On Philosophy

December 5, 2006

Order and Disorder

Filed under: General Philosophy — Peter @ 12:42 am

Societies can range from the very ordered, with everyone fulfilling a predetermined role, to very disordered, where no one even has a role, although of course most fall somewhere in between. Both have something good that can be said for them. In societies that are very ordered there is the potential for equality amongst most citizens. And in societies that are disordered there is a greater potential for change that can improve the lives of everyone. On the other hand societies that are very ordered tend to stagnate, and can often become dictatorships with widespread social injustice. And in societies that are disordered there is rarely any justice to begin with.

Ideal capitalism is a society that is almost maximally disordered, and is in many ways very close to anarchy. Everyone is attempting to make the most money possible, and so is in competition with everyone else. Thus they attempt to make the best products possible, and so the standard of living is constantly on the rise. Of course not everyone can be successful in this system, some people lose out, sometimes by making bad choices and sometimes by bad luck. And this is what I meant by social injustice, as in a system that is fiercely competitive some will always end up pushed down, out competed, and it is hard to say that such outcomes are desirable. Still, we can defend this system by arguing that on average people are better off, even if there is the occasional loser.

Of course there is also various forms of managed capitalism, ranging from the enforcement of contracts to corporate capitalism. Each move away from ideal capitalism has its benefits. Enforcing contracts that people enter into paves the way for people to come together and undertake larger projects than they would be able to individually. Taxation allows the existence of public goods, investments that everyone benefits from, and from which people can’t be excluded, that otherwise wouldn’t be created. Government regulation allows for the minimization of negative externalities (where costs are pushed onto people other than the producers and consumers). Finally corporate capitalism allows for the creation of institutions that have a motivation to plan for, and invest in, the future, since they will “outlive” their members.

And from corporate capitalism it is a short step to fascism (defined as a government run by corporations) or communism. The benefit of such a move is that by combining the corporate sector with the government social justice can be increased. The government could ensure that everyone had a job and is paid well enough to live comfortably, at the cost of giving up some freedoms. Many people think that this obviously sounds like a bad idea, but really all of these steps, from ideal capitalism to communism have been a process of giving up various freedoms in the expectation of some benefits. So let us assume that our maximally ordered society wouldn’t be taken over by a dictator. Is it then a desirable outcome?

I think most people’s opinion is that it is not, even if social justice could be potentially increased. I will assume for the moment that this is not because most people are employed and have enough to live on, and thus aren’t bothered by the problems of the people at the very bottom, instead I will assume that it is because by making that move we are giving up some essential freedom that we shouldn’t. The really interesting problem is justifying our decision that we can’t make this transition while at the same time justifying the others. A quick list of some of the other freedoms that have been given up:
Contracts – the freedom to change your mind
Taxation – the freedom to use your money as you wish
Regulation of Externalities – the freedom to use your capital (run your business) as you see fit*
Corporations – the freedom to compete (successfully) as an individual

So why did we accept giving these freedoms up? The answer is that a society we formed by giving them up was by some better by some standard. Specifically they brought benefits to everyone, or almost everyone, while moving to a completely regulated society (done justly) brings benefits only to those at the very bottom. Whether this is a good reason or simply a selfish reason I will leave up the reader. Personally I think we have already given up too many freedoms, that our society has become too ordered. My reason for this belief is that I think we have lost some long term stability in the move to corporate capitalism, but that is something I have already discussed.

* Some argue that you can’t simply run things as you see fit, you aren’t allowed to use a gun as you see fit just because you own it. In response it has been proposed that if one doesn’t like how a certain machine is used (maybe it produces toxic byproducts) it should simply be banned, with existing owners being reimbursed for their losses. By simply taxing or fining the owners of such machines (or forcing them to clean up, a form of taxation) you are putting them in an unfair situation, since getting out of business takes money (even if you simply stop producing you need to play rent / taxes on land, pay workers for some time, ect) and so some may be forced to work just to say afloat even though they aren’t making enough money to justify it. This isn’t an economics blog, so I won’t go into any more details. Oh and you can’t simply ban them either, since society depends on certain chemicals the production of which necessarily creates unwanted wastes.



  1. Huh? I commented on this before, and I thought it went through…

    Comment by Carl — December 5, 2006 @ 2:15 am

  2. I didn’t get an email notification …. comments do seem to get lost on occasion. I hope you didn’t lose a long one. If you think you are writing something worth reading that is longer than a few sentences sometimes it is better to post it on your own site and then link to it.

    Comment by Peter — December 5, 2006 @ 2:22 am

  3. It was semi-long. I argued that this wasn’t your best work… but I’d rather not type it out again at the moment. Perhaps later.

    Comment by Carl — December 5, 2006 @ 3:10 am

  4. Order and disorder are bizarre terms for what you’re trying to talk about. All societies are ordered in the sense that in every society, some people do some jobs and others do other jobs. Even in very primitive societies, there tends to be a breakdown along gender lines (men hunt; women gather) if nothing else. So, I’m not sure to what society you could be referring when you say in disordered societies, “no one even has a role,” unless you mean in disordered societies people aren’t born with roles as opposed to choosing their roles.

    But if that’s what you’re talking about, how does it follow that, “in societies that are disordered there is rarely any justice to begin with”? Cultures generally don’t let people choose their own roles until after the culture is relatively just. In fact, the usual measure of the injustice of society is the degree to which they enforce an order against the wills of the people, ie. “you’re born black you’re a slave” or “you’re born a member of family X you’re upperclass” or “you’re born a Jew you go to the gas chamber” or whatever else.

    I’m not sure what sort of injustice could associated with disorder in the sense of no set roles, so you must mean a chaotic non-society like African civil wars or Wild West gunslingers, but even in those non-societies people to the degree that everyone doesn’t starve to death they do particularized jobs: farmer, general store owner, etc.

    So problem one: what are you even talking about?

    Next you start talking about fascism as corporate control and this somehow being more just, which is just bizarre. If the definition of justice is “everyone gets what he/she deserves” then a system that locks people into particular roles isn’t very just at all, since a) it denies greater rewards to those who work harder and thus deserve more and b) if it is ordered in the sense of people being locked into roles then people don’t earn their roles based on their abilities, hard work, etc. so that isn’t just either.

    (Also, I don’t think that in real history the corporations did much to help out Hitler. He was more of a populist movement that the factory owners tolerated out of deeper fear that the Communists would have them all beheaded.)

    So yeah, this wasn’t your best work I think.

    Comment by Carl — December 25, 2006 @ 1:06 pm

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