Radical Positivism

Open to all,

its definitive credo is:

Universal human progress by private and voluntary means.


Species, Specimen, Predation, and Providence

(Provisional Draft)

The specimen is the means by which the species prosecutes its destiny.

During what has been termed the short century just behind us, we tried to ignore that. We exalted the Mass Man and asserted that individuals could lead significant and meaningful lives only as members, that is, functionary derivatives, of mass movements. The individualist would be crushed by sheer weight of numbers, particularly organized numbers, in every case.

Attempts to institute that sort of regime foundered on an ironic contradiction. A mass of humanity without organization is a mob, a leaderless crowd, a perfect anarchy. In anarchic situations, each individual is forced to look to personal welfare to avoid extermination. In order to realize the strengths and benefits of coalition, organization had to be imposed. The crowds had to have leaders at least, and, at best, hierarchies and organizational structures. There had to be differentiation among individuals, some to be elevated to positions of authority and leadership, others to submit even when they disagreed with particular decisions.

The maintenance of group cohesion, the numerical component of group power, required the discipline of submissiveness in detail matters for the sake of larger objectives. Subordination and submissiveness inherently imply distinctions among individuals, some to designate and specify and others to implement without recalcitrance. Leadership status itself became the object of individual competitions: Primates characteristically compete for dominance and submit to other primates only as a matter of temporary expediency. Secret purposes and acts of insubordination abound.

As between individual and collectivism, ours is a somewhat ambiguous species. We are not as socialistic as honeybees. We are not as individualistic as grizzly bears. We are more nearly ambivalent between the two strategies, and we are therefore more frequently confused as to which predominates within us. The confusion exists within individuals, but it also manifests itself strongly across collective groupings. At extremes will be misanthropes on the one side and inveterate anthropophiles on the other, the hermit and the social butterfly. Nearer the mean sentiment are more equivocal individuals, with one characteristic or the other predominating. The debate over where the exact and presumably ideal balance lies goes on without cessation. There is strength in numbers, but superior organization can overcome that strength, and numbers cannot in any case be maintained without some organization. Context and mode of endeavor are relevant: An attractive parade requires a very high level of regimentation lest it become the prowling march of a mob. But in other endeavors, particularly intellectual ones, participants have a need to withdraw and ponder in private what exposure to others' ideas may inspire.

Warfare and response to disaster are the most intense and compelling contexts humans encounter. General opinion notes the advantages of numbers plus organization, and professional soldiers and relief workers have a horror of disorganization. In practice, however, a leavening of discipline with individual inspiration and initiative, and latitude to pursue them, has often been demonstrated to be the superior strategy. In military endeavors, formations of soldiers habituated to doing nothing unless told to do something, to an organizational structure in which all not made mandatory is forbidden, have been proven vulnerable to neutralization by the expedient of eliminating leaders. Without orders, such armies become helpless aggregations of ineffective implements, like saws and hammers without hands to guide them. During the Second World War, there was a broadly subscribed judgment that armies of democracies' citizen-soldiers, people acculturated to a degree of individualistic opportunism, outperformed rigidly disciplined formations or those composed of people whose civilian lives had habituated them to doing nothing unless ordered.

People coalesce in crisis and disperse in security. Warfare and natural disasters inspire coalition. In such dire emergencies, organization is the prevailing theme, individual initiative the expedient exceptional one. But it is fallacious to infer that the balance that works best in dire circumstances would work best in all circumstances. There is a reason people disperse in the absence of common threat, just as there is a reason people coalesce in its presence. We may trust our primal intuitions in this case: The optimal behavior pattern in some circumstances is not necessarily optimal in others. We disperse in the absence of peril because that is the more expedient course. We subtract emphasis from organization and add it to individual endeavor in the absence of emergencies because that works better.

If we want to maintain a broad and general perspective, we are next forced to ask whether the average human life is more, or less, conducted in peril. The answer is less, and lesser as the natural course of events progresses.

If our planetary environment were unmanageably hostile to us, we would not be here. Other creatures might be, but we would not. Our planetary environment generally favors our kind. Our distant Paleolithic ancestors were ill-favored for constant harsh environments, and many individuals and groups perished due to rigors encountered. Were the challenges incrementally harsher, a species as physically unfavored as ours would probably have gone extinct. The general environment was, on balance, just favorable enough that, instead, our kind multiplied.

We are not entirely our embarrassed physical attributes. We humans had a unique and significant mental advantage, the capacity for abstract thought, eventually verbalized abstract thought. Creatures wiggle to meet environmental challenges and exploit environmental opportunities. Living beings whose species survive meet environment at least halfway, and typically manage more than a balance of advantage over detriment. Our species' specimens were particularly apt at such maneuvering due to their distinctive mental capacities. Ever so slowly benefiting from the originally thin margin of advantage over detriment, and accumulating advantage in the form of lore and physical amenities over time, we wrought adaptations and transformations on our environment to enhance our advantage, much as beavers do. We increased our margin of prevalence over adversity and our margin of exploitation of advantage, creating a new and generally more benign environment for each succeeding generation. To be sure, warfare, natural disaster, and, eventually, conceptual errors impeded our progress, but our talents were sufficient to maintain, on average, a course of increasing expediency and benefit. And here we are today, more than six billion of us and increasing in numbers, about half of us enjoying at least material circumstances the consensus deems adequate, the other half yet to do so. But a few centuries ago, most lived in what we would now consider practically impossible misery, and only a few enjoyed adequacy. Exceptions, where adequacy was generally achieved, were isolated and incidental. Only now do we appear within reach of worldwide adequacy.

General adequacy is not achieved by natural disaster, or inherently destructive warfare, or even passive maintenance of a balance with environment. It is achieved by meeting environment halfway and more, turning opportunity to advantage. Adequacy does not cascade down upon us, as envisioned by the Eden legend. It does not trickle down parsimoniously but tolerably. It results from our reaching upwards, following behavior patterns of productivity restrained by prudence.

In the so-called developed societies, the general removal from so-called natural conditions is extreme. In such societies, most people now live in municipal and municipally organized rather than rustic environments. In other words, the prevailing environmental experience within those societies is artificial. Our experience of nature consists of neat lawns with a few pet trees, shrubs, and plants and the absence of threatening beasts. Such prevalences of experience lead to deluded impressions of the nature of nature unmodified by artifice, and lead us to forget why our forebears constructed all that artifice. In our contemporary ignorance born of restricted experience, we even denigrate their motives. Surely they were just greedy, or rapacious, or egotistical, or captivated by wrongheaded attitudes toward their natural heritage, many people chide.

In fact, the current compendium of artifice was assembled by millions upon millions of people, most of whom were predominantly occupied with trying to make their own and their immediate families; friends', and associates' lives less miserable and more enjoyable. Any organisms able to do so would have done the same. Organisms exploit environments and systems to optimize the cost-benefit balances of life. Whatever else or additional we may be, humans are organisms. Our ancestors discovered constructive, productive techniques and found they improved life. By that productivity, not warfare, they created our conditions. When not hampered, we are continuing the process, and accelerating not only the rates of productivity, but the rates of acceleration of the rates of productivity.

The appropriate restraint on productivity is prudence. It is well not to exhaust raw materials until satisfactory or superior substitutes are identified. It is well not to waste finished products. It is well not to befoul the premises where we produce things and enjoy them.

It is ridiculous to pretend we would be better off as our remote ancestors were, scratching bug bites in the mud and dust. Hardly anyone, given a choice, ever thought so. Hardly anyone, given a choice, ever decides to remain in such conditions rather than partake of those the denizens of the materially developed nations enjoy. People like things. When they see them, they want them, and they willingly work hard and exercise various forms of prudence, such as thrift, to provide them for selves, families, friends, and associates. The optimal methods of achieving such providence are different from those for conducting warfare or responding to natural disasters. They are characterized by greater individual latitude and less regimentation.

We cannot conceivably eliminate occurrences of natural disaster. Provident behavior, however, has provided us means to make better responses, save more lives, avert more injuries, and restore more amenities more quickly for those who are stricken. Information about calamities can be disseminated widely and quickly with electronic communications facilities. That provides access to a much greater number of people who may deliver aid and relief and distributes the burden of doing so, so that many can each help a modest amount rather than a few being called upon to do it all. Electronically facilitated warnings that some types of disasters are about to strike allow people to flee or prepare as well as possible. Powered transportation can accomplish evacuations and then deliver food, water, medicine, skilled aid workers, shelter components, and rescue equipment much more quickly than could have been done until recently. The cornucopia of available medicines is itself a product of providence.

We can conceivably eliminate war and pettier predatory behaviors. Near the end of the nineteenth century, many commentators predicted a result of the productive wonders wrought by the industrial revolution would make disruptions of material progress intolerable as well as revealing them as foolish. The notion of a provident revolution was widespread. Instead, the most materially developed nations of the world blundered into the horror of industrialized warfare, two world wars and subsequent reverberations. Only in the final decade of the twentieth century did it begin to appear tenable to revive the optimism characteristic of attitudes of a century before. Now respectable commentators are beginning to view the years between 1914 and 1991 as a period of unnatural aberration, a final paroxysm of human savagery that deflected the course of human destiny, what has been termed a "short century." The prevalence of its terrors and tragedies abated, they eye resumption of the coming of a Provident Epoch that should characterize the course of humankind henceforth.

It is not as though our species lacks challenges and opportunities in a practically limitless universe. It is not as though pursuit of those opportunities will be easy or automatic, though it will probably be our prevailing trend. As we comprehend the fact that humanly generated disruption of provident processes that lead toward achievement of our potentials is absurd, we will also judge them intolerable, eventually unimaginable. We cannot now and may never purge ourselves of vicious impulses, but, to the extent surroundings can suppress them, we can realistically anticipate their diminution as components of our makeup and as factors in our living experiences. To the extent they diminish, providence will flourish unhindered.

Our Great-Grandparents, Grandparents, Parents, and Selves on the Appropriate Way to Proceed

While enduring the violent twilight of predation, the "short century" also contained a comparative experiment in provident techniques. At the very same time late-nineteenth-century commentators expressed anticipation of a Provident Epoch, there were proposed two techniques whereby it was expected to be accomplished. There were competing emphases, one on individualism and voluntary enterprise, the other on collectivism and managed endeavor. The Mass Man concept grew out of a widely-held belief that artificial equalization of human material circumstances would result in the greatest and fastest possible productivity. The extreme, self-descriptively radical version of that was communism, particularly as designed by the International Communist Party, at first essentially the doctrines of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, its organizers. But Communism was only the most radical of a range of collectivist visions. Less absolutist versions, various formulas for socialism, also abounded.

Neither Communists nor more moderate socialists denied the power, efficiency, or inevitability of powered-industry production characteristic of the Industrial Revolution. All socialists, however, considered inequities characterizing and exacerbated by its original means not only socially and humanistically deplorable, but unscientific and inefficient. They objected to private ownership of productive means and resources because it brought about vast inequities of wealth. Owners of industrial facilities could profit hugely, elevating their circumstances far above those of most people. That, they believed, generated widespread dismay and dysfunction, even apart from cruelties of exploitation of laborers by owners and the justifiable resentments those insults and injuries fomented. Abused workers were unhappy workers, they postulated, and unhappy workers could not be as productive as happy ones.

Another objection to privately-owned industry was its competitive nature. Competition, they believed, necessarily brought about duplication, or multiplication, of efforts, which seemed both wasteful and unavoidably conducive to exploitation of labor. Private entrepreneurs attempting to capture markets by offering products at lowest possible prices would maneuver, even use their fortunes to manipulate laws, to minimize labor costs. In competition for the cheapest raw materials, they would ravage the world and rob both their immediate owners and what they saw as the universal human proprietary interests in them. In competition for both resources and markets, they would foment warfare. It would, socialists believed, be much more efficient to exploit industrialization by way of rationally organized and managed administration of resources, productive facilities and processes, and markets. Distributing products by formulas of broad equivalence of right would elevate the circumstances of all people. All would labor productively in one capacity or another, all would benefit, none would have cause for envy, dismay and discontent, and the labor component of production would be optimally efficient.

Without making reference to subsequent events, it is nearly impossible to advance any credible explanation why this would not all be so. It was true that communal and other collectivistic arrangements had been tried many times throughout history, and never demonstrated any sustained success. But Marx attributed those failures to the pervasiveness of resignation to competitive behavior habits that came about by way of prehistoric predations by a few upon the others and never ceased to assail us. Violence and intimidation were always expedient in the short term to those who could inflict them, and we must live the short term before we reach the long. Marx proposed a reorganization not only of industry and commerce, but also of society and even individual mentality, (thus, perhaps inadvertently, acknowledging that species after all proceeds by way of specimens), to purge that ancient and benighted evil. With radical social and political reformation followed by stringent indoctrination, the cooperative, noncompetitive Socialist Man would appear, or re-appear, and labor assiduously in full contentment.

Besides, it was asserted, new conditions had rendered prior experience superfluous. The scope and power of industrialization, it was argued, was bringing about completely transformed human conditions to which prior experience was irrelevant. Only what seemed rationally plausible, by no means what was historically proven, could possibly be correct in the new environment. More than a century later, Utopians, collectivists, and others continue to make that argument.

As noted at the outset, any large-scale, mass-populated enterprise fails without organization. Socialists adopted the Platonic proposal, one employed with some success by the Christian Church and other notable organizations, to answer that need. Those capable of comprehending the goal and the transformations necessary to achieve it would naturally be conceded authority, and they would maintain their supervisory institution by selective recruitment according to aptitude and demonstrated merit. At first, most people would not comprehend what was being undertaken. Once the new order was established, most would not comprehend how or why it worked, appreciate its promise, or be capable of directing it. But eventually, with the emergence of the Socialist Man, the collectivistic reflexes, reinforced by their demonstrated superiority to what had gone before, would become so all-pervasive as to make direction of production and distribution superfluous. The Workers' Paradise come, the human race would be self-directing and -regulating in conformity with the best of all possible arrangements.

Nevertheless, skeptics, traditionalists, and, truth be told, many with vested interests in the existing arrangements disputed the socialist propositions. If faith in an abstract proposition was needed, Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations had described a mysterious phenomenon he compared with an Invisible Hand that guided individual pursuits of self-interest to the best possible macro-economic outcomes. The self-interested human trait was, they asserted, in any case so innate and strong as to be impossible to eradicate or diminish very much. People were simply natural competitors. Certain extrapolations of certain interpretations of Charles Darwin's then-astonishing and eminently scientific Origin of Species suggested that the interests of the general welfare would not even be served by any moderation of competitive, exploitative, even cruel and deadly incidents of vigorous competition, because the species would be stimulated and its weaklings and their progeny culled out by just that process. People would find their rightful levels in a meritocratic hierarchy and deserve what they got. One could even blame misfortunes such as illness, injury, and death on divinity or some rough natural justice, inexplicable by humans but exempt from criticism in any case. If not quite that, voluntary charitable promotion of the general welfare to whatever extent the wealthiest and most powerful found fitting -- the original theme of Progressivism -- would furnish appropriate, but never foolishly excessive, moderations of outcomes of vigorous competition. It should be understood that that the original Progressives' aim was not directed altruistically toward the benefit of the unfortunate, much less the incapable. It contemplated acceptance of individual failures and tragedies, but proposed to relieve distress to the degree that would promote the general welfare, no further. Also called enlightened self-interest, it was entirely compatible with a fiercely individualistic and competitive regime. Although it appeared, and came to be claimed to be and misapprehended as equivocating and apologetic, it was in fact no such thing. It was the exception that proved, and facilitated, the rule.

It should also be noted that the individualists, private-enterprise advocates, and staunch believers in social noninterference with economic processes, laissez-faire, by no means rejected the expedients of organization and regimentation necessary to establish and operate then-modern industrial and commercial enterprises. Obviously vast enterprises had to be assembled, maintained, operated, expanded, and improved, and great numbers of people had to be recruited, organized and directed in order to achieve that. As to coordination and cooperation, the appearance of a unit of canned peas on a grocery store shelf reflected the exercise of more of those qualities than the total works of many governmental and voluntary social improvement organizations. But this opinion group believed such organizations should take place voluntarily, without compulsion or prohibition, at the instance and risk of their instigators -- in other words, privately, so that those who accepted great risks could hope to reap great rewards: much ventured, possibly much gained, all without the hindrance of officious social or political meddling.

The actual difference between the contending doctrines was rather abstract. It addressed the question whether the individual or the collective perspective, and methods for implementing one or the other, should predominate in human affairs economic, industrial, commercial, political, social, and, ultimately, individually attitudinal. Would our species fare best imbued with the convictions of the Socialist Man, or those of the Competitive Paragon?

It is vital to note that, influenced by thought habits of two centuries, western civilization generally equated human happiness with material well-being. Increasingly during the European Renaissance and the inadvertent experience of seventeenth-century England, explicated by the sages of the French Enlightenment who informed Adam Smith, it was perceived that the source of human misery was material privation, and thus material adequacy was the most urgent and appropriate goal for human endeavor. Two centuries' preoccupation with that goal, not yet achieved when the debate between individualism and collectivism emerged, had subordinated and nearly extinguished other components of human happiness, at least among practical as distinguished from sentimentally romantic thinkers. The same materialistic fixation persists today, itself wreaking bewilderment and dismay in the materially abundant societies even while half the human population still aspires to attain their material circumstances. It causes no end of confusion, and may indeed augur great perils.

Contest, Outcome, and Aftermath

The twentieth century taught us certain unanticipated perils of collectivistic methods. As repeatedly noted, people tend to coalesce in peril, disperse in its absence. Advocates of relatively organized societies encountered a condition long familiar to tyrants: Pursuit of material advantage does not support the coalescent technique, at least not sufficiently to maintain a highly regimented socioeconomic regime. People will commit individualistic exploitations upon the most elegant productive systems. Fairly contented employees will filch tools and other goodies from employers socialistic or privately corporate, even while militating for higher pay rates or indulging themselves in laziness at work. As many rueful military commanders will testify, it is difficult to prevent opportunistic depredations even of military organizations engaged in combat. Only stark and immediate peril seems reliably to subdue individuals' exploitative impulses. Indeed, the more battle-hardened troops become, the less idealism they display, and rear-echelon troops affect cynical, pseudo-tough hardheartedness even more than the active combatants, attempting to share some of the glory and stature the actual fighters would be most happy to step aside and let them earn.

In the absence of dire emergency, the real public-spirited cooperativeness of people not engaged in warfare ranges from the equivocal to the hypocritical. It is, after all, to the selfish advantage of each individual to praise self-sacrifice, rigorous endeavor, and magnanimity, exercise them when necessary and otherwise avoid them, and exploit such enhancements of the general welfare as they may produce. Humans are too much organisms to miss that trick: To operate as guided by an eye to the main chance, practicing adroit edge-artistry in a society of ingenuous altruists, were, to steal a poetic phrase, Paradise now, the fact that social responsibility really is more expedient to self-interest notwithstanding.

Those who aimed to impose regimentation on providence found it necessary to provoke or invent perils foreign and domestic. The motives that produced the First World War did not significantly include that one, so the first exhibitor of it was the Soviet Union. Even that society had much of the convenient peril delivered ready-made. The Communists, or Bolsheviks, who eventually seized control of the Russian Revolution, did so after more than a decade and a half of maneuvering, conniving, campaigning, militating, and finally participating in two phases of a civil war, only the last of which empowered them. Their opponents in that campaign were aided by intervening foreign nations. Thus specific domestic and foreign enemies abounded. The writings of Marx had furnished more general ones: All inequalities of circumstance, he had asserted, were the result of ancient and continuing aggressions of entrenched interests who would be hard to expel from power. By means of world revolution, all nations must be transformed into components of a single worldwide Communist regime so that indisciplines would not distract the budding Socialist Man from his lessons. Show trials, scapegoats, purges, and genocide characterized first the Leninist and then the immediately following Stalinist eras up to and throughout World War II and thereafter. As Alexander Solzenitsyn, Alex Dolgun, and others have grippingly testified, government domestic terrorism and international confrontation characterized Communist collectivism in the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991.

A Socialist in his youth, Benito Mussolini was expelled from the party in Italy and eventually founded a new one, the Fascists. His expulsion coincided with his conversion from an opponent to an advocate of Italy's participation in World War I. When he achieved national leadership, he defied world opinion and led Italy to the aggressive conquest of Ethiopia in 1935-36. Thereafter he embarked on a sustained course of military adventurism including joining Nazi Germany in intervention on the side of the Francisco Franco's authoritarian nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, linked Italy with Hitler's Germany to form the Axis alliance, invaded Albania, and, in 1940, joined Germany against the Allies in World War II.

In Spain, Franco kept his country out of World War II and foreign military adventures, and eventually led the country toward industrialization, and, at last, restoration of its monarchy. He did not lack for enemies foreign and domestic, however, since European abhorrence of fascistic dictatorships caused Spain's ostracism from the mainstream world community following World War II. Socialistic and republican sentiment in Spain, though suppressed, never entirely disappeared, and the Basques continued as always to fulminate for autonomy or independence. In 1975, when Franco died, his designated successor Juan Carlos II, grandson of the king Franco had supplanted, assumed the throne and instituted a democratic constitutional monarchy that survived subsequent fascist challenges.

After an abortive beginning that led to his imprisonment, World War I combat veteran Adolf Hitler led the former National German Workers' Party, transformed into the originally tiny, provincial (Bavarian) National Socialist German Workers' Party, to domination of Germany. Hitler did not lack for enemies foreign and domestic. Germany, defeated in World War I, suffered severe depression and inflation in the 1920's, partly as a result of the colonial forfeitures and harsh reparations imposed by the victorious Allies at the conclusion of that war. As recovery was beginning to take place, the worldwide Great Depression struck in 1929. Liberal democratic governments having been unable to deal with crises or inspire confidence, the population flocked to radical authoritarian parties, specifically the Social Democrats, the Communists, and the National Socialists. Winning the highest proportion of votes, but not a majority, twice in 1932, the National Socialists under Hitler refused both times to join a coalition government, demanding exclusive power. It was granted by President von Hindenberg in January, 1933, Hitler being appointed Chancellor. Nazis duped a dimwitted Dutch Communist into setting a fire that burned the national assembly (Reichstag) building, whereupon Hitler blamed and outlawed the Communist, subsequently the Social Democrat, and eventually all rival political parties.

Hitler slyly identified domestic enemies other than rival partisans, however, since, combined, their adherents constituted a majority. He vented Nazi invective against safer adversaries, Jews, gypsies, and other ethnic minorities, calling for ethnic purification and the uniting of all German peoples: Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Fuehrer (one empire, one people, one leader). In pursuance of that policy, one concurrent with the pragmatic one of restoration of the German economy, Hitler gradually ordained subordination of virtually every element of German society, including all private organizations, to the national government and himself. His aims at restoration of full German sovereignty over its own territories, re-acquistion of colonies or subordinate territories by conquest, and annexation of territories containing predominantly German populations in neighboring countries would eventually, he realized, lead to war, and he organized Germany's entire national structure on a plan equivalent to wartime national mobilization from the outset. He marched armies into the demilitarized Rhineland, intervened in the Spanish Civil War as a method of training, weapons testing and demonstration of German military power, then annexed Austria and then the Germanic portion, eventually all, of Czechoslovakia, and finally invaded Poland. That provoked the too-long-reticent Allied powers England and France to declare war in 1939, commencing World War II, Hitler all the while persecuting, virtually outlawing, arresting, and eventually exterminating six million Jews and millions of other ethnic and political victims. Nearly six years later, Germany was not only defeated but virtually devastated, and Hitler committed suicide.

The third member of the Axis alliance, Japan, had had a different and complicated recent history. A closed, medieval society into the nineteenth century, Japan was opened and exposed to and awed by the wealth and military might of the western world. Avid desire to achieve such interacted with ferociously xenophobic sentiments, resulting in a broad policy direction whereby Japan aimed to adopt the strengths of the west without submitting to it, and itself become a great world power and the dominator of Asia. Japan surprised the world and humiliated vast China in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-95, and then won the Russo-Japanese war in 1905. She belatedly joined the Allied side in World War I, and participated in division of the victors' spoils. Japanese foreign and domestic policy remained directed at emulating and surpassing western nations at industrialization, militarization, and colonization until and through World War II. The policies were not implemented by dictators, but by dispositions of cooperating oligarchs of government, industry, aristocracy, and the military, all generally pursuing the broad emulate-and-surpass-the-west policy direction. Rigid feudal structures were so recent that the consent of the masses was deemed either granted or irrelevant, and domestic enemies were not designated, but aggressive aspirations guaranteed an abundance of coalescent impulse due to perceived perils attributable to foreign hostilities provoked. The hostilities led to Japan's defeat in 1945 and subsequent adoption of more democratic norms and institutions, still characterized by endeavors to excel the west, this time in manufacture and commerce.

One horror and tragedy of China, for centuries, has been disunity resulting in internal strife and vulnerability to foreign invasions and dominations. Its perennial hope has been a mode of unification that would bestow tranquility and security without inflicting intolerable and stifling repression. Although Chinese civilization is ancient, the stereotypical Chinese premium on order, courtesy, civility, and tranquility largely reflects yearnings for what China has always lacked and testifies to the tumult and tragedy that has so often afflicted her. In the twentieth century, the nationalistic Kuomintang under Sun Yat-Sen, then Chiang Kai-shek essayed authoritarian direction, socialistic political models, and simultaneous industrialization. The triumph of Mao Zedong's Communists, expelled from the Kuomintang and eventually expelling it, brought unification, but also self-destructive repression. To maintain cohesion and some vision of revolutionary purity, Mao invented domestic enemies and presided over purges, repressions, and the devastating Cultural Revolution. His successors have continued to impose political totalitarianism even while easing repressions, particularly in agricultural, industrial, and commercial endeavors. Latitude in the latter is expediently tolerated, but combinations based on shared sentiment, ideology, or conviction that present even alternatives to state pre-eminence are not. Perils presented by confrontations by foreign powers near and far, on all sides, abounded in the twentieth century, and, given China's industrial and commercial emergence and aspirations regarding regional predominance and international stature, continue to do so.

All of these nations' twentieth-century experiences reflect elitist predilections. National socialists, fascists, and Japanese authoritarian structures were frankly elitist, holding popular masses in contempt, considering them to be dull, benighted livestock to be ordered about for national benefit and, incidentally, their own good, equating democracy in any form with absurdity and chaotic anarchy, holding egalitarianism equally ludicrous. Socialist and Communist regimes propounded democratic doctrines, but insisted that presumably benevolent cognoscenti must rule without opposition in the name and for the benefit of "the people" in what might be called monolithic and hierarchical democracies. Although bitter rivals, they differed as to method rather than fundamental concept, a fact both conviction groups vigorously deny. Nevertheless, both endeavored, based on different rationales, to impose authoritarian-unto-totalitarian regimes intolerant of doctrinal opposition and regimented industrialization and commercialization in partnership with, actually subordinated to, statist structures. It is true that both Marxist and later (Antonio) Gramsciite Communism maintained visions of ultimate state superfluity, congenial anarchies in which the Socialist Man, humankind with its asserted essential nature restored, could live in peace, harmony, and productivity free of restriction and compulsion, a proposition the fascistic regimes, contemptuous of humanly common aptitudes and impulses, considered misguided and hopeless. Each denounced everyone not of its conviction as an adherent of the other, and that mode of categorization has informed, or rather deformed, contemporary thought patterns.

Both are manifestations of the same conviction, that the vast majority of people is too vicious, or too ignorant, to succeed at self-government. The diametric opposite of both of them is liberal, relatively laissez-faire, or pluralistic democracy that at least theoretically accords every mildly or impressively competent adult an equal measure of primary political power and economic and social liberty and the latitude to make what s/he will of the allotments. It is not anarchy, but a moderated anarchy, sometimes described as liberty short of license. Some government there must be, but the government is the creation and servant, not the master, of the broad popular consensus. It amounts to individual sovereignty, subject only to the equal sovereignty of other individuals and never to formally instituted dictates of designated elites.

The Point, to Which We Sometimes Get

Pluralistic, or liberal, democracy emphasizes the position of the specimen over the species, the individual over the collective, subordinating the latter to the former. Its fundamental tenet is that it operates according to consent that can be solicited, exhorted, persuaded, even seduced, but must be coerced rarely if ever. Particularly, the growth of institutions that can compel obedience or coerce consent must be constantly pruned back lest some form of authoritarian, repressive governance, be it of directly or obliquely, (that is, fascistic or communist-socialist) rationale, grow to overwhelm the dynamism and fecundity of consent-based society.

Abraham Lincoln described its political aspect as government of, by, and for the people. That consummates the Enlightenment rationale, the basic premise of which was that all people are entitled to live for their own sakes rather than for the sakes of pretended betters or visionary ideas. Fascistic systems are baldly elitist, maintaining that the highest function of most people is to serve and obey a relative few, and can hope for no greater felicity. Communistic, socialistic, and predominantly collectivistic systems contemplate an eventual arrival at a stage at which the general population will be capable of self-governance, but, before that can happen, propose a lengthy interval of discipline and indoctrination by know-betters. In other words, the fascistic-oligarchic adherents believe in government of the masses of people by and for the oligarchs, and the communistic-socialistic ones in government of the people for the people, but only eventually, if ever, by the people. Liberal, pluralistic democracy includes all three elements, and indeed represents deference, even an abdication, by any who consider themselves possessed of a superior right or qualification to govern the rest. It is a leap of faith in the direction of laissez-faire.

Democracy literally means power retained by the people. We customarily think of its exercise in Lincoln's context, government by majority rule subject to certain procedural and constitutional safeguards against impulsiveness. But pluralistically democratic, that is, truly democratic, government can be, has been, and to some extent is conducted in another way, that of consensus formation. Deliberative bodies not beset by excessive ego, ambition, careerism, or partisanship use that method. Town meetings often do similarly, as do the tribal councils or even the informal neighborly discourses of small villages. Put simply, topics can be raised and suggestions made by anyone. Those that attract consensus, usually as modified and revised by lengthy discussion, are put into effect. Stark confrontation can be minimized: Members of clans or villages would consider majority rule harsh and insulting to those opposing decisions. Deliberative bodies often do the same, and both successful and defeated candidates in elections typically call for an end to dispute and a re-uniting in support of the candidates elected or decisions selected. Consensus formation, if there is time and cultural predilection for it, allows saving of face by permitting opponents of decisions about to be made to voice consent with trepidation or reservation, or declare themselves persuaded, or otherwise avoid the momentary stigma borne by those whose opinions are overwhelmed by majorities.

But even that congenial technique is not the most common and powerful expression of democracy. The pinnacle of democracy allows an individual to do as s/he pleases irrespective of what others think better. That amounts to government of, by, and for the persons, individually, rather than "the people" collectively. It prevails in the free marketplace. In such a context, shopper's selections are not restricted to a single brand of each item a majority has chosen as best. It is not restricted to a single brand a consensus has decided is best. In a way as natural as the selections made by primitive gatherer-foragers, a free-market shopper selects among many slightly varying offerings of any single category of merchandise. It is no wonder many people consider free-market shopping fascinating: It mimics millennia of ancestral experience.

The latitude it affords is shared by the producers. A person proposing to market a particular sort of candy need not win majority approval or attract a consensus. The producer needs only to offer something attractive to enough people, however few, to justify the effort. Where providence has begotten prosperity, buyers add impulse purchases and indulgences to baskets primarily containing basic commodities. They even buy the commodities in various stages of pre-preparation, as their momentary needs and wants suggest. Storekeepers well know that patronage and sales are enhanced by breadth of selection. Where producers can produce and consumers consume what various ones of them want when they want, human gratification is demonstrably enhanced.

Democracy conducted by reciprocal consent, or accord, aside from contexts in which majorities or consensuses are required, is intuitive, expedient and gratifying. Sale and purchase of merchandise, or of services, is a species of free contract, a contract being a reciprocal assent to a transaction. We immediately recognize that most of our affairs involving others are indeed carried on not only by contracts formal and informal, but agreements of sorts we do not recognize as contracts. "Let's do lunch Wednesday." "Okay." Contract? Possibly, but we would hardly stop to consider it as such. Agreement, certainly.

Most of the things we do with other people and alone fall in the realm of self-determination and do not involve governments' or other third parties' approvals. We do not ordinarily think of such things as exercises of power, but they are. They combine will and action to bring about changes in circumstances, as armies and elections do. If governments or busybodies attempt to subject too many of our doings to their approvals, we reasonably feel annoyed and hindered in the conduct of our rightful business, the exercise of our fitting freedoms. Collective intrusiveness abrades gratification and fulfillment in the lives of persons. All of us like to do as we wish when we wish, and subject our wills to the consents of others, singly or in groups, only as we find it desirable or advantageous. We generally do not mind being persuaded, because that is a species of becoming educated, of learning validities and efficiencies. But we do not care to be forced against our wills: It rankles.

As stated before, the past century presented a vast human experimental competition, or comparison, between relatively authoritarian and libertarian regimes. At this point we can note that the ideal mission of a civilization, society, or culture is the same of that of a personality: to yield its proprietor optimal gratification and fulfillment, and, as a corollary, minimal distress, frustration, and discontent. In the case of civilization, society, and culture, the proprietor is collective rather than singular.

Inevitably, civilizations, societies, and cultures encounter one another, just as personalities do. Under relatively savage and predatory norms from which our species is now struggling to emerge, power prevailed and wealth was its enabler. Populations that could generate great wealth and efficiently devote it to formidable power prevailed over other populations they encountered. The forms of prevalence included extermination, expulsion, domination, deprivation, exploitation, and, mildest of all, emulation.

Superior power has traditionally involved coalition and coordination, and, as noted, that implies regimentation. Predominance is largely a function of numbers, specifically, organized and coordinated numbers. Thus, in self-defense or ambition, humans, whose primary collective is troop or clan, discovered aptitude for and expedience in ever larger and more powerful coalitions: villages, towns, cities, small states, large states, continental states, intercontinental federations and alliances, always in search of military might for security or plunder. Providence, while quietly and steadily prevailing in human affairs and productive of human gratifications, was always subordinated to predatory considerations offensive or defensive, simply because destructiveness could obliterate the works of providence in the short term. Not until nuclear weaponry marked the limit of predation as a survival, prevalence, and gratification strategy did that the predatory imperative begin to yield primacy to providence. Before that, provident primacy was inadvertently and ambivalently achieved by the seventeenth-century British, explicated by the eighteenth-century French, and proclaimed by late-nineteenth-century western commentators before being disrupted by twentieth century warfare of monumental proportions. Only now is its promise again attracting broad credulity.

Still threatened by predatory eruptions, it is also hobbled by ancient biases in favor of collectivist, hierarchical, and authoritarian techniques characteristic of and expedient to the predatory strategy. That persists despite the outcomes of the twentieth-century experiments that demonstrated provident enterprise subjected to little political regulation outperforms planned and managed economies. Specimen-oriented regimes excel species-, or collective-oriented ones in the provident arena.

All but a few collectivists now refrain from claiming otherwise. Some doggedly maintain collectivism has defaulted its theoretical promises only due to not yet having been tried in the right way by the right people. The majority have abandoned assertion that collectivism will ever produce material benefits superior to those wrought by relatively individualistic, or specimen-based, arrangements.

Those adhering to collectivism now emphasize considerations other than material productivity. Some assert justice is more important than prosperity, begging a crucial question by assuming equality of circumstance and justice are identical. Some elicit acknowledgement that absolute license is not optimal, that ordered liberty is generally preferable to anarchy, that the sensible aim of public policy is to realize the blessings of liberty, not liberty in the absolute -- and then attempt to inflate those qualifications into prevailing principles: Since we must use government to maintain and enforce the expediency of driving on one side of the road or the other, then we really have no choice other than to have government-by-the-presumptive-know-betters tell us what to do and forbear doing in every respect. That tack seeks to overpower experience with conviction.

Still others emphasize non-materialistic components of human felicity. They rightly assert that general contentment and gratification, not merely their material components, are the appropriate goals of cultures, societies, civilizations, and governments. They wrongly maintain that material providence is diametrically at odds with and must be moderated in favor of those intangible desirables, preferably by authoritarian regulation.

All such apologists miss several crucial points. Regarding productivity, Adam Smith's Invisible Hand is more effective than deliberate planning and management of provident processes simply because, under relatively laissez-faire conditions, aspirants do not have to apply for and await permission to proceed. The objective of taking advantage of more contented laborers is served by minimal overbearing of individual wills, that is, minimal abrasive rankling. Productive and relatively contented work is delayed, and its performers counterproductively irritated, by requirements that they wait for permission and then endure distraction to accommodate monitoring, supervision, and interference attendant on regulation. It is further delayed when the regulation is imposed in the interest of counterproductive considerations. In medieval China, for example, a great technological head-start was forfeited during centuries when order and continuity were prized above improvement in material circumstances. Innovations were suppressed because they might prove socially disruptive. In our own era, it has become fashionable to demand that consequential, deferred, usually environmental costs be attributed to products due to shortages and despoliations that may be encountered many years hence as a result of present production and consumption occurring now. The implied conclusion is that we should not only moderate, but minimize productivity to conserve resources for whatever is to come in the distant future.

This blithely ignores the human cost of hindrance of productivity while half the world's population subsists, indeed significantly perishes, in material privation, real and not relative poverty. One already hears rebuttal of that unacknowledged point, however, in the form of obliquely questioning the right of the impoverished to exist, in their threatening numbers and tacit demand for inclusion in the regime of material adequacy the other half of humankind has realized. That category of comment abides undisturbed alongside its opposite, that the need of the world's impoverished should compel an immediate confiscation and redistribution of existing wealth, no matter what effect that would have on future productivity. The collectivistic attitudes toward poverty vary according to their expediency in the service of anti-providence. If it has been proven that providence favors individualism rather than officious collectivism, then providence must be evil on all counts. If it extends prosperity to half of humankind, that will exhaust resources and doom everyone. If it provides comforts to some while others remain in want, then it must be curtailed and dispersed in equitable redistribution.

The fact that the last was tried and it failed in twentieth century western nations, that it has been proven bestowing material bounty on people lacking skills and values necessary to conserve, administer, and continue to generate it is not a viable shortcut to general well-being, is ignored or shouted down. It was even asserted that those with such skills and values are properly consigned to producing and then submitting to confiscation, those without them entitled to perpetual subsidy in deference to their value choices, but experience showed that did not even make the latter category of people happy. They sensed their marginalization and dependency, felt inferior and humiliated, and suffered for loss of self-esteem. Human beings need to believe they influence vital conditions and events, have significant participation in their arbitration and control, or such humiliation is inevitable. And widespread incidence of feelings of humiliation, marginalization, and exclusion however inadvertent, like any sentiment experienced by many specimens, creates social dysfunction, a malady weakening the species.

Warfare reveals human weaknesses and identifies the weak. Combat is dreadful. Some cower close to the ground, refusing to advance. Some turn and run. Most arrange not to be immediately involved. Only a minority stands fast and advances to confront the horror. The majority typically pretends to act tough, to try to project an impression that had they been assigned to the front lines, they, too, would have measured up. The fact is that almost no one measures up, and experienced combat soldiers would not care to fight beside really fearless companions: utter fearlessness leads to carelessness, recklessness, and death or maiming for the fearless person and those dependent on his prudent reciprocal fighting support. Few survivors of real combat strut, and most will readily acknowledge willingness to avoid any more of it.

Providence also imposes rigors. Productivity is the process of converting useless or less useful things into useful or more useful ones. The relatively useless things, raw materials, have to be arranged for and acquired, along with the productive machinery and equipment to be used. Products of at least moderate, preferably high, quality, fit to function according to their intended purposes, must emerge. Then they must be offered to buyers, often by way of elaborate arrangements for transportation, display, marketing, selling, receipt and allocation of sales prices, and accounting for everything. It is harder to produce than to destroy, to create than to criticize, to produce than to hamper production. As with combat, many people avoid the rigors and disciplines necessarily confronted by any who undertake primary responsibility for production. Some assume supporting roles, entitled to payment regardless of the fortune of the enterprise so long as it survives, their receipts another fixed and unconditional cost about which the entrepreneurs, not they, must worry. Others exploit the western custom of according equal status to proponents and opponents, and set up, on various pretenses, as obstacles. Ironically, they typically aspire to moral ascendancy and the coercive and prohibitive authority that comes with it by characterizing the producers as greedy or self-seeking, whereas in fact it is themselves who are not earning their ways but rather trading on pretensions. Their rationalizations and alibis are mere compensations and ego-defense techniques rooted in their awareness that they are not among the net providers, the provident.

Just as principled pacifism attracts and conceals multitudes of unduly reticent if not outright cowardly adherents, anti-provident protestations mask timidity and feelings of inferiority. Where prosperity enables opposition to prosper alongside proposition, denigration to thrive alongside demonstration, carping and trading on reservations and qualifications flourish. To the timorous or slothful, it beats work and worry. In short, there are humanly unworthy emotional as well as prudently principled components in anti-providence. Principles deserve to be heard in debate, but pretensions are contemptible, especially when they hamper processes that would relieve human misery.

Ironically, misguided, pretentious, excessive anti-provident obstruction delays many of the very intangible gratifications it uses as grounds for opposition. They are excessive, comparable to propositions that extend social enforcement of sensible highway rules or proscriptions of thievery and mayhem to general conclusions that everything not made mandatory by self-anointed know-betters should be prohibited. The point was elegantly expressed in the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship published by a group of prominent clergy members. Exaggerated objections and reservations, (in that case specifically regarding global warming), could, they said, "dangerously delay or reverse the economic development necessary to improve not only human life but also human stewardship of the environment."

During the twentieth century it was demonstrated that populations achieving material adequacy experience reductions in population growth rates, thus easing the burden on planetary resources. It was also demonstrated that people who achieve comfort and spare, or discretionary, time and money begin to indulge impulses favoring elegance. They paint their houses, tend their lawns, arrange cleanly neighborhoods and communities, and devote attention to conserving natural resources. Just as pigs will avoid mudwallows if clean soaks are available, people who can afford it clean up messes and attempt to establish and maintain pleasing environments. By extending prosperity to the half of humankind now lacking it, providence hastens and increases environmental prudence.

Additionally, technological efficiency feeds upon itself. Contemplating extension of material adequacy worldwide does not imply doing so by surpassed or even existing means. At one time the prospect of making telephones available everywhere would have involved stringing, probably, millions of miles and tons of copper cable. Now the length may be comparable, but the volume is considerably reduced and cheapened due to fiber-optic technology. But digitizaton may obsolesce much of that before it can be installed as satellites and improved circuitry enable entirely wireless communication, even now widely established in the form of cellular telephones, tele-facsimile equipment, and computer modems. We already depend on highly technologized food production: A return to traditional methods would, were it to yield the quantity of food now produced on relatively little acreage, occupy most of the dry land on earth. Shelter is increasingly produced by using alternative building materials and techniques they enable, enabling greater amenity for lower cost than traditional building materials could deliver. Providence, if allowed to proceed without imprudent hindrance, demonstrably can and will extend access to adequacy to all of the world's people. As they modify their cultures to participate in the provident processes necessary to sustain that adequacy and increase it to abundance, there will appear more of them with heightened and broadened concerns. Together we can and, if allowed, will, produce a park like planet with ample wilderness preserved.

But to do so we have to acknowledge that specimen are the means by which species prosecute their destinies. Collective endeavor proceeds by the activities of individuals. Nations, governments, corporations and organizations exist as concepts, but have effect only by the coordinated actions of individuals, individuals, individuals. A higher degree of individual latitude corresponds with provident than with predatory efficiency, just as our primal impulses indicate. Not for nothing did nature, successfully, construct us to coalesce in peril and disperse about our private and business, interacting only by accord, in its absence. In the Provident Epoch, we will optimize our fate, fortune, and future by anticipating, avoiding, and when necessary subduing sources of peril, resisting contrived ones designed to impose hampering regimentation, and emphasizing individual initiative, ingenuity, self-reliance, and fulfillment


Radical Positivists of the world unite, and make it a better place for all!


Home Page