Thursday, April 3, 2014

Groping toward Utopia

Even someone who embraces the current dominant paradigm of politics will admit that an enormous gap lies between the status quo and any imagined utopia. We have plenty of room for improvement and innovation in society.
Those who understand politics well must increase their estimate of this gap. Politics tends to stifle innovation, to wear out people who want to try something new, by forcing them to fight a tug-o-war over shared policies. The system shrugs them off and continues as before.
If you believe Hayek, your estimate gets larger still. He encouraged scepticism in regard to theories and abstractions, and toward our ability to predict and understand large complex social phenomena. The limits of central planning generalize to any designed social system. The difficulty of gathering, integrating, and processing the necessary information limits us to decentralized approaches. Allow each individual to respond to local conditions and the system will learn.
So utopias serve as a direction rather than a destination, a reason for acting more than an understanding of the final outcome, an inspiration for experiments from which we must learn and correct our ideas instead of a certainty. Utopia can inspire us to cross the stream, but cannot show us which rocks to step on.
My utopia contains people who cooperate with each other, not coercing each other. Coercion poisons empathy, corrupts integrity, and perverts loyalty. Cooperation enables these, and leaves room for inspiration.
It's not clear to me how we could eliminate coercion, or that it is entirely possible in all cases. But I know it is worth investigating and we can learn from trying new things. We can know what direction to explore, without knowing our exact destination.
Many recent social and technological developments empower individuals in ways we could hardly have imagined 20 years ago, both as individuals and as members of firms, organizations, or groups. [e.g. The Internet, cell phones, BitTorrent, bitcoin, Wikipedia, open source software, P2P, etc.] When such secrets reveal themselves, we do not forget them.
I want more. I hope for more. And I hope our imagination will catch up with our potential soon. Government does more to block experiments than to enable social learning. Still, we can do what we can do. We have examples to follow. With our utopia to guide us, we know why we act and which direction to explore: more cooperation.

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