Slack and self-ordered societies
Posted by aogTuesday, 08 April 2003 at 14:15 TrackBack Ping URL
I have been unable to find the original quote but Victor Eremita has responded better than I can. The entire letter is worth reading but for here the key pararaph is:
In your recent email I was troubled by the phrase, “we have felt as though our government has not listened to our pleas for peace” as a justification for choosing tactics resulting in your arrests for antagonizing people who have no direct influence on the issue at hand. I believe that embracing this widespread belief, and these tactics, are the first step toward rejecting the democratic process.
One of the reasons that I use the term ‘self-ordered’ instead of ‘democratic’ is that (as Orrin Judd comments frequently) democracy of itself is unstable. Without further societal support a democracy tends strongly to head off into either Old European welfare euthanasia or autocracy as in Venezuela. In order to continue over the long term the citizenry must, in the main, take care of itself and its business — i.e. be self-ordered. The game is over once the population looks to the government for moral direction (autocracy) or sustenance (welfare).

One of the essential characteristics of a self ordered society is, for want of a better term, “slack”. This means accepting a less than personally optimal specific outcome, i.e. cutting others some slack, in order to maintain the general order. For instance, if one supports legislation that doesn't make it in to law then one accepts that specific loss in order to maintain the general order that allows such legislation to be made in to law.

What we see in the quote in the first paragraph is the inability of the anti-war protestors to provide this kind of slack. Their view seems to be that it is reasonable for them to escalate their behaviour until they achieve their political goals. One can contrast this with the pro-life forces who in the large are willing to accept the current political outcome without the same kind of violence and disruption we see from the anti-war protestors. As Emerita says this is in fact an abandonment of democracy, a childish unwillingness to not get one's own way. Of course, since most of the protestors seem to have a strong affinity to oppressive regimes this isn't terribly surprising. The anti-war protests more and more resemble a giant tantrum rather than an actual political movement.

Part of what gives people slack in their political affairs is that, in a self ordered society, only a little of the life of the populace is caught up in politics. One of the hallmarks of non-self ordered societies is that the government is involved as a director in most aspects of life, that it's not really possible to live without being political. It is the unusual person in the US that, like the anti-war protestors, lives a life that is consumed by politics.

The US citizenry seems to have kept its self-orderedness — the anti-war protestors are on a death spiral of rejection from mainstream politics as their failure drives them to ever greater frenzies. What worries me more is whether the Iraqis can accept the personal limits inherent in self ordered society. Without that it seems certain that Iraq will descend into totalitarianism again. One of the major reasons I tend to favor a longer occupation is that slack is a bistable system. People are far more likely to accept rulings against them if they are confident that others will as well. A well organized occupation could set those expectations where as a short one would be much less likely to reach the tipping point. It is far more important to affect this change than to provide the forms of democracy, which without self-order are but hollow shells that will blow down in the first wind.