Although some aspects of human life have progressed dramatically over the last millennium, the fundamentals of human culture and society have not kept pace. Human interaction and social structures, with some notable exceptions, have not advanced much since our days in the jungle.
Technology, for example, is relatively free to develop because there are no intrinsic barriers to progress. Human and cultural advancement, however, is far slower, held back by the persistence of millions of years of instinctual programming in our DNA that pervades our behavior and motivation and prevents us from evolving into a more enlightened state of human interaction.
The primitive psychological attribute we’ll address herein is the instinctual desire to use force to bring about tribal uniformity – to use superior strength and/or numbers to force one group’s values or ideology onto all others in a society.
Throughout history, a larger, stronger or better-armed group has always been able to impose their values on a smaller or weaker minority. The Crusades, colonization of cultures around the world by better-armed British, French, Dutch and other colonists, slavery, Communist Rule in the Soviet Union, regimes in China, North Korea and many African states, Socialist governments in Europe and elsewhere are all examples of a larger or better-armed group forcing a weaker group to their will using violence or the threat of violence.
And in all the examples cited above, the premise of using force was “the greater good:” to bring about a better life for those controlled.
In each of these cases, those using force felt it was completely justified. Most people who are convinced their way is the only way have no problem using violence to compel people to do “what’s best for them”. The fantasy of “a greater good” allows them to ignore the cruel reality of using violence to enforce their values on others who do not share them.
Yet any astute student of history is well aware that using force for “the common good” has a horrific track record. Using violence in order to achieve a better future has been the common thread in all the worst inhumanities suffered by humans, from simple violations of human rights to the most violent genocides.
Whether trying to force religious, moral or political ideologies, widespread programs that strip people of their individual rights for their own good almost always produce results that are opposite of those intended.
The bottom line is that no person or group knows what is “best for everyone”, and no one is qualified, or has the moral right, to make that determination for others.
The strong belief that one, or one group, knows what is best, and feels justified in forcing others who do not agree to their will, is the primary barrier that must be transcended for our civilization to progress.
In an enlightened society, there is certainly a place for voluntary persuasion, free from violence, through channels like personal communication, websites, mail & email, blogs, documentaries, podcasts, forums, lectures, and books.
Bob, Charlie, and I are sitting around a table, deciding what kind of society we want to live in.
Bob is a devout Christian, and proposes that we must have laws that enforce Christian values. Going to a Christian church should be required by law. Homosexuality, premarital sex, astrology, alcohol and gambling, just to name a few things, should be outlawed. Christianity should be the state religion and everyone should be required to be Christian.
What are Bob’s motivations? They are not greed. Bob does not make money from more people being Christian. He just really really cares about people, and believes that non-Christians burn in Hell for eternity. Since Bob is a good person, he does want any person having to be tortured forever. Within the context of Bob’s beliefs, his goals are admirable. However, Bob’s goal is to get laws passed which force his views upon others who believe differently. To Bob, it is a noble and heroic quest that justifies force–but to others that do not share his views, it is intrusive and a violation of their rights.
Charlie completely disagrees with Bob about his societal values. Charlie is a “progressive”, believes the most important thing is that “we’re all in this together”, everyone is responsible for everyone else, capitalism does not distribute wealth fairly, and that money and property should be redistributed from those who have more to others that have less.
What are Charlie’s motivations? Well, if he is rich, they are not greed, since he will have less money if his laws are passed. If he is poor, his motivations might be partially or entirely greedy, because he may hope to share in a bounty of unearned wealth. Either way, Charlie’s goal is to get laws passed which force his views upon others who believe differently. To Charlie, it is a noble and heroic quest that justifies force–but to others that do not share his views, it is intrusive and a violation of their rights.
But wait- why do Bob and Charlie want laws passed? Why not just start a website, podcast, or go door-to-door and try to persuade people voluntarily?
Because laws are special – they are backed by force. If you disobey a law, you will be summoned to court. If you fail to go, or refuse to pay the fine, men with guns will come to your house and drag you, with violence if you resist, to jail and lock you up.
Wait, I’m being too dramatic here, right? Men with guns?
Yep. Guns and violence are omnipresent, backing up every law.
Announce that, tomorrow, anyone caught violating a law will not have to face men with guns, but instead should just voluntarily report to court or jail. They will not be forced to.
Within days, our society would dissolve into full-on anarchy and chaos.
It is only the enforcement of laws with men and guns that gives the law any meaning.
Go to a country with little or no enforcement of individual rights by the government. You will find that marauding gangs in jeeps toting machine guns rule the land. No one is safe.
People who want to influence people voluntarily use non-violent means to try and persuade others. But people who want to force others to their views want laws passed. Because they know men with guns will enforce laws; laws have “teeth.”
Perhaps, because you agree with Charlie, you feel their views justify the use of force. But Bob disagrees! He says Charlie’s views are wrong, and it is his views that are right, and justify the use of force.
In fact, when hooked up to the truth-o-meter, it is found that both Bob and Charlie equally believe they are 100% right.
So what objective method should be used to fairly determine whose ideas should be forced on everyone else by law – Bob’s, or Charlie’s? Perhaps we should look to a small group of elite rulers to determine what set values we should all be forced to adhere to?
But which values will those be?
Consider the diversity of individual belief:
Some people feel one’s physical health should be the highest priority. Others feel life is just about having fun and enjoying life to its fullest. Some feel one should strive first and foremost to attain spiritual salvation or enlightenment. Others say life’s goal should be a major achievement in science, art or literature. Others feel the top priority is making money, providing for your family, and retiring early. Or, usually, a mix of the above, in varying percentages. People change their priorities over the course of their lives.
So out of so many different opinions, how do we determine who among us is so superior to the rest of us that they “know” what the greater good is for everyone else? Who will be designated the All-Knowing Experts that choose what is best for everyone?
The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all best for everyone. Humans are diverse creatures, with no two individuals alike in priorities, hopes, dreams or values.
Let’s now let’s examine a third approach: individual freedom.
In a free society, no one can be forced to do anything they don’t want to do. In a free society, each individual is free to pursue happiness in their own way; free to work or not as they choose; free to keep the fruits of their labors; and free from the fear that an armed group will show up on their doorstep one day and take their freedom or property when they have hurt no one, or force them to adopt views they do not wish to adopt.
The beautiful thing about economic freedom is that no small circle of powerful elite determines who receives wealth. In free markets, wealth is distributed fairly, by popular democratic vote, by how hard a person works to help others. If someone truly makes someone else happier, or makes their lives better, it is fair to ask for reciprocity, that is, a genuine “thank you” by asking for compensation for services or products rendered. Only in a free, voluntary transaction do individuals–the People–determine what something is worth.
A selfish person who does not spend their days trying to make others happier, who instead wholly pursues their own interests, is free to do so, however, this person will not have much wealth in a free market, because they are not helping others.
What is the true measure of whether you have truly helped someone? The fact that they voluntarily have reached into their pockets to thank you. There is no more sincere and genuine expression of gratitude.
But you might say, this theory of freedom and free markets is just another theory.
Not true, because freedom is all-inclusive.
If Charlie thinks progressive policies are best, he is free to start or join an organization or group with others who are of like mind, and share all their resources by whatever method they choose. He is completely free to be a socialist, communist, or even dictator or king if can find willing participants.
BUT- in a free society, he cannot use violence to force others to join his group that do not want to join.
Myself, I don’t believe dictatorship or communism are good systems. Yet I only have the right to choose for myself.
I should not be able to force my views upon Charlie. I should not be able to prevent him from forming or participating in his group in any way he chooses. He is free to live as he wishes along with any others who also voluntarily want the same. He is free to decide, with others, how their money or resources are to be distributed within their organization. They could all pool their money and dole it out by popular vote, or by direction of clan leaders, or whatever they voluntarily wish. No one can stop them.
If Bob thinks becoming Christian is important for everyone, he can start a website, he can go door-to-door, but he should not be able to force his views on me by law. I should not be able to force my Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish views on Bob either. Bob should be free to join with others and worship as he pleases.
In a free society, the rights of the minority are protected against the whims of the majority. In a free society, individual human rights are protected by law against people trying to force their values upon others.
In a free society, Bob, Charlie, myself, and all other citizens are equal under the law. None of us can impose our views on others by force.
This contrasts with an unfree, primitive society, as in the jungle, where a larger or stronger group can force a smaller group to do what they wish.
Today, the USA is at a historical crossroads. It is not by coincidence I chose a Christian and Progressive for my example, because in the U.S. today, these two groups form the two predominant tribes. Each tribe strives to gain members and power so as to triumph over the others and impose their values upon them by force.
Yet there is a third, much smaller group in the U.S., an enlightened group, who believe in a “live and let live” world in which every individual should be free to choose their own values and priorities, and pursue happiness in their own way, and should be protected by the government against a large, strong tribe trying to take away their rights, money or property.
This group is not “anti-Christian”, or “anti-Progressive”, indeed, this enlightened group desires to protect the rights of these two groups, and all others, to live as they please.
Which tribe are you in?
A. Are you controlled by your instinct to be part of a larger, stronger group so your group can impose your views on others by force? If so, perhaps, as so many have throughout history, you feel the “greater good” outweighs individual rights, and justifies the use of violence or the threat thereof to enforce your views? And you happen to be in possession of the Absolute Truth of what the “greater good” is for all people, and anyone who disagrees with you is wrong?
B. Or, are you an enlightened, conscious being who firmly believes in a free society in which NO ONE can be forced against their will, where the individual has unalienable rights of freedom or person and property that cannot be taken from them – freedom to do whatever they wish as long as they do not hurt others?
For human civilization to advance, we need to progress to the point where we are only permitted to use voluntary means of persuasion to spread our ideas, no matter how strong our instinct or conviction that our ideology is Absolute Truth for all people and that justifies the urge to use forceful, violent means to promote it.