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Reblogged:History, and Unit- (AND Time- !) Economy

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Those who study the works of Ayn Rand will sooner or later become familiar with the idea of unit-economy, that is, of concepts enabling man's mind to increase its awareness of the world far beyond what it would be able to juggle at the perceptual level.

Regarding the latter, Rand spoke of the "crow epistemology," a limitation in our ability to function at the perceptual level. Her student, Leonard Peikoff, puts it this way:

Image by Jesse van Vliet, via Unsplash, license.
This experiment illustrates a principle applicable to man's mind as well. Man too can deal with only a limited number of units. On the perceptual level, human beings are better than crows; we can distinguish and retain six or eight objects at a time, say -- speaking perceptually, i.e., assuming we see or hear the objects but do not count them. But there is a limit for us, too. After a certain figure -- when the objects approach a dozen, to say nothing of hundreds or thousands -- we too are unable to keep track and collapse into the crow's indeterminate "many." Our mental screen, so to speak, is limited; it can contain at any one time only so many data. Consciousness, any consciousness, is finite. A is A. Only a limited number of units can be discriminated from one another and held in the focus of awareness at a given time. Beyond this number, the content becomes an unretainable, indeterminate blur or spread, like this: /////////////////////////

For a consciousness to extend its grasp beyond a mere handful of concretes, therefore -- for it to be able to deal with an enormous totality, like all tables, or all men, or the universe as a whole -- one capacity is indispensable. It must have the capacity to compress its content, i.e., to economize the units required to convey that content. This is the basic function of concepts. Their function, in Ayn Rand's words, is "to reduce a vast amount of information to a minimal number of units ...." [bold added] (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, by Leonard Peikoff, p. 106)
The above is easy enough to grasp with low-level concepts, such as table or chair or human being, but we can (and do) also abstract further from concepts (correctly formed or not):
You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles. Your only choice is whether these principles are true or false, whether they represent your conscious, rational convictions -- or a grab-bag of notions snatched at random, whose sources, validity, context and consequences you do not know, notions which, more often than not, you would drop like a hot potato if you knew...

You might say, as many people do, that it is not easy always to act on abstract principles. No, it is not easy. But how much harder is it, to have to act on them without knowing what they are? [bold added]
Having briefly thought about how we form and why we need abstract ideas, it is a worthwhile exercise to consider the ideas of government in general (and police in particular) in light of recent events. Let's start with Ayn Rand's pithy, principled summary of what we saw in Seattle, which she foresaw decades ago:
Anarchy, as a political concept, is a naive floating abstraction: ... a society without an organized government would be at the mercy of the first criminal who came along and who would precipitate it into the chaos of gang warfare. But the possibility of human immorality is not the only objection to anarchy: even a society whose every member were fully rational and faultlessly moral, could not function in a state of anarchy; it is the need of objective laws and of an arbiter for honest disagreements among men that necessitates the establishment of a government.[bold added]
And now, let's hear an update on the very predictable results of our most recent experiment with anarchy, as told by a couple of journalists:
[O]nce they created a police-free zone, they immediately had to deal with all those issues and more -- with only the donated time and supplies of fellow protesters, who still had day jobs. With police absent from the 6-square-block area, the experiment spun out of control, with accusations that it ended up causing exactly what it had aimed to stop: more violence against Black people. [bold added]
If anarchism -- like socialism -- fails every time it is tried, why do people keep trying it? Because neither their proponents nor, frequently their would-be opponents -- who should have an advantage in any debate -- really know what government is or what it is for. And that is because they have failed to form valid principles for understanding how a society must be organized to be successful. (In addition, opponents who are absolutely correct may fail at persuasion for a variety of reasons.)

It is worthwhile to consider this in light of something else Rand said about concepts:
The formation of a concept provides man with the means of identifying, not only the concretes he has observed, but all the concretes of that kind which he may encounter in the future. Thus, when he has formed or grasped the concept "man," he does not have to regard every man he meets thereafter as a new phenomenon to be studied from scratch: he identifies him as "man" and applies to him the knowledge he has acquired about man (which leaves him free to study the particular, individual characteristics of the newcomer, i.e., the individual measurements within the categories established by the concept "man"). [italics in original, bold added](Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, by Ayn Rand, pp. 27-28)
It is the same with concepts like society and government: Many people do not have these things properly conceptualized, and so do "study" such phenomena from scratch, essentially by trial-and-error.

And so, where concepts would save an individual's mental capacity, they could also save an individual or a whole society time. (And, in this case, unnecessary bloodshed.)

Rather than go straight to "tear down the system" (or "defund the police," whatever that's supposed to mean), a proper approach would be to consider what "the system" actually is, what part(s) of it we need and why, and how to reach what we need. Even in a case where a system needs tearing down, doing so is worthless without already having a positive alternative in mind.

"History repeats itself," need not be a pronouncement of doom. It is only a description of what happens when, out of ignorance or poor thinking, individuals attempt to solve universal problems without recourse to universals. Our society needn't reinvent or rediscover the police or government. The knowledge is already there and there is a correct and productive way to think about the problems it addresses. And, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, there are people out there who would be selfishly and gratefully receptive to learning more about both.

-- CAV

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