Self-Ordering Human Societies Don’t Need the State
Self-interest and habit explain why most people believe that the state is necessary and benign. Another reason is that few people understand that complex systems such as human societies are self-ordering systems with no need for overall control.
This blog has tried to present an alternative future based on liberty and human flourishing. Meanwhile, around us top-heavy statist societies continue to engage in ever more elaborate and damaging forms of self-harm. Or at least harm to the governed at the hands of self-perpetuating ‘elites’.
The question I repeatedly try to answer, is why is this an uphill struggle? All the state-sponsored narratives such as Global Warming, 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’, Covid and Vaccines, Keynesian Macro Economics, The Superiority of Central Planning over ‘Capitalism’, The Efficacy of Government Prohibition of Drugs etc., the State as the Only Possible Provider of Health and Welfare Services, and ‘Redistribution of Wealth’, are arguably bogus, at best.
Believers in the state have little to offer in defense of their position. Historical examples disprove many of their narratives. The perennial superiority of freer market economies to centrally planned alternatives, and evidence of widespread private, mutualist and charitable provision of healthcare, education and welfare, are refutations of statist positions on historical grounds.
The real ‘Science’ behind covid, lockdowns and vaccines, and behind global warming is contrary to the official story in nearly all respects. As for the ruinous and debilitating scam of the ‘War on Drugs’, Portugal’s liberalization recently demonstrated, again, that it is entirely pointless, as well as harmful.
And if you think three steel-framed skyscrapers neatly collapsed at freefall speeds into their own footprints on 9/11 (a result only minutely pre-planned controlled demolition can achieve) because two of them were earlier struck by planes, then you are taking a great deal on trust.
Most of these topics have already been covered by earlier posts, as have some of the reasons why such arguments rarely make much headway with most audiences.
HUMANS HAVE EVOLVED TO BE EXPLOITABLE BY STATIST NARRATIVES
Humans evolved decision-making modules in their minds in their mainly hunter-gatherer past. These enable instinctive decision making based on pre-programmed responses around trust, mystical or magical thinking, group loyalty, reciprocity, credibility (nowadays ‘credentials’) and authority (see www.awah.uk post Jonathan Haidt’s ‘The Righteous Mind’).
This ‘Groupist’ human mindset evolved because it promoted survival – as any evolutionary trait must if it is to perpetuate itself. Ultra-cohesive hunter-gatherer groups were in fact better able to defeat and exterminate neighbouring human groups. Which is what our wild ancestors did. And our modern chimpanzee cousins do. Chimpanzees also share humanity’s imprinting for lethal, faction-based male politicking for access to extra resources and mating opportunities at the top of social hierarchies or ‘pecking-orders’.
All this means that advancing alternative world views based on rational constructs doesn’t work very well. Most people don’t adopt political views based on reasoned argument. They instinctively assume that their established group (now ‘state’) hierarchy and its narratives represent authoritative, credible, trustworthy and time-honoured truth. Insiders are the good guys, we free-thinkers are not.
Alternative views are dismissed as disloyal, self-interested and untrustworthy. The ancestral human mindset is so easy for political elites to manipulate to support their privileges and power. They can put forward apparently ‘caring’ but basically bogus collectivist narratives which secure their power - which is the thing they mainly care about. They have been getting away with this for a long time.
Changing public attitudes to the state will be slow work. Until, that is, the elites do so much harm that they activate emotional ‘distrust’, ‘lack of credibility’ or ‘non-reciprocity’ pathways in the minds of hitherto compliant populations. At that point their power is on shaky foundations. Distrust and suspicion, once earned, are hard to reverse. I believe we are approaching this point at an accelerating pace in many sections of society.
SUPPORT FOR THE STATE AND SELF INTEREST
Truth is cheap but ‘untruths’ are expensive. A high proportion of the population is on the government payroll, directly or indirectly. That includes government employees, academics, people in state licensed professions and the media, government and state pensioners, welfare recipients, and vassal governments overseas bribed with ‘foreign aid’.
It also includes employees of big companies using regulation to suppress competition (most of them in other words), or dependent on Zero-Carbon or other misguided interventions, or on money-laundering schemes like HS2, or other state contracts, or simply embedded in HR, ESG and other compliance departments.
Famously, you cannot convince anybody of anything when his income depends on his not understanding it. Unfortunately for supporters of the establishment, the cost of dishing out all these payments to maintain their narratives, political support and cohesion could eventually exceed the load-bearing capacity of the productive people who actually meet society’s vital daily needs. It probably already has done so in the West.
LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF SELF-ORDERING SYSTEMS
There is another problem making it harder for people to grasp how a non-state society could work at all, let alone work much better than the state alternative.
People think that everything only works because there is somebody at the top running or controlling it. If there were not, then surely chaos would result and all would be lost. This is not true, but people assume that it is.
The problem appeared in humanity’s attempt to understand the marvelous, and marvelously complicated, natural world.
Early paganism, as documented in Frazier’s ‘The Golden Bough’ and as the underlying structure of the Arthurian romances, assumed that land could only be fertile in terms of crops, and human and animal procreation, as long as its reigning ‘sacred king’ remained vigorous and fertile. If he weakened, the land itself would become the ‘Terre Gaste’ or Wasteland. To avoid this catastrophe, he had to be killed off in favour of, or by, virile challengers. Hence the bloody repetition of the Grail Quest, and so many ‘knights’ losing their lordships, ladies and lives to wandering denizens of the Round Table.
Our Western monotheistic religious tradition also sees the world as something that needs to be managed. It sets out from the start the need for a supreme entity who made the world and then ensures that it is managed on behalf of the faithful.
NATURAL SELECTION AUTO-MANAGES THE NATURAL WORLD
It is easy to see that religion confers benefits on believers in terms of promoting social harmony and tried and tested approaches to the problems of living. But it is clear that Charles Darwin knocked Him out of the role of necessary supreme controller or regulator of the natural world, of which humanity was correctly assumed to be a part.
He did this in 1859 when he published ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life’. It is more pithily known as ‘The Origin of Species’. But the full title is appropriate to the subject of this post.
Darwin realized that offspring varied from their parents but also inherited characteristics from them. That meant that both inherited characteristics and changes in those characteristics were relevant. He also knew that man had the god-like power to create new ‘races’ because new breeds of domesticated animals had in fact been created by human selection of preferred traits. He also knew species had become extinct.
Darwin discussed the way in which wild pigeons had been turned into so many different domesticated breeds, some more ornamental than others. He understood that some breeds’ bodies were more suited to the demands of life in the wild. In other words, they were ‘fitter’ - in a sense which has nothing to do with making regular trips to a gym.
But so what? Why would Nature (rather than God) consistently select individuals with characteristics that seemed to be fitter, thus creating new species naturally? That was Darwin’s problem until he read Thomas Malthus’s ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population’ written in 1798. This is not the place to lament the damage done by misguided political followers of Malthus (or indeed of Darwin), other than to note that the world still is afflicted by deluded but dangerous overpopulation and eugenicist alarmists, now rallied around the mischievous banner of green religion.
The point for Darwin was that he suddenly understood that if populations were limited by available resources, as Malthus explained, then not all offspring could possibly survive. (It may seem obvious to us now, but we are Darwin’s heirs). A relentless life and death struggle is under way everywhere in the natural world. This was the insight about ‘Natural Selection’. It marked out for death individuals whose inheritable characteristics made them relatively less fitted for survival. They would get eaten, or starve.
Constant repetition of selection of certain inheritable characteristics over long periods of time would inevitably create creatures different enough from their ancestors eventually to become new species. Meanwhile climatic and geological changes would also vary the selective pressures acting on individuals, further promoting the appearance of new species to exploit newly created opportunities or ‘ecological niches’.
So, mystery solved. No need for God, or any other manager. Instead, the wonderfully complicated natural world, previously cited as evidence for the existence of an omnipotent creator and controller, was now understood as the unguided outcome of simple principles operating over time in conditions of constraint or ‘scarcity’.
SELF-ORDERING SYSTEMS IN NATURE AND SOCIETY
Darwin discovered not just Evolution, but also a self-ordering system governing nature itself. Nature is a self-ordering system. ‘Self-Ordering’ because it remains in existence and operation indefinitely without the need for central planning, divine or human.
Darwin opened up the possibility that there were other previously unrecognized self-ordering systems to be found in the world, including in human societies.
In a nutshell, the thesis of this blog, as an Anarcho-Capitalist, Libertarian, Voluntarist or Sovereigntist essay, is that human societies are actually ‘natural’ self-ordering systems. They don’t need, or benefit from, having a central controlling group. They wouldn’t fall apart, or even suffer any loss, if the self-appointed statist elites who gum up the works to their own advantage were to be dispensed with.
Can evolution in the natural world be applied to identifying other self-ordering systems in human societies? What is needed are populations of people bearing different ideas, technologies, enterprises, languages and social/legal institutions, on which processes of selection can operate. These ideas, concepts etc., are sometimes described as ‘memes’.
There must be what economists call ‘scarcity’ – a lack of resources which causes meme variants which aid human survival to displace less ‘fit’ meme variants. This is the societal equivalent of Malthus’s understanding that there is not enough food and space to go round in the natural world.
Memes must be capable of modification over time. If memes could not change at all, comparable to all offspring being clones in the natural world, then there would be no continuing selection. But changes in memes must also be ‘path dependent’. Later versions must mostly resemble the parent stock, in the same way that offspring in the natural world are recognizably similar to their parents.
These are the pre-conditions for evolution to operate in human arrangements. For example, economic progress will naturally occur as enterprises use various changing technologies and techniques to maximise the resources they can secure. Unsuccessful, obsolete entities will go out of business. The general level of productivity will tend upwards, and with it, living standards. This is very much Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’. In his 1776 book ‘The Wealth of Nations’, Smith explained that each producer’s desire to improve his own wellbeing automatically led to ever-improving provision of goods and services.
This was the ‘Invisible Hand’ automatically guiding productive effort to where it was most effective. In other words, Smith identified the economy as a self-ordering system which needed no central planning or regulation. And he did so three generations before Charles Darwin came up with the same insight about the natural world.
LAW, POLITICS AND PROGRESS IN SELF-ORDERING SOCIAL SYSTEMS
Competition occurs not only at the level of individual enterprises and indeed households and individuals. It also occurs between different societies or cultures – bundles of connected memes - and between societies, countries, jurisdictions or communities.
Smith’s ‘Invisible Hand’ in a self-ordering and successful 18th century British economy pre-supposed the existence of a suitable legal framework. This was provided by a state judicial monopoly, operated by a Classical Liberal statist political system. There was a high degree of protection of property and persons. The British government, in those days controlled by propertied interests, credibly promised to take only a fixed, predictable and very modest share of investors’ and entrepreneurs’ returns.
The result was unprecedented progress under a ‘laissez-faire’ philosophy – laissez-faire meaning ‘let the market get on with it without state interference’ - which could only be counterproductive. In other words, societies, or at least economies, were tacitly agreed to be self-ordering systems.
Western societies radically outcompeted non-western societies. The latter came under heavy evolutionary pressure to adopt western institutions and technologies, including versions of the western states’ monopoly judicial systems.
Even the most successful societies can however be carrying harmful memes as part of their overall cultural package. Representative republics, as the USA and the UK essentially were in the 18th and 19th centuries, were gradually transformed into big state regimes during the 20th century under the influence of socialist ideas whose superficial attractiveness outcompeted the earlier laissez-faire ideals.
New narratives arose which supported the idea that the state was benevolent, competent and necessary. In the West the myth of central planning supplanted the hard-won, tacit understanding that society is potentially a self-ordering, stable and prosperous system.
The Classical Liberal system retained a component meme which jeopardized prosperity and human flourishing, and enabled the rise of Democratic Socialism. It allowed the state to retain its monopoly of the legal system. Without a state monopoly of judgement, legal systems would also become sets of competing entities, just like the rest of a free society’s institutions. The same pressures to produce a product which meets customers’ needs would come into play. A competitive legal system would be forced to protect property rights against all comers, making the state, in its current form, impossible to maintain.
In other words, if there is no state monopoly on judgement then the resulting free market in justice creates a legal system which enables society to become a stable, wholly self-ordering system. There is no need for state coordination at any level, and no risk of the chaos and impoverishment that state intervention invariably produces.