The coercion debate

[From Mike Acree (980512.0849)]

As practically a charter member of the Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Dead Horses, I enter with some hesitation into a commentary
on an exchange which both Bill and Tim have made serious efforts to lay
to rest. I would have jumped in much sooner were it not for the crush
of work; but there proved to be significant advantages (for me, perhaps
also for others) to my not having done so. For one, Bill responded to
Tim in the meantime much more eloquently and patiently than I ever
could, and it's very much more satisfying to see your points being made
so well by someone else.

For another, it was interesting to see where the discussion went without
my intervention. The concept of coercion that Tim claims
(980506.0618--Bill's not the only one up at all hours!) to have been
defending all along--forcing someone to do something against her
will--is in practice all but indistinguishable from Bill's. The sole
difference, as far as I can tell, arises when someone happens to be
forced to do something which is just what she or he would have chosen to
do anyway at that moment, and Tim in fact leaned very heavily on this
contingency throughout the debate, as though it had some practical as
well as theoretical relevance. That argument easily gives offense,
however, in just the same way as the Texas politician (I forget his
name) who suggested that rape victims might as well lie back (he may
have said "lay back") and enjoy it. The phenomenon may not be unknown
in either case--though "sick" was Bill's (980430.1045) word for it--and
the question can be raised philosophically; but when it is the coercer
who is self-servingly making the argument--the master speaking for the
slave--the appeal becomes especially indelicate.

It is interesting, but dismaying, that it is the teachers and therapists
on the Net (and presumably in the outside world as well) who are most
committed to defending, or denying, the coercion involved in their work.
Scary, too, I must say, that those involved even indirectly in coercive
systems would be so oblivious to it, or so baffled by the concept. I'm
reminded of the medicalization of the Holocaust. I had not known, until
reading Robert Jay Lifton's _The Nazi Doctors_ some years ago, that it
was doctors rather than soldiers who ran the death camps. The soldiers
were present in the background, much as the police are with schools.
The doctors, for their part, simply saw patients walking into the room
to receive an injection. Euthanasia having been practiced under
increasingly liberal criteria in recent years, there wasn't much overtly
to distinguish the scene from ordinary office practice; and the
participation of doctors lent the entire enterprise a legitimacy it
would never have had.

Having come down that heavily on you, Tim, I need to add my agreement
with Bill that I don't hold you responsible for the coerciveness of the
system you are working in; and, without knowing your work directly, I
trust I would agree with his appraisal that it may well be the best
thing (or nearly the best) that could be done under the circumstances.
I hope you fully absorbed that message of his as well.

But Bill's side of the argument was no less interesting to me, just
because he was saying to Tim all the things I had tried unsuccessfully
to get across to Bill last spring. His arguments about taxation, in
particular, very closely paralleled Tim's about school attendance. Just
as Tim argued that most kids like school and would attend without laws
compelling them to, Bill argued (970609.1451) that "Most people not only
pay their taxes voluntarily, they do not mind paying taxes."
Right--whoever heard of underreporting? My impression, on the contrary,
is that most people mind quite a lot; but many of them, especially
liberals, think they're not supposed to mind; and their guilt makes the
issue a very touchy one. I found almost as many twists and turns in
Bill's logic in that exchange as he (and I) found in Tim's. Bill had
said, for example (970605.2335), "Taxation is a very mild form of
coercion." My response at the time (970609.1005) seems to me to have
adumbrated very closely Bill's own protracted response to Tim: "Any
appearance of mildness is due simply to its operating mostly at the
level of threat. The IRS actually operates on the same maxim as Capone:
'You can get a lot farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with
the kind word alone.' If I don't 'voluntarily' pay taxes, my property
will be confiscated. If I don't 'voluntarily' hand it over, I will be
arrested. If I don't 'voluntarily' surrender myself for arrest, I will
be killed. It's only the ultimate threat of death that makes the system
work at all. That doesn't fit my concept of 'very mild.'" And when I
said (970609.1005), "The last chapter of B:CP contains the most eloquent
and brilliant argument I've ever read for why coercion doesn't work as a
way of getting people to do what you want," Bill replied (970609.1451),
"Coercion DOES work as a way of getting people to do what you want" (his
typography). Thus my first response to the present exchange was to
agree with Bruce Gregory (980430.0443--so I'm the only one who ever
sleeps) that there were two Bills, though I saw a different pair from
what he did, since I see the radical social theory of Chapter 17 as
entailed directly by the radical psychological theory of the preceding
16 chapters. In fact there appeared to be two Bills within the same
exchange, when he challenged Tim: "You seem to have something against
coercion. What's wrong with it?" (980504.1750). This, after arguing
that coercion is self-defeating (980504.0242) and eventually backfires
(980503.1025), and suggesting that it be reserved for emergencies
(980504.0242). After characterizing coercion by saying (98004.1710),
"Somebody else is using your body." (I'm sure "Somebody Else is Using
My Body" would make a hit country music title, if it hasn't already.)
One might eventually get the impression of some ambivalence about the
topic.

The present debate was very useful in giving me the occasion to review
my own exchange with Bill last spring. Having the benefit of all the
post on various topics since then afforded considerable clarification.
A major obstacle to communication throughout that 4-month discussion had
been my assumption, since all active Net participants seemed in basic
agreement with PCT, that they were all more or less anarchists. (I
still don't know why they're not.) So every exchange was bringing
greater astonishment and bewilderment. I would guess that at least part
of the two-Bills phenomenon I experienced, then and now, was the familar
process of polarization. I happen to like the results much better when
someone like Tim is challenging him from the opposite side than when I'm
pushing him in the direction of defending coercion. (An excellent
argument for me to shut up. Someday.) My sense of our agreements and
differences are as follows--this is not anything I say with much
confidence, but articulating it may serve as a test.

On the issue of whether coercion "works": since Bill returned, with
Tim, to the original arguments from Chapter 17, I suspect we don't
really disagree, and that the issue is mostly semantic, or a matter of
the temporal range referred to. Short-term, at least, coercion does
work. But it is also very expensive, either for an individual or a
social system. I would think the best exemplar of success would be
someone like Saddam Hussein, who has positioned himself through force to
be able to indulge his whims surely as arbitrarily as anyone ever could.
But security then becomes virtually an all-consuming concern, to a point
where it would be hard for him to concentrate for long on anything else.

The more relevant, but more ambiguous, example is the system of
compulsory schooling. With respect to its success, the great temptation
is of course to let the results speak for themselves; but that recourse
fails to satisfy just because there is surely room for other
explanations of why government schools do such a bad job. But, at the
very least, it is difficult to argue that 60 or 70 years of enforcing
compulsory schooling has improved education, when American high schools
students now rank below all but a small handful of Third World
countries. Of course, relative to purpose besides education, the
compulsory school system has been a clear success: in keeping children
out of the labor market, off the streets, out of the house, and
everywhere else they're not wanted. It is also perhaps our most
important means of teaching children that coercion is an acceptable and
natural way of getting what you want.

So: I would say that coercion works just as poorly as Bill used to
think, when he said it could only lead to destruction and pathology;
but--and I would guess this is what he would emphasize more now--that
doesn't mean it still isn't highly attractive to many people. The
question, perhaps we would also agree, is what to do about that.

It seems obvious to almost everyone but me that the solution is to set
up an organization bigger and more powerful than anything else, as the
ultimate bully for all the right causes. That idea not only strikes me
as a priori risky, but the experience of history would appear to provide
an exceptionless refutation. The problem is not just having set up a
powerful agency which can then be taken over by the bad guys, though
that has certainly happened more than once; the more relevant problem is
that very few people are self-actualized (or whatever) enough to handle
arbitrary unanswerable power well over the long haul. Maybe you can
think of one Congressperson who is an exception, or one President since
van Buren. Recent events just from Watergate to Waco to the
Unabanger--not just the original events, but the cover-ups and denials,
at the highest level--have provided perhaps a sufficient illustration of
what ordinary people will do when they think they can get away with
anything. The situation furthermore will always deteriorate over time,
since, liberal redistributionist fantasies notwithstanding, both money
and power flow very clearly to them who already have it. I was
impressed with the suggestion of Anthony de Jasay in his recent book
_Against Politics_ that politicians take a Hippocratic oath, "First do
no harm"; and I concur with his suspicion that a government would never
get off the ground under those conditions.

Whatever disagreements may remain between Bill and me, I was left,
rereading all these exchanges, with a strong sense of how unimportant
any differences are. I could be making a major blunder, but I really
felt that, given his strong message to Tim about being honest about
coercion--a point that was also made very clearly in Chapter 17--nothing
else really mattered. I could trust, do business with, happily be a
neighbor to . . . vote for . . . anyone with that attitude. The actual
result of reading Bill's messages was for me a great sense of peace.

Mike

[From Bill Powers (980513.0131 MDT)]

Mike Acree (980512.0849)--

I can see that my shifts of viewpoint have been confusing. They don't seem
contradictory to me, but that's because I know what I mean, even if my
words don't exactly say it.

But Bill's side of the argument was no less interesting to me, just
because he was saying to Tim all the things I had tried unsuccessfully
to get across to Bill last spring. His arguments about taxation, in
particular, very closely paralleled Tim's about school attendance. Just
as Tim argued that most kids like school and would attend without laws
compelling them to, Bill argued (970609.1451) that "Most people not only
pay their taxes voluntarily, they do not mind paying taxes."

This is part of the confusion that arises when someone uses coercion as a
means of getting you to do something you would have independently chosen to
do anyway. Some people, seeing advantages in getting even an imperfect
education, would go to school even if nobody forced them to go. Some
people, wanting roads and police protection and public health programs and
public schools, would pay what they consider to be their fair share of
taxes even if not required by law to do so. "Most" and "some" are debatable
quantifiers, but the sizes of the numbers are of secondary importance.

Right--whoever heard of underreporting? My impression, on the contrary,
is that most people mind quite a lot; but many of them, especially
liberals, think they're not supposed to mind; and their guilt makes the
issue a very touchy one.

I don't think most people mind a lot, but then I suppose we tend to judge
what "most" people think by our own attitudes. It's a way of asserting that
one is not alone. I think there is a lot of groaning about taxes by people
who would really hate to do without the useful things that taxes buy for
them, and that they use many times every day (like every time they take a
drink of water). So what is their true attitude toward taxes?

I found almost as many twists and turns in
Bill's logic in that exchange as he (and I) found in Tim's. Bill had
said, for example (970605.2335), "Taxation is a very mild form of
coercion." My response at the time (970609.1005) seems to me to have
adumbrated very closely Bill's own protracted response to Tim: "Any
appearance of mildness is due simply to its operating mostly at the
level of threat. The IRS actually operates on the same maxim as Capone:
'You can get a lot farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with
the kind word alone.' If I don't 'voluntarily' pay taxes, my property
will be confiscated. If I don't 'voluntarily' hand it over, I will be
arrested. If I don't 'voluntarily' surrender myself for arrest, I will
be killed. It's only the ultimate threat of death that makes the system
work at all. That doesn't fit my concept of 'very mild.'"

Nor mine, actually. But how severe coercion seems depends on how radically
one disagrees with the goals of the coercer. Ultimately, all coercion
depends on force and I don't like it for that reason. But if the coercion
is aimed at producing a social situation of which I approve (or mostly
approve), and which seems to generate little conflict, then I'm likely to
forgive it -- especially if I have nothing useful to offer in its place.

And when I
said (970609.1005), "The last chapter of B:CP contains the most eloquent
and brilliant argument I've ever read for why coercion doesn't work as a
way of getting people to do what you want," Bill replied (970609.1451),
"Coercion DOES work as a way of getting people to do what you want" (his
typography). Thus my first response to the present exchange was to
agree with Bruce Gregory (980430.0443--so I'm the only one who ever
sleeps) that there were two Bills, though I saw a different pair from
what he did, since I see the radical social theory of Chapter 17 as
entailed directly by the radical psychological theory of the preceding
16 chapters.

What you're missing, I think, is my point that whatever you end up
approving or disapproving about interactions among people comes down to
your own preferences, not universal truths or moral strictures. Coercion
certainly works as a way of getting people to do what you want. It doesn't
work forever, but nothing works forever. It has certain side-effects, but
if you don't mind those side-effects there's nothing to keep you from using
this mode of acting on others -- as history attests.

All discussions of good and bad social systems are contingent: there's
always an implied IF. This way of doing things is good or bad IF you have
such-and-such preferences for how your life should be. Coercion does
produce counter-efforts against you, but that's OK if you revel in being
better at plotting, revenge, and bullying than anyone around you is.
Grossly unequal distribution of income does produce poverty and misery and
crime, but if you aren't bothered by that, you simply shrug and say "I've
got mine, Jack, you get yours."

In fact there appeared to be two Bills within the same
exchange, when he challenged Tim: "You seem to have something against
coercion. What's wrong with it?" (980504.1750). This, after arguing
that coercion is self-defeating (980504.0242) and eventually backfires
(980503.1025), and suggesting that it be reserved for emergencies
(980504.0242).

I didn't communicate what I meant. I was playing dumb, or inviting a
literal interpretation of my question. I can ask you the same question:
what IS wrong with coercion? As you try to come up with an answer, you're
supposed to realize that you're not saying what's wrong with it, you're
just saying what your preferences are. If you answer "It causes a lot of
unhappiness," the question can be asked again: "What's wrong with THAT?"
When you're backed up against the wall you have to face the fact that the
only final answer is, "I don't like it."

After characterizing coercion by saying (98004.1710),
"Somebody else is using your body."

What's wrong with that?

The present debate was very useful in giving me the occasion to review
my own exchange with Bill last spring. Having the benefit of all the
post on various topics since then afforded considerable clarification.
A major obstacle to communication throughout that 4-month discussion had
been my assumption, since all active Net participants seemed in basic
agreement with PCT, that they were all more or less anarchists. (I
still don't know why they're not.)

Because logic is not the highest level of perception and control.
Principles are higher than logic, and system concepts are higher than
principles.

I happen to like the results much better when
someone like Tim is challenging him from the opposite side than when I'm
pushing him in the direction of defending coercion.

The beginning of wisdom. That's not the same as saying that the results ARE
better, is it.

Short-term, at least, coercion does
work. But it is also very expensive, either for an individual or a
social system.

What's wrong with that?

I would think the best exemplar of success would be
someone like Saddam Hussein, who has positioned himself through force to
be able to indulge his whims surely as arbitrarily as anyone ever could.
But security then becomes virtually an all-consuming concern, to a point
where it would be hard for him to concentrate for long on anything else.

What's wrong with that?

it is difficult to argue that 60 or 70 years of enforcing
compulsory schooling has improved education, when American high schools
students now rank below all but a small handful of Third World
countries.

What's wrong with that?

Of course, relative to purpose besides education, the
compulsory school system has been a clear success: in keeping children
out of the labor market, off the streets, out of the house, and
everywhere else they're not wanted.

What's wrong with that? You can't just drop it there -- to whom are you
talking?

It is also perhaps our most
important means of teaching children that coercion is an acceptable and
natural way of getting what you want.

What's wrong with that?

So: I would say that coercion works just as poorly as Bill used to
think, when he said it could only lead to destruction and pathology;
but--and I would guess this is what he would emphasize more now--that
doesn't mean it still isn't highly attractive to many people. The
question, perhaps we would also agree, is what to do about that.

Precisely. Would you make it illegal to use coercion? Kill all the
coercers? Have a libertarian revolution? Mock and revile all those who fail
to see reason your way?

It seems obvious to almost everyone but me that the solution is to set
up an organization bigger and more powerful than anything else, as the
ultimate bully for all the right causes. That idea not only strikes me
as a priori risky, but the experience of history would appear to provide
an exceptionless refutation.

What's wrong with taking risks, or operating under refuted assumptions?
(Remember that these are supposed to be literal, not rhetorical, questions).

Recent events just from Watergate to Waco to the
Unabanger--not just the original events, but the cover-ups and denials,
at the highest level--have provided perhaps a sufficient illustration of
what ordinary people will do when they think they can get away with
anything.

What's to keep people from "getting away with anything?" What do you
recommend: coercion?

The situation furthermore will always deteriorate over time,
since, liberal redistributionist fantasies notwithstanding, both money
and power flow very clearly to them who already have it.

What's wrong with that? This sort of argument assumes that you're
addressing people with interests identical to yours. What's wrong with the
situation deteriorating over time? Why should money and power not flow to
them as has them? Statements of fact, logical deductions, don't speak for
themselves. There's always the "so what?" lurking in the background, to
bring you up short against the vast differences there can be between one
person and another.

How, in fact, can people get along with each other, if not through some
kind of coercive system? Again, I do not mean that question rhetorically.

Best,

Bill P.

[From Bruce Gregory (80513.1140 EDT)]

Rick Marken (980513.0810)

Bill Powers (980513.0131 MDT) --

Also in this post Bill gives what I think is the best description
I've ever heard of the PCT "approach" to social thought:

> whatever you end up approving or disapproving about interactions
> among people comes down to your own preferences, not universal
> truths or moral strictures.

PCT explains interactions among people; it doesn't say what those
interactions should be.

It also tells us that people's preferences are not something they have any
control over -- individual systems only change as a result of random
reorganization in the face of persisting error.

Best Offer

[From Oded Maler (980513)]

Re: Rick Marken (980513.0810)

Strange. My current opinion was that Rick Marken understands next to
nothing about human behavior, that he is confused between real humans
and humanoid models implementable using short Java programs, that his
claim that conflict requires different references for the *same*
perception in two humans is ridiculous, and that his understanding of
other cultures and international affairs is not above the average in
his country. Nevertheless, in his recent post he managed to write
something I sympathize with and agree with almost every word (to be
picky, Norway is an easy example due to oil, try Sweden). So after all
we have been spoiled with some similar reference signals and there is
some set of commonly-held "beliefs" (threatening to cross the atlantic
and invade the civilized world) that we oppose together.

--Oded

[From Rick Marken (980513.0810)]

Bill Powers (980513.0131 MDT) --

Great reply to Mike Acree (980512.0849). I hope Mike has time
for a reply; I'd like to hear it.

I think it's important to remember that the coercion debate
wasn't about whether coercion was "good" or "bad"; it was about
what coersion was, how to model it and the importance of admiting
that it is part of one's PCT- based program when it _is_ part of
one's PCT-based program.

Also in this post Bill gives what I think is the best description
I've ever heard of the PCT "approach" to social thought:

whatever you end up approving or disapproving about interactions
among people comes down to your own preferences, not universal
truths or moral strictures.

PCT explains interactions among people; it doesn't say what those
interactions should be. My own preference is for civil, cooperative
interactions. I prefer societies where wealth is distributed far
more equally than it is in the US, for example. I don't like poverty;
I don't like violence. I like societies where these goals (more
equal wealth distribution, minimal poverty and violence) are
achieved with minimal coercion (this rules out Communist dictatorships
for me). So, from what I know about existing societies, I prefer a
society like present day Norway (which seems to do well on the
wealth distribution stuff with what I see as relatively little
coercion)) to the US (which does horribly on wealth distribution
but probably has less coercion than what they have in Norway).

But that's just me -- my preferences (referece signals). It's hard
for me to enjoy what wealth I have when I have to drive through
squalor to get to the places where I can enjoy it. But obviously
I'm part of a tiny minority (at least in the US) -- an FDR liberal
in Republican heaven (I consider Clinton a moderate Republican).
But my preference for more equal distribution of wealth at the
cost of moderate coercion is just that -- my preference. I know it
is not a universal truth, a logical conclusion or a moral stricture;
it's just my reference signals. I like them but I know that most
people don't.

Best

Rick

···

--
Richard S. Marken Phone or Fax: 310 474-0313
Life Learning Associates e-mail: rmarken@earthlink.net
http://home.earthlink.net/~rmarken

[From Mike Acree (980513.0955 PDT)]

Bill Powers (980513.0131)--

Thanks for a helpful reply. I can see more clearly, I think, the
different viewpoints from which you were speaking at different times.

This sort of argument assumes that you're
addressing people with interests identical to yours. . . .
Statements of fact, logical deductions, don't speak for
themselves. There's always the "so what?" lurking in the background, to
bring you up short against the vast differences there can be between

one

person and another.

Yes, a recurring problem in my posts. I'm not sure I'm different from
other CSGers in assuming identical or similar interests in my
addressees, but I do think I've been wrong in that assumption more often
than most. I may eventually catch on.

What you're missing, I think, is my point that whatever you end up
approving or disapproving about interactions among people comes down to
your own preferences, not universal truths or moral strictures.

This is one of the points I have appreciated most about PCT, even if
it's the one I also experience as the greatest challenge in practice;
it's a challenge I welcome. It's not original with this theory, of
course, but you provide a grounding I like better, and, more
importantly, do a better job than most in observing it. My sense is
that a certain amount of moralizing is mixed in with other exchanges on
the Net, and it "works" so long as there is a shared frame of
preference. Since I've found, with some surprise, how much my
preferences appear to diverge from the rest of the group, it's not so
easy for me to move in and out of these implicitly preference-anchored
frames without bollixing up the communication. When you said to Tim,
for example, "Somebody else is using your body," I interpreted this (and
would still interpret it, and assume others do likewise) as appealing to
a presumed shared preference for not having one's body used by others
without consultation. If Tim indeed shares that preference, then he has
a conflict to sort out, and the discussion can proceed. When I make
similar appeals (even if I'm quoting your own words), I'm simply
reminded that they're grounded in preference. True enough. If I want
to continue participating, the process may be more satisfactory for all
if I remember to be more explicit about my hypotheticals (as in this
sentence).

To the substance:

Would you make it illegal to use coercion?

This seems to me precisely the idea of the state. The state is then
legally the only agent that can coerce. It may be the best idea there
is (for a goal, let's say, of minimizing overall coercion), but it still
seems to me worth trying to come up with alternatives.

How, in fact, can people get along with each other, if not through some

kind of coercive system?

"If you call that getting along," I'm tempted to say. I think the key
assumption in your question may be the word "system." I don't see any
reason to expect that coercion will ever disappear (not that that would
be impossible in principle, of course). But it doesn't follow from that
that there will necessarily be a _coercive system_, in the sense of a
controlling legal authority over a substantial geographical territory
(as opposed to a family, say). Such systems, in fact, go back only a
few thousand years, probably to the beginning of agriculture and
civilization, when people had property to protect (didn't want somebody
coming along in the night and harvesting all the wheat they'd cultivated
over the past several months). Nor that setting up such a system is the
most effective for reducing overall coercion (including the disguised
forms that Tim was tripping over). There are glimmers of such
mechanisms already, in arbitration clauses in contracts or in gated
communities which provide their own security. If fire departments were
operated by insurance companies, they would have a vested interest
(lacking with government fire departments) in getting to the fire
quickly and putting it out with the least damage. If they didn't do a
good enough job, there would be other companies to take their business.
It is at least possible to imagine something similar with personal
security or property protection more generally. It is hard to know for
sure, of course, how any of these existing mechanisms, like arbitration,
would work without government back-up, and the others haven't been tried
at all. But such solutions don't seem dismissible to me out of hand.

Best,
Mike

[From Bruce Gregory (980513.1335 EDT)]

Mike Acree (980513.0955 PDT)

"If you call that getting along," I'm tempted to say. I think the key
assumption in your question may be the word "system." I don't see any
reason to expect that coercion will ever disappear (not that that would
be impossible in principle, of course). But it doesn't follow from that
that there will necessarily be a _coercive system_, in the sense of a
controlling legal authority over a substantial geographical territory
(as opposed to a family, say). Such systems, in fact, go back only a
few thousand years, probably to the beginning of agriculture and
civilization, when people had property to protect (didn't want somebody
coming along in the night and harvesting all the wheat they'd cultivated
over the past several months).

That's interesting. How is that you think primate groups function in
general? Without coercion? Do you think coercion is unknown among nomads and
hunter gatherers?

If fire departments were
operated by insurance companies, they would have a vested interest
(lacking with government fire departments) in getting to the fire
quickly and putting it out with the least damage. If they didn't do a
good enough job, there would be other companies to take their business.

What makes you think that insurance companies would want to operate fire
departments? How would they function as profit centers? I would think you
would approve of the Roman system in which the owner of a fire company
bargained with the person whose property was burning with a view to buying
the property. The longer the owner delayed, of course, the less the property
was worth.

Best Offer

[From Rick Marken (980513.1010)]

Oded Maler (980513) --

My current opinion was that Rick Marken understands next to
nothing about human behavior

Well, I'm always willing to try to learn. I presume your opinion
is based on the fact that you understand _something_ about human
behavior; how else could you tell that I understand next to nothing
about it?

I'd really appreciate it if you would let me know what _you_
understand about human behavior that I don't. Then I could
understand a little _more_ than "next to nothing" about human
behavior -- maybe not as much as _you_ understand about it, but at
least a little more than what I understand now -- nothing. (Don't
feel compelled to tell me _everything_ you understand about human
behavior in case you want to stay ahead of me -- pretty easy to do,
I'd say, given that I've been working on this "understanding
human behavior" stuff for years, apparently with no success at
all).

Maybe you could tell me just a couple _little_ things about human
behavior that you understand that I don't. All I understand (or
_thought I understood) about human behavior is that behavior is
the control of perception. What do you understand that I don't
understand, Oded? I'd really appreciate it if you would let me know.
And I'm sure everyone on CSGNet would appreciate it too. Who wouldn't
want to get some real understanding of human behavior instead of a
bunch of confused Java hominid models (and more are on the way;
please give me some understanding before I strike again;-))

Thanks

Rick

···

--
Richard S. Marken Phone or Fax: 310 474-0313
Life Learning Associates e-mail: rmarken@earthlink.net
http://home.earthlink.net/~rmarken

[From Bruce Nevin (980513.1334 EDT)]

Bill Powers (980513.0131 MDT)--

How, in fact, can people get along with each other, if not through some
kind of coercive system? Again, I do not mean that question rhetorically.

Edward Wilson argues that many elements of social relations and ethics are
instinctual, and that they have become so because the genes of individuals
participating in them were more likely to be propagated. His article "The
biological basis of morality" in the April 1998 _Atlantic Monthly_
counterposes an empirical view with the transcendental view of religions
and almost all moral philosophers.

"I doubt that discussions of ethics should rest upon the freestanding
assumptions of contemporary philosophers who have evidently never given
thought to the evolutionary origin and material functioning of the human
brain. In no other domain of the humanities is a union with the natural
sciences more urgently needed.

"When the ethical dimension of human nature is at last fully opened to such
exploration, the innate epigenetic rules [sic] of moral reasoning will
probably not prove to be aggregated into simple instincts such as bonding,
cooperativeness, and altruism. Instead the rules will most probably turn
out to be an ensemble of many algorithms, whose interlocking activities
guide the mind across a landscape of nuanced moods and choices.

"[...] With all these examples [of genetic and neurobiological analyses of
instincts in other species] before us, we may reasonably conclude that
human behavior originated the same way.

"[... T]he melanges of moral reasoning employed by modern societies are, to
put the matter simply, a mess. They are chimeras, composed of odd parts
stuck together. Paleolithic egalitarian and tribalistic instincts are still
firmly installed. As part of the genetic founcation of human nature, they
cannot be replaced. In some cases, such as quick hostility to strangers and
competing groups, they have become generally ill adapted and persistently
dangerous. Above the fundamental instincts rise superstructures of
arguments and rules that accommodate the novel institutions created by
cultural evolution. These accommodations, which reflect the attempt to
maintain order and further tribal interests, have been too volatile to
track by genetic evolution; they are not yet in the genes."

I think that you would find his account of this "superstructure" of
cultural norms congenial, and consistent with your suggestions about
coercive systems of contingencies. If even some proclivities to "getting
along" are instinctual, then your question "how can people get along with
each other" has another kind of answer. The answer "some kind of coercive
system" comes from an understanding of individual control systems plus the
potential for developing social contingencies and sustaining them over
successive generations. This alternative answer comes from evolution of
mammals and of our species over vastly longer spans of time.

In this context, then, I offer again part of my (980510.2341 EDT):

Ordinarily, we social beings have some perceptions of the intentions
of others, and we control to accommodate them. "I'm sorry, I didn't
mean to get in your way."

How can we perceive another's intentions? We imagine them based on
what we would do in their situation, or we infer them from the other
person's resistance to disturbances that we perceive--informal
variants of the Test. The clearest form of resistance to disturbance,
real or anticipated (imagined) is when people declare their
intentions. Butch Cassidy "Hey! I'm walking here!"

We ordinarily accommodate others. It is also true that we are
impatient and bullying, but that is the distinction that makes
for coercion.

The coercer A does have some perception of the intentions of the
coerced system B and sets the reference for accommodating B's
intentions to zero.

So I think you cannot clearly understand a model of coercion
without modelling accommodation also. When you can model how
control system A includes among the perceptions that it is
controlling a perception of the intention of another control
system, then you can model what it is that a coercer is capable
of controlling but does not.

A coercer sets a reference level for another person's actions
and does whatever is necessary to control them. The coercer knows
that the other person's actions effect their intentions, just as
her own do. The coercer disregards the other's intentions as of
no account.

If one control system overpowers another, but is unable to
perceive the consequences that its actions has for the other
(the influence through the environment is not apparent),
it is not coercing. The overwhelmed control system might
declare the violation, unless too frightened. If the declaration
is recognized as such, but ignored, then the overpowering
becomes coercive.

  Bruce Nevin

[From Bill Powers (980513.1430 MDT)]

Bruce Gregory (80513.1140 EDT)--

Rick:

PCT explains interactions among people; it doesn't say what those
interactions should be.

Bruce G:

It also tells us that people's preferences are not something they have any
control over -- individual systems only change as a result of random
reorganization in the face of persisting error.

Another word for random is "creative." One may not have control over the
specific creative solution to a problem that will pop up, but one does have
some control, I think, over whether such a solution will be retained and
used. The higher-level reorganizations that you accept have to amount to a
net gain for the whole multi-threaded multiordinal system, not just a
solution to a single isolated problem.

I don't feel that I understand much about the higher levels of human
organization. All explanations are guesses.

Best,

Bill P.

[From Bill Powers (980513.1437 MDT)]

Mike Acree (980513.0955 PDT)--

This sort of argument assumes that you're
addressing people with interests identical to yours. . . .
Statements of fact, logical deductions, don't speak for
themselves. There's always the "so what?" lurking in the background, to
bring you up short against the vast differences there can be between
one person and another.

Yes, a recurring problem in my posts. I'm not sure I'm different from
other CSGers in assuming identical or similar interests in my
addressees, but I do think I've been wrong in that assumption more often
than most. I may eventually catch on.

All I really do about this is to try to add some note or proviso to my
posts to acknowledge (when I remember) that whether something seems good or
bad to you, to us, depends on whether we adopt it as a reference level. I
think now, to remind myself, about the Israeli settler interviewed on TV a
couple of months ago. The interviewer, referring to the bulldozers that
were flattening the shacks of some Palestinians a hundred yards from the
settler's home, asked "What do you think about what's going to happen to
the people who are living there?" The settler looked him in the eye and
said, "I don't care. I don't care about them at all. It means nothing to
me. I just don't care." And turned away.

Obviously, no appeal to this person's "better nature" or "sympathies" would
have any effect at all. That simple statement, "I don't care," removes all
the arguments that might be used to persuade or shame the settler into
giving the Palestinians a break. It leaves only two choices: accept the
outcome, or use coercion -- _give_ the settler something to care about.

I don't like coercion, but that's only one thing I don't like: there are
other things I like far less. One of the things I like less is the callous,
indifferent, and brutal way some people treat others simply to get what
they want. I want these people out of the human game, so the rest of us can
play it differently. If they have to be killed, I say kill them, provided
you're sure that doing so wouldn't make things worse (when you figure out
how to be sure about that, please tell me immediately, because I have a
little list ...).

When you said to Tim,
for example, "Somebody else is using your body," I interpreted this (and
would still interpret it, and assume others do likewise) as appealing to
a presumed shared preference for not having one's body used by others
without consultation.

Right. But how do you deal with that someone else who is using your body?
Suppose you complain to that person, and the person says, "Of course I'm
using your body. That's my right, I like to do it, and anyway there's
nothing you can do about it." What do you do then?

There's no problem in getting agreement with Tim or you or most people on
this net about a preference for not having others using us like tools or
toys. But the social problem is not with those who agree with me or you or
Tim or the others -- it's with those who don't. It's with those who listen
to us saying "You're interfering with my rights, my life," and who reply,
"So what?"

Would you make it illegal to use coercion?

This seems to me precisely the idea of the state. The state is then
legally the only agent that can coerce. It may be the best idea there
is (for a goal, let's say, of minimizing overall coercion), but it still
seems to me worth trying to come up with alternatives.

Of course. But until the alternatives are invented, and until they work
with everyone and not just those who already agree about what is right and
wrong, you're going to use coercion or become a martyr. And if you become a
martyr, only the people who were already on your side will care.

Right now, legal coercion seems to be the only workable answer. At least
when you restrict coercion to use by officially sanctioned people and
according to legal formulas, you don't have 10,000 different ideas about
right and wrong being enforced by 10,000 self-appointed (and probably
drunk) executioners. The old Wild West lasted only about 10 or 15 years,
and then everyone stood up and said "That will be QUITE enough of that!" I
think that the "law and order" that displaced the mobs was a clearly
discernible improvement, if not a revolutionary one or one that I would
like to live under forever.

How, in fact, can people get along with each other, if not through some

kind of coercive system?

"If you call that getting along," I'm tempted to say. I think the key
assumption in your question may be the word "system."

I think so too, although my agreement is not with what you really meant.
What we really need is a well-worked out system concept that is persuasive
and practical, to which all sane people can agree. By this I don't mean a
"system of government," but a system concept that makes sense of human
existence and that just about everyone can understand. Religion represents
one approach to developing such a concept, although it contains too much
fantasy to suit me. Skinner proposed one in Walden II, based on other ideas
I don't believe. PCT has the potential of providing a system concept that
can be universally accepted. We can't do it here and now because we don't
know enough yet. But I think it can be done, eventually.

When I ask how people can get along with each other if not through
coercion, I am asking the most important research question that any
scientist will ever face. I don't mean the question in the way you seem to
have heard it, namely as an assertion that there is no way other than
through coercion. I'm quite confident that there is a way. I just don't
happen to know what it is right at the moment, but that shouldn't slow
anyone down.

Best,

Bill P.

[From Bruce Gregory (980513.1757 EDT)]

Bill Powers (980513.1430 MDT)

Another word for random is "creative." One may not have control over the
specific creative solution to a problem that will pop up, but one
does have
some control, I think, over whether such a solution will be retained and
used. The higher-level reorganizations that you accept have to amount to a
net gain for the whole multi-threaded multiordinal system, not just a
solution to a single isolated problem.

It looks to me that this is the heart of the matter. Choices must reduce net
system error.

I don't feel that I understand much about the higher levels of human
organization. All explanations are guesses.

My guess is that highest level of organization of any living control system
strives to reduce net system error. The role of the neo-cortex in human
beings seems to be to generate "scenarios" with imagined errors. The top
level "selects" from these in such a way as to reduce overall error. The
non-technical description of this mechanism is, "It seemed like a good idea
at the time..."

Best Offer

[From Mike Acree (980514.1403)]

Wow, a lot happens in a day, while, as a digest subscriber, I have my
back turned. Responding on a few points just in chronological order:

Rick Marken (980513.0810)--

It's hard
for me to enjoy what wealth I have when I have to drive through
squalor to get to the places where I can enjoy it.

How insensitive we are to the problems of the rich. I taught for
several years at a school in the Haight-Ashbury district, and many of
the obvious options for lunch were on Haight Street. Some of my
socialist colleagues refused to go there with me because of all the
homeless panhandlers they would encounter on the way. Perhaps you could
take a tip from them, if you haven't already, and change your route.

···

__________________________

Bruce Gregory (980513.1335)--

Since this is my first direct response to Bruce, let me take the
opportunity to acknowledge how much I have appreciated many of your
previous posts, including the ones about Heidegger and different worlds
that brought you so much grief. Naturally I find your challenges to me
less compelling.

What makes you think that insurance companies would want to operate

fire

departments?

If you owned a company that sold fire insurance, wouldn't you rather
have the option of putting out the fires yourself, rather than depending
on another agency which had no stake in how much of the property was
destroyed?

How would they function as profit centers?

Do you think fire protection is a service that few people would be
willing to pay for? Any time there's a product or service that a number
of people would rather pay someone else to provide than to provide it
themselves, there's potential for profit. We pay for fire protection
already, of course. The difference is just that there's no choice, so
that people who have little to protect or assess the risk as too low to
be worth the premium can't opt out. That's mostly the poor, of course;
the rich would appear to get a comparative bargain in this case.

I would think you
would approve of the Roman system in which the owner of a fire company
bargained with the person whose property was burning with a view to

buying

the property. The longer the owner delayed, of course, the less the

property

was worth.

If you wanted to enter into that kind of contract, either as provider of
fire protection or client, I have no basis for objecting. But most
people obviously prefer to contract for a specified amount of coverage
in advance. My proposed coupling of fire protection with insurance
seems to me to make your comment irrelevant. My principal inference
about it is that I must have said something to make you think I wasn't a
nice person.
__________________________

Bruce Nevin (980513.1355)--

Mike Acree (980513.0955 PDT)

I think the key
assumption in your question may be the word "system." I don't see

any

reason to expect that coercion will ever disappear (not that that

would

be impossible in principle, of course). But it doesn't follow from

that

that there will necessarily be a _coercive system_, in the sense of

a

controlling legal authority over a substantial geographical

territory

(as opposed to a family, say). Such systems, in fact, go back only

a

few thousand years, probably to the beginning of agriculture and
civilization, when people had property to protect (didn't want

somebody

coming along in the night and harvesting all the wheat they'd

cultivated

over the past several months).

That's interesting. How is that you think primate groups function in
general? Without coercion? Do you think coercion is unknown among

nomads and

hunter gatherers?

Overshot. He specifically distinguishes coercion, which he doubts will

ever

disappear, from coercive systems, e.g. the state, which he says are a
relatively recent development, and which he seems to be saying might
disappear again.

Thank you for jumping in so splendidly as mediator. I had interpreted
BO's words in just the same way as you.

With regard to your other posts on the topic: I take part of your point
to be (putting it crudely) that the rest of the discussion of coercion
(including my contributions) has been rather too sharp in its
distinctions, and that an adequate treatment must take more nuanced
account of neighboring phenomena like accommodation. I certainly agree
(though that would take more work than I'm prepared to put into it at
the moment--as the town fathers of Pisa said when they installed a clock
in the Leaning Tower, "What good is it to have the inclination if you
don't have the time?"); I think that may also be important in responding
to Gregory's question about tribes. My sense is that while they may not
have formal governments per se (in any modern sense), they may engage in
some "systematic" coercion that goes beyond what we would think of as
social pressure (sacrificing virgins?); but I don't really know enough
to comment.

Remarkably, you have been the only one, I believe, who has not assumed,
at least at times, that questioning the necessity of government entailed
either pacifism or an interest in blowing up buildings. Bill, in
particular, consistently appears to imply three alternatives when
someone coerces (or attempts to coerce) us:

1. Do nothing, or at least nothing involving force: pacifism (or
martyrdom, to use his word).

2. Defend yourself, or counterattack; everybody is responsible for his
or her own personal defense: the Wild West, in Bill's terminology.

3. Call the police (assuming there's time): i.e., the state.

Bill contends--I don't disagree--that the first two don't work very
well, so, as he says (980513.1437), "Right now, legal coercion seems to
be the only workable answer." Protection of person and property
certainly seems like one of those services most of us would prefer to
hire agents for than to undertake regularly for ourselves, but there is
no reason why such an agent needs to meet the definition of a
government. I have suggested on several occasions, most recently
(980513.0955), the possibility of private protection agencies. As I
also said, I have no way of knowing for sure how well such an
arrangement would work, but no one on the Net has argued that it
wouldn't; instead, people politely pretend I hadn't mentioned it. The
idea is certainly not original with me; as Bruce Gregory may know, Ayn
Rand was arguing against it 30 years ago, though I obviously didn't find
her argument persuasive. A major attraction for me is that it would
appear to provide a significant check on abuse which is absent under
governments. The major customers of security agencies would be
individuals and institutions with substantial assets; those people will
also in general have a significant stake in a peaceful and comparatively
stable social order; so agencies that overdid it, Waco-style, on
retaliation, for example, would tend to find their big accounts looking
elsewhere. The fact that there was somewhere else to take your business
would exert a direct and I think rather powerful moderating influence.
____________________

Bill Powers (980513.1437)--

What we really need is a well-worked out system concept that is

persuasive

and practical, to which all sane people can agree. By this I don't mean

a

"system of government," but a system concept that makes sense of human
existence and that just about everyone can understand. Religion

represents

one approach to developing such a concept, although it contains too

much

fantasy to suit me. Skinner proposed one in Walden II, based on other

ideas

I don't believe. PCT has the potential of providing a system concept

that

can be universally accepted. We can't do it here and now because we

don't

know enough yet. But I think it can be done, eventually.

I'm strongly sympathetic with this entire paragraph, though surprised at
your appeal to universal agreement. I thought you had made the point a
number of times that we will never get universal agreement, and that the
real question was what to do about that. You provide still another
surprise in the answer you point to, namely to get rid of the ones who
disagree:

I don't like coercion, but that's only one thing I don't like: there

are

other things I like far less. One of the things I like less is the

callous,

indifferent, and brutal way some people treat others simply to get what
they want. I want these people out of the human game, so the rest of us

can

play it differently. If they have to be killed, I say kill them,

provided

you're sure that doing so wouldn't make things worse (when you figure

out

how to be sure about that, please tell me immediately, because I have a
little list ...).

Some people might object that that was just a tiny bit callous,
indifferent, and brutal itself--to which I imagine you responding, "So??
System concepts trump logical consistency." (Sorry if I misread; not
encountering an implied smiley until the parentheses, I wasn't sure at
what point in the paragraph it took effect.)

Back to your system concept: I wonder if such a concept is what binds
the tribes Gregory asks about. Such a solution (I admit that what I'm
envisioning is _extremely_ vague) I would expect to work most easily at
the tribal level, and to be more of a challenge with a unit even of the
size and diversity of San Francisco, let alone the nation or the world.
(There is a connection here to the problems of scale I was beginning to
muse about at the 1994 conference.) But I would agree that there's
hardly anything more important to ponder.

Best,
Mike

[From Bruce Gregory 9980514.1730 EDT)]

Mike Acree (980514.1403)

>What makes you think that insurance companies would want to operate
fire
>departments?

If you owned a company that sold fire insurance, wouldn't you rather
have the option of putting out the fires yourself, rather than depending
on another agency which had no stake in how much of the property was
destroyed?

I've noticed no shortage of people offering to sell me fire insurance at
reasonable prices. No any lack of enthusiasm on the part of the local
volunteer fire department. Apparently neither are as concerned as you are
about the present arrangement. If insurance companies were responsible for
putting out fires, I suspect they would become local monopolies. If I didn't
purchase insurance from the company that owned the local fire station, I'd
be in real trouble, wouldn't I?

Best Offer

[From Rick Marken (980514.1855)]

Me:

It's hard for me to enjoy what wealth I have when I have to
drive through squalor to get to the places where I can enjoy it.

Mike Acree (980514.1403) --

Perhaps you could take a tip from them, if you haven't already,
and change your route.

Ah. I see you received your training at the Marie Antoinette School
of Social Research.

Sheez.

Best

Rick

···

--

Richard S. Marken Phone or Fax: 310 474-0313
Life Learning Associates e-mail: rmarken@earthlink.net
http://home.earthlink.net/~rmarken/

[From Bill Powers (980517.0436 MDT)]

Mike Acree (980514.1403)--

Bill, in
particular, consistently appears to imply three alternatives when
someone coerces (or attempts to coerce) us:

1. Do nothing, or at least nothing involving force: pacifism (or
martyrdom, to use his word).

2. Defend yourself, or counterattack; everybody is responsible for his
or her own personal defense: the Wild West, in Bill's terminology.

3. Call the police (assuming there's time): i.e., the state.

Bill contends--I don't disagree--that the first two don't work very
well, so, as he says (980513.1437), "Right now, legal coercion seems to
be the only workable answer." Protection of person and property
certainly seems like one of those services most of us would prefer to
hire agents for than to undertake regularly for ourselves, but there is
no reason why such an agent needs to meet the definition of a
government. I have suggested on several occasions, most recently
(980513.0955), the possibility of private protection agencies.

Like the Pinkertons? Unfortunately, private protection agencies are not
subject to public oversight, hire the cheapest help they can get, and are
for sale to the highest bidder. Their interest is in achieving the maximum
return on investment, which means providing the least possible product or
service at the highest possible price. Competition does not reverse the
sign of this bias.

Libertarianism, like Communism and Capitalism, sounds wonderful when
described by a supporter. Unfortunately, all three rely on a picture of
human nature that is far from realistic.

A major attraction [of private enterprise] for me is that it would
appear to provide a significant check on abuse which is absent under
governments.

The abuses of government pale beside those of private industry.

The major customers of security agencies would be
individuals and institutions with substantial assets; those people will
also in general have a significant stake in a peaceful and comparatively
stable social order; so agencies that overdid it, Waco-style, on
retaliation, for example, would tend to find their big accounts looking
elsewhere. The fact that there was somewhere else to take your business
would exert a direct and I think rather powerful moderating influence.

If law enforcement were left to private competition, I would predict bloody
commercial wars within a very short time.

···

____________________

I'm strongly sympathetic with this entire paragraph, though surprised at
your appeal to universal agreement. I thought you had made the point a
number of times that we will never get universal agreement, and that the
real question was what to do about that.

Think levels. If we admit that it seems impossible to get universal
agreement at the level where we're been seeking it (economic systems, laws,
morals, religion), then we need to ask why it's impossible, and address the
problem at a higher level.

You provide still another
surprise in the answer you point to, namely to get rid of the ones who
disagree:

I don't like coercion, but that's only one thing I don't like: there

are

other things I like far less. One of the things I like less is the

callous,

indifferent, and brutal way some people treat others simply to get what
they want. I want these people out of the human game, so the rest of us

can

play it differently. If they have to be killed, I say kill them,

provided

you're sure that doing so wouldn't make things worse (when you figure

out

how to be sure about that, please tell me immediately, because I have a
little list ...).

Some people might object that that was just a tiny bit callous,
indifferent, and brutal itself--to which I imagine you responding, "So??
System concepts trump logical consistency." (Sorry if I misread; not
encountering an implied smiley until the parentheses, I wasn't sure at
what point in the paragraph it took effect.)

I was expressing the main frustration of the pacifist: that being a
pacifist would be a hell of a lot easier if we could just kill off all the
warmongers.

Back to your system concept: I wonder if such a concept is what binds
the tribes Gregory asks about. Such a solution (I admit that what I'm
envisioning is _extremely_ vague) I would expect to work most easily at
the tribal level, and to be more of a challenge with a unit even of the
size and diversity of San Francisco, let alone the nation or the world.
(There is a connection here to the problems of scale I was beginning to
muse about at the 1994 conference.) But I would agree that there's
hardly anything more important to ponder.

What we need are solutions to some of the main contradictions of social
life. For example, population is an extreme problem and getting worse. But
if the people who see this as a problem conscientiously restrict their
reproduction, pretty soon (if it hasn't happened long ago) the majority of
people will be those who don't think it's a problem. Pacifists will
eventually all be killed off by nonpacifists. Philanthropists will be
drained dry by nonphilanthropists. All the long-term good ideas seem to be
ineffective in the face of all the short-term thrills. It's the problem of
the cuckoo's egg: the birds that generously hatch all comers are destroyed
by their good works.

Free Enterprise versus State Control. I don't think either one is a viable
solution for survival of the human race.

Best,

Bill P.

[From Mike Acree (980520.1440 PDT)]

Bill Powers (980519.1205)--

Protection of person and property
certainly seems like one of those services most of us would prefer to
hire agents for than to undertake regularly for ourselves, but there

is

no reason why such an agent needs to meet the definition of a
government. I have suggested on several occasions, most recently
(980513.0955), the possibility of private protection agencies.

Like the Pinkertons? Unfortunately, private protection agencies are not
subject to public oversight, hire the cheapest help they can get, and

are

for sale to the highest bidder. Their interest is in achieving the

maximum

return on investment, which means providing the least possible product

or

service at the highest possible price. Competition does not reverse the
sign of this bias.

What you're saying is of course true of any privately supplied service
or product; and "the least possible product or service at the highest
possible price" actually seems to work well enough--at least, it is not
obvious how we could (noncoercively) get better gardening or computers
in general right now at a lower price. On the other hand, all these
services and goods are currently subject to "public oversight," as in
the current Justice Department suit against Microsoft--though it's worth
noting that the complaints in this case have come less from customers
than from the helpless competition like Sun Microsystems. And
government protection is precisely what doesn't allow public
oversight--the old problem of who oversees the overseers. The recent
Congressional review of Waco provided a good illustration: Congress
(and Janet Reno) accepted the FBI agent's claim that government agents
never fired a single shot during the 51-days siege (despite the
government's own infrared video showing more or less continuous
machine-gun fire covering the rear exit of the building) and that all 26
bodies found with bullets were either suicides or victims of fellow
Davidians. You have dismissed such examples before as exceptional and
freakish; to my mind, the record of government oversight of government
deeds shows a more discouraging, but not altogether surprising, pattern.

The abuses of government pale beside those of private industry.

You must be thinking of some private abuses I don't know about.

The major customers of security agencies would be
individuals and institutions with substantial assets; those people

will

also in general have a significant stake in a peaceful and

comparatively

stable social order; so agencies that overdid it, Waco-style, on
retaliation, for example, would tend to find their big accounts

looking

elsewhere. The fact that there was somewhere else to take your

business

would exert a direct and I think rather powerful moderating influence.

If law enforcement were left to private competition, I would predict

bloody

commercial wars within a very short time.

Yes, that was Rand's prediction, but she didn't say much in support of
it, either. I gave my reason, which you quoted, above, for expecting a
rather opposite outcome.

Libertarianism, like Communism and Capitalism, sounds wonderful when
described by a supporter. Unfortunately, all three rely on a picture of
human nature that is far from realistic.

Actually, as I may have said before, I'd put my cynicism about human
nature up against most people's. That's precisely the reason it looks
to me like such a bad idea

to set
up an organization [government] bigger and more powerful than anything

else, as the ultimate bully for all the right causes (980512.0849).

Unlike Mark Twain, I don't think politicians, as a group, are any worse
than regular people; but I don't think they're any better, either.

What we need are solutions to some of the main contradictions of social
life. For example, population is an extreme problem and getting worse.

But

if the people who see this as a problem conscientiously restrict their
reproduction, pretty soon (if it hasn't happened long ago) the majority

of

people will be those who don't think it's a problem. Pacifists will
eventually all be killed off by nonpacifists. Philanthropists will be
drained dry by nonphilanthropists. All the long-term good ideas seem to

be

ineffective in the face of all the short-term thrills. It's the problem

of

the cuckoo's egg: the birds that generously hatch all comers are

destroyed

by their good works.

Yes, you pinpoint a major issue here in the tension between the long and
short term. Perhaps we would also agree that people tend to control for
the longer term when they have something that feels worth protecting and
preserving--a business, a family, friendships, a personal reputation.
The people of greatest concern are correspondingly those who feel
hopeless, who feel that they have little to lose. Any common ground
here?

Best,
Mike

[From Bill Powers (980520.2139 MDT)]

Mike Acree (980520.1440 PDT)--

What you're saying is of course true of any privately supplied service
or product; and "the least possible product or service at the highest
possible price" actually seems to work well enough--at least, it is not
obvious how we could (noncoercively) get better gardening or computers
in general right now at a lower price.

I don't think it's working particularly well, for the consumer. In the
1950s, one person could make an adequate living to support a family,
working 40 hours per week. Now it takes at least two people working, in
many cases, 60 hours per week, and while unemployment is down, so are
salaries. Only the large corporations seem to be enjoying a boom. And who
cares abut them?

Sorry, I'm trying to wind up a program for the European meeting. No more time.

Best,

Bill P.