This article was published in the Summer 1998 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
Libertarianism in a Context
by Richard O. Hammer

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Organizations Live by Exploiting Patterns in the Universe
--Bias Needed to Discover New Rules
--Rules Restrain Behavior and Require Persistence
Predation Grows Spontaneously
Deference Grows Spontaneously
Synergy, and Larger Organizations, Grow Spontaneously
Aspects of Larger Organizations
--Predation on a Larger Scale
--Deference on a Larger Scale
--Synergy on a Larger Scale
The Rules of an Organization Can be Either Conscious or Subconscious
Synergy in Growth Has the Edge
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In a few recent articles I have advanced a view which places libertarianism in a context. I see libertarianism as a set of practices and beliefs which I expect to grow spontaneously in certain niches within a larger ecology. But I have not yet stated this view explicitly. So in this paper I make that statement, and attempt to support it. Also, since we libertarians need to understand predation and synergy, I will describe aspects of these.

I will employ a model, of life in the universe, which I first introduced in "An Engineer's View of Morality, Set in a Model of Life," Formulations Vol. V, No. 2 (Winter 1997-98). Some readers might find that paper helpful, in understanding this paper, because it gives more examples as well as a different presentation of the ideas.

My model deals with organizations. And you should be warned that, in this discussion, I blur the distinction between organisms and organizations. This blurring occurs commonly in the new science of spontaneous order: an organism (for instance, a person) is one kind of organization; and organizations often act like organisms.1 In some places here, when I use the word "organization," it may make more sense to you if you substitute "person" or "organism." But I use "organization" because I am trying to state the general case.

And notice, before we start, that small organizations sometimes combine to create larger organizations. In the later sections of this paper, starting with the section on synergy, I will use this model to suggest a few insights into this fascinating process, the formation of larger organizations. But for starters we will use the model to consider single organizations, acting as though they were alone in the universe.

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Organizations Live by Exploiting Patterns in the Universe

I believe that living organizations must follow rules as they navigate through existence. By living they consume energy and raw materials, so they must occasionally refill their stores of these essentials.

In order to find supplies they must follow rules. Rules enable the organizations to find supplies because there are patterns in the universe; there are concentrations of energy and raw materials. If an organization acted randomly (not following rules), it would soon deplete its store of necessities, and die.

There is a special relationship between the rules followed by organizations and the patterns in the universe. In a sense the rules derive from the patterns. Assuming some competition, and survival of the fittest, among rules which an organization may adopt, a rule which survives will be one which enables the organization to successfully exploit some pattern.

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Bias Needed to Discover New Rules

It seems natural to me that many organizations, those of the class which propagate themselves, will possess an evolved bias to seek new patterns to exploit. This means that they must seek new rules, which are the ways to exploit those new patterns.

I can think of two reasons why this bias might evolve. First, because every pattern in the environment is finite, and will eventually be consumed. Thus, for any given species of organization to continue indefinitely, it must sometimes discover new patterns and rules. Second, because propagation, into new and possibly larger niches, would be enhanced in species of organizations which systematically seek new patterns and rules.

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Rules Restrain Behavior and Require Persistence

Patterns in the environment can be exploited only through a pattern of action. This means that an organization, which would exploit a pattern by following a rule, cannot make decisions instant to instant, based upon immediate sensations, but rather must persist. It must endure some immediate feedback which is negative.

For example: suppose I see a tasty treat on a counter on the opposite side of the room, and start to act upon the rule that I may eat it if first I walk over to it. But walking requires energy. Step by step as I walk to the treat my body's account, of food energy expended vs. food energy gained, will run negative. During these steps, the rule will look bad. The account will show a positive balance only after the rule succeeds.

Thus we see that good rules, which will eventually lead an organization to a reward, will typically look bad during some slices of time.

This establishes, I believe, that an organization which is trying to discover a new rule must sometimes make mistakes. Until the final analysis, a good rule cannot generally be distinguished from a bad rule. So an organization which hopes to discover a good rule must tolerate the test of some bad rules.

In fancy organizations, such as humans, this necessary persistence sometimes gets labeled "belief," or "stubbornness."

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Predation Grows Spontaneously

All organizations, in this model, seek only to promote their own self-interest. Following whatever rules they know, they act as individual opportunists.

With this much reasoning, the model explains predation by individual organizations. As far as each individual organization is concerned, other organizations are patterns in the environment, which might possibly be exploited. Organizations generally exercise no restraint in exploiting other organizations. For example, we humans live by eating plants and animals.

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Deference Grows Spontaneously

Predation can and does occur. But predation is only one kind of relationship. Other kinds of relationships can ensue.

Suppose one organization discovers that another organization can hurt it. Then it will try to find the rules which it can follow to avoid this injury. Among many possibilities, it might learn to strike back in some way. And, if it does learn how to strike back, generally it will do so if it learns that this pattern of action reduces the frequency with which it is injured.

Would-be predators, where they have learned that they may receive a counter strike, learn not to exploit certain other organizations. Thus, in any environment in which many organizations interact regularly, we can expect to find many instances in which one organization has learned to treat others with deference.

This deference, this learned willingness to respect what other organizations consider to be their own interests, resembles the libertarian value that it is wrong to initiate use of force upon others. And I argue that this learned deference underlies, ultimately, libertarianism.

Actually, I see libertarianism as a subset of this natural deference, because natural deference can apply between interspecies pairs, whereas the libertarian value demands deference only within our species. Notice that a dog does not bite its master, and that a wasp does not sting a human unless provoked.

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Synergy, and Larger Organizations, Grow Spontaneously

In order to survive, you recall, organizations must exploit patterns in the environment. Typically, some of these patterns may be exploited by single organizations, acting alone. For examples of such patterns, think of anything that one person acting alone could hunt or gather. But, in more interesting cases, other patterns may be exploited only if two or more organizations cooperate in some way. In these cases the patterns would be large, too large for any individual organization acting alone to exploit, or complex, requiring more abilities than any individual organization possesses.

In addition to the libertarian live-and-let-live rules which, according this model, we expect organizations to learn, this model also suggests, in part, how synergy must grow.

Each individual organization perceives other organizations as patterns in the environment; other organizations are there to be exploited, if rules can be discovered which produce gain for the individual.

One of the patterns, which one organization may discover about another, is that giving something may induce the other to return something, either immediately or after some lapse of time. And, in those cases where each organization perceives that it has gained, they will each have discovered a rule which enables them to exploit a pattern. Mutually beneficial exchange becomes possible.

Here is an example of synergy which involves a large number of organizations:

Imagine a flat surface, perhaps a tabletop, upon which some tiny, perhaps one-celled, critters live. These critters need both water and sugar to live, and this tabletop upon which they find themselves is basically a desert. The wind blows, and occasionally deposits a few molecules of water or sugar within reach. These conditions support a population of only a few thousand of these critters, which live near starvation, scattered over the tabletop.

Now suppose that onto this tabletop fate places a drop of water at some spot, and a crumb of sugar at another spot a centimeter from the water. Suppose that this distance, a centimeter, is much further than any one of these critters can travel in its entire lifetime, but suppose that the critters do have ability to pick up raw materials, carry them for small distances, and then drop them again.

This environmental pattern, the pair of reserves of water and sugar, looks like a niche ready to be exploited. If the critters can learn appropriate rules of behavior, millions of them can start to live in a filament of trade between the water and sugar.

The critters who would make up this chain of trade would need to follow some simple rules. Such rules might be:

1. If you see water on the left, carry it to the right and set it down.

2. If you see sugar on the right, carry it to the left and set it down.

3. If you get thirsty or hungry, help yourself to what you need from the materials that pass through your possession.

Thus, it seems clear, large or complex patterns of energy and raw materials can be exploited by numerous organizations acting together. This exploitation becomes possible as individual members of the larger organization learn the rules which profit them as individuals, acting within the larger organization. And, since individual organizations act as opportunists, synergy will grow everywhere it can; larger organizations will grow everywhere they can.

Here is an interesting aside: notice that some advanced populations are able to survive only because they organize themselves to exploit such patterns. Clearly this must be true of the human population now on Earth. The Earth could not support, and did not support, this many people acting alone as hunter gatherers. We survive only because of our specialization and trade.

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Aspects of Larger Organizations

Notice that organizations, acting as opportunists in forming cooperative networks, do not automatically ally with other members of their own species. Indeed, in the general case, the members of an organization differ.

For example, consider the organization of a dog and its master. Typically we might expect the dog to be willing to fight to the death with other dogs, to defend its master. Thus, it seems to me, the interspecies bond, between dog and human, may be stronger than most intraspecies bonds, which the dog might feel with other dogs, or the human might feel with other humans.

So do not think that shared membership within a species automatically creates membership in a larger species-defined organization. In this model, all of humanity taken together does not form one organization, unless somehow that organization enables exploitation of some pattern in the universe.

Predation on a Larger Scale

On the contrary, if some people can organize in a way that enables them to successfully exploit other people, then generally I believe they will do it. For examples, consider slavery and the state. So would-be predators can and do cooperate; naturally they employ synergy among themselves to their own benefit.

Deference on a Larger Scale

Notice that defenders can likewise employ synergy. They can learn rules to orchestrate their actions in self-defense, as well as they can learn rules to orchestrate their actions in exploiting any other pattern. Thus, even though an individual organization is weak, it may be safe from attack if it enjoys protection in some network. This explains how weak and seemingly defenseless humans receive protection, such as they do receive.

Again I see libertarianism as a subset of this kind of induced deference. I suggest that the feeling, which causes us to express the moral value of libertarianism, grows as an expression of the deference which we, in our own self-interest, find ourselves generally inclined to extend to other humans.

Synergy on a Larger Scale

And finally, I find in this model a possible explanation for the evolution of collectivism. Examples, such as the one-celled tabletop critters above, convince me that some environmental patterns can be exploited only by numerous organizations which have learned appropriate rules of interaction. And, assuming that we live in a universe which has patterns of energy and raw materials which we have not yet exploited, the species that propagate most successfully into the future may be those whose individual members possess some predisposition to seek collective, cooperative action, because these may be the species which first discover new sets of rules which enable exploitation of these patterns. Assuming that human ancestors evolved in such circumstances, we might see an explanation for the collectivist impulse which seems so common in the human outlook.

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The Rules of an Organization Can Be Either Conscious or Subconscious

Organizations, in following rules and thereby exploiting patterns, are not necessarily conscious of either the rules or the patterns. I assume that the cells which make up my liver are not conscious of their participation in the work of that organization. Probably only higher-level organizations have anything like consciousness.

And, based upon my experience as a consciousness-possessing person, just because I can be conscious, that I am exploiting a pattern by following rules, does not mean that I always am conscious of this. Even in organizations which have the capacity of consciousness, I suspect that many rules and patterns remain unconscious.

With this dichotomy before us, notice how we use the word "belief." "Belief" can apply to either conscious or subconscious exploitation of a pattern.

Sometimes, for instance, when we are talking about a third person, we will say that person must believe X, because that person acts as though he believes X. That person, when confronted with our observation, may deny it, because his belief may be subconscious. Or we may be wrong in our supposition. But nonetheless, we might continue to employ our conscious belief that the third party believes X, if that rule helps us succeed in our behavior vis-à-vis him.

For another speculation, have you noticed that sometimes a person seems to want to believe something? (Not only do they believe it, they want to believe it.) This want might be explained by the notion that conscious beliefs form to support a pre-existing structure of underlying subconscious rules. A person has a large investment in all the underlying rules which have enabled her success thus far in life. As such, only rarely could mere arguments, from another person, provide sufficient basis to challenge underlying rules (subconscious beliefs).

The belief system of libertarianism can be either conscious or subconscious. For those of us who read and talk about libertarianism, probably our belief exists on the conscious level. But there are many subconscious libertarians too. You may recall that "the Quiz," published by the Advocates for Self-Government, is intended to find these.

Likewise, the belief system of statism can be either conscious or subconscious. The state, as I interpret Oppenheimer's account, is an organization which formed spontaneously.2 I suppose that states existed for a long time before anyone recognized them as such. And still, today, only a small minority recognize the state as the organization which we libertarians see. Indeed, how many of the statists in your acquaintance know the meaning of the word "statist"?

While on this point, notice that the resistance of statists to listen to libertarian ideas probably shows that statists are being served, in fact, by their subconscious participation in the state. To try to convince a statist to abandon the state is like trying to convince a farmer to abandon his relationship with his barnyard animals.

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Synergy in Growth Has the Edge

Relationships between organizations in nature take many possible forms. Here I have described three forms: predation, deference, and synergy. And I have classified libertarianism as a subset of deference.

Initially, when I started drafting this paper, I had libertarianism classified as a subset of synergy. But that turned out to be wishful thinking; I hoped to drape libertarianism in the most favorable garb. But writing forced clarification of my reasoning. As I now see it, we libertarians hope for synergy, but we do not demand it. We demand only deference. Synergy is a separate thing.

I have not, as yet, given any hope for libertarians, or any argument that synergy can outpace predation. Now I will do so. As shown in this model, environment overpowers ambition: the rules of conduct which survive are selected more by the environment in which organizations find themselves than by the ambitions which organizations may feel. And, as I have argued before, the circumstances in which we find ourselves strongly favor synergy among humans.3 Because our environment is so fertile, and because our minds are so powerful when unfettered, people who organize themselves in voluntary networks can easily outproduce, and thereby defend themselves against, people who organize in states for the purpose of exploiting other people. History provides numerous examples, such as the cold war.

Furthermore, more people are becoming aware of the state, as the predator that it is. So in the future we can expect to see more conscious cooperation among people who seek defense from the state. Cooperative defense against the state is still in its infancy.

So we libertarians, who want more of the benefits of synergy and less of the insults of predation, can be optimistic. But we can do more than feel optimism. We can act. We can move toward our goal.

However, as I see history, the action which I suggest has no precedent. While there are a few examples in which people have consciously organized themselves in order to enjoy the benefits of a libertarian community, there are no examples in which such conscious attempts have succeeded on the scale of a nation. Although our numbers, as libertarians, are great enough to populate a nation, few of us seem aware of the possibility that we might coordinate our efforts successfully to that end.

If I have understood the nature of organizations, and the course of developing consciousness, it seems inevitable to me that people will one day organize to protect themselves—in liberty. But, for the most part, we libertarians who might benefit from this organization are not conscious of this possibility. This shows the challenge which we in FNF accept. D

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 1 See, for instance, M. Mitchell Waldrop, Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, 1992.

 2 Franz Oppenheimer, The State: Its History and Development Viewed Sociologically, 1908 and later editions.

 3 See, for instance, "The Good News: Tyrants Always Fall," by Richard Hammer, Formulations, Vol. V, No. 1 (Autumn 1997), pp. 23–25.

Richard Hammer, President of the Free Nation Foundation, grew up in small towns in upstate New York. Later he lived, worked, and studied in several cities in the northeastern U.S.: Buffalo, Boston, Pittsburgh, Washington, and Syracuse. For the past thirteen years he has lived in Hillsborough, N.C.

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