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Social Chaos—Part I

There are two kinds of order: one is spontaneous or self-generated, the other means "uniform." Spontaneous order occurs without any outside influence (or in spite of it) and is not created but discovered; uniform order is order imposed on a thing from outside itself. Spontaneous order is organization that increases difference and is therefore creative. Uniform order is organization that reduces difference and is therefore destructive. These two meanings or connotations are frequently confused. That confusion has profound consequences when the word "order" is used about societies.

Law and Order

It is commonly believed the purpose of government is to preserve social order and that without government there would be social chaos. Social chaos, if not explicitly stated, implies a vision of a society gone mad, with everyone attacking everyone else, stealing, destroying property, raping, murdering, and rampaging. A government prevents these horrors, it is supposed, by passing laws against them and forcing people to live an "orderly" life, in conformity with that law.

If this were ever truly the intended purpose of any government, it is obvious it has not worked. The worst horrors ever perpetrated on mankind have been perpetrated by governments meant to preserve "law and order."

There is no accident in this; it is not because the right kind of government has not yet been discovered and implemented, it is because the concept of government itself, in all historical forms, contains a fundamental and devastating error—the concept of law and order. The kind of order which laws impose is always the destructive kind, because, as we shall see, it is the nature of laws themselves.

A Successful Society

What is a successful society?

Any attempt of evaluate a society in itself, must treat society as a collective that ignores the only thing a society has any true value for, the individuals who comprise it. A society is successful to the extent it enables the individuals in that society to fulfill the purpose of their own lives to pursue and achieve happiness. Short of doing a universal poll of every single citizen, how successful a particular society is in that sense may not be possible to determine. Happiness is, after all, an individual thing, and only the individuals can say whether or not they are happy.

It may not be possible to determine how successful a particular society really is, but it is quite easy to determine those societies that are failures. It is obvious that a society dominated by poverty, hunger, disease, and ignorance is not a successful one. Whatever an individual regards as happiness, it is unlikely individuals living in such societies will have much opportunity to seek happiness, much less achieve it.

A successful society must at least provide individuals the possibility of earning a living, the opportunity of acquiring good food, clothing, and shelter, the availability of good medicine and medical services, as well as resources for a good education. These kinds of things do not just come into existence willy-nilly or by accident. If a society is to provide these kinds of things there must be some kind of planning and an integration of effort and resources; there must be some kind of order. The question is, what kind?

The range of answers to that question covers the whole spectrum of political theories. At one end of the spectrum are the Objectivists and Libertarians who limit social order to mean a society in which coercive force is absent. What they mean by social order is a society where individual's largely live the way they choose without the interference of any other individuals or groups of individuals. Most people find that view abhorrent—to them, such a "libertarian" society is inherently disorderly and will surely fail to provide the things a successful society must.

Engineering Society

Most people are convinced there most be some level of government provided order, to insure the infrastructure of a large and complex society, such as roads and channels of communication are maintained, to ensure resources aren't wasted, and that all the necessities, such as education and health care, are available to everyone, not just some. While there is no general agreement on how much of this order ought to be imposed by the government, most people are certain some of it ought to be. The proper name for government imposed order is, "social engineering."

All attempts to engineer or impose some kind of pre-determined order on society always have disastrous results, and always for the same reason—imposed order is always by means of laws which are implemented by means of force or threat of it, and all laws limit the creative productive aspect of society.

Chaos At The Mall

There is nothing quite so chaotic as a shopping mall. If we could, like God, sit above the earth and see all the human activity at a mall, it would appear totally disorganized, disorderly, and chaotic.

In the morning, cars start arriving in no particular order, and, following no discernible pattern, park randomly. People, in varying numbers emerge from the cars, following different paths to the buildings converging only at entrances, where haphazardly and in no organized manner, manage to calmly enter.

Inside the Mall it is literal chaos; people are going in all directions, some fast, some slow, and some not going at all, but just sitting and observing. There are no two people dressed alike and there is every style of clothing one can imagine. People enter and exit the various shops at random, and inside the shops it is the same. No two people are doing the same thing, and there is obviously no coordination of anyone's activities.

The Virtue of Chaos

All day it is the same. Cars arrive and leave at totally unpredictable intervals and people continuously move with no discernible pattern or purpose. It is the same at all shopping malls which just happen to be some of the most successful of human industries. When their chaotic nature is observed, one wonders how such success is possible without any apparent order at all. It is, in fact, that very chaos that is the reason for their success.

What appears to be chaos, and is chaos in the sense of not being uniform, because there is no uniformity of behavior or dress, for example, is actually a kind of order. It is not order imposed by rules, or standards, or regulations, but an order born of all the individuals pursuing their own personal objectives and purposes. It does not appear as order, because it is not the order that results from laws of conformity, but of a principle being worked out.

Like the chaos of fractals, the order and pattern of which can only be "seen" when their principle is understood and computers are able to visually represent them, a mall is the working out of a principle called a "free market," and the pattern is only "visible" when that principle is understood.

The free market principle means people are free to offer any products or services they choose for sale at any price they choose and people are free to buy or not buy any products or services when and if they choose. A mall is a way of providing a large free market to a great number of people.

Because everyone is pursuing their own purpose in a free market, those whose purpose it is to sell products will do whatever they think will attract the greatest number of buyers and result in the most profitable sales. Those whose purpose it is to buy will seek the best possible products at the best possible price. Shopping malls are a success because they provide the greatest number of people the most opportunity to satisfy their own purpose, that is, the pursuit of their own happiness. A mall is a microcosm of a successful society.

How To Destroy a Mall

The quickest way to destroy a free market or a society is to begin imposing "order" on it.

There are millions of reasons one might find for doing just that at malls. Someone observing the obvious chaos of a mall could surely find ways to make the mall more profitable, for example. Instead of maintaining a huge parking lot for thousands of cars, transportation, like buses that would go out into the community several times a day could be provided. Those who did not want to use the "public" transportation would be required to buy permits that would allow them to park at specified times only. This would also control the number of people at the mall at any one time, making it possible to predict more accurately how much help was needed at various times. It would be much more economical and orderly—and the mall would go out of business.

Someone else might notice that malls are extremely unfair. Many people can afford the very best products, but others have to settle for cheaper products. Why should some people be able to have the best when others cannot? The only fair thing would be to sell only products that are within everyone's economic range, or not sell them at all.

Why should there be so many different stores of the same kind. Surely having 8 or 10 or more stores that all sell clothing is a huge waste of space and resources. It would be much less chaotic if there were only one of each kind of store.

Most people think it does not matter what people are wearing when shopping, but a mall is a public place. Some people's religious or moral convictions are highly offended by the appearance of some kinds of dress (or undress). People have a right to go shopping without being offended—there is only one thing to do to make it fair and that is to impose a dress code, a minimum standard of dress that would offend no one. Muslim women's burkas come to mind.

Obviously, any attempt to impose "order" on a mall will reduce the chaos, the very chaos born of the freedom which makes the mall a success. Imposing of order on "society" has the same effect.

—(08/12/05)