Libertarianism and rejection of authority

Ok so this is yet another of those self-reflective posts, where I try and rationalize why I’m the way I am. And in the process concoct a fancy theory.

I’m part of this secret society most of whose members are libertarian. I must in fact credit this society from changing my ideology from one that was broadly conservative to broadly libertarian (notice that my economic ideology hasn’t changed, only the social bit has). One thing common among most members of this society is that they are the kind of people who don’t bow to authority. They can be described as confrontationalist, or maverick, ¬†or non-conformist. And most of them are libertarian.

I must mention that for purposes of this post, I define libertarianism as a “belief in free markets and free minds”.

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins writes that one of the things that makes people religious is the tendency to listen to “superiors”, “elders”, etc. He argues that this is consistent with natural selection – that back in those days where we were a “hunting ape”, if we were the type that didn’t listen to our parents, there was a greater danger that we’d fall off trees or got eaten up by lions. So us human beings are “naturally conditioned” to listen to “elders”, “superiors”, etc. Effectively, we are conditioned to take orders. Dawkins talks about how this makes us religious, but that is not relevant here.

So we grow up having this “elderly authority” at home. The “elderly authority” commands us and guides us and gives instructions, and in return provides us protection from the outside world. Soon we grow up, and don’t need that protection any more, so we don’t need to take instructions any more (if you look at taking instructions from parents as the “cost” of the protection they offer you). But then we are conditioned to taking instructions, and being controlled, and it is tough for most of us to outgrow this conditioning.

And so some people look to “society” to provide the instructions, and control you, and tell you what to do and what not to do. They end up as conservatives. Some other people, look to the government (remember that today’s “government” is a replacement for yesterday’s “king”, who was supposed to be “divine”) for instructions and control. They end up being “liberals” (quotes because traditionally liberals supported free markets; it’s only recently they’ve taken a socialist turn). It is quite interesting that a lot of “liberal” people, who profess their rejection of authority, think it is ok for the government to tell them who to do business with, and at what price.

And then there are these really masochistic people who look to both “society” and “government” to put controls on you. Think Swadeshi Jagran Manch and similar institutions.

And so what about people who actually reject the need to have a “protector” once they grow up? They don’t want to take instructions from anyone, and in return they are willing to forego protection – apart from asking from the government protection in terms of defence, foreign policy and upholding of law. Given that very few people reject authority (Dawkins’ concept), it’s very few people that end up as libertarians.

PS: Is it a coincidence that so many very good libertarian bloggers (Caplan, Tabarrok, Hanson, Cowen) are at the little-known George Mason University, and not at one of the “top-ranked” universities?

PS2: I think large corporations are not free-market in any sense. Leave aside crony capitalism. Corporations, by definition, are internally deeply socialist. I guess I’ll save that for another post.

 

Axioms and fear

So it is around the time when I’m taking part in religious ceremonies that I question my religion, or lack of it. That’s when I need to interact with priests regularly, and sometimes talking to them is frightening. What is most frightening is their level of belief in certain things that I find absurd.

Lemma:
Every major religion is founded on a basic set of axioms. These axioms are designed in a way that they cannot be disproved scientifically.

Sure, there is no way to prove these axioms either, but then given that religion is the “defending champion” it has fallen upon the atheist to disprove the religious axioms. But the way these axioms are stated makes it extremely hard to disprove them. The best that most rational people can do is to call the axioms “absurd” and leave it at that, but that does nothing to convert people on the fence.

For example, take this concept of rebirth and reincarnation which forms the basis of a lot of Hindu thoughts. I find it absurd, and there is no scientific way to prove it (especially since the “universe” is so large since you could be reborn as any species). But there is no scientific way to disprove it either, which is what gives the proponents of this axiom more mileage.

The other thing I observe is that the easiest way to propagate religious thoughts is to create a sense of fear. Stuff like “say your prayers daily else god will punish you”. And then there are some selective examples (with heavy bias in selection) given of people who didn’t make the right religious noises and hence had to suffer. When faced with all this, the young child has no option but to comply with what the religious elders are telling him.

Then I realize that the way you are “taught” religion is extremely absurd. Growing up, you are simply taught a set of processes that you need to go through, without ever going to the significance of any of them. Even the axioms that form the basis of the religion are not exactly taught. In some cases, even the parents would have simply “mugged up the religious practices” and are in no position answer when kids ask them questions about these practices.

For example, when I read Dawkins’s book a couple of years back, I was shocked that there are people that actually believe that there was some “god” who created the universe. I’d always taken evolution as a given. Similarly while talking to priests yesterday (my mother’s first year death anniversary ceremonies are going on) I was shocked to find they actually believe in rebirth, and life after death. Of course, I do believe in Live After Death and think it’s an awesome album.

I just hope I’ll be able to inculcate a sense of questioning and rational reasoning in my kids, and help them protect themselves from blind faith.

Money and religion

No matter how much you preach, how much you write, how many arguments you make in favour of your stand that there is no god, the believers will ignore you. And given that believers usually have strong sense of belief, it is very unlikely that your preaching and reasoning will have any effect on them.

Instead, the easiest way for you to spread your message is to make the religious ones pay. Literally. Religious arbitrage, I call it. Religion usually comes with a set of beliefs. And superstitions. And the religious people are more likely or less likely to do certain things because of their beliefs. And you need to exploit these beliefs. Exploit them as much as you can, and try make money at the believers’ expense.

My argument is this: if you think your religion or the lack of it is better than any other religion, there must surely be a way in which you can exploit this to make money at the expense of the other religion. So go ahead and do it. Nothing talks like money.

I did my bit in this direction last Diwali. I went to buy a mobile phone, and figured that it being dhan teras the shopkeeper was loathe to send me away without selling me anything. I managed to get the phone for almost a thousand rupees below what it cost the shopkeeper (I confirmed this figure with a friend who is a sales manager at Nokia). The poor guy even gave me a bill for an amount much larger than what I’d actually paid.

You might claim that I could have bargained harder. But as I said, even religion has its monetary limits, and the shopkeeper would’ve figured that incurring the wrath of the gods would’ve been cheaper than selling the phone to me for lower than he actually did.

So stop preaching. Stop preaching when you know you have no chance. Stop bringing up the FSM in every line of conversation. And let money do the talking.

PS: Religion might just be a special case for this argument. You should be able to take advantage of all sorts of beliefs (including the non-religious ones) using this strategy.