Ethics?

“He lies so much that he has to hire someone to call his dog.” Jed Clampett, The Beverly Hillibillies
Tom Palven, who is a committed atheist, is a strong believer in ethics, which he distinguishes from morality. You can find the e-mails that inspired this essay at the end of this file along with other commentary. Tom wrote, “Supposedly, when Confucius was asked if ethics could be expressed in one word he replied ‘Shu,’ meaning reciprocity, the essence of the Golden Rule, and I agree with Confucius that this is all the philosophical principle that one needs in regard to ethics. Later, Rabbi Hillel expressed it as ‘Do not do to others...,’ after which Jesus expressed it as ‘Do unto others . . .’ . . . Lawyers like to use the line that if a mad serial rapist-killer came to your door with a gun and asked if your wife was home, that it would be moral to lie to him, and then derive from this the principle that lying is hunky-dory.”

My essay

The saying “The exception proves the rule” actually means “The exception tests the rule.” Proves used to have the definition tests. The usage survives in “100 proof whisky.” Whisky was mixed with gunpowder and if it burned it was “proved.” A mixture of alcohol and water at approximately fifty-fifty mixed with gunpowder will ignite. If there is a little more water, it won’t.


Tom considers lying to be unethical but does not explain why the example of the rapist-killer falls outside his ethical system. Human ethics concerns itself with the question of how humans should act toward each other. Apparently, Tom feels that a serial rapist-killer is not entitled to the status of a human being. But this example is an extreme one. Are there any other situations in which a lie is appropriate? Suppose someone asks, “How are you feeling?” My answer depends less on my subjective assessment of my health than on who asks me the question: my wife? my doctor? an acquaintance on the street? my daughter? a police officer?


In Tennessee Williams’s play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Big Daddy declares, “We live in a system of mendacity,” and indeed we do. Social interaction depends on concealing some of our thoughts. The more rigid the social system, the greater the dependence on mendacity. Confucius, whom Tom cites, would regard honesty as unethical unless that honesty were practiced between people of the “correct” social statuses.


Turning back to the general question of ethics, I ask who is entitled to ethical treatment. We have already rejected serial rapist-killers. Who else may we ethically reject? Blacks? Midgets? Jews? Women? Down syndrome sufferers? Muslims? Radical Muslims? Black Muslims? The preborn? The terminally ill? Children? Your boss? Your wife? The truth is that we rightly treat different people in different ways according to our feelings and the social situation.


Tom is also an anarchist. I’m guessing that he would like to argue that society is possible without government or God-given morality and so invents some objective ethical system. I titled my book Laws of the Jungle because I believe that people will order themselves without government as they did before government was invented (and after government was rejected in much of the world).


One of the problems with ethics is the same as a problem with morality. Let’s put aside the question of who the proper beneficiary of your actions should be. Suppose you walk into a bookstore that has thousands of books. Perhaps your morality tells you not to buy pornography or witchcraft or some other books. There are still thousands of choices to be made. In rare instance pornography or witchcraft would be the right choice. In any case, the rejection of certain works does not make you moral or ethical. Morals and ethics are no more than a guideline for children. Once you reach a certain age, your choices become much more subtle.


Let’s get to the fundamental question: Assuming that morality or ethics objectively exists, why should a person eschew the immoral or the unethical? The question is easy to answer in regard to morality. You should eschew the immoral to avoid the punishment of God or to please God. Personally I believe in God as part of my view of the nature of reality, but I reject the idea of morality. Why would an atheist act ethically? Tom gives some general guidelines that often apply but what happens when we get into harder cases? Should a person turn in $10,000 in found money, for instance? Should the finder turn in the money for the sake of ethics? If that is the case, then he has made a god of ethics. It is often the case that atheists create their own gods. Max Stirner called them “spooks.” To turn in the money for the sake of ethics is to make a spook of ethics.


Perhaps the person turns in the money because of his empathy with the rightful owner. That act would be noble but it would not depend on ethics. Much of human action is motivated by our empathy with our fellow men, even if we do not know that fellow man, as in this case. Our connection with our fellow men regardless of race, religion, sex, or social status is a religious (or at least philosophical) concept. It is by no means natural or inborn. Even in the United States, most people see nothing wrong with stealing a certain amount from a large corporation, a very rich person, or the government. Large numbers of people see nothing wrong with killing the unborn despite the lack of any scientific dividing line between them and those who are already born. Virtually no society has granted all human beings the status of human. That idea is a religious concept.


Tom argues that there are practical reasons for not stealing and not lying. However, if there are practical reasons for not doing something why do we need ethical reasons? The answer is clear: We need ethics for those instances in which there is not a practical reason. That makes an ethical principle a spook that controls our behavior against our interest. We obey our spooks because they provide us with a psychological benefit. In Galatians 6.7, Paul tells us, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” The ethical analog to this verse is “What goes around comes around.” I’ve noticed that what goes around comes around very slowly, if at all. Ethics are just another attempt to impose order and meaning on a world even when they do not exist.

I talked about the saying, “The exception proves the rule.” The reason I did so is that ethics are rules; they are meant to apply universally. If they are not rules, they are only suggestions. We understand how to act toward people we like and we understand how to act with our acquaintances. When we apply these rules to other people, we are putting the concept of ethics above our own judgement. It is clear why we would put morality above our judgment but there is no reason to elevate ethics except for religious reasons. Tom advocates ethical behavior; I advocate personal judgment.


Political radicals who have different agendas often point to religion as a means for oppressing people. They mean that the concept of morals keeps people from rising up against their rulers. It seems to me that ethics are equally capable of achieving this end. The ideas of morality and God give people the sense that their lives have meaning. Ethics do not. From my point of view, morals are the vegetables and God is the dessert. Ethics are vegetables without the dessert.


Let’s return to lying again. Who lies most? Children lie. Employees lie. Prisoners lie. Wives often lie. Criminals lie. In general, those in higher social positions tend to tell the truth and those in lower social positions tend to lie more. One lies because he is afraid of the consequences of telling the truth. Cognitive dissonance tells us that we often confuse cause and effect. Eskimos say they eat frozen fish because they like them. Cognitive dissonance tells us that Eskimos may like frozen fish because they eat them. A person makes his mind agree with his past actions. In the case of lying, we may say that a person lies because he is afraid. In certain cases, the liar may be afraid because he lies.


I advise a person to avoid lying recklessly for psychological reasons. The practice can make one afraid and make him believe in his own powerlessness. Those people who would impose their will on you don’t really care if you lie to them, not on the deepest level. A lie is a compliment to the power of the one lied to. No one expects Americans to obey the millions of laws and prescriptions they are subject to. From our rulers’ point of view, it is sufficient that we walk around feeling vaguely guilty and uneasy. Telling the truth (when practical) is a good step in ridding oneself of this weakness. However, my advice is practical and psychological. It has nothing to do with ethics or morality.

E-mail that inspired the essay

Tom Palven wrote:
. . . on natural ethics which exist at least within one's own tribe,

Allen replied

i.e., with one's family and friends. By the way, there's nothing immoral (among reasonable people) or unethical about lying to people who intend you or someone you want to protect harm. If you want to get along with people on a daily basis, there are certain things you should do and avoid. I agree. If you want to generalize these guidelines to how any person should treat any other person, you need some religious, or at least some philosphical principle, such as "all men are brothers." This sort of principle has hardly ever been applied even in the most sophisticated societies. It's more honored in the breach in America today.

Allen

Tom wrote:

Supposedly, when Confucius was asked if ethics could be expressed in one word he replied "Shu", meaning reciprocity, the essence of the Golden Rule, and I agree with Confucius that this is all the philosophical principle that one needs in regard to ethics. Later, Rabbi Hillel expressed it as "Do not do to others..., after which Jesus expressed it as "Do unto others..." By the way, I thought of another "ethical" point I may not have mentioned to you- The fact that if a puppy rolls over and urinates, an older dog will recognize the action and the odor as puppy and will not injure it, unless that particular adult is psycho due to abuse, or has been trained in violence, like Universal Soldiers. Lawyers like to use the line that if a mad serial rapist-killer came to your door with a gun and asked if your wife was home, that it would be moral to lie to him, and then derive from this the principle that lying is hunky-dory.
Aquinas, in defending the Ten Commandments, said that lying is a sin because it abuses God's gift of speech. I prefer Twain's argument that When you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything. Honesty is the best policy partly because it just makes life easier. One doesn't have to watch one's back.


Tom

Other commentary

 


This was thought-provoking, Allen, to the point that I don't think I
have all my thoughts in order enough yet to respond to it. I think I am
going to re-read this again later tonight and organize my ideas on
paper a bit before I attempt a direct response.

In the meantime, I want to mention something that I think is a
corollary to this topic, and which I had been looking to discuss with
people for awhile:


There are a lot of people today who decry the falling influence of
Christianity in today's society because they feel it's concomitant with
an increase in immoral behavior... as society becomes less religious,
particularly less Christian, it becomes increasing immoral. These
people feel that morality can only be imposed through religious context
and teaching.


Now, I don't know if I would consider myself aetheist or not. I'd say
I'm agnostic but I feel like that's so typical and cliche for a
college-age person to say. I guess I'd say I have trouble accepting the
Bible and a lot of Christian doctrine and theology in a literal sense,
while at the same time I am just not quite ready to write God off
altogether. There's a lot of stuff that makes sense, at least partially
(like the theory of evolution) that seems to go against creationism and
other literalist interpretations of Christian doctrine, all while there
are glaring holes in these secular concepts (okay, so animals evolved,
but how did they get there in the first place? Could life really be a
spontaneous accident?) There is so much to try to wrap my head around
that at this point I can't and I've given up thinking about it too
seriously just yet.


So here I am, a godless bastard who only makes it to church around
Christmas, and only then for the family's sake. And yet I still
recognize the difference between right and wrong (as I have come to
understand the terms).


Whether God has forbidden murder and theft and adultery and lying or
not, I still would see those things as wrong and recognize them as
wrong if someone did them to me. Is that because I was raised by
parents who are more religious than me? Is that because I live in a
society that sees things this way and imposes its views on me? Or is it
because there are absolute, natural laws that work behind things like
this and any rational person can understand them if they try to find
them?


I don't know. I guess I realized from reading the essay above that I
don't really understand the difference between morals and ethics. As
Allen tried to explain, the difference is that morals are for religious
people and ethics are for non-religious people. It seems like morals
are positive natural laws, while ethics are normative behavioral laws.
But then we run into situations where the positive, moral law ("do not
lie") must be abridged and amended for the circumstance into the
normative, behavioral ethical law ("don't lie to most people, but it's
okay to lie to this person").


This is the same conundrum that David Friedman mentions in his
Machinery of Freedom when describing property rights in a libertarian
society. The absolute right of property, a natural law, if followed to
the letter, would result in a seriously horrible outcome in a situation
where a madman is killing people randomly and the only way to stop him
is to grab somebody's rifle sitting on their private property which
they do not wish you to have.


That's getting off the track a little, so let me try to bring it back
to my point. My point is that I am not sure if you NEED religion to
have a moral/ethical society. I feel, even as a person of little/no
faith right now, that I still behave in a Christian/moral/ethical
manner, and that people are capable of behaving like me without being
religious as well. I don't think I am special, in other words.


But does religion increase the likelihood that people who would
otherwise act immorally will choose to act morally instead? Quite
possibly, yes. Probably definitely yes, in fact.


Just something I was thinking about, it's not quite an entirely
developed thought yet, but I invite any comments on what I have
expressed so far, especially in relation to Allen's essay.


On Jan 11, 9:13 am, "Allen" <thorn...@erienet.net> wrote:

 

- Hide quoted text -
- Show quoted text -

> Ethics?

> "He lies so much that he has to hire someone to call his dog." Jed
> Clampett, The Beverly Hillibillies


> Tom Palven, who is a committed atheist, is a strong believer in ethics,
> which he distinguishes from morality. You can find the e-mails that
> inspired this essay at the end of this file. Tom wrote, "Supposedly,
> when Confucius was asked if ethics could be expressed in one word he
> replied 'Shu,' meaning reciprocity, the essence of the Golden Rule,
> and I agree with Confucius that this is all the philosophical principle
> that one needs in regard to ethics. Later, Rabbi Hillel expressed it as
> 'Do not do to others...,' after which Jesus expressed it as 'Do
> unto others . . .' . . . Lawyers like to use the line that if a mad
> serial rapist-killer came to your door with a gun and asked if your
> wife was home, that it would be moral to lie to him, and then derive
> from this the principle that lying is hunky-dory."


> My essay


> The saying "The exception proves the rule" actually means "The
> exception tests the rule." Proves used to have the definition tests.
> The usage survives in "100 proof whisky." Whisky was mixed with
> gunpowder and if it burned it was "proved." A mixture of alcohol
> and water at approximately fifty-fifty mixed with gunpowder will
> ignite. If there is a little more water, it won't.
> Tom considers lying to be unethical but does not explain why the
> example of the rapist-killer falls outside his ethical system. Human
> ethics concerns itself with the question of how humans should act
> toward each other. Apparently, Tom feels that a serial rapist-killer is
> not entitled to the status of a human being. But this example is an
> extreme one. Are there any other situations in which a lie is
> appropriate? Suppose someone asks, "How are you feeling?" My answer
> depends less on my subjective assessment of my health than on who asks
> me the question: my wife? my doctor? an acquaintance on the street? my
> daughter? a police officer?
> In Tennessee Williams's play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Big Daddy
> declares, "We live in a system of mendacity," and indeed we do.
> Social interaction depends on concealing some of our thoughts. The more
> rigid the social system, the greater the dependence on mendacity.
> Confucius, whom Tom cites, would regard honesty as unethical unless
> that honesty were practiced between people of the "correct" social
> statuses.
> Turning back to the general question of ethics, I ask who is entitled
> to ethical treatment. We have already rejected serial rapist-killers.
> Who else may we ethically reject? Blacks? Midgets? Jews? Women? Down
> syndrome sufferers? Muslims? Radical Muslims? Black Muslims? The
> preborn? The terminally ill? Children? Your boss? Your wife? The truth
> is that we rightly treat different people in different ways according
> to our feelings and the social situation.
> Tom is also an anarchist. I'm guessing that he would like to argue
> that society is possible without government or God-given morality and
> so invents some objective ethical system. I titled my book Laws of the
> Jungle because I believe that people will order themselves without
> government as they did before government was invented (and after
> government was rejected in much of the world).
> One of the problems with ethics is the same as a problem with morality.
> Let's put aside the question of who the proper beneficiary of your
> actions should be. Suppose you walk into a bookstore that has thousands
> of books. Perhaps your morality tells you not to buy pornography or
> witchcraft or some other books. There are still thousands of choices to
> be made. In rare instance pornography or witchcraft would be the right
> choice. In any case, the rejection of certain works does not make you
> moral or ethical. Morals and ethics are no more than a guideline for
> children. Once you reach a certain age, your choices become much more
> subtle.
> Let's get to the fundamental question: Assuming that morality or
> ethics objectively exists, why should a person eschew the immoral or
> the unethical? The question is easy to answer in regard to morality.
> You should eschew the immoral to avoid the punishment of God or to
> please God. Personally I believe in God as part of my view of the
> nature of reality, but I reject the idea of morality. Why would an
> atheist act ethically? Tom gives some general guidelines that often
> apply but what happens when we get into harder cases? Should a person
> turn in $10,000 in found money, for instance? Should the finder turn in
> the money for the sake of ethics? If that is the case, then he has made
> a god of ethics. It is often the case that atheists create their own
> gods. Max Stirner called them "spooks." To turn in the money for
> the sake of ethics is to make a spook of ethics.
> Perhaps the person turns in the money because of his empathy with the
> rightful owner. That act would be noble but it would not depend on
> ethics. Much of human action is motivated by our empathy with our
> fellow men, even if we do not know that fellow man, as in this case.
> Our connection with our fellow men regardless of race, religion, sex,
> or social status is a religious (or at least philosophical) concept. It
> is by no means natural or inborn. Even in the United States, most
> people see nothing wrong with stealing a certain amount from a large
> corporation, a very rich person, or the government. Large numbers of
> people see nothing wrong with killing the unborn despite the lack of
> any scientific dividing line between them and those who are already
> born. Virtually no society has granted all human beings the status of
> human. That idea is a religious concept.
> Tom argues that there are

 

...
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3 From: Taylor - view profile
Date: Fri, Jan 12 2007 2:45 am
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Alright, to add a bit more to my response...

I take issue with your position on empathy and general human
brotherhood being a religious or philosophical concept rather than
being natural. I don't know if that's correct. Certainly before
organized religion and philosophy existed, primitive man lived with
other people as a means of survival. Was it a rational, practical
decision, or was man born with the instinct to associate with like? Why
do humans typically organize their blood relations along nuclear-family
lines? Why do blood relations feel special empathy connections to one
another?


I see that you did in fact explicitly say that ethics are basically
morals for secular people, that both are rules and that my idea that
maybe ethics were normative rather than positive.


Even if atheists make "spooks" out of ethics, we still don't have an
answer for why they feel it is necessary to do so, or why they go along
with it. You hint that maybe it's their way of imposing order... but
why go along with it? I think this comes back to the idea of acting
ethically and morally because that's how we'd like to be treated. I
think humans recognize that they could act unethically, but their
chance of survival amongst people they have wronged goes down as they
increase their unethical behavior. Is this more self-interest, or
something else entirely?


And again, how do we decide what is and isn't ethical? A thief can take
someone else's thing, and yet still know when he has been robbed of
that same item by another.


If you've got time, maybe you could explain the difference between, and
definitions of/examples of ethics and morals to help clarify my
thinking. With that, and the chance to see some other people's
responses to this, I feel like I will be better qualified to proceed
further in my thinking.


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4 From: Michael - view profile
Date: Fri, Jan 12 2007 10:43 am
Email: "Michael" <mamul...@gmail.com>
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"Perhaps the person turns in the money because of his empathy with the
rightful owner. That act would be noble but it would not depend on
ethics. Much of human action is motivated by our empathy with our
fellow men, even if we do not know that fellow man, as in this case."

I think Allen hits upon the key to how we should be treating others
with this statement after the example of finding money on the ground
and debating whether we should return it or not. Barring the desires
of the insane (maybe some people are truly masochistic, but they're
obviously a fringe), empathy really does seem to be a key when it comes
to deciding how to treat other people.


Why cannot our shared human emotions be enough when deciding how we
should treat others? Making our decisions based upon empathy would
seem to necessitate a good deal of responsibility- after all, an
offending party could easily go against the positive treatment with the
simple statement that they were unable to identify with the offended's
situation. Treatment based upon empathy appears to run into the road
block of subjectivity.


But this would be no different than morality and ethics (and while I
admittedly am not clear on the difference, I'm making the assumption
that they both have a power to guide our actions based on some
seemingly higher, intrinsic code). Morality and ethics come under as
much subjectivity as empathetic treatment presumably would. People
make subjective moral and ethical decisions all the time- A Muslim man
climbs aboard a bus on the outskirts of Jerusalem and blows himself and
everyone on the bus up. A positively moral decision? Allah and the
virgins awaiting said man in paradise seem to think so.


Clearly morality and ethics are subjective. So, too, is empathy.
Still, we can utilize empathy without any appeals to more sacred
standards.


The one problem I do run into with empathy, however, and I hope I get
some feedback on this idea... would treatment due to empathy make
people more karmic? Would empathy lead to a greater believe in 'what
goes around comes around?'
Or, being a subjective matter, would people sometimes have to will
themselves towards positive empathetic treatment? And, in turn, would
this create a cycle of people willing themselves towards empathy? It
seems that if people were just and acted empathetically even when no
empathy was felt, it would create a system of people who merely act
justly, taking empathy out the equation... leading yet again to some
kind of ethical/moral system based on human's natural tendency towards
empathy?


Is empathy enough?


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5 From: Allen - view profile
Date: Fri, Jan 12 2007 2:24 pm
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I suppose that there is some sort of technical definition of ethics and
they can probably be religious or nonreligious. I'm guessing.
Palven's use may be more restrictive in order to make his point.

Taylor wrote, "I take issue with your position on empathy and general
human
brotherhood being a religious or philosophical concept rather than
being natural. I don't know if that's correct. Certainly before
organized religion and philosophy existed, primitive man lived with
other people as a means of survival."


This is the point that Palven made in one of his e-mails. I'm arguing
that the extension of the relationship practices among family, friends,
acquaintances, etc. to all mankind is not natural and has never been
practiced even in the most sophisticated societies. There's a similar
situation with property. We have a commonsense notion of property and
the Libertarians extend this idea to all mankind. This idea, as we
know, has never been practiced on a large scale. I'm enough of a
Libertarian to think it would be a good idea if it were but I don't
depend on it to argue against the idea of government.


Taylor wrote, "This is the same conundrum that David Friedman
mentions in his
Machinery of Freedom when describing property rights in a libertarian
society. The absolute right of property, a natural law, if followed to
the letter, would result in a seriously horrible outcome in a situation


where a madman is killing people randomly and the only way to stop him
is to grab somebody's rifle sitting on their private property which
they do not wish you to have."

 

>From my point of view, Libertarians tend to be Utopianists who are


always looking for "rules" that they can "sell" the general
population and assure them. My point is that these rules do not exist,
at least not as the law of gravity exists. If you want a person to like
you, I would advise you not to get drunk, wake him at 2AM, and throw up
on his couch. However, the statement is conditional: "If you want a
person to like you."

In my essay I avoided the question of who the beneficiary of our
actions should be. I believe that it is impossible to escape our
selfish nature. I say that all our actions are selfish because they
originate in the self and are meant to satisfy the self. Hume said that
reason does not rule our emotions, that our emotions rightfully rule
our reason. I don't know about that "rightfully," but I agree
that our actions are intended to benefit us, often to benefit our
emotional well-being, to make our emotional landscape more pleasant.


My metapoint is that people do not need some supernatural intervention
(I include ethics as defined by Palven) in order to rid themselves of
government. This is what I mean in "Laws of the Jungle" by "human
ecology."


Michael's contribution comes close to describing how most good people
act. I would call it more descriptive than proscriptive. Alan Keyes
argues that democracy is possible only if the population is religious
in some general sense. This is the link between social conservatives
and democracy, a system in which the population is given a great deal
of power. I can see society evolving in a number of ways without the
state and I believe that the state is an evil whatever the character of
the people ruled.


Allen


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6 From: Taylor - view profile
Date: Sat, Jan 13 2007 3:10 am
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Allen wrote:
> This is the point that Palven made in one of his e-mails. I'm arguing
> that the extension of the relationship practices among family, friends,
> acquaintances, etc. to all mankind is not natural and has never been
> practiced even in the most sophisticated societies. There's a similar
> situation with property. We have a commonsense notion of property and
> the Libertarians extend this idea to all mankind. This idea, as we
> know, has never been practiced on a large scale. I'm enough of a
> Libertarian to think it would be a good idea if it were but I don't
> depend on it to argue against the idea of government.


This is a fair point. I think it's supported by the fact that humans
(possessing reason) are the only animals that have relationships like
this. Maybe it isn't natural. Unless it's unique to our nature. But
probably not.


> >From my point of view, Libertarians tend to be Utopianists who are
> always looking for "rules" that they can "sell" the general
> population and assure them. My point is that these rules do not exist,
> at least not as the law of gravity exists. If you want a person to like
> you, I would advise you not to get drunk, wake him at 2AM, and throw up
> on his couch. However, the statement is conditional: "If you want a
> person to like you."
> [...]
> My metapoint is that people do not need some supernatural intervention
> (I include ethics as defined by Palven) in order to rid themselves of
> government. This is what I mean in "Laws of the Jungle" by "human
> ecology."


I see what you're getting at, but I wonder what you think could replace
moral and ethical systems? I've read Laws probably 3 or 4 times now
but I don't remember you spending a lot of time explaining human
ecology. Can you refresh my memory as how to this is a proper
replacement for these things? Certainly there must be some kind of
"rules" even in anarchy, otherwise it really will just be chaos.


> In my essay I avoided the question of who the beneficiary of our
> actions should be. I believe that it is impossible to escape our
> selfish nature. I say that all our actions are selfish because they
> originate in the self and are meant to satisfy the self.


I think I can agree with this. People who consider themselves altruists
are simply not being honest with themselves or others, which I think
they derive additional pleasure from. Fooling people into thinking
you're a lot more wholesome than you are is probably psychologically
rewarding by itself.

Only a slave is capable of acting unselfishly, and even then he most
likely only behaves with his master's command to avoid punishment or
preserve his life, which is selfish, as unfair as the circumstance may
be.


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7 From: Taylor - view profile
Date: Sat, Jan 13 2007 3:02 am
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One point: there has to be some objectivity to morality/ethics,
otherwise who is to say what is right and what is wrong? Shouldn't we
let murderers off the hook if it's all subjective? Maybe they have a
different idea of right and wrong.

I reject that. I think some things are subjective, but like I mentioned
earlier, even a thief knows when he's been robbed.


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8 From: Allen - view profile
Date: Sun, Jan 14 2007 7:06 pm
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It seems to me that all these questions go back to the problem of human
beings and violence: When is it acceptable for a person to threaten or
use violence against another person?

I tried to deal with the question in the essay "Growing Orchids on
the Moon," in which I talk about environmentalism. How many molecules
of CO may my neighbor spew on to my property? If we follow the logical
brand of Libertarianism, the answer is none. But that answer makes no
sense. Somewhere between 1 and a 10 to the 32nd, my neighbor is
violating my property rights. Where is the line to be drawn?


There are other questions. For instance, at what point does a child
have rights independent of its parents? Most people believe that a
starving person is not wrong to steal food if he has exhausted all
other possibilities. How many possibilities does he have to exhaust?


If we cannot find a way to agree, the matter will be decided by the
threat or use of violence. We define government as those people who
hold the monopoly on the acceptable use of violence and turn to the
government to decide. I say that the acceptable use of violence is best
decided from the bottom up rather than the top down.


There are, of course, many implications of this idea.


I tend to envision a society fragmented into very different
subsocieties and subsubsocieties that function by implicit and explicit
contracts. If these subsocieties wanted to interact with other
subsocieties, they would need to find implicit or explicit
metacontracts regarding the use of violence between members of
differing subsocieties. I would guess that the metacontract would be
very close to the Libertarian ideal. However, I have noticed that as
our society becomes richer, people tend to have higher material
expectations and are obsessed with the idea of insurance. The
metacontract could reflect these expectations and obsessions and be
decidedly unlibertarian.


Libertarianism contains a concept of property that seems to be shared
by the population in general, but it isn't. Communists, socialists,
and religious groups explicitly reject the Libertarian notion of
property, which is what I call the commonsense idea of property. These
groups feel that when society becomes materially heterogeneous, the
havenots have rights that they would not have in a materially
heterogeneous society. Even those who do not share these theories feel
that they make sense to one degree or another.


I have used too many big words and have been far too technical in
stating a simple idea: The idea of property is not written in stone.
The Libertarian is a utopianist who wants the rules to be written in
stone, either by government or by an objective reality (e.g., ethics,
morality, the nature of man). The average person rejects Libertarianism
with slogans and caricatures because he does not agree with its axioms
even though he does not know why. I think Libertarians argue best when
they confront the axioms of their opponents head on and honestly admit
that the people are not in agreement with Libertarianism.


Allen

Taylor wrote:

Allen's quote >I say that the acceptable use of violence is best
>decided from the bottom up rather than the top down.


Good point.

I think you're going somewhere with the subsocieties. A lot of people
write off anarchy as impossible because they see constant conflict as a
compliment of the system. However, their perspective is tuned to the
current system, in which in many cases we are forced by law to live and
work with people we do not wish to associate with.


A lot of the anticipated violence and conflict of an anarchist system
could be avoided simply by the fact that people are free to exclude and
to form private communities of only the people they wish to live and
work with.

Allen wrote

I ask myself the question: Why do I go on about ethics? Certainly there
are tendencies of humans to form into groups and follow certain customs
within the groups. Why do I make a distinction between a tendency and a
law (like the law of gravity)? Does this distinction have any
importance in a world that is antilibertarian and probably becoming
more so?

I'm comfortable with Libertarians and even Libertarian-leaning
thinkers. I am emotionally on their side and wish them success, but
there is a problem. Human nature is fixed over time even if there is a
wide variation in individuals. That fact would suggest that there
should be, in broad outlines, the perfect government. And yet, the
history of the world since the invention of government is constant
change. The Egyptian form of government lasted a long time but it did
so because people can live and even thrive under the worst forms of
government. In the Egyptian example, the head of state and the head of
religion were combined in one person and that person was scientifically
bred for the greatest probability of idiocy and insanity. Of course, a
closer look at the history of Egypt reveals a great deal of change. In
a sense, we could regard the invention of democracy as an admission
that there can never be a government that satisfies the people.


The Libertarian party and even Palven's ethics suggest that if people
merely saw the light there could be a perfect government or perfect
general society (in broad outlines). The problem I have with this idea
is that it seems like an abstraction without content. There is a
chapter in Chang Tze called "The Adjustment of Controversies." I
forget what it is about but I like the title. Even if the state goes
away, the controversies do not. That's the reason why I imagine
people will tend to segregate into subsocieties. If these controversies
were important enough, people might even use violence against members
of other subsocieties.


That is too abstract. Think Jim Jones or abortion or drugs or gay
marriage. People could probably live with most differences if they
were committed to rejecting the idea of government. Americans lived
with slavery for 60 years. With today's technology, people could
probably exist in subsocieties without even having to separate
physically. That's the idea of panarchy: choose your own government
without having to move. Libertarianism tries to reduce human violence
by declaring what wrongs are proper to counter with force. Theories of
property and rights held by socialists, environmentalists, prolifers,
etc. are simply declared to be right or wrong.


I believe that the way to reduce human violence is to make it real.
I'm optomistic that there would be little actual violence if people
had to commit or pay for the violence themselves and face the results
of that violence personally. Under today's government, children are
taught that "violence is not the answer." However, the violence of
the state is the answer so that violence has become a civic virtue.


I put an article called "Gay Marriage" on my website a couple of
years ago. It talked about the original Constitution. I think the
writers had a greater understanding of what I'm getting at than many
modern Libertarians.