Are Libertarians Suffering From Technology’s XY Problem?

A bit ago I posted about the XY problem that’s common in online technical forums. It should sound (sadly) familiar to anyone in technology:

You want to do X, and you think Y is the best way of doing so. Instead of asking about X, you ask about Y.

A good example of this is asking about how to send HTTP requests in a programming language, and then doing some research and finding out you can use a specific function to accomplish your goal. The issue arises when it turns out what you found initially was not the best solution to use, but you just spent the last hour searching for solutions about it specifically rather than about the problem itself.

I find this fascinating because it applies to so many things in life, and I think one instance may be how Libertarians see the effort to improve civilization.

Our founders in England had an X problem. They weren’t happy. They were oppressed economically and religiously, and they wanted to live in a better place. So they decided to build one. When they began building, they first asked,

How does one best fix the problems in Britain?

The answer (and a good one):

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More freedom. More rights to the individuals. Less power in government to oppress the people.

Brilliant. All great stuff.

The problem is that what they implemented (a general libertarianism) is a Y to the overall X of improving our lives. And we’re now suffering because we’ve confused pursuit of the goal with worship of a particular solution.

And the programming analogy couldn’t be more clean here: if you forget to do a date filter on your search for how to solve a programming problem you may get a Perl result from 11 years ago, and that’s probably not the best way to send HTTP requests today.

Similarly, our founders were tooled for overwhelming opression at the hands of an all-powerful King. Say what you will about our President, but a King George he is not. And thus it may be time to redo our search, but this time asking how to improve the lives of our millions rather than how to avoid a draconian tyrant.

Maybe it’s time to ask about X instead of Y.

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