The nightmare of American politics is that we’re all trapped on an island with people who consistently imagine how much better the world would be if they were in charge.
The fantasizers can be heard on talk radio, read on editorial pages, and seen on Facebook and Twitter. They play a giant game of “If only…” If only their preferred politicians ruled, or better yet, the fantasizer himself or herself was the one making all the rules, Utopia would surely follow.
The fantasizers assume that the benefits of their proposed policies are obvious. People who stubbornly reject their programs are simply bad people who should move to Afghanistan or Russia or some other horrible place.
The Dictator Fallacy
Best-selling author and two-time Libertarian presidential nominee, Harry Browne, had his own version of the Fantasy Island problem. He called it the Dictator Fallacy.
The Dictator Fallacy is the belief that any law or program will work exactly as you, the designer, intend – as though you are an all-powerful dictator able to control every aspect of implementation.
Why is this a fallacy?
The most powerful politician in the nation is the president, right? But that isn’t saying much.
A significant portion of his schedule is spent standing on a spot he’s told to stand, saying things someone else wrote for him.
In between, he takes a ton of meetings where he’s “briefed” – meaning he doesn’t get the entire picture. He gets information only from a narrow group of politicians, such as an agency head or cabinet secretary. They each have their own agendas. These officials, in turn, got their information from top-level deputies. Each top-level deputy may have gotten the information directly from the person who observed it, but more commonly, there’s still at least one more staffer in between those two bureaucrats and the field observer.
By constitutional design, the president typically needs the cooperation of Congress. Consider that each member of Congress has their own constituency. They normally have strong incentives to contradict and fight the president’s wishes. Yet, more and more, each occupant of the Oval Office has turned to bureaucrats, going around Congress to carry out his agenda.
Still, the president won’t get his policy the way he designed it.
Bureaucrats have both incentive and ability to shade information to serve their long-term career interests or biases. Indeed, they have likely forgotten more about their area of expertise than the president will ever know; they can run circles around him. If they don’t get their way, they will outlast the president’s four-year term anyway. The president is just a glorified temp.
Then, after the policy has been crafted and implemented, the president must trust that his scheme will be executed as he intended, all the way down to the guys and gals with guns.
Even if the president could dot every i and cross every t, designing one perfect policy, there’d still be a thousand cases left where he didn’t have that kind of time.
To be blunt, the notion that the president is in control is a delusion.
Heck, why do you blame the president for failed policies? How do you know what his advisors told him and what he knew that you, magically, would’ve known better had you been in this role? It’s a hallucination to think any person – even you – is suited to the role.
In truth, anyone who thinks they’re qualified is self-deceived. This self-deception should immediately disqualify any office seeker or fantasizer.
Unfortunately, elected officials have tons of followers, who themselves are living in fairyland.
There’s a psychological theory that creativity or vision is the opposite of groundedness and evidence. An “intuitive” personality type is more likely to act on an idea and even act alone, while the “sensory” personality waits for confirmation.
Indeed, we need both types of people. Intuition is the intellectual stuff of the inventor, while citizens of Missouri and the Apostle Thomas require proof.
If the theory is true, only intuitives can conceive of Utopias. Sensory personality types would have no interest in such schemes until proof arrived – except when it comes to politics. In political mode, sensory types can become intuitive Utopia builders. This likely happens when they substitute their normal demand for evidence in favor of…
In a typical civics or political science class, an ideology is defined simply as a political philosophy. That’s an incomplete description.
Ideologies are built around a political tribe’s collection of intuitions and aesthetic inclinations. In plain language, each person in that tribe has some personal preferences and particular tastes that they then assume everyone should share.
The ideology is a ploy to make mere intuitions and inclinations sound high-minded. Intellectuals and spin doctors invent a series of justifications for why your preferences are morally superior or more effective than all other competitors for the crown.
In the giant game of “If only I were in charge,” many people would prefer to believe that they can make plans for others – that is, they believe that they can improve the lives of others by taking some measure of control over them. But the truth is harsh!
Woe to the people when an elected ideologue gets their way because we all take the trip to Fantasy Island. There a pernicious apparition awaits; this specter is called “unintended consequences.”
Ideologies are fantasies, but the unintended consequences are quite real. The people outside the ideology can often see negative side effects or outright failure coming, but the fantasizer is caught by surprise. That’s why these consequences are called “unintended.”
The unintended consequences inevitably follow, just as night follows day. This leaves the people who live in reality wondering why ideologies aren’t considered delusions. It’s because the fantasizers never really reflect and learn. They just move on to their next phantasmagoria.
We could exit the horror of Fantasy Island if enough other Americans evolved to recognize reality. A natural principle reveals the fundamental problem with political daydreaming and the ideologies that justify it. It’s called the Principle of Human Respect, and it works like this…
- Cause: Coercion, theft, initiated violence.
- Effect: Diminished happiness, harmony, prosperity.
While an ideology is built to justify personal inclinations, here we have a principle. It’s a principle because it works in a cause-and-effect fashion, like a law of science. It cannot be suspended by fantasies.
When people are free of these causes, they pursue their own happiness. Most of the time, the pursuit of happiness leads to innovations and opportunities instead of frustrations, wars, and taxes.
We can go further. We can put our human longing to solve social problems to good use. Each of us could be a bit like a king, but only if we act according to this Principle. Here’s how to do that…
We can use persuasion to invite others to join us in solving problems. We don’t need to lobby politicians to get our way, then bully everyone into funding and following our fantasy prescriptions. If we want to help, we can roll up our sleeves and try – or maybe just write a check.
At present, ideologues trap us in their fantasies. Whenever any one of us believes we can make the world better by forcing our plans on others, we’re fantasizing about our dictatorship. Our schemes, once executed, will carry with them pernicious side effects, if not failure – and we’re responsible for these things. Human Respect is our path to escape the nightmare of Fantasy Island.
Jim Babka is the co-creator of the Zero Aggression Project. This article was also posted on The Exit Network and was shared by the Advocates for Self-Government, where Mr. Babka is editor-at-large.
This post contains many excellent insights. Indeed, the POTUS is not as powerful as most people think, and therefore can hardly be credited for successes or blamed for failures. The impotence of the POTUS and government in general is a good reason to not seek governmental office or to count on the government to get anything done for us.
Ideology is indeed a florid fantasy with potentially horrible, real consequences. The delusion is perhaps even deeper than what is described here. Members of a political tribe are not only deluded in thinking that those outside the tribe should share their intuitions and aesthetic inclinations, they are also deluded about other members of their own tribe sharing exactly the same intuitions and aesthetic inclinations, because everyone is a unique individual.
Some might claim that libertarianism is no less delusional than any political ideology. For example, they might question whether there is hard evidence that the free pursuit of happiness leads to innovations and opportunities instead of frustrations, wars, and taxes “most of the time.” That kind of data would be hard to gather. Personally, I would not forward libertarian ideas as infallible routes to maximizing happiness for everyone. Instead, I would suggest that libertarian thinking is the best idea out there unless someone can show me a better idea. Just like a good scientific theory can be accepted until evidence better supports a different theory, libertarianism is my preferred political theory.
I have but one comment.
I cannot imagine Joe Biden actually having his own intentions.
“Let’s go, Brandon!”
“Unintended consequences” Every Bill/Law /Anything passed by any Congress; National ,State or local should have a requirement of accumulating a file of Unintended Consequences. These are a product of the application of “Human Nature” to the installation of it’s passage. Human’s will manipulate all things to their best advantage or least disadvantage. If they can’t, they’ll ignore it. If they can’t ignore it, they will rebel against it.
I could go on but then, see previous line.
The article makes a good point. The reality is no one is in charge and no one ever has been in charge. Even the most absolute dictator or king must be vigilant at all times, because they are surrounded by blood-thirsty rivals waiting to pounce and take over at a moment’s notice. What happens in society, government and law is merely a consequence of game theory. The billions of humans on the planet each exerts some influence, vying for power over their lives and (since we are territorial) the lives of others. It is rather surprising that out of that chaos there has emerged as much order as there is in our time. Imagine, the US with 300+ million inhabitants, all aggressive creatures with the potential for domination and homicide, and yet somehow the nation does not collapse into anarchy.
I’m willing to “respect” anyone’s superstitions by ignoring them, even if I think them suicidal, but only if that person is willing to “live & let live”, i.e., respect my right to the same freedom. Most do not. They want my compliance and will use violence to get it, while being “willfully blind” to their part.
I can not be completely free to “live & let live” while others attack me. I resist. Resistance is not only necessary to maintain my mental health, it is practical. I suffer less than the self enslaved, in the unfree world they have created, but refuse to acknowledge.
For 79 years I have practiced non-compliance to authority for my survival. I encourage disobedience, self-governance, non-violence, reason, rights, choice, truth. It’s only logical.
All governments are founded on the Dictator Principle. It is true that utopians spin constitutions with paper structures to limit the ambitions of dictators. The dictators like spiders spin webs of deceit to obscure the limitations of utopian constitutions.
Take for instance the illusion that ballots cast in free and fair elections serve to limit dictators. If the ballots are censored there can be no such thing as a fair and free election. The dictators spin webs to protect voters from using any power in self defense at all.
Sometimes people rise up and burn the spider webs away along with the paper constitutions, but the spiders simply keep spinning. Structure is abstraction. The person is not.
Hey, guys, been following you for years and greatly appreciate the metric ton of work you put in here. Thankful you made it thru the Fantasy Island Flu. The 1 fatal flaw of Human Respect is expecting anyone to abide by that, since our media, educational system, and marketplace of ideas supports 1 and only 1 worldview: pragmatism. Anchored, of course, by the religious teaching that Darwinian evolutionary theory = fact, so there is no “God” and nothing created everything. Buildings have no builder, paintings no painter, and so on. So, without the Christian worldview to assign to humans the value of an image-bearer of God, how does one have any foundation or authority to use to ask/demand/expect “respect”? If we’re all just cosmic accidents, fish to philosopher, stardust, or meat bags, then no lives matter, nothing means anything. Who cares if stardust bumps into stardust? Who cares if your brain is fizzing “Human Respect” and mine is fizzing “Kill you and take all your stuff”? No real difference between love my neighbor and eat my neighbor. Seems so much of the Fantasy Island we’ve been in for so long starts to evaporate if we point people back to a biblical worldview; i.e. an impartial third party who gave us Truth and knowledge. Yes, that requires the person to change their mind, their lifestyle. But, truly, without His standard, we just have everyone running around all day long, knowing His standard full well in their heart, but pretending that standard doesn’t exist; the perpetual elephant in the room. Pretending that traffic lights, hospitals, police, seat belts, are all things in place “just because” or they’re “societal”…and things we can’t see and hold in our hands, like math, integrity, love, and gravity just work and we don’t care how they got here or that they work 24/7 every day for thousands of years. Not saying you guys are doing this, support it, or don’t support it, just putting the thoughts out there. It’s fatiguing to see people running around ticked off about myriad topics, yet our society teaches that nothing matters, ultimately, since we’re just evolved societies of bacteria/pond scum/African apes, whatever. So we have to ask why anyone spends any time speaking, typing, addressing any given issue from any viewpoint, since nothing matters. We have to ask if we’re consistent in our worldview. We all know there is right and wrong, we know things aren’t like they’re supposed to be, we have hope for something better, we cheer when good guys win, we cheer when people change their lives to one that radiates more Human Respect…but we don’t know why we all act like that. During the Fantasy Island Flu season, we have seen the anti-God spheres of influence become more consistent in the application of their worldview in the legislation and actions taken by magistrates all over the world. As they oppress the peoples of the world, we’ve seen their opposition become more consistent with their worldview, in response. Everyone’s cards are truly laid out for all to see. As I’m sure you’d agree, consistency in worldview is very helpful in defining what one truly believes. It’s one thing we generally don’t see in modern discourse and application. Whether the worldview is one that traces its origins back to Fantasy Island or not, there is something to be said for consistency. May your week be peaceful and productive, sirs. Thank you again for your critical thinking and your obvious diligence in being consistent with your worldview.
Thanks for this, it’s good to be able to recognize and name ridiculous behavior. Legislators shouldn’t do much more than make sure our constitutions are being followed, right? Boring for them, good for everyone. There’d still be lots of work for them to do, but they wouldn’t get to play hero anymore, I hope.