Taking Personal Responsibility Renders Political Freedom
Democracy is viewed as the motherhood of political systems — the bedrock of freedom and prosperity. But recent evidence no longer supports this view. All democracies, be they direct, constitutional or representative, have eventually devolved into either an aristocracy, as in ancient Greece, or to authoritarianism, as we are now experiencing. Democracy seems to be “the God that failed.” However, many still support it, some begrudgingly, because they cannot think of a better system, but also because the archetype of a centralized governing structure is so deeply embedded in our psyche.
Granted, many still view the challenges that democracy is facing as merely a personnel problem — “replace the existing scoundrels with our choice of politicians, and all will be good!” But unfortunately, all will not be good, for this is no longer a personnel problem or even a left vs. right issue; it is a systemic problem revolving around the use of coercion to accomplish ends that violate individual, property, and privacy rights, which constitute the foundation of a politically free society. The greater the sophistication of surveillance technology, the more tyrannical governments become. One cannot repair a system that breeds tyranny — one must replace it with something better.
The monopoly on coercion that political systems wield, be they democratic or otherwise, is the real issue, despite the “good intentions” of many of our elected officials. This is not merely a “bad or inept politician” problem, although ineptness appears to be escalating. It is a systemic moral issue which stems from a flawed view of human nature as “Hobbesian agents” — a war of all against all. The Hobbesian agent is, in fact, the over-regulated agent.
Initially, democracy was a beneficial bisociation of a power structure and personal choice. It was an innovation — a power structure in which citizens had a say in choosing the governing structure, unlike an absolute monarchy, for example. It was indeed an important step towards freedom for all. But the practice of majority rule, in both representative and constitutional democracies, gave politicians the mandate to auction-off State benefits to corporations and political interest groups for votes and campaign contributions. This gave rise to what has been called “crony-capitalism” such as the military-industrial complex, and now of the worst kind — Big Government and Big Pharma. With the artificial expansion of the money supply to finance these undertakings, over time, liberty and prosperity has been diminished for all.
And many philosophers and statesmen warned us of this: In The Republic, Book 8, Plato wrote how “tyranny evolves out of democracy.” Plato’s agenda albeit, was as a philosopher king, not a classical liberal society. Edmund Burke went so far as predicting that democracy would be the death of western civilization. Even the Founding Fathers of America were skeptical of democracy. In the Federalist Papers, Madison wrote: “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” More recently, Hans-Hermann Hoppe detailed in “Democracy: The God that Failed,” its abysmal performance over the centuries.
But even with all of this evidence, most people in their guts cringe at the thought of a political system devoid of democratic elections. For though it has taken a few centuries for democracies to devolve into authoritarianism, historically, the other options of socialism and facism have become even more egregious within a shorter span of time.
However, in “The Power to the Powerless,” Vaclav Havel, freedom fighter and former President of Czechoslovakia, wrote “ A better system will not automatically ensure a better life. In fact the opposite is true: only by creating a better life can a better system be developed.” Top-down utopian constructs of political governance will never achieve better lives for people; people must first achieve better lives for themselves, bottom-up, before a better political structure may arise. And human nature requires the taking of personal responsibility as a prerequisite for a better life.
If that is the case, in order to mitigate the global trend toward authoritarianism, society needs the next political innovation beyond that of democracy. The evolution from I choose “others” to I choose “myself” to be my master. This taking of responsibility at a deeper level forms the basis of our privacy and freedom. When individuals do not look to a human authority for direction, and choose that direction for themselves, while accepting the consequences, then over time, in a bloodless coup of the individual over the State, autocratic governments will lose their mandate to rule. We believe this may require some explanation.
It is human nature to pursue happiness and success, whatever one’s concept of that may be — that is the whole point of freedom. It is also a fact of life that the staircase of success is built upon steps of failure and the courage to carry on. We are all fallible, and it is through the pain of personal experience that we learn better ways of doing things — better ways of living our lives. Of course, this may often mean going through hardship, but it is by experiencing hardships in life and getting through them that we become more compassionate, empathetic, and wiser. Most important, it provides us with purpose, and hopefully true happiness — not injected happiness, be it from the end of a needle or a government hand out.
But if we do not experience the pain and difficulties that life brings us, and the necessity to take action to change ourselves, then we will be deprived of gaining wisdom, purpose and most important, true empathy and love for others, who are going through similar experiences. It is not just a beating heart that supports life, it is primarily a loving heart, for without that quality, the beating heart merely maintains one’s existence in misery. This is clearly not easy, for it requires taking full responsibility for one’s life, and thinking consciously— not being a slave to our genetic instincts or our deep-seated and powerful cultural archetypes. A helpful analogy — hopefully.
We live our lives on the surface, but they are governed by the depths below, by the archetypes which metaphorically reside deep in our unconscious. If one sprinkles iron filings on a surface which lies within a magnetic field, the filings will take on the form or shape of the lines of force of the magnetic field. The magnetic field itself is invisible, it is within the “depths” of nature, but manifests itself through the pattern of the visible iron filings. The brilliant psychotherapist Carl Jung proposed that “individuals inherit both genetically, and by cultural transmission, ideational forms or archetypes that are collective, universal, and impersonal, which together form a collective unconscious social mind that rules emotionally charged social behavior.”
Archetypes are cultural universals that influence similar behaviors in a collective through what appears to be unconscious choices. At the underlying biological level, they are genetic predispositions and as such require the appropriate environmental and cultural contexts to be instantiated. During our evolutionary history, their utility for survival of the species increased the gene pool of those predispositions, which like other more physical features in evolution (e.g., eyes, circulatory and immune systems), passed from species-to-species and generation-to-generation. But being predispositions, they are not determinate, meaning that choice may override these a-priori behaviours — while difficult, it is indeed possible.
Throughout our evolution, the archetype of a centralized power structure has remained dominant. These centralized power structures evolved into variants, eventually leading to democracy. Embedded in the psyche of the masses, however, there remained a need for a centralized governing infrastructure. It is the nature of this infrastructure that we must modify, from one that is centralized and domineering, to one that is decentralized and actualizing — from rule-givers to wise oracles, which would then allow true leaders to lead without the need for coercion.
Such a cultural transition is possible because archetypes are not necessarily determinate of our behavior. An analogy: an extraordinarily strong wind on a blustery day will push you in a certain direction (the archetype), however, one can walk in the opposite direction (by choice), but only with great additional effort. To overcome such an archetype, the effort required will be mental in nature — based on conscious choice. So how would a society of free individuals, taking full responsibility for their actions, actually orchestrate such a society?
If one were to visualize freedom of action on a political spectrum, with one end consisting of a complete totalitarian lockdown, and the other end consisting of absolute chaos where there were no rules of any kind (law of the jungle), then somewhere in between would be the “sweet-spot” which would generate criticality or edge-of-chaos behavior, resulting in an optimal restructuring of society. We posit that this sweet spot is at the point where the only rules are the protection of life, property, and agreed-upon contracts. At that sweet-spot, societal problems would be transformed into demands, and solved by the innovation of free communities without the need for any coercive programs. Even the rules themselves would constitute market demands. It would be an iterative solution since randomness is always at play. But through trial and error, the nature of societies at criticality will dissipate those problems/demands by spontaneously self-organizing into new complex structures and solutions. This would be dynamic and flexible. The impetus would be the information associated with the problem — termed a “far from equilibrium” gradient.
To be clear, this is not original thinking — as Matt Ridley discussed in “The Evolution of Everything,” look around at nature, at the human species itself, which evolved from a bottom-up perspective and orchestrated a magnificent panorama of efficiency and beauty. Adam Smith did not know about far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics, nor about non-linear complexity at the edge-of-chaos; his prescient intuition was to call it the “invisible hand.” To paraphrase Daniel Dennett from Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: the essence of the idea of evolution is that beautiful and intricate societies can emerge without anyone planning or even knowing how to make them — it becomes a spontaneous emergence into order!
The spontaneous emergence into order is arrived at through communities building consensus. Free people can and do arrive at a consensus without the need for any party to use force. Furthermore, there must be decentralized, local consensus since one size will not fit all. These communities would also serve as the safety net for individuals who required help. Every time there is an environmental disaster, a tornado or hurricane, for example, we see ample evidence of people flocking to help their neighbors without the necessity of regulations.
Consensus is also important for another reason. The task of arriving at a local consensus on issues will require a breadth and depth of one’s social connections, beyond that which exists today. And interestingly, as Iain McGilchrist discussed in “The Master and his Emissary,” happiness in a society is best predicted, not by our wealth or even health, but by social connections which build our sense of community. In addition, capitalism, if not embedded in a context of free markets and community, will eventually deteriorate into consumerism and, even worse, fascism.
The more regulations a society is encumbered with, the less empathy there will be in society. There was little empathy and compassion for others in the Soviet Union, Nazi or Stasi Germany. Lao Tzu observed this over 2500 years ago: “The more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be.” Excessive prohibitions are wrong-headed because free individuals within the constraints of local consensus and non-aggression will innovate from the bottom-up to organize an optimal society and, most important, to help people in need of aid. And the tragedy is that the current flawed view that centralized power structures are a necessity, gave rise to political systems that are fracturing society and do not nurture the finest qualities in individuals — nor by extrapolation, do they create a prosperous, civil, and empathetic culture where “no-one is left behind.”