The Fate of Anarchies

Anarchic societies and pseudo-anarchist states across history tended to enjoy greater quality of life than their state-run counterparts, in that their inhabitants lived longer and happier lives in stronger and more fulfilling communities, but those same communities rarely pioneered great technological innovations. Commonly, after several generations, the society would reach a rough equilibrium, punctuated by episodes of mild warfare and other occasional hardship, where technological innovation would slow down considerably.

Rather than ask what causes this slowdown, I wonder what causes the relative speed-up in the presence of government. I am inclined to believe that governments foment greater advances in the sciences because they need that innovation to compete with other governments for dominance, even though such innovations rarely have a serious impact on human welfare. Likewise, anarchies can only exist when that impetus for militaristic innovation is weak or nonexistent, so that societies within the anarchy end up competing not on technology but on how they affect human welfare. Modern marketers understand this on some level: consumers do not care if your product is marginally more effective than its competitors; they care if it leaves them fulfilled. Generalizing that statement, I believe people could care less about the fancy tech that characterizes a civilization. They are ultimately concerned with how the structure of that civilization makes them feel: how it represents their values, how it fosters supportive relationships, and how it resolves their needs and desires.

As a libertarian and transhumanist, this hypothesis leaves me dissatisfied: if government and the coercion that defines it are detrimental to human welfare, but that such coercion is ultimately the driving force behind the bulk of modern innovation, where does that leave us who aspire to improve the condition of humanity through technology?

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