All decisions have opportunity costs. Values, since they inform our decisions, therefore have opportunity costs through the decisions they inform. To take a simple example, the fact that I want to sleep when I am tired prevents me from staying up and doing other things. The fact that I value sleep, therefore, entails opportunity costs. Not sleeping would lead to a different outcome, but this outcome is lost because I judge it less desirable.
This may seem blindingly obvious but seems to be lost when we enter the realm of the abstract. Intellectual cowards refuse to confront the act of valuing and its consequences. They act as if values are essentially arbitrary and irrelevant to real life.
In that way, they act like religious people, who distinguish themselves from others by believing in this or that obscure theological principle. To the religious, values are arbitrary and irrelevant to real life. It really makes no difference when baptism should be performed or how much traditional interpretations of the Bible should be trusted. None of these things matter in real life. They just exist to maintain divisions between sects and to preserve a sense of identity within them.
Essentially they believe that professing a value is an issue of personal taste, and that our actions should be “pragmatic.” So they set up a dichotomy between valuing, which is purely in the realm of the imaginary or the personal, and actions to achieve those values, which must be “pragmatic” and be subject to no values, which in practice means that they should be subject to the standards of social success (whatever sells, whatever convinces, whatever can be said in public, no matter how false it is).
We observe this in organizations which supposedly pursue egalitarian ends but which do so in a hierarchical way. That is my main target here, and for good reason: a lot of arguments hinge around it, because practice is the best evidence we have of workability. And most of the time egalitarians don’t even try to prove their point by constructing egalitarian organizations, which shows their lack of commitment.
This also applies in economics. A capitalist organization is by definition one which is optimized for profit-seeking. By definition, a socialist organization cannot be optimized for profit-seeking. To claim that a socialist organization can compete, or should be able to compete, with capitalist organizations in a capitalist economy is to not understand what the terms mean. It is a deficit in understanding. By their very nature, socialist organization cannot outcompete capitalist organizations. To hold the value of equality means to reject the benefits of exploitation, and capitalism is predicated on exploitation. In order to win in capitalism, you must exploit the labor of others in many different forms.
The argument that socialism fails because socialist organizations cannot compete at the same level as capitalist organizations is a tautology: no organization can “succeed” within a given incentive system if it pursues a completely different standard of “success.” So what? That’s as trivial as telling us that a marathon runner will not win the 100m dash. Why should we expect otherwise? A capitalist organization would fail, too, if it had to meet the incentive systems of socialism. I can guarantee you as much.
Does that mean capitalism is inferior? Not in itself, no. All it means is that capitalism, like socialism, implies a certain set of values, and that an incentive system which does not reward those values will present a daunting obstacle. Capitalism is inferior because it operates on the basis of non-human values (like the profit motive and market forces) and causes widespread misery, not because it “works” or doesn’t “work.” Pragmatism is a piss-poor standard of truth. Systemic analysis is a much better standard.
I’ve talked about organizations, but the same thing applies to individuals. At the root of this fallacy is the belief that the “end justifies the means.” I discussed how this is part of the manichean worldview. Egalitarians who treat interpersonal relations as a struggle will tend to dissociate means with ends. They will preach cooperation but act competitively.
The opposite of “the end justifies the means” is “practice what you preach,” i.e. honesty instead of hypocrisy. Practicing what you preach is a great deal harder than dropping your principles whenever they become inconvenient, but it’s the only way to bring about what you want. We prefigure the new society, first in the imagination and then in reality, by representing its principles as closely as possible. Selling equality or peace by showing yet another example of hierarchy and competition in action gets us no closer to a peaceful world, because that’s what everyone else is already doing. If hierarchy and competition was the key to an egalitarian and peaceful world, the world would already be egalitarian and peaceful.
You can’t go half-way. If you believe in something, then cherish it and bring more of it into the world. If you don’t believe in something, then don’t bring more of it into the world. Bringing something into the world in the name of its opposite is just retarded.