Saturday, March 01, 2008

The selfish socialist

I felt a mood this week in London, that I haven't felt for a while. The mood was one of anger. Anger at what I couldn't tell, but there was definitely anger in the air. And not your usual "my bonus was rubbish this year" anger, but something more menacing. Something has gone wrong in Britain, this mood was saying, and the politicians (who are of course at the root of this and all other problems) had better keep their wits about them if they are going to deflect this mood somewhere else less deserving.

Gordon Brown, finger-on-the-pulse man that he is, probably spotted this mood too. Hence, his bitter denunciation of the evils of shopping bags, yesterday. Poor shopping bags, I thought. After all, they are the original technology which enabled us to differentiate ourselves from other apes about five million years ago, when human beings developed the carrying angle in their arms to help them transport their newly-invented private property, around the plains of Africa. Though of course, Mother-Earth worshipping socialists are still angry about this invention, too.

But even I was dumbfounded for a moment when Brown threatened the British shopping industry with the ultimatum that if they didn't voluntarily start charging for shopping bags then he would compel them to do so.

Gordon Brown is such a cretin and so utterly stupid that he is probably incapable of understanding the revolting irony of such a threat to protect us all from the terrors of free shopping bags, but it got me to thinking Hayekian thoughts about the root problem behind socialism.

Because every single person alive, from poor Paul Gascoigne all the way through to His Majesty David Starkey, is always working, at all times, towards what they perceive is to be in their own best interests. It is what makes them human. Rocks just sit there. Bacteria just graze. And ants just follow chemical trails. However, to be human is to think. And to think is to perceive the world. And to perceive the world is to try to change it for the better. For you. And for whatever else you hold dear; even if what you hold dear is communism or national socialism and your goal is the extermination of your enemies.

Yes, we're often mistaken in what we do at a tiny personal level too (for instance, when we buy shares in a company which then immediately crashes), but this is what makes us human, this constant human action to try to improve the world for ourselves, as best we perceive, and as best we can. We help others because it makes us feel good. If it made us feel bad we wouldn't do it, unless we enjoyed feeling bad, but then of course we are once again trapped by the logical whiplash of still working towards our own perceived best interests.

But then there's the rub. Although all of us at all times are always behaving selfishly like this, we Austrians are in a tiny minority because we admire this trait. We think that this is what makes us human, and the trick of civilisation is then to try to formulate shared ways of living which make it possible for all of us to behave as much like this as possible, within the general constraint of not harming the life or property of another. We can argue about whether intellectual property is real property, or whether only scarce physical goods can count as property, but we are at least all in the same progressive ball park, trying to formulate a set of natural laws with which we can all rub along.

Whereas your typical socialist petty tyrant, such as Fat Gordon Brown, thinks that everyone else should be made to obey his whims and his wants and his wishes, because this would suit his interests. But nobody else is allowed to behave like this, because anyone else behaving so selfishly is evil. So with Austrians, we want everyone to be as free as possible, within a reasonable constraint of non-initiation of violence against the lives of others and their life-enhancing property, whereas Gordon Brown wants one man to be free, himself, no doubt because he was appointed by God, and everyone else to be his slaves. Don't they realise it's for their own good that I'm trying to make them stop behaving so selfishly?

And so, naturally, to be an Austrian is to seek a natural harmony and an eventual place where each man can be himself, within the one simple constraint of non-initiation of violence, seeking his own happiness, usually by helping others find their happiness through trade and voluntary action, and accepting that all others will constantly seek their own betterment. Whereas to be a socialist, even one as powerful as Dopey Gordon Brown, is to live in constant misery. No matter what these tyrants do, for the rest of time we will all continue to be selfish, no matter how onerous the prohibitions or punitive the taxes. Even a skeletal prisoner in a Frozen Gulag will continue to seek warmth, even if this warmth were judged by the camp commandant to be better spent on improving the heat metrics of the state, naturally with the thermometer for measuring this metric within the camp commandant's hut! It must therefore be intolerable to be a socialist. You are constantly fighting the basic pattern of human nature, at all times, in all people, including within all of your fellow socialists. And if ever you try to tamper with this, for instance by genetically engineering areas of the brain, your slaves become next-to-useless morons. Because to seek to manipulate human nature to become more properly socialist, is to try to turn us all into bums. Gott und Himmel, Donner, und Blitzen!

Whereas the single pair of twinned evil-eyes we Austrians have to fight consists of the stone age impulse to pillage the property of other tribes linked to the bitter Goddess of Envy. And yes, defeating these two malcontent impulses is difficult - witness the current entrenchment of socialism, the very embodiment of them both - but I think in the long run we will have been seen to take the easier and certainly the more civilised road.

And so it was at this point that I got out of my taxi and visited Pret a Manger for one of their delicious tuna and basil leaf sandwiches. Marvellous. Philosophising, albeit in a derived amateurish way, really can make you ravenous.

And yes, I asked for a free bag. I know. It's criminal, isn't it? I ought to be locked up. I'm sure I will be if Fat Gordon ever gets his way. I'll be the one standing by the radiator.


John East said...

An excellent post, so good that you almost got me feeling sorry for socialists.

Jack Maturin said...

Now there's no need to go that far! :-)