Quora – Libertarian philosophy

Quora – Why is the Libertarian philosophy unpopular?

Libertarian philosophy is not a singular thing, like most things it is a spectrum that can be extremely complex.

Most people seem to think of Libertarian philosophy as the extreme end of the spectrum that advocate for the extreme sort of freedom to follow whim devoid of moral responsibility for the reasonable foreseeable consequences of action.

That is the sort of straw man argument that gains popularity – an over simplification of something.

I consider myself a classical liberal.

My highest values are individual life first and foremost – applied universally.

Next to that is individual liberty – again universally applied.

And I acknowledge that we all live in social and ecological contexts, and that we are all complex beyond our ability to accurately comprehend, thus by necessity we must all over-simplify our understandings of reality. That is a given – however knowledgeable and brilliant we may think ourselves to be.

A knowledge of evolution, biochemistry and systems theory tells us that at every level form requires boundaries. Without boundaries, form cannot sustain itself.

When you get to extremely complex systems (and we know of nothing more complex in this universe than the human brain, and the software running on it), then we need at least 15 levels (and often 20+ levels) of boundaries to maintain the levels of complexity present.

For me, respect for life and liberty demands acknowledgement of the existence of those necessary levels of boundaries, and the fact that what is necessary will be very contextually dependent, and will likely vary substantially with seemingly small changes in context over time.

Understanding evolution, and social organisation in complex social systems, also clearly demonstrates that complex systems are based upon cooperation, and that competition tends to destroy complexity and drive systems to simplicity.

So while I call myself a libertarian, I am on the spectrum of libertarians that acknowledges that our biology and our culture can and does carry deeply encoded lessons from our deep past, and that we ignore them at our peril.

I acknowledge that individual existence demands social and ecological responsibility, and that no rule based system can ever be optimal in all contexts, however closely it may approximate optimality in some contexts.

I am clear that the idea of individual liberty finds its greatest and most powerful expression in a cooperative social context where diversity is respected, provided that it does not actively pose a risk to the life or liberty of any others.

And in such a complex context, there can exist multiple levels of awareness, and multiple levels of distributed trust networks.

Where libertarian philosophy seems to be failing seriously at present is in equating markets with liberty.

Certainly, historically, the greater the freedom in markets, the greater the degrees of liberty and security present; and that was so because most things were in fact genuinely scarce.

Now that we live in an age of exponentially expanding computation; the set of goods and services that can be fully automated and delivered universally is also expanding exponentially.

Unfortunately anything universally abundant in a market has zero market value.

The old system of market thinking is now rapidly becoming the single greatest barrier to the delivery of universal abundance (and the security and freedom that delivers), but the ways of thinking that equate market freedom with individual freedom cannot see the issue present – are not willing to challenge such a fundamental assumption.

So in this sense, those at the extreme end of the libertarian spectrum who deny their absolute reliance on social cooperation are quite rightly despised by the vast majority who see that our social systems are founded in such cooperation (the mathematics and logic of which are now well understood from games theory).

That extreme end of libertarian thought that deny their social and moral responsibility are quite rightly rejected by the majority.

But in rejecting those extremes lies a great danger of rejecting the notion of liberty itself.

Just as in rejecting religious extremism there is a great danger of rejecting the profound lessons encoded in mythology.

In this sense, I find Jordan Peterson to point to something profound and powerful.

The essence of life seems to be to find that boundary between order and chaos that works. In a very real sense that seems to be the definition of life at every level.

Too much order and there is not enough variation to adapt to the changes that happen in reality, and life itself is at risk.
Too much chaos and there is insufficient reliability in the boundaries required to sustain life.

And within that sweet zone, between order and chaos, can exist all manner of complicated and complex, near or far from equilibrium, complex adaptive systems – this amazing diversity of life we find ourselves within.

The idea of liberty, if approached with childish simplicity, becomes the greatest threat to life. This is where libertarian philosophy often fails, and is rightly despised by many in that failure.

For libertarian philosophy to be the power it can and must be, it must acknowledge all the very necessary levels of social cooperation, upon which individual liberty finds its highest expression. That demands a deep knowledge of both biology and strategic thought (which is basically high level mathematics).

And there must, inevitably, exist a tension in the many different levels of approximation to an understanding of those boundaries that must be present in any diverse society.

We are the most cooperative species we know of. Liberty requires life. Life demands we acknowledge and participate in all those cooperative levels.

There is no requirement that liberty be simple – it rarely is.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) with reasonable security, tools, resources and degrees of freedom, and reasonable examples of the natural environment; and that is going to demand responsibility from all of us - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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1 Response to Quora – Libertarian philosophy

  1. Bill Struve says:

    I agree that extreme libertarianism is equivalent to anarchism which will result in competitive chaos.
    Regarding the deep foundations of life leading to human culture, Antonio Damasio new book “The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures” is an up-to-date and excellent coverage of the biochemical, evolutionary, neurological and cultural development of human interactions. I’ve read it on Kindle which allows clicking on the notes which expand on many of the concepts and are worth reading.
    His view of homeostasis’s influence on feelings and of feelings on motivation is bold and correct IMHO. Much of his thinking is based on 21st century research. Well worth the time spent digesting it!!
    Thank you for alerting me to Jordan Peterson.

    Liked by 1 person

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