L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 178, June 17, 2002
(GADSDEN) FLAG DAY
Love Your Neighbor As Yourself
Special to TLE
When I first began to study economics about 15 years ago I wondered how many people were capable of understanding the concepts. Not that many, I decided rapidly. I don't think it's because of a lack of intelligence. Most people, I believe, are twice as smart as they think they are. Mostly it was because of a lack of interest; they weren't willing to put in the time and effort. You could call it Intellectual Sloth.
Another problem - a truly huge one - is that most people saw the learning as work instead as play. One of the few things I remember from jr. high about Jesse Stuart's book about his teaching days - The Thread That Runs So True - is when he finally hit on the only way he was able to motivate his students. He made the learning play. The only time he saw his students motivated and interested is when they were playing games in the yard. So he made school play, and he had almost no problems thereafter getting his students to learn. And these were kids from the hills, who walked to school without shoes, and were ten years old and in the first grade.
Well, darn it, I thought, if the vast majority of people won't learn economics, then what's the answer? It had to be something simple. I think one of the reasons Marxism, no matter how destructive, was able to make such inroads into societies is that it's easy to understand. "I'm good; you're bad. I'm right; you're wrong. You're guilty; I'm innocent. Capitalists bad, workers good." So simple, and so completely wrong. It takes an hour to teach it and a hundred years to get rid of it.
Political science? It was a bit simpler than economics, but even when taught correctly people still didn't believe it. "What do you mean, the State is my enemy? The State and the government are two different things? I don't think that's true." It wasn't so much intellectual sloth as not understanding - or believing - the true nature of the State. Even the comment that various States throughout the 20th Century were responsible for the murders of 177 million people still didn't convince them.
I tried law. I was getting closer. Basic law is not that hard. Richard Maybury, author of Whatever Happened to Justice?, Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? distilled all laws down to to two basic ones: "Do all that you have agreed to do" and "Do not encroach on other persons or their property."
The first is the basis of contract law: the second is the basis of tort law and some criminal law. "These laws are essential for an advanced society," writes Maybury. "The first gives rise to trade and specialization of labor. The second creates peace, security and goodwill."
His two laws are essentially extrapolations of some of the Ten Commandments. Two, specifically: "Don't murder" and "Don't steal." Unfortunately, every State throughout history has violated those two laws. Since these two laws are somehow inherent in our nature, violation of them brings massive death and destruction, oftentimes to the innocent. "As you sow, so you reap," as that simple, succinct and oh-so-true saying goes.
Hmm. Interesting. I started with economics and was ending up with religion. The Ten Commandments, I realized, are not prescriptions - "Do this" - but instead are proscriptions - "Don't do this." That is an very important thing. The Bill of Rights are proscriptions. Proscriptions against the expansion of the State.
Proscriptions leave people with an enormous amount of freedom. You can always get by with a handful of proscriptions, whereas prescriptions take up hundreds of volumes of "law" books. Ask yourself this: how many of the laws of the US are prescriptions, and how many are proscriptions? How many say, "You will give your money, your property, your liberty and your life to the State"?
I find it interesting that religions have lasted thousands of years, which is much longer than all the States that have risen and fallen throughout history. And the reason they have risen and fallen is because they consistently have violated the two Natural Laws of "Do not murder" and "Do not steal." No matter how eloquently people try to rationalize it, war, conscription and taxation are violations of both those laws. Oops ... "As you sow ..."
Unfortunately, people are always trying to find ways to get around these natural laws. "Well, sure, it's somebody else's property, but I'm poorer than he is, so the State should take something from him and give it to me." They ignore the fact - or else are not aware of it - that these violations will always damage peoples' lives, and society.
Peoples' attempt to get around these laws appear to be based on the idea of the Zero-Sum Game. Everything is a pie. If you get a bigger slice of the pie, then I have to get a smaller one. If you have more money, I have less. Everything is supposedly finite. If I don't get what I can, then you will. Socialism is based on the finite pie. Capitalism is based on growing the pie.
The Zero-Sum Game is based on the "Win-Lose" scenario. Since everything is supposedly finite, if you win, then I lose. The way around this is the "Win-Win" Game. Everyone wins. The Win-Win Game is infinite, ever-creative and ever-growing.
"Everyone wins" is best exemplified, I believe, by the saying, "Love your neighbor as yourself." You can just "love your neighbor." The Neighbor Wins, you Lose. You can just "love yourself." You Win, your neighbor Loses. But if you love your neighbor as yourself, both you and your neighbor Win.
This is for all practical purposes the same as the Golden Rule: "Do to others as you would have them do to you." This rule, as C.S. Lewis has pointed out in The Abolition of Man exists in every religion and every moral code. Under these two Laws, it's Win-Win for everyone.
These aren't just old laws; they're ancient laws. And universally true ones. I look askance at anyone who comes up with a "new" morality. Writes Lewis, "Really great moral teachers never introduce new moralities; it is quacks and cranks who do that." As Samuel Johnson wrote, "people need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed."
The problem with everything I have listed above - economics, political science, law, even a lot of religion - is that they don't teach the Win-Win Game. They're still based, however vaguely, however unconsciously, on Win-Lose. In all the decades I was in school not once did anyone say a thing about, "You can win, and so can everyone else."
This, obviously, is a problem that needs to be fixed.