In actual human life the only real Society is every living person’s contact with everyone he meets.

 

Cheers Rose! Rose Wilder Lane had it right that there really is a society in the sense of human interactions and their consequent relationships. This is limited by the social graph, or the number of other people an individual can keep track of at once. Robin Dunbar has established this limit as around 150 relationships. Google even went so far as to limit the size of their workplace cafeterias to accomodate this number so that workers would likely know whoever they’d be sitting to lunch with, in hopes of harnessing workplace serendipity.

If all that’s real, then, why the negative title? Why be such a spoilsport. Because it’s time to take issue with something that has been hanging in the air for a very long time, something that has brought acrimony and infamy into civilised discourse about society itself. I am referring to that alternate definition that Lane hints at in her statement, for if the only society is that arising organically between people as they interact with each other, then what definition is she excluding? This leads to another use of the word, where it becomes synonymous with nation or sometimes with the state.

 

… there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.

 

So said Margaret Thatcher in 1987, decades after Lane, and yet the late British Baroness has been attacked many a time for this statement. Now I have no great love for Thatcher or the government of the 1980’s, but my reasons are very different from those of most people I am ever likely to meet in the UK today. Most people revile the Iron Lady for not turning and caving in to the unions who spent the 70’s and 80’s trying to turn the UK into a federation of syndicalist communes.

As for why Wilder Lane doesn’t get such attacks? Well, like most people who despise collectivism, she’s been whitewashed from history, including from the history of feminism. It’s a crying shame, because Lane speaks so forcefully in favour of the individual’s right to life and liberty against the rapine of the collective,  but then that’s why we didn’t learn about her in day-prison – or school, or whatever its Orwellian name is now – growing up.

Some quick definitions, the nation can be considered an ethnic group plus a geographical area, while the state is the combo of geography and monopoly on the commission and execution of the four cardinal crimes. Those crimes are murder, rape, assault and theft, and the nation-state, both concepts spliced together, is often regarded as a synonym for society. And this is dangerous precisely because of the real society that both of the women quoted above recognised as the sole legitimate place for the word.

But this pseudo-society is invoked by all politicians and media pundits as though the collective has some moral weight and requirement of its own. Pretty impressive for something that doesn’t even exist. Only recently we had David Cameron and the Tories in the UK proclaiming the onset of a ‘Great Society’. Great what? Admittedly the idea was in fact rather sound, taking various government social projects and handing them over to actual society. That basically means letting people in a neighbourhood decide how to run community services.

I detect the reek of socialism in here somewhere; good old boring socialism.The fact that every single country in the 20th and 21st Centuries to attempt to build socialism has failed does not deter the closet socialists who make political decisions one bit. The same seems true of their lackeys and apologists at CNN, NBC, the BBC, Channel 4, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Independent, Sky News, Alternet, Salon and even The Atlantic and Daily Telegraph. None of these entities in any meaningful way questions the onward march of collectivism implicit in every expansion of state power. So how to debunk this horrible socialistic idea?

The mere notion that a grand collective could possibly know what is the best allocation of scarce resources, resources that individuals, not the collective as a whole, need, is self-defeating nonsense. This could only arise as a consequence of a world where the entirety of internal human rationality worked in some way utterly unlike that in which it actually does. Taking the economics side of things, humans act to satisfy their goals. How the hell can a collective arrive at sound goals? Whose goals are they? Who will be satisfied when they are achieved?

If society is viewed as a cohesive whole taking in all Americans, or all Britons, or all Canadians, or all human beings, it still does not act. Have I made that clear enough yet? As a Briton I do not know what’s best for Sally Granger at 29 Thorpe Street in Northampton, and nor does she for me. This could be described as the knowledge problem at work, though we’ll work with the calculation problem a little more yet today. The collective delusion, that is to say, the delusion of collective action, feeds neatly into Mises and praxeology, as in the great man’s words.

Only the individual thinks. Only the individual reasons. Only the individual acts.

So if society doesn’t act, then society as a whole or, in practice, as a bunch of crooks in a palace – eg; D.C, London, Ottawa – cannot even begin to offer me a sane path to a better life, never knowing what my circumstance nor subjective desires are and never having a healthy objective signal – market prices – to make larger allocative decisions. So isn’t it just easier to drink the kool-aid and admit, if sheepishly, that the ladies were right, and there is no such thing as society?

Problems like those above are the death at all attempts to objectively define a common good other than liberty, and the reason liberty works so well is because it is the condition in which we little people are actually left to figure out for ourselves what to do with our time, our money, our property, and our abilities. So set aside all this ‘society at large’ nonsense and just enjoy the real society of your fellow creatures.