Love and Fear in Down
January 11th 2016
One of the philosophical concepts I had to consider when writing Down Station was that of Libertarianism. Down has a great deal of space, and natural resources, and people are free to do whatever they want, in that they are literally free. Down has no government, no imposed order, no unifying code. Down is – deliberately so – a tabula rasa, a blank slate on which anything can be written.
And given that abundance, and given that space, it could reasonably expected that people would individually or in small groups, set themselves up and live free lives, unfettered by a morass of rules and restrictions. Down is made for liberty.
One of the practical criticisms of Communism is that it doesn’t allow for human nature: that, having taken away the incentive for personal gain, no one will do the necessary grunt work, resulting in an impoverished, collapsing society. The only way thereafter to ensure that the farms keep harvesting and the machines keep turning is coercion. In other words, fear.
It’s also a practical criticism of Libertarianism. Having elevated the concept of personal autonomy to be paramount, there is an inevitable conflict between personal autonomies. Human nature, being what it is, will again result in an impoverished, collapsing society. Fear of the other – the non-aggression principle being as much use as a candle in a hurricane – is the only law.
There are, I believe, two reasons to … I’m not even sure what the word for the concept here is, since experience tells me that my ethical standards are the product of both my choices and my upbringing, and that’s the same for all people, at all times … I’m going to go with ‘follow a set of moral rules I have not wholly designed for myself’. So, sorry, sociopaths.
One is fear. It could be a social fear – shame – that leads compels me to fulfil my obligations. It could be judicial fear, the fear of personal or financial sanctions, that means I keep the law to avoid prison. It could be a more visceral, violent fear, that pain will follow if I don’t comply to an order or expectation. Fear is a powerful incentive, but only applicable if I think you can carry out your threat. If there’s no chance of sanction, there’s nothing to stop me from doing whatever I want, should I wish to do it.
The other is love. Love works all the time, even when there’s no one looking. Love is not an overseer. Love leads me to follow the Golden Rule (expressed positively as ‘Do to others what you would want them to do to you’) far more effectively and completely than fear ever will. Mutual respect for the other person, philia, and the urge towards charity, agape, are the cornerstones on which we build our communities.
I can imagine a communist society that’s inspired wholly by love. I can (with a greater stretch) imagine a libertarian society that’s inspired wholly by love. The problem with both of these is that humans are not generally wholly inspired by love, and those of us who try to be, are not all of the time. And even in the post-scarcity environment that say, the Freezone aspires to, communism is much more likely to be successful than libertarianism. The Freezone acknowledges our natural urges: that’s why there is human governance, and that it is exercised in tandem with an all-seeing AI.
My personal view is that libertarianism is just as capable of crossing the event horizon as communism. Human nature will produce a Somalia or a Congo as readily as it will Stalin’s USSR or Pol Pot’s Cambodia. But we don’t even have to go that far to see that those who have lost their fear of consequences act out their ambitions on the streets of our largest cities: libertarians don’t seem to be moving to those places we consider ‘lawless’.
There are nuances here: considering the nature of minarchies, and ‘night-watchmen’ states alleviates some of the problems, but still leaves the fetishisation of property rights unchecked, and that the only right of the poor is to starve to death.
Down, while not a paradise, had the potential for a new start. That it turned into a brutal, unforgiving world is not its fault. It’s ours.
Down Station, the first book of Down, will be published by Gollancz on February 16th 2016