Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Centralized Stupidity, AKA the State

Four or five invulnerable philosophical propositions allow us to make fun of the rest. --Dávila

Hayek begins an essay called Principles and Expediency with the following quote:

The frequent recurrence to fundamental principles is absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty.

Now, the opposite of principle is what? It might be arbitrariness, or expediency, or unscrupulousness, or opportunism, each eroding and undermining freedom in its own way.

For example, there can be no enduring freedom in an arbitrary world; in fact, not even any real knowledge. Arbitrariness must be one of the primary attributes of hell. With no rock solid principles, there is no possibility of gaining a cognitive foothold with which to climb up and out.

And expediency has to do with some immediate gain or interest. I suppose it is guided by a telos, but a very near term one -- for example, dashing out of a restaurant without paying. I wonder how many people avoid doing that for fear of punishment, vs. how many due to principle? If everyone were guided by principle, then we'd need no law against it.

Remember what Sherif Bell said in yesterday's post: "It takes very little to govern good people. Very little. And bad people cant be governed at all. Or if they could I never heard of it." So, the less principle, the more law. And law can erode principle, because then you only avoid certain unprincipled choices for fear of being caught; or, you conflate morality with being law-abiding.

For Hayek, human beings require a condition of liberty in order to utilize what they know in order to accomplish what they want. This may sound simplistic, but the implications are vast and far-reaching. For it means that knowledge is not only not centralized, but cannot be centralized. Nevertheless, this hardly stops governments from trying.

But what do they end up centralizing? That's right: stupidity. And what is coerced stupidity? Yes, the theft of liberty: you are forced to do something stupid, and forbidden to do what you know best how to do.

Socialism would be so easy if only omniscience were possible: if the state possessed all the relevant knowledge, then it would just be a matter of logic and logistics. The concession to "liberty" would simply be a confession that there's something we don't know. But if the state knows what to do and how to do it, then liberty just gets in the way. Which is why socialism and liberty are not just incompatible, but opposites.

Liberals like to think of themselves as rational and scientific, but liberalism itself (the modern kind, not the real thing) is founded upon a total lack thereof: it is literally attempting the impossible: "knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess."

It is literally the case -- orthoparadoxically -- that civilization depends upon respect for and maintenance of ignorance, even more than knowledge. You might say that the less we know, the more we (i.e., civilization) know. In other words, knowledge is increasingly distributed as a result of the division of labor. What if the maintenance of our complex civilian were dependent upon what you or I know? It would instantly grind to a halt. As Whitehead wrote,

It is a profoundly erroneous truism... that we should cultivate the habit of thinking what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.

It is remarkable in this context to consider all the long-settled questions that the left is forcing us to rethink, from free speech to marriage to the constitution. It's like having go go back and justify sense perception, or logic, or language. Which I suppose they also want us to do.

Again, in one sense, political liberty is just the state's concession that knowledge is dispersed and omniscience is impossible. This is a scientific conclusion, but the science is quite different from that which applies to the study of nature. The complex system of a spontaneous order is not at all analogous to a linear system with machine-like properties.

If civilization were a linear system, then central planning would indeed be conceivable. To paraphrase Thomas Sowell, all economies are planned. The question is who does the planning, the individual or the state? I could make myself a bitter man if I dwelled on all the things I could do with the money I end up throwing at the state because it knows better how to spend it.

there is beyond question a body of very important but unorganized knowledge which cannot possibly be called scientific in the sense of general rules: the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place.

And how is this particularized knowledge of time and place rapidly coordinated? Yes, through the mechanism of price. Which is why those areas of the economy most unhinged from economic reality are those that are most interfered with by the state: medical care, college, and housing.

For example, we only know what it costs to attend this or that college. But we have no idea of the price, since the price mechanism is not permitted to function. Suffice it to say that when the state gets involved, the cost is always more than the price would have been.

Think, for example, of the layers of useless diversocrats that add to the cost of attending college. You can't put a price on them. Literally. If you did, you would immediately discover that they're worthless, because people would choose a college that avoids the cost of employing them.

I don't want to say "to be continued," because in a way I haven't even started.

2 comments:

julie said...

And law can erode principle, because then you only avoid certain unprincipled choices for fear of being caught; or, you conflate morality with being law-abiding.

Perhaps tangentially, people also avoid certain principled behaviors when said behaviors are mandated by law. Specifically, I'm, thinking of voluntary vs. coerced charity. Where more tax dollars go to welfare programs, people tend to be less generous on their own. Why take care of your neighbor when you know he just needs to go get a government check?

Socialism would be so easy if only omniscience were possible: if the state possessed all the relevant knowledge, then it would just be a matter of logic and logistics.

China is trying to accomplish exactly that with its social credit program. Everyone you talk to, everything you read, everything you buy, pretty much everything you do is tracked, and the consequences for "bad" behavior are heavy.

Van Harvey said...

"But what do they end up centralizing? That's right: stupidity. And what is coerced stupidity? Yes, the theft of liberty: you are forced to do something stupid, and forbidden to do what you know best how to do."

Yep. Centralizing power through regulatory laws or policies, is an attempt to determine 'smarter' behavior, without regard to, and in ignorance of, the relevant realities of the moment which drive the behavior of the people who'll actually be responding to them. It is really and truly imposing stupidity at a distance.

Surprisingly (at first glance), I think it requires a higher than average 'intelligence'(the circuitry of it, anyway), to believe and devise those decisions to be imposed, but coupled with an off the charts arrogance and contempt for reality. AKA: The Pro-Regressive mind - Left and Right.