Martial Culture and Gun Culture, A Response to Tyler Cowen

This morning Tyler Cowen proposed a link between martial culture and the rate of gun ownership in American society.

I don’t myself so often ask “should Americans have fewer guns?”, as that begs the question of how one might ever get there, which indeed has proven daunting by all accounts.  But I do often ask myself “should America be a less martial country in in its ideological orientation?”

Note that the parts of the country with the most guns, namely the South, are especially prominent in the military and support for the military.

More importantly, if America is going to be the world’s policeman, on some scale or another, that has to be backed by a supportive culture among the citizenry.  And that culture is not going to be “Hans Morgenthau’s foreign policy realism,” or “George Kennan’s Letter X,” or even Clausewitz’s treatise On War.  Believe it or not, those are too intellectual for the American public.  And so it must be backed by…a fairly martial culture amongst the American citizenry.  And that probably will mean a fairly high level of gun ownership and a fairly high degree of skepticism about gun control.

If you think America can sustain its foreign policy interventionism, or threat of such, without a fairly martial culture at home, by all means make your case.  But I am skeptical.  I think it is far more likely that if you brought about gun control, and the cultural preconditions for successful gun control, America’s world role would fundamentally change and America’s would no longer play a global policeman role, for better or worse.

It seems to me a martial culture would be hard to measure (at least for the 0 dollars I plan to spend measuring it), however we have what seems like a decent proxy (one Tyler himself proposed) in military membership.  This was intuitively plausible, Switzerland and Finland for example have both relatively large reserve forces and high civilian gun ownership rates, so I went and checked whether there was a link.

All Countries All Duty

That’s pretty underwhelming. Now there are some differences in how different countries deal with paramilitary forces and reserves, so lets restrict it to active duty armed forces

All Countries Active Duty

That’s actually impressively uncorrelated. Just OECD countries this time
OECD All Duty

OECD active duty armed forces, for thoroughness

OECD Active Duty

Colour me skeptical.

P.S. I would love to re-run this with veterans instead of the currently serving, so if you happen to know of a decent dataset feel free to pass it on, or do the work yourself and let us know


The Peril of Projecting Yourself Back

It is the role of political labels to blind and to bind. By calling yourself a conservative, libertarian or label of your choice you commit yourself to certain ideals, to certain prejudices and predilections. It provides you not only with a sort of family, a sort of identity, but also allows you to place yourself in the grand history of western ideals, to give you a place in intellectual history.

So it is natural to look back at the history, to see something of yourself reflected there, and to pick sides, and then, defining ourselves as the sort of person who would become a Montagnard, or Girondist, an Optimate or Populare, we start to identify with them, to defend them, to rationalise on their behalf. And if the temptation can be transmitted over millenia, how much greater is the temptation to map the struggles of the Jacksonian Democrats and the National Republicans, or Disraeli and Gladstone , onto our own. To subsume the tensions and temporary alliances of our current coalitions into merely the latest instantiation of an ancient and eternal struggle. There is a not inconsiderable weight of genetic evidence supporting this thesis. We probably have about the same Haidtian values as our forefathers. And yet.

I generally avoid labelling myself, not out of a disdain for labels, but as a temporary disavowal of self knowledge. There is no true self, there is no authentic soul, I am only what I do, and I am better at rationalizing than recognizing the patterns of my own behaviour. When I call myself anything I call myself a Tory squish, because while I have only ever voted for a single CPC candidate, it is the party who most often speaks in a language that resonates with me; the virtues of strong family ties, of bourgeois respectability, the Crown, Decentralisation of Social Policy, and Economic Integration, even where the policy is actively counter productive to those ends. And so, reading my History, it is inevitable that I side with the Old Man over Laurier. Yes the National policy was a disaster, but, if I’m honest, I’m a free trader more because my clique is than by intuitive conviction. No doubt if my clique went the other way I would happily join them.

But, once that illusion of eternal conviction is shattered I have to ask. Would my clique really still be my clique in the 1890s? A white, male, suburban, married, catholic, middle class westerner from a conservative leaning profession, my Tory affiliation in 2015 is more cliche than conviction. But all the same demographics that make me a Tory in 2015 would almost certainly make me a Laurier Liberal in 1896. How long could a Catholic sympathise with an inveterate Orangist like Charles Tupper. Would a westerner really vote for his own National Policy exploiters? My Father’s Father was a ethnic Swabian born in Prague, his parents refugees from the Russian civil war and the bolsheviks. How much sympathy would such a person have for my Monarchism really? A non-rural professional is basically the beating demographic heart of 1890s Liberalism, would I really be the exception? My Pluralism and Decentralising impulses are probably a better fit for the Laurier Liberals anyway, and once the switch in your head has been flipped, tribal identity will do the rest.

If I could get in a time machine, with all the same values, morals and upbringing, and go not even very far back, to a society I would still basically recognize, with most of the same institutions and culture, and totally reverse my ideology, in what sense is my ideology even a meaningful expression of eternal values? And if the same values would require a completely different label, why should I find any meaning in the battles of Disraeli, or Tupper, just because we both use the same label?

Alphabet Soup and the Neo-Kleinstaaterei

The history of human civilization is a history with a clear tendency towards the larger and more complex entities. From Families to Bands to Tribes to Chiefdoms to Kingdoms to States. It is one in which the number of relevant political entities has gone from more to less. Thus in Germania circa 15AD there was a patchwork of a few hundred tribes and tribal confederations, in 1015AD there were multiple competing lines of authority involving the Emporer, the Pope and about twenty Imperial principalities, plus a plethora of free cities, bishoprics, monasteries and estates, which would evolve into the tiny states, the kleinstaaterei, and in 2015AD that same bit of territory is controlled by only thirteen states, plus the EU. Indeed, we now have an extra layer of supranational governance and an alphabet soup of regional coordination agencies – NATO, NAFTA, NORAD, CCTS, ASEAN, WTO and OAS to name but a few. Despite the historical trend we are actually in anti-consolidation phase. In 1915 there were only sixty some sovereign states. Today, nearly two hundred. What accounts for these dual trends, the consolidation of governance in international agencies with a multiplication of the number of sovereign states? The UN identifies ten major government functions. Some of these, like Recreation, Culture and Religion, will, on average, be best served by smaller states, with a cohesive culture, unified identity, and tight link between ruler and ruled. Others, like Defence, will tend, on average, to be best accomplished by larger states, either due to greater and more diverse resources, or more effective rule making powers. The migration of governance functions to supranational institutions has, unsurprisingly, focused on those functions best accomplished by larger entities, and thus, increasingly, has made it unnecessary for small nations or proto-nations to subsume themselves in a larger state. There are six main functions which, I argue, have, in the more distant past, worked to drive territorial consolidation, and which now are either attenuated, or have in fact reversed their salience.

Continue reading “Alphabet Soup and the Neo-Kleinstaaterei”

The Virtue of Conformity

I am told, though I do not personally give any credence to these vicious slanders, that some of you are unaware that a new edition of CSA C22.1 was issued this year.  The CEC, as it is known in the industry, is a collection of rules, schedules, suggestions and references that forms the basis of electrical work in Canada.  The CEC, and similar standards, shape the world in profound ways, below our notice and often beyond our understanding.  While any intelligent person, with time and attention, can understand some of them, no one can understand all of them, or even more than a tiny fraction.  They interact and conflict in myriad ways, and powerful groups spend enormous resources trying to understand, shape, apply and enforce them.  Solving the same problems will lead to wildly different solutions, as trade-offs between agents, resources, politics and culture are made differently in different areas and territories.  Understanding where and how they apply, which rules can be bent, which can be ignored and when is a lifetime pursuit, and those that have it mastered will be well compensated.  However standards are just professional norms, and can be used to understand many kinds of norms, with the additional benefit that technical standards consciously attempt to minimize tacit aspects, and are thus easier for beginners and outsiders to understand and abstract from.

The typical economic account of standards involves a coordination problem.  When several parties realize that they can all gain, but only if they are all doing things the same way, they will get together and coordinate a method.  For instance, a nut needs to be able to connect to a bolt, which means they need approximately the same threading, and so machinists got together and settled on a few different standard threadings.  A similar method was followed by electricians and plumbers to settle on threads for pipes and conduits.  A similar story exists for container shipping.  Standardizing the size of a container for shipping allowed all of the various players in international shipping, the ship-makers, ports, railways, truckers to develop ways to efficiently move a C-Can, importantly without the need for repacking when changing transport modes, it turned containers into a commodity, allowing them to be efficiently produced, and it allowed designers to design their products to fit efficiently into the standardized size, which has contributed to the post war explosion in international trade.  While that story is fine as far as it goes, there are three more major drivers of standardization, not all of which are well understood.  The first, and most obvious, is the encouragement of regulatory regimes.  The second is to enable the development of engineering, as distinct from scientific, knowledge.  The third is the development of standards to limit legal liability.

The first option does not require much explanation.  Building codes, electrical codes and so one were developed to establish a minimum baseline for acceptable construction.  While the stated basis is consumer protection and public safety – building fires are one of the oldest recognized externalities amenable to public solutions, and most people are poor judges of craftsmanship  in trades they do not understand, especially where the construction is hidden by other features – basically all codes contain some capture, where a component is overbuilt to the benefit of the service providers, or a provision is stated in way that only a single product, sold by a well connected supplier, can fulfill it.  In addition the trade-offs between cost and risk can be made in a socially sub-optimal manner.

The second, and less well understood involves the creation of engineering knowledge.  The naive layperson often considers engineering to be a branch of applied science.  In many ways it is that, and certainly many advances in engineering practice have been preceded by advances in the physical sciences, however it is also the case that knowledge can flow both ways.  The second law of thermodynamics was recognized by engineers to be a property of steam engines long before physicists determined it had wider validity.  However standardization has allowed us to understand certain classes of products far better than that allowed by an examination of first principles.  For example, a common type of electrical cable, called Teck90, is specified by CSA C22.2 No 131-14.  While the relevant parameters for for a cable can be determined scientifically, plugging the appropriate constants into the appropriate formulas, and thus generalizing, in practice this is never done.  Instead the relevant parameters are determined statistically, by building a large amount of cable and subjecting it to rigorous testing.  There is no attempt to use any sort of inductive principle, to generalize from that cable to any cable in any configuration, or from that size to a different one.  Instead we can determine, with the error bands, exactly what the electrical and mechanical characteristics of that particular cable are.  This is supplemented by practical experience.  The cable is sold and installed, and the company will aggregate the data generated in this manner, allowing them to adjust their tolerances and numbers based on the typical as installated data, instead of just the lab data.  While the principles of electrical induction machines are fairly well understood scientifically, we understand far more about a IEC 60034-1 575V 40hp Wound Rotor Squirrel Cage Three Phase Induction Motor, even without knowing who built it, than we ever could given a single motor with perfect knowledge of it’s components and construction.

The final reason for the development of standards is for the protection of the person applying them.  Tort law in most of the world requires the proof of negligence when awarding damages from products.  In proving negligence following the correct standard is an acceptable defence, even when the standard is inadequate and you could have known that had you done testing to prove it.  In general it is the case that you will only be held to account for decisions that deviate from the prevailing standards.  This allows professionals to devote their cognitive resources to decisions without standard answers, and allows every practitioner access to the accumulated wisdom of the profession, however it results, in practice in the foreclosing of better, but non-standard solutions.  If the standard is wrong, and something catastrophic happens, everyone has a valuable learning moment.  If you are wrong, and something catastrophic happens, your career is over, and you might be going to jail.  This provides a large incentive for designers to push for standards, even in application to which standardization is poorly suited, and hope to shape the standards in ways that facilitate their work.

Uber, but for Violence

The dawn of the Roman Republic is traditionally dated to 509 BC, when the last king of Rome was exiled. Shortly thereafter, around 495, the lower classes, the plebs, began to demand relief from taxation and the forgiveness of debts. The Senate was rather unsympathetic to this request, and tensions mounted, until Rome was invaded and had to raise an army. The plebs refused to enlist without the promise of concessions, and the Senate in accordance with grand universal tradition punted. Anybody who enlisted would not be punished for outstanding debts, and anyone in prison for the default would be let free if they joined the army. They further promised to consider some relief measure after the war was over. This produced the desired effect, and the invasion was quickly repelled, and the army disbanded to await their relief. In accordance with grand universal tradition the Senate decreed that everyone who was released should go back to prison, and that people whose imprisonment was deferred by service should be locked up with them. This did not go over well, and there followed a period of recriminations and revenge taking

The next year, 494 BC, Rome was again invaded, and again the Senate sought to raise an army, and again the plebs decided that perhaps they would be happier not fighting on behalf of their creditors, but thank you for asking. The senate, responded by appointing a dictator to restore order, and passing limited debt relief for the people who joined the army. Again the people joined the army, and again the invaders were repelled, and again, upon their return to Rome, the Senate refused to relieve their debts. Now the plebs decided to go on strike, and decamped to a near-by mountain, and await a response from the Senate. The Senate, aware of their dependence on the plebs for soldiers, and their inability to defend against a concerted attack by the plebs, took the only available option, and utterly caved. Thus the office of the Tribune of the Plebs was born, giving the lower classes some say in how they were governed.

Now fast forward to 73 BC. Roman legions have conquered most of Italy and large parts of North Africa and Spain. The army is no longer comprised of free plebs defending their homeland, but professional soldiers, fighting for pay and a share of any land that was conquered. Rome’s conquests mean that the land that was previously farmed by plebs is instead owned by equestrians and patricians, and the labour is provided not by plebs, but the nations who had lost their wars with Rome and been enslaved as punishment. Slaves being cheap and expendable, they were mistreated horrendously, and so it was not a surprise when a few thousand of them decided they would rather not be slaves after all, and got together to begin sacking cities. The slaves crushed a hastily assembled militia, and as word of their exploits spread, more and more slaves went to join them, and their ranks eventually swelled to 120,000. A second, more professional army was assembled to defeat them, and, after some initial success, was defeated. The Senate became alarmed, and assembled a third, much larger army to deal with it, and, after some intrigue, it did. Crassus, one of the commanders of the army captured 6000 of the slaves, and had them crucified at regular intervals from Capua to Rome as a reminder of the price of failed rebellion. Crassus and Pompei took their armies as close to Rome as they were allowed, and then stood for Consul, the highest elected office, and, despite Pompeii being legally ineligible, both won, due in no small part to the implied threat of the armies encamped nearby.

Now further ahead. It is now 532 AD, in Constantinople. In a manner somewhat similar to Irish football clubs, 6th century Constantinople expressed it’s divisions through it’s sporting clubs, and the most popular sport was chariot racing. Though there were four major factions, at this time only two had real influence, the Blues and the Greens. Meeting at these events, and with the supporters of your favorite team, would be a natural time to talk about the controversies of the day, both political and religious, and aristocratic families looking to make connections within the power structure would sponsor the teams, and thus curry favour and get invites to more exclusive parties. After one particularly fractious race, as this rivalry began to break into open warfare that left several on each side dead, the Emperor intervened, and attempted to help restore calm, succeeding only in uniting them in their annoyance with the Emperor. At the next race, the two sides began shouting abuse at the Emperor, and wound up besieging his palace. Justinian, however had a plan. He sent an envoy to the blues, reminding them that, after all weren’t the greens the real enemy, and if he were deposed, wouldn’t it be a green who would now rule? In accordance with grand universal tradition he had his confidant present the leader of the blues with a giant sack of money, and the blues decided that really Justinian wasn’t so bad after all, and left the stadium. The greens were rounded up by the army and slaughtered to the man, and their allies in the nobility were executed as well for good measure, ensuring peace and stability for years to come.

Slaves in the Roman Empire were a non-renewable resource. Forced to live in barracks and with a very short life span, slaves mostly did not replace themselves, and without a ready source of new slaves, mass slavery died out, to be replaced with serfdom and peasantry, who were expected to marry and raise families, and thus could be expected to provide future generations of peasants for toil. The loss of the Middle Eastern and North African trade routes to the House of Islam, and internal trade being lost to banditry, the kind of specialization that allowed cities to flourish was no longer feasible, and Europe became thoroughly rural. All politics is local, and so while we have stories of servants murdering their lords and so on, the networks were not in place for a proper peasant revolt for most of the early and high middle ages, and the exceptions come mostly from outside the feudal system or where the feudal system was inchoate, like the Stellinga who protested their enserfment and forced conversions after the Carolingians subjugated Saxony. The first wide scale peasant revolt of the late middle ages (so far as has been recorded) happened in Flanders, one of the first regions of Europe to re-urbanize, in the 1320s. Despite some initial success capturing cities, peasants were no match for armour and cavalry in the field, and the revolt was crushed, the leaders killed. The peasant army at Cassel lost nearly half it’s force between 10,000 and 20,000 men. The French armoured force fighting them on the other hand, only a handful, and of the cavalry perhaps only 17 knights were killed. The major cities of the rebellion were forced to dismantle their fortifications, pay heavy fines, and lost all of their privileges to the Count of Flanders.

This was the first of a wave of revolts, throughout western Europe. In France, England, Germany, Italy, Hungary and Spain and so on a familiar tale would play out, as, upset with the heavy tax burden, or the loss of privledges, or in protest of restrictive laws, commoners would rise up and be crushed mercilessly, and their oppression would deepen for their troubles. However, towards the end of the 18th century, the outline of a new pattern began to take place. For most of the previous thousand years there was an advantage to being the defender. A Lord or Baron under attack could retreat behind his castle walls and await relief, or if it became necessary, to ride out encased in heavy armour, nearly impervious to the meager weapons of the peasantry. Agincourt was the announcement that armour could no longer be relied on, and the advent of artillery sounded the death knell of the castle as an impervious base of operations. Gradually, a King could hire, equip and train an army that did not rely on the military aristocracy, and, eventually, cities could as well. Soon projecting power was not about how well the knights were armoured, or how thick the walls of the castle were, but how much firepower could be brought to bear. The aristocracy receded in importance, the castles became antiquated curiosities, and the state was born. But a ruling class that had long grown used to treating their lower classes as irrelevant would be in for a shock. Rebellions and revolutions still failed far more often than they succeeded, but in sharp contrast to earlier eras, instead of slaughtering the rebellious subjects, the subject often succeeded in inflicting tremendous damage, and the victory of the state depended as much on the allegiance of the army as the force of the King’s arms.

Indeed you can track the faction that controls France by knowing the Faction that guards Paris. In the Early and High middle ages, guarding Paris was the responsibility of the King’s vassals and Castellans. Towards the end of the High middle ages however, Paris had begun to grow too large, and the King had defeated most of the castellans around Paris, and responsibility passed to the guilds to create a Royal Guard for the city. Naturally the guard was still under the command of an aristocrat, but the men who served in it were tradesmen who lived and worked in the city. As the city grew richer and the men softer, they stopped serving in the guard themselves, and instead hired a professional force to do the work for them, and positions in the guard were increasingly filled by the king’s former soldiers. At the height of the Absolute Monarchy a separate Police force was created, and, as power flowed away from Paris and towards Versailles, the Guard and Police force were merged, under the command of an officer appointed directly by the King. At the crucial moment of the revolution, when it came time to choose between the King and the National Assembly the Paris Guard chose to obey the assembly. As local distinctions and privileges were abolished, the Paris guard was disbanded, and the safety of Paris was left to the National Guard commanded by the liberal nobility. When the radicals took control on the 10 August, it was in large part because the National Guard in Paris abandoned their officers and joined the republican side. In turn, they transferred their allegiance to the Thermidor reaction, leaving the committee for public safety undefended in the city hall. Their inability to suppress the royalist uprisings led to the famous whiff of grapeshot, and directly contributed to the rise of Napoleon, who disarmed the guards and replaced them with a professional police force under his control. During this time, the guard regained again it’s status as a middle class militia, and when the bourgeois monarchy was restored, the guard was restored with it. A similar process plays out in London, and in all the capitols of Europe. The great wave of revolutions in 1848 mostly failed, but the rebellions in Berlin succeeded in getting the Hohenzollern King to transfer control of Berlin from the Royal Army to a citizen militia, in addition to a constitution and an electoral assembly.  In general, the rise of the middle classes was accompanied by the rise of middle class militias and guards, often explicitly excluding both the nobility and the lower classes.

These changes are, in part, about wealth, but also about technology. The fall of the military aristocracy was partly about state-building, the centralization of power, and the movement of the centre of financial power from land and rents to cities and trade, but also about the fall of the castle and the death of heavy cavalry as an effective fighting force. When the plebeians revolted, they exacted concessions because smallholders formed the backbone of the army, and the patricians could not defend themselves against their enemies without them. By contrast, when the slaves revolted, despite forming the economic backbone of the empire, slaves did not form the armed defensive backbone of the republic, and so the interests of the slaves could be ignored. When Constantinople revolted, the Emperor was threatened, in no small part because his power base turned against him, and so he had to pay them off. It was only after he had placated his base that the army could be used to crush the remaining dissenters. In the west, military force became increasing centralized in the hands of a small military elite, and the interests of the peasants became increasingly ignored, as they successively lost their rights and privileges to castellans and the cavalry. It was only when trained forces of commoner infantry developed the tactics and weapons necessary to defeat the castles and cavalry that the power of the crown again waned, and as weapons became more widespread and easier to use that power started falling into the hands of the middle classes, and so it became necessary to consider their interests when making decisions.

In effect, as the technology needed to effectively resist coercion became more and more widely available, the number of people from which the system needed buy-in increased. It was entirely possible for French nobles to ignore the rights and desires of the French peasants in 10th century France, increasing the taxes and duties owed to landlords. Peasants never successfully overthrew their Lords after all.  The Kaiser in the tenth century would never have bothered sending the french equivalent of Lenin into France, that the Kaiser in the twentieth felt it worthwhile is only because the revolt of the lower class would need to be taken seriously in a way that peasant rebellion in the tenth did not. The great liberalizations of the late 19th century, universal male suffrage and constitutional democracy, happened against a background of anarchist violence against the aristocracy, and the threat of a widespread workers revolt. The backdrop of the construction of social democracy was the spectre of revolutionary communism. Decolonization, and the great civil wars of the third world, are necessarily complicated, but a prime enabler has been the widespread availability of a cheap, easy to build, easy to maintain weapon, the AK-47 and it’s derivatives, that narrowed the technological gap between colonizer and colonized, and reduced the barrier to entry of meaningful resistance to established authority. This is to say, that the modern history of the rise of the common man, is the history of the disruption of the means of violence.

Building Communities of Values, Part I

We left off our story in early May 2007, (and that essay was mostly written that fall), when, in the aftermath of the French presidential election I first became fully convinced that people existed whose genuinely held ends I did not consider ends.  Shortly thereafter Michael Ignatieff delivered the Isaiah Berlin Lecture at Wolfson College Oxford.  (It is a measure of the significance of that speech that a reasonably extensive Google search has so far failed to find a transcript, or even a definite date, in part no doubt, because subsequent events would make a Michael Ignatieff lecture on political judgement vaguely embarrassing.)  This was my first introduction to Isaiah Berlin, in whose tradition I mostly place myself, though I think the major theme of his work, the justification of a liberal pluralist order, is basically a failure.  In any case I would like to start with one of Berlin’s definition of Politics:
Since men are beings made by nature to live in communities, their communal purposes are the ultimate values from which the rest are derived, or with which their ends as individuals are identified. Politics – the art of living in a polis – is not an activity which can be dispensed with by those who prefer private life : it is not like seafaring or sculpture which those who do not wish to do so need not undertake. Political conduct is intrinsic to being a human being at a certain stage of civilization, and what it demands is intrinsic to living a successful human life – Isaiah Berlin, The Originality of Machiavelli, [1953]
So what does the art of living in a polis entail?  To my understanding, it is the attempt to make the norms and institutions which structure our lives compatible with our ends, that is, reflective of our values.  These kind of structures surround us with powerful incentives, such that generally it is only possible for a person to live contrary to prevailing norms, standards and institutions with effort and attention, both of which are limited quantities.  Our understanding of willpower is nascent, however a key early finding is that people, by and large, work unconsciously, and conscious decisions deplete a limited reservoir of ability to override our unconscious desires.  The key to living a life compatible with your values is to minimize the number of decisions that you need to make consciously.  Since you will, as a practical manner, only physically be able to dissent from the prevailing Welterschauung of your community on a limited number of issues, tragedy may only be avoided where it is possible to surround yourself with structures that make living your values effortless.  The full realization of your values may only be lived in community with people who share them.
Now you were born into a society with existing structures and norms, which embody within them certain trade-offs: between positive and negative liberties, between work and leisure, between individual and corporate ends and so on.  What you cannot know a priori, and almost certainly cannot ever know with any degree of completeness, is which trade-offs are actually being embodied in any given structure.  Structures, even considered in isolation, are often multivalent, and when interacting with other structures and norms it can quickly become practically impossible to fully specify everything that a given structure does.  Thus even if you know what kind of life you would like to live, there is no way, on your own, to determine what kind of structures and norms would best provide a stable equilibrium that allows that kind of life, or even if such an equilibrium exists, much less to find a way to that life from where you are.
  However, while it is impossible for an individual to know all of that, it is often possible for a single person to determine, with reasonable accuracy, the way that a certain interaction makes certain trade-offs.  It is therefore possible for a group of people, none of whom know the entirety of any particular institution, to determine collectively what kind of trade-offs and values that it embodies.  And a large group of people, none of whom know any constituent institution in detail, may be able to determine a basically coherent vision of what a good society looks like.  It is therefore necessary, for a person to live their values, to find a group of people who share them, and to a great extent to defer to that group.  However this leaves us with a problem.  It is often difficult to determine exactly what you yourself value, and the extent to which you will be willing to make certain trade-offs can look very different depending on how those trade-offs are framed.  It is not uncommon to find that a trade-off you though would make ahead of time suddenly seem unappealing when the time comes to actually make that decision.  If you are opaque, even to yourself, can you, with substantially less knowledge, determine what someone else values?  What a group values?

What João Knows

João have you heard about the new theory coming out of Prussia by that Copernicus guy?”

Teixeira, you spend too much time with your head in the clouds, why do you worry about these things?”

“João he says that we have been thinking about the earth and the sun all wrong, that actually it is the sun that is the fulcrum of the universe, and that all the planets and the stars revolve around it.”

“Teixeira, let me put your mind at ease. Think about this astrolabe. No matter where you are, you can just look into the sky, find the angle of that planet there, then go to this almanac and figure out exactly how far north or south you are. I can tell you right now that we are exactly three hundred miles south of Salamanca, right on line for Lisbon. Every one of the calculations in that almanac was done knowing that the earth was the fulcrum of the universe, and that the sun and all the planets orbit around it.

The that’s how you know it is the truth. It just works, every time, whether you believe in it or not”