Home > Uncategorized > I Can't Stand Cant, Or, LeBron James and our Collectivist Scorn of "Collectivists"

I Can't Stand Cant, Or, LeBron James and our Collectivist Scorn of "Collectivists"

A recent post on the Mises Economics Blog by contributor S.M. Oliva, “LeBron and the Collectivist Mentality“, which rails against “collectivism” and hypocrisy in the treatment of professional athletes, has provided an opportunity to hold up a mirror to LvMI posters and commenters. I left a few comments that I copy below, along with related responses from others. 

The comment thread was interesting; those who disagreed were quickly branded “collectivist!”, but my comments about how LvMI posters and commenters also prominently exhibit judgmental group-think and ignore human nature were met by quite a bit of head-scratching. (I can almost hear people saying to themselves,”But wait, aren’t we all SUPPOSED to jump in and condemn “collectivist” mentalities in others? If not, then what? How strange – are you sure you belong in our church?”)

My intention in showing that Austrians’ own actions belie the beliefs that they profess was not to put a finger in anyone’s dogma, but to suggest that a better understanding of our very social human nature would lead to commentary that is not only more sympathetic, but more productive. After all, as Walt Kelly‘s Pogo once said:

We have met the enemy and he is us!

Historically, shared problems can be solved either by reaching shared understandings, or by victory over the opposition and coercion. Our tribal predilections tend to make the latter a default mechanism, but is tribal conflict also a tenet of Austrian principles? If so, maybe we can find a slicker way of condemning collectivist thinking elsewhere.

Here are some of the relevant comment strings (emphasis added)

TokyoTom July 11, 2010 at 11:53 am

Skip, I agree with much of your post, particularly in your criticisms of reporters, but it seems to me more than a bit blind as to community/tribal dynamics, and overly doctrinaire as a result. Understanding such dynamics may help you. I’ll try not to wax too prolix.

Let me start off with a copy of a Twitter post I made yesterday:

“@naufalsanaullah Diff btwn Lebron,Goldman? GS just rich ppl ripping us off;were never on OUR side;LeBron BETRAYS by switching allegiance”

Man has an exquisite moral sense, that we acquired via the process of evolution, as an aid to intra-group cooperation. Our moral sense, rituals and “sacred postulates” (later, religions) have played a central role in the evolution of man as a social animal, by providing a fundamental way of ordering the world, the group`s role in it, and the individual`s role in the group – thereby abating commons problems both within and created by the group. While we certainly have made progress (partly with the aid of “universal” religions) in expanding the boundaries of our groups, we very much remain group, tribal animals, fiercely attentive to rival groups and who is within or outside our group, and this tribal nature is clearly at work in our cognition (our penchant for finding enemies, including those who have different religious beliefs that ours). http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/08/28/fun-with-self-deception-those-who-espouse-an-quot-objective-quot-moral-order-act-refuse-to-elucidate-or-act-as-if-there-is-none.aspx

You condemn “collectivism” but ignore that all men live in and rely on communities. The tribal reactions of Clevelanders to Lebron’s decision to leave them, and their perception of the cavalier manner in which he “stabbed them in the back”, are quite understandable. Attempts to apply moral suasion is a natural, instinctive behavior, and one that some libertarians (Richman and Callahan) deliberately endorse, and that others like you also reflexively resort to.

Such reactions are particularly strong in sports, which serves as a proxy for war. In this arena, LeBron James is seen not as a simple mercenary, but as a hometown champion,which makes his decisions to leave and the way he announced it even more difficult for locals to bear.

In railing against such reactions, you are not simply spitting into the wind of human nature, but essentially manifesting a similar reflexive group reaction.

The existence of similar groupthink and tribal reactions at LvMI is behind much of the hostility to enviros, including little ol’ me.

See also my comments to Stephan Kinsella here [regarding the origins of “Principles” in coordinating behavior within groups]: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/12/20/what-is-quot-property-quot-a-few-weird-thoughts-on-evolution-society-quot-property-rights-quot-and-quot-intellectual-property-quot-and-the-principles-we-structure-to-justify-them.aspx



PS: Sorry if this is a bit scattered; it’s late here, and I’m struggling to keep my eyes open until the World Cup final

mpolzkill July 11, 2010 at 1:54 pm


As long [as you] aren’t like the other 99.99 percent or so of other “enviros” (statists), I for one don’t have any problem with any fetish you might have.

TokyoTom July 12, 2010 at 1:29 am

mpolzkill, thanks for the comment. I have damaging “fetishes” for liberty, commitment and responsibility within community, and competent management of shared resources and institutions.

You: “Watch for an amazing surge in the popularity of boxing if an American of even Cooney’s meagre talent, weight and pigmentation were to emerge today.”

I would agree; my view is simply that it is more productive to understand such a reaction (among white Americans) as relatively reflexive and tribal, than it would be to condemn such a reaction as “collectivist”, as you and Oliva responded to michael (who seems to be addressing Cleveland, not the press). We’re individuals, to be sure, but social animals to our core. Pure individualists are a hazard if they live in a real community.


S.M. Oliva July 11, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Hmm. This sounds like a bunch of gibberish. Sorry, I really don’t see a point here.

But I would note my criticism was directed primarily at the media, not Cleveland fans.

TokyoTom July 12, 2010 at 1:52 am

Oliva, thanks for troubling to respond to my gibberish. Your reaction is understandable: not only was I blogging with my eyes half closed, but I wasn’t speaking in the cant we recite in this church ==>thus, what I say D O E S N O T C O M P U T E

Do you really have such a hard time in seeing in the visceral reactions of so many in Cleveland (and elsewhere) a natural tribal response? And a response that naturally mirrors behavior in other arenas, including LvMI blogs? This theme is something I’ve commented on several times: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=watermelon

You may well disapprove of the disapprobation directed at LeBron (I agree with you in part), but it behooves you to recognize it – and the response that you express and evoke here – as a manifestation of the moral suasion to which social man resorts instinctively. Those who are opponents of statism should understand the natural (and non-statist) ways in which communities of individuals and families coordinate behavior and keep each other in check. As I noted, libertarians such as Richman and Callahan (also Yandle) have expressly advocated deliberate use of moral suasion – as opposed to the state – as a means of productively addressing shared problems.


Stephan Kinsella July 11, 2010 at 8:32 pm

This is scattered. Lebron owes “Cleveland” nothing at all. He did nothing wrong whatsoever. Here Rand was right: we have a right to live for ourselves. He provided services for payment; both sides are even. His moving to Florida is not a whit different than someone changing jobs, or firing someone. People are free to associate with whoever they want.

TokyoTom July 12, 2010 at 2:00 am

Stephan, I understand where you’re coming from, but your comments are simply unresponsive to any point I’ve made. I’m not arguing about LeBron’s formal “rights” at all. Focus!

Anyone who doesn’t see the tensions between human nature and principles as we move from families to close communities to extremely loose webs has gotta be [a] robot.


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