“In other words: The only type of culture that can thrive is one in which there is prevalent trust, and in which there is also prevalent contempt and rejection of cheaters.
But what happens when the person who is held in contempt is not the cheater, but the cheater is instead more often admired because cheaters (by definition) avoid the barrier, to their personal success, of adhering to the rules of decency and fairness – the rules against frauds and against all other types of theft from others? It’s by avoiding those barriers that cheaters win.
When success itself is admired, regardless of how it is won, then the result becomes what the philosopher Thomas Hobbes called “the state of nature,” in which there is “continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
This is what results when everyone places success above fairness or any other ethical objective. Some people call this “state of nature” “libertarianism,” or “anarchy,” and they think that this might-makes-right society is the ideal form of “government” (no government at all), towards which the world should strive.
However, the recent studies in evolutionary biology show that there is actually evolutionary benefit in “the state of nature” only if the culture happens to be one of trust of strangers, and of contempt for cheaters. But how can there continue to exist trust of strangers, and contempt for cheaters, in any “state of nature”?
It’s too dangerous to trust strangers in such a society. Furthermore, contempt for cheaters imposes ethical rules that remove the state of nature, and that replace it with the imposed ethical order.
This is the problem that libertarian believers must wrestle with, if they are at all serious, instead of just ideological kooks.
So, rejecting government solves nothing. It’s like rejecting food: The real issue isn’t to reject food, it’s to eat healthful food, and to avoid poisonous food. Similarly, the real issue isn’t to reject government, it’s to support good government, and to oppose bad government.
And so, too, the issue isn’t whether government should be “small,” or “big,” but rather that it should be the best size to serve the public, who must bear its costs.”
The passage above comes from an article written by investigative historian, Eric Zuesse, for Business Insider on why libertarianism is a flawed ideology. He makes a great point, one that I make with libertarians over and over; namely, that there really isn’t much difference between someone who uses unethical methods and cheats to get ahead and someone who may be very ethical, super ambitious and motivated (to create beautiful, meaningful things, for example, that may contribute to society in great ways) BUT who simultaneously feels that they’re intrinsically “better” and more deserving to rule (economically and/or politically) because they do great things; they’re both assholes in different ways!
I also resonate with the anthropological point Zuesse is hitting on: yes if we think humans are morally stained and un-trustable, then our “state of nature” is one that is very close to what Hobbes and Augustine think it is. But as I’ve written before, this is a deranged, distorted, and unnecessarily pessimistic view of human nature.
Zuesse also comments on the ridiculous notion of having no government at all, and again I largely agree with him here (although he includes anarchy in his list, liking it to libertarianism, which is completely ridiculous; we all know ((or should know)) that anarchism is not about chaos or “no government” but about relentlessly pursuing the end of destructive, oppressive power hierarchies. Even the most hardcore anarcho-primitivists will admit it’s impossible to NOT have some form of regulatory relational dynamic). I think governments can be viewed positively (although always with a skeptical eye of course) and their purpose should be to provide freedom to be able to pursue and achieve goods: better social conditions, better education, better health, more just distribution of resources, higher overall quality of life, etc., etc., etc.
Evolutionarily speaking, the best way for humans to flourish is to encourage cooperation and trustworthiness, not competition, deceit, and the lauding of “success” (and debasing of “losers”). Natural systems certainly do create greater abundance as they develop, but they do not hoard it; rather they use it to sustain more life, and this is what we need to do as well if we are to adapt and survive as a species.
Painting above by Bill Allen