It is a self-evident truth that all dimes are created equal. That is to say, the equal value of all dimes is inherent in the definition of a dime: a ten-cent piece. If a dime is worth more or less than that, it is because it is no longer functioning as a dime, but as an antique or a piece of junk metal.

Since all dimes are created equal, two dimes are always worth more than one dime. This remains true whatever value we assign to the dime. Even if we were to say that each dime is of infinite value (assuming that it is conceptually possible to have multiple objects of equally infinite value), that would still leave us with two ‘infinites’ against one ‘infinite’. Since there can be nothing to choose between infinity and infinity, practically speaking the value of each would simply be ‘X.’ And 2X is always greater than X.

As long as we posit that all dimes are equal, two dimes will always, by definition, be worth more than one dime, three will be worth more than two, and so on.

Now let us imagine an auction in which a large group of people are all bidding for one of a set of goods, but where each person has only one dime to bid with. They all have their own different interests, but whatever they buy, they all have to use.

Obviously, no one person could ever outbid another, since they bring equal value to the table. The only way anyone can possibly buy anything is if two or more bidders pool their resources.

So A confers with B and they agree that they both want a certain good. So they pool their dimes and suddenly they’re outbidding everyone else.

Except that X and Y, who want something different, aren’t about to take this lying down. They pool their dimes as well, and what is more they bring Z in on it. Z isn’t quite as enthusiastic about the particular good as they are, but thinks it’s better than what A and B want. Now X, Y, and Z are outbidding everyone.

And so it goes; the equal bidders necessarily begin to form into pools, because it is only through pools that anyone can buy anything at all. The different pools will then each try to draw as many people to themselves as possible so as to ensure their own victory. And as the pools grow larger and it becomes clear that the smaller ones have no chance, the smaller pools will break off to one or the other of the larger ones, whichever one seems to be bidding for something that is at least close to what they originally wanted.

Now, as I say, each individual bidder has his own interests and desires. Bidder A is offering his dime to the pool because he believes that what the pool plans to bid for is, if not quite what he wants, at least as close as he can get. In any case, it’s better than what the other pool is trying to get. Consequently, whatever his actual feelings about the good they are trying to buy, he will be incentivized to follow the ‘pool line’ as much as possible, look at it in the best possible light, and reject any criticism against it. This is not necessarily because he personally doubts the criticism, but because any legitimate criticism that is acknowledged as such is fuel for the other side. Any flaw in one pool’s goal is a reason for bidders to switch to the other, which increases the possibility that Bidder A will end up with nothing he wants.

Moreover, remember that the pool depends for its success on numbers. The more dimes they bring in, the more likely they’ll be able to out-bid the other side. So anyone who doesn’t follow the line – say, Bidder D – is a threat, because he might drive people away from the pool, weakening it and putting everyone’s interests at risk.

What Really Brings Individuals Together

Conformity in this case is not a matter of principle – of adherence to a particular creed or philosophy – but a matter of practical necessity. The only way anyone in the pool gets what they want is if everyone more or less follows the line and doesn’t drive potential bidders away by pointing out its flaws or the areas where it falls short. As such, it becomes much easier to enforce and its enforcement far easier to justify in the individual’s mind: “well, I don’t disagree with him, but if he keeps running his mouth then the other side will win, and we’ll all suffer! We have to put this aside for now, until we’ve had the bidding, and then we can deal with it.”

But at the same time, the line has to be flexible enough that if any substantial group of bidders might potentially join them, they can expand to accommodate them. Provided, of course, that doing so doesn’t lose them too many of their existing bidders. Maybe they originally were bidding for item number 1, but realized that another large pool wants item number 4, which is fairly similar to number 1 and more or less covers what most of the pool wants. So, the pool switches from bidding for item 1 to item 4 in order to maximize their dimes and thus their chance of winning.

Now, say that Bidder A, one of the original investors, doesn’t want item 4. It’s useless to him. The pool no longer serves his interest and he decides to withdraw his dime from it.

What then? He can either give the dime to another pool or abstain from the bidding entirely. But the other pools, seeking to draw in people who would not consider the A-B pool, have mostly been looking to buy things that A definitely doesn’t want. And since the A-B and X-Y-Z pools have been growing so much, it’s clear that none of the smaller pools have any practical chance of winning the bid anyway.

More to the point, either A’s dime was enough to threaten the A-B pool’s success or it wasn’t. If it wasn’t, they can afford to ignore him. If it was, he’s helped to ensure that the pool bidding for something he definitely doesn’t want is going to win. That is, he’s either done nothing or he’s acted against his own self-interest.

The Collective Nature of Voting

As you’ve probably already noticed, this analogy could run away with us for pages and pages illustrating the dynamics involved, how each pool – or party – is incentivized to do what it takes to draw in and keep as many bidders as possible, and so on. But for today, I want to draw your attention to one particular fact:

No individual bidder, considered as an individual, has any power over the outcome of the auction. He cannot simply buy what he wants, nor can he seriously influence the pool. He only counts for anything if he forms part of a collective large enough to be of value to one pool or another.

This is one of the great lies of classical liberalism: it claims the title of ‘individualist’ for itself, but equality – one of its chief tenets – is an inherently collectivist idea and voting – its definitive ritual – is an inherently collectivist practice. If all men count the same, then none of them count at all compared to the group. The only way individuals of any kind matter is if they are not equal; that is, if one cannot be adequately substituted for another. If all men are equal, then only the collective matters.  If every man’s vote counts the same as every other man’s, then every man is simply a number.

Voting is not intended to empower individuals, but to disempower them. We understand this whenever we talk about using the power of the ballot box to disrupt some ‘elite’, yet we then turn around and talk about how important each individual vote is and how much power it gives to the individual. That is, we are talking out of both sides of our mouth and promising incompatible benefits.

This is not necessarily to say that voting is bad (that’s a different discussion). It is only to point out that, whatever else may be said for our system of representational government, it is certainly not ‘Individualistic’.

All dimes are created equal, and each dime is as good as any other. Which means that there is no reason to care about individual dimes; the only thing that counts is how many you can collect.

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