30 October 2007

Illiberal elitists are the true social parasites

By means of greater regulation, corporations are turned into our slaves. Instead of draining wealth from the poor, they are forced to return it. Many, perhaps most, will go under in the attempt, and we should delight to see them drown.

Thus wrote Jeremy Moonbat, the privately-educated son of affluent middle class parents, in 2003.

I used to read Moonbat’s columns religiously. Published by a leftist newspaper throughout the noughties, they were well-written, closely-argued and almost always wrong. He railed against capitalism, and mocked less enlightened beings for their failure to understand collectivist ideology. The left-wing press loved him because he appeared to provide a scientific justification for the regulation of business.

Moonbat’s core argument, which he explains at greater length in his books, is that humans, being the products of natural selection, act only in their own interests. Only by sacrificing our freedom to collective entities do we come out behaving in ways that appear altruistic. By cooperating to oppress the individual in the name of ‘society’, we earn other people’s approval. This, we hope, allows us to advance our own interests (that of doing down our rivals) more effectively than we could by more obvious cheating, stealing and fighting. To permit these tendencies to flower, governments should be allowed to intrude into our lives as much as possible. Moonbat has proposed an ecologist’s version of Hegel's the-state-as-mystical-entity, harnessing humanity’s more destructive motives as a way to keep everyone in line.

Professor Moonbat, who has held visiting professorships at Oxford and Bristol, is no stranger to logic and science, and his explorations of our ecological history are often fascinating and provoking. But whenever a conflict arose between his logical training and his collectivist instincts, he would discard the logic. Ignoring research which came to different conclusions, and drawing instead on the support of an ideological lobby group referred to by some as 'climate alarmists', he argued that global temperatures have dramatically increased as a result of capitalist activity, so that we should be getting very worried indeed about climate change.

He has raged against tax reductions, private schools, the National Trust, and libertarians. He has called for “new forms of collectivism” which will implement his vision of ‘social justice’.

Like Professor Moonbat, I am a biological determinist: I believe that much of our behaviour is governed by our evolutionary history. I accept the evidence he puts forward, but draw completely different conclusions. Moonbat believes that modern humans are destined to behave well if (like doctors, policemen and social workers) they are given power by the government to interfere in other people’s lives; I believe that they are likely to behave badly. If you belong to a small group of intelligent hominids, all of whom are well-known to each other, you will be punished for unwanted meddling and other destructive behaviour within the group. (Though this would not prevent the majority of your group from ganging up on the minority.) If, on the other hand, you are an anonymous agent distinguished only by the authority granted to you by the state, and not answerable to the individuals over whom you have power, you will gain more from acting only in your own interest, i.e. against the interests of your victims.

Professor Moonbat and I have the same view of human nature: humans are inherently selfish. But the question is whether or not this nature is subject to the same conditions that prevailed during our evolutionary history. I believe that they have changed: we can no longer be scrutinised and held to account by a small community. We need restrictions on the powers of government agents, to provide the limits that were lost when our tiny clans dissolved in favour of mega-societies.

Wherever modern humans, living outside the narrow social mores of the clan, are allowed to pursue, in the name of society, their rivalrous interests without constraint, they will hurt other people. They will smash up people’s families; they will prescribe them drugs that harm rather than cure; they will persecute them for expressing ideologically incorrect opinions; they will mistreat and abuse the vulnerable, both young and old. And if they have the power of the state behind them, no one will be able to stop them except (possibly) those who are state agents themselves.

Our genetic inheritance — as well as our knowledge of events in places such as former East Germany — makes us smart enough to see that when the old principles of liberty break down, we serve our interests by appeasing those who are more powerful than ourselves (members of the state apparatus), and exploiting those who are less powerful (civilians). The survival strategies which once ensured cooperation among free individuals now ensure subservience to those who have gained power from the rise of the interventionist state.

I wonder whether Professor Moonbat would be able to sustain his beliefs in a place where statism has advanced to the point that privileged middle class individuals are no longer able to profit from private sector publishing activities. Even when taxpayers’ money and public services are in theory available to repair the destruction it causes, statism destroys people’s savings (by inflation), wrecks their lives (by means of low grade 'education' that demoralises people for life) and ruins their health (with damaging state medical services).

Collectivism is the belief system of the middle class elitist, who is perpetually buttressed by his privileged background and totally insulated from ordinary citizens. As social critics Moonbat and I both know what this means. Self-interested as libertarians (like everyone else) may be, the true social parasites are those who demand collectivism for other people while being themselves relatively protected from its consequences.

Apologies to: The Guardian