Logic And Society
Let us review some problems in logic. If it is assumed that “society” must provide a service to a person, then how far must society go to provide that service? Also, if a person is entitled to something, then do they have an obligation to society? How do you determine the limits of that obligation?
Take, for example, providing health care. How is health care defined? Must minor injuries be treated, or only major conditions? Go back to basic logic, meaning, model the situation in basic components. Go back to the simple village situation. What happens if there is one person who is a doctor? If every person is entitled to health care, then this doctor must provide that care. This doctor might be busy 24 hours a day. This might seem like a far-fetched situation, but logic must apply in every case. You cannot ignore the consequences of the logical system that you have set up just because they lead to ridiculous results.
If your base principle says that you are entitled to X, then there must be a way for X to be provided. You cannot simply say, “A tax will go to pay the medical bills.” This assumes 1) that enough taxes will be available, and 2) enough doctors will exist. What happens if 1 or 2 are false?
Mathematics is the pure expression of logic. Something that is mathematically proven must be true in all cases, no matter how extreme. For example, can I prove the assertion that all odd numbers larger than 2 are prime? Look at the first few primes larger than 2: 3, 5, 7. It looks like my assertion holds. Surely, there is no need to go to the next odd number, 9, and check if it is prime. This would be such an extreme case that we can ignore it. Thus, we will operate under the assumption that all odd numbers are prime. When we operate under a false assumption, we get unwanted situations.
If our health care assumption leads to unwanted situations in extreme cases, then there must, logically, be a flaw in our assumptions. If it fails at the extreme, then how far back do we pull away from the extreme until we find a regime that seems to pass? If 15 is not prime, but we pull back to 13, this seems to satisfy our assertion. Perhaps we can modify our claim and say all odd numbers less than 15 are prime. 11 satisfies this condition. So we are good on the low end of 3, 5, 7 and on the high end of 11, 13. Surely, 9 must also be prime.
What we have done is compromised our logic. We wanted something to be true. Then we modified the conditions to try to make reality fit what we wanted. But logic is a stubborn thing. When you have a patchwork system then you no longer have a logic. If you don’t have a logic then you can do anything and end up anywhere, even places you don’t want to go.
If we insist on sticking with our assumption that everyone is entitled to medical care, then we must do things to satisfy that condition. Perhaps we encourage people to become doctors by paying them more. This means higher taxes. But following logic, what happens if we still don’t have enough doctors? What happens if a doctor has been over worked and he decides he wants to take a day off? What happens if someone is injured during his time off? In order to satisfy our assumption, it would be logically valid to force the doctor, at gun point if need be, to help someone. Explain to me how this would not be permissible? Logic demands that it be so.
But perhaps you invoke another assumption. Namely, that a person has the right to decide what to do with their lives. But this assumption contradicts our first assumption. We have assumed A and also B. But, using logic, we have found that B implies not A. Formally,
It is a logical contradiction to have A Å ~A. So what we do is cross our fingers and hope that we never end up in the situation where B →~A.
But once we cross the line and go into the regime of contradiction, then we can justify anything. If I ask you to justify taxation to pay for some convoluted health care system, you cannot declare that it is because everyone is entitled to it. We have proven, logically, that this assumption leads to a contradiction. Unless we drop the assumption that people have the right to do what they want with their lives.
It is unlikely that we will get these kind of systems if we build them logically from the ground up. Instead, these kind of systems are built in a hodge-podge manner. We have touched on this briefly, but let us explore it more.
Many people believe that anything, including the complexities of human interaction, are subject to scientific investigation. Physics, as a comparison, is a science built in mathematics. The Holy Grail of physics is a theory that explains every sub field of physics with one unified theory. One set of assumptions and equations that can explain anything. One can image physics as a web. Everything, ultimately, is connected to everything else. If you are at the edge of the web, then perhaps you can change some assumption and it won’t affect something further along. Maybe I change Plank’s Constant and this does not change my calculations for the orbits of planets. The problem is that we have only a few assumptions and they are at the center of the web. If you change something deep in the web, then this will cascade outward. You cannot arbitrarily change something and expect no consequences. What you are doing is establishing your conclusions and trying to justify them by back-working to some premise.
Society is, indeed, a complex web. A system that is not founded on logical assumptions is not a coherent web. Rather, it is a disjointed collection of islands. Each of these islands is an issue or problem. You decide what a solution should be because it seems like a good idea and it seems like it should work. In math, once a theorem is proven it can be used to establish another theorem. Each idea is a brick that builds the structure of math. There is a solid chain of logic, going all the way to the base principles. But if one “theorem” is not valid, it leads to other invalid ideas. Eventually the entire structure collapses.
When you look at a problem in society and you establish a solution that is not logically founded, then you have laid another brick in the road to Hell. The road to Hell is paved by good intentions and the bricks crumble under your feet.
Getting back to our health care example, we have looked at it as an isolated idea, not connected to a foundation. We want the conclusion that health care must be provided. We do not care what logical principles lead to this conclusion. Thus this idea becomes a foundation of its own. As we have seen, logic dictates that force must, not may, be applied, if necessary, to satisfy this principle.
We can build corollaries to this “theorem.” If health care must be provided, then it logically follows that actions can be taken to control a person’s health. Prohibiting a person from smoking would, in some way, statistically improve their health and thus reduce their burden on the health care system, which leaves more care for others.
What we see here is the “system” is more important than the individual. At no point have we established the value of the person. It may seem that entitling a person to health care does this, but logic shows otherwise.
The reason for this can be found by following the premise backward. There is a flaw in the logic. An entitlement to health care logically requires that someone else take action to give it to you. This is a logically inescapable conclusion. Can you explain to me how you can be entitled to health care without someone else taking a positive action in order for you to have it? These things do not fall from the sky.
This “bad brick” leads to things like bans on smoking or bans on junk food. These things would seem ridiculous by themselves, but they are the logical consequences of bad premises. How far can you go with this? It can easily be argued that it could be economically feasible for officers to come into your house and look through your cupboards. This has already been proposed in UK. It may seem impossible, but why should it be? It logically follows that such a thing could legally happen. What principle would be violated?
When every issue in society is viewed as a case by case basis, there is no consistency. Without logical consistency anything can happen. A logical chain, starting from a bad premise, is supported by “studies” and justified by “the common good.” It requires a faith in “the system.” You cannot follow a path down to a base principle. What mathematical theorem is not supported by a series of logical steps, founded on base principles? What physics theory would survive if it could not be traced back to fundamental ideas? The only thing you have is the system because anything simpler than that falls apart immediately. The system is irreducibly complex.
This point is very important and bears repeating. A system (of laws in a society) that is not based on principles and build up logically is a system where anything can be justified. You can pick any issue or problem, decide that action X seems like a good idea, and do whatever you need to carry that out. That isolated island in the web is justified by any reason whatsoever. All you need is some “positive outcome” and you have justified the action. “The government has the right to do X because there will be some positive outcome Y.” This island rests on one flimsy justification, yet will go on to support a gigantic system. Much like a religious practice that is based upon some quote, taken out of context, in an old book.
But what are the base principles of a conservative libertarian? They are spelled out in the Declaration of Independence.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
There is a lot here, but there is a lot more to explore once we understand this. These ideas are not arbitrarily pulled from thin air. They are the summary of an entire philosophy. Let’s example each part of this.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” This means these are starting assumptions. They are axioms. They do not need to be proven, but this is not to mean that they can be arbitrarily replaced with anything. Speaking from a purely logical stand point, they could be. You could just as easily state, axiomatically, that white people are superior to anyone else, and then go from there. What we mean is that these principles are base, but are motivated by human history, logical consistency, and our ideas about what should be important with respect to humanity. Indeed, volumes have been written on the topic. For this introduction to the topic, we will take these ideas as well-motivated starting points.
“that all men are created equal,” Of course “men” can be replaced by “people” and nothing more need be said on the meaning of the word, taking into consideration the meaning of the word at the time and now. This is a profound starting assumption, but there is an important point that needs to be addressed. Critics would argue that the history of the United States is full of inequalities. We will not dispute history. But there is a distinction between the ideal and the reality. No system is perfect. No country is without sin. But it is profound that this principle be written as a founding idea for a society. All of the progress toward equality (whatever that means) in Western society might be good, but it is a founding principle in the Declaration of Independence. This means that it is not an isolated island in the web of society. In fact, this idea will be explored later, in an advanced topic dealing with the justification of actions that a society can take vis a vis national defense and the like.
“that they are endowed by their Creator” A favorite point of debate. Does a reference to a (some believe) nonexistent creator invalidate the belief system? Not at all. This is not a religious document. In the context of the time, belief in a Creator was a natural point of view. The more modern take on this idea is the belief in “Natural Rights,” meaning our rights are inherent to us as human beings. They are axiomatic, as stated. A reference to a Creator is a justification for them, but you can replace “creator” with “nature” and you get the same thing. Actually, in an advanced topic in the study of Progressivism, the rejection of God is part of the basis for the justification of the horrible actions taken by Progressives. In a nut shell the reason goes: “No God, not right, no wrong, no problem!”
“certain unalienable Rights,” These rights cannot be taken away. They exist above and beyond any government. These rights existed before government was created by Man and they will exist long after every capitol building has crumbled to dust. No justification by Man, not institution created by Man, can take these rights away. This is where we begin to see where Conservatives place their values. Not in the institutions created by humans, but in the principles that exist inherent in humanity. But remember these ideas must be logically consistent. This means these “certain” rights cannot be arbitrary. Logic demands certain constraints in them. For example, you cannot just make a wish list of goodies that you want, like health care. These rights must be basic and logical. The point here, though, is that these rights are rock solid and cannot be taken away. But again, volumes have been written on when and how a government can abridge a right. This is an advanced topic.
“that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Interestingly, this originally read “life, liberty, and property” because property rights are the foundation of freedom. But this was changed because, at the time, slaves were considered property, and it was feared that slavery might not be ended if “property” was written as an unalienable right. In other words, these words were chosen so as not to cement slavery as a principle. In any case, these are but three examples of rights. You might ask what is meant by “life,” “liberty,” and the “pursuit of happiness”? Here we begin to debate what the fundamental rights should be. Life. It should seem obvious that you are entitled to your own life. But it is not simply the biological action of life that is important. It is not enough that a person be allowed to merely be alive. He must have liberty. But what is liberty? A catch-all term for those things that are logically consistent? Viewing this mathematically, what are all of the logically consistent axioms that we can have? One thing we can do is test each new idea to see if it fits in the system. In other words, go down the “wish list” and see which ones fit logically. We can see later, through examples, which ideas should be included. But for now, the basic idea is that you can do anything you want as long as you don’t hurt other people or take their property. You are not entitled to the fruits of others’ labor.
“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men” This is the only justifiable reason for the existence of government. It exists to secure your rights. It does not exist to take my property and give it to you. It does not exist to provide you with the things you want. Before the government can pay someone a dollar it must first take that dollar from someone else. Government is a creation of people, and such a creation cannot supersede the basic rights that existed before it. A theorem cannot invalidate an axiom. How can you go to your neighbor, knock on his door, and say, “hello, I and a few other people made something called government. We are here to take your property.” The existence of government, to any level, must necessarily abridge your rights. The bigger the government, the more abridgment. Perhaps some small amount of government is a necessary evil, so the goal should be the minimization of government.
“deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” Here we see where government gets its authority. Note that government can only have “just” powers, meaning it shall not have arbitrary powers. Further, these powers come from the consent of the governed. But, logically, the more people you have, the more disagreement you have. Therefore, logically, in order to minimize the abridgment of your rights the government must be kept to a minimum. Furthermore, you cannot surrender your consent to an elected official. You cannot say, “well, it’s ok for government to take your property because you voted for your representative, and thus you vicariously agree with his actions.” This would be tantamount to voting for your slave master. Your rights still rest with you, and they cannot be watered down and passed along the food chain. It would be like declaring ketchup to be a vegetable since tomatoes were killed in the making of the product. In fact, the government did this very thing. Foolish, because we all know that tomatoes are a fruit.
“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” The people have the right, and perhaps the duty, to abolish a bad government. This goes beyond merely voting for new slave masters. Given the fact that rights exist independent of government, it follows that government is only a human creation, and thus has no inherent authority. History is littered with examples of tyrannical governments. Building a government from scratch is the last ditch, turn the power off and reboot, method of stopping tyranny. History is also littered with revolutions and the creation of new governments. I am not an expert in history, but, as far as I know, the US declaration of independence is a very modern, forward thinking, philosophy of humanity. There have been ideas before, like the Magna Carta, that talked about the idea of government not being all-powerful. Various, mostly Western, societies, like English common law, toy around with the ideas of citizens having inherent rights. But all of these still carry the baggage of the preexisting governments. The US Revolution was novel (as far as I know) in that the foundation of this government was starting from scratch, in a legal sense, yet still based on a history of a certain philosophy. In other words, they took the idea of the individual human being sovereign and decided to base a society on that. What would happen if you, as a free human being, had the right to do whatever you wanted with your life, as long as you didn’t infringe upon other people?
“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes;” They did not take this revolution lightly. They tried working in the system, and that failed. I don’t want this to be a history lesson, so I’ll move on.
“and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” People will get used to tyranny. It is easier to put up with the tyranny than to risk everything for freedom. Especially when people are kept content. In the Roman Empire it was bread and circuses. In the modern world, it is “free” health care and “free” education. Consider China, which we can agree is not the most free country. But there are a lot of people in China making money and living a nice life style. Would a typical Chinese person risk a good job, a house, and a first world life style for some esoteric ideas of free speech? Is it really worth it for the right to criticize government? It is a lot easier to just go along to get along, and argue about whether taxes should be 10% or 15%.
“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” Here is the justification for a revolution. People have the right to decide they don’t want to be ruled by a distant empire. Why should someone, living in a palace, on the other side of the planet, dictate to you how you live your life? What is the logic in saying that you, as a human being, are subject to the whims of some other human being, no matter how benevolent that person claims to be?
Remember that all of this is founded on much philosophy that came before it. But I believe you don’t have to be an expert on Enlightenment philosophy to understand the principles of freedom. You should also not confuse freedom with perfection. For example, a society with a lower crime rate is not necessarily better than one with a higher crime rate. You could make any number of parameters and rate a society on these, and then declare a “best.” But this is all irrelevant if you don’t reference base principles.
A comparison to religion comes to mind. Perhaps this would appeal to someone’s anti theistic proclivities. I have had the experience of arguing with theists about the existence of god. I assumed that I could appeal to logic and lay out the basic nature of thought, the universe, and how one could understand the universe. I thought that someone could accept the premises and follow the logic. What I found, instead, was people would stare blankly, think for a moment, and then declare that none of that mattered and they still believed in god. It was as simple as that. It did not matter what I said because they already made up their minds.
I find this same response when trying to explain the concepts of freedom, natural law, and individual sovereignty. A part of the problem is the lack of common understanding of the words. I assumed that people would know what I mean by freedom. Further, I assumed that people would agree that freedom, as I knew it, was a good thing. It turns out that both of these assumptions are not true. What is most disturbing is when I find people who actually oppose freedom.
Usually I would try to explain the concepts of freedom, the base principles from which these ideas arise, and then the person would say something like, “Well that doesn’t matter because it is still right that we provide free (health care, education, welfare, whatever) for people.” People are not interested in believing in basic principles of right and wrong and then following the logic from there. People much prefer to take things case by case, regardless of the consequences.
It would be like teaching a math class, proving the Pythagorean theorem, and having someone say, “well I just feel like this right triangle’s sides should be 3, 4, and 6.” How do you argue with someone like that? We are no longer in the realm of teaching and explaining. We are not in the realm of, “oh my god, this person is allowed to handle sharp objects!”
Theoretically, a limited government, free society would allow for people to believe whatever they want. You can believe in stupid, destructive things, but it doesn’t affect me. But a government with more power needs to try to appeal to people by pandering to their misguided beliefs. In a limited government, people can want your property, but the most they could do is try to steal it from you, and you have the police or your own defense to protect your property. But in a big government, politicians will try to appeal to these people by promising to steal your property on their behalf. So now you are in a position where you have given these people the ability to affect your life.
Would it be right to take everyone in a neighborhood, pool their incomes, and then elect a 3 person committee to decide how that money will be spent? Seriously consider this idea. In most neighborhoods, the income is probably within a narrow range. Let’s say you make $100 k per year, while other people make between $90 k and $110 k. This committee will decide what car you can buy, how much you can spend on a TV, groceries, or anything. Would you say this is outrageous? What if the money is merely split evenly among everyone? I bet the person making $90 k would approve of this. If you think this scenario is outrageous, what if only 50% of your money is pooled? What about 5%? What is the difference between a small committee in your neighborhood versus a city council, or a state government, or a federal government? Why is it so outrageous on one scale, but perfectly reasonable on the other?
It is easy to get lost in the weeds here. You could say the difference is blah blah blah. It doesn’t matter. Remember from the discussion on logic that it is always possible to find some kind of justification for a government action. But how does this situation look when referenced to base principles? Perhaps an allegory would best illustrate this lesson.
Continued in chapter 2.