Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Road to Serfdom: Part 4

Hayek's wide-ranging critique of collectivism is difficult to summarize. Much of his argument is based on his observations on human nature, especially our individual and collective capacity to both compete and cooperate. The basic problem with collectivism is our infinite capacity to identify ourselves (as individuals) with groups. As Hayek and most social psychologists note, group indentification leads to "in-group out-group bias," or the tendency to cooperate with other members of our group, and compete with outsiders. When we compete with outsiders we tend to dehumanize them and therefore justify coercive force based on their non-human status. Of course, not all forms of out-group behavior ends up violent. As a rule, the losers of Kentucky v. Tennessee basketball games rarely dehumanize the victors and violence is rare. However, other forms of competition are typically less civil. Worldwide, intra-group competition often leads to coercive violence. Think competition between competing: nations, religious groups, ethnic groups, tribal groups, racial groups, and gender groups. Hence, the rise of group-based partiality: nationalism, religious fanaticism, ethno-centrism, tribalism, racism, and sexism. The difference between being a Kentucky Basketball fan and a white male, is that I cannot exit from the brotherhood of white males, unless I change my genetic code. Thus, barring skin grafts and a sex change operation, whether I like it or not, I'm a white male. Although, I'm an American, I am not a "flag waving" patriot! At the moment, those "flag wavers" tolerate me, but I can imagine a time when that toleration may wear thin. The most likely scenario would be during wartime. Fortunately, recent wars in Irag and Afghanistan have not produced a plurality of flag wavers so I'm still safe. However, another catastrophic 911 event might change all that.

Hayek observes that fear tends to increase the number of flag wavers, and that Philosopher Kings (controllers) have a vested interest in perpetuating that fear via the use of propaganda. As nation states cultivate nationalism via public education, or at least undermine the development of the critical skills of students, we invariably find ourselves in a perpetual state of emergency. Unfortunately, its not just Americans that are bombarded with emergency propaganda (war on terror, war on drugs, war on disease etc.). Every other in-group on earth (nations, religions, ethnic groups, etc.) are all equally suject to in-group/out-group bias.

So what are the prospects for world peace? There are two possibilities: we can all rally behind one Philosopher King and form one single group, called humanity. But what are the prospects for uniting the world without an out-group to rally against? Or we can return to the Enlightenment vision of individualism that makes group identity voluntary. It will be tough! We'll have to overcome our natural inclination to identify with non-voluntary groups and we'll have to be intelligent enough to stop demonizing everyone that looks, thinks, or acts in ways that contradict what our own Philosopher Kings tell us. Hayek defends that second option. World peace is unlikely no matter what, but individualism and commercial society offers a more likely strategy than in-group/out-group bias. What do you think?

4 comments:

It'sASecret said...
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Sherrie said...

Collectivism....hhhmmm Well Individuation is such an American element...Not all countries are so individuazed as you are very well aware of, so if we look to countries that are truly engaged in collectivism...well, I see peace. I see "people" who care so much for the bigger cause that caring for one another is the natural thing to do...by doing so you are taking care of yourself as well. They grasp the concept of the Butterfly effect...a concept that I live by.

And yes fear provokes a certain amount of collectivism...think of how much New York pullled together after 911... they felt as "one"...well "one" within there group...

As far as world peace goes...well, I think there would be greater peace if we all were a little more tolerant, worked collectively, and had massages everyday(oh..sorry, that one slipped out, however massages do bring great peace.

Think about it...if everyone was stripped of all their "identifiers" would we begin to work more collectively??? People demonize one another out of fear....simple, yet complicated fears...justified and unjustified...

APLS said...

Thanks Sherrie. The problem is INVOLUNTARY cooperation, not VOLUNTARY COERCION. Working together collectively by choice is qualitatively different from working together at the point of a gun. And of course, Hayek's point is that group identity, such as nationalism, invariably leads to intolerant behavior: out-group bias. Massages are great, as long as they are voluntary. By the way, Hayek would argue that the licensing of massage parlors and massagers is a form of collectivism: government interfering with the free market exchange of a service.

jssmessy said...

Tolerance is definitely what the world needs more of and what our government and the media seem to lack.....to truly embrace the individual is to accept the fact that every single one of us are different and that is a large part of the beauty of life. The labeling of people i.e. liberals, conservatives, gays, rednecks......is for simple minded people too lazy to look past the surface. People in power use labels to pull people toward them and repel them from rivals. It is human nature to follow someone strong that will guide and direct. There are leaders and there are followers and there is nothing wrong with that order. It is the limitation of power and control overs others that is essential to prevent this tendency from becoming destructive. The disparaging fact is that our government (and many others) spend so much time schmoozing their own groups and demonizing the others, they forget that each one of their constituents is different. And because so many different desires cannot possibly be quelched, they should not attemt to satisfy any of them. Only the basics......