October 31, 2012

"We're so used to seeing people act under a system of government rules that it's easy to assume that without the rules..."

"... everything would descend into chaos. But perhaps free people are generally capable of acting decently on their own. Of course, that's never going to be universal; but then, people break the law too. In fact, a dense set of rules tempts people to see how close to (or how far across) the borderline of legality they can go without being penalized. In the absence of governmental laws, people might focus more on other kinds of laws: social norms and ethics."

Writes my son John, one of the many people who live south of 25th Street in Manhattan.

69 comments:

Nathan Alexander said...

Word.

rhhardin said...

If ten million people are hit with a disaster, right away you have ten million aid-givers.

As in Katrina, in Mississippi; but not New Orleans.

You can dependency people out of it.

Nonapod said...

I'm mostly a libertarian but I'm not big on the whole Anarcho-capitalism thing. It sort of worked in Medieval Iceland for a while I guess.

bagoh20 said...

Yes, we follow most rules out of respect for each other. That in effect allows the government to impose overbearing rules that we would individually object to. They use our respect for each other to disrespect us, and allow us to steal from the unseen other - the evil 1%, the super rich, the lucky bastards, those other people we don't know, and don't have to face.

Lem said...

But perhaps free people are generally capable of acting decently on their own.

'If people act decently they didn't do it on their own...'

President Obama.

Foobarista said...

I'm a Madisonian: if all men were angels, there'd be no need for government. That said, government is a necessary evil, which is why there should be no more of it than absolutely necessary.

It certainly shouldn't be a charity with nukes or the world's biggest and most powerful "nonprofit", which is how some people think of it.

Paddy O said...

Nicely said.

In essence, that's what I think Jesus was getting at (as well as Paul in the letter to the Romans). The Law is actually constraining, we live in it and also push against it, it restricts but also serves as a guide for what to do wrong. The way of Christ is one of freedom, all things are possible but not all things are beneficial--so we are called in our freedom to live as free people in a community, working for the sake of others in such freedom and in expressing this out of freedom rather than the law, we become transformed and transform our context.

Rumpletweezer said...

Isn't it obvious that the more complex society gets, the simpler the rules need to be? Must just be me.

Erika said...

Yeah, duh.

TWM said...

Nice thoughts, but Katrina/New Orleans is the more likely senario than Sandy/NYC during a major disaster. Sandy as bad as she was is not that kind of disaster.

bagoh20 said...

As always, it's the golden rule that will cause the greatest good with the least evil in balance.

Nonapod said...

Isn't it obvious that the more complex society gets, the simpler the rules need to be? Must just be me.

Well I'd argue it's really the more affluent or wealthy a society gets, the less government we need. People with lots of stuff tend to care less about other peoples stuff and tend to be more generous with their own property and time.

Chris said...

I've always found something similar in this argument made by statists who fear less government and the "but if there's no god, why would you be good?" arguments made by religious people who fear less religion. I don't think it's all that profound, but it is interesting that most people who seem to buy one argument don't buy the other. As long as you have your omnipotent master...

Eustace Chilke said...

Big laws should be few and general in nature and accommodate more specific and changeable laws as necessary. The guiding principle should be elegant simplicity. The absolute minimum to enable the smooth functioning of civil society is the goal.

This is only a fantasy of course. Such a system requires the services of few intellectuals and professional meddlers. Those two types will always fuck it up and employ the consequences of their own interference to complicate things endlessly.

It's like Mark Twain said about Huck Finn's father. You could reform him with a shotgun maybe but less drastic measures were useless.

FloridaSteve said...

You've raised a smart lad. Very well put.

Eric said...

That boat has sailed, John. As Franklin said:

"Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters."

We've spent the last hundred years destroying what was American civil society, replacing societal norms with (less efficient) laws. Without the heavy hand of the state a certain percentage of the population would go berserk.

Dave said...

Well stated, cultural norms are in some ways more important than laws of the state.

Chip S. said...

I think John A. has bumped into Ronald Coase and Friedrich Hayek. Which is good company to keep.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

In a BIG disaster, there is always going to be a need for government to take care of certain things. But those should be only for the BIG stuff. Like cleaning out the subways or repairing the roads or making sure that sanitation doesn't go to hell and everyone doesn't catch Thyphoid. The macro stuff.

The government should step out of the way and let charities and people band together on local and take care of the micro stuff.

The problem is that government has squeezed out the 'grassroots' efforts and has actually made it illegal in some cases to offer assistance.

Big is not better. People will generally band together in hard times and cooperate with each other. Will there be some bad actors, looters, con games? Of course. But not as much as you might think.

clint said...

It depends a lot on the people. New Yorkers are a special breed. When the lights go out and civilizations collapses, New Yorkers band together and make do. In other cities, riots and looting break out.

Amexpat said...

But to live outside the law, you must be honest

TWM said...

"It depends a lot on the people. New Yorkers are a special breed. When the lights go out and civilizations collapses, New Yorkers band together and make do. In other cities, riots and looting break out."

Short-term, maybe. In the end though you'll be eating each other just like the rest of us.

hombre said...

IF men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.
- Madison, The Federalist, #51

furious_a said...

As always, it's the golden rule...

...and, in extremis, (e.g., Korean shopkeepers during the Rodney King riots), the Second Amendment.

Oso Negro said...

clint said...
"It depends a lot on the people. New Yorkers are a special breed. When the lights go out and civilizations collapses, New Yorkers band together and make do. In other cities, riots and looting break out."

Bold talk on the second day without power. It should be interesting in Alphabet City after the first week without electricity.

Oso Negro said...

clint said...
"It depends a lot on the people. New Yorkers are a special breed. When the lights go out and civilizations collapses, New Yorkers band together and make do. In other cities, riots and looting break out."

Bold talk on the second day without power. It should be interesting in Alphabet City after the first week without electricity.

LordSomber said...

I think he's just stating the obvious. Or what should be obvious.

m stone said...

'If people act decently they didn't do it on their own...'

-President Obama.


I assume he never said that, but I'm believing otherwise at this point.

Alex said...

Libertarianism is not about having no emergency services. It's about saying those emergency services would get plenty funded if you stopped taxing for government.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

Governmental laws are assumed to be everywhere by *most* people.

In the absence of those laws, coupled with the absence of the concept of property rights, then yes, you could argue for a chaos scenario.

I submit that governmental laws came after property rights; that property rights by themselves provide some boundary lines; and that *free men* understand this.

In this instance, *free men* is a term/concept that includes men and women that respect others and are free of entitlement mentality/thought. Therefore, they share a respect that doesn't need policing.

Calypso Facto said...

Welcome to the Libertarian Party, John.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

rhhardin

Excellent example.

Once poisoned by the entitlement mentality, a person is reduced to the mental state of a child.

Hagar said...

It's a fact that of all the cities I have driven in, I felt safest in Chicago. The drivers there have obviously conluded that they are all in this soup together, and consideration for others and cooperation is essential for the common survival.

And that surely cannot derive from their form of government.

Bryan C said...

"But perhaps free people are generally capable of acting decently on their own."

Of course they are. That's where our government comes from, after all. Of the people, by the people, and for the people. And in the absence of existing organizational structures people will naturally self-organize.

Carl said...

There's some very sound research that shows that when there are fewer traffic signs, people drive more carefully.

Carl said...

Not to mention the logical inconsistency of saying, usually in the same breath, that (1) people are generally incapable of governing themselves, but (2) they are generally capable of choosing others to govern them.

That's as logical as saying I may be very gullible in money -- easy prey for con men -- but I'm perfectly capable of picking out a responsible manager of my money. I can be conned on something about which I know a lot -- my immediate financial affairs -- but I can't be conned on something about which I know less -- whether someone else will manage them responsibly or not.

This is logically incoherent. I realize that doesn't bother the left, which is almost defined by the characteristic of believing men should not be cruelly enchained by mere grubby logic, but for more reasonable people, the prescription should be that if you cannot govern yourself you are ipso facto incapable of participating in government at all -- you cannot govern others.

So let us all embrace the welfare state, and all that government does for us. But let all who do so surrender their right to vote, because you can't have it both ways. Either you are self-governing, or you are dependent.

Revenant said...

We'll make a libertarian out of John yet.

Bryan C said...

"Short-term, maybe. In the end though you'll be eating each other just like the rest of us."

Eh. I think you'll find that in every case of natural disaster the chaotic and panicked are far outnumbered by the calm and rational. The bad guys get the press because the press thinks it's exciting.

Especially when the calm and rational make it very clear that antisocial behavior will not be tolerated. That's why shooting looters, for example, has always been the most responsible policy.

RecChief said...

Chaos Reigns in Brooklyn-
Chaos reigns in Brooklyn, N.Y. as major storm Sandy’s savage assault on the area left some of the residents free to loot Coney Island.
On Tuesday morning, the Mega Aid Pharmacy found the store’s interior destroyed and more than 10,000 pharmaceutical items stolen by looters. Most of the stolen goods were prescription medicines.




Other shops on Mermaid Avenue also suffered; one worker at Mega Aid said, "The water went away and these people started walking down the streets and just robbed stores."

The pharmacy's manager, Stan Gutkin, was disconsolate: "I don't even know what it's going to take until we're operational. This breaks the business. I don't even know where to start." Reports said that looters stole from banks, pharmacies, and other shops.




Even the police acknowledged how bad the situation was. One officer said, "It's getting dark, and it's real dangerous out here -- that's why there's a cop on every block.”




At the Ocean Towers housing project, two women got in a fistfight while other residents threw objects at the police who tried to stop the fight. One resident said, "People are turning on each other -- they're attacking each other. Even when there's no disaster, this building is disastrous. But after the hurricane, it just got crazy.”

William Bigelow, Big Government

Nora said...

I think people frequently mix up govermental rules with law.
This is a problem of big government: they produce so many rules and regulation that I have a feeling that I'm breaking one regulation, or the other. So it brings me to not caring at all.

Zach said...

The day after a major disaster might be a bad day to draw conclusions. Everybody's disoriented; schedules and priorities are in flux. Is it really the end of the world if you let someone else through the intersection first?

In a month or so, people will adapt and resume their normal selfish ways. *That's* when you want to start drawing conclusions.

Carol said...

Rec, perhaps there is a demographic component.

holdfast said...

Most people are mostly decent, most of the time. We have (or should have) societal norms, and ways of shaming people, to "encourage" the others to act decently, even if they don't feel it.

Formal laws are also important in a complex and dense society, but few and clear laws are still best.

You can legislate against certain things (looting, murder, arson) but you cannot effectively legislate charity and kindness. Either your society and culture fosters those things or its doesn't. I would argue that a very pervasive, high-tax nanny state works against those things - when your paycheck has already been pillaged by the taxman, it's harder to convince people to give a lot of time and/or money to charity.

It also doesn't help that in NYC, the only civilians who are well armed are the crooks.

traditionalguy said...

The removal of orderd authority always results in a jungle where survival skills are tested.

The next ordered authority is soon welcomed, but the meantime it's every man for himself.

These NYC guys have been their own authority so far. NYC is a special place.

Mitch H. said...

You don't see how people act well in the absence of government, because those viable cultures which creates the social norms which might make anarchy tolerable also tends to instantaneously generate governance in its temporary absence. It's called emergent order, but the chaos has to be seeded with the right ingredients. A chaos riven with terminal or sick cultural memes will roil with violence and destruction until those cultural elements which can generate order precipitate out of the mess.

"It depends a lot on the people. New Yorkers are a special breed. When the lights go out and civilizations collapses, New Yorkers band together and make do. In other cities, riots and looting break out."

It's been less than thirty-five years since the smoke of the burning Bronx darkened the boroughs downwind. Have they forgotten already?

Nevermind, I see people are already linking stories of societal disorder in southern Brooklyn. New York City is particularly unsuited for the graceful sufferance of protracted periods of disorder. The shear multiplicity of cultural fragments almost dictates rapid-fire jostling and conflict in the absence of big government-style imposed order.

garage mahal said...

This hurricane really brought Chris Christie and Barack Obama together. They really need to get a room. Jeez Louise!

chickelit said...

But perhaps free people are generally capable of acting decently on their own.

If people can't control themselves, the government will. If the government can't control itself, another government will.

Marshal said...

I've always found it revealing that the left seeks to strengthen rules requiring cooperation but weaken those governing outright harm. For example, they want to fund "charity" via government so they can use IRS enforcement mechanisms. But at the same time they want to reduce sentences for virtually all non-financial crimes.

Put shorter, they want to force non-criminals to do what they want, but actual criminals they're much more ambivalent about. It takes a strange sort of mind to conclude America would be better off if only we exert more control over what the law abiding citizens do.

cassandra lite said...

From 1992-1994 in Southern California, I personally experienced a giant conflagration, a massive earthquake, and deadly flooding. All technology and services were disrupted, yet the social order held. In fact, everyone seemed to feel a heightened sense of community.

But the 1992 riots were an entirely different matter. The moment they started, even people on the tony west side were throwing others out of the way and driving crazily on sidewalks to get far, far away. It was as close to Lord of the Flies as I've ever seen.

cassandra lite said...

From 1992-1994 in Southern California, I personally experienced a giant conflagration, a massive earthquake, and deadly flooding. All technology and services were disrupted, yet the social order held. In fact, everyone seemed to feel a heightened sense of community.

But the 1992 riots were an entirely different matter. The moment they started, even people on the tony west side were throwing others out of the way and driving crazily on sidewalks to get far, far away. It was as close to Lord of the Flies as I've ever seen.

bagoh20 said...

"This hurricane really brought Chris Christie and Barack Obama together"

Think about that dynamic for a second and you realize it mostly demonstrates that Christie is a damned good man. Christie helped enormously the campaign of a man he does not want to win.

Obama needed that for himself, Christie needed it for his people, even if it's damaging to his future with the GOP. That's character.

bagoh20 said...

"But the 1992 riots were an entirely different matter."

There was another side as well. The day after the riots ended, I took my whole family including 2 young kids down to ground zero to help people down there clean up. There were hundreds of people just on the street we were on with brooms and garbage bags, just cleaning up store fronts and broken glass all day long. Not an organized effort either. It was just spontaneous with people showing up wanting it to be healed. It was a great thing to see after all the terrible images of the previous days. Korean, and Black store owners were shaking hands and thanking people.

ricpic said...

There's quite a bit of looting going on. Shooting the looters would help. Sometimes the beautiful people must be saved from the consequences of their highly evolved sensitivities.

edutcher said...

They had a saying during the California Gold Rush, "We never needed law until the lawyers came".

That, however, seemed to only apply to the people who were willing to play by the rules.

For the roughs, they had the Vigilantes.

pm317 said...

In the absence of governmental laws, people might focus more on other kinds of laws: social norms and ethics."

Is this discussion analogous to 'is religion necessary for morality?'

Joe said...

It depends a lot on the people. New Yorkers are a special breed. When the lights go out and civilizations collapses, New Yorkers band together and make do. In other cities, riots and looting break out.

So special that in 1977, they rioted during a 24-hour blackout.

(In fact, New Yorkers have a long history of rioting.)

AF said...

He's talking about the traffic lights going out. I doubt that even the most die-hard libertarian would question the wisdom of traffic lights. They save lives and they save time. The fact that the streets don't turn into a demolition derby without them hardly means they aren't a good thing.

Dante said...

In fact, a dense set of rules tempts people to see how close to (or how far across) the borderline of legality they can go without being penalized.

What is a "dense set of rules?" I suspect what he means is a bunch of law that has had the living shit gerrymandered out of it. I suppose with corporate law, or wealthy individuals who are in touch with the law, may care about this.

But for normal folks? It merely makes it so they don't know what the rules are.

That's why there ought to be clear bright lines. I'm even willing to allow some unfairness. Life is unfair. For instance, my alcoholic, 2 pack a day smoking evil grandfather lived to 80, but my caring, loving, clean living grandfather died a horrible death by cancer at 73.

It's arrogant that lawyers, or anyone else, thinks they can make law, or anything, "fair" in the large sense. Sure, egregious behavior can be sorted out, but in general not.

Oso Negro said...

And apparently looting breaks out in New York, too. Oh well, so much for brotherhood and goodness.

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/looters-target-coney-island-sandy-article-1.1195080

RonF said...

Get rid of the laws against concealed - or even open - carry and you'll be surprised at how polite everyone will get all of a sudden.

RonF said...

I think that it was pretty ironic that a) all the Dems are jumping on Romney for saying that more use of non-Federal governmental actors in emergency situations while b) Obama gives his big talk about the aid being given in NY/NJ at the Red Cross - a private not-for-profit, precisely what Romney was talking about - and not at FEMA HQ.

Eric said...

Life is unfair. For instance, my alcoholic, 2 pack a day smoking evil grandfather lived to 80, but my caring, loving, clean living grandfather died a horrible death by cancer at 73.

Not giving a shit about anybody but yourself is a huge stress reducer.

Dante said...

I would like to share a couple of personal episodes that make me proud.

The first is my gggg grandfather on my mothers side (he). It's documented, even!

One winter night, in Kansas, a group of Indians came to his house. They had lost their horses, and so he gave them some. People in the town thought he was crazy. But in the spring, one morning, he found several ponies had been put there. That's honor That's compassion.

When I was a child, I went to a nearly all black school. A black guy threw a ball at a huge, white guy's back, and the big white guy didn't like bullshit. In class, with 28 blacks, one guy was yelling "Bull!" "Bull!" while the other 28 tried to tear him down like a bunch of hyenas. The black teacher was putting the kabash on the white guy too, who was clearly in pain, like a hippo being attacked by a pack of dogs. I offered up a defense, which was that the ball had bounced off the guys back. It wasn't the whole truth, because I still recall with my eyes the black guy winding up, and with perfect precision, throwing the ball with maximum strength at the big, fat white guy, hitting him square in the back, and then claiming, along with the entire class, that the action was on James' part.

As a child of 11, the smallest in the school (I'm regular size now, thanks), I couldn't stand the injustice.

I now see that whole episode through a different prism. Certainly, the blacks despised anyone who would dare stand up as an individual, as is so often the case with group think. But more importantly, I think those people had pain. They were at the age at which they realized they were substandard. Their parents had to live off of others.

How much pain can their be as a child to realize that your god is not only human, but also dependent? I think the pain is unbearable. I think that pain leads to anger, and in particular destructive, violent anger.

Leftists have tried to assuage that feeling, but in my view there is only one answer. Humility, followed by standing up. That is the theft of the left, keeping people in this state. Saying it's not your fault, generation after generation. And for what?

I know first hand that there is compassion even in that hell's kitchen. In places you don't expect it. By people you don't expect it from.

Here is what is important: expecting the best of people always. From their own inner feelings, and make it clear that's what is valued. And when they aren't, when they cross the line (not like Farmer, the self describe asshole), remove them.

Blue@9 said...

I recall a few years ago a Scandinavian town ran an experiment and removed all traffic lights and signs. Result? People drove slower and paid more attention and there were fewer accidents.

In a polite society, people tend to work things out, driven by equal parts self and communal interest. And contrary to some claims, Americans are a polite people.

Oso Negro said...

http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/11/01/reports-fistfights-guns-gas-stations-shortages-Sandy

leslyn said...

@Marshal: You can steal more money with a briefcase than you can with a gun.

leslyn said...

Sure, that idea would work great on Wall Street. Ethics and social norms. Let's try it again!

leslyn said...

@Dante: Are you shitting me?

Claudio Timbers said...

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