Almost everything bad is the (largely) unintended consequence of utopians

James Delingpole reviews Matt Ridley’s book Evolution of Everything.

[E]volution is a phenomenon which extends far beyond Darwin to embrace absolutely everything. The internet, for example. No one planned it. No one — pace Al Gore and Tim Berners Lee — strictly invented it. It just sprang up, driven by consumer need and made possible by available technology. As Ridley says: ‘It is a living example, before our eyes, of the phenomenon of evolutionary emergence — of complexity and order spontaneously created in a decentralised fashion without a designer.’

Which is what, of course, is such anathema to control freaks everywhere, from the Chinese, Iranian and Russian regimes to Barack Obama, who famously declared in 2012: ‘The internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the internet.’

This claim, as Ridley demonstrates, is at best moot, at worst flat-out untrue. In fact, government was actually responsible for postponing the internet. One of its early forms was the Pentagon-funded Arpanet, which until 1989 was prohibited for private or commercial purposes. An MIT handbook in the 1980s reminded users: ‘sending electronic messages over the ARPAnet for commercial profit or political purposes is both antisocial and illegal’. Only after it was effectively privatised in the 1990s did the internet take off.

And now politicians want to meddle and control it again.

Similar rules apply to hydraulic fracturing (aka ‘fracking’), another technology often ascribed to government-sponsored R&D. According to a meme disseminated by California’s Breakthrough Institute, it was based on microseismic imaging technology developed at the federal Sandia National Laboratory. Hmm. Up to a point. Ridley has done some digging and found that the actual funding for this research came from the entirely privately funded Gas Research Institute, which hired a technician from Sandia. ‘So the only federal involvement was to provide a space in which to work.’

You can be sure, though, that the false meme will persist, because it suits the narrative which so many of us prefer to believe — that without direction from on high, nothing would ever get done. In its rawest form, this is the impulse that has, throughout history, led mankind to ascribe events to deities — whether it’s Aztecs cutting out the beating hearts of prisoners to boost their harvests, or modern governments ordering that hilltops be transformed into industrial wind Golgothas to appease Gaia. But you also find it everywhere from the Great Men theory championed by many historians to the way companies’ share prices rise or fall when they get a new CEO.

It all stems, I fear, from an innate mistrust so many of us have of the unutterable amazingness of our own species. Personally, I’ve long believed that left largely to our own devices, we will tend to do far more good than harm — if only out of mutual self-interest. But up till now I’ve found it hard to come up with the perfect rebuttal to the line I often hear from those of a less classical liberal persuasion: ‘You don’t like government. So what would you prefer — Somalia?’

Well now, thanks to Ridley, I do have my answer. We’d both of us concede, I’m sure, that there is a place for very limited government. But what the weight of historical evidence shows us overwhelmingly is that almost everything good in the world has sprung up by accident, and almost everything bad is the (largely) unintended consequence of utopians with too much power trying to plan the world into a better state.

This is precisely why I am not a socialist. They, however, think that only they know best…which is another thing they get wrong.

 

– The Spectator


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