May 07, 2005

Heterodox Unity

At Cafe Hayek, Don Boudreaux has a friend who thinks that privatized schooling would hurt our unity as a nation and a culture. If we don't all get taught the same thing, then we'll have trouble being united as a people. While I agree that a lack of common values is a primary contribution to separatist tensions the world over, I can't help but think that it would take a lot to push our already proudly-heterogenous culture over the brink. After all, we still have McDonald's and Wal-Mart and Hollywood and television and music to unite us, not to mention sports leagues and politics.

What I found upsetting is the justification itself. Unity is not a good value to put as your primary goal for things. Unity, by itself, is not valuable. Unity is only valuable in that it brings you things like an economy of scale, like a country with the power to protect itself, like a justice system that operates smoothly, etc. We need unity to achieve succes in these areas, or to improve their delivery, because a group of strangers would probably suck at building an airplane, organizing a SpecOps unit or coordinating investigation, prosecution and imprisonment.

But trying to unify us for our beliefs is the kind of thing America was colonized in protest against. After all, it's only a short jump to say that we should all have the same religious views to improve unity. No one can deny that there's inter-sect and interfaith tension across the world; it tends to follow that were we all First Methodists or United Lutherans we'd all get along. But in America it is our beliefs that are a sign of our strength and freedom - specifically, our decentralized and uncoordinated beliefs.

You believe what you want based on what makes sense, what stands up to reason and conscience. Since nobody can have a monopoly on truth except truth itself, it would be beyond impractical to entrust this task to any one person or group (meaning a state church or anti-church). Beyond this fundamental, Popperian, metaphysical truth, unity is a far from compelling reason to standardize beliefs, given the identity of this country as mixed-race, mixed-faithg, mixed-ethnicity, but unified in our basic ideology of Americanism.

It would be directly harmful to our American identities to eliminate freedom in the name of unity, because we aren't unified primarily around our views of Darwin but our tolerance for people to espouse wrong or stupid ideas. Freedom is the source of unity in this country because it is the first tenet of Americanism. You can't bring Americans together by spitting on the very idea that first brought us all together.

It's ironic that, aside from being potentially tyrannical on its own, an indoctrinated orthodoxy of beliefs would directly undermine our unity by attacking the very spirit of freedom and tolerance that's done so much to unite us as a nation.

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