So what is the natural state of man, and how can we know about it? Well, there are three general ways of figuring that out. We can look at how people act when they are outside the purview of coercive belief systems. We can look at the constants of history. We can also look at more primitive tribes that still exist today. While none of these give us a strict answer, they certainly give us a good indication of the answer.
The first thing we know from human history and psychology is that people naturally tend to form societies. A society is a system of interrelations wherein people exchange values. The primitive hunter-gatherers had to band together to ensure the fulfillment of their most fundamental values of survival. Later on, people had to band together to produce food in an agrarian society. As technology grew, people needed to assemble together to produce more efficiently and pull themselves out of the harsh work and poverty of farm life. So one universal principle here is that people naturally seek to form societies, markets for resources (by exchanging their labour and the products of it), and progress within them.
The second thing we learn from history is that non-statist societies, when left alone, do not naturally tend to develop states. Likewise, a person who deconverts from religion does not naturally tend to go back to religion. Now to a certain extent this is true of any system of thought, as most people are apathetic and will try to adapt to any context, but it seems to be most true of individualist systems. So individualism and freedom seem to have a strong inelasticity- once people possess them, they may resent them (just as people resent their opposites) but they don’t want to relinquish them.
These two principles put the lie to collectivist believers and their assertion that we should consider their belief system as an organizational and moral default. Now, they already have the burden of proof, given that they believe that not only individual action but also collectivist belief are necessary, while we only affirm the former as necessary, making them prey to Occam’s Razor. But if the natural state of man is to live in society, to assemble in markets, and to retain his freedom and individuality, then collectivist belief is not only found lacking but utterly destroyed.
And yet the astute reader can return the point to me. After all, if collectivism is unnatural, then how has it come to dominate human thought for such a long time? If we look at the process of evolution, we observe that there is a critical mass of adaptability beyond which a replicator can take over the entire space. Homo sapiens is a perfect example of this phenomenon.
I think the same thing is true of religious systems and statist systems. When examined from a memetic standpoint, we observe that the most popular of these systems are extremely powerful and adaptable. It seems reasonable to assume that, after having evolved in one specific area, supported by some of our psychological impulses, the religio-political quickly adapted to varying social conditions and spread to the whole world, in the same way that homo sapiens quickly adapted to a large variety of climates and resource distributions.
Does this mean that the situation is hopeless? I don’t think so. If the religio-political is a freak of memetic evolution, then we do not need to fear its reappearance, or at least we can guard against it by watching for its specific symptoms. After all, if it is freakish, then there’s no risk of a widespread emergence of collectivism. Unfortunately, it does mean we need to particularly fear it right here and now.
A major error that believers commit is to confuse the behaviour of people under collectivism with their natural behaviour. When I debated Nikhil Rao, he made that exact mistake on round 3 by assuming that the fact that people do not value freedom and cheer the welfare state is an argument against anarchy. Quite the opposite! If the natural state of man is to desire to be free, then we must put the blame solely on the religio-political for warping man’s desires around its depraved incentive systems.
How can we explain this behaviour, then? People trapped in a statist system are conditioned to believe that statism is a universal condition of human existence (despite the historical facts). Therefore they naturally desire to effect as much of their values as possible through the gun of the state before others manage the same. This is the incentive that leads to the social warfare endemic to democracies.
Should we be surprised, then, that people cheer the rise of the state? The more power in its guns, the more power they can take for themselves. This, however, has no bearing at all on the behaviour of free individuals. Monkeys in zoo cages don’t act in the same way than monkeys in the wild, after all.
The social system we live in, therefore, has a critical influence on our own morality. The more individualistic and self-oriented the system is, the less moral beliefs we should observe. The more collectivist and group-oriented the system is, the more moral beliefs we should observe.
Religion is no exception to this. The more educated people are (especially about the diversity of religions in the world), the more prosperous they are, the least religion they seek. But with peer pressure and religionist laws, people are forced to self-indoctrinate or die. The fear that an atheist might feel in Iran is the same as the fear a counter-revolutionary might feel in Cuba- with the same incentives to profess religion (whether it be that of Allah or Fidel). We naturally expect that while beliefs would certainly not be gone in a totally free society, such a society would yield far less social damage from these beliefs than any society existing today.