Archives for category: sociology

a questioned asked on Quora; my answer:

A number of times. But here is one obvious case, in what amounts to metaethics. Maybe I am misapplying the idea. You tell me.

What modern normative philosophers call “morality” — and what older philosophers might have designated as “the rules and standards of justice” — depends, in practice, upon widespread reciprocity. That is, there are prisoner’s dilemmas throughout situations of conflict and potential coöperation, and it makes sense for any individual to coöperate often only if others also approach such arenas of interaction with an open attitude, not flight or fight, much less with a hankering to steal.

It has been shown that a tit-for-tat strategy of reciprocity — which closely tracks many traditional notions of justice — leads to the most widespread success. But how can you trust “the other guy” to treat you fairly, justly, and not as predator to prey?

It takes more courage than many, many folks naturally possess to approach a potentially dangerous situation with a reserved reciprocity standard in mind. So, how do we steal ourselves to this? Indeed, how can we open ourselves to such attitudes before we gain the practical experience with the world to be confident that such strategies do in fact work, for both self and other, and over a long haul?

A number of religious ideas have helped. They differ from society to society, and we call them myths, and all or most seem obvious fictional. Made up. But the threat of a punishing Deity encourages some to curb their bloodlust and “defector” urges. The idea that we are all “equal before God” helps, too. And as a number of evolutionary psychologists have pointed out, the mere contemplation of a supernatural (nature-transcendent) or metaphysical (normal existence-transcendent) Being or even Principle signals both to self and others a willingness to transcend narrow ego-interests. Setting the stage for civilized coöperation.

This sort of thing often gets swept up under the rubric of “signaling.” But such signaling works regardless of reality. There may or may not be a God. Or natural rights. Or the categorical imperative. But even fictional ideas can be real in their effects.

I sometimes think of the advance of civilization as aided by a series of outrageous fictions.

Seems like the Thomas Theorem to me.



The great liberal insight was that social order need not depend on submission to hierarchy but on reciprocity, instead — a reciprocity of peace and liberality and tolerance.

IMG_2863When the Other refuses to reciprocate on those grounds, however, then we have a state of war, where we must reciprocate belligerence for belligerence.

This is clear in the writings of Herbert Spencer — what with his distinction between the militant and industrial forms of coöperation and social cohesion — but it is even clearer among today’s evolutionary psychologists (EP) and sociologists (sociobiologists).

Liberal theory — and, after it, libertarian theory — sidetracked the reciprocity issue by reifying rights into a metaphysical realm, and positing their inalienability. This had some political advantages in its heyday, but nowadays prevents people from dealing with the actual advantages of liberal solutions. It rigidifies thought, of course, turning libertarians into philosophical dogmatists. But, worse yet, it throws the problem of conflict resolution to the authoritarians.

IMG_2104Hence the modern impasse. Libertarians are still trapped by inalienability theories, and progressives are locked out of access to the basic notions of conflict avoidance, which makes them crazed. And conservatives and “liberals” waffle between reciprocal and authoritarian solutions depending on the issue, or the politics of the moment. This makes their policies incoherent at best.

And the people, in general, have become utterly disenchanted with all sides.


As I was dissecting the unfortunate intellectual snobbery of a major libertarian economist, a few years ago, the truth dawned upon me. I knew at last the great purpose of the Libertarian Party:

The most important social function that the Libertarian Party has served has been to find a home in the libertarian movement for not very bright people.

The libertarian movement has been heavily intellectual in one dimension or another for a long time. Think tanks, policy houses, ideological societies — the whole gamut — all sport fairly high intellectual pretensions.

But liberty is for everyone, as Murray Rothbard used to say, and that includes people of normal and below-normal intelligence.

The Libertarian Party has provided a nest for a great many very smart people, of course, but it has also made room and accepted as leaders folks who ring the Liberty Bell, but not the right side of the Murray-Herrnstein IQ bell.

When I was young, and active in the party for a brief time, I sometimes met truly dull-witted people there. One man, who used to be a sailor, brought up the same story every time I talked to him. It took me a while to realize that this retiree was literally on the opposite end of the spectrum from me, and that most of his fellow activists rolled their eyes at him. And yet . . . I came to like him. He was loyal, and he remembered people’s personal histories far better than the nerd-brained, MENSA-types that over-stuffed the ranks of the organization.

Indeed, when I learned that this man had died, some years ago, I was genuinely saddened in a way I probably would not have been saddened by at least half of the others I knew.

One of the important functions provided by Christian churches has been the bridging of social castes and classes. The Catholic Church is especially good at this. A professor will sit next to a person whose janitorial work provides an intellectual struggle. Dealing with people of different abilities in a social way, with respect, is something not fostered much in our increasingly IQ-sorted society. There is, as Murray and Herrnstein argued, a growing division based on a certain kind of measurable intelligence. And the libertarian movement is filled with institutions that do nothing to dissolve those divisions.

Except for a very, very few, the LP being the most prominent.

What if, contra to an intellectual conceit, we won’t have a free society until the non-intellectuals, even the simpletons, come on board? It is not as if they, too, do not have cause to resent the cognitive elites. Arguably, they have the most cause, for the modern state has been designed to serve those elites the best, throwing crumbs at the rest.

Is the Mises Institute, or Reason, or Cato going to encourage this “rest” of humanity?

Too bad that the Libertarian Party is stuck on political non-starters. For it may be one of the few libertarian groups that actually does something absolutely necessary for the future of freedom.

But it will be the libertarian intellectuals, of course, who see exactly what this means: that the Libertarian Party’s most important role is an unintended consequence of its founders’ and activists’ keenest conscious plans.

Once again, the Invisible Hand strikes back.