"You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him." ~ James D. Miles
The Mental Inertia of Statist Quo Bias
Column by Jakub Bozydar Wisniewski.
Exclusive to STR
Possibly the most troubling aspect of any form of statism is not that individuals are treated instrumentally and their property rights are regularly violated, but that the vast majority of both the victims and the perpetrators of these happenings consider them as "normal" and "uncontroversial," as if propelled by some form of anthropological necessity. They do not normally think that siding with such a system requires asking oneself very seriously some fundamental economic (do I believe that institutionalized, regularized violence and coercion can generate or safeguard prosperity?) and moral questions (do I condone institutionalized, regularized violence and coercion, especially if perpetrated by myself?), nor do they normally conceive that such a system can be fundamentally contested on the basis of answering such questions in the negative.
In other words, the problem is not that the vast majority of statists answer certain fundamental questions in the way that, for various reasons, might be thought of as misguided or wrong. The problem is that they grow into a worldview that removes such questions from the ambit of questions worth asking or even thinking in the first place. To put it differently, the intellectual isolation of a libertarian consists not in the fact that he or she is in the minority, but in the fact that, at least as of now, the majority does not even think of the relevant issues in terms of majority and minority positions. This does not make the task of the libertarian hopeless, but it certainly makes it all the more formidable.
The above difficulty is compounded by the fact that uncritical acceptance of the statist quo is carefully cultivated and enhanced by relentless institutional indoctrination. The goal of all propaganda is to shut down the minds of its victims. In this respect, statist propaganda has been an almost unbelievable success. It would be scarcely an exaggeration to suggest that 99% of the world population, including those who call themselves "political philosophers" or "social theorists," when confronted with a case for voluntarism, would respond with an endless stream of pro-statist-quo what-ifs, what-woulds, and who-woulds, epitomized by the immortal "without government, who would build the roads" slogan.
Notice that a voluntarist or a libertarian never responds with his or her own list of such hypotheticals. To ask "what if the government decides to set up a gulag and throw me there," "what would happen if the government decided to kill or maim thousands of civilians in some remote part of the world," or "who would protect me if the government decided to issue a warrantless order to assassinate me" would be ridiculous because these are not hypotheticals at all--this is the reality of statism.
In other words, in the context of analyzing the merits and demerits of statism, the Nirvana fallacy is clearly a fallacy, but--for lack of a better term--there is no "dystopia fallacy" corresponding to it. Instead, there are dystopian facts--it would be difficult to think of a worst-case scenario that the state did not already make all too real.
In sum, this is how the situation looks like--while an honest statist would have to acknowledge that the system he supports can be likened to constant teetering on the brink of hell and occasionally falling over it, he will typically cling frantically to the belief that it is the best and only way to organize social affairs and that no logically and economically informed non-coercive alternative should replace it unless its implementation can immediately catapult us straight to heaven.
This is the power of the large-scale, institutional Stockholm Syndrome. And it is because of this power that large-scale preference changes in the direction of non-aggression, non-violence, voluntaryism, and free enterprise are so comparatively rare. The only effective tool of countering its influence is to lay bare its ugly nature as often and as clearly as possible, as well as to promote the great economic and moral benefits of liberating oneself from its influence. Fortunately, today, in the age of the Internet, this task is easier than ever before, so let us try to accomplish it as soon as humanly possible.