THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 653, January 15, 2012
"What do you suppose it would it be like, how would it feel,
to spend the rest of the time we two have left in life
without having to struggle against a rogue, feral, criminal
government hell-bent on turning us all into its property
every day, every hour, every minute?"
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
One of the most important lessons of WW2 is that the German people aren't any more inherently evil than anyone else; what happened there could happen here. It's perfectly possible for ordinary people start being part of a system performing monstrous evils -- without necessarily even realizing it.
However, with all of that said, there are some differences between political systems which tend to respect peoples' civil liberties, and those which routinely violate them; and while there are plenty of people who simply try to keep their heads down and get along as best they can, there are also some people who actively prefer tyranny. In order to fight them and keep them from accomplishing such things, it would be of a great help to understand them.
So what does make a would-be tyrant different from anyone else?
The only answers I've been able to figure out, are the ones I get by trying to figure out why I'm not one.
For example: Given the evidence I've seen, I believe that it is possible for economics to be a positive-sum game. That is, that people can create brand-new wealth, such as by creating new art and technology, and for exchanges to benefit both parties. However, if I were under the impression that life were a zero-sum game (or, worse, a negative-sum game), where the only way to improve my own situation was by pushing down somebody else... then I would find myself under much greater temptation to grab as much as I could away from everyone else, in order to try to protect myself from other people trying to do the same to me.
Another example: Again, given the evidence, if any trade I make benefits one side more than the other, I'm pretty sure that I'm more likely to be on the poorer side. Were I to try to arrange matters to take advantage of someone else, I'd likely be the one who got fleeced. However, if I thought that I really could try to get other people held to one standard while I was held to another, if I thought I could get away with things other people couldn't, if I thought hypocrisy was a potentially useful strategy... then, again, I would likely find the temptation to make the attempt greater than I do.
Yet another example: For a number of reasons, I hold the truth to be of extremely high value, higher than almost anything short of saving a life. If, on the other hand, I believe that it was more important to get things done than to worry about telling the truth, then the lure of having the power to do stuff might start outweighing my desire to know and share how the universe works.
Those are just three thoughts, but if I had different conclusions about all three, then I would find it much more difficult to uphold my current principles -- and, presumably, other people thinking similarly would come to the conclusion that respecting other peoples' rights was a fools' game, at best a way of convincing suckers that I was a nice guy.
Fortunately, the reverse might also be true. If some people are convinced by the negative versions of these thoughts that tyranny is a good idea -- then, if they can be shown that the positive versions are truer, it might be able to convince them to start respecting others' rights. Eg: demonstrate that science leads to new ideas that allow people to do more with less; show how the Earth isn't necessarily a closed system, and that immense riches await us just outside our gravity well; support whistleblowing so that corrupt executives get routinely punished for malfeasance...
And, in general, keep on trying to make the future a better place for us all to live in.
Thank you for your time,
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