|Montreal, August 16, 2003 / No 127|
by François-René Rideau
Like all diseases, Black Magic can be characterized by its symptoms. We find a fine, precise and concise summary of these symptoms in an entry of The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce:
Everyone seeks happiness, success or redemption; but we can distinguish
two radically opposite paths to follow while striving for them. A follower
of Black Magic begs for grants, he humiliates himself, submits to superior
forces. An observer of White Magic earns rewards, he develops self-pride
and mastership (in a non-hierarchical sense). A follower of Black Magic
tries to obtain favors from superior forces by making sacrifices, by destroying
things or people, by making a show of one's friendly intents, or even by
humiliating himself in groveling submission. An observer of White Magic
tries to obtain satisfactions from earthly things and people (in a non-hierarchical
by enhancing himself and his property, by creating goods and services,
by doing actual work, by proudly developing his skills. Followers of Black
Magic are ignorant of nature and how it works, and they rebel against it
when it doesn't satisfy their whims. Practitioners of White Magic try to
understand nature and its mechanisms, they accept it as it is, and use
their knowledge of it to achieve satisfactions. To followers of Black Magic,
Gods are supernatural beings above us; their nature is Holy and suffers
no questioning. To practitioners of White Magic, inasmuch as things can
be explained in terms of Gods, Gods are but aspects of Nature itself. To
followers of Black Magic, the ultimate goal is the fulfillment of all wild
desires, with impossibility being vanquished in a surreal paradise to be
granted to worshippers in some far future or after death. To practitioners
of White Magic, the ultimate goal is to achieve appreciated satisfactions
before death, with the wisdom to reevaluate one's desires so as to fit
the realm of the possible.
This is what I call Black Magic – the belief and practice of seeking good things as miracles bestowed by a certain kind of jealous and venal Gods: Gods who require you to humiliate yourself before them; Gods who reward sacrifices that prove subservience; Gods who relish the abjection of their believers, and the reduction of unbelievers into subjects; Gods who rejoice in the destruction or debasement of oneself and other people; Gods with unlimited powers and arbitrary whims, that are not bound by any law knowable by reason, but are meant to be influenced by a display of compliant intentions from their humiliated followers. Of course, awful gods who could be corrupted by such an attitude would not deserve being worshipped at all. They are monstrosities against which any self-respecting human being cannot but revolt. Those that grovel at the feet of such gods are slaves, swine; they are creatures lacking the dignity of their own free will, and they are prompt to forsake their free will indeed.
On the contrary, White Magic is a wholly different set of beliefs, involving a wholly different kind of incorruptible but well-meaning Gods: Gods who require people to improve themselves; Gods who reward the creations that proves one's mastership with the creations themselves; Gods who relish the self-esteem of believers, and the raising of unbelievers into partners; Gods who rejoice at their observers' self-reliance and pride; Gods who have limited power, whose behavior is circumscribed by knowable laws of nature, who are only moved by appropriate engineering by proud observers. These Gods are not to be worshipped, but understood. They are facts of nature that humans must learn to know and accept. Those who master these Gods become better humans; they are moral beings exerting their morality by making choices, and who indeed seek liberty and its dual face, responsibility, as the mother of all virtues.
Black Magic and White Magic are two opposite poles in the universe of attitudes that humans can have toward Life. In actual human behavior, in actual human beliefs, religions and discourses, within the complexity of any single person's mind, the two opposite attitudes may be simultaneously present, and their many instances interwoven, combined, and blended. The reality of human behavior oscillates between these two extremes, and more often than not yields shades of gray. But this gray doesn't mean that black and white do not exist: the very notion of shades of gray presupposes that black and white exist, that they can be separated and that you can be closer to one than to the other.
Separating white from black is not easy. Indeed, both aspects are simultaneously present in traditional cultures and religions; the very same words will contain several meanings with radically different colors; and most people will conflate these meanings into a vague confused concept that prevents them from distinguishing the opposition between those meanings. Thus, confused or deceiving people will often resort to patterns of thoughts that jump from one meaning to the other without most listeners noticing the mistake or fraud. And this permanent confusion is no sheer bad luck: Black Magic systematically develops deceitful appearances. It will impersonate white magic so as to claim its creations, so as to gain power and legitimacy. Black magicians, the great destructors who dominate society, will dress in white, and claim to be great creators, whereas they will dress in black the enslaved white magicians who actually create.
Thus, people who believe what they are taught by schools and mass media will often have an inverted idea of what is White Magic and what is Black Magic, of who is being exploited and who is exploiting, of what are the principles of creation, and what are the principles of destruction. The more gullible people will indeed invert black and white on a wide range of issues, wherever the propaganda is efficient. Less gullible people will be confused into seeing gray everywhere. Of course, it is true that people find it usually obvious to distinguish what is constructive and what is destructive when it directly concerns themselves, so that the Black Magic propaganda can seldom deceive people regarding their immediate self-interest; but it can deceive them regarding their long-term self-interest, and regarding the self-interest of those people they don't know well. It inverts the long-range moral vision of gullible people, and induces moral myopia in less gullible people. This inversion causes a lot of confusion; it creates for each believer an intermediate area where everything is blurry or self-contradictory, between their short-range understanding and their inverted long-range understanding; this in turn induces a feeling of absurdity about life. In the end, this leads to a form of schizophrenia among those who accept theories too far from everyday practice, to self-destruction by those who will not adopt practices opposite to their theories; and to atrophy of the minds of those who seek to avoid mental conflict by rejecting theory altogether.
So as to understand the world, we must learn thus to untangle the tree of White Magic from the parasite lianes of Black Magic that surround it. So as to assess the effects of various attitudes and deeds, we must examine the respective influences of Black Magic and White Magic in human behavior. Black Magic always wins in appearance; you will always see it dominate the established institutions, glorified by formal rites and astonishing shows. But it is White Magic that actually makes the world go round, even if it requires discernment to see that. black magicians are expert in wishful thinking, idle imprecation, and deception of themselves and other people; but only through the dedicated work of white magicians does the world actually progress. All creation stems from the principles of White Magic. White Magic serves as the basis for civilization itself. And Black Magic itself can survive but as a parasite to White Magic – for if there is no creation, there soon remains nothing left to destroy.
Murray Rothbard, in the conclusion of his book Power and Market, made a small comparative table between the consequences of what he called "The Market Principle" and "The Hegemonic Principle." We may very well extend his table to summarize the opposition between the broader underlying principles that are White Magic and Black Magic. Actually, considering this table, we may equally name these principles respectively the Libertarian Principle and the Authoritarian Principle.
White Magic and Black Magic attitudes are pervasive. Indeed, it is by structuring the way people think that they influence the way people act. Like all self-reproducing memes, they spread and survive inasmuch as the act they entail will in turn contribute to spread the meme. A major target for the memes is thus the center of language, the mechanisms with which individuals associate meaning to words and relate words to each other and to emotions, the way people understand the world.
George Orwell, in his famous novel 1984, described how totalitarian regimes try to limit the way people can think, express and exchange ideas that may be subversive to their established order, by reshaping the language into what he dubs Newspeak: the vocabulary is reduced; the terms are redefined to mean only what the party wants, and to have only connotations in line with the party ideology; subversive words and meanings are eliminated, etc(45). When the enemies of liberty do not hold totalitarian power, they cannot manipulate the language at will; however, they can still spread their connotations into words, and add enough secondary meanings to existing words so as to render them useless (or at least much less useful) at conveying opposing ideas, or precise ideas at all. Indeed, Friedrich Hayek has observed how the adjective "social," when used as a prefix to such terms as "justice," "contract," "responsibility," etc., was actually used to have justice, contract, responsibility, etc., mean the opposite of what libertarians would use these words for. Philosophers like Henry Hazlitt and Ayn Rand have also observed how the words "egoism" and "altruism" were being used by enemies of liberty with grossly incoherent meanings, promoting them as incompatible and opposite to one another, with egoism being evil and altruism being good, thus justifying the sacrifice of individuals to the collectivity, as incarnate in its government(46).
We may pinpoint a case where black magicians have strongly biased a word in our preceding comparative table: the word "exploitation." Exploitation means fulfilling some potential of usefulness; bringing the good out of something or someone. So mutual exploitation is something quite good, that allows everyone to be better off, with a net result of creation of wealth for everyone – mutual exploitation is the root of everything good in society(47). But the black magicians have loaded the word "exploitation" to specifically means unilateral exploitation of one to the benefit of the other, with a net result of destruction of wealth. Once again, they want everyone to implicitly admit that society is not based upon relationships of production, but only upon relationships of predation. Black magicians think in terms of predation; then they reproach exploitation as evil when other people do it, and they claim it as good when they do it (though they won't utter the unholy word "exploitation" in this case). Actually, since a society based exclusively on predation is impossible, in the end, Black Magic will be based on a fraud wherein most followers of Black Magic will themselves be enslaved producers, victims of predation, but completely delusioned about what is production and what is predation. The belief in Black Magic will thus be a parasite infesting people who actually live thanks to the creative rules of White Magic; it may allow few real Black Magicians to live at the expense of these people; but it may even survive without benefitting much anyone.
Sometimes, White Magic wins in the battle over vocabulary. My favorite witness is the word "to earn" – a typically English and American word, that has no real equivalent in French. It implies a dynamic relationship between a result and the means to achieve it: through hard work, you get something valuable that you deserve. A whole morality of creation, productivity, honesty, individual property, personal responsibility, and liberty lies behind this word. Yet, even as I try to describe the meaning of this libertarian word, I have to use words that can cause confusion, and that the authoritarians will happily hijack: hard work, productivity. Black magicians, who are unaware of causal relationships, will disconnect work from its result, and will either blame all work as bad in itself(48), or otherwise praise the virtues of work as good in itself(49). White magicians value "hard work," not in proportion to the intensity of the efforts, but in proportion to the intensity in results(50). It is understood as a law of nature that easy gains will be quickly reaped and considered as acquired without particular care (any required care means the gain is not so easy). Thus, any fruitful work that predictably yields a valuable result will probably imply some intense efforts or rare insight. And it is precisely the propensity to sacrifice obvious immediate pleasures to a remote unobvious result that deserves praise – inasmuch as the remote result is indeed a net gain. Still, what is praised is the readiness to see and act beyond immediate gains – the ultimately greater good made possible by the immediate sacrifice; it isn't the immediate evil of the sacrifice itself(51)! The praise or lack thereof deserved by hard work can be related with the praise or lack thereof deserved by intense reflection: what matters is not the effort spent in thinking per se, it is the result in terms of depth of the thought reached. And even this depth is to be valued only through the improvement in behavior that it allows; in turn, this improvement is to be measured in terms of enhancement in satisfactions in one's life (including the indirect satisfactions achieved through cooperation with other people who can be more directly satisfied thanks to this understanding). The goal is "less thought, more results," and not the other way round(52); deep thought is good only if on the whole it enables new strategies of behavior that save the need for future thinking while achieving a same or better result – it's a capital investment.
Black Magic, the Authoritarian Principle, is a meme that profoundly distorts its victims' view of the world, as opposed to the correct view that is achieved with White Magic, the Libertarian Principle. If we libertarians want to cure people from the Black Magic meme, we must take the full consequence of the way Black Magic distorts the understanding of its victims. For we can cure them but by convincing them, and while communicating with them, we will have to cross the semantic gap between the words as we understand them, and the same words as these victims understand them – with each victim having his or her own subtly different set of distortions(53).
In the previous section, we have identified the basic attitudes of White Magic and Black Magic as two competing memes (or a pair of families of competing memes). Now that we have studied them from the memotypical point of view(54), we shall proceed with the phenotypical point of view: how these attitudes translate in terms of dynamic individual behavior.
One crucial step of feedback between one's understanding of the world and one's actions upon the world, lies in the way that one decides what is good and what is bad, which actions to prefer and which actions to avoid, which goals to actively seek and which goals to actively shun. These questions define not just personal morality, not just personal taste, but personal life. So the first question of ethics is: is there in the world anything sacred, holy, or supremely good? The second question of ethics is: how can we identify the sacredness, holiness, goodness, or whatever, with enough precision to distinguish it from what is base, unholy, evil and unwhatever? And the third question of ethics is: having identified these worthy goals, how can we best promote them(55)?
The first question of ethics is answered easily enough: the very asking of the question, the very breathing of the seeker, supposes that life is worthwhile; we know some things are better than other things, we feel it, and that's why we act to begin with(56). This dispels moral nihilism.
With the second and third questions, Black Magic and White Magic entail opposite approaches, opposite epistemologies. Black magicians have a static view of the world; they see information as flowing unilaterally, from Authority to you, and from you to those who are further from authority. White magicians on the other hand have a dynamic view of the world; information is not known wholly in advance, and how we interact with the world is instrumental not only in furthering good, but also in discovering what is good to begin with.
This leads to two very different structures of social organization: the ur-structure after which black magicians will model social interaction is the hierarchy; the ur-structure after which white magicians will model social interaction is the enterprise.
With Black Magic, each man is an "end in himself," distinct from all other men and opposite to all of them. In-fighting is the natural mutual condition of men, and only an externally imposed order may keep them cooperating; and this cooperation itself may happen for only one possible common goal: fighting common external enemies, be they actual enemies (wild animals that may be predators or preys, foreign people who may either invade and enslave "us" or be invaded and enslaved by "us"), or symbolic enemies (that may be invaders like unemployment, poverty, illness, or potential slaves like commercial processes, electricity, space). The externally imposed order takes the form of a command structure above men; this command structure is actuated by men who must themselves be coordinated by a command above them, and so on, in a hierarchy, until one man holds the ultimate command, and obtains his Authority directly from the official ultimate Black Magic principle of authority: The Right of Conquest, The Ruling Class, The Superior Race, The Natural Order of Things, God, Religion, The People, The Nation, The Indivisible Republic, Democracy, etc. Nature is seen as a struggle at many levels, from the Cosmic to the trivial, and social organization matches the structure of nature, by being divided in a nested hierarchy of groups with common external enemies and otherwise internal conflicts forcefully solved by an authority keeping subgroups from freely interacting. The prototypical figure of Black Magic is an administrative manager of men, who commands people below him and receives order from above.
With White Magic, each man has ends of his own, but the ends of men are not intrinsically incompatible or opposite: men benefit from cooperation, and their ends can thus be seen as harmonious. Each man is thus a legitimate means to the ends of each other man, with cooperation being achieved by people mutually helping to fulfill the ends of each other, both being used and using others in mutually beneficial mutual exploitation(57). The natural condition of society is thus an emerging order of cooperation; and this cooperation happens by each man tending to his own ends, and using other freely cooperating people as means. Together, people may build, improve, replace and abandon logical structures, both mechanical or social, to master nature, to put it into motion, to react to its events, adapt to its changes, etc. We produce the fulfilments to the self-defined goals of our lives by engineering natural processes into serving these ends of ours; we implement the structures that satisfy us with the available resources(58). The organization of defense against aggressors is but a particular case of ensuring that the structures we create are not destroyed by external forces; and this taking into account of the adverse forces that decay and destroy the structures we create is itself an integral part of our engineering of these dynamic structures. Just like any other problem of life, the danger of aggression is to be solved through free cooperation so as to maximize output and minimize input. The organization of society is a dynamic adaptative structure of cooperating individuals, coordinating through voluntary contracts tied on free markets. To white magicians, Life is a creative enterprise. The prototypical figure of White Magic is an entrepreneurial engineer, who masters a technique and seeks cooperation with other men to use it in building structures that produce the most satisfactions out of the least resources(59).
To black magicians, certain knowledge flows from the Authority to the mere mortals. The ideal society of Black Magic is thus organized hierarchically around the Authority, in a caste division: at the top are the priests, wise men, brahmins, inner party members, official intellectuals, politicians, or whatever the name, from whom flows the order of society. Afterwards are the military, warriors, policemen, administration clerks, civil servants, teachers and commissars, who disseminate and enforce the superior order upon society. Below is the mass of producers, workers, peasants, craftsmen, technicians, engineers and other slaves, who do the base work; though a minority of them may have advanced skills regarding mastery of nature, they are themselves considered socially but as tools in the hands of the elite; and while these skilled laborers have to be paid more (or else they would abandon their skills and do base work like others), the official ideology will make them less than physical laborers. At the very bottom, barely tolerated if at all, are the traders, merchants, money-lenders, speculators, who do some despicable job, that is best understood as scavenging the leftovers of the orderly administration, profiteering from the misery of people in mysterious ways, doing dirty tasks that are below the current higher concerns of the Hierarchy.
As caricatural as it may seem, this is exactly the model of all the totalitarian utopias: it is the ideal followed by the ancient empires of Egypt, China(60) or the Andies; it is the model proposed in Plato's The Republic, in the theories of indian brahmins or european legists; it is the vision of communism and its softened social-democratic spin-offs. The fact that there is hardly any variation among all the many totalitarian ideals from so many different times and places, even in the absence of intellectual communication between them, ought to have provided a strong hint of a common evil behind them: the Authoritarian Principle, Black Magic.
Also, we see why a black magician will both revere Power in itself, yet hate whoever is in power, if he does not follow the One True Authority as understood by said black magician: the world in its current state is quite a dystopia to a black magician who won't fully identify with government; yet, with the pace of change in the world in general and in governments in particular, and with the variety of flavors of Black Magic, full identification of people with their government is forcibly rare. Black magicians who identify enough with their government will seek to take hold of it, and to reform it toward a better match with their ideals. Black magicians, horrified by too great a discrepancy between their view of Good and the current reigning authority that they reject, will seek a revolution, or if they are too weak, an escape, or else, will live as antisocial parasites ruining a society they abhor.
An essential myth on which rests the Authoritarian Principle is the myth of objective knowledge, whether it is justified as stemming from the "true religion," or, in contemporary days, from "established science": beliefs that must be accepted without possibility of dissent by the people who receive it from the high-priests; knowledge the search of which is good if done by the official elite, evil if done by others. This objective knowledge is to be contrasted with the relativism claimed by black magicians of late about reality when justifying the variety in arbitrariness of the many tyrannies they defend: if reality contradicts their theories, then reality is wrong, or it is "plural," so that they are exempt from the rational need of logical coherence.
White Magic, on the other hand, rejects the premise of an objective knowledge about a relative reality, but is instead based on relative knowledge about an objective reality. All knowledge is conjecture, but reality provides a solid framework against which to test and enhance our knowledge; though it is more correct to reverse the direction of previous sentence: reality doesn't exist to try our knowledge and discriminate godsend truth from devil-inspired falsity; quite on the contrary, we develop knowledge to organize our behavior within reality, to adjust this behavior so as to implement our goals.
Note that looking at the fact that all knowledge is conjecture from the static point of view of Black Magic precisely leads to the fallacy of relativism, the negation of reason, and the preeminence of brutal force as the ultimate criterion for "truth." On the contrary, looking at that fact from the dynamic point of view of White Magic leads us to seeing knowledge as a bet, and to realizing that every act of life is an entrepreneur's choice. In the paradigm of Black Magic, Life is Struggle, every man is a fighter for his own sake in an absurd world. In the paradigm of White Magic, Life is Entrepreneurship, every man is the entrepreneur of his own life in a meaningful world.
Indeed, any knowledge we have about the future can only be obtained from past experience by induction. David Hume showed that induction could never lead to certain knowledge, but only to conjectures, for any general rule we may induce from past experience can always be invalidated by future experience(61). There are infinitely many ways to digest data into a set of rules. However, some of these ways are simpler, considering the background knowledge that varies with individuals and with time; and it is in a strong sense an optimal strategy to give exponentially more credit to simpler explanations than to more complex ones: such strategy minimizes the amount of time and energy being spent while leaving the least leeway for manipulation by memes attempting to parasite us(62).
Now, though the same strategy, disregarding the initial knowledge, will ultimately lead to the same asymptotic behavior when faced with the same sequence of events, in practice, we each start with a different initial knowledge, we each have a different intellect, we each face a different sequence of events, and our life is too short to ever get near the asymptote. Thus, in the end, knowledge is something subjective and personal: it is based on experience that cannot be wholly shared; it is adapted to each of our lives; it is unadapted to any other person's life; it improves from the feedback of decisions taken based on it; it goes wild without proper feedback.
The social model proposed is not a hierarchy, but an interaction, where each individual takes intrinsically personal decisions, with a paradigm that yields simultaneously self-improvement and respect of other people: liberty, responsibility, property.
To black magicians, knowledge is sacred; it is objectively gained by following the Authority. To white magicians, the learning-living process is sacred; subjective knowledge is born out of respecting Liberty. To black magicians, knowledge preexists and must be followed. To white magicians, knowledge is one kind of good among many, that may be generated, at a cost, when we bet that it will be relevant to making better decisions, for an improvement worth the cost(63); knowledge is never perfect, but it doesn't ever need be perfect, it just has to be good enough – or rather, it's one among the many parts of our individual entrepreneurial capital.
Black Magic and White Magic have opposite approaches to knowledge. We saw how this led to two wholly different models for the organization of society. But it also implies opposite approaches to how social knowledge is achieved. Indeed, in Black Magic, those people who hold social power still need to base their decisions upon some information; while in a simple rigid society, a fixed hierarchy may be enough to get orders transmitted without discussion from top to bottom, as the society being parasited by Black Magic grows in complexity, such a rigid hierarchy just cannot scale; thus, Black Magic institutions develop tools of their own, to produce information that black magicians may agree upon, so as to take decisions as to how to prey upon the parasited society. By contrast, in White Magic, the freedom to acquire and use knowledge and provide knowledge-based services to other people means that various people will specialize in various forms of knowledge, so that other people may ignore them and still benefit; none of the specialist with have any a priori authority, but instead, each will have to sell his services on a free market; nonetheless, methods will be developed for specialists to acquire knowledge as well as for laymen to detect good specialists, in a competitive cooperative environment.
The Black Magic approach to understanding the world is static. It tries to describe the world in terms of parameters, the relevance of each of which is measured by the emotional resonance of a change in its value, rather than by any rational theory in terms of causal chains in events that affect these parameters (though as we saw in the case of public goods justification, an appearance of rational explanation may be given to satisfy the refrained White Magic urges of parasited people). These parameters are in turn measured, and the measures and their science, the statistics, is the heart of the Black Magic approach to knowledge; they serve to justify statist policies, where the State, considered as an entity outside of society, takes measure to magically modify parameters toward a more desirable value (as claimed to be by the statisticians).
Now, since there are infinitely many parameters that may be affected by infinitely many events, the statistical point of view always gives a partial, false, and ultimately fallacious image of the world. Given a static set of statistic measurements, you can always invent a statist intervention that will make them produce better-looking figures, by sweeping the dirt under the rug – i.e. better the aspects that are measured by worsening everything that isn't measured – including those preconditions indispensable for the figures to meaningfully signify a betterment. Thus, when statistic measures are used as goals (as in "convergence criteria," or governmental bragging rights about the reduction or increase of some figure) the result is that governments will intervene in such a way that unmeasured things will get worse and that the measures themselves will become meaningless(64).
The statistical justifications for government thus always consists in (1) focusing on a particular set of measured parameters as the "problem," disconnecting these parameters from other parameters that make the measure meaningful; (2) applying an instance of the What Is Seen And What Is Not Seen Fallacy to show how some scheme could improve the measures, without regard for fact that this intervention actually worsens the unmeasured parameters to the point of being harmful (3) positing governmental coercion as the magic solution to the problem of imposing the devised scheme, since it fails to appear by itself.
The statistical attitude doesn't require figures to be wrong: the partial focus on static parameters, the disconnection of results done to these parameters from the dynamic consequences of the means used to modify them, the invocation of government as a magical god that can intervene for free – all these define the statistical point of view, and explain why it is an intellectual fraud in itself. Figures are but a way to give pseudo-scientific value to the statistical attitude. They are just a ritual ornament meant to inspire awe, in the religious staging of the statist black magic religion(65).
Of course, the more elaborate the coverage of the statistical measures, the more complex the technocratic apparatus needed to intervene in ways that better the measured figures (to the detriment of the public at large). When statistical goals are used as a guide to develop public administrations, the weight, cost and effectivelessness of these government agencies will increase, producing more statistics and more complex interventions, up until the point when it can't even better the measures anymore; beyond that point, the government is in a permanent atmosphere of crisis, where it works hard with no positive results, even by its own crooked standards(66). Statistics are the tool by excellence by which governments play the fallacy of what is seen and what is not seen. Some try to use the government's own tool to push government intervention away from them: they will produce counter-statistics, etc. But it will cost them a lot to maintain these statistics, which will be disputed by the government, and in the end, the best they can achieve is that government will include new parameters in its statistics, leading to increased, more complex and more subtle government intervention. Counter-statistics can be an effective way to lobby for government intervention in your favor, if you manage to get your statistical measurements adopted by government. But counter-statistics cannot be used as a way to diminish overall government intervention.
Actually, statistics were born as a tool for fiscal accounting; in effect, it is the way for the State to track its assets. The "economic" calculus of Black Magic is indeed based on accounting and statistics, focusing on who possesses what riches and who exchanged what with whom, so as to tax them(67). Citizens are forced to declare all they own and all they earn, so that the government can take some of it away; government in turn promises reprisals and confiscation when citizens do not properly declare everything to the administration. The use of statistics as a paradigm for deception is an outgrowth of this original accounting purpose; it is an evolutionary adaptation of the State, when faced with a technical society where it is indispensable that some rationality be widespread among the people, so that raw force cannot be used without taking the deceptive appearance of reason.
White Magic is based on a completely different epistemology. It has a dynamic approach to understanding the world in terms of causation, of decisions taken based on information, of dynamic flow of information and energy, etc. It is a cybernetical approach. The basic notions it considers are decisions, events, choices, each with its dynamic implications, instead of aggregates that give static figures independently of any causal chain. In other words, the White Magic view of the world is still partial, but it focuses its study on understandable means rather than ununderstandable ends. This allows us to take decisions that are not flawed by the systematic bias (whether voluntary or involuntary) of the statistic-making process. And indeed, the information we process can eventually influence the world but through the decisions we make. Decisions are thus the basic element with which human life is built. They are the very fabric of life: not static joy and pain, but responsible decisions and their consequent feedback.
The accounting fallacies of Black Magic compare the present to the past (within the scope of a few parameters, while others are hidden); it attributes credit to ones and debit to others (in practice, the privileged get the credit, and the exploited pay); accounting is a record of property transfers; it gives information on what happened, but cannot in any way predict what will happen to adapt to the inevitable change of life. Now, when one makes a choice, one is never, ever choosing between the future and the past; time flows, whether one agrees to it or not. One is always, forever, choosing between multiple futures. Hence morality and economics (and actually, economics is the very same as morality) is never concerned about accounting costs; instead, it is always concerned about opportunity costs, that is, expected difference of outcome between the various opportunities. Accounting costs are irrelevant; the only people who ever care about accounting costs are tax officers – in other words, robbers.
Economic calculus in the White Magic paradigm is thus praxeological reasoning: it considers the opportunity cost of various decisions, rather than the irrelevant accounting costs. It compares the present to several possible futures, as parametrized by the various actual choices that one faces, rather than by miraculous changes in external parameters. It tries to evaluate what is the difference of outcome that various decisions will bring (which difference is the economic cost of the decision, also known as its opportunity cost). It gives information on what could happen, and is a tool for decision-making. It serves as a guide to allocate resources to one project or another.
Given the knowledge of the various opportunity costs, and the preferences of individuals, the praxeologist proceeds to determine which decisions will be preferred and taken. Of course, the knowledge of the various opportunity costs might be but partial, and these costs evaluated differently by various individuals depending on their own knowledge and preferences. But this can itself be viewed as an opportunity: it means that exchange of information between people can help them take better decisions, by having better models of each other's and their own preferences and opportunities, so as to adapt not only to what nature can do but also to what each other will do. Thus even though this information about opportunities and preferences(68) may depend on a lot of unknown or unmastered factors, it is possible to make useful predictions; moreover, cooperation between people allows risks to actually diminish and lessens the effects of unmastered factors, by sharing knowledge, by building elaborate strategies based on coordinated action, by distributing responsibilities about each subject to those who know better about the field, etc.
The precise prediction of the outcome of the combination of all human choices, considering all the particular conditions in which these choices happen, is out of reach of any person or combination of person – if only because the knowledge on which to base this prediction is itself not available. We can never know for sure which of two choices another person will prefer, unless we do ask him to make the choice, and see what he chooses, at which point it is too late to make a prediction. And that is for one choice only, whereas the combination of all human action is much more complex. Thus, the full understanding of human society is beyond the reach of anyone. But that doesn't mean more partial forms of understanding are unachievable, and that no useful prescriptions are possible. Indeed, it is possible to discern immutable general laws of human behavior, that are no less laws of nature than are the laws of electromagnetism; and from the knowledge of these laws, it is possible to deduce general principles of behavior, and an art of behavioral engineering, much like there are general safety rules for the use of electromagnetic devices and an art of electrical engineering.
From the rules that people explicitly acknowledge or implicitly follow, an order emerges in society. This order is seldom if ever used as an explanation to justify the rules to follow – what matters, though is that said order is actually an inevitable consequence of the acceptance of the rules. Cyberneticians are interested in these rules, what they are, what they can be, how they affect the emerging order, how to change them, within what limits they can be changed, what recipes can be followed to build better behavior, etc. While studying rules of behavior, cyberneticians will pay particular attention to variants and invariants: which potentials and which information are being conserved by which kind events, and which are irreversibly spent; which phenomena are the locus of positive feedback, and are conducive to evolutionary forces; which phenomena are the locus of negative feedback, and are conducive to partial equilibria; which events modify available opportunities With such an analysis, it becomes possible to systematically weed out such fallacies as that which is seen and that which is unseen that defy basic natural laws of conservation, and to focus energy and attention on plans that may actually work.
White Magic and Black Magic differ not only in the way they encourage us to gather information and determine what is good, but also in the way they have us act toward what we think is good. Whereas the static thinking of Black Magic implies an ends-oriented theory of moral action, the dynamic thinking of White Magic implies a means-oriented theory of justice.
The Authoritarian Principle argues that some people know what is good, that they have the authority to determine what is good. Consequently, for authoritarians, people who go against opinions expressed by this authority are acting in evil ways, and should be prevented from doing it; coercion is thus considered as a legitimate way to enforce against dissenters the opinions of authority upon its acknowledged domain.
On the contrary, the Libertarian Principle argues that goodness in general and useful knowledge in particular emerge from each person being free of choosing and responsible for one's choices within the limits of the property one creates and acquires. To paraphrase Hayek, we libertarians do not deny that there are superior people, better choices, moral and immoral deeds, etc. What we deny is that anyone would have the authority to decide who these superior people are, what these better choices are, which deeds are moral or immoral, etc(69).
Indeed, assuming that some people know better, how do we establish who these people are? Authority does not solve the problem of the knowledge of what's good; it only pushes this problem back, to be swept under the rug of irrationality. Ultimately, each individual, so as to determine which authority to heed, will still have to use one's own reason, one's own experience, one's own traditions (that are but experience accumulated for centuries). One's own mind is irreducibly the ultimate criterion for one's own choices, even if one chooses to delegate; some personal liberty and responsibility cannot be negated, even in the most authoritarian setting.
For even if you accept some authority, even if God speaks directly to you and you know it, other people might not know it. They have no means to ascertain your claims, and thus they have no reason to believe you a priori, to follow the exact same authority, etc. There's no way they can reasonably trust your word for it. And even if they agree with you in a formal way, agreeing to your opinion, using the very same words as come from the very same authority, they might actually have a different interpretation of these words, they might understand them with a different meaning, with subtle but essential differences. So even with a formal agreement on a common authority, there remains the question of how one can communicate one's actual ideas of what Good is, and have it prevail against opposing ideas. Supposing one knows what Good is, how can one have other people also know what it is? Assuming that one's notion of Good has a potential meaning to other people that one wishes to transmit, what are the legitimate or efficient ways to achieve this transmission?
This is another way by which the Authoritarian Principle cannot evade the practical necessity of having to convince people through peaceful ways: every would-be authority doesn't have the direct individual resources to coerce at most but a few other people into doing one's bid; it is only by acquiring the cooperation of minions, henchmen, followers and accomplices that one can extend one's grip on unconsenting individuals. And all these servants and accomplices have to be convinced, seduced, or otherwise persuaded, not out of a preexisting authority, but out of non-authoritarian means. Now, in the case of Black Magic, these non-authoritarian ways include fraud and deception, the culture of superstition and irrationality, as well as gangs of consenting mobsters victimizing unconsenting third parties.
On the contrary, the Libertarian Principle, since it bars authority, coercion, fraud, deception and any kind of victimization, induces the development of very particular means to acquire the cooperation of other people: rational discussion, or at least seduction in a way compatible with rational criticism. It can even be said that rational or otherwise logical reasoning in general are born out of the liberty to negociate under what terms to cooperate, and to ultimately choose whether to cooperate or not. And therefore it is no surprise that axiomatic mathematics was born in the freest cities of Greece. Indeed, when free people have to gain the voluntary acceptance of other free people, including foreigners from other cities, so as to cooperate, one has to convince other people that it is their interest to cooperate, yet not be oneself foolishly convinced against one's own interest. Thus, in a society of mutually free individuals, everyone develops to some degree skills in both communication (rhetorics, dialectics) and analysis of communication (logic, politics). And these skills are only developed in such societies of free and responsible people: for there is no interest to invest in reason when one is not going to decide or when one is not going to suffer the consequences of one's own decisions, whereas one has to decide well when one is free and accountable. Hence coercion makes people irresponsible and irrational, whereas freedom makes people responsible and reasonable. That irrational seduction develops and prospers is a sure sign that the principles of freedom and accountability are not being respected.
Let us now investigate the quintessential legacy of the Authoritarian Principle: coercion made a legitimate means of action. Coercion does not convince – it cannot. Its very principle is to eschew conviction and the means to achieve it. It can make people do what you desire – but only if you're the strongest – and only for a moment, after which things are even worse than before. For not only will people have remained unconvinced, they will also have abandoned the now unnecessary mental tools or rationality and responsibility necessary to develop deep conviction. This is why coercion can never be used to make people moral, according to anyone's idea of morality: they will remain as immoral as before, just more so for accepting the rule of their masters, while the masters themselves become monsters. It makes the subjects hypocrites and the masters haughty. In one case, they are under the power of other people's will, and lose all sense of responsibility. In the other case, they are unaccountable for their decisions as long as they remain in power, and become prisoner of their violent means of living. In both case, they end up being both unfree and irresponsible.
The eventual vanity of coercion as a principle of action has been nicely summarized by discordians. Discordianism is some kind of "ha ha, only serious" religion made up by a particular kind of libertarians, the funny kind. In one remarkable discordian website, Hyperdiscordia, you can find the divine "Law of Eristic Escalation" commented thusly (bold fonts are mine):
Amendment adds that the tighter the order in question is maintained, the
longer the consequent chaos takes to escalate, BUT the more it does
when it does!
Armed with the Law of Eristic Escalation and Fenderson's Amendment [And Thudthwacker's Addendum – Ed.] any imbecile – not just a sociologist – can understand politics.(70)
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