Society, Government, Rationality, and Emotion

There are many issues in the world today. Some current issues are transgender bathrooms and religious freedom bills. These two issues seem to have the United States in an uproar. The specifics of these issues is not the point of this point. Instead, the point is two deeper and more worrying trends that both these issue highlight.

Namely, the conflation of society with government and the move from a rational society to an emotional society. Neither of these trends are truly recent; however, they are minacious enough to warrant constant calls to correction.

The first is dangerous because it confuses all participants in discussions about social issues. To say that there is a social issue and to propose a solution to the issue are two distinct tasks. Analogously, it is clear that stating ‘the tap leaks’ and giving a solution to this problem are highly different. In conversations it is different to say, for example, ‘there is extreme sexism in the United States today,’ and to propose a solution to it. However, when government is conflated with society the line between statement and solution is blurred. Often stating a social issues is taken as shorthand for proposing that the solution is a governmental action.

This is a real problem. Not only for “liberals” and “conservatives” (whatever those terms mean) but also for “libertarians,” “independents,” and others (whatever those terms mean). For example, though many “libertarians” criticize this conflation they also complain about “thick libertarianism” often mischaracterizing those “libertarians” that are also concerned about other forms of power as wanting government to “deal with” these other forms. However valid or invalid their criticisms are, it shows that the conflation of government and society has affected them as well. It is one thing to be suspicious of non-governmental forms of power, but it is completely different thing to claim that government should handle these forms of power. Due to the conflation of government with society the line is blurred.

The issue comes down to this: political solutions to social problems do not work. They replace education with legislation, the book with the bullet, the free mind with the shackled mind. The only way to solve any social issue is to change hearts and minds. Legislation, guns, and silence cannot do this. Force does not win arguments. Might does not make right. Now, some may be upset at the proclamation that government solutions necessarily imply the use of bullets and guns. This objection is unfounded, as it follows apart after the briefest examination.

Let us say that the government has imposed a law that all businesses must allow people to use the restrooms that match the person’s gender identification. How is this to be enforced? Let us say that the government will impose a fine on a business that does not follow the law. Now, what is to happen if a business refuses to comply and refuses to pay the fine? They will likely be driven out business by the various financial methods the government uses against people that refuse to comply. Now let us say that this business manages to dodge all the financial issues the government gives them, what now? Likely, the owners will be sued. Let us say they lose the suit but continue to refuse to pay. What now? Likely, they will be put in jail. How are jails guarded? By armed guards, that is by people with guns.

Certainly, this is an extreme example (it is doubtful a business would ever let it go that far). However, the point is that government has a monopoly on the use of force meaning that all laws are in the ended backed up by guns. That is why legislation does not change hearts and minds. It merely puts dissenters into resentful silence. The very nature of government prevents it from being capable of solving social issues. To quote Thomas Paine:

SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness POSITIVELY by uniting our affections, the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.

The nature of society is voluntary coöperation, the nature of government is involuntary regulation. The conflation of the two is damaging not only to society but to the people’s faculties of mind. Sadly, this conflation happens constantly. For example, the issue of transgender bathrooms is a social problem that has now been given a political solution. Will this political solution solve the issue? Probably not, because it cannot. The only place  of the government in this issue is concerning bathrooms in public (government) buildings. Anywhere else, it has no authority; moreover, government cannot changes the hearts and minds of people that dislike transgender people. Indeed, the law will probably only make bigoted people angrier. To reiterate: force cannot win arguments. Legislation cannot changes hearts and minds. The only solutions to social problems are social solutions.

The second trend, moving from a rational society to an emotional society, is just as worrying. Human kind’s greatest ability is reason. It is the greatest mean to the greatest end. It is what allows people to achieve self-actualization, to understand that social coöperation is in their own best interest, and so much else. Yet, rationality seems to be under attack. In media and in the current political situation the chief mean is emotion and not rationality. There is a reason for this. Marketing is propaganda. The chief to of propaganda is psychological manipulation. The easiest form of psychological manipulation is the use of emotion.

It is easier to win arguments through emotions than through reason. It is easier to make someone angry about something than to convince them that something is the best policy by using reason. Listen to any major political candidate today, ignore political bias, and attempt to find true rational appeals. Instead, they use emotion and give only easy answers. Any sort of battle of ideas is replaced with a mere quibble of feelings. Therein lies the real danger of elevating emotion above all else. It destroys philosophy, it destroy ideas, it destroy thought, because it replace everything with the question “how do you feel about xyz?” This is dangerous. The reason there is a Donald Trump is because rationality has been replaced by emotion; because philosophy has been replaced by marketing.

These two trends are perhaps the most damaging trends in society today. Ironically, the only solution to them is a social solution. Voluntary, peaceful action and interaction; a marketplace of ideas; and, above all, rational, instead of emotional, discourse.


On government and society:

David Mitchell on the world:
Thomas Paine quote:
Thomas Scheff on society:
Dave Rubin with Yaron Brook on rationality and philosophy:
Walter Block on thick libertarians:\

p.s. I welcome your comments and suggestions. Especially, if you can come up with a more clever title. Please share below, danke!