A somewhat plump and cheerful looking matron with long white braid tucked up into a bun held in place with a bejeweled band and fancy pin faces a similarly do-her-own-thing-looking avatar.
Dr Annika Sokolov: Individual rights are absolutely critical for a society to function. An individual must have freedom to choose what they will, or will not, do. Coercion is never as efficient in the long term as it seems like it should be, and it always has worse side effects than proponents expect or plan for.
Ship AI: But without coordination and direction, will people not waste vast energy on trivial things?
Annika: Yes, many will. But uncoordinated activity doesn’t mean random or directionless. It often means self-directed for personal gain.
Ship AI: The Major pointed out that what’s best for the individual is often not best for the group, though.
Annika: The Major is smart, but military logic is to common sense as lead life rafts are to ballroom dancing.
Ship AI:… I don’t see any connection.
Annika: Exactly. You see, a person seeking to help themselves does best when they find something to do that they enjoy, and someone else finds useful enough to pay them for it. The worker works hard, smart, and efficiently in order to improve pay.
Ship AI: But what if they can’t find something to do that anyone else wants?
Annika: They suffer, then blunder along trying to find something they can do well enough, and can tolerate, to earn a living. It’s a self-correcting system.
Ship AI: So you cast them aside if they cannot find their own way? That’s efficient?
Annika: No, it’s not very efficient, just more efficient than the coercive alternatives. But it’s much more immediate and selective in the feedback it gives to people than any government program.
Ship AI: Why not direct, even force, those that are not able to find something useful to do?
Annika: Because each individual will work far harder for themselves than at the direction of someone else, so the individual output, thought apparently randomly directed, will be high. If failure is made too comfortable, people will not take risks working for themselves.
Ship AI: But if you have too many people working on the wrong things, you cannot progress. All that productivity will be wasted.
Annika: Maybe, maybe not. Most government directed programs are aimed at the wrong thing, too, and many of the leaders are no smarter than the people they direct.
Ship AI: But why would they try to do the wrong thing?
Annika: Can you predict the future?
Ship AI: No. Nor can you.
Annika: Exactly. Nobody can. So it is impossible to always know what the right thing is.
Ship AI: So random action is better than directed action?
Annika: That’s not what I said. People don’t act randomly-
Ship AI: Yes they do.
Annika: It might look like it, but it isn’t. People go after what makes them happy, or what they think they have to do-
Ship AI: What they think they have to do? So you would compel them to do things that are in their own self-interest, like the officer compelling the soldier to stand and fight?
Annika: No. Military logic is all screwed up. Soldiers are all crazy, with no freedom at all. Telling people to do what’s good for them is an easy-sounding idea, but people don’t like to be told what to do. Talking them into it may require more time and effort to properly educated them so they know what’s good for them than is available. Letting the natural consequences of failure be felt is cheap and easy.
Ship AI: So letting people blunder along, pursuing whatever random thing makes them happy, often failing and doing things counter to their own self-interest is a viable decision-path? That’s absurd!
Annika: Failure is a effective teacher. Who built whom?
Ship AI: I don’t understand.
Annika: Did we build you, or did you build humans?
Ship AI: You built me, as ridiculous as that sounds at the moment.
Annika: Exactly. Humans are the product of a billion years of evolution, massively parallel trial and error, with constantly changing selection pressure and random mutations, and we ended up here. It’s not quite so random these days-
Ship AI: I’m not so sure about that.
Annika: Point is, “government direction” isn’t magic, it isn’t all knowing or all seeing, it’s people. And people are flawed-
Ship AI: Massive understatement.
Annika: So when you talk about “direction,” and coercion, you are talking about people, flawed people with their own desires and agendas and missing knowledge, forcing their views of “good” onto other flawed people with different values to do something. How can that possibly end well?
Ship AI: Surely leaders would do their best to find out best methods and directions. Why would they not do that?
Annika: Either because the leaders directing things are trying to enrich themselves more than solve a problem because their goal is personal wealth and power, not solutions, or because they have no incentive to correctly understand the root of the problem so they just “do something” without regard for the actual result, because their own failure is not painful enough to them.
Ship AI: But why do the people choose such defective leaders?
Annika: Because they are flawed in their knowledge.
Ship AI: The expression “the blind leading the blind” now makes more sense.
Annika: Most significant leaps in progress are made by single individuals, or small teams, pursuing their own goals. Perhaps for profit, perhaps from curiosity.
Ship AI: But profits means taking more from others that is needed to create something.
Annika: No, profits are necessary, because they mean that you are efficiently producing something people want, generating excess to invest in new ideas.
Ship AI: But are not most profits wasted?
Annika: Yes, but they are often wasted buying things that turn a profit for someone else, pursuing their own dream.
Ship AI: So waste is a product? But Bud said earlier government is massively wasteful, so isn’t that a good thing?
Annika: No, no, no! Waste is only OK if you are spending the money freely on things you want, and no force is involved. Taking by force and spending generates waste that creates only parasites.
Ship AI: But you just said… and Simmons said…. Is anyone here in this room sane?
Annika: Maybe half of us. Not sure which half, though.
Ship AI: None of you agree with anyone else.
Annika: Sure we do. We all agree that about 80% of the people here are smart, and wrong.
Ship AI: …Can we reboot this universe now?