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Liberty Makes Ignorance Necessary December 13, 2013

Posted by Dr. Robert Owens in Politics.
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If we knew everything in the past and the future there would be little need for freedom.  If we could accurately know all that preceded our fleeting moment upon life’s stage, if we could know all the consequences of our present desires, and if we could know what we would desire in the future we could then chart a course to perfection without any detours and so freedom of action would be unnecessary and central-planning would make sense.

Freedom would not only be unnecessary it would be very inconvenient.  One free agent on this express to perfection would be the fly in the ointment and the monkey wrench in the gears. That one free person would rage against the machines, and would inevitably make an unforeseen choice and all the perfection would silently slip away.

In order to have the freedom to succeed there must also be freedom to fail.  We all need the freedom to act upon circumstances that we don’t fully understand to attain goals whose consequences we can’t fully appreciate.  Without this there is no freedom.  We can pretend as the progressive advocates of central-planning do that we can accurately predict the consequence of every action; however this is contrary to our real-world experience.

The reason failure is so prevalent is due to the fact that every individual is operating with imperfect knowledge of what is best or of what will eventually yield the best outcome that we must allow people the freedom to act upon their ignorance.  In this way the independent and competitive choices of many individuals will eventually lead through trial and error to the development of the best.  Since so many times the best emerges through accidental or unforeseen results of actions taken without complete knowledge of what the outcome would be we must leave room for accidents often guided by ignorance so that knowledge can grow.

It is an incontrovertible fact that as the fund of human knowledge grows the percentage that any one person can effectively know becomes smaller.  In other words, as general knowledge increases individual ignorance also increases.  Add to this the constantly increasing complexity of our civilization and it becomes obvious that people must be allowed to act upon the knowledge they possess without regard to the vast amount of knowledge they do not possess.  Otherwise no advancement would be possible, and we would live in a static society doomed to eventual demise.

It is this freedom to act in ignorance of all the consequences of their actions that allows the space for individual innovation.  The greater the freedom of individuals to interpret the world according to their imperfect knowledge and to organize their efforts based upon their understanding of the world as they see it the greater the opportunity for the accidents which make up the majority of progress.  If we take away the freedom to act upon our imperfect knowledge, if we take away the freedom to fail we will also take away the engine of progress and condemn ourselves to a stagnant world of limited possibilities.

As one person tries something another may build upon their result whether it succeeds or fails.  The ability to learn from and build upon the experience of others is the seedbed of innovation and the font of discovery.  It is our ignorance of all but a small fragment of reality that causes probability and chance to play such a large portion in our activities.  It is within this realm of probability and chance that the future grows.

This applies to social as well as technical fields.  The favorable accidents which become the building blocks of a vibrant, successful society do not just happen.  They are the result of someone taking a risk, doing something that hasn’t been tried before without the complete knowledge of what the result will be.  They include the chance of failure as well as of success and often the success achieved is not the desired end result of the action when it was initiated.  Freedom increases the opportunity for risk and opens the door to possibility.

When we look at the vast amount of knowledge that makes up the common store of information in the modern age and then look at the miniscule percentage that any one person could possibly gain, retain and understand we see that the difference between what the wisest knows and what the least wise knows is comparatively insignificant.  Everyone is operating based upon imperfect knowledge and the acceptance of grand assumptions.

To tell you the truth I am not really sure how electricity works.  Yet most of my life and lifestyle is predicated on the availability and use of electricity.  Most people have no idea how the economy works yet we all base our lives upon the fact that it does.  If we refused to act in areas where we had less than perfect knowledge we would do nothing.  One of the big differences between an advocate of liberty and an advocate of central-planning is that those who see liberty as man’s natural state understand that no one person or group is wise enough to make all the decisions for everyone.  Central planners by definition believe they are wise enough to do so.

The case for liberty made by such Enlightenment thinkers as John Milton and John Locke provided the philosophical foundation for the Framers as they wrote our Constitution.  They based their arguments for liberty on the realization that human ignorance and our need to act in the face of ignorance is a basic component of reality.

Every application of the tenants of Liberty reflect our need to give these actions based upon ignorance the widest possible scope to interface with chance and probability not certainty.  Certainty is unattainable in this life outside of a cultural straightjacket that restricts choice and eliminates the freedom to fail.  Such a society will be stagnant, stunted and doomed.  Without the freedom to fail on an individual basis and then fall forward from that failure a society has short-circuited the conveyor belt of individual success and charted the course to eventual systemic failure. The former USSR was a text book example of this scenario.

If we wish to avoid the trash heap of History we must be wise enough to learn that though acting upon ignorance may increase the odds of failure if we try to eliminate failure so that everyone gets a trophy and everyone succeeds we have consigned ourselves to the dead end that always awaits anyone or any society that believes perfection is attainable on this earth.

For it isn’t failing that marks a failure it is the refusal to rise from failure and move on to success.  We learn by failing.  We achieve by using our freedom to fail as a launching pad for success.  We fail because of our ignorance.  We succeed because of our failures.

Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion.  He is the Historian of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com © 2013 Robert R. Owens drrobertowens@hotmail.com  Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook or Twitter @ Drrobertowens / Edited by Dr. Rosalie Owens

 

 

 

Political Action Follows Political Philosophy November 8, 2013

Posted by Dr. Robert Owens in Politics.
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The vast majority of human action reflects the thoughts, beliefs, and feelings of the actor.  There have always been and there will always be those whose actions are erratic or divorced from reality.  The actions of this small minority are best ascribed to pathology not philosophy.  For the rest of us we think therefore we are.  What we think about today we act upon tomorrow.

In the realm of political action this holds true.  The philosophies propagated today may not bear fruit or even appear to germinate during the lifetime of those who share them.  However, if they resonate with the thoughts, beliefs and natures of others they will bring forth a harvest in due time.

The time and effort involved in producing a coherent and logical body of work in the field of political philosophy may feel like a fool’s errand or wasted effort to the author working away often without recognition and in seclusion, never seeing the validity of their thoughts acknowledged by their peers or their intended audience.  However, anyone involved in such an effort needs to have a long view and the fortitude to plant so that others may harvest.

Having prefaced my thoughts and illuminated my actions let me plant some seeds.

For my entire life I have had Progressive instructors, politicians, friends and relatives admonish me that the reason for subverting the greatest experiment in human personal liberty, individual freedom and economic opportunity in the History of humanity is that we need to provide for the less fortunate.  They often refer to providing some type of economic security for those who cannot provide for themselves.  They often mean the leveling of society so that there is a minimum level of economic security.

The problem with “economic security” is that the term is so vague how do we know when it has been achieved?  Much like a war on terror it is open ended and can be interpreted in many ways.  What is considered economic security to one may not be to another.

If by economic security we mean security with regard to physical needs and a minimum amount of food that is one thing.  If by economic security we mean the guarantee of a certain standard of living or a pre-assigned social status we are speaking of something else altogether.

It seems clear that any society which has achieved the levels of sophistication and civilization that we have should be able to provide for the basic needs of our citizens who cannot take care of themselves without endangering the freedom of all.  There will be debates as to the levels of help which should be provided; however as to the belief that we should not allow our fellow citizens to starve or freeze I believe we are all agreed.

These questions will undoubtedly cause political debate and they may even cause tempers to flare; however that there is some minimum standard all will agree.  These minimum standards of economic security can be provided to those who cannot provide for themselves without endangering the wider economy and without unduly infringing upon the liberty of the productive members of society.

However, any attempt to guarantee the pre-assigned social status of anyone, or any group, the attempt to provide for those who can provide for themselves and choose not to do so will inevitably cause so many dislocations in the economy and require so many regulations both personal freedom and economic opportunity will be severely restricted.

This is where the debate heats up.  We have those who believe our society can and should protect and provide for those who cannot protect and provide for themselves and those who wish to use social welfare for social engineering.

The levels of taxation and regulation needed to support the minimalist approach can easily be borne by our society and our economy without compromising our freedom if they are applied evenly and fairly.  A flat tax without loopholes, subsidies or any of the other trappings of crony capitalism does nothing to inhibit innovation, enterprise, or competition.  Regulations requiring the equal treatment of individuals or the setting of safety or access levels likewise do not detract from opportunity as long as they are universally applied.

However, to attain the maximized levels of central-planning required to impose a Utopian vision of equality of outcome on any society require so many regulations and such high levels of taxation that they effectively strangle innovation, enterprise and competition.  Why couldn’t that gigantic prison house of nations, the USSR, compete with the United States?

Because they professed to seek a society wherein everyone was equal at all times.  Did they accomplish it?  No. The ruling Communists simply replaced the ruling hereditary aristocracy.  They killed millions to improve life.  They destroyed the incentive and creativity of their people in an effort to produce a more productive economy by fiat instead of freedom.  They eventually made working for the collective so meaningless that a common saying was, “They pretend to pay us so we pretend to work.”  Citizens ended up with worthless money, empty stores and services such as health care that only worked for the privileged government workers.   In any society that robs Peter to pay Paul eventually everyone changes their name to Paul.

As dire as the results have always been for Utopian experiments it is the morality of attempting to level society that needs to be questioned.  I contend that competition is a fundamental quality of humanity.  Striving to improve, to provide for one’s self and one’s family are basic instincts, and when governments interfere with these in an effort to ensure the success of some they have to limit the success of others.

This has a butterfly effect where a regulation for a positive action here about that affects something else over there about this negatively.  Multiply this many thousands of time and we have a cascading effect that restricts opportunity except for those who direct the effort to achieve the equality of all.  Or as the last remaining commandment at the animal farm eventually said, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

No one is as smart as everyone.  No set of central planners seeking the improvement of some can substitute their decisions for the millions of decisions made by free individuals seeking their own improvement.  It just won’t work.  It never has and it never will.  Therefore I contend that if it is inherently detrimental to society as a whole and since it is impossible to achieve it is immoral to attempt.

Man was created with free choice.  This is our fundamental nature.  Therefore what goes against that nature is contrary to the truth of who man is or is meant to be.

That the darker side needs to be restrained is generally agreed.  Every society condemns murder.  Even thieves have a code; at home they know theft is wrong.  Children should be protected and provided for as should those who cannot protect or provide for themselves.  No people has prospered or advanced by leaving their poor to starve or their sick to die.

Likewise no people have ever successfully built a society on the pipedream of equality of outcome.  All that has ever produced is the fever dream of a socially engineered stagnant society where the government picks winners and everyone except the choosers and the chosen few end up losers.

The idea that man is meant to be free birthed this country.  No matter how far we fall beneath the Progressive avalanche of regulation, taxation, and corruption this idea will one day once again take flight.  As long as there are those who will propagate the philosophy the action will one day follow.  Just as sure as a sunrise always follows the darkest night someday a free America will rise from the ash heap of History to which socialism inevitably leads.

Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion.  He is the Historian of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com © 2013 Robert R. Owens drrobertowens@hotmail.com  Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook or Twitter @ Drrobertowens / Edited by Dr. Rosalie Owens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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