(The following exchange is from the Facebook thread following my post of my recent essay, Apollo’s Creed.)
EF: Steve, I appreciate the time you put into this, however we do not agree on this. You see the creation of a pencil as an example of the collective, I see it as many individuals working together through only the coordination of the market. Now you would say that is the collective, but it is not, as there is neither a central conscious organizing force nor any force at all….and if there was one of either, the end result would be much worse.
SH: E, you are lost in semantics, and in such an eagerness to pre-empt any line of thought that might eventually be ideologically inconvenient that you feel compelled to insist that black isn’t dark. I don’t care if you call it “a collective” or “a market.” And if you had any actual understanding of my paradigm you would understand that it is predicated on the recognition of systemicness, of organic coherence, not dependent on any central conscious organizing force. When I talk about language as an example of our fundamental interdependence, it is not by reference to a central conscious organizing force, but by reference to the fact that the universe, the Earth, ecosystems, societies, organisms, ant colonies, human minds, forests, all have systemic coherence. It’s obvious. You assume that this is an argument for centralized government. It isn’t. It’s simply the recognition of a reality of fundamental organic interdependence, a fact which is not something that depends on your agreement or disagreement, any more than the fact that rain is wet does.
The fact is that you think in a language that was collectively developed, to employ concepts that were collectively developed, utilizing technologies that were collectively developed, under the auspices of social institutions that were collectively developed, because it was only through the signals sent among the nodes of those networks that any of those things ever came into existence and continued to develop. That’s not really a matter of opinion. It’s just a fact.
But I’ll give you this: If you are so lost in a delusion of absolute ontological individuality that you don’t understand the systemic, diffuse, organic coherence of Nature, including human nature, then you are too lost in an ideological fiction to ever be anything but an obstacle that humanity will have to overcome. And humanity will overcome those who insist that humanity doesn’t exist or matter.
EF: In your writing Steve I see the celebration of the collective. Which is fine…it’s just not a celebration I want to join in on. We celebrate it enough in our society…let us celebrate the fruitful struggle of the individual.
SH: It’s not a celebration of the collective. it’s recognition of the existence of interdependence, without which we cannot forge sound and functional policies, because we are not operating within the framework of reality. Of all societies, and of all developed societies, we celebrate that least, and you fear we celebrate it too much. Sorry, E, but that’s just pathological.
The problem with your rejection of reality, E, is the same as if we performed some other human enterprise, such as surgery or construction, by means of some democratic process, and there were one faction that insisted that respiration and blood circulation were irrelevant and that it’s fine to just perform the surgery without bothering to take them into account, or structural integrity in construction isn’t an issue, so let’s not build our buildings attending to those aspects of the enterprise. You end up with patients who die and buildings that collapse. Similarly, your determination to simply wish interdependence away, and to impose that utterly dysfunctional exclusion from consideration of what are in fact vital systemic aspects of the human enterprise, you end up with societies that don’t function well. And that’s why, among all developed nations, we alone have such astronomically high rates of poverty, malnutrition, infant mortality, homelessness, lack of access to health care, incarceration, deadly violence, poor educational outcomes, lower social mobility, higher inequality in the distirbution of wealth, a lower percentage of our population who actually are affluent. I respect your civility, but the ideology that hides behind it is simply as uncivil as they get.
EF: Steve, now you are putting words in my mouth. I did not say we are not interdependent, I said something different.
SH: And yet in your initial comment you rejected the premise of the essay, which was that the reality of our interdependence implies that we must acknowledge our mutual responsibilities to one another as well as assert our individual rights. You can’t have it both ways, E.
To take it a step further, E, your belief that the market solves all human problems is simply absurd. I’m a huge fan of markets, a great admirer of their organic robustness, of the way in which they process an enormous amount of information in a decentralized way to coordinate disparate wills and interests to mutual benefit. But, despite this impressive quality, you impute to them a magical power they simply don’t possess.
First, for markets to exist in the first place, all sorts of non-market forms of human social organization must occur. Humans must communicate, coordinate, and create a context within which market exchange can occur, construct a marketplace, arrange a meeting, and so on.
Second, for complex modern markets to function well, much more extra-market organization must occur: definition and enforcement of property rights, government backed currencies, reduction of uncertainty through health and safety regulations facilitating increased consumer confidence and more robust buying and selling (with a less costly learning curve imposed on the public, which, in reality, would suffer a manifold higher degree of constant exposure to deadly commodities in an unregulated market), expensive and difficult market policing to prevent insider market gaming that imposes catastrophic costs on the public (often involving the collapse of markets themselves).
Third, markets fail in certain systemic and well-known ways: 1) They generate externalities which affect those who were not parties to the exchange. Since most externalities involve ways in which costs are imposed on those who were not parties to the exchange (because the competition to reduce prices tends to bias externalities in this direction), markets create aggregate suboptimal outcomes unless those externalities are internalized. This fundamental underlying reality of market dynamics is what generates the need for a public agent acting in the market on the public’s behalf. 2) Markets are less efficient producers of utility than hierarchies under a variety of circumstances involving economies of scale, high market transaction costs, and path dependencies resulting from large up-front costs in exchange for far larger but temporally remote returns (e.g., expensive investments in very large projects with very long time horizons tend not to be provided by market mechanisms, though they are often the foundations of enormous growth in the production of prosperity). 3) They perpetuate historical inequities in the distribution of wealth and opportunity due to differential material and social inheritances.
You want to believe that this one sledgehammer is the only tool required for all human enterprise. It’s simply not so, and the ideology that insists on it, stifling our development and utilization of obviously necessary and beneficial complementary tools is a mass insanity inflicting great harm on this society and this world.
EF: Steve, Did I say that markets solve all problems? No, I did not – you are once again putting words in my mouth. I am also well aware of free rider and other problems such as externalities. However, I am also very aware that progressives generally want to take the most attenuated non-market borne cost and turn it into an externality.
Bottom line is this – you use large economic terms, but they do not justify the state you seek to implement.
SH: No, E, I’m not (putting words in your mouth), because that premise is the cornerstone of the ideology that you are constantly espousing, and the assumption that underwrites every position you take and argue. You don’t have to say it, when everything else you say is predicated on it.
Look, I sincerely respect your civility and your commitment to the open exchange of competing ideas. But in the end the value of those commitments is their ability to allow the lathe of disciplined and imaginative reason (or disciplined and well-reasoned imagination) to mold our understandings in service to our welfare. Eventually, you’re going to have to face the fact that your paradigm, like all others, is riddled with anomalies, and must either yield to the beneficial process by which paradigms shift, or remain the obstacle it has become to the growth of human consciousness and of rational, pragmatic, humane self-governance.
SB: What Steve Harvey wrote in his essay is pretty much axiomatic, and as he pointed out, it’s been articulated for centuries by theologians and philosophers. I don’t know why so many people reject the idea. The US has been a country that supported individualism. There are and have been dictatorships the suppressed individualism, like the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and China. Individualism in the US is nurtured by a huge infrastructure. In a modern city like Denver we’re dependent upon thousands of different people for our very existence. The US has always had a high amount of social capital compared to many other countries, so it’s not clear why so many people are now rejecting the notion. Maybe it’s propaganda by very wealthy and greedy people who don’t want to pay taxes. The failed states of the Middle East have had little collective action and at the same time have suppressed individualism, and the result has been poverty and hopelessness.
SH: SB, I like the way you put it: Recognition of our interdependence has always been pretty much axiomatic. When the absurdity of rejecting that axiom is pointed out, everyone runs for cover: They never said we’re not interdependent! They only rejected every single implication that follows from that recognition! “Yes, of course we’re interdependent…, but we should pretend that we’re not, because otherwise it’s socialism.” It’s a cultural pathology that infests our political process, and we absolutely, positively, and urgently need to extricate this bizarre rejection of our interdependence and its implications from our cognitive landscape. It’s a pernicious weed that is ravenously destroying our social institutional ecosystem, and will leave a desert behind if we don’t confront it, and confront it effectively.
EF: Steve, You have missed my ideology and my view of yours I recognize that government adds value in a limited value of circumstances such as protecting property rights. However, those instances are much more limited than what you say and your “we are all in is collectively “(like the Borg ;-) ) is an invitation to create exceptions to the benefits of individualism that will swallow the rule that individualism benefits us all.
SH: E, the problem is that you are insulating your conclusion from critical examination, assuming it rather than arriving at it. if you allow that we are interdependent and that government has some role in realizing that interdependence, then the question of what that role is is a question which must be left open to careful analysis and debate. But if, instead, you start with your conclusion (the way in which ideological dogmas work), and then direct your energy to ensuring that that conclusion is protected from all threats to it, you do things like disagree with an essay that merely lays out the premise that we are interdependent and that that interdependence imposes on us mutual responsibilities, only to claim later not to reject that premise after all.
First, let’s look at how the issue of how much government is the right amount of government entered into this current conversation. It entered in your last comment, in which you responded to something that no one had said. Find the place in my essay or in my above comments where I declared in a conclusory manner how much government we should have? You can’t, because I didn’t. So, as I’m laying out premises for an argument the conclusion of which you fear you will not like, you don’t wait for the argument to actually be presented, but find ways to reject the premise in a preemptory manner in order to ensure that your conclusion is never challenged.
Second, let’s recognize that once you acknowledge that we are indeed interdependent, that our interdependence does indeed imply that we have mutual responsibilities to one another as well as individual rights to be asserted “against” governmental (or, one might even say, mutually imposed) intrusions upon them, and that government does have some role in the realization of those mutual responsibilities, then we have to go to the trouble of engaging in careful analyses and robust debates over exactly what and how extensive that role is. That’s pretty much the crux of what I am advocating for, and what you are constantly trying to forestall by arbitrarily assuming the answer, using not case-specific analyses, but rather an all-encompassing ideological conviction.
Third, in service to the preemption of the argument whose conclusion you fear, you mobilize an anology of oppressive corporatism (‘the Borg”) as a way of rejecting any argument concerning how to use our agent of collective action as a polity, our government, and thus avoiding the discussion of exactly how and to what degree under what circumstances government should be used, rather than engaging in it. It’s like citing “Rollerball” in a discussion of how best to legally frame the existence of corporations in our political economy as an argument that the speaker’s ideological conviction that the almost complete dismantling of corporations is optimal is the only position that can be considered and accepted. It is a technique for eliminating nuance, reducing a debate to a caricature of reality, and avoiding the hard work of examining the world in its actual complexity and subtlety in order to arrive at the most intelligent and functional conclusions.
E, I’m pretty sure you self-identify as more analytical than ideological, but you have anchored your analysis in blind ideology. The only way to be truly analytical is to yank that anchor out of the concrete into which you have embedded it, and start from the premise that we really don’t know exactly how much government, or what precise role of government, is the optimal form amount and form it should take to best serve our interests as individuals and a nation. Certainly, we all start off with predispositions to think more or less, but when we turn those predispositions into pre-emptory conclusions, the assumption of which precludes the consideration of arguments that might challenge it, then we have lost all claim to being analytical, and have fallen entirely under the spell of ideological false certainty.
And, no, you don’t consider competing arguments, as evidenced from the fact that you are so committed to preempting them before they can be presented. You respond to my essay on the fundamental reality of human interdependence by saying you disagree, then deny that you disagree because you really disagree with something else; and that something else is the conclusion that might be arrived at if you consider the implications of our interdependence. You insist that, though you acknowledge that there is a limited role for government, that you also by some magical alchemy are endowed with the exact knowledge of the precise amount and form that that role must take, and that therefore any discussion of our interdependence and mutual responsibilities is something to disagree with, because you already know the answer to any questions that such a discussion might raise! E, that is pure ideology.
You’re a smart guy. You want to be a powerful voice in political discourse. Your tentative understanding is that the best government is the least government and that’s fine. But allow yourself to be an even smarter guy: Know that you don’t know, and let wisdom fill the space provided by that knowledge.
BTW, E, I haven’t missed your ideology: It is a fixed assumption concerning the optimal amount of government, based on a dogmatic conviction and insulated against empirical analysis. And here’s what you don’t understand about mine: It ISN’T a fixed assumption concerning the optimal amount of government, and is committed to on-going empirical analysis to continue to explore a complex and subtle issue.
E keeps insisting that individualism without recognition of interdependence has benefits for us all. Yet, when comparing America, the most individualistic of developed nations, to other developed nations, it would appear that just the opposite is true. We have the smallest percentage of our population sharing in our national prosperity, by far the highest rates of deadly violence, by far the highest percentage of our population incarcerated, the highest poverty rates, the greatest economic inequality, the highest infant mortality rates, the lowest social mobility, the lowest percentage of our population covered by health insurance, among the poorest educational outcomes…. It’s a bizarre ideology that continues to claim an advantage the existence of which is overwhelmingly empirically refuted.