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On Equality

Equality - in the political sense - is not a well understood concept. Over the course of history, those in power have sought to convince others that they have been ordained to rule by a higher power. For instance, rulers would often use parlor tricks to demonstrate a supposed supernatural ability. However, we now know that no human actually has such abilities. All men are equal before the laws of nature.

Beginning in the late 17th Century, Isaac Newton put forth concepts that could be used to explain these mysteries. The Newtonian revolution began to make it clear to humanity that such things as divine right were, in fact, non-existent. It is no surprise that John Locke - the father of Classic Liberalism - was good friends with Newton.

Soon, the concept of equality flourished - that is, no man naturally occupies an elevated status above the rest. They breathe the same; they bleed the same; they crap the same; if they walk off of a cliff, they fall at the same rate as a beggar.

This understanding lead the founders to realize - more so Thomas Paine than the others - that no man properly has the right to another man's life or the fruits of his labor. Accordingly, no group of men do either. It makes no difference whether the group is composed of 10 or 100,000,000 people, they cannot rightfully gang up on a man and strip him of his property for the sake of another. In other words, trying to impose "equality of results" requires theft and is far from the traditional concept of political equality.

Had the founders taken the concept of equality to its logical conclusion, they would have never established a government in America. After all, if the founders did not have the right to gang up on and rob others, how can another group of people - sanctioned by a document they wrote - have a right that they themselves did not possess?

The concept of a ruling elite is the antithesis of equality, and dictation by majority doesn't overcome this reality.



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Michael Nystrom's picture

Is it possible to take a logical conclusion too far?

The short story Harrison Bergeron, by Kurt Vonnegut does that for purposes of illustration. It is available in Vonnegut's collection of short stories, Welcome to the Monkey House. It is also available free to read online:

http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/harrison.html

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

The story takes a logical conclusion too far, but beginning with a false premise: That all men should be equal, not just before the law, but in all aspects. It is a good, quick read. I remember reading it in high school, and your post reminded me of it. Someone even made a short movie about it, available on YouTube:


http://youtu.be/FE_nr2t6fKQ

- - - -

I've been wondering about false premises recently. You're well aware that if you start with a false premise, you can end up anywhere, proving anything - including things that aren't necessarily so.

He's the man.

The equality to which the book you cited refers

is not the type of equality that I outlined in the post - far from it.

The type of equality that the book refers to is that found in places dominated by a State. Look at the public school system. It breeds conformity.

I do think there are problems with taking logical conclusions too far. The State happens to be a prime example. It stands to reason that governments are rooted in the observation that on a local scale - such as a workplace - good leadership can greatly improve efficiency and productivity. However, have you ever known a micromanager? Micromanaging is certainly taking a logical conclusion too far. To that extent, powerful central governments take that conclusion even farther.

So goes CA, so goes the nation

least we forget, CA is global government and NEVER will conceed "freedom" unless they have a bigger "jail" for the people.
I'm sure CA would LOVE nothing more than to give up an NSA for a UN Security Act and adminstration to do the work.

Not to start an argument haha

but this touches on something I have said for a long time on here.

MORALITY IS EVERYTHING!

Government Type does not matter. This includes anarchy. (and is the reason it will never work)

If the people are immoral, you will have corruption, period.

A basic breakdown:
Dictator: Moral, Benevolence.
Dictator: Immoral, Destroyers.
Anarchy: Moral, Freedom.
Anarchy: Immoral, Destroyers.
Republic: Moral, Freedom.
Republic: Immoral, Slavery, then Destroyers.

Which would you prefer?

Dictator forms of governments who are moral can allow their people the same freedom as long as they rule. However if they are not moral, they will soon turn on their people, use, abuse, and destroy them.

Anarchical systems that are moral will also grant the same freedoms we all desire, except unlike dictated governments, we get to choose when we are free. However if those living in anarchy are immoral, they will be no different than a dictator with an army, enslave, kill, rape, and stealing from any they can just to get by, or because they think its fun.

Republic forms of government with morals like ALL OTHER FORMS give us the freedom we desire. An immoral republic however, unlike the others is hard to change because the people (believe it or not) still have power. Only a fraction of the people must remain moral to keep a moral government running. This gives us the longest chance possible to fix the problems in society without killing eachother every time. A republic must go through several forms before it can fathom becoming a destroyer, first and foremost, slavery through "protection".

While all forms of rule can lead to the deaths of its people, the dictator can choose to kill at anytime, as can those in anarchy.

Only the republic is guarded against unchecked aggression, and yes I have heard the "hiring" out police during anarchy, but it is no different than a kings army, loyal only to those who pay them, and is still an unchecked power.

Of course, there will be corruption in any system

However, large governments tend to kill a hell of a lot of people - ~300,000,000 in the 20th Century alone. The US government is among the guilty.

Your argument seems to revolve around getting the "right" people in charge. When has that ever happened?

Well said

Kudos!

rulers vs. rules

If moral rules are not universalized, then you have rulers; and when there are rulers, there are no rules.

I agree with the second half of your statement

however, I don't think it's necessary for Man to be morally perfect to do without rulers.

If Man is thought to be so immoral, what makes anyone think that it's a good idea to put some of them in charge of everyone else?

In my experience, most people are pretty cordial when they have equal statuses (with respect to authority), but as soon as one thinks he/she has authority over others, cordiality goes down the drain.

Ever had a coworker promoted to a management position?

At least when folks are on an equal footing, one can just ignore the jerks.

What would they have done?

Had the founders taken the concept of equality to its logical conclusion, they would have never established a government in America.

If they had taken the concept of equality to the logical conclusion you think it leads to what should they have aspired to instead, as a replacement for the British tyranny they wanted to overthrow? Pure anarchy and universal application of the NAP?

How do you think that would have played out in practice, if they had advocated that and tried to get the general public at the time to see it as a desirable goal and a viable alternative to British rule?

If they could have agreed with you about the ideal end, but also knew that this ideal was not a practical option in that cultural context, then what should they have done? Does pragmatism win out, or would they be hypocritical if they advocated anything short of pure anarchy and universal application of the NAP?

Should have kept local rule as it was and abandoned the idea

of a central government altogether.

Local rule

I thought you were arguing for something more radical. Thanks for the clarification. But if government at the local level is violating the principle you're talking about, then the problem isn't due to those local governments collectively organizing, is it? Or to put it another way, if they can non-hypocritically endorse local rule, why can't they just as non-hypocritically endorse a higher-level organization of that local rule?

I didn't say that they needed to endorse local rule

I said they should have just left things as they were.

Personally, I endorse the complete dissolution of all "government" - in the sense of condoning the existence of overlords with rights additional to what others possess.

Somehow

I'm obviously missing your point. You're making an argument that recognizing the inherent equality of all humans implies that no form of government is justified. That would be a principle violated just as much by local rule at the state level as by those states organizing together. So I don't see how the argument you're making follows from recognition of equality.

Personally I don't think the "no government" solution is possible in practice on a large scale (although I don't deny that it can work in small independent communities where everyone knows everyone else). And I do think that making whatever government is pragmatically needed as local as possible is wise, I just don't think that this preference for locality follows from recognition of equality.

Side note: getting rid of the notion of special rights, or even getting rid of government, doesn't solve the problem of overlords. An imbalance of power is all overlords really need, although if that and fear are all they have going for them their grasp on power is not as stable as it otherwise might be.

There's a difference between gangs and governments

People view governments as legitimate fountainheads of authority. People view gangs as thugs.

Maybe I wasn't clear enough. What I was trying to convey is that local rule already existed when the founding documents were drafted. It wasn't in the power of the founding fathers to abolish state governments. They certainly could have lobbied for it, but I doubt they would have gotten far. After all, people were just getting comfortable with the idea of not having a king.

It was in their power to not establish a central government, and let the States cooperate as they wished.

I completely agree that local rule violates the principle of equality just as central government does and was not trying to say otherwise. Perhaps, this is where I was unclear.

Would you agree with making taxation voluntary? Or, should taxes forever be collected at the point of a gun?

Gangs and governments

Differences certainly. Gangs use power and fear, monarchies use power and fear and sometimes the public's acceptance of divine right or whatever, and governments use the consent of the government where they have it and power and fear where they don't. My point was just that getting rid of government doesn't mean you get rid of overlords. You just change the kind of overlord.

I agree it was in their power to not establish a central government, but I don't know that they could have or should have seen central government as anti-equality, which is what I thought you were arguing. If they had agreed (and I doubt they did, or could have made that much of a leap from where they started) that state-level government was anti-equality in principle, adding a layer of coordinated government on top of that wasn't *more* anti-equality, so why would they oppose it on that basis?

Perhaps they would have said that the Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights were attempts to reign in the potential excesses of those state-level governments. The states still had nearly all of the power (as things were intended to work) that they would have had otherwise, but were then constrained by mutual agreement that none of them would be able to ban free speech, or take away guns, etc.

Would you agree with making taxation voluntary? Or, should taxes forever be collected at the point of a gun?

Are we talking ideals, or what's possible in practice?

The idealized kind of situation that works with little or no government, to me, is an independent resource-rich community small enough that everyone knows everyone else. In that sort of situation I don't see why you couldn't run everything without taxes. If someone tries to be a free rider, they'll be persuaded otherwise (or "convinced" to leave) with whatever degree of force is needed to make that happen, so the voluntariness of it is nuanced at best.

As you scale up from there it works less and less well (in my opinion, based on my expectations of human nature), and you're really just left with choosing the form of overlords you prefer.

I think if Thomas Paine had been invited to the

Constitutional Convention, the document it produced would have made the government tolerable for much longer than it has. I don't think, though, that government can be limited. It will always devolve.

As far as voluntary taxation is concerned, I like to think about it in terms of the market. People say that we need such an organization to perform basic tasks that otherwise wouldn't be done - roads, police, etc. The word "need" implies demand. Making taxes voluntary exposes government to the market - essentially making it just another business. If the services it was providing were truly essential, people would eventually realize this and pay. They may pay only when they actually need the services.

The people across town have no right to get mad at me if I don't want to pay to pave their neighborhood road - hell, even in my own neighborhood. Suppose I have a 4x4 and am not concerned with road quality but my neighbor drives a Lexus and is pissed about the quality. Why is that my problem?

Many times, the police rarely go to the bad part of town. However, those folks are paying local taxes (sales taxes, property taxes, etc) just like everyone else for the police to hang out in the good neighborhoods and ignore theirs.

Making taxes voluntary gives economic incentive to provide better service (otherwise people would just quit paying).

What makes you think it wouldn't work?

Voluntary

Well, the free rider problem is one thing. You say If the services it was providing were truly essential, people would eventually realize this and pay. But why do you think that?

Nearly every discussion I've ever had with an anarchist has come down to different views of human nature. I think that given a choice between paying for services (even services that the person agrees are essential) and not paying for services, if the option of being a free rider is available then a large percentage will take it. And the more that take that free rider option, the more others around them will want to take it, too, because why should they pay extra to subsidize the free riders?

The people across town have no right to get mad at me if I don't want to pay to pave their neighborhood road - hell, even in my own neighborhood. Suppose I have a 4x4 and am not concerned with road quality but my neighbor drives a Lexus and is pissed about the quality. Why is that my problem?

I expect that if the Lexus owners are effectively given a choice of either subsidizing you so you have nice roads to drive on, or getting an SUV themselves so you can all drive on crappy roads, you get crappy roads and lots of SUVs.

Perhaps as the roads deteriorate further, and even the SUV owners are starting to think maybe they should try to get some road repair funding going, your neighbor who used to own a Lexus (and doesn't speak to you any more) buys a surplus tank with steel treads, so any paving you pay for is going to last about a week. But he doesn't need paved roads so why is that his problem?

The problems that you discuss are problems encountered

with the State.

And the more that take that free rider option, the more others around them will want to take it, too, because why should they pay extra to subsidize the free riders?

At least in a system where communities are responsible for themselves, the free-loader problem can be handled locally. As it is now, there is no recourse available for those that don't want to subsidize free-loaders.

I expect that if the Lexus owners are effectively given a choice of either subsidizing you so you have nice roads to drive on, or getting an SUV themselves so you can all drive on crappy roads, you get crappy roads and lots of SUVs.

If that's what the market decides, so be it. What's wrong with that? Are you, personally, concerned with the quality of roads that I drive on now? I'm living in the city now, but for quite some time I lived in the country and drove on dirt roads.

Besides that, I used to build roads for a living. I can adequately maintain a road.

Perhaps as the roads deteriorate further, and even the SUV owners are starting to think maybe they should try to get some road repair funding going, your neighbor who used to own a Lexus (and doesn't speak to you any more) buys a surplus tank with steel treads, so any paving you pay for is going to last about a week. But he doesn't need paved roads so why is that his problem?

The first part of the sentence is reasonable and could likely occur. However, if the neighbor can afford a tank, he would've probably already paid to pave the road. In addition, his employer would probably fire his ass for destroying the parking lot at work.

Besides, if I have to put up with those types of problems versus a government using taxpayer money to murder people around the world and devaluing the currency through counterfeit, I'll take the shitty roads.

Free riders

The question, as I understood it, was about how to resolve the free-rider problem without force. The state uses force. In an anarchic community force could be used, too, but only by violating the NAP. Like I said, if those are the things we're comparing then it's just about picking the kind of overlord you want, gang or government.

In an idealized community like you're envisioning, where equality is taken to mean that nobody has the right to take another person's property by force, you either have to make free-riding impossible (which I don't see how you would do) or the community has to accept that free-riders are just exercising their choice in a way that must be respected (which I don't think is sustainable in practice).

However, if the neighbor can afford a tank, he would've probably already paid to pave the road.

Why? He'd be paying to keep the road in Lexus quality, which also benefits you (convenience of being able to drive faster, less wear and tear on your truck). So you're the free rider in that situation. It might be a small amount at stake but it gets under his skin.

So he smiles when you say that to him, and reminds you that when he had a lexus he made the same argument to you, that if you could afford that nice SUV you could certainly afford a fair share of keeping the roads paved. Now he's going to tear up those roads faster than you can build them to give you a taste of your own medicine. He really loved that Lexus. (When he gets out of your neighborhood and into one that hasn't devolved into a feud, he uses the motorcycle that's strapped to the tank to go the rest of the way to work.)

It's not the best example for it but the point is that free rider situations tend to be unstable, because if someone is paying for something voluntarily, but sees that others are choosing to pay nothing and getting the same benefit, then it's only natural that they would resent that and also want the benefit for free.

Besides, if I have to put up with those types of problems versus a government using taxpayer money to murder people around the world and devaluing the currency through counterfeit, I'll take the shitty roads.

You say that as if those are the only choices.

To take it back to the original question, *if* it's impractical to have a zero-government nation on the scale the founders had to deal with, then given that the local government at the time was not oppressive, a centralized government *of the kind they tried to implement* wasn't a bad idea. Coordination between the states about things like trade and money and so on isn't a bad thing. And to a large extent the Constitution, as originally intended, didn't take much power away from the states, and arguably in the Bill of Rights (as originally intended) it represents a collective commitment between the states to respect liberty and hold each other accountable to that standard in the future.

In other words, I don't think that even if they had more completely embraced the concept of equality it would have followed that they should not have proposed the system of government they proposed (as originally intended). If a zero-government solution is not sustainable in practice, then they should not have seen that as a goal. If some government is needed, then trying to minimize the potential for future oppression is a worthy goal. The Constitution (as originally intended) didn't add any oppression, but it did among other things put some obstacles in place (as originally intended) against future oppression.

No thoughts?

...