Thoughts on economics and liberty

Man is a social (group-based) animal

A group is not society. It is, instead, a clearly identifiable entity, while society is speculative.

There are two opposing views about groups. One extreme view, being strongly focused on the individual, almost denies to us any group identity. The opposite view seems to deny us our individuality. The classical liberal recognises BOTH aspects (individual and group) but emphasises the liberty of the individual.

The following extract from the draft manuscript, DOF illustrates a few aspects of our group human nature.


All the world’s philosophers and all its men (and women) of religion (or even the gods themselves) have singularly failed to change us. Indeed, humanity has killed people in the name of these very teachers. Any excuse to kill is good, it appears, so blood thirsty are we. Hatred is perhaps the leitmotif of mankind. We hate ‘otherness’ with a vengeance. It is crucial, therefore, that a theory of society should be built on the facts of human nature, not imagined or idealised speculations about what it ought to be.

Individuals who momentarily, coincidentally, walk together in a street do not constitute a group. Groups are formed for a common theme or purpose – a common belief, objective or activity. Groups can range from an audience which politely applauds a stage performance, all the way to a well organised army marching in unison. They also need a place (even an internet place, an internet forum), and usually but not always, they need leaders. Once formed, groups tend to expand by inducting new members. Various stages occur (forming, storming, norming). Groups often become a significant part of peoples’ lives.
Human nature is tailored to each of the individual roles we perform (such as father, son, husband, bread-earner, friend). In some of these roles our self-interest is more evident  in others less so. In relation to groups, we behave either as self-interested individuals operating within a group umbrella, or as persons whose personality is fully submerged to the group’s.
Old World societies were predominantly collectivist, emphasisng group nature. The modern society, with greater focus on freedom and individualism, seeks to retain our individual sovereignty in the midst of groups. Of course, our biological foundations aim to (if such a word can be used for what is essentially a random process) propagate the species and don’t care for particular individuals. The challenge for us, in going forward, is to develop our individuality without threatening the survival of the species.
Group needs are conceptually similar to individual needs but more complex. Groups behave competitively or cooperatively (with other groups) depending on whether they seek zero-sum outcomes (such as territory) or non-zero sum outcomes (such as participating in a yoga class where everyone benefits).
Groups tend to build commitment of members through stories, myths, and rituals. When cooperative activities are involved, this is usually harmless. But when group mythology leads to delusions of grandeur about one’s ‘culture’ and competitiveness with other groups and cultures, groups can become dangerous once hatred or fear has been stoked, morphing into fearsome mobs. as with grasshoppers that morph into locusts. At that stage, human mobs can become mindless killing machines. While delusional individuals can be relatively easily isolated, it is very hard to do so with delusional groups.
As Pinker notes, ‘people in all cultures feel that they are members of a group (band, tribe, clan, or nation) and feel animosity toward of the groups’.[1] He adds, ‘often the best way to benefit one’s group is to displace, subjugate, or annihilate the group next door’[2], ‘[j]ingoism is alarmingly easy to evoke.’[3]
Mobs tend to look to others as insects to be crushed, not humans who have feelings and expereince pain. Thus, in Mien Kampf, Adolf Hitler compared Jews with maggots. Seemingly ‘ordinary’ people can get infected with mob psychology; not just ‘bad’ people. During communal riots, gangs of religious fanatics roam the streets of India, with violence feeding upon itself as each sub-group retaliates against others. The only way to prevent such madness is through love and reason, but when hatred strikes we become almost immune to love or reason. Mob violence must therefore usually be cured by authorised counter-violence by the state. When mob frenzy d*oes finally subside, after innocent lives have been brutally lost, the members of the mob must surely wonder how they could have so lost their head. In most group killers severe remorse and post traumatic stress would perhaps become the norm, except for sociopaths.
Note, thought, that this doesn’t mean that those who participate in mob behaviour are not accountable. Participating in mobs is a personal choice. Love of freedom means being able to look a group of fanatics in the eye – and not blink. Those who join violent groups are directly accountable for their actions.

[1] Pinker, Steven, How the Mind Works, London: Penguin Books, 1999, p.509.

[2] Pinker, Steven, How the Mind Works, London: Penguin Books, 1999, p.406.

[3] Pinker, Steven, How the Mind Works, London: Penguin Books, 1999, p.513.

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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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