One of the oldest and most popular representations of the duality of man and nature is the Yin and Yang. Light and dark, life and death, happiness and sadness, all bundled up in a simple black and white symbol. The idea of Yin and Yang can also be applied to the two largest forms of social organization humanity has yet designed: the market and the State.
Like the symbol, the market and the State are reflections of the best and worst in human nature. For our purposes here, we will use the traditional view of Yin and Yang, light and darkness, and attempt to show how humanity’s own light and darkness is expressed through the vehicles of the market and the State.
Yin: The Market
Drones. What are they good for? Absolutely nothing?
One of the more spirited debates of our times is in regard to these unmanned aircraft, and how they’re being used, and, most frequently, how they’re being used by the State. The State looks at these creations and, so far, has seen two basic uses : surveillance and death. The State uses them to watch their enemies, and then also uses them to eliminate said enemies (and, more alarmingly, its own people).
For the complex technological achievement that these creations are, that’s the best the State can come up with. Paranoid surveillance and a delivery system for death. The State, and its human actors therein, express the darkness inherent to us by this amazingly limited view of what these amazing machines are capable of accomplishing.
In contrast, the light of human activity in the market is beginning, as always, to find creative and positive uses for our flying robot friends. Two stories in recent weeks probably best illustrate how humanity’s best side is expressed in the marketplace. The first comes from South Africa, in which it’s being reported that a musical festival there has developed an app that allows people to order beer through their phone, and a drone delivers the beer by locating the person using that person’s phone’s GPS. The drone releases the beer and a parachute deploys on the way down to gently deliver the much needed beverage to the thirsty concert-goer below.
Our second story comes from an undisclosed location, but details how a young man used a drone to propose to his girlfriend.
Humanity’s Yin, its light, is constantly expressed through action in the market.
The light of humanity in the marketplace, the powerful Yin of us acting for our betterment and subsequently albeit indirectly, for the betterment of others, can also be seen in the simple object of a book. Once a high-end good that could only be afforded by the rich and educated, to the Middle Ages where books were responsible for a true great leap forward with the invention of the printing press, to today, when books are practically free thanks to the invention of ebooks and digital readers, humanity’s light-filled operations within the marketplace have steadily improved this good, and increased the knowledge of humanity as a whole. (This progression was described by Hayek and others, that the rich are needed to make certain goods accessible to the rest of us eventually.)
Regardless, it is the last transformation that is perhaps the most remarkable of all, when one truly thinks about it.
Human innovation and creativity coupled with the desire to make a profit and the unintended consequences of those actions has led to the betterment of all humanity. What’s even more remarkable is that people, operating in the framework of the market, actually changed the characteristics of a good. Instead of a good that occupies a physical space, the market’s innovations have now transmogrified books into a good that no longer requires an actual, physical State of being.
Drones and books are just two small samples of humanity’s Yin, its light, expressing itself through the marketplace. There is very little doubt that the best of humanity is shown through human action within the framework of the marketplace. And yet, there are many who believe the State is the expression of our Yin, our light. Below, we’ll briefly examine some examples of how this is simply untrue.
Yang : The State
Humanity’s Yang, its darkness, is increasingly seen these days, especially its expression through the vehicle of the State. As already touched on with drones, the best the State has been able to do so far with these technological marvels is to use them for paranoid surveillance and, as believed by many, indiscriminate death from above.
I mean, when you get right down to it, picking out instances of extreme violence from the State, of humanity’s darkness writ large, is like shooting fish in a barrel, so we’ll leave them be for now. Instead, perhaps an illustrative example would be to examine the State’s use of books and/or words, to show that the Yang is expressed so often by the State through its words.
Whether it was State sanctioned discriminatory policies like Jim Crow laws or apartheid, or outright attempted exterminations of other peoples, it never pays to forget that any such laws, were just that: laws, codified by the State and enforced by humanity operating within the State.
Compare the market use of books to the State’s use of books. One of the most common complaints of anyone who opposes the ever expanding State is the books produced by the State in the form of laws and regulations. At one point, in 1925, all of the federal laws of the United States were contained within one volume. Today, they comprise shelf after shelf after shelf, all constructs of people operating within the State, meant to control everyone outside of the State. Compulsion, coercion, force… codified and legitimized because the State says so.
The violence and darkness that human action within the State unleashes can perhaps be seen best in the Israel/Palestine conflict. If one knows where to look, there are many people from both sides, mostly civilians, who wish to see that conflict ended and peace between their peoples. But instead, the darkness inherent in the State (and possibly the actors within its apparatuses) means that a painful, violent situation continues unabated. Imagine if there weren’t these arbitrary distinctions of nationality etc in that particular conflict, and instead, if those peoples were allowed to interact with each other, peacefully, voluntarily, through human action and the marketplace. The domino effect would be immense, probably, for that entire region of the world.
Using books, specifically law books, the State apparatus of Israel disallows marriage between Israelis and Palestinians. One possible recourse for peace between these peoples, love and common human compassion, is denied. The State’s darkness extinguishes another possible source of light from freely interacting humanity.
But perhaps all is not lost between these two peoples. The light of the marketplace is struggling to dispel the darkness, if this report from The Daily Beast is accurate. According to that report, Israeli businessmen are warning State leaders that the current state of affairs is no longer sustainable economically. That if there is to be peace between their peoples, markets need to be freed and the possibility of voluntary cooperation in the marketplace needs to be available.
Lesser forms of our darkness are expressed through the State on a daily basis, as well. Everything from petty control over others to arbitrary laws about naturally occurring substances push people to places of alienation, anger and resentment. The darkness adds to the darkness, and we get the social disintegration that we seem to see in so many parts of the world.
With a few notable exceptions (space travel is probably the most prominent, although it’s worth noting most of that technology was developed from World War II technologies that were aimed at killing large swaths of people), the State is a continual expression of humanity’s Yang, the Hobbesian dystopia where darkness and violence reign supreme.
Yin and Yang : Which Do You Choose?
We are creatures of light and darkness. When given the chance and the right system to work in, i.e., the market, our light is expressed in a million unexpected ways on a daily basis. Conversely, when human actors operate within the State, it seems that the majority of the time, some form of darkness is unleashed on the rest of us. Whether it’s through the form of explicit violence or the petty tyranny of bureaucracies, the State is almost always an expression of our darkness, our Yang.
I’m reminded of a quote from the great Bill Hicks, in which he talks about how life is just a ride, and that we always have a choice between fear and love. Here, instead, I will ask:
Which do you choose? The Yin, the freedom of human action in the marketplace creating untold wonders whose effects are felt for generations? Or do you choose the yang, the State, and its subjugation of human will and an increasingly quickening ride to total darkness?.