"It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expence, either by sumptuary laws, or by prohibiting the importation of foreign luxuries. They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expence, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will." ~ Adam Smith
A Trip Down Anarchy Lane
'Things would spin out of control! People would run around killing and looting!' Those are common responses I get when I explain to someone that we don't need coercive government managing every aspect of our lives. And I'm not just talking about government rules like the drug laws that kill people. Even the silly little meddling of our masters is costly as well as irritating. For example, last year, my then four-year old son hated taking naps. But because of moronic government regulations, area commercial daycare providers were mandated to make the children of customers take naps. Consequently, no commercial provider was available to me that could offer a service tailored to my kid's individual personality. Instead, we spent a year on disciplinary issues centered on naptime. My son's time, the provider's time and the time of me and my wife were wasted. If these artificially concocted disruptions weren't purposely constructed by the rulers to keep the stupefied subjects off balance and manageable, the coincidence is certainly convenient. But while I can get agreement from most people that the napping rule is idiotic, they balk at my proposals to get rid of all coerced control, as if forced participation at the Department of Motor Vehicles is all that stands between us and running gun battles on the highways. Though most people lack the vision to entertain anarchy's glorious possibilities, nowadays with popular entertainment, who needs an imagination? Lots of creative artists have already taken us on the trip down anarchy lane.
During my tender twenties, Hollywood gave us the 1989 movie Miracle Mile, starring Anthony Edwards. The quick synopsis is that a man gets some minutes of advance warning of a pending nuclear exchange. He shares the news with a small group of people, and together they make a desperate attempt to get out of the zone of nuclear death. As news of imminent doom leaks out, murder and looting break out all over the city, making the protagonists' struggles even more harrowing. At the time, I was annoyed with the movie's pessimistic take on human nature--I had a very Pollyannaish view of it in those days. But looking back, the movie's core demonstrated the naturally positive way in which people operate under difficult circumstances. The half dozen strangers who get first news of the attack do not become raving lunatics. Rather, they voluntarily band together, divide up tasks, and try to help save one another's lives. Instead of a movie about nuclear war-induced hysteria, you have at its root a story about human cooperation and hope.
My fascination with civilization-shattering disasters continued for a period of years. I read 'Lucifer's Hammer' by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven in 1992. In their tale, a comet strike in the Indian Ocean wipes out hundreds of millions of people in Asia and the structure of civilization everywhere else in the world. The authors give us masses of people turned to murder, looting, and even cannibalism. Again, still clinging to the belief, at that time, in the innate good in a human soul, I dismissed the book as too cynical. Then Hurricane Andrew struck, and I got to watch guys on television news with automatic rifles standing on the street corners guarding plastic jugs of water in southern Florida . In light of Andrew, I revised my criticism of 'Lucifer's Hammer.' Now when I consider the story, I realize that the principal characters, in the wake of catastrophic disaster, formed a private property order that would delight an Austrian economist. Some private landowners who are sheltered geographically from the worst of the devastation set up their own privately run community. They let in the people they want. They bar the people they don't want. Cooperation and division of labor ensues, and civilization is only set back a hundred years in their commune instead of to the Dark Ages.
Recently, I picked up the recommended and truly superb comic book series 'The Walking Dead' by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore. What happens to the world when hell becomes filled, and the overflow is shambling down the middle of your street? Anarchy happens. A more widely known telling of the zombie world order story would be George Romero's classic 'Dawn of the Dead.' In the movie, four individuals pool their talents and capital to set up a safe haven in a shopping mall. The newer comic book story has even more characters and nuance since the medium allows the authors to flesh out the story. While all of the artists seem to feel that society at large will cycle into chaos, in the exact same tales they give models of the naturally occurring cooperation between people that would be on display if the state disappeared.
The anthropologists and sociologists have already had their work done for them by the entertainers. We can condense some of the following themes from their tales of fiction. First, the natural inclination of most people is to work together to reach common goals. When a serious issue of survival confronts most people, their first instinct is not to rape and murder the next door neighbors, but to work with them if that will better their chances of achieving a positive outcome. Secondly, most people are waiting to be led, and they'll follow the orders of the individuals or institutions that appear to offer the organization and safety that they are seeking. And third, there are sociopaths waiting for opportunities to murder and steal. In fact, many of them have a habit of gravitating towards political office where they can accomplish their evil with efficiency and impunity. That is why we must do whatever we can to make these offices as rare and unattractive as possible. In conclusion, anarchy will work if charismatic, competent and moral anarchists are on the scene to persuade the group to that way of living. Charismatic authoritarians and sociopaths will also have followers coalesce around them like cotton candy sticking to a paper cone. A state-less or minimal state community can develop and thrive where the ideas are implanted in the hearts and minds of the group and where they also have the capability to defend themselves against the competing authoritarian gangs that will rise up looking for a free meal ticket.
Failure to conceive of the prosperous civilization that comes with liberty is a natural failure instead of a moral one. Researchers have determined that people think and act in very distinct ways. In one 16-category classification, my personal thinking pattern coincided with a pattern typical of philosophers, writers, or dreamers. With the acceptance of that fact comes also the realization that there are 15 other ways of perceiving and thinking that are not akin to that of a writer/dreamer. Fortunately, though, our audience doesn't need to have a creative imagination to conceptualize life without human masters. The only thing they need is a television and DVD player.