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How Networks Topple Scientific Dogmas – Article by Max Borders

How Networks Topple Scientific Dogmas – Article by Max Borders

The New Renaissance HatMax Borders

The Peer-to-Peer Republic of Science

Science is undergoing a wrenching evolutionary change.

In fact, most of what we consider to be carried out in the name of science is dubious at best, flat wrong at worst. It appears we’re putting too much faith in science — particularly the kind of science that relies on reproducibility.

In a University of Virginia meta-study, half of 100 psychology study results could not be reproduced.

Experts making social science prognostications turned out to be mostly wrong, according to political science writer Philip Tetlock’s decades-long review of expert forecasts.

But there is perhaps no more egregious example of bad expert advice than in the area of health and nutrition. As I wrote last year for Voice & Exit:

For most of our lives, we’ve been taught some variation on the food pyramid. The advice? Eat mostly breads and cereals, then fruits and vegetables, and very little fat and protein. Do so and you’ll be thinner and healthier. Animal fat and butter were considered unhealthy. Certain carbohydrate-rich foods were good for you as long as they were whole grain. Most of us anchored our understanding about food to that idea.

“Measures used to lower the plasma lipids in patients with hyperlipidemia will lead to reductions in new events of coronary heart disease,” said the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1971. (“How Networks Bring Down Experts (The Paleo Example),” March 12, 2015)

The so-called “lipid theory” had the support of the US surgeon general. Doctors everywhere fell in line behind the advice. Saturated fats like butter and bacon became public enemy number one. People flocked to the supermarket to buy up “heart healthy” margarines. And yet, Americans were getting fatter.

But early in the 21st century something interesting happened: people began to go against the grain (no pun) and they started talking about their small experiments eating saturated fat. By 2010, the lipid hypothesis — not to mention the USDA food pyramid — was dead. Forty years of nutrition orthodoxy had been upended. Now the experts are joining the chorus from the rear.

The Problem Goes Deeper

But the problem doesn’t just affect the soft sciences, according to science writer Ron Bailey:

The Stanford statistician John Ioannidis sounded the alarm about our science crisis 10 years ago. “Most published research findings are false,” Ioannidis boldly declared in a seminal 2005 PLOS Medicine article. What’s worse, he found that in most fields of research, including biomedicine, genetics, and epidemiology, the research community has been terrible at weeding out the shoddy work largely due to perfunctory peer review and a paucity of attempts at experimental replication.

Richard Horton of the Lancet writes, “The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.” And according Julia Belluz and Steven Hoffman, writing in Vox,

Another review found that researchers at Amgen were unable to reproduce 89 percent of landmark cancer research findings for potential drug targets. (The problem even inspired a satirical publication called the Journal of Irreproducible Results.)

Contrast the progress of science in these areas with that of applied sciences such as computer science and engineering, where more market feedback mechanisms are in place. It’s the difference between Moore’s Law and Murphy’s Law.

So what’s happening?

Science’s Evolution

Three major catalysts are responsible for the current upheaval in the sciences. First, a few intrepid experts have started looking around to see whether studies in their respective fields are holding up. Second, competition among scientists to grab headlines is becoming more intense. Third, informal networks of checkers — “amateurs” — have started questioning expert opinion and talking to each other. And the real action is in this third catalyst, creating as it does a kind of evolutionary fitness landscape for scientific claims.

In other words, for the first time, the cost of checking science is going down as the price of being wrong is going up.

Now, let’s be clear. Experts don’t like having their expertise checked and rechecked, because their dogmas get called into question. When dogmas are challenged, fame, funding, and cushy jobs are at stake. Most will fight tooth and nail to stay on the gravy train, which can translate into coming under the sway of certain biases. It could mean they’re more likely to cherry-pick their data, exaggerate their results, or ignore counterexamples. Far more rarely, it can mean they’re motivated to engage in outright fraud.

Method and Madness

Not all of the fault for scientific error lies with scientists, per se. Some of it lies with methodologies and assumptions most of us have taken for granted for years. Social and research scientists have far too much faith in data aggregation, a process that can drop the important circumstances of time and place. Many researchers make inappropriate inferences and predictions based on a narrow band of observed data points that are plucked from wider phenomena in a complex system. And, of course, scientists are notoriously good at getting statistics to paint a picture that looks like their pet theories.

Some sciences even have their own holy scriptures, like psychology’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. These guidelines, when married with government funding, lobbyist influence, or insurance payouts, can protect incomes but corrupt practice.

But perhaps the most significant methodological problem with science is overreliance on the peer-review process. Peer review can perpetuate groupthink, the cartelization of knowledge, and the compounding of biases.

The Problem with Expert Opinion

The problem with expert opinion is that it is often cloistered and restrictive. When science starts to seem like a walled system built around a small group of elites (many of whom are only sharing ideas with each other) — hubris can take hold. No amount of training or smarts can keep up with an expansive network of people who have a bigger stake in finding the truth than in shoring up the walls of a guild or cartel.

It’s true that to some degree, we have to rely on experts and scientists. It’s a perfectly natural part of specialization and division of labor that some people will know more about some things than you, and that you are likely to need their help at some point. (I try to stay away from accounting, and I am probably not very good at brain surgery, either.) But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t question authority, even when the authority knows more about their field than we do.

The Power of Networks

But when you get an army of networked people — sometimes amateurs — thinking, talking, tinkering, and toying with ideas — you can hasten a proverbial paradigm shift. And this is exactly what we are seeing.

It’s becoming harder for experts to count on the vagaries and denseness of their disciplines to keep their power. But it’s in cross-disciplinary pollination of the network that so many different good ideas can sprout and be tested.

The best thing that can happen to science is that it opens itself up to everyone, even people who are not credentialed experts. Then, let the checkers start to talk to each other. Leaders, influencers, and force-multipliers will emerge. You might think of them as communications hubs or bigger nodes in a network. Some will be cranks and hacks. But the best will emerge, and the cranks will be worked out of the system in time.

The network might include a million amateurs willing to give a pair of eyes or a different perspective. Most in this army of experimenters get results and share their experiences with others in the network. What follows is a wisdom-of-crowds phenomenon. Millions of people not only share results, but challenge the orthodoxy.

How Networks Contribute to the Republic of Science

In his legendary 1962 essay, “The Republic of Science,” scientist and philosopher Michael Polanyi wrote the following passage. It beautifully illustrates the problems of science and of society, and it explains how they will be solved in the peer-to-peer age:

Imagine that we are given the pieces of a very large jigsaw puzzle, and suppose that for some reason it is important that our giant puzzle be put together in the shortest possible time. We would naturally try to speed this up by engaging a number of helpers; the question is in what manner these could be best employed.

Polanyi says you could progress through multiple parallel-but-individual processes. But the way to cooperate more effectively

is to let them work on putting the puzzle together in sight of the others so that every time a piece of it is fitted in by one helper, all the others will immediately watch out for the next step that becomes possible in consequence. Under this system, each helper will act on his own initiative, by responding to the latest achievements of the others, and the completion of their joint task will be greatly accelerated. We have here in a nutshell the way in which a series of independent initiatives are organized to a joint achievement by mutually adjusting themselves at every successive stage to the situation created by all the others who are acting likewise.

Just imagine if Polanyi had lived to see the Internet.

This is the Republic of Science. This is how smart people with different interests and skill sets can help put together life’s great puzzles.

In the Republic of Science, there is certainly room for experts. But they are hubs among nodes. And in this network, leadership is earned not by sitting atop an institutional hierarchy with the plumage of a postdoc, but by contributing, experimenting, communicating, and learning with the rest of a larger hive mind. This is science in the peer-to-peer age.

Max Borders is Director of Idea Accounts and Creative Development for Emergent Order. He was previously the editor of the Freeman and director of content for FEE. He is also cofounder of the event experience Voice & Exit.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

The Gig Economy Makes Karl Marx’s Dreams Come True – And It’s All Capitalism’s Doing – Article by Max Borders

The Gig Economy Makes Karl Marx’s Dreams Come True – And It’s All Capitalism’s Doing – Article by Max Borders

The New Renaissance HatMax Borders
August 4, 2015
When Joe Average steps out of his car after completing his shift for Lyft, he does so on his own terms. Nobody tells him when to start. Nobody tells him when to stop. The siren song that is prime time pricing might have coaxed him off the couch, but ultimately it was his call. And with the rest of his day, he’s going to go fishing. You see, Joe loves to fish — even more than he loves making money. After dinner, he might take some time to criticize the second season of True Detective.

Would ole Karl Marx have been happy with this result?

In The German Ideology, Marx wrote,

For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

Marx should be delighted — oh, except that it’s capitalism, not communism, that’s allowing Joe to be a fisherman and a critic on his own terms.

The sharing or “gig” economy is not only disrupting the way people live and work; it’s dividing the left considerably.

On the one hand, you have the nostalgic leftists who want Joe to work a nine-to-five job and skip the fishing. You know, like people did in the 1950s. As Freeman columnist Steve Horwitz writes, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton

longs for a time like the 1950s when workers had the structure of the corporate world and unions through which to lobby and negotiate for pay and benefits, rather than the so-called “gig” economy of so many modern freelance employees, such as Uber drivers. “This on-demand or so-called gig economy is creating exciting opportunities and unleashing innovation,” Clinton said, “but it’s also raising hard questions about workplace protection and what a good job will look like in the future.”

Joe already told us what a good job looks like. It’s one that lets him spend time fishing and criticizing.

More confusing (or confused, perhaps) is Paul Mason’s writing in the Guardian. He lauds “postcapitalism,” which has all the hallmarks of a society Clinton is worried about:

Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages.

Bingo. The gig economy. But does it make sense to give capitalism a different name? I suppose one could. After all, Marx coined the term. But Marx’s definition of capitalism is a system based on private ownership of the means of production. Has that dynamic fundamentally changed?

Far from it. The sharing economy is simply decentralizing power by allowing ordinary people to use their own small-scale means of production. By solving coordination problems and lowering transaction costs, technology is augmenting capitalism.

When Joe drives for Lyft, for example, his car is still his car. And now more of his time is his, too. Capitalism, even as Marx defined it, hasn’t fundamentally changed. But the use of technology to awaken sleeping private capital is allowing the system to evolve — and rather nicely if you’re Joe Average, or one of thousands of other workers like him.

Now, I’m not saying that there is nothing interesting going on in the electronic commons. Ideas are being configured and reconfigured in the networked economy. Many of those ideas are being taken out of the intellectual-property regime, thanks to open sourcing, and this can be a good thing. There are fierce debates about whether intellectual property (claims to property in ideas and in nonscarce goods) is justifiable. But passing over those debates, more and more open-source technologies are coming online for exploitation by everyone.

Do open sourcing and the creative commons take us to postcapitalism?

I don’t know. But fundamentally, as long as the process is voluntary and carried out peacefully by a community of cooperators, who cares what you call it? Should we be upset that the guy who founded Lyft is getting rich from the tech? Some people are, because they see the accumulation of wealth as taboo. But Joe’s life is better than it would have been in the absence of Lyft. The company allows him to live more of the life he wants to live.

As long as Joe Average is happier, who cares what Hillary Clinton thinks?

Max Borders is editor of The Freeman magazine and director of content for The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). He is also author of Superwealth: Why we should stop worrying about the gap between rich and poor. A writer and innovator with a decade of experience in the non-profit world, Max works daily towards a condition of peace, freedom and abundance for all people.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

The Intellectual Intolerance Behind “Check Your Privilege” – Article by Gary M. Galles

The Intellectual Intolerance Behind “Check Your Privilege” – Article by Gary M. Galles

The New Renaissance Hat
Gary M. Galles
July 19, 2015

A decade ago, no one had ever been told to “check your privilege.” Now it commands an appreciable “market share” in academia and social justice rhetoric. But it does so despite sharply opposed interpretations of its meaning. In fact, its expanded footprint is partly because of its ambiguity.

It Could Be an Invitation to Debate

In a sense, “check your privilege” largely amounts to “check your premises” behind your views, and many are willing to recognize that such a reminder can be useful in advancing conversations about social issues.

However, I question whether people are so bereft of concern for, or understanding of, one another that they need repetitive “check your privileges” reminders that imply they would believe more accurately and act more effectively if only they were more empathetic. I tend to agree with Adam Smith, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, that:

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it … we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others.

Further, repeatedly sermonizing to fix people as a way of “uplifting” them becomes little more than nagging, and any insight it may add gets crowded out. In the same way, repeatedly invoking “check your privilege” tends to destroy its usefulness leaving increased irritation and disharmony.

But the Phrase Could Simply Mean “Shut Up”

And when does “check your privilege” become code for “be quiet” rather than “evaluate your premises”? “Check your privilege” is about shutting down discussion when the user is making the assertion that you are hopelessly confused in your understanding, and that your opinions amount to aggression (whether “micro-” or “macro-”). This position was wellarticulated decades ago by Robert Heinlein, in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress:

Where do you start explaining when a man’s words show there isn’t anything he understands about [a] subject, [but] instead is loaded with preconceptions that don’t fit facts and [he] doesn’t even know …?

The assertion of your hopeless confusion then becomes the basis for claims that, unless you are a member of some accepted victimized class, you must be part of the oppressor class. Therefore, as Max Borders put it,

Your rights and opinions are invalid and you have no real complaints or suffering because you belong to X group. Or, more to the point, you are obligated to pay because people who look like you in some ways did bad things at some point.

In other words, others assert that they don’t need to listen to you, much less respect your arguments.

The Ad Hominem Attack

That leap involves several logical failings. Included in that list is the idea that any guilt for what was true of some members of an arbitrarily defined class or group (rather than treating people as the individuals they are) at some point in time passes on to every current and future member of that class or group. In addition, it incorporates the ad hominem fallacy that because you are judged as bad or part of an oppressor class, your argument is false, while conversely, their self-defined goodness and non-oppression means theirs must be true, both of which are unrelated to the logical validity of an argument.

Given that “check your privileges” could mean either “remember to be empathetic, so we can better understand and help” or “we can disregard your beliefs and violate your rights,” how can we tell which one is intended?

Where confusion reigns, to better understand and help requires the confusion to be replaced with clear, accurate understanding. That, in turn, requires a serious, ongoing “give and take” conversation.

However, when “check your privilege” is used to preemptively cut off conversation by stopping those who disagree from any chance to be heard, much less to rebut their demonization and targeting, no improvement in either empathy or results can result. So the key to evaluating “check your privilege” is to ask what would be entailed if it was intended to advance such a serious conversation.

How Real Dialogue Happens

Importantly, any conversation would not stop at “watch your privileges.” It would only begin there. By itself, the phrase says you are wrong in your understanding or views, but it leaves how completely unspecified, beyond having something to do with membership in some allegedly dominant or privileged group. Stopping the conversation there leaves “check your privileges” as an insult, without any ability to clarify understanding or reduce disagreements or disharmony.

Progress toward better understanding and results would require several more steps.

It would start by precisely specifying what faulty premises, assumptions, or arguments someone supposedly holds, either included or excluded inappropriately. Then it would explain why it is inappropriate for the issue being considered. It would lay out the correct or appropriate premise that would take its place and articulate the reasons why.

Building on that foundation, it would show how the “new and improved” premises would change one’s conclusions. Consequently, it would lay out the appropriate remedy based on the alternative analysis. In the process, it would have to explain how the proposed remedy cannot be explained solely on a narrowly self-interested “more for me” basis, completely apart from the argument offered, as part of laying out the new special privileges that would be created for those put forward as victims. It would also have to explain how others will be affected in order to address the asserted problem, including whether there would be coercive impositions on members of the supposedly dominant or victimizer class who had nothing to do with the “sins of the fathers.”

When “check your privilege” means think more carefully about others’ circumstances, which may be far different than yours, and to be empathetic, it can be useful in advancing our potential for mutual understanding. But it has to be only the beginning of a much farther-reaching discussion to bear fruit — a discussion which, carefully and earnestly pursued, would lead us back to the self-ownership and voluntary arrangements of liberty.

In contrast, when “check your privilege” is used as a magic phrase to peremptorily end “social justice” discussions, it is the assertion of a special privilege for some to be allowed to define themselves as white hats and those who disagree as black hats, without ever having to make a real argument. It also allows users to turn it into an epithet of social demonization to try to impose their “solutions,” always at the expense of the supposed black hats. In the process, it undermines social cooperation by undermining the rights upon which it is built.

Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. He is the author of The Apostle of Peace: The Radical Mind of Leonard Read. Send him mail. See Gary Galles’s article archives.

This article was published on and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

All You Need Is Toleration – Article by Max Borders

All You Need Is Toleration – Article by Max Borders

The New Renaissance Hat
Max Borders
January 28, 2014

Truth carries within itself an element of coercion.
Hannah Arendt

Identity politics has come to the freedom movement. But does it fit?

Many newly minted libertarians have come out of America’s indoctrination factories feeling a mix of guilt and sanctimony. They’re still libertarians, but they admonish you to “check your privilege” and caution that you may unwittingly be perpetuating a culture of oppression.

Libertarianism alone is not enough, they say.

Our tradition, they urge, needs now to find common cause with various fronts in the movement for “social justice”—struggles against racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, weightism, classism, and homophobia. In that movement, the unit of injustice is the group. Still, joining up means libertarians can attract more young people while forging a more complex, ethically rich political philosophy.

In short, we ought to hitch our wagons to what one might call the “victimhood-industrial complex.” If we don’t, some warn, the millennials will all run to progressivism.

Now if you don’t think this victimhood-industrial complex exists, ask Jonathan Rauch. In his 1993 book Kindly Inquisitors, he argued that free speech was quickly being lost to politically correct censors—especially in higher education. Twenty-plus years later, Rauch says, free speech in the academy is virtually dead:

Unlike most workplaces, universities are at the heart of intellectual life, and so the bureaucratization of speech controls there is more disturbing. In American universities, the hostile-environment and discriminatory-harassment doctrines have become part of the administrative furniture.

And for their student bodies, so also have diversity training, sensitivity seminars, and entire majors devoted to inculcating the victimhood ethosall of which allows victim groups to justify a dangerous promiscuity with power. That’s one reason libertarians should take caution.

Prime Virtue

To take any moral high ground on matters of subjection, we don’t need to adopt the language or agenda of the victimhood-industrial complex. Indeed, that complex (double entendre intended) is part of progressive intellectuals’ designs on power. It is intended to fragment people along contrived, collectivist lines. And we can do better.

I normally don’t make arguments based on ideological purity, but here’s an area in which pragmatic and philosophical considerations prompt us to look to our own tradition for answers. That is, we libertarians already have a virtue that works. It captures the best of our humane concern for others and discards the bromides, the claptrap, the unearned guilt of the dangerously collectivist “social justice” movement.

That virtue is toleration.

Toleration is what separates libertarianism from competing doctrines, at least when it comes to society and culture. If some principle of non-harm orients our political compass, toleration is a moral guide. I realize that might sound a little funny to anyone who’s spent five minutes on Facebook with a rabid Rothbardian. And, of course, self-styled progressives bandy the term about, too. But the classical liberal form is the original—and most resilient—sense of toleration (or tolerance), because it does not carry with it any baggage that might corrode the rule of law, or the freedoms of expression and conscience.

What has liberated great swaths of humanity is not just the idea that people should be as free as possible; it’s the idea that in order for this great pluralist project to succeed, we have to embrace a virtue that allows us to coexist peacefully with others who may not share our particular ideas about the good life (values, religion, ethnicity, culture, or lifestyle preferences). Classical liberals have always accepted the idea that people are seekers and strivers looking for something. Of course there are a billion paths to happiness, life meaning, and well-being. Accepting that, we have to put the pursuit of happiness first, which requires admitting that we’re all different, one to the next, and we will take different paths.

Toleration starts with conscientiously agreeing not to obstruct another’s path.

Our toleration is also dispositional. A more robust toleration involves a mien of empathy, respect, and open-mindedness. It requires us not just to leave other people alone in their pursuits, but also to consider their perspectives and circumstances. The toleration of social justice is often not so tolerant. It requires conformity, censorship, and consensus.

So, if by “check your privilege” one means try to imagine what life might be like for someone in different circumstances, then great. If by “check your privilege” you’re accusing someone of being part of an oppressor class just because she hasn’t been designated a victim, then you’ve thrown toleration out with the bathwater. This formulation seems to mean your rights and opinions are invalid and you have no real complaints or suffering because you belong to X group. Or, more to the point: You are obligated to pay because people who look like you in some ways did bad things at some point.

The Apparently Perfect vs. the Good

So what does it mean to coexist peacefully with others? And doesn’t toleration have limits? Toleration does not come without its paradoxes, real or apparent. It may be difficult to tolerate the intolerant, for example. But radically free speech and a thick skin are about the best we can do—though such may include fiercely criticizing others for their intolerance in a world without any bright line between disrespect and disagreement. As libertarians, we might draw our own line and not tolerate those who regard themselves as “entitled to force the value [they hold] on other people”—and we can use any peaceful means to thwart them in their attempts to disrupt others’ life plans.

No, toleration is neither a perfect virtue nor the only virtue, but it does the work of peace.

What Liberal Toleration Is Not

Our conception does not require envy or guilt to operate. Nor does it require state censorship or wealth redistribution. It doesn’t require that we adopt cultures and communities we don’t like, but rather acknowledges that those communities and cultures will emerge. Our conception of toleration requires only acknowledgement of differences coupled with that disposition to openness.

Our conception of toleration does not accept the murky idea of victim classes. The problem here is the term “class.” Some member of a class may not be a victim at all. Besides, and more to the point, accepting the idea of victim classes implies that there are perpetrator classes—that if group X has frequently been discriminated against, or abused outright, then all members of group Y are liable for those actions (and, indeed, it’s fair to assume their perspective is tainted).

What’s more, the common acceptance of the idea of a victim class can perpetuate a psychology of victimhood among the members of that class, which holds people back. Some theories of social justice go as far as to require that non-members of the victim class accept that they are victimizers by default. While it is possible to institutionalize mistreatment of a group, justice requires us to dismantle the rot in that institution and to stop putting people into groups at all, not to violate other groups for the sake of abstract redress, or to handicap the excellent, or to reward something irrelevant such as someone’s race.

Proponents of the idea of victim classes view “social justice” as a vague cluster of goods, words, and opportunities to be filtered and apportioned equally among people by an anointed few. What isn’t vague, though, is the power they demand and the privilege they mean to extract. By contrast, proponents of liberal toleration require only that you treat individuals with respect, and first, “do no harm.”

Our conception does not hypostasize or collectivize people—treating them as automatically deserving either special consideration or zealous sensitivity, which is supposed to accrue by virtue of the ascribed group membership. Such collectivism lobotomizes individuals. It robs them of their identities and pushes them to accept identities fashioned by others. It strips them of their individual circumstances. It thins their sense of personal responsibility. And it ignores the content of their character.

Our conception does not demand a perpetual pity party, nor invent reasons to be offended, nor cause one to contrive an invisible latticework of injustice that extends up and out in every direction. Instead, our conception embodies the liberal spirit of “live and let live.” The more people who think that way, the fewer victims—real and imagined—there will be. Toleration needs neither rectitude nor guilt, so demonstrations of piety are also unnecessary. It’s a position that can be held by those who think all people are basically good, or that all people are basically lousy. But that means setting aside the business of sorting out victims (the righteous) and oppressors (the sinful).

Finally, as our conception does not require the ubiquity of injustice, it allows for the flourishing of real community. Real community needs real toleration, free speech, and the inevitable frictions that come along with our colliding perspectives. It is from those frictions that better ideas and more favorable consensuses can emerge—at least if you believe John Stuart Mill and Jonathan Rauch.

Taking Back Toleration

The old adage says: To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To someone who has been educated in the victimhood-industrial complex, everything looks like social injustice.

Toleration might ask more of us sometimes, such as that we not only acknowledge the differences among people but to try to see things from others’ perspectives (empathy). Taking on that view helps us consider how we might reduce all the frictions and figure out the kind of people we want to be. This is not a political doctrine, however. It’s more like remembering the golden rule. It’s about respecting one’s neighbor—be he Sikh or freak or breeder. It’s about acknowledging what evil, intolerant people have done in the past, but also moving on from it.

Toleration even requires us to put up with—politically, at least—the ugliest forms of expression. As Rauch reminds us, “The best society for minorities is not the society that protects minorities from speech but the one that protects speech from minorities (and from majorities, too).” And that’s hard. One has to listen to different voices, taking into account the circumstances of time, place and person, as opposed to treating people as caricatures. Whatever one’s intentions, we must remember that a lot of evil has flowed from forgetting that people are individuals.

Of course, none of this is to argue that racism or sexism or homophobia doesn’t exist, or to deny that people have been mistreated throughout history for reasons that seem arbitrary and cruel to us. It is not even to deny that people are mistreated to this very day—often for those same arbitrary reasons. Rather, my argument is intended to show that a libertarian principle of respect for persons requires toleration, not identity politics.

The great thing about libertarianism is that it is a political superstructure in which most other political philosophies can operate. No other political philosophy features such built-in, full-fledged pluralism. The other basic political philosophies have built-in asymmetries. Progressivism does not tolerate libertarians living as they wish, but libertarianism tolerates progressives living as they wish (with all the caveats about voluntary participation.) And as Hayek said about the conservative: “Like the socialist, he is less concerned with the problem of how the powers of government should be limited than with that of who wields them; and, like the socialist, he regards himself as entitled to force the value he holds on other people.”

So progressives are intolerant of economic freedom. Conservatives are intolerant of social freedom. Only libertarianism maximizes varying conceptions of the good. Nothing under libertarian doctrine precludes embedded communities of any political stripe, and in a free society, we ought to tolerate these clusters as long as they guarantee a right of exit. Indeed, our only requirement would be that if any such community is to persist, it should do so in a matrix of persuasion rather than of coercion.

If we take back toleration, we have a moral high ground that is both appealing to younger generations and works to the benefit of all people. We don’t have to live with the contradictions of progressive social engineers or with conservatives’ half-hearted deference to individual liberty. By practicing real toleration, we can dispel all the various “isms” while leaving people their life plans.

And that’s good enough for libertarianism.

This article was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education.

Max Borders is the editor of The Freeman and director of content for FEE. He is also cofounder of Voice & Exit and the author of Superwealth: Why we should stop worrying about the gap between rich and poor.