Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’. That’s god-damn right. For the second time in my life, I am guilty of committing a crime. Parole violation. Of course, I doubt they’ll toss up any roadblocks for that. Not for an old crook like me…
I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.
Red Redding, The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
“I know we all think we’d like to leave the battlefield. Crack it big and retire early to some pretty place you can’t find on a map. But think about it. Is that really what gets your pulse racing? Knowing that you’ve squirrelled away enough to go become utterly irrelevant somewhere no one cares about?
Outsiders are making the next Renaissance. Those who saddle up and fight for personal, financial, political, and economic authenticity in a world running away from its battles; running to hedonism, nihilism, fatalism, victimology, dependency, economic free-lunchism, and political shortcuts. That doesn’t mean Outsiders are strong. Heck, it doesn’t even mean they win. It means they take their place on their battlefields. Day in. Day out. Because the alternative is running scared. Capitulation. Hopelessness.
Relationships, financial success, business building, economic growth, freedom – these mean nothing without authenticity, resilience, justice.”
The Battle of Evermore, The Macro Outsider
Nietzsche famously claimed in the late 19th Century, “God is dead”, and predicted that in the place of religion, secular ideologies would rise up and clash for moral supremacy, killing millions in brutal wars under dehumanising pathologies. Some regard this as one of the most prescient forecasts ever made. The last century seemed to validate Nietzsche’s claims and then some. Hundreds of millions died in ideological warfare, civil warfare and genocidal madness. Imagine going back in time and convincing someone in 1899 that they were about to enter by far the bloodiest century in history. Hundreds of millions would be slaughtered at the altar of vain bourgeoise ideologies and reckless, heedless statecraft. Imagine telling them that a new bomb would be invented and used to wipe out entire cities of innocent people. You may mention tragic details about what would eventually unfold: the brainless brutality of World War One, the Holocaust, Mao’s Cultural Revolution or any of the myriad of 20th Century horrors. Would this person be justified in becoming a Doom Porner? I think so. On that bracing information, could they justify storing away their life savings into gold and moving to the remote wilderness with their family and a supply of guns and ammo and some farming implements and livestock to survive the rest of their days in self-sufficient isolation? I think so.
They could be forgiven for thinking that in 100 years the world would look like a Mad Max movie, only a little worse. Yet by 1999, the world was more peaceful, prosperous, advanced, integrated, healthy and happy than it had ever been. Nietzsche’s dire prediction was completely right, but also completely wrong. He saw the first order problem perfectly. Ideologies clashed in unimaginably brutal ways. The scale of war and genocide was immense. But he didn’t give enough weight to the second, third, fourth… nth order reactions to the first order problem. He perhaps underappreciated the countervailing forces that would emerge to challenge the evil empires and megalomaniacs.
Macro doomsters can lay out plausibly bad scenarios where banks and currencies fail and we’re thrust into the grip of a long depressionary winter, or where states tighten their grip and drag us into an ecopalypse where only guns, gold and gasoline will get you out alive. The thing is, they’re seeing the threat, but they’re not seeing the response.
The point is not that the threat isn’t there. It absolutely is. If you saddle a system with enough technocratic-Marxist strangulation, it can be absolutely thrust into the most awful and painful collapse. We’ve seen this enough in functioning systems to know that bad outcomes are not only possible but a lot more common than we’d like to think.
The point is there is a response, but because it’s a second or third or nth order phenomenon, it’s really hard to conceive of let alone articulate what it might look like and when it might manifest. It’s a little bit like Bastiat’s genius “seen and unseen” concept applied to strategy. It’s easy to see the first order action of say rapacious taxation or reckless money printing to plunder society. It’s a lot harder to see the reactionary countervailing forces this sets in motion, like tax revolts or escape into alternative new monetary mediums or political devolution or the growth of parallel (black) markets outside of the state’s purview.
Take Bitcoin. It’s an unforeseen response to seen monetary disorder and the problems of digital fiat money for an increasingly demanding and autonomous 21st Century user. Whether or not Bitcoin becomes the next global reserve currency is perhaps less important than what its rise and exponential user growth say about the power of unforeseen, distributed, spontaneous solutions to seemingly overwhelming and intractable problems.
It’s pretty easy to argue that the global fiat currency system could collapse. Its extreme leverage, centralisation, and imbalances make it dry tinder waiting for the right match. It’s far harder to see or anticipate the responses and solutions to a fragile fiat system. I think that’s largely because first order problems are centralised and under the direction of (mostly) highly visible state or corporate incumbents that we perceive and tend to understand, whereas higher order solutions are decentralised and under distributed, spontaneous direction by forces we haven’t seen, perceived or understood yet. We’re able to fathom and form expectations about what is already established, but not about what is spontaneously emergent.
I think this goes a long way to explaining why Doom Porners tend to overweight the impact of negative political or institutional trends and underweight the impact of positive distributed, emergent trends. The former is just much easier to see and estimate.
Yet, for all the regressive busybodying of our policy mandarins, there’s the constant mega-countervailing force of millions and hundreds of millions of people getting on with the everyday task of improving their lives through trade, cooperation, and value-creation. There is probably no more powerful constructive force than ordinary people’s daily desire to improve their material lives under the natural laws of the market, quickened by unimpeded entrepreneurship.
To conceive of that which is already established requires little more than rational comprehension. Rational comprehension is our safe space. But to conceive of and account for that which does not yet exist requires that we step outside of comfortable rational comprehension and into something rather uncomfortable: hope and faith.
I guess a lot of people think hope and faith belong only in 1st Corinthians 13, and certainly not in planning how to navigate an uncertain future. But the thing is, hope and faith, properly understood, should never be blind or baseless. They’re the cognitive-emotional tools we use when we have to stare into the deep, dark tunnel that is the future. As 1st Corinthians 13 reminds us,
“9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know [in full]…”
What I’m saying is hope and faith are critical to forming a coherent, realist vision of the future because of the inherent unknowability of that future. Hope that the fight in people will come to the fore in dark times. Faith that their valour will prevail in the Battle of Evermore. Is it baseless? No. We’ve seen it time and again in the long march of history. Is it inevitable? No. The darker side of humanity may prevail for longer than we wish to imagine. But to abandon hope is to get busy dying. In Part I, I said, “hope isn’t a strategy, it’s true, but without hope, you don’t have a strategy.” I think I should have said, without hope, you don’t need a strategy.
When Rothbard said that he was always bearish about the short term and bullish about the long term, he didn’t know things would work out ok. But he exercised an informed hope and faith about what he knew to be man’s core yearning and striving for something better. He reckoned that the bungling of the Meddling Class would eventually be swallowed up by the creative and cooperative dynamism of the brave, innovative, peaceful people of society’s marketplace. And he knew the bungling would reappear in another guise and form. He knew there would be another short term to be pessimistic about, just that we’d probably be better off when that time came.
And so, as we reject Doom Porn and take our place on the battlefield, we need to hold on to Rothbard’s dictum. That means living like my buddy suggested over Mexican food a few months back: being alert and alive to risks without being dead to opportunities. This is the kind of duality that Doom Porners, Permabulls, and The Meddling Class struggle to see.
But I think it’s more than this. I don’t think this works if we’re just cleverly playing the Small Game. We have to play the Big Game as well. Winning the Small Game is necessary but insufficient. It gets you and your kids out alive. It protects you from being The Sucker. It takes you out of the path of the marauders. It guards you against Doom Porn (and Boom Porn). But the Big Game matters too. It’s the Big Game where the long term is decided. It’s the Big Game where you make a better world more probable for your grandchildrens’ children.
Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games didn’t let the preoccupations of the Small Game blind her from the ultimate necessity of the Big Game. More than that, she used the Small Game as currency in the Big Game. Winning the Small Game means a whole lot more if you use it to buy into the Big Game. Katniss discovered that the Small Game is rigged, and the odds are against everyone outside the Capitol. But you have to play, even though you know it’s stacked. You play because not playing is worse, because there’s no peace in running from your battle. Not playing is getting busy dying.
Playing only the Small Game isn’t enough. The Small Game happens on the playing field you’re given. The Big Game is about changing the playing field. The Small Game is “staying alive to risks without being dead to opportunities.” The Big Game is helping establish and advance authenticity, resilience, and justice because without these things victory is hollow. The Small Game is about surviving and learning to thrive. The Big Game is about bringing others with you. The Small Game is personal. The Big Game is tribal.
Red Redding got swept out of Doom Porn into Andy Dufresne’s Big Game.
“I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”
Macro Outsiders aren’t just living Murray Rothbard’s dictum; they’re living Katniss Everdeen’s duality too. We’re not just cultivating an intelligent hope and faith that give our battles meaning and vitality. We’re making allies and taking them with us into the next Great Battle. We hold out hope that our efforts – together – will prevail and produce something better. Something beautiful. Something good. Eventually.
- Previous Post Doom Porn (Part I)