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L. Neil Smith's

Number 872, May 15, 2016

Conservatives regularly mealy-mouth about the
First Amendment, lie about and willfully
misinterpret it, exactly the same way that
Progressives mealy-mouth about the Second Amendment.

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What You Mean "WE" Pale-face?
by L. Reichard White

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Special to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Did you ever question "The majority rules?"

Why not?

It's the most famous example of what we can call for convenience, "The Collective Fallacy." With the help of it's more subliminal offspring, this fallacy has twisted Western cultures into tormented shapes inimical to life and human nature.

In the case of "The majority rules," even the U.S. founders were aware of the dangers—

"Mankind will in time discover that unbridled majorities are as tyrannical and cruel as unlimited despots."
—U.S. "Founding Father" John Adams
"An elective despotism was not the government we fought for"
—Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XIII, 1782. ME 2:163

A modern example: Imagine "we"—that is all ~317 million "Americans"—went to Baskin & Robins (or Ben and Jerry's) but collectively "we"—even the folks who didn't vote—all had to buy only the one flavor the most folks voted for.

Clearly "The majority rules" is a meme we should avoid.

And such winner-take-all situations are only one of the most obvious problems created by The Collective Fallacy.

Strangely enough, "The majority rules"—in fact, The Collective Fallacy itself—is just an artifact of what might be called "lazy languages." And, there's a cure.

The bed-rock foundation of The Collective Fallacy is the deceptively harmless word, "we"—and the variant pronouns, "us" and "our."

The problem with "we" and family?

They automatically include folks who may not know they're being included, don't take inclusion seriously, don't understand the implications of inclusion, or worse, they have no control over the outcome and may not want to be included—in, say, that one-flavor trip to the ice-cream parlor.

But, because of the lazy language effect, such involuntary "majority-rules, winner-takes-all" inclusions are ubiquitous in modern cultures and traditionally and subliminally accepted, not only by the perpetrators—which may be "memetic machines" such as corporations and governments—but also by the victims.

For example, are "we" Americans responsible for what "our" government does?

If so, "we" have recently (2015 A.D.) bombed a couple of Doctors Without Borders hospitals, one in Afghanistan and another in Yemen. "We" not only torture people in Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, Kandahar, and many other "black sites," etc. but "we" also do it here at home.

And according to former Clinton U.N. Ambassador and one-time New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, "we" are responsible for the deaths of half-a-million (500,000) kids. You can see and hear Richardson himself admit "that was the correct policy" here.

So are "we" indeed responsible for "our" government bombing hospitals, torturing people, the deaths of half-a-million kids, and possibly nuking out all life on earth, etc.?

There's a different way of looking at things—

Among the other clever gadgets I have glimpsed in the grammars of so-called primitive groups, the complex Cherokee pronoun system seems especially handy. It distinguishes among "you and I," "another person and I," "several other people and I," and "you, one or more other persons, and I," which English crudely collapses into the all-purpose pronoun "we."
—Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct, p.28

Such pronoun systems—which also exist in other so-called "primitive" languages—keep the folks using them honest.

Their more complex pronouns keep these folks from subliminally and/or inadvertantly shanghaiing unwary and/or unwilling folks into things they may know little or nothing about, may not take seriously, may have no control over, or may even dislike and/or oppose.

More importantly, those hard-working "primitive" pronouns also keep the folks armed with them from blindly accepting such subliminal, dishonest, and unwanted inclusion. Here's an example of how that works—

"People [native Americans] who do not vote for an issue—whether they abstain or vote against it—often resent having to abide by it and insist that they should not be affected by the final decision since they did not themselves affirm it. A number of Indian groups—such as the Hopis here in the Southwest—are still divided over the issue of their constitution, those who voted against it or who did not participate in the constitutional election, insisting that they should not be bound by the vote of the others."
—James E. Officer, Journal of American Indian Education, VOTE?

In this context, even the old Lone Ranger joke takes on a little more depth. The Lone Ranger and Tonto are surrounded by "Indians." There's no escape.

Lone Ranger: "Well old friend it looks like we are done for."

Tonto: "What you mean 'we,' pale-face?"

And First-Nation "Americans" aren't the only folks to note problems with The Collective Fallacy.

The [U.S.] Constitution... has no authority or obligation at all, unless as a contract between man and man. ...And it can be supposed to have been a contract then only between persons who had already come to years of discretion, so as to be competent to make reasonable and obligatory contracts. Furthermore, we know, historically, that only a small portion even of the people then existing were consulted on the subject, or asked, or permitted to express either their consent or dissent in any formal manner. Those persons, if any, who did give their consent formally, are all dead now. ...And the constitution, so far as it was their contract, died with them. They had no natural power or right to make it obligatory upon their children.
—Lysander Spooner, No Treason, No. VI: The Constitution of No Authority [1870]

While unwanted inclusion in "majority-rules, winner-takes-all" schemes are among the most egregious Collective Fallacy examples, there's a lot more to it.

I know, this totally violates the way "we" have learned to think. Or, more accurately, we have not been able to easily think this way because of the deficiencies in our lazy-language pronoun system. Maybe we should reconsider a few of the things "we" have bought into—and always think at least twice before "we" uncritically and unwarily buy into—or allow others to Shanghai us into—a Collective Fallacy via "we," "us," and "our"—

Lone Ranger: "Looks like we killed 500,000 kids, Tonto."

Tonto: "What you mean 'we,' pale-face? I didn't kill any kids.

How about a practice run?

The nuclear arms race has, since the 1960s, threatened to extinguish all life on earth—except, perhaps, cockroaches. According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, as of November, 2015, we are once again within 3 minutes of midnight. Did "we" create this situation?

So, are "we" indeed responsible for "our" government bombing hospitals, torturing people, the deaths of half-a-million kids, and possibly nuking out all life on earth, etc.?

But maybe, somehow, you and I—or perhaps you, one or more other persons, and I just might be able to do something about this. Right?

L. Reichard White [send him mail] taught physics, designed and built a house, ran for Nevada State Senate, served two terms on the Libertarian National Committee, managed a theater company, etc. For the last few decades, he's supported his writing habit by beating casinos at their own games. His hobby, though, is explaining things he wishes someone had explained to him. You can find a few of his other explanations listed here.

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