I first noticed Gilles Bourgeois when I started to find, cross-posted into my LinkedIn feed, his highly charged comments superimposed on rather routine climate-balance diagrams. Anyone who takes a very widely circulated diagram and claims to have discovered in it a truly massive error that only he has been smart enough to notice, is more likely to be wrong than right, and so it proved. What Gilles’ climate posts revealed was that, although he described himself as a petroleum engineer, his understanding of rather basic physics was tenuous in the extreme. They also revealed him as the ultimate in Ayn Rand disciples. What she had written had to him the status of holy writ, rather as thoughts of Mao had to China’s Red Guards. I had lots of questions about Rand, and Gilles seemed to be the man who could answer them. He was ‘The Fountainhead’, one might say.
In “Atlas Shrugged” Rand set out her vision of how a country should be governed. It was not, as is sometimes suggested, a vision of a country with no government, but of one with a government consisting of only an army, a police force, and a judiciary. It was hard to imagine how she imagined this would work in practice, but a chance to find out seemed to have arisen when Gilles quoted her as saying:
“Progress cannot be planned by government, and it cannot be restricted or retarded; it can only be stopped, as every statist government has demonstrated”
This is, of course, nonsense, as governmental actions resulting in the eradication of smallpox, the development of the atomic bomb and the moon landings (depending on how one defines progress) have all shown, but it offered a route to exploring the concept of a ‘non-statist’ government. This led, a few posts later**, to Gilles stating the following:
“A proper govts (as already defined) focus would be to retaliate judiciously upon any initiations of force and/or fraud. It would not be in anyone’s self interest to risk this retaliation. IMAGINE a society where the initiation of physical force (and fraud) is banned from all human relationships. It WOULD NOT make every person moral, nor would it prevent all injustice, but consider what it would do.”
Since Gilles was born in Canada and lives in Italy, both of them countries where fraud and the initiation of physical force are banned, although sadly not wholly effectively, it has to be assumed that what he needed imagination for was to picture a society in which such bans were effective. And to make them effective, his (and Rand’s) non-statist state could not do without a judiciary and a police force.
And, surely, a taxation department to raise the money to pay for them?
Apparently not, because ….
“Financial constraint (as accomplished by a hard money standard) limits our monopoly upon the use of force to what people are willing to pay for”.
This idea really does allow the imagination to run riot. If funding the justice system were to be done by voluntary subscription, would we not end up with multiple competing police forces and judiciaries, as people decided they did not like the one they had and opted for another? Would such police forces arrest people who were paying their wages, on behalf of people who were not? Would courts adjudicate impartially between people who had opted to pay the judges and those who had opted not do so? Even if a single, universal system could be achieved, who would run it? Who would be its guardians, and how would they operate? Gilles responded:
“In reality there are only 2 axiomatic laws that justify the use of coercion that are ethical.
1) I shall not violate another person or his property (criminal)
2) I shall do and deliver as was agreed (contract)
All other regulations not derived from these ARE UNETHICAL! A proper govt is thus be restricted to law-making and enforcement that is objectively ethical (as outlined)”
Which is a nice sentiment, but humanity has struggled throughout recorded history with the problem of making government ethical, and has still to come up with an answer. Juvenal, almost two thousand years ago, was certainly not the first to ask ‘who will guard the guardians’. What constraints could be placed upon them in the Rand/Bourgeois Utopia?
“The guardians are constrained by their resources, like the rest of us and PRIORITIZE (vs the be all and end all of everything for everybody).”
A statement that raises far more questions than it answers, because the most likely form of prioritisation would be prioritisation of the interests of the people who were providing the money. However this, or its equivalent, was as far as the ‘reasonable’ discussions ever went. From such points onward, Gilles had nothing more to offer but abuse.
“Pointless is the need to spoonfeed you. You refuse to see. I cannot help with purposeful blindness”.
And then, suddenly, he was gone.
No more posts on climate change. Or on the immorality of any and all restraints on the free market. Or on the triumphs of the Swedish approach to controlling COVID-19. Even his past posts vanished.
I searched for him a little, and discovered some of the roots of his conversion, seemingly after unemployment left him with time on his hands more than four years ago. He enrolled himself as an acolyte on a website known as Galt’s Gulch, but that trail went cold after he was welcomed by just four people. Then another link took me to a more recent laudatory character sketch, which documented his abandonment of petroleum engineering and his determination to concentrate on influencing the world through LinkedIn and Twitter.
Has that been a problem? His use of LinkedIn certainly seems to have been at odds with the site’s own mission statement. Has he been ejected from it? Is he still out there somewhere, posting away on Twitter? Occasionally I find myself missing him, and the light relief that he sometimes provided, but not so much that I am going to go on Twitter to find out.
** To avoid any suggestion that I might be distorting his message, the quotes from Gilles are reproduced exactly as they were written, typos and all