Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 565, April 11, 2010

"Fifty Ways to Leave Big Brother"

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"When they say why, why? Tell them that it's human nature."
by Rob Sandwell

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

Human nature.

You hear it all the time. People are inherently bad. They're inherently evil, or greedy, or violent. And that's why we need a government. To protect us from all the nasty bad people. Because they can't help themselves. It's just human nature.

This has to be one of the most common arguments people offer against the theory of anarchism. I hear it again and again. Human nature. Human nature. And it's offered without any evidence whatsoever, as though it's so inherently self evident that even questioning the idea is absolute foolishness.

Which, I think, is why people don't question it. They simply accept that people are inherently violent, and we need to use violence to restrain them. But this argument fails when subjected to logic, and doesn't comport well with reality.

The simple truth is that, in general, violence is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.

Certainly, there is a capacity for violence within the human animal, but there is no evidence for a propensity towards it, in fact, quite the opposite. The reality is that, while people are not inherently violent, they are motivated by incentives and goals. And they're lazy. They use violence to achieve their goals, not because of their "violent natures," but because they think that it is the simplest and most effective way to meet those goals.

If a snake was about to bite their child, a parent might swat it away with a broom. But it isn't because they are violent, it is because they have a goal, in this case to protect their child, and they think that violence is the best way to achieve that goal. The incentive is to protect the child. If wishing, or telekinesis, or a funny dance worked better and faster, they'd do that instead.

But that's only part of it. The statistical indicators of violent behavior are consistent and predictable. If, as a child, a person is exposed to poverty, or a poor education, or abusive or neglectful parenting, they are far more likely to end up becoming violent adults. If the "human nature" argument were true at all, then these indicators would be completely irrelevant to predicting future criminal behavior. Instead you would see a nearly exact percentage of people engaging in criminal behavior across all social strata, which simply isn't the case. The reality is that there are contributing factors. Of course, they aren't universal or absolute, but they are consistent and overwhelmingly clear.

There's also a methodology to violent behavior. Security expert Gavin De Becker wrote about "pre-incident indicators" which can be clues to impending violent behavior in his book The Gift of Fear, and has helped protect celebrities, politicians, and heads of industry with his MOSAIC threat assessment software which attempts to use these indicators and others to predict future violence.

Among these "pre-incident indicators" are things like,

  • Forced Teaming, where the aggressor attempts to get the potential victim to lower their guard by creating associations which don't exist.
  • Using false charm or niceness to manipulate the victim.
  • Offering too many details when telling stories in order to attempt to seem credible.
  • Giving unsolicited help or offering unsolicited promises in order to create a sense of obligation on the part of the victim.

The point of all this is to show that violence as a means of achieving goals is a learned, practiced, and complex skill. No, a child does not need to be taught how to hit when his toys are taken away, but he needs to be taught to hit hard, or well, or to hit in order to hurt. And if instead he is taught that hitting won't get him the toy, but asking nicely will, he'll ask nicely instead.

In reality, people don't generally use violence because they are violent. They use violence because they are responding to incentives and stimuli. It is not their natures, but rather their means of achieving their goals which need to be addressed. And by simply adjusting the incentives and teaching better forms of conflict resolution, interpersonal violent predation could be greatly reduced.

Of course the state wants nothing of this, they need violence to justify their necessity. It is both the method and catalyst of their existence. And so they create a system of inverted morality and incentives which creates violence instead of preventing it, and all the while tell their victims that it is their own fault, because it is simply "human nature."

I believe this idea came first from the religionists. For thousands of years they taught man that he was inherently fallen, wicked, and evil, and that only through the guidance and grace of his creator could he be made whole and shielded from the consequences of his own violent nature. The state has simply co-opted this control mechanism and replaced god with government.

They have declared themselves the sole bulwark against violence and convinced everyone it is so.

But look at your own lives. Did you use guns to get you job, or your spouse, or your homes? If you did, then clearly the state was no protection against that kind of behavior. But if you did not, then why not? Was it because you feared the consequences of such actions? If so, then you were simply responding to a system of incentives. A system which, with work, could eliminate crime without the need for the state and all the violence which is inherent to its nature. Or is it because you are a moral person and believe that interpersonal violence is wrong. If so, then what makes you think that your nature is inherently just, and it is simply everyone else who is violent and corrupt?

And if "people" are so inherently violent and untrustworthy, what, precisely, do you suppose those in the government are. Are they not the very "people" that some are so afraid of? How can turning over the guns and the color of law to violent, uncontrollable "people" be any protection against violent, uncontrollable "people?"

Often, at this point, people argue that you can simply look around you to see the violence of man. Our society is filled with it. It's in our art, our news, it pervades every aspect of our lives. But you have to put that violence in context.

Imagine if you were watching a basketball game. At first, many things are happening, spontaneously, seemingly without direction but all in the pursuit of competing goals. Now, imagine that the referees are changing the rules every five minutes, and adding hundreds of rules at a time, many of which are contradictory, and will shoot anyone who breaks a rule.

Pretty soon, the players will be too frightened to do anything at all. They'll simply stand still, afraid that they'll be shot if they break rules they don't understand or can't remember. You might look out at the court, where the players are all frozen like statues and think to yourself, "man, basketball is a pretty boring game!"

Those who argue that violence is inherent to our society are like people who watch that game, and then think that the game would look exactly the same without the referees constantly introducing new rules and shooting the players. It wouldn't. Without the violence of the state, the game looks totally different. You can't point to problems that exist today, in a world literally awash in the bloody violence of statism, and extrapolate those problems to a world absent government. The world won't just be exactly the same, except without traffic signals and the IRS.

Without statism, we would have a completely different world.

A world where people will have the morality and knowledge necessary to handle their problems without resorting to violence.

People respond to incentives. They seek to use the simplest means possible to achieve their goals. In our society, which is sick and broken, people know nothing better than violence. It isn't because they are evil, it's because they are children. They haven't been taught anything better than hitting when their toys get taken away.

Because as long as people are hitting the state can claim we need them around to make it stop.

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