We posited that the source of these unintended consequences is found in basic human nature and the complexity of human society. People are selfish, short-sighted, apt to seek the path of least resistance, and to take shortcuts. Gender inclination causes serious confusion between the sexes and diverse cultures that have developed independently for millennia separate communities through misunderstanding, distrust, and radically diverse social goals, values, worldviews and communication systems.
These forces reign supreme in a variety of practical areas of life complicating things for people seeking to help others, (or at least convincing themselves they are trying to help others) but over the next few posts I’d like to explore only a few: Social Order, Violence & Poverty. Here, let’s discuss how human nature complicates the helpful’s designs for an ordered society.
Human nature renders two devastating realities a perpetual threat—Tyranny & Disorder.
The human race has struggled for the whole of its existence to crawl out of the chaos of the individual heart into a sustainable order between individuals that renders survival possible, prosperity a likelihood, and happiness attainable. The animal within, however, resists containment, striking out at those who strive to impinge its self-gratification, even while recognizing on some level that order is necessary for sustaining one’s self long enough amid others to keep sating those passions. General anarchy is a recipe for poverty and languishing.
One of the great themes of Scripture, thus, concerns the means by which a healthy, joy inducing, prosperity sustaining, divine order can be achieved in which cosmic threats, social threats and foreign threats can be ameliorated. This order is achieved through a governmental organization overseen by a righteous and God fearing king who manages the nation’s chaos-struggle (chaoskampf) promoting proper worship, the creation, preservation and promulgation of sacred text, the enforcing of just law that sprouts from those basic human natural rights founded in man (male & female, young & old, rich & poor, native and sojourner) as image of God. The righteous king supports the pursuit and preaching of wisdom, orchestrates their wars, and administers their covenants. He is not above the law, but rather an instrument of God under the law, a brother and not a lord.
In keeping with human nature, however, this vision of order can easily go astray. As Lord Acton has rightly noted, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority,” and “Everybody likes to get as much power as circumstances allow, and nobody will vote for a self-denying ordinance,” and he chides, “The central idea of Machiavelli is that the state power is not bound by the moral law. The law is not above the state, but below it.”
Certain people have a profound desire to control other people, usually while despising the very idea that anyone would seek to control them. They believe that the best way to “help” others is to dominate their existence and to hijack all their decision making. People (other than themselves, of course) cannot be trusted with power over their own lives… they might make wrong decisions. These fear disorder (or a personal sense of lack of control over their fate) to such an extent that they work tirelessly on a personal or governmental level to dominate those around them. They are, in their own minds, saviors delivering the stupid masses from their own ignorant misguided selves and believe that they can create a new order of humanity if only they can get control over every aspect of society. They hate anyone who keeps them from having complete dominion over the masses.
People, however, have particular unalterable mental and emotional make-ups, and so long as those matrices are poorly engaged, organizing people into a mechanized unit will fail through the raging rebellion of those conscripted, or through the unhappy withering of those so constrained. Successful organization of people into a functioning unit can only be achieved through willing submission by appealing to natural human inclinations (particularly self-interest), while encouraging personal responsibility and charity. Successful human organization regards general and sustainable human happiness as its highest end. (1)
The tension between tyranny and anarchy in the human heart, however, blinds many to the most successful social paths, no matter how historically validated they are. The in-between quality of strong but limited government existing to defend natural rights and to protect the freedom of the market from criminal and governmental tyranny often feels counter-intuitive. The tyrannical cannot abide an unplanned system. Surely they can improve upon a system whose direction is created by the conflicting self-interest of millions in highly complex dynamics of supply and demand. Free markets that reward the industrious and punish the indolent are odious to the power hungry, suspect by the fearful, disappointing to the lazy and ignorant, and unnatural to the selfish and emotionalized masses.
Such systems work better over time, however, because they maximize the collaboration of dispersed expertise without the interference of central organizers who are too limited in their wisdom, knowledge and experience to make the myriads of choices that need to be made when they need to be made and how they need to be made.
I compare this need to the decision making processes of flocking birds… called murmuration. In a swooping spinning flock, each bird makes instant expert choices based on a handful of basic rules made in response to the choices made by the birds closest to it. (2) The aerial spectacle is amazing, and the parallel to human society significant.
(1) This is not at odds with religious pursuits which have the glorification of God as its highest end. Humans find truest happiness in that which most glorifies God… in discovering their truest reason for existence. Healthy, divinely ordered society creates the best environment for the human heart’s discovery of that purpose.