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…to the extent that “Collectivism” means “somebody else controls everything and makes all the decisions, nominally in the best interest of everybody else,” it leaves a lot to be desired as a political philosophy.
You’re stating it in absolute terms when its a matter of degree and you’re conflating the popular ideology (collectivism) with its results (individuals with subsidized institution of coercion).
And I’m happy to argue that my imaginary state is both preferable to and more realistic than his.
No, complete red herring. I am not presenting this criticism as an argument for anti-statism in itself, but as a criticism of collectivism explicitly as it is illogical and in practice results in “extreme forms of statism–state communism, fascism, and theocracy,” which I explicitly assumed were given as dangerous by the reader.
We can look at history and the current state of the world to see the degrees of individually voluntary human interaction vs. statism. It’s not hypothetical. And this equally applies whether you’re immediately in favor of liberal democracy of voluntary post-state society or whatever.
Whakahekeheke keeps insisting that a hallmark of the state power or collective power is physical coercion. A state is typically defined as the entity that gets to do the physical coercion. Of course, it doesn’t follow that if you take away the state there will be less physical coercion.
We all have some power of coercion, and non-state entities do engage in coercion. The hallmark of the state is not just coercion, but ideologically subsidized coercion. It is the legitimizing ideology of “the state” that drastically decreases the marginal cost of coercion for the individuals who control the top-down institution, making the state possible. Without such ideology, you do have less total coercion as coercion is expensive and mass coercion on the level of a state is cost-prohibitive. Once the ideological monopoly of the state is established, the marginal coercion reinforces the ideology and a circular system spins out of it. The ideology is key, which is why the ideology of collectivism is important.
When people band together and make a bunch of rules, they can hopefully avoid the worst of the fighting—or at least put safeguards to ensure that people who act in certain ways can avoid the fighting.
“People banding together and making a bunch of rules” is not the state. No state has ever been formed voluntarily based on people getting together and forming rules based on their individual self-determination. That is order emergent from individual interaction, not imposed top-down by an ideologically subsidized institution of coercion. That does happen but it’s not the state or the origin of any state. To equate the state to “everybody working together” is childish fantasy.
I can’t know what you value better than you do—but I might be able to provide you what you value better than you can.
Yep, sure. Someone else may have the means to some good you value that you do not (obviously) and of course we often have sentimental value in an object because it was given to us by someone else or because it was a surprise or whatever. None of that means I can know what you value better than you know what you value. If I give you a gift that you would not have been able to get yourself or would have not valued otherwise, I still only know that you value it by your voluntary revelation of what you value. You may reject the gift, which doesn’t give me or anyone logical justification to force it on you under threat of death. I can guess, but I can’t know what you value better than you know what you value.
Actually, that’s not at all what Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem states. It states that under a certain set of assumptions, it is impossible to create a voting system that perfectly ranks everybody’s preferences.
No, voting was the particular mechanism Arrow used, but the proof was for all collective choice or what was called collective rationality:
“The root facts here are the incommensurability and incomplete communicability of human wants and values. George Bernard Shaw long ago observed, “Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you. They may have different tastes.” Social good, as in the determination of a just income distribution, is an abstraction of some kind from the individual values of the members of the society. But this abstraction can only be based on interpersonally observed behavior… As is by now well known, attempts to form social judgments by aggregating individual expressed preferences always lead to the possibility of paradox. Thus there cannot be a consistent meaning to collective rationality.“
– Kenneth Arrow, the Limits of Organization
Arrow is a subtle and modest guy, but what the proof demonstrates for voting is that even under ideal conditions of direct (not the oxymoron of “representative”) democracy, 100% participation, voter rationality, etc. the result does not get you to a substantive aggregation of individual values. Once you consider the real-world application of public choice economics to how voting actually works, it is clear that it represents little more than a dirty clusterfuck for coerced money and coercive power among special interests behind the backdrop of ignorant, irrational voters.
Orthodox Keynesians had their fundamental macroeconomic predictions fail as they holistically derived the impossibility of stagflation. Stagflation happened. They were discredited and split into New and neo-Keynesians (methodological individualists) and post-Keynesians (mathematical individualists).
Experimental economists, microeconomists, and public choice economists–i.e methodological individualists have made correct predictions. For example, USC economist Fred Foldvary in 1998 predicted a real-estate bubble fueled crisis would occur in 2008. Financial economist Peter Schiff wrote a book in 2006 detailing exactly what would happen and had been predicting it since 2002. Many other economists, such as Jeff Dunham, Marc Faber, Fred Harrison, Eric Janszen, Kurt Richenbacher, etc. predicted the crisis in detail. All of them methodological individualists. (Also, FA Hayek won the Nobel prize in economics explicitly in part for predicting the Great Depression years in advance).
The Axioms / Principles of Methodological Individualism
I. The first principles of logic (A=A, the law of identity, the law of non-contradiction, etc) are valid. You cannot dispute them without presupposing their validity in the articulation of your dispute.
II. Individuals are the basic unit of human society. You can have humans without collectives (eg. my state of nature, a hermit, etc.) but you cannot talk about collectives outside of what you know of them from individual action and interaction. Collectives are conceptual aggregations of / emergent from individuals. To dispute this, you would have to describe collectives without some explicit or implicit referential basis to them in terms of individuals.
III. When acting on any conscious decision, individuals act purposively. (Non-purposive behavior includes things like unconscious body movement and dreaming.) In other words, in choosing to act, they seek some means to some subjective end. (That end can be absolutely anything, including the action itself.) Thus an individual action is a manifestation of intentionality in choosing X action over inaction and all other potential actions. If you make the conscious decision to take the action of disputing this axiom, you are contradicting yourself since such a denial would demonstrate purposive action.
IV. You are not a mind-reader. You cannot know a priori what someone else values (we do assume basic physiological needs, though people eg. suicidals or masochists may not value them), or the relative values they have for different things, or some cardinal level of value they project onto different options. Value is subjective. (Note this is not a claim about value formation. Subjective value may be formed completely by social norms or genetics or whatever. It is about how you can know about someone else’s values.)
V. Thus, subjective value is revealed marginally by (#2) individual human action, ie. (#3) the purposive actions taken reveal the conscious decision-making of the individuals, and thus their (#4) subjective value. However you only know their values insofar as they are revealed, and you only know them marginally, that is you only know they ordinally value X action over inaction and other potential actions. You do not know the cardinal proportion of value they gave to each of those options (and neither do they ie. I value X 50%, Y 20%, etc.).
Add. This does not mean you can’t talk about collectives. You obviously can. However, the individual is the primary unit. Individual values may be formed by collective variables, but those collective variables are not the primary unit. We talk about collective variables (language, culture, market prices, community, society, law, etc.) by first acknowledging that they emerge from individual action and interaction, even if we cannot precisely describe the process of their emergence.
I don’t like the word “capitalism.” It means too many different contradictory things to different people. I’m very much opposed to what some people call “capitalism” (corporatism, state monopoly capitalism, cronyism, prescriptive selfishness, monetary profit-only driven behavior, status quo world economy, etc.) but I’m very much in favor of what some others call “capitalism” (voluntary human interaction, emergent individual property rights, etc.)
Good things that arise from collective action, like culture, collaboration, and community, don’t count. And any debt individual triumphs owe to collective stability is conveniently forgotten.
As I explained, “collective” norms like language and culture and community are necessary and usually good, but are emergent from individual self-determination as opposed to top-down from individuals who are supposed to represent the collective. There is a big difference between collectivism and individually voluntary “collective” action / emergent norms – that is whether the collective or individual is considered primary. The distinguishing feature of collectivism as opposed to individualism is not interaction or cooperation, but the ideological basis of justification for analysis and, in praxis, for proactive physical coercion.
The problem is that while (as I said) collective norms and action do exist and are obviously beneficial (language, culture, law, morality, etc.), they do not come from and cannot be known a priori by individuals, including those who control top-down coercive institutions supposed to represent the collective. It is the myth that they (1) can and (2) will act in the interests of “the collective” that subsidizes such such top-down coercive institutions.
Take something that seems collective. We’ll use the angry lynch mob feeding off its own energy and collective prejudice… the mob violence should properly be attributed to the individualism.
It should be attributed to whatever motivated the individuals, yes, obviously. The individual is the primary unit of analysis. That does not mean they were motivated “by individualism,” though they could hypothetically be motivated by anything (more likely a collectivist ideology like racism than anything else).
Whakahekeheke concludes that we can never truly know the values and desires of somebody else
No, you seem to have drastically misread. We certainly can know what someone else values. They reveal their values by their voluntary choice (and we can safely assume physiological generalities like the desire for air, water, food, eyesight, etc). However, though I can guess, I can’t know what you value better than you know what you value.
—so collective actions and collective values are somehow inherently impossible.
Non sequitur. We certainly can cooperate and act collectively and we obviously can have shared values – this is how the world works. What is impossible is for you (or a politician) to know what those values are or actions should beyond individually voluntary human interaction. Again, the point is that you can’t know what some adult values better than they know what they value.
This is going to come as a real shock and disappointment to a lot of philosophers who have been laboring for thousands of years to have all their work dispatched so quickly.
Yes, it did, in 1972 when economist Kenneth Arrow won the Nobel prize for the Arrow Impossibility Theorum that logically proved collectivism was intellectually worthless bunk – from Rawls to Marx. Arrow was not the first to do this, and it is easily derivable from common sense, but his thorough logical proof cemented microeconomic method (marginalism) in economics, which is what drove Marxian and orthodox Keynesian economics out of academia (also, their predictions failed…). Unfortunately, the undisputable axioms of methodological individualism have not yet spread to the social sciences of sociology, anthro, political science, etc. or even consistently through all schools of economics.
You think you bought that Kei$sha album because you invented your own musical tastes?
No, now you’re talking about metaphysical free will, which is irrelevant to this issue. Whether your individual values are shaped entirely by your environment, genetics, or whatever – they are your values and I can’t know them better than you.
It means paying attention to relationships. It means community. It means striving to understand others rather than assuming they are all either identical to us or intrinsically unknowable. It means communities attempt to give individuals the support they need to flourish—even when that flourishing means pretending they’re not part of a community.
I’m very much in favor of all that, and none of it needs to be based on or is at all helped by the superstitious notions of collectivism
In Iran right now there are underground and illegal rock clubs with photos of Kurt Cobain on the walls. In China, there are millions of nominally communist youths listening to Ke$ha and Lagy Gaga.
I believe this is a beautiful and useful phenomenon. I see two ideologies among my fellow humans: (1) collectivism and (2) individualism. Collectivism is manifested as nationalism, tribalism, sectarianism, sectarian religion, statism… and more severely as state communism, fascism, theocracy, totalitarianism, and mass cults. Individualism is manifested as voluntary individual action and interaction, as individual ambition, as individual rebellion, as markets… and more severely as consumerism.
The most significant modern proponent of collectivism was Karl Marx:
“Above all we must avoid postulating society again as an abstraction vis-à-vis the individual. The individual is the social being. His manifestations of life – even if they may not appear in the direct form of communal manifestations of life carried out in association with others – are therefore an expression and confirmation of social life. The individual is a more particular or more general mode of the life of the species.”
Marx argued that the collective is primary whereas the individual is comes from the collective. This is in fact largely true. Evolutionary theory agrees – organisms are emergent from the gene pool. The individual is emergent from the species. Where Marx and other collectivists go wrong is in application of this deterministic fact of life to conscious human action, to society. Yes, collectives (in and of society) do exist. And while it is correct to say that society, culture, language, and so forth affect individuals and help shape human experience, it is wrong to set such a thing as the primary unit of analysis for humanity.
It is wrong for two reasons. The first is that these collective expressions are emergent from individuals and not vice versa. The second is that we only understand these collective expressions in terms of individuals and thus cannot have direct knowledge of them other than through revealed individual expression.
To illustrate that collectives are emergent from individuals, imagine the following scenario: A child is born and set in a large nature dome with no other sentient life, just plants and food. She never has interaction with other humans or materials of human communication. She lives, as it were, in the wild. No doubt, she would develop some form of articulating her conscious thought to herself (language), some norms of behavior (culture), etc. Would she be human? Of course. Now imagine multiple individuals were introduced into the dome. They would, upon interaction, develop some shared forms of communication (language), norms of behavior (culture), and so on. This is where culture, language, society, etc. come from. They are emergent from individual action and interaction, not the other way around.
[Now, once such collective expressions form, they do indeed act partially as dynamic feedback mechanisms that help shape individual experience. However the individual is still primary.]
To illustrate the second point, the knowledge problem, one really only needs to point out psychics are not scientists. The axiom goes something like this: I can’t read your mind. I don’t know what you value better than you know what you value. I don’t know what makes your life worth living better than you. What you value is only revealed to me by your individual expression, by your voluntary individual action and interaction with the world around you.
When we talk about collectives like “society” or “the community,” we are necessarily referring to our own conceptual aggregation of individuals. Thus we cannot know what the expression of the collective is apart from individual expressions, from voluntary human action and interaction. This logical axiom is the basis of modern economic science and what sets economics apart from holistically normative disciplines like critical theory or social philosophy or Marxism. The introduction of this axiom of subjective value in the 19th century became known as the Marginalist Revolution, and gradually made Marxian economics obsolete.
Marxian economics had been based on the objectivist Labor Theory of Value. This theory (famously argued for by Marx in Das Kapital) held that the Marxist could know what you value without your individual expression, and thus could know what you value better than you know what you value. Simplifying things, it proposed that the number of human labor hours put into something was what determined its value. Such a notion is now regarded as little more valid than astrology by modern economists – value is subjective, not objective. I may value a diamond or tree more than the pie you made regardless of how long you spent making it. However, that is individualist analysis thinking in terms of individuals. Marx argued for this objective value theory by collectivist analysis.
[Marx separated humans into “classes” based on where he saw them in relation to production. Thus, once he proposed collectivism, he could derive an objective value theory that would apply to all the individuals in those classes. Those individuals were after all merely emergent phenomena from those classes. If you want to voluntarily work for a wage for another human being, the Marxist is justified in using institutional coercion to keep you from doing so. I will leave it up to the reader to judge the validity of this kind of justification. I, along with the modern economics profession, thoroughly reject it as logically untenable. You cannot know what I value better than I know what I value.
The Labor Theory of Value is rarely talked about anymore, and Marxian economics is all but extinct in academia. However, what many in other disciplines have not come to terms with is that their entire theoretical framework – that is Marxism and virtually all collectivisms – is based on the Labor Theory of Value or religious authority on “goodness” or some other objectivist value theory. From sociology to philosophy to international theory to politics to popular discourse, collectivism is rampant. Yet those who engage in such analysis do so on entirely on logically untenable ground. Even most economists who competently analyze the economy via methodological individualism never apply this logical axiom to the government.]
What is the result of this strong collectivism? Is indicated previously, the manifestations of collectivism include communism, fascism, sectarian theocracy, and statism in general. The difference between these manifestations is entirely a matter of degree and development. They are functionally the same: a few individuals claim to be representative of the collective and are popularly recognized as such. Those individuals then enjoy a drastic subsidization of mass coercion due to this ideological projection. The dangers of the extreme stages of statism—communism, fascism, theocracy—I will assume given by the reader.
Consumerism says “I matter.” In the extreme this is criticized as sociopathy or absolute selfishness. However, in reasserting this basic premise of individualism, one combats the collectivist ideology of the theocrat and dictator. And nowhere is individualism better and more clearly expressed than in modern consumer pop culture. Some people call it “trash” culture. I see it simply as the inevitable evolution of human society away from atavistic collectivism and toward individualism.
Fame, doin’ it for the fame
’cause we wanna live the life
Of the rich and famous
Fame, doin’ it for the fame
’cause we gotta taste for champagne
And endless fortune
Don’t ask me how or why
But i’m gonna make it happen this time
My teenage dream
Yeah i’m gonna make it happen this time
- Lady Gaga, “The Fame”
When the Chinese student watches to Ke$sha and Lady Gaga singing about risk, ambition, and wealth; when the Iranian youth listens to Kurt Cobain singing about rejecting social norms and asserting individuality, there is an influence away from collectivism and toward self-determination.
These sentiments are strong throughout consumer culture, for consumerism feeds off such individualism. The individual who has ambition is the individual who will work toward it, who will seek to consume the goods from the producers, will seek freedom to express their individual choices. In doing so, the individual begins to recognize the collectivist institutions of state as barriers to self-fulfillment. They then begin to defy, undermine, and resist those institutions. This is seen constantly, and in concentrated events such as those in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and on the streets of Tehran in 2009.
Consumerism, trash culture, therefore is a powerful force for good. In fact, I imagine that bombarding Iraq with the Billboard Top 100 and consumer goods and wireless internet might have been a more efficient way of removing Saddam Hussein from power and reforming the Ba’ath Party government for the good of the Iraqi people than war. And even after the second course was taken, we see the rise of consumerist pop culture in Iraq and across the Muslim world.
An example of this, Pakistani pop singer Deeyah, the so-called “Muslim Madonna,” has gained popular fame and religious and state persecution for her individualistic music and defiance of cultural norms. In response to persecution, she has organized campaigns for individual rights and religious reform. She thus joins Ke$sha and Lady Gaga in the tradition of individualist consumerism in opposition to collectivism, that is, on the side of humanity over superstition.
From the land of the free to the jewel of the empire
Does the truth only come from the top of a holy man’s spire?
From three paces back, covered head to toe
Are rules just for the masses and written just for show?
Do you stand up, lay down or follow?
What will it be?
Will it all be the same again tomorrow?
What will it be?
You can claim it but the words are hollow
Do you stand up, lay down, or swallow?
What will it be?
- Deeyah Thathaal, “What will it be?”
Karl Marx. “Private Property and Communism.” Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. 1844 [http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/comm.htm]
The exceptions to this are modern microeconomics, experimental economics, and public choice economics. Those economists who study the government logically and empirically in terms of individuals strongly tend toward skepticism of the state. Most notable among such economists are libertarian anarchists like Nobel laureate Vernon Smith, David Friedman, Murray Rothbard, et al. and libertarian minarchists like Nobel laureates James Buchanan and FA Hayek.
Freedom, being unknown, is hard to imagine. The choices available in freedom are completely alien to the bonded. For some slaves, the first step out of bondage is to learn to see their lives with new eyes. Their reality is a social world where they have their place and some assurance of a subsistence diet. Born into slavery, they cannot easily redefine their lives outside the frame of enslavement.
For other slaves — those who have been enslaved after living in freedom — it is not usually necessary to think their way to freedom. Their challenge is to overcome the crushing violence, the stunned shock, of the total control over their lives. How does one bring about freedom when the problem is not apathy or indifference to the continued presence of slavery, but ignorance of or even tacit desire for it?
~ K. Bales, Understanding Global Slavery
This was lobbied-for by corporate hospitals against individual doctor-owned hospitals and made it into the recent bill. This will decrease competition, decrease supply, increase bureaucracy, increase corporate control and increase the cost of healthcare for everyone.
After the successful passage of the new Health Care Law which aims to have lower costs of health insurance accessible to most Americans, recent reports show that permits to operate of 60 hospitals are in danger of cancellation due to this newly passed Health Care Law.
Accordingly, one of the provisions of this new Health Care Law is that it prevents doctor-owned hospitals from adding more rooms and more beds. The new rules specifically mentioned under Title VI, Section 6001 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act make new physician-owned projects ineligible to receive payments for Medicare and Medicaid patients.
With this, “more than 60 doctor-owned hospitals across the country that were in the development stage will be cancelled. The existing hospitals are greatly affected. They can’t grow. They can’t add beds. They can’t add rooms. Basically, it stifles their ability to change and meet market needs. This is really an unfortunate thing as well, because we are talking about some of the best hospitals in the country,”said Molly Sandvig, executive director of Physician Hospitals of America (PHA).