Owing Society

A common claim among collectivists is that we owe society. The absurdity of this claim can be shown by simply asking one question: what is society? In specific terms society is a collection of individuals, but the collectivists like to anthropomorphize society. Instead of seeing society as merely a collection of individuals they see society as a separate life. When they say you owe society they imply that society is a single thing that is so obvious that it needn’t be defined. Unfortunately their claim falls apart as soon as you attempt to define it.

Let’s consider what society is. According to collectivists you derive value from everybody else in society, so we know that societies include more than one individual. This is where things get iffy. I derive value from a great many people. My computer was build by other people, my truck was built by other people, my bicycle was built by other people, etc. If I extrapolate further I have to acknowledge that my computer is the result of thousands of years of human innovation. It’s a machine that does calculations and math was heavily influenced by the Middle East (in fact we still use Arabic numerals today), it is built using electronic technologies that was greatly improved by the Japanese, it is built using rare-earth elements that come from China, and it uses an Intel process that could have been made in one of several fabrication plants (we’ll assume the United States facility for this example). If society is defined by the value I’ve received from other individuals then I must include the United States, the Middle East, China, and Japan in my society.

What we owe society depends on who you talk to. Some will claim we owe society schools, others will claim we owe roads, others will claim we owe healthcare, and some will claim we owe all of the above. Their mechanism for providing these things to society is taxation. A portion of my wealth is effectively taken to provide society with what I owe. If this is the case my payment to society is rather disturbing.

My tax dollars are used to bomb people in the Middle East, imprison people in the United States, and antagonize China. Money owed by previous generations was used to drop atomic weaponry on Japan. None of my tax money goes to build hospitals in the Middle Easy, roads in China, or schools in Japan. Effectively my tax dollars are primarily used to reign destruction down upon those who have provided value me. The only people I’ve benefitted from that gain any positive benefit from what I owe society are those residing in the United States and to countries that receive foreign aid from the United States.

I’m left having to ask many questions. Is society not composed of all the individuals I derive value from? Is the Middle East not part of my society? If it is why am I paying to bomb them? Do I owe them death? Is society defined by lines on a map? Perhaps my society is only the United States, perhaps it is only Minnesota, perhaps it is only Minneapolis. This is why the idea of us owing society is absurd, society is an undefined factor. We derive benefit from people all over the globe so society can’t be considered anything less than the entire world. If society is the entire world and I owe them anything positive then I should not pay taxes because much of that tax money goes to killing other people. If society is defined as only the United States then we it can’t be claimed that I owe society because I derive benefit from it as I derive benefit from people outside the United States as well. Basically, society is such a nebulous term that to claim I owe it anything is entirely meaningless.