June 2008 - Posts

False Realism and Utopianism

Conservatism is a defense of the existing order or past existing orders as "natural". Any potential alternative to the existing order or to the romantisized past order is immediately brushed aside as "unnatural" and "utopian" or "idealistic". In the conservative view, all existing inequalities are "natural" in a sort of deterministic sense. The conservative strongly emphasizes nature over nurture to explain and defend currently existing or past existing conditions. On the other hand, utopian left-wing ideologies such as Marxism strongly emphasize nurture over nature and hence attribute the vast majority if not all currently existing conditions and inequalities to political, economic and cultural influences in a deterministic sense. Nothing short of a significant transformation in human nature can possibly obtain the ultimate end sought of a purely egalitarian society, and the desirability and implications of such a purely egalitarian society is alarmingly questionable upon reasonable reflection.

The conservative errs in considering the existing order or past orders to be inevitable into the future or that they can possibly sustain themselves perpetually. They tend to ignore the extent to which inequalities are the effect of influences such as state intervention and bureaucracy. The conservative tends to defend the unequitable effects of state intervention as if they came about naturally on the free market, and therefore concludes that currently existing disparaties between various groups of people are both inevitable and justified. When anyone proposes or attempts to change such conditions or the existing order in general in a significant way, the status quo is defended by the conservative. The conservative has little to no concept of the dynamic nature of society over time and fails to see the potential changes that can be made and the advantages that can be reaped. Conservatism can be seen as a very pessemistic view in a sense, particularly pessemistic towards the future.  

The marxist engages in the opposite error. They blame all existing inequalities and negative conditions on the non-existant free market and then arbitrarily proclaim that it's just a phase of history that will inevitably be surpassed by a collectivistic utopia, if only all the workers magically take over the state and somehow voluntarily dissolve it. The marxist does not recognize the degree to which state intervention is the primary cause or enabler of the inequities that they have so much distain for. They put themselves foreward as being proponents of change in the right direction, but what they ultimately have to offer is more of the same: state intervention and centralization. The actual cause of the problems which they aim to solve is precisely what they propose as a solution, and therefore their "change" isn't a meaningful or beneficial one. They propose what in some ways amounts to an authoritarian heirarchy as the solution to authoritarian heirarchy or dictatorship as a solution to dictatorship.

The distinction between and reliance upon nature and nurture is often a false dichotomy. That which involves human influence is often characterized as "nurture", yet human beings are a part and product of "nature". The real question is a matter of which particular parts or aspects of "nature" are influencing other particular parts or aspects of "nature". There are some issues with the use of the term "natural" to begin with. In a certain sense, everything and whatever the current state of affairs happens to be is "natural". The only alternative to something being "natural" would be for it to not exist, unless of course one is proposing that there is some kind of supernatural realm which would still ultimately reduce to non-existance. That being said, it is definitely nonsensical to consider all present conditions and all present forms of organization to be inevitable and a permanent state of affairs. Stasis is not "natural". Organizations and organizational forms are never permanent in the grand scheme of things, so it would be more genuinely "realistic" to propose that the eventual dissolution of the existing order is "natural" and inevitable at some point.

While the conservative puts themselves foreward as a realist, they are truly nothing but a proponent of either stasis or "turning back the clock" to "the good old days", which becomes their own romantic utopia. The extent to which they see current affairs as moving in an "unnatural" direction causes them to become reactionaries, desparately trying to cling on to old traditions. On the other hand, the marxist sees the present as "unnatural" and proclaims an inevitable utopian future to be a "natural" progression. They've drawn erroneous conclusions from the basis of the hegelian dialectic, philosophy of history and social evolutionary theory. Both involve the bastardization and politicization of science as a handy rhetorical authority and a misguided appeal to either nature or nurture.

Judeo-Christian Morality vs. The Free Society

I'd like to explain why I think that traditional judeo-christian morality does not synch up very well with the principles of liberty and does not provide a beneficial cultural framework for a free society. In many ways, I'm not going to be saying anything particularly new here, as this criticism has essentially already been made by both Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand in their own respectively unique ways, although of course I'm going to be putting this into my own words and expressing it from my own perspective which is both similar to that of Neitzche and Rand and altogether my own. Unfortunately, most people and most libertarians for that matter are not particularly familiar with the substance of this kind of criticism of judeo-christian morality or at least do not entirely grasp what the meat of the issue is.

The Devaluation of the Earthly

To start off, let's consider the implications of the general concept of an afterlife in judeo-christian tradition. According to this view, this life is only a test or a transitional stage. What ultimately matters is that which allegedly lies beyond. As a consequence, the life and time that we have on this earth in the now is devalued. The concept of the afterlife basically posits that the only real purpose of life in the here and now is to prepare for the afterlife. In the grand scheme of things, earthly matters are more or less characterized as meaningless or insignificant. The earthly may even be construed as immoral. Salvation is construed as lieing outside of material existance and consequentially material existance starts to lose its meaning and significance.

The picture gets even more gloomy when we introduce the concept of original sin, which is basically a sweeping declaration of ancestral guilt for all of mankind. Apparently everyone is guilty from birth and "the flesh" is somehow inherently bad. And the most fundamental feature that makes us human, I.E. free will, is characterized as the source of evil in the world. Yet while a free willing agent most certainly is capable of evil, free will is neutral to morality and could also lead to good. Furthermore, morality as such couldn't exist without free will, as without agency there is no responsibility for one's actions. Interestingly, the fatalistic implications of the notion of god as the first cause and watchmaker contradicts the concept of free will. The notion that god has a "divine plan" that will inevitably pan out throughout the course of history cannot be reconciled with the notion that human beings have some kind of free will.

Leaving the meaning and implications of free will aside (I'm leaning towards some kind of compatibalism on the general free will question at the moment), the implications of the concept of original sin and the afterlife are fairly silly. What's implied is that since we are all inherently sinners, we must spend our entire lives paying off this debt we have allegedly incurred. Hence, we have a whole slew of unchosen positive obligations. We are supposed to feel guilty for being "of the flesh" and for having biological drives and psychological motivations. Allegedly it is an imperative that we strive to deny or suppress much of the fundamental characteristics of what makes us human in this life as a path to a gauranteed ticket to the afterlife.

The Seven Deadly Sins

Consider the 7 deadly sins: pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. Before I go into an analysis of these individually, consider this: has there ever been a point in your life when you did not feel any of these emotions at all? No, these are all traits that pretty much describe some fundamental aspects of what it means to be a human. And that leads us to another realization: most of these are emotions or feelings, ones which all of us experience at some point or another, although of course they can be manifested in terms of agency. In either case, quite clearly the implication of this is that it is essentially impossible for us to exist as humans qua humans without "sinning". Furthermore, all of these "sins" have one thing in common: avoiding them constitutes self-denial or self-sacrifice. It's all meant to imply that that which has to do with the self is somehow evil.

Why is pride considered a sin? If anything, is self-esteem not a good thing? What is wrong with being proud of one's accomplishments? Putting forth pride as a sin is a rather sweeping declaration that ignores the positive side of pride, I.E. individual self-esteem based on one's actual merits. Pride as such is not necessarily the same thing as narcissism. The narcissist is not proud of their actual self or their actual merits and accomplishments. Rather, they have created a fantasy world in which they have merits and accomplishments that aren't really theirs. The narcissist does not hold themselves up, they push everyone else down. But should we therefore abandon pride altogether out of the fear of narcissism and essentially propose that all self-esteem and pride-driven self-improvement is evil?

What about avarice, which may be substituted with the term "greed"? We must first note once again that by itself it's just a motivation or emotion, I.E. the desire to have more of something or to keep the plentiful amount that one already has. As realized in agency, it would mean the pursuit of more or the pursuit of holding on to what one already has. It is easy to see how the more socialistic interpretations of christianity may draw from this. But once again it is far too sweeping to consider this inherently immoral. Why is wanting to keep what you have immoral? Why is pursueing more immoral? Does the actual means by which one does this irrelevant, or should distinctions be made between various ways of obtaining plenty or hoarding what one has? Is there no distinction between claiming that which is others and merely pursueing more for yourself in a voluntary or mutual way? And by what standard does one determine how much is too much? Once again, this sin reduces to the notion that the self and its gratification is somehow evil.

What about lust, which is usually meant to imply sexual desire? Why is it immoral to have sexual desire, and how can one possibly be a human being without experiencing this in some form or another, especially when one is young? Is sexual desire not a fundamental biological drive within us? It certainly seems far to sweeping to consider all sexual desire immoral. While rape may be immoral, voluntary sexual interactions between adults isn't. While promiscuous sexual interactions may be unhealthy for the individual in the long-term, it hardly makes any sense to proclaim it to be inherently evil. In either case, if everyone lived their lives as total prudes then the human race would slowly start to die off. There is, afterall, a connection between sex and the propogation of the species. On an interesting note, this sin contradicts the dictim "be fruitful and multiply", so obviously victorian prudism isn't the only possible interpretation.  

Why is anger considered a sin? Perhaps anger can be misdirected or lead to immoral behaviors, but it need not be so. Anger is an emotion that everyone experiences in one form or another at some point in their life. And how can one possibly not be angry at injustice or immorality? There are times when anger can be a rather good thing, a way for one to release pent up energy or frustration without necessarily hurting anyone else. It would be absurd to expect people, especially people that are in rather dire situations, to go through life smiling and being slap-happy all the time. And sometimes anger goes along with honesty. Sometimes the alternative to expressing anger or frustration is to lie to people just to keep a facade going. I'd rather be both angry and brutally honest to someone then to perpetuate a false sense of comfort which merely enables what is actually a bad situation.

Why is gluttony considered a sin?  I find this to be perhaps the most silly of the 7 deadly sins, since at face value it has to do with nothing but food, although of course it can be construed to imply that one shouldn't take recreational drugs (although I've always thought that food is a drug in a sense). As a motivation or desire, gluttony simply means to want another cookie from the cookie jar. While eating or drinking too much can obviously lead to obesity and some major health problems, it hardly makes any sense to make minimalism in eating and drinking habits a moral imperative. Are we really going to call fat people immoral? I'd rather live in a free and prosperous society full of fat slobs who munch on junk food all day than an unfree and unprosprous society where everyone is surprisingly physically fit.

The case of envy is a bit more complicated then the others. Envy may be characterized as the desire to have something that someone else has. It is often used interchangably with jealousy, but there is a bit of a distinction. Once again, taken simply as an emotion or desire to have something that someone else has, I don't necessarily see anything wrong with envy. I want an extremely talented group of musicians to play with and lots of studio equipment and I don't have it but Steve Vai does, therefore I suppose I envy the guitarist Steve Vai. That doesn't mean that I'm going to try to steal his band or his studio equipment. It's simply that he has something that I want and that I probably will never have. Should that stop me from pursueing my dreams and trying to obtain those things for myself? I think not.

What about sloth? Sloth may be another word for laziness or leisure. Of course I can easily see how this can be a bad thing in that a lazy person may be dependant on others and do little or nothing for themselves, hence showing a lack of responsibility and ability, but I would hardly consider it immoral. For one thing, some people are this way due to their nature, sometimes because of a very real mental or physical handicap. And even when a perfectly capable person chooses to be lazy, that is their perogative. I'm not going to consider someone immoral for wanting to take a long break from working and spend their time in leisure instead. Surely it would be absurd to consider it a moral imperative that people be working and productive at all times. We're human beings, not robots. I can envision a slave-master cracking a whip at a slave and calling them slothful for taking a break from the hard physical labor that they are forced to do.   

All of these alleged sins can be and have been propogated in negative ways. Pride as a sin can be used to crush people's self-esteem. Avarice or greed as a sin can be used to keep people poor or to discourage economic mobility. Lust as a sin can be used to keep the women for oneself or as a method of population control. Anger as a sin can be used to perpetuate dishonesty and to enable bad relationships. Gluttony as a sin can be used to keep people hungry, to essentially starve people. Envy as a sin can be used to discourage people from pursueing their dreams. Sloth as a sin can be used to foster compulsory labor. When they are taken to their logical conclusion and consistantly applied, they amount to the total denial of self-interest, desire and personal well-being. Taken as absolutes, they would require people to be mindless automatons with no trace of humanity.

Altruism As Slave Morality

Let's take a look at the concept of altruism. Altruism is posited in one form or another by most organized religions. It essentially proposes that the individual has an unchosen positive obligation to serve others and that their fundamental purpose in life is to serve others. On the flip side, self-interest is essentially demonized as immoral. This is a very warped view when broken down rationally. Unfortunately, criticism of altruism is often misunderstood because in most people's minds altruism is the same thing as benevolence and empathy, but nothing could be further from the truth. Altruism as an ethic implies unchosen positive obligations. If an individual does not live up to this positive obligation they are viewed as immoral rights violators and they are supposed to be compulsed to live up to the obligation. Afterall, an ethical theory without imperatives wouldn't be functional. In either case, actually choosing to be kind or giving to other people is not fundamentally altruistic because it still involves agency and a genuine desire on the part of the person to benefit another. In true acts of kindness and giving, the emphasis is not on denying oneself but to benefiting another, and the benefit may even be mutual.

Altruism actually leads to nihilism, and the problem of nihilism is something that both Nietzsche and Rand were trying to avoid in their own unique ways (and while Nietzsche was in some ways an immoralist while Rand was quite clearly a moralist, Nietzsche nonetheless essentially proposes a form of egoism as his personal morality). The logical end of altruism is the total devaluation of the self to the point of absolute selflessness. Your life, your values and your property are deprived of value and meaning and you're expect to act as if they don't exist or don't matter. Of course, from my perspective selflessness is impossible both ontologically and psychologically. The self follows from one's very existance as an individual human being and a human beong's fundamental psychological motivations are inward and personal. However, the attempted implementation of altruism as an ethic does have very real effects.

The notion of unchosen positive obligations, whether it be to a deity, a family or an entire society, is inherently incompatible with negative rights and individual sovereignty. Every positive obligation, to the extent that it is not chosen or not a genuine debt, implies a negative rights violation as soon as it is enforced. The result is that people are coerced to associate with other people and to provide goods and services for other people. The individual is forced to sacrifice their own values, their life and their property, regaurdless of their circumstances and regaurdless of their consent. Altruism is at the heart of both communitarianism and dictatorship. In communitarianism, the individual's life and values and property is sacrificed to "the community" or "the majority". In dictatorship, the individual's life and values and property is sacrificed to the dictator and more people can potentially be effected. In either case, in all cases altruism is the morality obligatory upon what amounts to slaves, sometimes subtley and sometimes quite blatantly.

It's important to note that all of this self-sacrificing, self-denying morality has historically been encouraged by people in political and religious power to get the masses to be complacent or obedient. The masses are discouraged from pursueing their own values and bettering their own lives. What largely goes unnoticed is that this is used to benefit the values and lives of various groups of elites. The masses are encouraged to follow a morality of servitude, and when there are servants there are masters. This is what Nietzsche meant when he drew a distinction between "slave morality" and "master morality". Slave morality functions as an ideology that masters or rulers can propagate on to get the masses to accept their enslavement to them as a moral imperative. The masters or rulers, of course, don't actually follow slave morality. They are its beneficiaries. It is just a convenient mentality to propogate to the masses, an apologetic device meant to make it so that servitude seems like a moral imperative. In practise, the masses engage in self-denial to the benefit of a small group of rulers and associated elites. Hence, it's a parasitic relationship.

If the principle of altruism were universally applied to all human beings, and of course it never is and it would be impossible to do consistantly enforce it in the real world, the implication is that everyone is eachother's slave. Since this cannot be realized in practise, since it defies fundamental facts about human existance, motivation and behavior, what one ends up with is at least two distinct classes of people: the masters and the slaves. Quite likely, the attempt to implement altruism will lead to more of a plural latticework of master-slave relationships while still not reaching the consistant extreme of enslaving everyone to eachother. But usually the slaves outnumber the masters by far or a select elite of people function as masters to a much greater degree than anyone else does, and therefore altruism most often leads to some kind of oligarchy, even if it is a mildly democratic oligarchy. Altruism has historically been an apologetic and enabler of both religious and political tyranny.

Master morality, as I interpret it, amounts to hedonism and "might makes right". Master morality should not be construed as the proper alternative to slave morality, nor is it necessarily the polar opposite of slave morality in a certain context. While master morality is not altruistic, master morality is most certainly not any kind of rational egoism. It is anomie or lawlessness, since the masters are not subject to their own rules. Master morality entails an outwardly oriented sense of self that justifies imposing oneself onto others, sometimes using altruism as a ruse or a mask to hide behind. Rational egoism involves an inwardly oriented sense of self that merely justifies being free from the imposition of others, being at liberty to voluntarily pursue one's self-interest and values without restraint. The rational egoist proclaims that noone else may rule over them, but simultaneously they do not claim to rule over anyone else. Rulers don't believe this or function in this way. They claim the right to rule over others while superficially and hypocritically trying to demand that noone else rule over them.

Judeo-Christian morality essentially proposes slave morality as a solution to master morality. In its zeal to oppose hedonism and anomie, it provides a false alternative that only enables the hedonism and anomie of certain people while devalueing everyone else. A society that is dominantly filled with people who accept slave morality will not have the necessary mindset or attitude to resist the yoke of tyranny. It provides the perfect atmosphere for rulers to arise and dominate the naive masses. The cultural framework of a free society must contain the personal sense of value and purpose necessary for people to actively free themselves, otherwise their lack of confidence and their lack of any genuine sense of self-worth and personal value will enable tyranny. It's time to reject both slave morality and master morality to persue some meaningful alternatives.

Walter Block: Wrong on Religion

Walter Block recently wrote an article at LewRockwell.com on the topic of religion and state. He critisizes what he considers to be an irrational hatred of religion that many libertarians have apparently inherented from Ayn Rand. While he is an atheist himself, he defends the premise that religion is a bulwark against the state. He has a tendency to occasionally make very counter-intuitive claims. Block writes:

"Why pick on religion and the family? Because these are the two great competitors – against the state – for allegiance on the part of the people. The Communists were quite right, from their own evil perspective, to focus on these two institutions. All enemies of the overweening state, then, would do well to embrace religion and the family as their friends, whether they are themselves atheists or not, parents or not.

The main reason religion sticks in the craw of secular leaders is that this institution defines moral authority independently of their power. Every other organization in society (with the possible exception of the family) sees the state as the source of ultimate ethical sanction. Despite the fact that some religious leaders have indeed bowed the knee to government officials, there is a natural and basic enmity between the two sources of authority. The pope and other religious leaders may not have any regiments of soldiers, but they do have something lacking on the part of presidents and prime ministers, greatly to the regret of the latter."

While he certainly has a valid point in that religion and the family have the potential to be competitors against the state, I think that he neglects important aspects of what the libertarian strong atheist's criticism of religion really is. Firstly, we see a very clear ideological relationship between the two. Statism and theism tend to rest on very similar if not identical premises: that without a "higher power" or "higher authority" (either god or the state) there can be no order or morality, that human society must have been and must be deliberately planned by a designer, that knowledge must be held and selectively passed down from an elite (either the clergy or intelligence bureaucrats) who are exclusively able to properly interpret relevant texts, that floating abstractions (either a deity, a society or a nation) really do exist and that one must sacrifice their values and lives to them, that self-interest is a sin, and so on.

In short, as far as I can tell, statism is a religion in and of itself. Does this vindicate the other religions? No, it doesn't. If anything, it shows how close the relationship between the two really is, a relationship that is much closer than your "Christianity is the historical source of liberty in the west" claiming libertarian would be willing to aknowledge (I find that claim to be disingenuous and misleading nonsense, by the way). I see a very clear relationship between most of traditional religious morality and the morality put foreward by most brands of statism. It's precisely what Nietzsche called "slave morality" or what Ayn Rand identifies in her own unique way as "altruism". One's own values, general well-being and happiness is de-emphasized while servitude to an ideal and to others is put foreward as being the greatest virtue. The moral themes of traditionalist Christianity and much of statism are clearly interwoven.

Statism relies in large part on the exploitation of the religious impulse, both directly and indirectly. If anything, a country full of extremely devout religion people are good pickings for state recruitment and obedience. Indeed, not only do states rely on rituals and symbolism that may dupe even the most atheistic zealot, but sometimes they rely directly on the rituals and symbolism of certain religions. Many if not most politicians put themselves foreward as being devoutly religious and pander to the religious community all the time, and in large part the religious masses fall for it, especially in America. Religious institutions are in large part in patronage with the state, despite the thin veneer of separation of church and state that exists in America. In terms of what is being said at the pulpit, American Christianity in particular has become increasingly political, whether preachers function as cheerleaders for militarism and neoconservatism or conduits for the message of state-socialism.

Another issue, a historical issue, has to do with the rise of the state as an institution in relation to the family and organized religion. The fact of the matter is that these two institutions are historically at the root of state power. The state grew out of them in more primitive times. In some cases, they were literally the same institution. The earliest governments were familial and hereditary. Out of the family comes the tribe (an extended family) and out of the tribe comes the most primitive forms of government, which paved the way for monarchy. Furthermore, many of the earliest political leaders were simultaneously religious leaders. In the most primitive form the shaman served this function. Much of organized religion itself can easily be seen as creations of the state in the first place, particularly with respect to the judeo-christian religions. In the case of Christianity, I see it as a construct of the Roman state to gain obedience and unity.

Historically, and even in contemporary times, religion most definitely has not functioned as a competitor of the state, and even to the extent that it has it has most often been a statist competitor in and of itself. The state and organized religion have had a synergetic relationship from the very beginning, and even when religious institutions are more independant they have the potential to become states in and of themselves. Competition between authoritarianisms isn't a good kind of competition. As any anarchist should be aware of, substituting one form of authoritarianism with another doesn't really solve anything. Substituting the church for the secular state doesn't necessarily imply an increase in freedom. I see no reason why what may very well amount to a church-state, even if comparatively small, is an improvement over a secular state. I think what Block fails to see is that the primary issue is with arbitrary authority, and religion is included under this general umbrella.

As Stefan Molyneux has brilliantly argued (although the argument is not entirely his own; it's not as if he invented this concept), the psychology of the family is directly linked to the psychology of the state. People's ideological support for the state can in many ways be linked to a subconcious attachment to their parents, an imposed feeling of guilt and fear, a sort of unchosen positive obligation for life to one's parents. The psychology of the typical citezen in relation to the state can in some ways be seen as representative of the psychology of the person who is abused by their family and yet enables their own abuse. The exact same sentiments of servitude and obligation that many people hold with respect to the family is merely blown up on a larger scale with respect to the nation, society and state. The problem of statism can be seen as the inevitable outgrowth of family-worshop.

Reading further into the article, Block goes on to write this howler (italics mine):

"Such is my own position. I reject religion, all religion, since, as an atheist, I am unconvinced of the existence of God. Indeed, I go further. I am no agnostic: I am convinced of His non-existence. However, as a political animal, I warmly embrace this institution. It is a bulwark against totalitarianism. He who wishes to oppose statist depredations cannot do so without the support of religion. Opposition to religion, even if based on intellectual grounds and not intended as a political statement, nevertheless amounts to de facto support of government."

Surely you cannot be serious in your claim that "opposition to religion...amounts to de facto support of government", our dear Mr. Block? Surely you jest? This is utter nonsense, and you know it. You can't seriously be trying to pull the wool over our eyes to this extent. An ideological opposition to religion in and of itself has nothing to do with government. And neither does an activist and yet apolitical opposition to religion constitute support of government. My own opposition to religion is entirely apolitical in its means; it's not like I'm lobbying the government and encouraging it to shut down churches and burn Christians at the stake. To assert that an atheist anarchist is a defacto supporter of government for being passionate about atheism is downright silly on its face. I'm frankly insulted by this statement. I also wonder how Block, who says that he is an atheist himself, can not see how he would be a "defacto supporter of government" according to his own statement here.

As a side note, despite Block's intention to connect all or much of this anti-religious sentiment to Ayn Rand, I myself did not gain my anti-religious perspective from Ayn Rand and did not enter libertarianism through Objectivism. I've had a distrust of religious authority long before I had even heard of libertarianism. Furthermore, I think that Block is being misleading in implying that the people he is critisizing make hatred of religion a fundamental principle. No, the dislike of religion is merely an implication of a broader principle against arbitrary authority and in favor of reason. Opposition to religion is not a first-principle for anyone in question here. On the contrary, it follows from something much more fundamental. Hell, even opposition to the state is not necessarily a first principle. In either case, the implication the opposition to religion is the primary focus of any of the people in question is simply false, including in the case of Rand herself. It was never the primary focus, only an implication of a much more fundamental philosophical framework.

I have a lot of respect for Walter Block, in fact he's one of my favorite contemporary libertarians, but occasionally when he writes a piece like this I lose a bit of that respect.

The Distribution of Power

In modern political jargon, conservatives are associated with the concept of "small government" or "limited government". If this is interpreted to refer to the degree of government power there is, historically conservatives have not stood for it. Indeed, so-called "conservative" governments and parties have historically supported quite a high degree of government power. However, if this is interpeted to refer to the amount of people who weild government power, conservatism has always stood for "small government" in this sense. This understanding of the terms and their implications coincides well with Karl Hess's claim, which was articulated in his brillaint article "The Death of Politics", that the defining characteristic of a "right-wing" regime is the concentration of power into the fewest hands possible.

Using this analysis, monarchy is actually as small or limited of a government possible. In contrast, democracy in the original sense of the term refers to an equilibrium of power that is spread out in as many hands as possible. Assuming that there is a finite amount of power available, this would imply a decrease in the actual amount of power weilded by each individual. Taken to it's logical conclusion, the end result would actually be the negation of political power as such, as it is essentially rendered obsolete in terms of the degree of power able to be held by a person. It is a sort of checks and balances in which each respective individual's power is kept in check, as each individual's liberty is limited by the like liberty of everyone else. The individual is sovereign only over themselves. This concept was once dubbed "the law of equal freedom" by Herbert Spencer and was adopted by the individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker. It is also another way of phrasing what contemporary libertarians call the non-aggression principle.

In applying such an analysis to modern politics, the bulk of what is considered to be the political left today would actually have to be considered "right-wing" and undemocratic under these definitions, since left-liberals most certainly do favor the concentration of power. The disagreements between the contemporary political left and right can mostly be seen as a matter of which particular individuals or interest groups should weild this concentration of power and how they should use it. Democrats favor concentrating power in the hands of Democrats and Republicans favor concentrating power in the hands of Republicans. The welfare state concentrates power into the hands of welfare bureaucracies and the warfare state concentrates power into the military bureaucracies. State-socialists favor concentrating power in the hands of socialists and state-capitalists favor concentrating power in the hands of capitalists. No matter which way one slices it, the principle of oligarchy is at work. People from such groups may often pander to the concept of democracy, but only as a means to enable oligarchy.

The concept being used here does not strictly apply to governmental institutions. It applies to institutions and power in general, and therefore there are concerns with respect to the concentration of so-called "private" power. The contemporary political left is concerned about the private concentration of power, and in and of itself this is a worthwhile concern, although this concern is often held on the basis or erroneously logic. Furthermore, the solution to the concentration of private power that is often proposed by the contemporary political left is entirely wrong and counterproductive. The error that is made is that the contemporary left advocates concentrating power in the hands of the state in the name of combating private power. This merely shifts the power into different hands. It does not solve the problem at all. It creates new problems. This is one of the fundamental flaws of Marxism as a strategy: it essentially creates a dictatorship in the name of combating private power. What one is left with is an all-powerful government that absorbs the private power into itself. In short, the state itself becomes the monopoly capitalist. Mikhail Bakunin was aware of this problem, which is why he rather sharply critisized Marx.

The contemporary political right faces a bit of a different problem. While they have superficially had anti-government sentiments ingrained into them, they often function as knee-jerk apologists for private concentrations of power. While they may sometimes quite correctly see the problem with governmental concentrations of power, they often overlook the problems with private concentrations of power and the degree to which the two are synergetic. The solution proposed is essentially to artificially empower private institutions. But the political right falls into an inevitable contradiction in doing so, as the only way to do this is through political means, and hence by relying on governmental concentrations of power. The political right also tends to idolize the military. Hence, the conservative's claim to being anti-government is based on a bed of sand. Government is perfectly fine to them, so long as it is in their control, used to stamp out foreign enemies and to empower their allies in the so-called "private" sector. At best, what one is left with is a mixture of the concentration of governmental and private power. But even in the process of pursueing their ends, since they favor political means to those ends, they nonetheless may theoretically empower the state just as much as anyone on the political left would. Even elements within the movement of anarcho-capitalism may fall into the trap of trying to join or infiltrate the state in the name of abolishing it, hence my usage of the term "right-wing marxists" to describe anarcho-capitalists who still favor political strategies.

Political systems usually are some mixture of governmental and private concentrations of power and while the two spheres may superficially be separate they are in patronage with one another and have a high degree of synergy. But this is not really a "balance of power" so much as a conglomeration of power. Merging different power elites together doesn't create a balance. A true "balance of power" would be a social order in accordance with the law of equal freedom - an equilbruim literally between individuals. Such a social order is only possible in the conditions reflected in anarchism. Archism of any sort inherently negates "equality of authority", as Roderick Long describes it. So long as institutions such as the state exist, a true balance of power and equilibrium of liberty is not possible because the very nature of such institutions is that of oligarchy and hence there is an extreme imbalance and inconsistancy in how principles are applied to human beings. Therefore the solution can only be found in anarchism, properly understood.

The Danger of Political Centrism

It is often assumed that centrists are good because they are not "extreme". Centrists are generally viewed as being preferable to the so-called "far left" and "far right". However, it is my contention that centrists are the most dangerous type of politician and that the nature of politics tends towards centrism. For while elements on the political left and right may have erroneous views in various ways, centrists merely combine the erroneous views of both sides into a consensus. Furthermore, the centrist is highly adaptable to a variety of positions and hence oppurtunistically changes their position in the name of expediency. There is no fixity or certainty to their position. Centrists are the most expedient type of politicians, and in the name of expediency they will aschew any genuine principles. Centrism is the most pragmatic way to gain and hold onto power by appealing to as many different groups as possible without necessarily believing in any particular principle espoused by each group. A so-called fringe group by itself is usually fairly harmless in comparison because there is no way for them to gain populist support.

The fact of the matter is that the political establishment depends in large part on a bipartisan consensus. Everything from the patriot act to the decision to go to war in Iraq was passed by a large bipartisan consensus. Centrism is the most efficient means at maintaining the status quo. Politicians generally play to the center to gain support anyways, moreso as the democratic process goes on. Before any disagreements take place between politicians, there is a general underlying consensus on certain fundamental elements of the status quo and the internal processes or rules of the institution itself. What they mostly disagree on is not fundamentals so much as particulars and implementation. Politics becomes a purely pragmatic process in which only what is considered to be "politically viable" tends to occur. The centrist is the master at playing this game. Whatever is the most popular at the moment or whatever is appealing to the widest range of people is what they will tend to support, regaurdless of any principle. Precisely what "the center" is changes depending on expediency. And this is why political centrism is dangerous, as it has no real meaning and is merely an indispensible mechanism for sustaining political power.

Morality, Rationality, Survival and the Law

I was having a bit of a debate with an Objectivist and we got into some questions about morality and rationality. It related to the question of suicide, and I maintained that suicide is irrational but not immoral and that the individual has the liberty to commit such an irrational act. The Objectivist asserted that irrationality is immorality. This doesn't make any sense to me. I'd say that what is moral is inherently rational, but not that what is rational is inherently moral. Likewise, I'd say that what is immoral is inherently irrational, but not that what is irrational is inherently immoral. This is not a paradox when one makes a proper distinction between a vice and a crime or between that which is unethical and that which is merely incorrect or counterproductive. A meaningful distinction between ethics and aesthetics also helps clear up any confusion in this regaurd.

Consider the implications of combining the two premises that (1) that which is irrational is inherently immoral and (2) the law should reflect morality. I can think of endless things that are irrational and harmless to others in and of themselves that should consequentially be viewed as "immoral" and be outlawed under this logic: suicide, not taking a shower, not brushing your teeth, discrimating based solely or primarily on the basis of race, to continue to associate with people who hurt or manipulate you, to smoke cigarettes and do hard drugs, to pray, to go to church, to stay up for 3 days, to starve yourself, to bite your nails, to have promiscous sex with strangers, to have a high time preference, to not take care of one's own property, to not defend oneself and to be boistrous and loud.

All of these things are irrational and many of them are unconductive to either the quality of one's life or its continued existance, but I consider none of them to be immoral and think that all of them should be permissible and legal. It's not conductive to certain ends for me to buy certain products or patronize certain service providers over other ones. It's not conductive to my long-term economic security to borrow and spend lots of money and not save. It's not conductive to my long-term health to eat a certain way. But am I "immoral" for making a mistake in judgement or for merely being stupid or for having aesthetic tastes? That's absurd. It's not "immoral" for me to make bad financial decisions or have bad eating habits. The expression of aesthetic tastes in general could be viewed as irrational. There is no rational way to justify the notion that someone has an obligation to make a certain aesthetic choice because it happens to be the most efficient towards survival or happiness or prosperity, and in the case of happiness there is no way to determine what will make someone else happy. The logical end of this kind of thinking would seem to lead to the legislation of economic preferances in the name of utility.

One might object to this reductio as absurdum by trying to make a distinction between the law and morality, by positing that the law doesn't have to reflect or be in accordance with morality, but one can only do so by opening up a pandora's box of inconsistancy and accepting the evils of legal positivism. This view holds the law to be above morality and consequentially functions as a way to make moral inconsistancies and acceptions. The inevitable consequence of taking this view is that the law is quite blatantly turned into a instrument of immorality. Using such an approach to politics, things that are immoral can be legitimized by merely appealing to its legality. Natural law, in contrast, holds the currently existing and positive law up to an independant standard of justice, derived from reason. Notice that rationality does play a role, but the natural law follows from morality. It's not the case that everything that is rational is moral and everything that is irrational is immoral. Rationality in this context is only an instrumental tool that is used to figure out what is moral and immoral. But it does not follow that everything that is a product of rationality is moral or that all irrational actions are immoral actions.

Rationality can point one to the most efficient means at achieving a desired end and it can point one to the most moral means to a desired end (and the two aren't necessarily always the same thing), but not all questions of persueing desired ends are moral questions. That's the problem. Rationality can suggest that engaging in cooperative industrial production is more efficient to my survival and general well-being to being a hunter-gatherer, but it does not follow that I have a moral obligation to choose the more efficient means. I would assert that one has the liberty to go live as a hunter-gatherer, even if it is self-destructive or nowhere near as beneficial as the alternatives, and hence there is no real moral obligation to choose to engage in industrial production. The question of whether to live as a hunter-gatherer or as an industrial worker or producer is morally irrelevant in and of itself. From my perspective, regaurdless of the utility towards life and prosperity of the choices in question, the individual essentially has free reign to choose whichever alternative they want so long as they aren't violating any ethical or metaethical principles in the process, so long as they don't force anyone else to pursue or not pursue a particular option. These become questions of personal preferance, regaurdless of any objective concerns about their utility.

It seems to me that Objectivists rely too much on the concept of survival in their ethics, which makes it take a sort of utilitarian turn. They use survival, or more broadly the achievement of desires necessary to fullfil the necessities of life, as the primarily justification for actions. That is, Objectivists essentially conclude that because liberty is necessary for survival and the achievement of certain virtues or benefits (such as happiness, prosperity and healthiness), liberty is justified because it leads to those things. However, there are some problems with this view. While liberty is a necessary condition for survival and flourishing, it does not gaurantee it. Someone could theoretically be perfectly free and not violate anyone else's rights yet be unhappy, unhealthy, uneducated and have trouble surviving. So it seems far too demanding on people to proclaim that people have an obligation to do that which is necessary to survive and benefit themselves. People have the liberty to persue their survival and happiness, and it is in their rational self-interest to do so, but they have no such obligation to do so or to choose the most efficient means to doing so.

Yes, it is irrational to not persue the continuance of one's life and improvements upon its quality. But to consider people "immoral" for not doing so or not adequately doing so seems ridiculous. It also seems to me that Objectivists extend ethics way beyond interpersonal relations and into the realm of purely personal decisions. But for me, ethics is interpersonal and thus purely personal decisions are aesthetic at best. Such purely personal decisions can be objectively evaluated as being "good for you" or "bad for you", but there is no way to genuinely make them obligatory or enforcable and an unobligatory and unenforcable ethics seems like no ethics at all. It makes no sense to proclaim that one has a moral obligation to pursue and fulfill their rational self-interest while simultaneously say that they are free to not fulfil the moral obligation. Since I think that people are free to harm themselves or to make bad personal decisions, I have no choice but to consider such actions morally neutral at best. Otherwise, the implication would be that people should be legally required to eat healthy, raise their children in a right way, read the right books and conform to an endless sea of requirements in their personal preferances.

One might object that if what I'm implying is the case, then ethics wouldn't apply to a lone man stranded on an island. My answer is: yes, ethics indeed doesn't apply to a lone man stranded on an island, because ethics has no meaning in such a scenario. There's no one else to steal from, murder, lie to, cheat, and so on. There's noone else to violate the rights of. One could do all sorts of things to further one's own survival and happiness, but morality wouldn't really come into the picture until you start introducing interpersonal relations. The choice of a man stranded on an island "to hunt or not to hunt" or "what materials should I make my home with?" has no moral significance. Such decisions are not moral decisions but purely practical ones. Morality would only come into place with such questions in terms of how it affects the rational self-interest of other people, in terms of whether or not the means one pursues in the persuit of such things violate the life, liberty and property of others.

Another problem with this erroneous conflation of rationality and morality is that it essentially implies that holding irrational thoughts is immoral in and of itself. Thought crimes! It is of course true and important to realize that ideas determine the course of history. But nonetheless it is ultimately the realization of those ideas, or at least the attempt to do so, and the means by which those ideas are implemented that is immoral. Merely believing in false or irrational ideas does not make someone immoral, and neither would they be immoral for pursueing, spreading and enacting those ideas so long as it is on a voluntary basis. Stupidity and ignorance is not immorality. Being misinformed or just flat out wrong is not immoral in and of itself. Believing in communism or the flying spagetti monster is a vice, not an immorality. Forcing communism or the church of the flying spagetti monster onto people is what would be an immorality.

It seems to me that the moral of the story is that the fetishizing of the mind and survival leads to some absurd implications and conclusions if consistantly followed through.

Politics Is The Opiate Of The Masses

Theism is not the only kind of mysticism. Collectivist and political ideologies are also forms of mysticism. The nature of politics involves blind faith in a "highest essence". The abstractions of these "highest essences" function as arbitrary authorities to appeal to. The most common of these arbitrary and rhetorical authorities are "society", "nation", "state", "humanity", "race", "class" and "gender". In political ideology, these concepts function precisely in the same way as a deity. As a consequence of faith in these abstractions, individual human beings and/or certain collections of human beings are given the status of a deity. These concepts also all have one thing in common: they obscure the individual and turn the individual into a sacrificial peon to collective abstractions. In all cases, belief in something that doesn't exist (at least in the way concieved) functions as a mechanism to provide a plastic sense of meaning or identity.

While theism assigns a non-existant entity with rights not possessed by human beings, statism assigns certain human beings with rights not possessed by everyone else. While religious ideologies conflict over who rules the universe and how they do it, political ideologies conflict over who rules over other human beings and how they do it. In electoral politics, certain human beings are deified and people conflict over which deifed human being should rule over everyone else. For many people, the election rallies and political holidays are just as much of a "spiritual experience" as any religious ceremony at a fundamentalist christian church. People literally have faith in politicians, bureaucrats, nations, and states and they use that which is attributed to them as a way to legitimize their personal biases and their actions. The health of political power relies in large part on the exploitation of the religious impulse in the broadest sense through the use of rituals, symbolism,  illusions, grandios promises, bread and circuses.

Many political assumptions are essentially forcibly inherented from parents and cultural norms, just like in theism. While religions tend to promise a utopia after death, political ideologies tend to promise a utopia during life. Both make use of fear and guilt and exploit the pessemism within people to elicit obedience. The morality of politics is based on arbitrary authority rather than reason. "The law" has the same functionality as a deity's alleged words or religious texts. The individual must submit in spite of their rational evaluation. Furthermore, politics provides a mechanism by which people can enforce their personal preferances and their incorrect conceptions of morality onto innocent bystanders. Politics is more dangerous than religion is by itself, since it is only through the mechanisms of politics that religion can be tyrannical on a large scale. Politics is the opiate of the masses.