Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Leviathan The Great Caterpillar

The state will wither away from the Earth, or so it has been intuited.  The departure has been predicted for centuries.  Not just by the Marxists and Anarchists.  At least as early as the Jewish prophet Daniel, writing of the fate of empire from the perspective of ancient Babylon.  Recall his dream of the great idol of golden head, silver torso, iron legs, and clay feet, crushed to smithereens by a meteorite.  The beast will be slain.   All the empires of the Earth will fall, whether by natural, supernatural, or human hands, eventually.  That is a mathematical certainly.

Whether humanity will survive the death of the state and empire as a reoccurring phenomenon is an open question.  Some of us choose to believe that it will.  Some of us choose to believe that one day, a more enlightened humanity will lay the idea of state on its deathbed and allow it to slip into an eternal slumber, never to rise again among humans.  What a happy day that will be!

Death as a final destiny is not the only allegory that might be applied to the future of the state.  When a caterpillar undergoes metamorphosis does it die?  In a sense, yes: the caterpillar and all of its behaviors are no more.  The emergent moth is an almost unrecognizably different creature, both in physical form and behavior.  In a sense, no: the identity of the moth as an individual is traceable through its metamorphosis from its prior identity as a caterpillar.  If we hope for a post-apocalyptic society in which humanity will thrive, metamorphosis is a more useful analogy than death.

Some ancient seers foresaw the caterpillar or "worm" Jacob climbing the ladder to heaven, and being reborn as a divinely led body.  Whatever your beliefs regarding prophetic utterances, you can probably recognize that widely held beliefs about the future have real consequences.  We undoubtedly influence our futures by first imagining them.  We can chose to imagine that great worm Leviathan, comprised of all the nation-states, undergoing metamorphosis and emerging transformed and liberated.  We can imagine a new world in which the machinery of war, rule by force, deceitful politics, privilege and taxation are in the distant past, and widely abhorred.  We can imagine that if any such transformation is to occur, it must come from within.  If the transformation is imposed by force or fraud, it has not occurred.  Liberty by imposition is an impossibility.  If believed, it can only be delusion.

If you believe metamorphosis to a stateless society to be possible, whether you ascribe it to a divine plan or to a multitude of complex and coordinated conscious choices by billions of individuals makes no real difference.  One is as miraculous as the other, and both can be simultaneously true.  Either way, we as individuals make up the DNA of the Great Worm.  We as individuals possess the only cellular machinery capable of transforming the Worm into a stateless society that frees all people to thrive in greater harmony and peace.  We all have equally important jobs to do.

All of these imaginings are based in hope, and contradict much of the evidence at hand.  Today, the power of the state seems to be growing ever more pervasive, invasive, and far reaching.  Enumerating all these unfortunate realities is not my present purpose, nor do I mean to count all the counter trends providing a rational basis for hope, however slim. We are free to hope that the state will eventually be reduced to dust, displaced by a more rational and just scheme for organizing society, however long that takes.  We are always free to hope.

What survives the death of the state?  Bare subsistence as hunter-gatherers?  A pre-industrial agrarian society?  An advanced post-industrial society that supports dense and fulfilling urban living, sophisticated division of labor, and technological advancement?  Why only one?  All three of these and more might co-exist in ways both surprising and conventional.  We cannot know what the endpoint will be, nor is it necessary to know it.  We can know only that the future stateless society will lack the characteristics of state, by definition, by whatever name such characteristics are called.

When it is recognized that transformation to stateless society must come from within, the idea of the state as enemy must be discarded.  State is not enemy.  It is precursor.  We would be foolish to wish for its destruction, because its fabric is us.  State would not exist were it not for the fears and lusts of humanity, and cannot be destroyed without the destruction of humanity.   If we are wise, we will wish only for its transformation.

All that may seem like a lot of mumbo-jumbo, but there is a practical point. We who have taken the red pill and absorbed some stark lessons about the nature of power may naturally resent the continuing slumber of our fellows.  There is an impulse to excoriate those who still cling to that great fiction by which (as Bastiat wrote) everybody tries to live at the expense of everybody else.  Excoriation has its place, but has not proven terribly effective in bringing about a new stateless society, or even in restraining the worst excesses of the state.  People cling to the current order, not because of ideology, but out of practical self-interest.  They do not see enough viable alternatives. But where they do see less regulated environments that provide some benefit, they flock to them.

This dynamic runs the world.  There is a voluntary sector, where all production occurs and most innovation emerges.  And there is a compulsory sector, that extracts a substantial portion of the wealth produced by the voluntary sector, and redistributes that wealth to its favored constituents.  The success of the modern state rests on that at which it truly excels: deception and coercion.  It has proven itself able to stealthily extract a tremendous fraction of the total wealth of the voluntary sector, by using tools such as central banking and compulsory fiat money systems, credit expansions, complex taxation systems, and vast regulatory bureaucracies that invade almost every crevice of human activity.  So subtle are the mechanisms of wealth extraction by the state, that most people are unable to comprehend how they have been robbed.  On the contrary, a great many people credit the state with being primarily responsible for their prosperity and security! Somehow, the state has managed to convince most of us that we are its beneficiaries, and therefore it deserves our protection.  The state is not adept at producing goods and services that people will voluntarily buy, but is the master of coercion and deceit.

It follows that mere participation in the voluntary sector will do nothing to transform the leviathan. Silent acquiescence just plays into the current servitude, and emboldens constituents of the state to take a greater share.  Deliberate activism is required.  That activism can take many forms, but in evaluating its likely efficacy, we might ask this question:  Does the activism increase the fraction of real economic and beneficial life activity that takes place voluntarily, and diminish the fraction that passes through the coercive or deceptive mechanisms of state?  More simply, does the activism promote processes for justly meeting human needs that reduces the entanglement of coercive government in meeting those needs?  If so, the activism is transformative, and worth doing.  If not, it is likely not worth doing, and is counterproductive to liberty.  With, and only with, enough transformative activity by we its constituents, Leviathan will certainly be transformed, and the Worm will die.

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Photo Credit: "Metamorphosis: Free as a Butterfly and Ready to Fly"
by chekabuja   
Photo and essay are subject to Creative Commons License