefits they may confer, are prompted by prudential considerations like those which guide the ordinary actions of life.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 1, “The Confusion of Ethical Thought.”

If, instead of asking for men’s nominal code of right and wrong, we seek for their real code, we find that in most minds the virtues of the warrior take the first place. Concerning an officer killed in a nefarious war, you may hear the remark — “He died the death of a gentleman.” And among civilians, as among soldiers, there is tacit approval of the political brigandage going on in various quarters of the globe; while there are no protests against the massacres euphemistically called “punishments.”

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 1, “The Confusion of Ethical Thought.”

As the ethics of enmity and the ethics of amity, thus arising in each society in response to external and internal conditions respectively, have to be simultaneously entertained, there is formed an assemblage of utterly inconsistent sentiments and ideas. Its components can by no possibility be harmonized, and yet they have to be all accepted and acted upon. Every day exemplifies the resulting contradictions, and also exemplifies men’s contentment under them.

When, after prayers asking for divine guidance, nearly all the bishops approve an unwarranted invasion, like that of Afghanistan, the incident passes without any expression of surprise; while, conversely, when the Bishop of Durham takes the chair at a peace meeting, his act is commented upon as remarkable. When, at a Diocesan Conference, a peer (Lord Cranbook), opposing international arbitration, says he is “not quite sure that a state of peace might not be a more dangerous thing for a nation than war,” the assembled priests of the religion of love make no protest; nor does any general reprobation, clerical or lay, arise when a ruler in the Church, Dr. Moorhouse, advocating a physical and moral discipline fitting the English for war, expresses the wish “to make them so that they would, in fact, like the fox when fastened by the dogs, die biting,” and says that “these were moral qualities to be encouraged and increased among our people, and he believed that nothing could suffice for this but the grace of God operating in their hearts.” How completely in harmony with the popular feeling in a land covered with Christian churches and chapels, is this exhortation of the Bishop of Manchester, we see in such facts as that people eagerly read accounts of football matches in which there is an average of a death per week; that they rush in crowds to buy newspapers which give detailed reports of a brutal prizefight, but which pass over in a few lines the proceedings of a peace congress; and that they are lavish patrons of illustrated papers, half the woodcuts in which have for their subjects the destruction of life or the agencies for its destruction.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 1, “The Confusion of Ethical Thought.”

But side by side with the ethical conceptions . . . originating in one or other way and having one or other sanction, there has been slowly evolving a different conception — a conception derived wholly from recognition of naturally produced consequences. This gradual rise of a utilitarian ethics has, indeed, been inevitable; since the reasons which led to commands and interdicts by a ruler, living or apotheosized, have habitually been reasons of expediency more or less visible to all. Though, when once established, such commands and interdicts have been conformed to mainly because obedience to the authority imposing them was a duty, yet there has been very generally some accompanying perception of their fitness.

Even among the uncivilized, or but slightly civilized, we find a nascent utilitarianism. 

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 1, “The Confusion of Ethical Thought.”

Habits of conformity to rules of conduct have generated sentiments adjusted to such rules. The discipline of social life has produced in men conceptions and emotions which, irrespective of supposed divine commands, and irrespective of observed consequences, issue in certain degrees of liking for conduct favoring social welfare and aversion to conduct at variance with it. Manifestly such a molding of human nature has been furthered by survival of the fittest; since groups of men having feelings least adapted to social requirements must, other things equal, have tended to disappear before groups of men having feelings most adapted to them.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 1, “The Confusion of Ethical Thought.”

Survival of the fittest insures that the faculties of every species of creature tend to adapt themselves to its mode of life. It must be so with man. From the earliest times groups of men whose feelings and conceptions were congruous with the conditions they lived under, must, other things equal, have spread and replaced those whose feelings and conceptions were incongruous with their conditions.

Recognizing a few exceptions, which special circumstances have made possible, it holds, both of rude tribes and of civilized societies, that they have had continually to carry on external self-defense and internal cooperation–external antagonism and internal friendship. Hence their members have required two different sets of sentiments and ideas, adjusted to these two kinds of activity.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 1, “The Confusion of Ethical Thought.”

“[F]urther confusions . . . arise, not from the conflict of codes, but from the conflict of sanctions.”

Among uncivilized and semicivilized peoples, the obligations imposed by custom are peremptory. The universal belief that such things ought to be done, is not usually made manifest by the visiting of punishment or reprobation on those who do not conform, because nonconformity is scarcely heard of. How intolerable to the general mind is breach of usages, is shown occasionally when a ruler is deposed and even killed for disregard of them: a sufficient proof that his act is held wrong. And we sometimes find distinct expressions of moral sentiment on behalf of customs having nothing which we should call moral authority, and even on behalf of customs which we should call profoundly immoral.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 2, “What Ideas and Sentiments Are Ethical?”

Everywhere during social progress custom passes into law. Practically speaking, custom is law in undeveloped societies.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 2, “What Ideas and Sentiments Are Ethical?”

[I]f ideas of duty and feelings of obligation cluster round customs, they cluster round the derived laws. The sentiment of “ought” comes to be associated with a legal injunction, as with an injunction traced to the general authority of ancestors or the special authority of a deified ancestor. And not only does there hence arise a consciousness that obedience to each particular law is right and disobedience to it wrong, but eventually there arises a consciousness that obedience to law in general is right and disobedience to it wrong.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 2, “What Ideas and Sentiments Are Ethical?”

A trait common to all forms of sentiments and ideas to be classed as ethical, is the consciousness of authority. The nature of the authority is inconstant. It may be that of an apotheosized ruler or other deity supposed to give commands. It may be that of ancestors who have bequeathed usages, with or without injunctions to follow them. It may be that of a living ruler who makes laws, or a military commander who issues orders. It may be that of an aggregate public opinion, either expressed through a government or otherwise expressed. It may be that of an imagined utility which every one is bound to further. Or it may be that of an internal monitor distinguished as conscience.

Along with the element of authority at once intellectually recognized and emotionally responded to, there goes the element, more or less definite, of coercion. The consciousness of ought which the recognition of authority implies, is joined with the consciousness of must, which the recognition of force implies. Be it the power of a god, of a king, of a chief soldier, of a popular government, of an inherited custom, of an unorganized social feeling, there is always present the conception of a power. Even when the injunction is that of an internal monitor, the conception of a power is not absent; since the expectation of the penalty of self-reproach, which disobedience may entail, is vaguely recognized as coercive.

A further component of the ethical consciousness, and often the largest component, is the represented opinion of other individuals, who also, in one sense, constitute an authority and exercise a coercion. This, either as actually implied in others’ behavior, or as imagined if they are not present, commonly serves more than anything else to restrain or impel.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 2, “What Ideas and Sentiments Are Ethical?”

[E]thical sentiment and idea properly so called, are independent of the ideas and sentiments above described as derived from external authorities, and coercions, and approbations — religious, political, or social. The true moral consciousness which we name conscience, does not refer to those extrinsic results of conduct which take the shape of praise or blame, reward or punishment, externally awarded; but it refers to the intrinsic results of conduct which, in part and by some intellectually perceived, are mainly and by most, intuitively felt. The moral consciousness proper does not contemplate obligations as artificially imposed by an external power; nor is it chiefly occupied with estimates of the amounts of pleasure and pain which given actions may produce, though these may be clearly or dimly perceived; but it is chiefly occupied with recognition of, and regard for, those conditions by fulfillment of which happiness is achieved or misery avoided. The sentiment enlisted on behalf of these conditions is often in harmony with the proethical sentiment compounded as above described, though from time to time in conflict with it; but whether in harmony or in conflict, it is vaguely or distinctly recognized as the rightful ruler: responding, as it does, to consequences which are not artificial and variable, but to consequences which are natural and permanent.

It should be remarked that along with established supremacy of this ethical sentiment proper, the feeling of obligation, though continuing to exist in the background of consciousness, ceases to occupy its foreground; since the right actions are habitually performed spontaneously or from liking.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 2, “What Ideas and Sentiments Are Ethical?”

The prevailing ethical sentiment in England is such that a man who should allow himself to be taken possession of and made an unresisting slave, would be regarded with scorn; but the people of Drekete, a slave-district of Fiji, “said it was their duty to become food and sacrifices for the chiefs,” and “that they were honored by being considered adequate to such a noble task.”

Less extreme, though akin in nature, is the contrast between the feelings which our own history has recorded within these few centuries. In Elizabeth’s time, Sir John Hawkins initiated the slave trade, and in commemoration of the achievement was allowed to put in his coat of arms “a demimoor proper bound with a cord”: the honorableness of his action being thus assumed by himself and recognized by Queen and public. But in our days, the making slaves of men, called by Wesley “the sum of all villainies,” is regarded with detestation; and for many years we maintained a fleet to suppress the slave trade.

Peoples who have emerged from the primitive family-and-clan organization, hold that one who is guilty of a crime must himself bear the punishment, and it is thought extreme injustice that the punishment should fall upon anyone else; but our remote ancestors thought and felt differently as do still the Australians, whose “first great principle with regard to punishment is, that all the relatives of a culprit, in the event of his not being found, are implicated in his guilt”: “the brothers of the criminal conceive themselves to be quite as guilty as he is.”

By the civilized, the individualities of women are so far recognized that the life and liberty of a wife are not supposed to be bound up with those of her husband; and she now having obtained a right to exclusive possession of property contends for complete independence, domestic and political. But it is, or was, otherwise in Fiji. The wives of the Fijian chiefs consider it a sacred duty to suffer strangulation on the deaths of their husbands. A woman who had been rescued by Williams “escaped during the night, and, swimming across the river, and presenting herself to her own people, insisted on the completion of the sacrifice which she had in a moment of weakness reluctantly consented to forgo”; and Wilkes tells of another who loaded her rescuer “with abuse, and ever afterward manifested the most deadly hatred towards him.”

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 14, “Summary of Inductions.”

Among men at large, lifelong convictions are not to be destroyed either by conclusive arguments or by multitudinous facts.

Only to those who are not by creed or cherished theory committed to the hypothesis of a supernaturally created humanity will the evidence prove that the human mind has no originally implanted conscience. Though, as shown in my first work, Social Statics, I once espoused the doctrine of the intuitive moralists (at the outset in full, and in later chapters with some implied qualifications), yet it has gradually become clear to me that the qualifications required practically obliterate the doctrine as enunciated by them. It has become clear to me that if, among ourselves, the current belief is that a man who robs and does not repent will be eternally damned, while an accepted proverb among the Bilochs is that “God will not favor a man who does not steal and rob,” it is impossible to hold that men have in common an innate perception of right and wrong.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 14, “Summary of Inductions.”

“[T]he sentiments and ideas current in each society become adjusted to the kinds of activity predominating in it”

Where the predominant social cooperations take the form of constant fighting with adjacent peoples, there grows up a pride in aggression and robbery, revenge becomes an imperative duty, skilful lying is creditable, and (save in small tribes which do not develop) obedience to despotic leaders and rulers is the greatest virtue; at the same time there is a contempt for industry and only such small regard for justice within the society as is required to maintain its existence. On the other hand, where the predominant social cooperations have internal sustentation for their end, while cooperations against external enemies have either greatly diminished or disappeared, unprovoked aggression brings but partial applause or none at all; robbery, even of enemies, ceases to be creditable; revenge is no longer thought a necessity; lying is universally reprobated; justice in the transactions of citizens with one another is insisted upon; political obedience is so far qualified that submission to a despot is held contemptible; and industry, instead of being considered disgraceful, is considered as, in some form or other, imperative on every one.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 14, “Summary of Inductions.”

If any one says that the men who form the land-grabbing nations of Europe, cannot be ruled in their daily lives by an ethical sentiment, but must have it enforced by the fear of damnation, I am not prepared to contradict him. If a writer who, according to those who know represents truly the natures of the gentlemen we send abroad, sympathetically describes one of them as saying to soldiers shooting down tribes fighting for their independence — “Give ’em hell, men”; I think those are possibly right who contend that such natures are to be kept in check only by fear of a God who will “give ’em hell” if they misbehave. It is, I admit, a tenable supposition that belief in a deity who calmly looks on while myriads of his creatures suffer eternal torments, may fitly survive during a state of the world in which naked barbarians and barbarians in skins are being overrun by barbarians in broadcloth.

But to the few who, looking back on the changes which past thousands of years have witnessed, look forward to the kindred changes which future thousands of years may be expected to bring, it will be a satisfaction to contemplate a humanity so adapted to harmonious social life that all needs are spontaneously and pleasurably fulfilled by each without injury to others.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 14, “Summary of Inductions.” [conclusion]

The 20th episode of the LocoFoco Netcast is up:

LocoFoco #20, August 6, 2020.

The podcast is accessible via LocoFoco.net, and using podcatchers such as Apple’s and Google’s, Pocket Cast and Spotify. It is also available as a video on BitChute, Brighteon, and YouTube:

LocoFoco #20, August 6, 2020.

There seems to exist an institutional ban on certain ideas and areas of inquiry. Dominant paradigms — perhaps guarded by folks with ready access to tax dollars as well as established patterns of prestige — do not allow investigation into competing paradigms.

Of course, there is a lot of competition in ideas. Paradigms shift. But only by so much. Outside a prescribed (or intuited) band of acceptable dissent, the paradigm enforcers brook no denials, no expansions of knowledge, no uncomfortable conjectures.

Here we see one. A man gives a talk at a TEDx event. It is filled with scientific findings, and recounts his “pulling at a thread” (as Walter Bosley likes to put it) that unravels from the stories of our past that are approved by academic historians, paleontologists, geologists, et al. It is a fairly popular talk. But the higher-ups at TED flag it as “unscientific.”

Screen capture from YouTube: see, especially, the official “TED” note.

I have watched a lot of goofy TED talks. The idea that this talk is less acceptable than many of the moralistic, inspiring, weird, and downright bizarre talks on the main TED platform is preposterous. 

So. What is wrong with this TEDx talk?

It is too easy to see. It explores the idea of past catastrophes and of lost ancient civilizations. This is verboten in the academic world.

It may be that folks at TED are scared. They need the cooperation of academics, and academic schools of thought are maintained with a chillingly cold grip, strangling dissent within their ranks and consigning to complete and utter disregard those who persist in the shunned speculations and scientific work.

Read the “NOTE FROM TED,” above, an image of the YouTube page that addresses the flagging of the video in question. Read it. But better yet, watch the video:

Is this really beyond the pale?

twv

The problem with prophecy is that prophesying can change outcomes. 

Ask Jonah. He said Nineveh would be destroyed; in excoriating the Ninevites, they repented; they were then forgiven — holocaust averted. So, was Jonah a bad prophet because his prophecy did not come true? No. He was a bad prophet because he yearned for Nineveh to be destroyed.

The opposite effect can also be true: the self-fulfilling prophecy — as when speaking a prediction sets the situation up for the prediction to come true — which is related to the Thomas Theorem . . . which states that imagined causes can have real effects. 

So the very idea of prophecy links directly to important ideas in sociology and social psychology.

Economists also understand this pretty well — as when warning of a panic causes a panic, or, contrariwise, when warning of disaster spurs folks to prepare for disaster and therefore mitigates or even prevents disaster — and generally economists understand that predictions of a specific variety are well-nigh impossible.

The current pandemic has multiple instances of possible prophecy problems, as should be painfully obvious.

Prediction is a tricky business. Most people in the prediction biz are therefore also in the influence business. When we engage in predictions, we often find ourselves taking sides on outcomes, no matter how horrific.

Just ask Jonah.

twv

Cultural diversity means conflict when the individuals and groups see themselves as competing for scarce resources in the Commons, and the access is a zero sum activity.

The meaning of said conflict is clear in the El Paso anti-immigrant shooting, in the group-righteous racism of intersectionalist hectoring, and . . . well, one could read about it in the pages of this book, Politics in Plural Societies, by Alvin Rabushka and Kenneth A. Shepsle, who begin their treatise listing ethnic conflict around the world.

“Outright killing frequently takes place,” is a typical topic sentence in the first chapter.

The key concept is that of “the plural society,” coined by J. S. Furnivall, who defined the concept as a mixed-group society “comprising two or more elements or social orders which live side by side, yet without mingling, in one political unit.”

Because of his training as an economist, Furnivall naturally focused on the economic aspects of the Dutch colony. Observing that each community possessed a distinct set of values incompatible with those of other cultural groups, he characterized the plural society as one lacking consensus or, in his terms, one without “common social demand.” To illustrate his point, Furnivall constructed the following example. The buying of cathedrals involves an expenditure of resources much like the purchase of groceries. In a homogeneous society, the purchase of a cathedral provides an indivisible “public good,” i.e., every citizen may benefit from its construction. In the plural society, however, the erection of a Chinese temple constitutes a “public bad” for Muslims; in a similar manner, Muslim mosques provide few or no benefits for Chinese. Therefore, in the plural society social demands often result in public expenditures with benefits for one community and opportunity costs for the others. The plural society thus isolates the demands of its separate communities, and fails to aggregate, in Furnivall’s terms, common social demand.
Furnivall points to the presence of separate ethnic demands as a basis for differentiating a plural society from its homogeneous counterpart.

Rabushka and Shepsle develop what is basically a familiar theory, a Classical Liberal Theory of Competing Interest Groups, the basic idea being that if you want diversity, you must have limited government — and if you want big government, you must possess or (more ominously, create) a monoculture.

And if you fail to create a monoculture, you will get violence.

There is a reason today’s “multiculturalists” are such hectoring, moralistic ideologues: they are trying, rather desperately, to create a monoculture, an ideological one. And that is why they tend to look upon their political opponents as “deplorables” — because they resist the multiculturalists’ creation of a utopian society based on left-moralism.

Drolly, “right-wing” nationalism and its relentless pushing of flag worship and patriotic rite amounts to much the same thing, if on a much more limited scale — after all, nation-building is what nationalists do, and its element of doctrinal monoculture (in America, anyway) is the major competitor to multiculturalism.

Furnivall’s major contribution lies in his observation that plural societies are qualitatively distinct from homogeneous ones, and that the different communities of the plural society can meet only in the marketplace. His insistence that outside force is required to maintain order implies that plural societies are inherently prone to violent conflict.

This should be familiar to anyone who has immersed themselves in the sociology of Spencer and Sumner, or of the less ideological conflict theorists. That it is not familiar to most folks today is largely the result of bad education all around.

twv

To members of a proud in-group, those in the out-group tend to look like Yahoos. Not Houyhnhnms.

Do efforts to eliminate class in society usually just result in the creation of new classes and, if so, why?

as answered by TWV on Quora:

It is not clear what concept of class can stand the tests of analysis and debate. See Joseph Schumpeter’s essay on class for a decent and politically unbiased discussion. (I wrote a foreword to one ebook reprint of it. I am not sure it is still available.)

But let us pretend, for sake of this question, that common sense class notions are robust enough to work with. And that the reader will follow along with me as I present the following simple argument.

Attempts to eliminate classes, so far, have been political, governmental. That is, they involve the State.

Which means: force.

Sociologist Max Weber, in “Politics as a Vocation” (1919), wrote that “a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” — that is, “a compulsory association which organizes domination [and] has been successful in seeking to monopolize the legitimate use of physical force as a means of domination within a territory.” Barack Obama scandalized America by repeating this basic definition in 2008. (Dumb America, of course.)

So, why is this important?

Attempts by the State to break apart classes and create one mass of humanity must fail, because those using the ostensibly legitimate force are quite distinct from those being forced. Indeed, the use of force is the separator that distinguishes so clearly that even dullards recognize that a class demarcator is in operation. It is “sticky” in all imaginations.

I bring force into the discussion because physical force is the micro-social, transactional factor that creates the most basic class distinction. It is not merely the case that one group of people, in the State, seek and work to destroy all other class distinction, leaving none left but what remains, the State/non-state. Force-relations draw the strongest line with which to separate people, at least when the directions of force go mainly one direction, between groups. The groups demarcated by force-relations constitute a new class. Force, aggression — this is the most salient social factor, stronger even than matters of family and clan (so important to Schumpeter’s theory), race, language, or generation.

Now, States usually try to provide a meta-class structure, setting terms with all perceived classes in society. This not only strengthens the State, in one sense, it does so by limiting itself, since people will still align themselves and act within the context of many state classes. These other classes provide countervailing power against the State, which often serves to limit the use of force by State actors.

But once the State seeks to destroy all other classes, the number of alternate social systems to oppose the State vanishes, and society goes into a feedback loop. We then witness a maximizing of aggression and interference by the State, turning people into stooges of the State, finking on each other in fear of being finked on first.

And worse.

Human beings naturally form groups. They must, to work and achieve, sure, but also merely to feel human. But in a society with a State program to eliminate classes, this natural, human sociality turns sour, and we almost create a new man. The human being in a one-class mass society is post-moral, fear-ridden, hubristic, anti-social. An ironic twist on the New Socialist Man prophecy? Well, it was predicted in the negative form, by socialism’s enemies in the 19th century. It came true in the Soviet Union and other failed Communist “experiments.”

And the horrifying upshot has, I am told, been exquisitely depicted on the TV show Chernobyl.

The political/bureaucratic/military attempt to create a classless society creates a class system much worse than the classes we see in our freer societies.


…a few further considerations:

Though I rely heavily on force as a basic distinguisher of class, in the answer above, I do not wish to convey the idea that it is the only distinguisher.

Indeed, in most societies at present, the State works mightily to try to muddy up and even extinguish that class indicator.

One way it does this is by the circulation of personnel along with the circulation of elite positions. Indeed, America’s founders were much concerned about this, and so pushed “rotation in office” as a way to prevent the formation of a permanent governmental class.

Another way that the early American federal republic resisted the formation of a hard state/society class split was with “the Spoils System,” in which the winners of an election would fill many government posts as rewards to supporters. This meant there was no permanent class. But the open greed and clamor for position was ugly. And corrupt. So a permanent civil service was formed. And with it, a new class.

Of course, the class structure in America and most of the West is based largely on cognitive skills, with what I call the Moderate Brights forming the main pool of people to get placed into government. And the tendency of classes to congeal around family and clan success (as Schumpeter argued) is offset somewhat by the public school system, higher education and its grants economy, and a general credentialist selection system, which technocratic progressives pushed to replace market productivity as the means for social mobility — and which they use to calcify class structure in a society under a dirigiste State.

Another method to counteract the separation of classes along what could be called the Aggression Line is ideology, which includes morality and religion. By sharing norms and myths and rites, a sharp distinction between State workers on the one hand and citizens on the other can be fuzzed up, allowing the wheels of commerce and community to flow like water around the rocks of the State.

Indeed, ideology is of paramount importance, for it is ideology that turns the water of power into the wine of authority — it is ideology that paints on the halo of legitimacy.

Further, one should always remember that human beings are naturally hierarchical animals. And though the purveyors of Equality über alles might seem to be seeking to upend all accommodations to in-group/out-group and top/bottom distinctions, their eagerness to embrace the harsh hierarchies and class distinctions of Actually Existing Anti-Class Classism belies their explicit approaches.

It is hard not to judge them as mere insurrectionists, seeking to place themselves in some advantageous class position, with their preferred in-group well-ensconced, and their place in its hierarchy secured.

Is that too reductionist? Harsh?

twv

There are ideas that twist in on themselves, involving paradoxes that trap weak minds.

The most interesting of these are memeplexes that (a) suggest actions or even full policies that (b) yield results that, in turn, (c) seem to bolster the ideas themselves, but which (d) actually logically undermine the ideas because the policy (e) artificially produces the effects of the memeplex itself.

My favorite example is the idea, common in the South before emancipation, that Africans were not capable of education and responsible living, so it was better (for their own good!) that they be slaves. This is the “natural slave” notion. The thing is, the allied act, or policy, was to prohibit slaves from being schooled, and prevent them, in general, from acting responsibly. This kept the enslaved African-Americans ignorant and unpracticed in the arts of living, thus “proving” that they were inferior to white masters and white freemen. But of course a moment’s thought should show the flaw in reasoning here. The evidence for inherent inferiority is artificially produced by the very acts that the thesis suggests. So what is proven is no natural inferiority, but an artificial one. A policy-driven one.

Keynesianism shows another such implicit paradox. Keynes argued that markets cannot equilibrate after a sudden deflationary shock because of “sticky wages,” that is, inelasticity of a factor of production, which naturally produces unemployment. But Keynes and his Keynesian acolytes did not attempt to remove any government policies that made wages inelastic — and as Sidney Webb privately cursed, there were indeed policies of unions and governments that very much did make wage rates inelastic. Instead, the Keynesians sought a workaround in fiscal (and later monetary) “stimulus” . . . that catered to the popularity of the prejudice for wage rate rigidity by placing the focus elsewhere, which in turn exacerbated the stickiness of wages, thereby “proving” that wages are naturally sticky.

(This was all something of a red herring for curing depressions, since the real problem after an unexpected deflation is sticky long-term loan rates, holding borrowers to terms that become increasingly difficult to pay off in the context of plummeting prices, as Irving Fisher so ably explained. But the Keynesian policies effectively distracted policymakers from reforming wage contract policy and thereby fueled evidence for the sticky wage rates.) 

What we see in these instances is

A. a theory about cause and effect that
B. by association of ideas (intuition) goes hand-in-hand with a policy or set of actions that
C. produces effects that seem to confirm the theory A.

My chief conjecture about this process is that people tend to develop notions like Theory A because such theories suggest Policy B, which is what they really are concerned with. Policy B does not, as intuited, offset the unpleasant or seemingly disvalued effects of Theory A, but instead reinforces them. Whether the “naturalness” of Policy B’s perverse effects are understood consciously by inattentive people (which has to be often the case, since in politics and government most people run on intuition, not reason and evidence).

The most common example of this process is in state aid policies. Here people theorize, for example, that discrimination and poor education and inadequate nutrition leads certain grouos of people to lag behind the average in productivity and economic success. That is the Theory A. Naturally, and not implausibly, since one does not like the effects of Theory A, one seeks to help people . . . through an extensive welfare state. That is Policy B. The problem is, Policy B provides sufferers of poverty (in this case) many disincentives to advance on their own. And the policy actually incentivizes people to ape behaviors that would trigger and even increase their subsidies, effectively taking them out of the market. Which is what we have seen, with the trendline in poverty sloping downward before the War on Poverty and leveling soon after the “War” commenced.

twv

The idea that we cannot have good things without taxpayer subsidy and political-bureaucratic management is implausible on the face of it. But long habits of doing and thinking one way can prevent seeing the advantages of doing and thinking in another.

A number of basic government policies have distorted civilization away from the paths that it would “spontaneously” have taken.

  • Medicare hornswaggled people into investing more wealth on the last years of their lives than they would have rationally chosen;
  • “Public education” forced people into devoting more wealth (and less attention) to the education of their (and their neighbors’) children than may likely have chosen sans government schools;
  • State roadwork systems funnelled wealth to the creation and maintenance of roads that, had folks been made to bear those costs more directly and consciously, they would have been unlikely to have opted for.

In each of these these cases people’s incentives were changed by policy and program. Their behavior changed, and civilization was channelled from some paths to others.

We commonly assume that this redirection of effort was all to the good, made us better people, and that government proved its ability to solve “public goods” problems — market failures — efficiently.

This strikes me as not very convincing.

Just consider, first, the opportunities forgone. Some opportunity costs of these three popular and quite bedrock policies include startling innovations that we are, socially and politically, now trying to resuscitate:

  • By channelling wealth into old-age medical care, the wealth taken could not be spent on other valued uses, including health maintenance, illness prevention, and private savings and insurance.
  • By channelling wealth into schools for children, the opportunities forgone include non-schooling means of education from apprenticeship programs to home learning systems and ma-and-pop tutoring programs — all at a fraction of the cost of governmental, union-approved kludge.
  • By setting up a system of roadways, alternate means of travel were quite obviously scuttled, from railway and waterway transit to personal methods not requiring heavy investments in infrastructure, like personal air travel.

But it is worse that the few examples listed above, which barely scratch the surface. Government external economies and market failures abound in the three examples I have chosen — despite (or because of) ostensible state efforts to solve problems of market failure.

  • By reducing personal costs of imprudence, subsidized medical care subtlely encourages folly, especially medical folly — and we have several generations of corpulent diabetics to prove it.
  • By reducing the personal costs of raising their children, parents are tempted to devote less wisdom and care towards their children, even towards education generally — and we have generations of near illiterates who know almost nothing of history . . . and think of “socialism” as savvy policy.
  • By reducing some of our direct costs on driving, and enticing us onto a vast network of roadways which we naturally treat as a new commons, cities sprawled, wildlife habitats were undermined in the hinterlands, and the amount of pollutants people individually put into the atmosphere increased by many orders of magnitude.

All three of these policies, by the way, encouraged us to think of consumption as separate from production. And that is my definition of “consumerism.” In a free market, we largely consume according to the amount of our production. This, because trade is two-way. But when government gets involved, we increasingly think we have rights to wealth and resources that require little or no effort on our part to achieve. We become recipients foremost, not cooperators.

All of taxpaying society becomes a commons, and we are encouraged by government involvement to extract as many resources out of the system as we can, and place into it as little as we can.

Of the three government-run systems I have mentioned — Medicare, public schooling, and roadworks — it is the road system that is most tightly constructed to avoid the tragedy of the commons, for roadways have been largely (though, alas, not solely) funded by fuel taxes and vehicle licensing. But with the rise of electric cars, fuel tax system is already breaking down.

The opposite of consumerism is producerism, of course, and in traditional Puritanism and in protectionism we can see elements of that philosophy.

But both philosophies are out of balance. They are, in truth, examples of government splitting the whole person into two, according to functions. An individualist would encourage each person to think of himself or herself as both producer and consumer. Consumerism works against that, and corrupts our culture because of it.

Other isms jump on board, too.

Feminism, for example, has pried the natural division of labor by household apart, working mightily to transform that division by running it through the institutions of the administrative/redistributive state. In so doing, the feminine consumer function — of mothers managing resources for their families — has been taken as a consumerist standard of “social justice” while the masculine producer function has been targeted as the source of wealth to be resistributed by the “benevolent” mommy state.

Individualism strikes me as very different from these other distributional paradigms. But by seeing all adult individuals as united producer-consumers unless contractually relegated to half-roles (by marriage or job, usually), a whole lot of responsibility gets shouldered by indvidual persons.

And people tend not to take on more responsibilities than they have to.

Which is why they so often turn to governments to solve all their problems.

The chief cost of consumerism might seem to be best expressed in taxes or social welfare functions. But it is really in terms of your soul.

twv