Wow, we have really gone off the deep end here! :) I take my eyes off the boards for a day, and now we’re justifying political terrorism in the name of liberating the oppressed, talking about doling away with money and replacing it with some vague sort of communitarian honor system based on personal reputation (craziness from the left), or honoring money as the highest expression of human reason, creativity, and industry from which nothing evil can flow (craziness from the right). I despair of finding anything rational to say, but I can’t leave poor Doug out there all alone trying to be the voice of reason.
Ok, there was a lot of sarcasm in that last bit, so apologies in advance. I don’t have all the answers, that’s for sure. And I said elsewhere that it’s a good thing Barry (and others) challenge us all to think about the wildest ideas, so I guess I can’t complain. And it’s nice to be in a position to see myself as a moderate when I’m used to being seen as the extremist in my geographic community. That said, I think this thread contains a fascinating set of wildly extreme ideas, so here’s my take on some of them.
Open Money- Read the essay and, as I said before, it is vague and founded on what I believe to be a ridiculously Polyanna and naive utopian notion that people are so naturally cooperative that only the evil institutions of government, and the artificial hierarchies they impose lead, us to bad behavior. I still think it’s bullshit.
YES, we have been selected for cooperative behavior since group living was a clear advantage to our ancestors, and we have inherited that as have most of the other extant primates alive with us. We are probably the most complex cooperators in nature, and as individuals we get along more often than not. BUT, we are also naturally very competitive, since the same social environment which we cooperate to sustain is a selective force and leads to intragroup competition. The two aspects of human nature (and yes, Barry, I believe there is such a thing) are not mutually exclusive. And the competitive side can give rise to lots of bad behavior within the context of sociality. Sure, environment influences the type and frequency of the behavior. Resource scarcity increases competition and violence, bread and circuses lead to less overt competition and struggle, culture plays a role, etc. But outside of very small, culturally (and probably ethnically/ideolgicaly) homogenous groups, the idea that we can create our own medium of exchange which others will give value to based on our personal reputation is nonsense.
There may be alternatives to money as we know it now, but it has developed and stayed with us largely because it is an effective medium of exchange on the scale at which our economic interactions take place these days. And I don’t think we’re going back to the kind of small, largely self-contained geographically local communities that would be necessary to abolish such a mechanism.
Terrorism-Killing people is usually wrong, and certainly killing people who have no personal connection to whatever evil you are trying to fight just to frighten a population, gain attention, or manipulate public opinion (which is, I think, a pretty fair definition of terrorism) is absolutely wrong. Is there sometimes justification for armed rebellion? Probably. Is the U.S. a horrifically arrogant and brutal (not to mention myopic and driven by bizarre factors like Bush’s religious ideology and domestic political posturing) actor on the world stage? All too oftem, yes. NOT, I hasten to point out, always. Sometimes we are genuinely trying to do the right thing, and occassionally we even do some good. But the fact that most Americans were shocked by the 9/11 attacks and bewildered as to where they came from and why (and subsequently cynically and all too easily misled into supporting the wrong response) is just a function of the fact that we pay too little attention as citizens to what’s going on in the world. Bread and circuses again.
Nevertheless, I don’t believe it is correct to justify one form of evil in terms of another. The motivation behind terrorist acts may include a legitimate anger at U.S. policy and actions (though to deny that local cultural, religious, and historical factors also play a role is to oversimplify), but this only explains them; it does not justify them. I know nothing of Honderich beyond the quote above, but in that he is dead wrong. He is trotting out the tired idea that the struggle for liberation of the opressed, however legitimate it may be in itself, justifies atrocities as the means to the end. Barry, if you believe the stuff in the essay you linked to about transition strategies to a new for of social order, you must agree that the means strongly influence the end result, and bringing about social change through acts of evil will not lead to a better world. Honderich is as much as saying as long as the perpetrator is an opressed individual, not an agent of a state, the act of violence cannot be thought of as terrorism but is instead moral. Again I say, bullshit.
Rand/Objectivism & Money- If there is anything in the world that could make me long for Barry’s vision of society to be right, it’s Objectivism. I wish I could offer a devestating word-by-word critique of everything Ayn Rand has ever written, but I can’t stomach reading enough of it. I gamely struggled through the money monologue (diatribe, homily, whatever it is) because I do agree we should read stuff that we disagree with for the sake of not getting too closed-minded. But just as money is not the main source of our bad behavior because it is mostly just a tool, so is money not the mystical embodiment of human potential because it is mostly just a tool. That people can be stupid, lazy, and still rich is self-evident in the world. That people can be smart, industrious, and poor is also evident, and Rand’s constant denial of that makes me furious. Circumstances beyond the control of the individual profoundly affect that person’s economic status. Barry may be wrong in that people don’t just do the right or wrong thing because of the society they live in, but the idea that people get what they earn in every way is even more misguided.
Now, Agregon, I agreed with most of what you yourself said in responding to Barry, but I think the passage you linked to goes a hell of a lot farther than you did. I don’t want to assume a perfect symmetry between your ideas and Rand’s based only on what you’ve so far posted. That said, I think objectivism/economic libertarianism is theoretically compatible but in actual practice incompatible with humanism. I think they overlap in that many humanists are secularists or even atheists, as are Randians (though certainly not all libertarians-c.f. Lew Rockwell as an example of a lifelong crusader for the libertarian cause and also a Catholic with sympathies for Gary North and others of an American Theocracy mindset). Humanists are often social libertarians in that they believe state interference with private behavior should be minimal, as is true for free market libertarians. But humanism also includes a strong notion that humans should be able to fulfill their potential. As a traditional economic and social liberal, I personally believe this would be impossible under any anarchic system, whether Barry’s socialist variety (which I still can’t quite grasp) or under an absolutely free market variety. Without some institutions created by a community and ceded some authority to restrict behavior, the strong will oppress the weak. There is lots of room to argue about what sort of institutions and how much liberty to give away, but I think Rand and Barry are both wrong in thinking that without some coercive authority people will all just naturally arrange the most peaceful and prosperous possible social order. Obviously, there are libertarians in CFI in sizeable numbers who believe their program of little to no government and unrestricted markets is the best path to individual fulfillment of potential, but I think history and present-day reality argue stringly that they’re wrong.