Every time there’s a national controversy in which race plays a part, there are calls for people to come together, be reasonable and agree on “common sense solutions.”
“Can’t we all get along?” was the line from the late Rodney King that I always associate with this sentiment. The people who say different forms of this line mean well. They think that if we’ll all just “play nice” and love each other, the world will be a better place. But the bad news is that, no, we can’t get along. The delusion that we can get along — by agreeing to “one best way” for everyone — leads us to lie to ourselves and sets us up to be disappointed again and again.
So am I saying there’s no hope for race relations? Actually, I’m saying something far broader. This point isn’t really about race. It’s about intelligent and well-meaning people who disagree about fundamental principles — in ways that are never going to change.
No matter how intelligent and well-meaning people are, they’re always going to come to radically different conclusions about what’s true, what’s right and how society’s rules should be structured. Even before you factor in all the people who aren’t bright and don’t have goodwill, there’s no way we can all agree.
This is why the “one size fits all” nature of majoritarian political systems is always going to leave many millions of people angry and feeling oppressed. Even if you don’t understand the moral case for self-sovereignty, consider this the pragmatic case. As long as the majority have the power to give you orders and take your money, you are going to end up in a minority which doesn’t get its way at some point.
On every controversial issue, there are many good, well-meaning and intelligent people on each side, even though the common reaction is to write off people on the other side as stupid, ignorant or evil. Progressives do it to conservatives. Conservatives do it to progressives. Pretty much everybody does it to libertarians. (And libertarians have an unfortunate tendency to look down on the intelligence of those who “don’t get it.”)
Look at the vitriol between those on different sides of the George Zimmerman trial. (Take a look at the comments on my article Monday about the outcome as an example.) The people on different sides are sure that they’re right. They’re sure that the people on the other side are wrong. Even when I laid out the case that both men made mistakes and should share blame, the partisans don’t want to hear that. They only want to hear that what they already believe is true, so they find reasons to keep believing that. There tends to be venom for those on the other side.
Traditional thinking about this says that we just need a “marketplace of ideas” and the best idea wins, but I think that’s pure fiction. Everything about socialism was a lousy idea, yet this country has slowly adopted piece after piece of its principles over the last hundred years. It’s a pipe dream to think that the best ideas win — or that we’re so smart and persuasive that we can convince others of our “truth.”
For the most part, “objective truth” ends up meaning “the things that my friends and I agree are true.” I believe objective truth exists — and there are some things that I certainly accept as true — but I believe what I believe for my own reasons. You believe what you believe about truth for your own reasons, too. Only one version of truth can be right, of course, but if we could somehow know all objective truth, I’m sure that we would see that different ones of us have understoond different bits and pieces of it correctly.
So what does the search for truth have to do with politics or how society is structured? Everyone seems to want one perfect answer to everything — and pretty much everyone is convinced that the world would be just fine if everyone else would adopt his or her beliefs. (Those who don’t think they have all the answers exist, of course, but they’re in a tiny minority.)
So we argue and evangelize, sometimes finding other people who agree with us. We form political parties or groups of one kind or another. And we’re smug in our belief that we’re the ones who have the truth — and we battle against other people who are equally clear that they’re right and we’re wrong.
So when it comes to how we structure the rules of society, we have two choices. We can either admit that we all want our own very different outcomes and find ways to structure society so we can all have a shot at what we want or we can accept that some dominant power group is always going to get its way and the rest will simply have to live with the rules they dictate. Those are the only honest choices.
So you can keep trying to angrily talk everyone into agreeing with your “obvious” truth — and continue being angry and disappointed when the majority choose things you believe are wrong — or you can consider that maybe you should be working for a decentralized system of competitive governance that allows different ones of us to live in places with very different rules.
One way to think of this change is to think of startup cities. If new companies can come and go — and die when they’re unsuccessful — why can’t new cities emerge that are established on different sets of rules? Why can’t those who favor conservative ideas about the world start their own cities and attract those who want to live by those rules. Guns can be freely available and everybody would know to be nice, because the neighbor might be packing. Why can’t those who favor progressive left ideas start their own cities and attract those who want to live that way? Guns could be banned from the beginning and nobody would move there who wasn’t OK with that.
There are dozens (or hundreds) of different ways to structure the rules of cities. Some people might want to voluntarily live under religious rules. Some might want very libertarian rules. Some might want all sorts of variations. Why not let these variations compete for residents — customers, really — and see which ones work in actual use?
The things that are obvious to me are nonsense to you — and vice versa. Why should I be required to live under the rules that you and your friends think are obviously best? Why should you be required to live under my rules? Why can’t we go our own separate ways? Why can’t we ditch the old concept of the indivisible nation-state and make the individual sovereign instead — and allow those sovereign individuals the right to voluntarily enter into agreements with others about how to live?
We’re not ever going to all agree on the right set of rules. We’re not all going to get along. We’re going to keep disagreeing and acting as though those who disagree with us are idiots and evil people. Why can’t we work toward a system that accepts that as a starting point and structures itself so that we can all have a shot at getting what we want — so we’ll have a better chance of living in peace?