Category Archives: I have no idea how to categorize this

Random thoughts on “state of nature” arguments for the state

We can find some pretty awful things in untechnological “primitive” societies.  (I remember vividly as a Christian youth being shown a Moody documentary showing that in many places in the world, the so-called “primitives” were actually the descendants of great advanced civilizations.  But let that go for now.)  But what you don’t find is a group of rational individualists.  Ever.

To read the usual suspects, people in nature are eating machines.  They are self-preservers.  The are unrelated by nature.  Society and the state (to all practical purposes identical in this theory) form by contractual negotiation.

But in the real nature, people are children and then parents.  Typically they are spouses of some sort.  They form tribes.  They speak a common language.  (In Liberia, West Africa, where I grew up there were many languages in an incredibly small area.  You spoke a completely different language from people who lived only five miles away.  Tribal identities are stronger than any Hitler Youth program.)  People have familial and gender identities.

Reading the Bible, or ancient Greek literature, one doesn’t find much evidence of any time of individualist anarchy.  People seem to come ready-made into families which then form larger units.  Conquest is a part of this “state-formation” from very early, but not from the beginning.

Today, laws about seditious speech are unique to the State.  But originally, the laws about the civil authorities were simply a version of the same principle that could be enforced for a family.  “Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death” (Exodus 21.17).  Civil authority did not spring up in competition to family authority (in principle–I’m sure in practice there were all sorts of conflicts).  Society and the state, if it should even be called “the state,” seemed to have a congruence.

Of course, when one approaches political organizations approaching the size and scope of the modern state, then conquest and aggression as well as calculated contracts for the common good, probably played an important part.  But my point is that enlightenment political theory didn’t start with families, tribes, or villages.  It started with naked individuals.  It started with fictions.  Naked indivduals have parents and learn a language from them.

This leads me to think about the modern state and the way it is taking shape in our life.  It seems to me that any rational description of what the modern state does is create “the state of nature”–first by stripping away the normal identities one finds in stateless society and then by making life nasty, brutish and short.  Individualism is a state-invention.

It also leads me to suspect that one need not be a libertarian or a philosophical individualist to oppose the state.  One need not oppose the recognition of private property, the institution of marriage, or the enforcement of justice to oppose the state.

Just as one need not oppose all mail carrying enterprises to oppose the U.S. Postal Service.

Being thankful you were a fool

I had a short story idea this morning. Though it gripped me more than just that.

I’m thinking some magicians/scientists experiment with a guy and throw him back in time to the early nineties. So he suddenly gets to deal with all the things he did wrong in his life. The main thing he does is work really hard making money and making connections. It helps that he has a vague idea to invest in AOL and Amazon and Google and oil and when to pull out. But the main issue is that he really keeps his eye on getting ahead. Rather than writing for “religious right” publications as much, he really leveraged everything he had to write for businesses.

So he really gets ahead with his wife, since he was thrown back to about the time he got married. Things seem very ideal to him. He moves to Nashville, right on schedule, but is able to actually buy a house, something that had never happened the first time around. His wife seem a lot less stressed than he remembered. Everything is working out.

And then his wife gets pregnant. How did that happen? Before, it took them two years to conceive, and they did so after leaving Nashville. So who is this child going to be? And it turns out to be a girl, whereas before his firstborn was a boy. His wife and he discuss names and all the ones he always wanted for a daughter, ones she expected him to use, he refuses. He knows a girl who will be born who should get those names and then another after for the third favorite candidate.

Or will she? Suddenly it becomes obvious that his ideal life is not one he can share with the actual children he knew and loved and was hoping to do better for. They are gone, annihilated, never existed. They never will. He gets new children now. Wonderful happy and much better supported children. And he has trouble looking at them some times. He wants the four he had before.

And something else starts to break apart. His wife starts complaining because he’s not the man she married. She married an idealist and, once his weird explanations for his sudden change in pursuits wear out, she feels like he is someone else. He doesn’t handle this well at all. He tells her she doesn’t know what she wants or how miserable she would be. Of course, he is the one that is miserable now.

What would I call this story? “Same Stream Twice” has a ring to it. “Wishing I Could be Stupid Again” might work. “Preferring Potterville” might work if “It’s a wonderful life” is still remembered. Some reference to Zuzu’s petals should be included.

My sons talk to me about how great the world would be if Adam never sinned. But I point out to them that they would never see it. That other timeline would have other people in it.

And it even works to an extent in an individual’s autobiography. You can’t help but have regrets. But ultimately it is impossible to hate your life decisions without hating yourself and the person you have become.  A different life would mean different relationships and ultimately a different self. And there is no point in hating yourself. That never works. Wanting to improve yourself and avoid repeating past mistakes presupposes just the opposite.

Reading Joel

I had seen these but not had the time to read them until Cynthia Nielson directed me back. But please read his rational animality post as a great entry alluding at issues I was trying to address in this post thinking about the “brain body” model of educational films and stuff in Theology After Wittgenstein. It’s a pretty similar deal, I think, distancing our true selves “in our heads” from our bodies. And even roboticizing our bodies, translating nerves as wires, etc, seems like a suppression of our animals selves.

And, related in some way, Bob, you’ll want to read this.

Oh, something completely off the cuff: It is pretty common to divide adults into the physical sort who don’t imagine much and others who are passive and do a lot of that sort of “brain” work.  But what about children.  It seems to me that often the child whose mind is always wondering is also the one who doesn’t want to sit still for any length of time.

OK, I’m too tired to be blogging.  Signing off.

Quick note

Jandy totally scooped WebbAlert on the photo-alteration. By six days! (and showed some actual ethical concern as well)  If you want breaking news, subscribe to her feed.

And by the way, if you decide to subscribe to the podcast of WebbAlert, be careful with the pause feature.  Apparantly, Webb is so expressive that her eyes momentarily role back entirely into her head on occasion.  This is unnoticeable normally.  But if you pause at the wrong second you are suddenly staring at a horrifying pupilless, toothless zombie creature.  It’s like something out of the X-files.

What was I whining about again?

Remember Calvin’s classmate who is fighting cancer?  Well, yesterday their house burned down.  Unbelievable.  I wonder if it happened right while I was blogging about how tough life is for us.  Right now, not twelve hours later, my life looks like a cakewalk!

(I don’t even know what a cakewalk is, but that’s what things seem like right now.  Please pray for the family.)