The vast majority of us want the world to be a better place. Democrats, Republicans, Anarchists, Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Soldiers, Teachers, Politicians… we all think we’re working towards a better world. When your friend posts Ron Paul campaign fliers, or volunteers at a school, or protests outside of an abortion clinic, they think they’re working towards a better society. So when I tell people not to vote, not to support public education, that banks shouldn’t be regulated and the government shouldn’t provide healthcare, they think I’m either insane, insidious or insincere. On the contrary, I too am working to make the world better. But where others are fighting symptoms, I’m trying to fight a disease. Where others would spend their lives correcting superficial flaws, I’m hacking away at the root of evil. We can’t fix the world by electing new representatives. We can’t make things better through regulation. The problems arise from the structure of the system. To fix them, we need to go deeper.
When a system has inherent problems, problems built into the very nature of the system, you can’t fix it with simple tweaks. You can’t slowly improve the system or work to make it better. Even worse, trying to fix something with intrinsic errors is counter-productive. It makes the built-in structural issues even harder to identify, and leads people to grow dependent on the faulty arrangement. When the very existence of a system relies on fundamental flaws, you have to tear it down and try again.
A great example of this phenomenon is the Copernican revolution. What was obvious to everyone- that the Sun and planets orbited the Earth, resulted in some very strange conclusions about the dynamics of the solar system (or should I say "Earth system"). If you track the motion of Mars through the sky over the course of a year, it appears to do a strange loop-de-loop where it moves backwards for a time in the sky, before resuming its forward progress (called retrograde motion).
With an Earth-centered model, this could only be explained by adding a slew of strange assumptions about the nature of the system. Ptolemaeus invented a system that could account for this motion by introducing the idea of epicycles. He theorized that the planets orbited the Earth not directly, but instead by orbiting a spot in space that orbits the Earth.
In Ptolemaeus’ system, the motion of all planets were based on perfect circles, so even with epicycles the predictions didn’t match the observed data. To make the model fit reality, more assumptions had to be added. Epicycles had to be nested within epicycles to make the data fit. The system became ridiculously complex, even requiring the circular orbits to be offset from the center of Earth. Despite all the efforts to fine-tune the model, it was doomed by its fundamental flaws. It wasn’t until Copernicus doubted the implicit assumption of the Ptolemaic system (that other planets orbit the Earth) that astronomy was able to progress.
The concept of government is based on fundamental flaws that cannot be fixed or improved slowly over time. The system makes implicit assumptions that aren’t based on reality, and only by doubting those assumptions can we help humanity progress.
The implicit assumption of government is that aggressive coercion is necessary and beneficial to society. (Those words have a lot of connotations so let me define it once more: Coercion is "the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner by use of threats, intimidation, fraud, or some other form of pressure or force." Aggressive coercion means the initiation of such action against an innocent/non-coercive person.) I oppose the use of aggressive coercion not only because it is undesirable on the level of individual interactions, but more crucially because of the way it affects social structure. Yet when I explain this position to people, they often insist that I vote or get involved with politics to try to improve the government, or suggest I move to a country that doesn’t rely so heavily on the use of coercion. People overlook the fact that aggressive coercion is fundamental to the idea of government. Government cannot exist without forcing people to behave involuntarily using threats of violence. It can’t be fixed because if you fixed it, it would no longer be a government.
I don’t want to go into all the failings of aggressive coercion here, because I’ve written plenty about it in the past. The point of this post was simply that some systems have fundamental flaws, and it’s counter-productive to try to improve a system that’s based on incorrect assumptions. If you’re interested in the problems with coercion, or the solutions a free market produces, you might like some of my other posts:
I got the idea for comparing the fundamental problems of government to the Ptolemaic astronomical model from this fantastic video by Stefan Molyneux: