Libertinage and Heteroticism

I’ve gotten some interesting and important pushback on this post, on social conservatism and libertarianism. This may be the most important exchange of the lot:

I always find this a strange place to be, discursively: I start talking about free markets, and the free flow of ideas and people, and – yes – sexual freedoms too – and whenever I do this, it seems like someone always worries that I’m coming after their hatred. Gotta keep that hatred, no matter what!

Why is this the first thing people want to preserve?

A libertarian society will certainly preserve your opportunities to express hatred, to associate with other hateful people, and to proselytize for hate. You’ll still get all of that, even when libertarians (decline to) rule the world.

But opportunities to express hatred are not, for me, the reason why I value liberty. In all I’d much rather be friends. Or even just leave you alone. Or heck, I might actively dislike you, but if we can strike a deal, and if it leaves both of us better off, and if I know that our mutual dislike will be kept in check by good laws and institutions… If we can do all that, then we can do business. And business is a wonderful thing.

We would live in a horribly impoverished world if everyone had to gin up some love before they traded. As a less than fully sympathetic individual, I only live at all by the kind of sheer, blissful indifference that we find in the market. The same, though, may be said of you, even if it’s a lot less obvious: We all depend on largely anonymous trading networks for the specializations and the gains from trade that make modern abundance possible.

Keeping them possible is the first thing that I would ask about, when presented with a new way of looking at the world. Not – “How am I going to preserve my parochial hatreds?” – but rather: “How am I going to preserve the extended, largely anonymous economic order that somehow manages to feed us?”

After that, I’d ask about the way up. How are we going to build the future? How are we going to grow stronger? How are we going to become healthier, more intelligent, more cultured, more peaceful, and more robust to natural disasters? How are we going to make life better for the least well-off?

I strongly suspect that a big part of the answer in all of these is “Get better at recognizing and honoring individual liberties.” So if it seems like I don’t care sufficiently for your hatreds, well, it’s probably because I don’t. They just aren’t what motivates me.

I also strongly suspect that one of the things that has held us back throughout human history is our too-great concern for demonstrating solidarity with our in-groups. Evolutionary psychology seems to suggest that evolution prepared us for living in small hunter-gatherer bands, composed of no more than a few dozen to a few hundred people. Most of us seem to find it difficult to trust beyond that many. And yet one thing modern economics demonstrates is that comparative advantage and gains from trade are limited by the extent of the market, regardless of what our monkey minds may be telling us. Building mechanisms of trust across larger and larger expanses – this is how we get wealthy, even if at first it feels wrong.

We get wealthy in particular when we share ideas across what would otherwise be our evolutionarily natural communities. Mastering and improving upon the ideas of those who are different from us is a key to building a better culture, and this is a process best had in a relatively free society, where people come and go, and where those who try new things are not persecuted. Hybrid vigor – heteroticism – usually works in genetics, and it almost always works in matters of culture. Successful cultures borrow, adapt, and improve upon the ideas of others. Not only that, they don’t care where the ideas come from. Only that they are available, and that they work.

So keep your hatreds, if you must. But I’d rather be friends. Or just trading partners. Either will do.

Next up: Some writing about war and foreign policy, another area that divides libertarians from conservatives.