Friday, June 26, 2020

No Story, No Liberty

The following is adapted from my part of a conversation I have been having via email. 


People live in a story, a narrative (call this a cultural tradition); we do not live in a formula.  One of my points of difference with libertarians who try to deal with every minute and extreme (even overly extreme) possibility is that these won't be resolved by further purification of libertarian theory. 

In what is referred to as the continuum - the space in between the obvious cases at the extreme - much of this will be resolved within the story that a particular society lives.  When I read the questions raised by X, above, I find obvious answers given my cultural context (with varying degrees for each question).  I don't think this means that the answers need be the same in every cultural context (although it is difficult for me to see how they wouldn't be for at least some of these questions).

There are even more fundamental questions that can only be answered culturally: what is property, what is a person, when does defense turn into aggression.  There isn't only one "right" answer.

I will offer some basic examples: is intellectual property to be considered “property”?  I find no reason why the answer must be no, if a given society decides it is yes.  There is a question of enforcement – who pays for it, how is it accomplished; these can be answered via the non-aggression principle.  Beyond this, I find no obvious answer.

What is a person?  We have questions around unborn children, when children reach maturity, what to do about those with less than functional capacities (mental or physical).  How do rights extend to these?

Where is the line between defense and aggression?  Some of you have been around long enough to remember my beef with a fairly well-known libertarian who claimed that shooting a child who was stealing an apple is perfectly acceptable within the NAP.  For many reasons I find this horrendous, but for the purists I ask: when does defense turn into aggression?

The non-aggression principle is a wonderful guideline to help us resolve questions about punishment and when violence in defense is justified.  But it is a guideline, nothing more; its application in the gray area of the continuum is, on the whole, I believe, culturally dependent. 

This won't be resolved by formula, not in any way that is meaningful to human beings as human beings.  No one will read that book and turn it into scripture.  People learn, instead, by living in a story. The sad part for us is that this story is being destroyed while we speak, and this destruction has been in the works for at least the last 125 years (some will say 300 years or even 500 years). 

The story requires something or someone outside of the system – call it something transcendent.  The West has done well for many centuries by calling it God.  It has also done well by accepting that God, through the Son, gave Himself as sacrifice – the perfect sacrifice to offer complete forgiveness for all transgressions.

This is not to suggest that on the day of Resurrection, heaven was achieved on earth.  Many wrongs continued – some even in the name of Christianity.  But it was only through Christianity that these had grounding to be righted.  Slowly, in fits and starts, this has happened and is happening.

Unfortunately, we see the result of dumping the idea of transcendent and dumping the idea of the perfect sacrifice for forgiveness. 

Dumping the transcendent: Nothing is above the system and nothing is allowed to remain outside of the system.  Each individual is sovereign, with no authority above him.  Diversity and equality: we are all to be included unconditionally, and included equally – and we must all do this.  As Jonathan Pageau offers (in a great 18-minute video), inclusiveness is the only value we are allowed to hold; the only sin left is the sin of exclusion – well, except for the exclusion of other values besides inclusion.

Dumping the perfect sacrifice: There is no means by which those who are deemed guilty today can be forgiven: you can admit to being a racist, in which case you are a racist; or you can say that you are not a racist, in which case you are a racist.  In either case, you can never escape damnation.

This is not a recipe for peace and reconciliation.  It is the only the final stages of civilizational collapse.

Liberty won’t come by developing a more perfect argument, or flushing out the last detail of human interaction.  It can only come if built on a narrative – a story, a cultural tradition.  The West has demonstrated the only narrative in the history of the world that has brought on liberty.  It is this narrative that is living through its final death blows.

Well, final for now.  If there is any hope for man (there is), the narrative will return.  It could get ugly in the meantime.


A couple of years ago, Hans Hoppe gave a lecture on the need for a grand narrative.  As I recall, he spent little or no time working on minute details of libertarian theory applied - he told a story.  Jeff Deist did something similar.  This lecture by Daniel Ajamian is another example. 

They are right - without a story, we are wasting our time wishing for liberty.


  1. Jeff Deist, in his discussions on the lockdowns, has made a very good point: The burden of proof should be on the person promoting a view outside our generally accepted norms. That aligns with our cultural and legal traditions anyway. I've tested this on non-libertarian/conservative friends: Who bears the burden of proof? That statue A caused police officer J to kill Z. That facemasks work. That lockdowns work. That government money printing works. That crony deals at the local level like tax incentives and sports stadia work.

  2. Below is part of economist Tyler Cowen interviewing economist Garret Jones, author of "Hive Mind".

    COWEN: One of the key themes of your book is that the social returns to intelligence and groups are much higher than the private returns.

    JONES: Yeah.

    COWEN: If that’s the case, why don’t we see increasing returns in the economic data almost everywhere?

    JONES: It’s because it works essentially like a level effect, not like some sort of increasing returns to scale. My rough estimate from my early work was that one IQ point raises your private marginal product about 1 percent, but it raises your society’s marginal product in the long run with about 6 percent, so that’s a level effect. I wouldn’t expect to see some sort of massive agglomeration showing up in the wealth-creation process.
    [end quote]

    It stands to reason that we should give of our wealth to educate others because the returns to such an investment are so high. Think of it as "cast your bread upon the waters".

    Garrett Jones goes further in his book about how societies with higher IQs are less prone to violence, as they solve their differences by discussion instead.

    Here's another quote from Wikipedia:

    Hive Mind: How Your Nation's IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own is a book by Garett Jones, published in 2015 by Stanford University Press. It explores the science behind the financial payoff of high Individual IQ and the related impact of thinking like a group. The book claims that a nation's average IQ is multiple times more important for the nation's prosperity than an individual's IQ is important for their overall prosperity. The logic is that collective IQ non-linearly improves a country's fortunes via multiple channels, such as better institutions, etc.
    [end quote]

    So here we have a paradox. The government can take a portion of your property, which breaks the NAP, but in doing so, you end up with more property, and more secure property rights, on account of that reduction in violence that comes with a nation's higher IQ.

    1. Ahmed, over the last fifty years, trillions have been redistributed in accord with this philosophy. The results of this are visible on the streets of America today. No, I do not have more property, nor is the property I have more secure.

      Further, may I ask: does your religion permit the doing of evil in order to achieve some (perceived) good? Mine does not.

      "It stands to reason that we should give of our wealth to educate others because the returns to such an investment are so high."

      The key word in this line is "give." Giving and stealing are not the same thing.

    2. The answer is even simpler: IQ is largely a heritable affair and cannot be meaningfully increased by education.
      What an increase in education spending causes however is both an inflation of the managerial class managing these systems as well as an "elite overproduction" (i.e. people who expect prestige and upward mobility while being downwardly mobile and facing a terrible job market) leading to political instability.

      Also, as the social enviroment and selection pressures with it change we're seeing cases wherein high intelligence becomes aladaptive and decreases reproductive chances.
      The Great Cull is coming for many, many people.

    3. Indeed... and it's an issue that is way outside the range of allowable opinion. Respectable people STILL piously believe in communal salvation by throwing more money at "education". That's an illusion that will die hard, if it ever does.

      Would be nice if the notion got out that while the educated life is a high calling, it's not for everyone, for reasons both of innate capacity, and limited societal demand for "educated" services.

  3. Life, at it’s gut level, is meant to be lived, not talked about.

    This might explain why theory only appeals to a very small percentage of the population, who spend much of their time developing ‘formulas for living’, while everyone else is deeply entrenched in the reality of life, making up the ‘rules’ as they go along. For my part, I much prefer to live life as it really is, down and dirty, instead of trying to exist in the oxygen depleted air of ivory tower thinking. It is so much more interesting and it might explain why I am not rich and famous.

    As far as the narrative goes, it may appear to liberty-minded individuals that the story has been lost, but viewed from the perspective of the Author, more than likely this is only the end of one chapter and the beginning of another within the context of a very long book. The plots, sub-plots, and threads are endless and can only be seen vaguely from our end. Our current situation is definitely taking a turn for the worse, but, like the unfolding of any good story, it must be this way so that the end, when it comes, is completely understood by the readers.

    If the promise of Jesus holds true, “I WILL build my Church...”, then what we are experiencing is a widespread exposure of evil--individually, socially, financially, politically, and religiously—which will eventually be clearly seen as what it really is. Eventually, enough people will become so tired of living the way they do that they are willing to make the personal changes which are necessary for the concepts of liberty and freedom to become dominant. Eventually, a critical mass of people will (please pardon my crudity, but I don’t have a better way of putting it) pull its collective head out of its a$$, wipe the s**t out of its eyes, and begin to see what is really available. At that time, it will be imperative that leaders are ready and able to speak the Truth about life, “This is the way you should go. Walk ye in it.”

    It is obvious that what lies immediately ahead of us is ugly, very ugly. It is also unavoidable. What we need to understand is that beyond the near future is a life which is far more beautiful, vibrant, and free than anything this world has experienced since the Garden of Eden. Until then, however, all we can do is put our fingers to the keyboard and push on, cooperating in the writing of the Grand Narrative--one character at a time.

    To be continued...

  4. “People learn, instead, by living in a story.”

    My experience is that people learn by experience. My theory is that it is better and easier to learn from the mistakes of others, but I can say with certainty that I learn best, not from watching others make mistakes, but by making them myself...and then learning from them. Test first, lesson afterwards. My hunch is that the vast, overwhelming majority of people learn the same way.

    If this is true, then it undergirds the saying that, “...those who do not learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.” Generally speaking, we do not learn from history and this makes it inevitable that we should go through the process all over again. Expecting otherwise probably puts to much faith in fallible mankind.

  5. “Dumping the transcendent: Nothing is above the system and nothing is allowed to remain outside of the system. Each individual is sovereign, with no authority above him.”

    This appears to me to be a contradiction.

    If every individual is sovereign and is beholden to no authority above him, then that means the individual is transcendent, at least in his own person. The only way to dump this is to remove the sovereignty from the individual and transfer it to something else. In modern society, that would mean the State.

    If nothing is above the system, then the system itself is transcendent. The collective is transcendent and all parts of the system, i.e., individuals, must be blended into the system seamlessly. Nothing is allowed to remain outside. The system becomes the sovereign authority.

    The extremes are total individualism or total collectivism.

    IF the system of choice is individual sovereignty, then this is pure anarchy and anything which takes away from that must be purged from the system. At this point, the NAP will blossom to its fullest extent OR total chaos will occur, with the subsequent resumption of a rule of power because people will not live forever in a system of chaos.