So, you know how Occam’s Razor says that, all other things being equal, you should place more trust in the simpler explanation to some unknown problem?
Atheists often use this to highlight the untenability of the God hypothesis. The origins of God are at least as mysterious and enigmatic as those of the Universe, and his very existence is a massive, unfounded assumption which can just as easily be done away with.
Some theists, however, try to claim that “God did it” is itself the most parsimonious explanation for everything, and therefore the preferred explanation. But just because it can be enunciated in fewer syllables that any grand unifying theory of physics, doesn’t make it simpler in any important sense.
It seems like there’s a corresponding misunderstanding in politics, in this discussion of a group of political protestors opposing the government’s decision “to cut social benefits and slash public payrolls”. The media described these people getting angry at government cuts as “anarchists”.
David Boaz notes an obvious objection:
“Odd anarchists,” I harrumphed, who “object to the state reducing its size, scope, and power.”
His point might seem obvious on the face of it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the media was being overly casual here in throwing the label around, as it often seems to in the case of any kinds of protests. But I would suggest that there’s a similar misunderstanding going on here as in the case of the “God did it” theists.
A simple explanation for the universe isn’t just a matter of cramming it into as short a sentence as possible, and anarchism isn’t always in favour of stripping away any aspect of government at any given moment.
More than just being opposed to government, anarchists are opposed to authority in all forms, and in particular the oppression of the poor and disenfranchised by the rich and powerful. If the government is going to be there, taxing its citizens and upholding capitalism and the rule of law, then cutting back on the social programs that benefit the poor is not necessarily a step toward decreasing government power and levelling class inequality. It may even make things worse.
Yes, in an ideal system, anarchists would not want these state welfare programmes to exist, because they wouldn’t want there to be a state. But given the system that continues to impose itself, and the lack of other options available to the working classes who are still being taxed and having their state provisions taking away, I don’t think most anarchists would herald these kinds of austerity measures as an important step toward equality. (Or, if they do, I’m decidedly less likely to join them in their political philosophy anytime soon.)
A shorter sentence doesn’t necessarily make for a more parsimonious explanation, and the government doing less to help people doesn’t always mean that the imposition of authority is any less.