Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Why no conflict over socks?

Conflict seems rampant in politics. But why is that a surprise? The political process creates artificial conflicts where they would not normally exist in the absence of State intervention.

To some degree there will always be conflict. And the main justification for the existence of the State has been to resolve such conflicts. It exists to protect rights and rights are a means of resolving conflict. If two people are in a parking lot fighting over who can use a car the first question we ask is: To whom does it belong? If one is the owner and the other is not the issue is solved.

Certainly a government limited in functions to those of protecting the life, liberty and justly acquired property of individuals would be one that would do more to resolve conflict that to create it. But no where are governments today limited to those primary functions. They have all taken on secondary functions as well. And here they undo much of the good they do when filling their primary functions.

What sort of conflict do we have over socks today? Not much that I’m aware of. For the most part we have “sock peace” in the nation. There was no great effort to accomplish peace, it is quite natural. But politicians can create a “sock war” almost instantly.

Currently we have sock anarchy. Each individual pursues socks to their own satisfaction. No one thinks of the “greater good” whatsoever. There is no sock central planning, no program to get socks to the masses, no socks education program of any kind. There are just socks. Numerous people produce them, billions buy them. They come in various kinds, qualities and colors.

What if Congress, or parliament, were to come up with the brilliant idea of a “National Sock Policy”. Under this policy they would decide what socks would be permitted on the market and which ones would be forbidden. Perhaps to ensure equal distribution of socks the State may nationalize sock production and forbid the private production or distribution of socks.

One of the first thing to happen is that people will suddenly find debating socks of some importance. If the government is to produce socks then what kind of socks? Should we have dark socks that match suits, white socks for athletic footwear, or nylons for women?

The government will immediately end the production of some socks. After all, if there were too many varieties then some have to go. Certain styles will disappear, certain fabrics won’t be used, etc. Many individuals, who are partial to one kind of sock, will be upset that their favorite variety has vanished.

The government might decide to produce socks that appeal to the widest market. They might spend millions on surveys and studies. Cotton manufacturers will pour millions into lobbying in order to push for a requirement that all socks be produced with cotton. Nylon manufacturers might do the same. It would be potentially worth billions so lobbyists will flood the capitol arguing the virtues of one fabric over another.

Attempts to outline which socks will be produced will bring cries of outrage from certain groups. Most people, politicians included, never knew there were special socks produced. There are a variety of orthopedic socks and socks for diabetics as well. Chances are that these groups will start lobbying also. No doubt while doing so they will want subsidies in the process. And some people need socks that have extra width to them. Every minority sock market will wants its say.

Suddenly it is discovered that the entire sock business is incredibly complex. The market provided all of these varieties for a reason. People had different needs and different tastes and different budget priorities. Government tends toward the “one size fits all” philosophy.

Just look at how government education is a source of constant conflict. There is no way to make the customers happy. It just isn’t possible. Teach evolution (as I would) and you have some religious people upset. Teach creationist ideas and you have scientists, rationalists and others upset. And which creationism do you teach? There is more than one variety.

I prefer schools have a comprehensive sex education course. George Bush wants them to teach abstinence. Parents want all sorts of things.

Much of what is called the “culture war” is over areas of
State intervention in the realm of private morality. And both sides want to use the State to invade the territory of the other side. Christianists want to stop gays from forming relationships and gays want to force Christianists to hire gays.

On the primary functions of government there is little dispute. Few people believe the government shouldn’t prevent murder, theft, rape, kidnapping and similar violation of rights. We might argue about punishments but not over the criminal nature of those functions.

But when government starts regulating what television is allowed, what food we are permitted to eat, what clothes we must wear, who we must hire, what we must learn, what views we are allowed to express, and so on, then every one of those issues becomes a source of conflict.

Currently we have sock harmony. Bring the State in and we would have sock conflict. Now this analysis not apply to every issue in the culture war, and other forms of political conflict, but it does apply to a lot of them. Certainly one of the greatest causes of conflict in history has been the alliance of State and church. The reason is rather simple to understand.

State is a monopoly on force and violence in a specified area. Religion is a deeply held belief about existence. When you use force to uproot one belief, or to implant another, you create massive conflict. The result will be violence in all forms, ranging from fist fights, to torture, to execution, to war, to genocide.

When the State was separated from religion the level of conflict was reduced drastically. A couple of door-to-door missionaries might be annoying but rarely lead to violence. But the moment religion and State are seen to be courting with marriage in view conflict again escalates.

The relative peace brought about by the separation of church and State is instructive. We need to seriously consider how we can extend that armistice to other areas of conflict as well. And that means separation of State from those areas of life as well. Freedom allows diversity, politics, no matter its intentions, breeds conformity.

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