It’s no secret that I am a huge podcast fan. I subscribe to more than 30 and listen to about 10-15 episodes a week (lots of driving and mowing time). One of my two favorite are put out by Dan Carlin – Hardcore History and Common Sense. At various times in each of them, Dan describes himself as a “fan of history” as opposed to be a historian. I have never considered myself to be either – a fan or history, much less a historian – but that has changed rapidly in the last 18 months. It started with the stories that Dan tells on Hardcore History and has rapidly expanded – of the 5 books I am reading right now (my wife hates that), 4 of them are history books.
Although I have only recently become a fan of history, I have been a math geek (as opposed to a mathematician) much longer. I can recall sitting inside for recess one day in 4th grade and listening to my teacher (Ms. Arlinghaus) work with a 5th grade student on some math he was struggling with. It was fascinating…and I understood it. For whatever reason, I decided right then and there that I was “good at math”. I breezed through the rest of elementary and junior high math, took all the advanced classes in HS and spent a lot of free time reading books about math and physics, ending up going to school to become a mechanical engineer (side note: I did finally meet my match in mathematics in Differential Equations II – I had to take it twice).
Last week at Porcfest, I had the chance to run into some fellow math geeks. After the introductions and background chat, for some reason or another we got onto the topic of chaos theory and how it relates to a stateless society. One question people ask when first introduced to the idea of a stateless society (besides “who will build the roads?”) is “without the state, won’ everything devolve into chaos?”
I think Rothbard did a pretty good job of answering the chaos question (he even provides an answer for the roads question 😉 from a philosophical and human behavior standpoint, but can we explore the question using mathematics as well? The branch of mathematics devoted to investigating chaos is aptly named chaos theory. The Wikipedia article in the previous link does a great job giving an overview of the aspects, history and application of the theory. For this discussion, however, we can start with the basic definition of chaos that chaos theory uses. Lorenz put it this way:
Chaos: When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.
In my words:
A Chaotic system is a deterministic system which is highly sensitive to initial conditions. While chaos may seem random, it is in fact highly predictable – but only if the initial conditions are known precisely.
So unlike the popular perception of chaos (which can be shortly summarized as no one knows what will happen, but its likely to be bad) math tells us that you can know what will happen, IF you precisely understand the starting conditions.
Getting back to the original question: yes, a stateless society would result in chaos. But a society ruled by a leviathan state also results in chaos. Chaos is not created by the absence or presence of a state, but merely by the presence of multiple self-determinant, but interacting degrees of freedom. By definition society consists of more than one person. By definition each person in that society has their own unique wants and needs = they are self determinant, but interacting degrees of freedom. Therefore all societies will always be chaotic.
Since a state run societies and stateless stateless societies are both chaotic, the more interesting question becomes: which form of chaos is most beneficial to its participants? In answering this question, its easy to fall into the normalcy bias trap: thinking that what we have now isn’t so bad and saying that no one know what a stateless society would actually produce since its never been tried (wrong on both counts – but thats another argument). If we are able to avoid that trap, chaos theory might shed some light on an answer. Chaos theory tell us that if we know the initial conditions of the system, we can know the eventual outcome. So, let’s compare some of the initial conditions of the state run and the stateless society:
|State Run society Initial Conditions||Stateless society Initial Conditions|
Does anyone know exactly what a stateless society would look like? Of course not, although as I said in a previous post I think there are some experiments which give us a pretty good idea. However, I don’t think it takes a math geek (or even a fan of math) to look at those two lists of initial conditions and make a pretty accurate prediction about which chaos they’d want to live in.