The Stinky Sock and The State

Who doesn’t know this story?
The baseball player is in a hurry getting ready for a game and ends up wearing one clean sock and one dirty sock. He goes out on the field and has his best game ever. He’s convinced it’s the luck of the stinky sock. He never washes that sock again and wears it in every game until it falls apart. Then he saves a chunk of it and keeps it in his pocket. This story is played out in the sports world every day with thousands of different objects and thousands of athletes. Never mind that it is entirely a silly superstition that an object could be “lucky”, never mind that every athlete has good days and bad days, never mind that if there was luck it could have been the clean sock that was magic just as easy as the stinky one, never mind having the slightest bit of objective analysis, he believes in the Magic Stinky Sock of Luck.
What happened with the sock is often played out in a different way in the mainstream media. Some “expert” with an impressive title from some distinguished university gets a grant to study some topic. For the sake of this article, lets say Bill Smith PhD, believes you must be half deaf to enjoy Heavy Metal music. So Smith interviews 100 fans of Heavy Metal music at a concert. Smith is careful to divide his study group into different categories, male, female, smokers, non-smokers, under 30 years, under 20 years, full time employed, part time employed, unemployed, never employed, etc. In the process of eating up his grant money, he finds that 100% of the concertgoers show some degree of hearing loss at the end of the concert. Smith’s conclusion? People with hearing loss have a greater chance of becoming fans of Heavy Metal music than the general public. Clearly Smith’s conclusion is based not on logic, but on the results Smith wanted to draw from the beginning of his study. Of course you see Smith’s flaw because I used an obvious example, but a variation of this fallacy shows up in headlines with disturbing regularity.

Now for something completely different.
Mankind has made some amazing leaps in technology resulting in vast changes in the way we live. Without compiling pages and pages of subjective analysis along with supporting research, let me state that no person living today can fully appreciate the impact that the development of the control of fire had on humans. Some researchers have come a long way in understanding its impact, but without actually living in such a world it’s impossible to fully imagine life in those days. But someone, some individual person figured out how to control fire. This accomplishment along with the development of the hammer, blade, and the lever allowed humans to leap from being the hunted to being the hunter and from being the gatherer to being the planter. Every discovery or invention that individuals have made since that time pales in comparison to this group of technologies. With time, individual people used their new toys to develop farming and metallurgical skills and vast improvements in living standards were achieved. We are told that roughly 10000 years ago people were enjoying such luxuries as villages, farms, beer, religion, written communications, money, jewelry, beasts of burden, wagons, and a variety of textiles. Life was, relatively speaking, good.
One thing humans didn’t have in those days was the walled city. The first city walls that we know of were those of the “proto-city state” Jericho. This development is the single strongest indicator of the birth of the State, about 9000 years ago. This tiny infant of The Beast was not noticeable to the bulk of humanity at the time. Mostly people went about their business the same as they had for eons, farming, hunting, trading, and living their lives never knowing that a small pocket of their species were enslaved by a selfish entity obsessed with the blood sport of war and the consumption of taxes. And as far as we know, the next city-state didn’t develop for another 3000 years, but when it did it quickly morphed into the first empire. The Beast tried on his big boy pants and stomped around the yard for the very first time, plucking the wings off of weaker beasts while burning and torturing his subjects for sport.
City-states and empires came and went but never threatened humanity with anything other that localized tyranny until about 300 years ago when Europeans began to press their technological advantages into the service of the State. With stunning speed, the Beast spread its wings and engulfed continent after continent in its blood lust. In the last century it became almost impossible to find a remnant of free humans living without the burden of tax and the stench of war. During those 300 years a parallel event took place. Surges and sags in population aside, the sheer number of people alive at the same time in combination with that uniquely human tendency to tinker and invent, caused an explosion of thought, technologies, inventions, and scientific discovery.

Thus we have the myth of the stinky sock.
Often the uninformed and self-imprisoned masses confuse the one event as being the catalyst to the other. The stinky sock did not the champion create. The champion created the myth of the stinky sock. The same goes for the State and the current level of technological achievement. Often, I have heard people espouse nonsense about the State providing incentive for technologies to develop. Or worse yet, I have actually heard people credit war with economic development or even with scientific accomplishments. As if the destruction of goods and the slaughter of humanity could produce wealth and positive advances. The same people, who acknowledge the failure of the government postal service or admit the wholesale repression of individual achievement by government schools, somehow leap to their feet in praise of the State’s magical ability to inspire invention. All evidence to the contrary is ignored as the willing blind cling to their Hideous Master, never considering that it just could be that this Beast may have actually held society back, rather than advanced it. To the ball player, had he discarded his silly myth and practiced harder, not only would he be a better athlete but a better smelling one as well. So it is for humanity. When we finally discard this smelly Creature and give up the foolish myths it harbors, we can begin to become civilized and achieve what we are capable of becoming.

Just a few examples of the State hindering invention:

James Watt improves the steam engine with a small device. The state grants him monopolized protection and he spends the rest of his life and his fortune preventing anyone else from improving the steam engine. Progress on this one technology is held back for an entire generation.

Cotton gins are as old as history its self, but Eli Whitney overhears someone’s idea of an improvement to the device and uses the force of the state to grab a monopoly on its production, slowing the anti-slavery movement by artificially maintaining the profitability of the large plantations of the Antebellum era.

Orville and Wilber Wright, using their family’s vast political influence and their daddy’s gaggle of lawyers, sew up a monopoly on the production of aircraft in the United States. This in turn, stops all innovation of the new born technology in the western hemisphere. Fifteen years go by and while the Wright’s utilize the force of the State to control their dwindling market, Europeans free to innovate, push the technology ahead. Upon entry of the US into WWI, Americans can’t field a single aircraft of modern design and are forced to purchase their aircraft from the French and English.

During the 1920’s and early 1930’s individual inventors around the world take the first steps to bring us into the “Rocket Age”. At roughly the same time, other individuals begin developing the vacuum tube, and with it the first true computers. While others still seek the answers to the mysteries of the atom. The various nation states look at these three developing technologies and see a tool of destruction. All free market innovation is squashed and the Beast wraps one of his slimy tentacles around the collar of science. Some of the best minds of their age are crippled with the burden of facilitating mass murder like the world has never known. Computer technology is held back for 35 years before free tinkering individuals in their mother’s garage in Sunnyvale California give us what the State tried desperately to keep to itself. Meanwhile, a handful of entrepreneurs are still struggling with the State to bring the free market to space travel. And still after nearly 70 years, the Beast has such a mighty grip on the energy market that we can incinerate an entire city but cheap safe atomic power is still just a dream.

Therefore I conclude; For the freethinking logical individual, the State has all the appeal of a stinky sock and the faster it and the mythology surrounding it are rejected by civil society the faster that society can move ahead to a brighter more prosperous future.

Ben Stone

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