Friday, December 24, 2010

Nature, Law, and Money

Economics is a means to artificially recreate on a large scale what people naturally do in small groups. In a household, we organize ourselves to wash dishes, cook meals, sweep floors, and whatever other tasks are necessary to lead a life up to our standards. Groups of friends will similarly do favors for one another. One friend may be an experienced mechanic and repair their friends' broken bicycles, cars, and appliances; another might be a talented musician who plays for their friends' amusement; still another might spend hours in their garden only to share the bounty when it's time to harvest. As long as addictive and distracting forces like crack or television do not impede us, people naturally gravitate towards creating, maintaining, and collaborating.

Yet all these small scale favors are done amongst people who know each other and are limited by distance and social networks. An individual may have many friends within a 20 mile radius, but only a smattering outside of that distance. In order to bridge the miles and impersonality, we introduce trade and money. Commerce. This isn't what people naturally do, but it's similar enough that it works without excessive stress. But we still grumble about it, without always knowing why, because it's not what we were made for. Ultimately, this type of exchange of labor leaves many of us feeling empty. And beyond all of that, it inhibits a sort of collective human potential. We will do best what we do naturally, just as a screwdriver is better used to screw screws than to hammer nails. And collectively, humanity isn't reaching its greatest potential, because our parts are being misused.

The same can be said of government. It is a means to artificially recreate on a large scale the order that small groups enforce amongst themselves. Within a group of Christian friends, for instance, members will keep each other in check if their behavior starts to diverge from accepted norms. The same can be said of anarchists, cowboys, and socialites. All groups have shared values and beliefs about what they consider a successful and socially acceptable life, and they enforce these values amongst themselves by giving status to those who embody their values and by dismissing, ridiculing, and in extreme cases rejecting those who fail to live up to them. Governments, in turn, enforce values on a large scale through more overt means of coercion, namely fines and jail time. This is done because governments reign over many different groups with distinct values. The rules of the government become the common-ground behavior, the values that must never be broken, even if they are not enforced by an individual's particular group. And once again, this behavioral control inhibits collective human potential, because it is both rigid and prone to corruption, while our natural settings are dynamic with evolving rule-sets.

The challenge is to find a means of large-scale organizing that is also natural. The closest example of this are cultural movements, which are cellular in nature but scattered throughout the world. For instance, a group of cowboys in Loredo could travel 200 miles to another small town in Texas and meet cowboys there who shared their values. This is because they share the same culture, which evolves naturally with them. Ideas and values are transmitted by members of the culture who travel between towns. Periodically, there are large gatherings, such as Burning Man, in which members of these cultures can get together and resynchronize their values after time apart. Art, music, and literature also are a means for a culture to share its values across a great distance and to a potentially massive audience. This is particularly true of movies, though other music and literature still play a significant role, especially amongst subcultures.

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