Tuesday, April 14, 2009
The Yin and the Yang: An Approach to Publicizing Broadly Libertarian Ideas
I had an idea today for a new way that one might go about spreading some of our (well, at least my) ideas to the public. The idea is to use the familiar imagine of the Taijitu -- the yin yang symbol -- to offer a nuanced articulation of difficult concepts that sometimes end up being articulated sloppily with other approaches. The concept of yin yang is that mutually opposing forces can be seen as interconnected and even as interdependent, so that each gives form and substance to the other. I can immediately think of two examples of how this approach would be useful:
Unity and Separateness
On one hand, we need unity in order to have things like property rights, right-of-way conventions, procedural rules, and arguably collectivized programs where burden-sharing is important to us. On the other hand, we need separateness in order to plan and lead our own separate lives according to our own values and goals. But sometimes our best successes as communities come from living and letting live, and sometimes our best successes as individuals come from putting aside our own interests and being good neighbors. When we understand unity in the light of separateness, and separateness in the light of unity, we can achieve each more fully than we could if we pursued either on its own.
Knowledge and Ignorance
We know a tremendous amount about the world in which we live, and our knowledge can enable us to do wonderful things. But one of the most important things that we know is just how ignorant we are. A little bit of knowledge can be an extremely dangerous thing, and sometimes the wisest action is to admit that we not know for sure what would be best. Sometimes when we allow for an open-ended result, we find out that we end up with something better than we would have been able to design ourselves.
These are just two examples, and both are clearly in need of development. But I'm finding this way of thinking to be very satisfying and elegant; you pose two seemingly conflicting values against each other and show how each helps give the other its shape. And I think that as a vehicle for getting people to think about complicated philosophical issues that are integral to the advancement of liberty (like the knowledge problem, reasonable pluralism, the separateness of persons, the nirvana fallacy, etc.), it might be helpful to use this tool to explain things in a way that can resonate with anyone. Plus, I think it opens the door for a libertarianism or liberalism that is softer, more understanding, and more reflective than the kinds of views that so often come from our camp. Leave it to the notoriously wishy-washy, hand-wavy guy to come up with something like this...but I like it.