Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Entropy: The Case For Optimism

Being a libertarian can be rough sometimes. It most certainly is not an easy thing to get to the masses to understand and accept, most notably in the case of the responsibility that libertarian rights implies and requires. And governments around the world all generally violate the libertarian's principles in varying ways. This may lead the libertarian to become a strict pessemist. But the libertarian that becomes a strict pessemist after a certain point inevitably has given up on "the battle"; the battle of ideas and the principle of revolution. They have fallen into the "conservative" trap of assuming apriori that social change is impossible.

Some great libertarians of times past have fallen into this trap, and thus found themselves fall back in the direction of conservatism in their later years. Other libertarians, however, remained more or less vigilant and consistant for their whole lives and maintained long-term optimism, chief among them being Murray Rothbard. Rothbard emphasized that the libertarian should remain optimistic in the long-term because of the gains made already due to the classical liberal era combined with the inevitabilty of statism failing and crumbling. The prime example in recent years of this is the fall of the Soviet Union and Communist eastern Europe.

Of course, looking back in history we find an incredibly long list of long-gone states and empires. Why is that? This would seem to be a strong historical testament to the fact that governments are inherently not permanent or stable systems. It would seem that every government sows the seeds for its own downfall by its very nature as an institution. The larger and more powerful a government becomes, the more it makes a day of reckoning and therefore collapse inevitable, and the worse the reckoning is. Just as there is no Roman or Greek government anymore, a day will come when our modern governments face the true prospect of collapse or decentralization.

There is a term for this phenomenon that applies to nature and life in general: entropy. Entropy applies as much to political and economic systems as it does to other things. All systems are naturally forced to decentralize and no system is completely permanent or infinite. All systems are subject to a degree of unpredictability and change. It is impossible for a system to be completely static. Nature is inherently decentralizing itself and changing over time. The fruits of this decentralization is manifested in a reproductive potential as a compensating differential - the destruction of one order gives birth to another.

We live in a scarce, finite world with various types of systems that will not last in the long-run. The optimistic side of entropy is that new systems will arise, and pose the potential of being better with the effort of human reason and technology. Entropy does not mean that man is doomed to utter failure, but rather that centralized systems are inevitably prone to decentralize and this decentralization poses the oppurtunity to improve the human condition upon the ashes of the fallen and failed systems.

Entropy in man-made institutions is, in a certain sense, a consequence of scarcity. There is what could be called "the entropy of the market", that is, the market is a naturally decentralizing and self-correcting institution. Not one institutional arrangement is a total constant. The market is unstatic, and this is precisely why it works. Some areas will incur loses, while simultaneously this entropic loss leads to new gains by people channeling their effort into other things. Every loss and bankrupcy opens up a comparative advantage somewhere else.

Every job that goes overseas simultanously opens up new employment oppurtunies in other domestic areas. When the car was invented and popularized, the horse and buggy buisiness took a nose dive, but new oppurtunities were opened up elsewhere. In this way, the market is a regenerative process. The market will never completely die as an institution because it does not truly try to defy entropy and it is an inevitably to humn existance and survival because of scarcity.

This is not so with government, because government allows no compartive advantage, as it allows no competition to itself in the areas it controls. What makes entropy as it applies to governmental institutions unique is that government is the most centralized and monopolistic type of institution, and therefore entropy manifests itself the strongest in the areas that stall its effects the most. In non-governmental institutions, things are more "entropized" already. In governmental institutions, things are centralized to the point where entropy hasn't fully kicked in yet. At this stage it might be only lurking in the background, slowly rising.

However, it is inevitable that it will eventually kick in meaningfully ("the scum rises to the top", so to speak), and its effect will be most negative in governmental institutions. Governments are not immune to entropy, they only delay its effects and redistribute the costs in quite an inefficient manner. The more it is stalled artificially, the worse the eventual consequences will be. The more centralized an institution is, the more the negative side of entropy manifests itself. The more decentralized an institution is, the more the positive and reproductive side of entropy manifests itself. Centralization attempts to fight the reproduction of entropy while decentralization allows it to flourish.

When empire falls, liberty triumphs. Empire is doomed to failure. Economic central planning is doomed to failure. This also means that decentralization and privatization is an inevitability, that some kind of move in the direction of liberty is inherent at some point. The cause of individual freedom is not a utopian impossibility, but a real thing that becomes imminent and inevitable once systems grow and centralize beyond a certain point. Where exactly that tipping point is can vary and be hard to tell with complete accuracy. But it exists nonetheless. While people tend to think of the end of political systems as something to fear they fail to see that it presents them with the most pristine oppurtunity to make real changes and install alternative and/or improved systems in their place.

It must be remembered that the declaration of independance was a radical document that oozes with the idea that the people have a right and duty to overthrow their current governmental institutions and replace them with new institutions if they so please. This was not a declaration of governmental power, but a document filled with resistance to governmental power, almost to the point of anarchism even. This was an incredibly bold and optimistic move on the part of Americans. It could not possibily have been done with too pessemistic of an outlook, for they would have given up and not asserted their rights effectively. History indeed can be changed by the actions of individuals and minority groups. Our progress as a species is largely the result of the bold decisions of individual men.

From the likes of Thoreau we get the principle of civil disobedience and revolutionary change. Our declaration of independance was like a great big act of civil disobedience on the part of many Americans. All gains that Americans have made economically and personally in comparison to times past would not exist without the civil disobedience of individuals and the drive for change. Without such action, there would be no America as we know it, no constitution, no declaration of independance and a considerably lesser degree of liberty and general well-being as a consquence. I hate to use the term, but "defeatism" is no virtue and pursual of principle is no vice.

There is almost nothing that can be more counterproductive to the libertarian cause than a Hobbesian view of human nature. Hobbes's views on human nature painted all humans as inherently at war with eachother. Hobbes more or less believed that human self-interest is inherently negative and destructive. This model is based on a type of society that no longer exists in modern times; a society bound by the limits of agriculture, tribalism, fuedalism, mercantalism and absolute monarchy. The problem with taking too pessemistic of a view of human nature is that it denigrates man's reason to the point where the principles of liberty start to vanish.

A Hobbesian style view on human nature, when taken to it's extreme, inevitably must manifest itself as totalitarianism in practise because it supposes that people can't run their own lives and therefore must have their lives controlled in detail by a set of rulers (of course, this is contradictary to the initial Hobbesian idea that all humans are dog-on-dog, as it essentially holds that a special set of privileged rulers are immune from these conflict problems). This strongly manifests itself as political elitism in many ways.

Locke and Artistotle's views on human nature are much closer to the truth than that of Hobbes. Lock maintained that self-interest can yield a cumulative and wide-spreading social order and well-being as manfiested in voluntary cooperation, while Hobbes viewed self interest more or less as an exclusive disorder and conflict. Artistotle emphasized the rationality of man while Hobbe's view reduces man to the lesser animals in every way, as it makes no consideration as to man's peculiar rationality as a species.

The libertarian is given many good reasons to remain optimistic when looking back into history for insight. Consider that for thousands of years, most people lived in either (1) a state of totalitarianism or absolute monarchy or (2) a tribal and primitivist system. Consider that these systems were more or less abolished in the West. Who would want to go back to living like we did during the times when the average lifespan was 40, kings ruled arbitrarily and industry barely existed? No rational modern person.

The classical liberal and American revolution were the major manifestations of a move toward liberty that crumbled an empire. This was the foundation of our move away from those kind of systems. We have indeed been floundering from that foundation for quite some time, but that only makes it all the more inevitable that the empire will end and we will face the possibility of increasing liberty in a meaningful way. The Post-WWII American empire is doomed to fail, and so it will. The libertarian should be joyous and energized, not disheartened to the point of losing will power.

The case of post-cold-war socialist Europe is rather illuminating. Soviet and European communism was inherently doomed to fail, and so it did, and the people rightly rejoiced. As bad as these countries may still be in various economic and social respects, they have more or less been forced to privatize and move towards a more moderated approach. Their governments still maintain socialist underpinnings, which is a crying shame, but nonetheless many of them are moderate in comparison Soviet Communism or German National Socialism (although some highly questionable stuff in violation of personal liberties goes on in Sweden and Germany sometimes). Europe will most definitely be entropically forced to privatize even more in the future.

The current American situation is dire and complex. Every government in the world wields way too much power and has created true disorder and chaos consequentially. But this cannot be addressed with resignation or extreme pessemism. It must be addressed with vigilance and willpower. It must be addressed with independant education, above all. When the problems we face fully pan out, the only logical direction to move in is towards less political power and more individual autonomy. It is the only way to best maintain a social order and avoid the worst consequences of entropy. It is the only way to channel entropy into a fully productive force. Entropy is a brilliant testament to the need for strict decentralization of power.

To a certain extent, we already see entropy occuring all around us. Governmentally funded infastructure and social programs are failing, as they inherently must. A foreign policy of aggression, pre-emptive war, nation-building, empire, military-industrialism and economic hegemony have entangled us in an blundering and uncurable mess, wasting resources and lives without moral consideration. Increased police and judicial powers make us less safe and threaten our private property rights, not to mention pave the path for a police state and arbitrary legislative power. Monetary inflation debases the b'jesus out of the people's money over the decades. But none of these problems should necessarily take us away from keeping our principles in sight and taking calculated action at the right times and places.

Freedom is inevitable.

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