I remember a recent debate that I was having with a friend-of-a-friend. I was trying to share with him my idea that, within the context of a society, free choice is a good thing to have.
Unfortunately, this person, a committed democratic socialist, constantly rejected this premise. He said that his viewpoint on the human race was one of pessimism: he said that humans make bad decisions and because of this, the state should make choices for people.
Luckily, I thought of a perfect analogy to explain my perspective. Since this person was into technology and knew a lot about computers, I started asking him what sort of software he runs on his computers. Does he prefer an “open” operating system where there are a lot of choices and options, like Linux? Or does he prefer a “closed” OS like Microsoft Windows, where there are few options and most of the thinking has been done for you by Microsoft?
He conceded that closed systems are annoying and that he prefers open ones. Why? Because he, as an advanced user, would be stultified if he had to use Microsoft Windows all the time.
By conceding this, he has conceded an important point: that a closed system limits the advanced intellect. In a way, a smart person who is using Windows has an artificial ceiling that is much lower than the one that he might have if he is running Linux.
This point has an analogy as it pertains to open and closed societies. In an open society where individuals are free to make more choices, they can achieve more than they would in a closed society where the paternalistic government makes said choices for them.
But he raised another objection: wouldn’t the beginner user be stymied in an open system? If you gave a grandmother access to the power of a Linux command line, she would be bamboozled by it and she might even damage the operating environment if she errantly started entering commands.
And here… here is where the metaphor really came into its own. Yes, I said, she would. If you gave a novice computer user access to something like Linux circa 1985, then that person would not be competent to deal with the complexity of that OS. But, what if you gave that person access to a Linux distro like one that we have in the current day, circa 2014? Linux has forked into various distributions, the most popular of which, such as Linux Mint, Ubuntu, Debian, Open SUSE, and others, are incredibly solid, stable, and well-built systems which are suitable both for beginners and for more advanced users. (Indeed, it is worth noting that some distros of Linux, such as Eldy, are built specifically for elderly or novice users!)
If I might have the latitude to make an argument by analogy, our current monistic, paternalistic system can be compared to giving every computer user a copy of Windows and no other options…
But, having a libertarian-oriented society is like allowing users to install whatever software they want! Though this can be daunting to some people who are used to having their decisions made for them all of the time, it is the case that once a free society is adopted, those people will quickly find that they have a wide range of options to choose from, almost all of which are better and more elegant than the limited choices which they had before.
And this isn’t just true for the novice users. The advanced users, those thought leaders who are able to drive free societies forward at rapid paces, will be almost unfettered in their ability to do good.