Re: Means and Ends (Joshua Cohen & Glenn Loury)
I appreciate Josh’s point that an argument for public education doesn’t need to be grounded in the idea of the arc of history. Individual freedom is promoted by public education.
I think a more generic argument can be made based on the structure and functioning of systems in general. Systems are made up of subsystems, often multiple layers of such subsystems. The functioning of the subsystems depends on their context, which is provided by the system as a whole. If the larger system crashes, so do the subsystems. There are two main ways systems tend to crash: 1. Either the overarching functioning of the larger system becomes overly static or erratic due to control being too centralized and thus overly constraining the expression of self-organization by the subsystems, or 2. There is too little regulation of the subsystems and one or more of them can destroy those around it. When subsystems get too far out of balance in relation to each other, the system as a whole can crash. Thus dynamic tension between regulation and freedom is required to keep the larger system elastic and resilient and the subsystems interacting with each other in mutually beneficial ways.
There are a variety of potential traps built into systems structures, two of which are Success to the Successful and the Tragedy of the Commons. In the first trap, powerful individuals or corporations become more and more successful as they consolidate wealth and power. Sooner or later monopolies develop in which they have such an enormous competitive advantage others have no real possibility of competing. The free market crashes. Assuming healthy competition is beneficial, everyone eventually loses. E.g. the current financial situation.
A second potential trap, the Tragedy of the Commons, is a situation in which each individual makes rational decisions based on his or her short term personal benefit and yet the sum of those decisions leads to long term collective costs and the potential destruction of the commons. In that case, everyone involved loses, even the short term winners. E.g. current ecological destruction.
These traps are not a matter of moral good or bad, or of political orientation. They are built into the way systems operate, and the only way to prevent them from developing is through regulation, which limits short term individual freedom for the sake of the long term collective good. Libertarian arguments for extreme individual freedom without regulation logically lead to systemic collapse and potential chaos.
It can be argued that allowing systems to function without regulation is the healthy and natural way to proceed, and that sooner or later they will balance themselves. Perhaps, but the same can be said about any kind of social contracts intended to stabilize the context in which we live. Without any such agreements, we are back to dog eat dog.