Just as a community has a good or bad business environment, it also has a good or bad liberty environment. Its liberty environment is how harmoniously it allows people with conflicting views and values to live and prosper together through free contract.
What is Liberty?
Liberty is practical unpredictability. Strange definition? I define liberty externally because feeling free internally means nothing if you are externally controlled without knowing it.
Others can control you if they can predict your behavior under circumstances they control. You can try to stop them from controlling those circumstances, but then you are at war. If they cannot predict your behavior, though, you are at peace – you don’t have to fight them for control over those circumstances. You just freely go about your business in ways they don’t understand, and they go about theirs.
Liberal governments, socialist governments and even dictatorships look to the coercive power of the state to block anyone but themselves from getting too much control over others, but this can only backfire in the end. If I can control just a few people in positions of authority in my society, I can leverage this to extend my control to more and more positions of authority.
My power can grow exponentially. State power can only expand itself linearly to block my progress, so in the end I will win if I simply stick to my agenda and keep myself from being killed or controlled myself.
If I gain control of what I will call the “information authority system” in society then I can control public opinion, and thereby control democratic elections. The information authority system includes journalists, judges, leaders of medical and other professional societies, scientists, religious leaders, heads of non-profits and government agencies, and administrators and curriculum and methodology leaders in the educational institutions that train people to assume such positions of information authority.
Once I acquire control over society I then have to maintain that power. This is more difficult than attaining the power in the first place because now I have to defend my institutionally entrenched power, which I can only extend linearly, from insurgents using the very same exponential expansion methods I used to gain my power in the first place. Inevitably one of these insurgents will win the race to overthrow me, and will in turn be subsequently overthrown by another, ad infinitum.
As long as enough people are sufficiently predictable in their behavior, someone will find a way to exploit that regularity to usurp control over society, and someone else will do the same to overthrow them in turn. The only way this cycle can end is if enough people become unpredictable enough in their behavior that nobody can manage to build a reliable chain of command and control throughout the information authority system.
This is essentially the conclusion James Madison reached in Federalist No. 10:
- Is a law proposed concerning private debts? It is a question to which the creditors are parties on one side and the debtors on the other. Justice ought to hold the balance between them. Yet the parties are, and must be, themselves the judges; and the most numerous party, or, in other words, the most powerful faction must be expected to prevail.
Madison, discussing the best design for a representative democracy, meant here that “the most powerful faction” was not necessarily “the most numerous party” in the sense of actual head count of creditors on one side and debtors on the other. He meant the most numerous in terms of their voting power, and in a representative democracy that would come down to how many representatives in Congress each faction effectively controlled by whatever fair or nefarious means.
For he is not merely arguing that republican government is safer from the tyranny of majority than direct democracy, but also how even a republic is still vulnerable to that same tyranny among its representatives. He is arguing that a large and diverse republic will be safer from the tyranny of a faction (what we might call a “special interest” in today’s terminology) controlling a majority of representatives than a smaller republic that has the same number of representatives. He concludes:
- The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other.
In a republic the great danger is that some special interest or faction will manage by hook or by crook to gain control over a majority of representatives in the legislature, or even worse, a super-majority that can overcome the obstacles put in place by super-majority cloture rules in our Congress or by super-majority rules in our U.S. Constitution for declaration of war or amendment of the Constitution.
Madison appeals to obstacles such as diversity and number of special interests and distrust among potential conspirators of unfamiliar and differing background to defend the people against the potential takeover of the legislature by a single special interest group or faction.
Unfortunately history has proven that every faction Madison specifically named as a great potential threat to the common good of the people and to their individual liberty has in fact managed to gain majority control of the legislature and impose tyranny on the nation. Madison wrote:
- The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.
The strategy by which the current majority achieved the suppression of individual liberty and the homogenization of diverse views and interests was a complex game of institutional chess. Its key methodological principle, and hence its Achilles heel, has always been the rendering of individual and group behavior down to mathematically predictable phenomena that can be modulated by adjusting environmental conditions under the faction’s control. The keyword of this methodology is “regulation”.
That which is regulated is deprived of its irregularity, which is its mathematical unpredictability. To liberate ourselves from the tyranny of this regulation, we must embrace Yankee ingenuity and the entrepreneurial spirit in all that we do, form micro-alliances that intimately intertwine the way we live our daily lives with our most profound beliefs and aspirations, rejecting mass-media and mass entertainment industry propagated monoculture. Unpredictability will then spread, and we will once again achieve what Madison considered a crucial degree of diversity sufficient to assure that no faction will be able to control enough people either to maintain their accomplished takeover of our legislatures or take them over anew.
In short, we can restore the health of our Republic by:
- Basing our every decision and action on the prospect of maximizing the diversity and number of our options
- Using common things and methods for uncommon purposes and uncommon or novel things and methods for common purposes
- Refusing to join majority coercion of minorities except to create and maintain a liberty majority that agrees on nothing but blocking special interest majorities.
- Championing the civil rights of all present and future minorities, not just historically oppressed ones, against the continual threat of oppression by any majority,
Liberty is not self-sustaining if it is just exercised as doing what you choose. The robust and sustainable exercise of liberty must also include:
- Continual introspection and re-evaluation of basic values and philosophical assumptions
- Continual openness to and investigation to corroborate evidence that runs counter to what one currently accepts as fact (aka eagerness to learn something new)
- Continual re-assessment of priorities in one’s mental, emotional, social and practical life
- Continual creative investigation and invention of novel options for how to address one’s priority issues
- Complex reasoning that is highly situation-dependent, eclectically informed and internally motivated in choosing among options for how to address one’s priority issues
- Creative means for pursuing those options once chosen
To exercise one’s liberty to the fullest exent possible, it may help to consider and adjust how we practice The Three False Working Assumptions of Consciousness, which we necessarily take part in at every level of our consciousness from the most basic level of perception right on up to our highest-level conscious thinking:
- The False Working Assumption of Irrelevance: Acting as if most things are not relevant to a particular issue or decision in order to simplify it enough to take action, when of course the truth is that everything is more or less relevant to everything else and there is no rational basis for ranking them by degree of relevance.
- The False Working Assumption of Present Values: Acting as if we know the relative value of things so we can decide what exactly we want and need to retain or obtain, when of course we don’t know the ultimate value of anything in the future, nor in the past until after we see the consequences of our using them or depending on them.
- The False Working Assumption of Regularity: Acting as if we know what will happen next based on some pattern we recognize in prior experience (our own experience or others’ reported experience), when of course the only reason we believe anything will keep behaving as it has in the past is that, uh, things in the past have behaved as they have in the further past. Huh? If it’s true about itself, it’s true about everything. That does not make it true. In fact that comes very close to a reductio ad absurdum proving it is false.
Most people have no trouble getting how and why we are always making the first two false assumptions and why they are ultimately false. The third bears some explaining.
The False Working Assumption of Regularity
If something happens the same way a hundred times, we usually assume this is a good reason to expect that it will happen the same way a hundred and first time. This is always a false assumption, no matter how many times the assumption turns out to be correct. Even if there is some underlying grand design to everything, we have no reason to believe our little minds are privy to it.
The French Philosopher Rene Descartes famously concluded in his essay “Meditations On First Philosophy” that our little minds are privy to the grand design because our little minds are built in the image of the Creator’s. So he defended his belief in the False Working Assumption of Regularity by saying he believes it because his own novel interpretation of the Bible tells him so.
Later the skeptic David Hume famously said Descartes was wrong and we really have no reason to believe things will keep happening as they have in the past, but we believe it because we have to have working assumptions about what to expect in order to go about our lives.
Then shortly after that the greatest philosopher of the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant, agreed with Hume but insisted that these working assumptions are not just assumptions we can take or leave but are actually the basic machinery of consciousness itself, so we have no choice but to live with them. Instead of downplaying the limitations of our minds by declaring our minds to be in the image of God’s as Descartes had done, Kant insisted that the limitations of our minds are like a cross we must bear, a fount of our profound humility, a definitive mark of our mortality and a powerful admonishment to us that above all we should never presume to play God with our limited mental faculties. He said we can never perceive “things-in-themselves” as God perceives them, but can only perceive them as objects partly constructed by our imagination.
Kant published several volumes that he promoted as what amounts to consciousness user’s manuals or “Human Consciousness for Dummies” books that explicated in elaborate detail exactly how human consciousness works, what its built-in limitations and pitfalls are, how to make proper use of it to live a good and moral life, and how to avoid trying to use it for things it does not do well. He was really the first self-help guru of the modern age and developed quite a following.
Kant’s student Johann Gottlieb Fichte turned Kant’s humility into hubris. Fichte believed the machinery of our consciousness includes not just clunky models of “things-in-themselves” that we cobble together with our limited mental faculties but an absolutely clear and definitive concept of both an “I” that is myself and an “I” that is somebody else. He believed he had proven not only that selfhood presupposes other selves, but that we know what those other selves are fundamentally like because they have to be essentially just like our own self in order for our own self to be as it is. In the shuffle Fichte managed to lose track entirely of Kant’s admonition that one’s own mind gives one plenty of rope to hang oneself with because it relies so much on imagination to form the basis of reasoning.
Fichte convinced himself and many others that children should be institutionalized with each other and away from the corrupting influence of their parents and of the adult world at large, to be guided instead in their isolation by specially trained adults who would model philosophical righteousness based on Fichte’s communistic revelation that the self is innately “good”. By “good” Fichte meant that the self innately subordinates all individual self-interest to the interests of the collective, because the self recognizes its own origin in consciousness as being entirely dependent on its juxtaposition with a community of equal other selves.
Fichte’s ideas strongly influenced the founders of the public education system in the United States, in which to this day our children and ourselves before them have been behaviorally modified in an artificial environment, isolated from the real world, into an understanding of ourselves as owing our individual rights to the higher principle of a common good that is decided on our behalf by the State and enforced upon us through its system of direct universal taxation, deficit spending, currency counterfeiting monopoly and the abdication of plenary regulatory authority from the legislative to the executive and judicial branches.
Having rehearsed a simplified intellectual history of the False Working Assumption of Regularity from the late Renaissance to the current day, I can explain that this simple assumption, that things keep doing what we have seen them do before, presupposes two things:
1) Things are very unlikely or unable to do anything new.
2) Things have actually done what we think they did.
Neither of these presuppositions can ever have any justification in reason. Like Kant, I believe Hume’s skepticism must be taken with all seriousness, and must inspire in us good cause for humility as we engage in our three false working assumptions. Yet unlike Kant I do not find it reasonable to pontificate on the machinery of consciousness.
Kant, at one point in his exigesis, asserted that humans have no reason to assume non-human consciousness worked the same way as human consciousness, but in his later works on Anthropology and Geography he seems to have slipped from that humble acknowledgment to a positive assertion that non-human consciousness differs fundamentally from, and is inferior to, human consciousness. In fact he finds significant striations in human consciousness along national and ethnic lines as well. He sets forth a fundamentally nationalist, racist and sexist ideology of a hierarchy of moral dispositions, spelled out in embarrassing detail in his works on Anthropology and Geography. In so doing he fumbles over the very perils he warns others against – for he has no reason but his own prejudice to believe non-German human consciousness differs from German human consciousness, or that non-human consciousness differs from human consciousness.
Kant should have recognized that the very supposition that non-human consciousness might possibly differ from human consciousness presupposes that he knows his own consciousness is human and not some other kind. But he can only presuppose that his own mind is categorically “human” by already assuming that there exist non-humans who have some kind of consciousness categorically different from his own. Otherwise he cannot construct the very concept “human.”
The fact is, if Kant consistently followed his own reasoning to first principles of consciousness, he would have to admit that the very idea of a consciousness that differs fundamentally from one’s own is inherently self-contradictory. He must, in other words, agree with Fichte that the only self-consciousness we can have presumes that all other conscious beings share the same kind of consciousness as we have, for we can never find in our experience any evidence of a kind of consciousness other than our own. Fichte was right that he was simply following Kant’s thinking to its logical conclusion that we can only conceive of other consciousnesses as being essentially the same as our own. But unfortunately he was also faithful to the thinking Kant did that undermined that basic insight, which was to think that our consciousness can discern its own mechanism well enough to justify manipulating it for its own good by restricting its freedom under some disciplinary refinement process.
No, Kant’s humility, if kept true to itself, would have to reject any notion that our minds can master themselves, let alone one another’s minds, and render themselves or other minds rationally predictable. By correcting Kant and Fichte in this manner, we are able to preserve the underlying humility in Kant’s account of consciousness. We preserve also its internal consistency. Yet in doing so we need to discard the vast majority of his grand “architectonic” of consciousness, in which he purports to deduce from what I have formulated as The Three False Working Assumptions of Consciousness an entire metropolis of cognitive machinery. And we can jettison all of Fichte’s thinking except his correct insight that Kant overlooked the inability of consciousness to conceive of a fundamentally different kind of consciousness except in an empty, self-contradictory, meaningless and nonsensical way.
The idea that there are different kinds of consciousness is nonsense. The idea that consciousness can construct a working model of itself that renders it predictable to itself is also nonsense. Of course we do this all the time. Kant is correct that we rely on this nonsense. But his mistake is that he does not accept or embrace the fact that any working model of consciousness is utter nonsense, and thus he fails to acknowledge or embrace our fundamental mathematical liberty.
I have made a point to use the word “False” in naming The Three False Working Assumptions of Consciousness in order to lodge into any theory based on it an appropriate humility. Everything we know is based on false assumptions, but they are called working assumptions because they work, because they serve us functionally and practically in our lives. Hume leaves us in this ironic quandary, but unlike Kant I do not think we should struggle to leave that situation behind. Instead I recommend we accept it and change attitude towards it, so that we can embrace and celebrate it.
We do not have to regard it with irony or chagrin that all we know is a self-made lie, nor do we have to insist like Kant that we just can’t help it, and therefore are justified in believing it. We are not justified at all. We don’t need any justification because we have free will and the natural rights that come with it. We are free to be functionally inconsistent, and I have yet to discover a consistent method of engaging in consciousness that is functionally consistent.
This should not be shocking to us, though. It should make perfect sense, for why should we expect anything we do as free-willed individuals to be self-justifying? To say “I did this because it was logical to do it” is simply to pass the buck. It is like saying, “I was just following orders,” in this case the orders arising not from some other person or social institution but from the supposed built-in requirements of our own consciousness.
Well, every atrocity committed by humans since the time of Kant and probably long before then has been justified and rationalized by the insistence that it was done with good intentions, following a reasonable deduction of right action based upon a set of reasonable assumptions about the state of humanity, society, nature and the world. The constraints of consciousness have been the scapegoat and false alibi of tyrants throughout our Enlightened Age.
So there is nothing ironic or even remarkable at all about the fact that free will relies on leaps of faith. We never know enough to be sure that what we choose to do will have the intended consequences, but we choose and we do anyhow.
The Three False Assumptions of Consciousness are the natural method by which mortals exercise free will. We are continually modulating the details of these assumptions, modulating the criteria by which we falsely deny the relevance of things, modulating the metrics by which we falsely assign relative values to things, and modulating the backward-looking probabilities we fallaciously assign to our forward-looking expectations that things will slavishly follow past patterns.
How we each modulate these false assumptions constitutes, for each of us, our faith. It defines who we are as moral beings exercising free will and is inexorably bound up with how we understand the context or environment in which we make our choices and actions. It is in this way that no two people have the same faith; each has her own, and it is that individual idiosyncratic faith that makes us each morally who we individually are.
Thus each of us has our own individual morality as well. Our exercise of liberty is the same as our morality, which is the same as our environmentalism, because all three boil down to how we modulate The Three False Assumptions of Consciousness in our daily lives.
Since acting on the assumption of known falsehoods is irrational, the exact manner in which one does so is unpredictable, and so the subjective experience of freedom as the modulation of the false premises of consciousness corresponds perfectly to its externally observable manifestation as unpredictable behavior.
Any attempts, such as the projects undertaken by today’s behavioral economists, to predict the irrational behavior of free individuals are nothing more than more Fichtean skulduggery. Behavioral economists are exercising their free will to establish the means of effectively denying it to others and establishing among the rich and powerful an elite order of “choice architects” who will set policy constraining the options of the masses while duping them into believing they are free.
What is Environment?
Environment is the underlying matrix of cooperative arrangements among mathematically unpredictable (free) agents that forms the context in which all new interaction among free agents occurs. Cooperative arrangements are actually just contracts, and ecology is actually just the contract theory of all free agents human and non-human.
In Federalist No. 10 Madison does not deal with the issue of the environment. Yet in colonial America agriculture was still the primary preoccupation of most of the population. The environment was ever-present in the minds of the Founders, many of whom like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were avid naturalists. They understood that the relationship between humans and non-humans was unquestionably profound and essential to human survival. The first pilgrims learned from their own tribulations and then from the Indians about how survival in the wilderness depended entirely upon knowledge of how to participate in long-established cooperative relationships with natural forces.
It is a cliche that ecosystems are fragile, but there is nothing fragile about nature. Nature and ecosystem are entirely different things. An ecosystem is a human overlay of wishful thinking upon nature. It matters not to nature whether the Earth suddenly becomes a churning mass of molten lava again, as it once was, or evolves into Eden.
Humans, however, want nature to be predictable enough to provide a basis for human planning and action to survive and live in comfort, yet unpredictable enough to continue doing the unknown things nature does to create those miraculous conditions conducive to human life. Non-human animals certainly appear to want something analogous. My mother believed plants had feelings about their health and felt she understood their body language, but I am not so sure. I cannot prove her wrong, though. Hurricanes don’t seem to care.
Native Americans imagined that non-human free agents had personalities, and they entered into ritual contractual relationships with them for mutual sustenance. We may wonder at them for imputing free will to forces of nature, but there is nothing stranger in that than in our imputing free will to one another.
Any agent in nature whose behavior is predictable enough to have a distinctive character and cohesion, yet unpredictable enough to be a potential boon or threat to our survival, is a good candidate to regard as having free will. If we approach it with a view to understanding what it “wants” in exchange for being a boon rather than a hindrance to our survival, then we can arrive at a contract with it to establish that exchange as a reliable feature of our environment.
Engaging in this sort of economic animism leads us into a free market contract theory of ecology.
It is customary even in libertarian economic theory and environmentalist economics to regard non-human free agent action as a mere instrument, modality or input for human-to-human free agent action and interaction. This anthropocentric scope of perception catastrophically dooms such theories to fail to account for and deal with the consequences of ignoring all the longstanding and crucial existing contractual relationships that non-human free agents share with one another and with humans.
A properly ecocentric analysis of economy must regard without moral prejudice or existential bias the underlying reality that the universe of free agents in the world consists of both humans and non-humans, and that any economic theory must account for and include all non-human and human contractual relationships and economic activity in order to provide an accurate analysis of the economics of any part of that overall world economy, including the part that consists only of human-to-human trade activity.
The mathematical reality is that non-human agents in overall economic processes of production and consumption of goods and services act with mathematical unpredictability to the same extent and in the same way human agents do. Any complete and accurate account of free market activity must include the activity of non-human free agents as producers, consumers and parties to the contractual relationships that constitute the nexus of production and consumption that is the economy.
What is more, no market economy can ever be truly a free market economy unless its operational parameters do not regulate, restrict, exclude, ignore or suppress in any way the free agency of all agents engaging in production and consumption, be they human or non-human.
Environment, in short, is the total contractual nexus of free agent activity, human and non-human alike, within which all free action takes place. The best liberty environment is, therefore, also that in which the free agency of humans and non-humans alike are left to the self-regulatory dynamics of their freely engaged contractual relationships with one another. Drawing any distinction between human and non-human in a free market economy is both arbitrary from an analytic standpoint and invasive and perverting from an operational or administrative perspective.
The Natural Rights of More Than Man
There is no such thing as a human-only economy, so there is no such thing as a free market economy in which humans are exclusively or preferentially regarded as economic actors enjoying full and free contractual rights in production, consumption and exchange. The notion of a free market economy that recognizes or favors only human parties to contracts is as absurd as the notion of a free economy that recognizes only Caucasion humans, only humans who speak English, only who eat cheese puffs for breakfast every day, only non-humans or only rocks as parties to contracts.
The only free market, in other words, is ecocentric in its basic terms of analysis, and the only meaningful and functional definition of a liberty environment is an ecocentric one.
Nonetheless, having lain this broad founding definition of free market, it should be obvious that no human except the most inveterate misanthrope would actually be satisfied with a free market that evolved naturally towards the extinction of the human species. There will always be, therefore, among those of us who have at least a passing affinity for the human race, a bias towards only such evolutionary expressions of free market principles that do not go through swings of instability in which mass human deprivation or death occurs.
We shall see, however, that not only does an ecocentric analysis of the free market provide the best foundation for planning the prosperous participation of humans in the free market of all creatures, but that an ecocentric free market will, in practice, actually strongly favor highly adaptive species like human beings.
Any misanthrope, in other words, who studies and understands ecocentric free market theory will, in the end, conclude that the best way to harm the human race is to encourage it to continue to conduct all its economic activity upon the solipsistic assumption that only humans can, do or deserve to engage in the free market as fully recognized free agents invested with all the inalienable natural rights that are required for full participation in the free market.
Humans have tended to assume that the natural rights required for free market participation are “the natural rights of man”. Well, that they are, but they are also the natural rights of everyone else in the market too.
The fact that such thinking about freedom, rights and political economy could proceed for as long as it did with the exclusion of women, children, men of color and non-land-owning white men should make it fairly unremarkable that the exclusion of non-humans could also prove in the end to be an unwarranted prejudicial omission in a theory of natural rights that lends itself inherently to encompass all of nature. To exclude from a theory of natural rights any agent in nature that behaves with any practical spontaneity at all would be to cripple that theory arbitrariy and render it inconsistent and incomplete in the most mathematically and empirically demonstrable manner.
I am not an advocate of universal human friendship with all beings in nature. There will be groups who engage in contractual relations with each other in nature that conspire against the well-being of humans. The strongest actors in a free market are those who do not blindly regard other free agents in collective terms, but treat each invididual as capable of any manner of living they choose. This, however, does not stop many free agents from being weaker actors by engaging in collectivist thinking and action.
So there will be groups of beings in nature who are prejudicially hostile to humans. We need to engage with such creatures carefully, doing our best to coax individual members to reject their prejudices and engage in friendly trade with groups of humans who are decent people, and helping those who have been coerced into compliance with their affinity groups’ prejudicial activities to assert their individual liberty, reject falsely imposed obligations as invalid contracts made under duress, and engage in free trade with humans and non-humans alike.
We must not be prejudiced by theories like those found in modern biology, either, in deciding what in nature is or is not an economic free agent. Biology is not wrong, per se, about what life is or what an organism is. Biological terminology and taxonomy serve the purpose of providing a foundation for medicine and agriculture, but they fail to provide a sound basis for economics or ecology. For economics and ecology are in fact one and the same field of inquiry and their common atom of theoretical construction is the economic free agent, not the self-organizing system of energy intake and output that defines an “organism” in biology.
Would it be wise or foolish to say that we should treat with utmost respect a giant boulder of hard volcanic rock perched precariously atop a crag over an embankment of year-round snow under which lies a bank of exposed sandstone that hangs above our village? What does it mean to treat an “inanimate object” with “respect”? It would make no sense, of course.
It is John Ruskin’s “pathetic fallacy,” also commonly known as the “anthropomorphic fallacy,” to do so. But that boulder I just described is anything but inanimate. It is vibrating with enormous potential energy, in a purely physical sense but even more so in a social, environmental and economic sense. The boulder may express its free will at any moment to fall down and trigger an avalanche that would destroy our entire village.
The very term “anthropomorphic fallacy” is itself an anthropomorphic fallacy. “Anthropomorphism” means “in the shape of humans”. When we think of forces of nature as having free will like ourselves, we are not imagining them to be human. We are recognizing, rather, that there is no correlation whatsoever between having free will and belonging to the human species, or to any other species or, for that matter, to being an animal or any kind of typically defined biological organism at all.
Some might object that we can use our technology to analyze the boulder’s mechanistic physical state and devise a way to stabilize it so that it is unlikely to fall. Well, how do we arrive at such technology in the first place? We have to investigate the properties of different kinds of rock, snow, gravity, forces of wind, rain, erosion, acidity of air and water, earthquake activity, lightning attraction, etc. We have to start from a place of ignorance, where we do not know how these things are likely to behave under different circumstances, and try to learn by open-minded observation to predict their behavior under different circumstances.
We can conduct experiments in which we set up rocks and crags similar to the one we fear, but even today our twenty-first century science is still unable to predict even the most general assertions about local weather conditions more than a few days in advance, and earthquake prediction is definitely still in its infancy. We can try to set up experiments with conditions similar to that particular rock on that particular crag, but what defines “similar” here?
We can only arrive at any mental model of the rock’s potential behavior under counterfactual circumstances by first attributing to that rock the status of a free agent that may respond in ways we cannot predict. Gradually we come to understand that the rock behaves more predictably than we originally understood because we begin to discover some longstanding contractual relationships it participates in and adheres to.
There is a reason why we call the laws of physics “laws” and why do we not conversely call our statutes “social deterministic mechanisms”. This is because we understand the regularity of physical objects’ behavior only by analogy to the much more familiar regularity of freely willed human behavior in the context of our own societies.
The rock “obeys the laws of physics” literally because it consents to and complies with a contract that bids it obey those laws. The implication of our use of the term “law” – that natural phenomena have free choice to obey or not obey physical “laws” we concoct to describe their likely behavior – is entirely accurate.
To say the rock “moves according to the fixed pattern of future history” would be the accurate way to describe what the determinism of modern science asserts, even the statistical determinism of quantum mechanics. Yet to use that accurate phraseology would be to immediately reveal the absurdity and unwarranted hubris of the assumptions of modern science, so the custom is to rely on the old trope of the rock “obeying” a “law” because that sounds so much more reasonable.
Well, it sounds more reasonable because it is more reasonable. There is free will in everything we cannot predict, and it is the same kind of free will in all of it, namely, free will externally defined as unpredictable motion.
Skepticism, Turing Tests and the Anthropomorphic Fallacy
No philosopher has ever managed to refute at all convincingly the famous skeptic David Hume’s contention that all causal patterns we observe are entirely conventional and that we have no reason to believe they will hold from one moment to the next except that we have an illogical faith that history repeats itself to an inordinately obsessive degree.
The very notion of causality, in other words, is the most egregious example of the “anthropomorphic fallacy” John Ruskin called the “pathetic fallacy”. I think causality makes sense because imputing free will to things whose behavior we cannot predict just makes sense. To the extent we are able to predict some of that behavior based on theories of how those free agents engage in contracts to abide more or less by certain rules of engagement among each other, we arrive at a properly humble understanding of causal relations.
Consider Newton’s three laws of motion. We learned from anomalies found in various nineteenth century experiments that those laws of motion are false. Lorentz, Poincare and Einstein developed new laws of motion to account for these anomalies, but we have since learned from later experiments and engineering data that Einstein’s principles of special and general relativity are also false.
Unfortunately we get so mired down in our dogmatic reliance on our scientific laws that we don’t give credit to natural entities for obeying them of their own free will. By regarding all laws of physics as contractual obligations among free agents in nature rather than as pre-determined patterns of inanimate object behavior, we can instead keep our minds open to the ultimate unpredictability of nature, and thus open and unhampered by needless preconception and prejudice to all the possibilities for renegotiating our contractual status in relation to those free agents. We remain receptive and open, that is, to the observation of the sort of theoretically unexpected phenomena that point us to the greatest innovations in both the theoretical and practical sciences.
We do best for ourselves to understand that causality in nature itself is propped up only by free market forces achieving an equilibrium among free agents and is at all times subject to the whim of those same free agents who we can never deterministically predict nor control. Life among free agents is risk, and subscribing to a causal inference is placing our trust in the compliance of agents in nature with their prior contracts with each other.
As with any risk, things can go wrong catastrophically, and knowing that causes us to be more cautious, observant, vigilant, strategically broad and long-viewed in our decision-making and ultimately clever about gingerly hedging our commitments.
The true fallacy in any empirical enterprise is not to impute free will to agents whose behavior we cannot predict or control for all practical purposes. The true fallacy, rather, is to impute inaccurate personality traits to those free agents in nature and hence predict their behavior less well than we otherwise might.
Is there no “anthropomorphic fallacy” in modern physics? Certainly there is. Modern physics is most properly defined as the study of obsessive-compulsively law-abiding agents in nature, and its grand project is to prove that all agents in nature are ultimately constituted by these obsessive-compulsive constitutent agents, so that even the most unpredictable of spontaneous agents can ultimately be predicted in its behavior to the nth degree of accuracy by reducing all its actions to the complex combination of the obsessive-compulsively law-abiding actions of its constitutent atoms, particles, strings or whatever. Unfortunately for this reductionist project it appears that the most elementary particles are the ones that behave most erratically of all.
It should be no wonder to anyone who understands the mathematical theory of information complexity that such a reductionist deterministic project as a Unified Field Theory in Physics always was and is doomed to fail. The state of theoretical physics today proves this point resoundingly. General and Special Relativity are definitively disproven by experimental fact. So are every flavor of quantum and particle theory except for the most recent contortions that have far less theoretical merit in their manner of covering experimental results than Lorentz’ theory of contraction had for the facts that led Einstein to formulate Special Relativity. The most experimentally accurate theory in Physics today is actually a Modified Aether Theory, according to the late Dr. Harold Aspden:
What I am proposing here is that we turn the Turing Test on its head. Alan Turing famously asserted that we can say a machine “thinks” if a human conversing with that machine on one telephone line and with a human on another cannot tell which, if either, is a machine or a human. He envisioned this experiment done with a statistically meaningful sample under properly controlled experimental conditions, and a cumulative result near 50% right and 50% wrong proving the machine “thinks”.
As I see it, Turing was getting at the notion of practical unpredictability as an empirical definition of free agency, for what does it mean to “think” as a human does except that one exercises free will in doing so? No one would doubt that a machine “thinks” if by that one means it takes information in, processes it and outputs a result. By “think” Turing meant “think like a human” which means with free will.
The problem with Turing’s experiment is that it assumes the humans speak the same language, and that the machine is able to at least simulate facility with that langauge as well.
To clear away the language problem, we can have the interviewees speak only in numbers. The interviewer posts questions about likes and dislikes to an online survey tool, all of them on a Likert scale of one to five. In three other rooms three humans respond. One is told to answer honestly, another to respond dishonestly to maximize the impression to the interviewer that she is spontaneous, creative and original. The third is given a machine and told to input the question to the machine and choose the answer the machine gives. All three must answer within one minute, and all are able to see each others’ answers after that minute is over.
At the end of the interview, all four humans are asked to decide which of the two interviewees is most creative and original, and is asked to give a description of their personalities.
We would then repeat this experiment with different machines. The machines would be computers that are tied to motors and environmental sensors, and they would output results by taking the string of characters in the question entered and generating a sequence of random digits ranging in random length from 1 to 10 from it. Each digit is used as the input energy level to a different motor. The motors are arranged in a certain way to create different perturbations of the environment that change the input the computer receives from its sensors, each reading ranging in value from 0 to 5. The computer takes the average of the sensor readings in response to the motor lurches and uses that for its answer.
I hypothesize that the results of this experiment will show that imputing personality to environmental response patterns will tend to convince interviewers and interiewees alike that the environmental response patterns tend to generate more creative and original personalities than real human beings whether they are being honest or lying in an attempt to appear original and creative. This will show that our very notions of creativity and originality are ideals modeling our experience of the novel behavior of mostly non-human features of the environment we live in.
From this I contend we can conclude that free will not only ought to be attributed to agents in nature that behave in ways we cannot practically predict or control, but that we actually already implicitly and perceptually define free will as the behavior of unpredictable aspects of our lived environment as a whole. I believe our very concept and perception of free will is based on our overall observation of the unexpected in general in our environment, not just on the subset of the unexpected we identify as following from human action.
Unlike Turing, my question is not whether a machine can think, but rather, whether it makes any sense at all to think of the free market as consisting only of human participants. I contend that it makes no practical or theoretical sense to do so.
To illustrate this point further, consider slaves and tools. The only slaves in the world are subjugated humans, domesticated animals and objects used as tools. Everything else in nature is pretty much fully exercising its natural rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in relation to human beings, and it is foolhardy for us to refuse to recognize this simple, self-evident reality.
It is an anthropomorphic fallacy of gargantuan proportions for us to impute the status of slave or tool to the vast spectrum of things in nature that are very clearly neither slave nor tool.
It is an economic fallacy to think that by regarding all free agents in the market as being slaves or tools, we will somehow manage to maximize our own prosperity. The disparity between our assumptions and the resulting market realities drives us to hedge our losses by doing all we can to make our assumptions true – we try to enslave the uncontrollable, and instrumentalize the useless, or failing that, lie to each other that we have done so. The evidence of this desperate self-deception and mass delusion is everywhere in the abject failure of nature-dismissing human cultures and societies to achieve sustainable and efficient practices of production, consumption and valuation of goods and services.
The fact is, the cycle of anthropocentric ignorance, coercion and deception in the free market only weakens the overall stability and performance of the market for everyone. Free market principles and a rejection of anthropomorphic prejudice against non-human free agents in nature drive us inexorably to one singular conclusion – in the free market, we humans are not alone.
The Hubris of Stewardship
If we want to promote the well-being of members of our species in competition with those of other species, we can best help our cause by dropping the idiotic counterfactual pretense that nobody among the other species and forces in nature does the same basic kinds of things we do in the free market – produce, exchange and consume on the basis of motivations entirely their own.
Humans cannot expect to have a healthy free market among humans while they undertake to plan the non-human economy in the false presumption that by doing so they will draw a net surplus of resources out of that planned economy. In the end, the planned non-human economy will end up performing just as horrendously as every single planned human economy has done, and there will ultimately be a massive net drain of value as our invasive attempts to dictate to nature how it should restructure its intricately evolved nexus of longstanding trade relations results in nothing but catastrophic malinvestment by non-human free agents desperately struggling to restore the integrity of their accustomed relations, while we expect them to behave like robots whose every motive and capability we understand and control.
Native Americans have warned again and again that denying and trampling over the prior commitments of natural agents to one another will release forces of nature we have never dreamed of because the tendency of the free market among non-humans, just as it is among humans, is to restrain destructive uses of power and hold powers and capabilities in reserve so as to put them to optimal productive and cooperative use.
The mighty destructive force of a volcano or a river is never very evident while its power is reserved and restrained in the groove of action or inaction it has settled into for long periods of harmonious relations with other aspects of the environment. Once the contractual nexus restraining its reserved powers is broken, those powers are liable to be unleashed in the most catastrophic ways.
Many a precarious and tension-ridden truce of titans locked in a period of stalemate in a mighty conflict stretching over aeons characterizes even the most placid of natural scenes. Disturb the wrong touch point in such a placid scene and the truce may bust apart with enormous ferocity.
Most of us have an analogous experience at family gatherings, where we spend much of our time avoiding tripping over tensions among relatives that we do not fully understand. We do our best not to disturb unstable peaces. We must understand that free agents in nature are very very old relatives of each other, and they have longstanding affinities, feuds and rivalries we cannot begin to understand in their implications for their motive forces today.
If we can’t figure out how to resolve feuds in our own immediate families, how much confidence can we justifiably take into the challenge of assuming the role of preserver, protector or steward of the vast extended family of beings that constitute the entire Earth? We can study and learn more about them, but the human science of ecology is terribly barbarian at this point in time.
In the family of Earth’s creatures we are but toddlers just beginning to recognize the blurry of extent of how much we do not understand of the customs and relations among the grown-ups around us. Even granting that we are child prodigies among the species of Earth, we still have centuries if not millennia of concerted learning to do before we can confidently take our place among the wise old elders of the family of Earth’s myriad wilful, mysterious and contentious beings.
Until then, we can neither presume to act as Earth’s elder brother and tell it, or each other, “what the Earth needs,” because the truth is we have no idea. We can barely conceive of what we ourselves need from the Earth, and it is certainly false to presume that the Earth has any dire need of us. Nor can we continue to thrash about seizing, abusing and destroying the property of age-old natural beings who share intricate intersecting contractual obligations and rights over just about every atom of Earthly matter within the ancient nexus of the non-human economy.
The foolishness among humans about our place in nature’s economy is evident in both the hubris of environmentalists and the bigotry of industrialists. Too many environmentalists would paternalistically lord it over the Earth and the human race as if they have anything approximating the most brutish passing fancy masquerading as knowledge of what all sustains Earth’s ecosystems. Too many industrialists espouse free market principles but dogmatically pursue an agenda to subjugate, control and plan the economy of every material exchange in the world except those involving one species.
Both environmentalists and industrialists need to step back and look at the vast complexity and age of nature’s economic relations, and realize they are seeing but the fragment of the surface of all the contractual intertwinement that lies therein. And both need to realize that we humans are shot clean through with those contractual strings that make us far more the puppets of non-human agents than the other way around, and in very specific ways that we need to come to understand before we can know how best to move among the tangle of competing claims, compromisory conceits and confounding tensions that strike in their balance the conditions that make the Earth livable for us humans in this our wakening moment in geologic time.
I leave you with two quotes from John Muir:
“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.”
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”