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Belief in objective morality a large impediment to anarchy?

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MadMiser Posted: Tue, Oct 25 2011 11:33 PM

It occurred to me recently, reading arguments against libertarianism/anarcho-capitalism, that the majority of opposition to it seems to stem from people's beliefs in objective moralities. To elaborate, I'm referring to when people take their own subjective moral preferences to be an absolute moral truth, and so get more satisfaction from the use of coercive force (via government) to make people act in accordance with their preferences than they get dissatisfaction. Which is to say, if somebody views any action as inherently 'bad', even if that action affects them in no way, then it's rational for them to support government intervention in limiting/preventing that action. Socialists believe their own subjective notion of 'exploitation' is an objective moral evil, and so support coercive action against it. Environmentalists believe their own subjective notions like 'raping the Earth' and 'overpopulation' are objective moral evils, and so support coercive action against them. Social conservatives believe things like prostitution and drug use are inherently evil, even if they aren't affected by them in any way, and so support coercive action against them. Of course, not all socialists, environmentalists and social conservatives think like this, but to the average 'man on the street' (or man occupying wall street), this kind of thinking is a way to go. It needn't even be thinking, just the base instinctual programming that something which evokes a negative emotional reaction should be greeted with a violent response.

So my question is: mightn't it first be necessary, when trying to convince people to open their minds to libertarianism/anarchy, to show them the subjectivity of morality? To show them how their moral preferences are subjective, not an objective moral truth? Of course, I'm not suggesting all objective moralities are incompatible; people such as Objectivists, or followers of Abrahamic faiths who don't add "without a democratic mandate" to "Thou Shalt not Steal", are practically anarchists by default, since the State can't exist without theft. But for anybody who believes that Action X is inherently bad, and that the use of force to prevent Action X is less bad than the occurrence of Action X, then it wouldn't be rational for them to endorse the possibility of life without a coercive state, unless they were disabused of the notion of Action X as inherently wrong. I know I myself would never have supported the idea of anarchy before I realised the ultimate subjectivity and logical incoherence of morality, and I'm sure it's not a coincidence that there seem to be more moral nihilists on these forums than in most other online communities.

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Gero replied on Wed, Oct 26 2011 1:03 AM

“So my question is: mightn't it first be necessary, when trying to convince people to open their minds to libertarianism/anarchy, to show them the subjectivity of morality?”

Morality is prescriptive, not descriptive. Your examples of the socialists, environmentalists, and social conservatives should be addressed.

The socialist/communist ‘exploitation’ is based on the labor theory of value which is nonsense. Explain this and the socialist/communist will either choose denial or have to change argument. The environmentalist concern can be addressed by an explanation of free market environmentalism. Property rights can protect forests, lakes, animals, all kinds of valued natural habitats. The social conservatives should be challenged to explain why prostitution is evil.

To most people liberty sounds great, but they have concerns about exploitation, the environment, social behavior, and much more. Most people still think capitalism caused the Great Depression. Who wants liberty if it means unemployment, foreclosure, bankruptcy, long lines, and many other bad things?

Address the concerns and you will nudge people closer to liberty.

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MadMiser replied on Wed, Oct 26 2011 2:09 AM

The labour theory of value is an objective theory of value: the theory that it is objectively true that people 'should' be compensated by an amount dependent on the amount of labour they've engaged in. So explaining how it is nonsense, and that 'value' is only determined by other people's subjective valuation of the product of their labour (expressed in the price they're willing to pay for it), is in effect showing them the subjectivity of value; replacing an 'objective' moral system with a subjective one. You say they may 'choose denial'; if they 'choose denial', and are unwilling to accept the rational economic argument, mightn't this suggest that it's their moral system that needs changing, as their objective/emotional moral beliefs are unwilling to accept the logic of subjective value? As to the environmentalist one, what about people who attribute human rights to animals? As an example, in Australia recently the environmental movement succeeded in obtaining a (thankfully temporary) ban on all live beef exports to our neighbour Indonesia, because the animals were 'slaughtered inhumanely' there. Now, in a free market, the only equivalent to such a ban would be a boycott, and the environmentalists wouldn't have a chance in hell of convincing Indonesian consumers not to buy Aussie beef just because it was 'slaughtered inhumanely' there. Hence, the only way the environmentalists can stop the 'inhumane slaughter' of the cows is through the use of coercive force, by way of the government. So long as they hold the belief that the 'inhuman slaughter' of animals is an inherently wrong action, regardless of where it occurs, it's rational for them to support the use of coercive force to stop it, and hence support the existence of a State. As to challenging social conservatives to explain why prostitution is evil, do you really think that by economic argument alone it'd be possible change someone's opinion on it from 'a corrupting, harmful influence representing the decay of society' (or views along those lines) to merely a mutually agreeable exchange between two individuals? Or things like gay marriage/stem cell research; many people are quite strongly opposed to these, and support the use of State coercion to prevent them; do you really think that by economic argument alone these people could be convinced to change their minds and relinquish their desire for state prohibition of such activities?

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"But for anybody who believes that Action X is inherently bad, and that the use of force to prevent Action X is less bad than the occurrence of Action X, then it wouldn't be rational for them to endorse the possibility of life without a coercive state, unless they were disabused of the notion of Action X as inherently wrong."

It is not necessary to believe that Action X is inherently bad and also to believe that force to prevent Action X is less bad than the occurence of Action X. For your thesis to be correct you'd either have to show a necessary relation between the two or a strong empiricle one. Further it does not follow from the premise that aggression is necessary that it ought to be instituionilised in a state; it could be carried out by individuals or families.

The atoms tell the atoms so, for I never was or will but atoms forevermore be.

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MaikU replied on Wed, Oct 26 2011 2:38 AM

Nope. It stems from peoples' belief in "the ends justify the means" which is exact opposite of belief in objective morality. Actually, majority are moral relativists. you proved it yourself: " they take their own subjective moral preferences to be an absolute moral truth, and so get more satisfaction from the use of coercive force (via government) to make people act in accordance with their preferences than they get dissatisfaction."

And they realize this better than you, that's why it's so convenient for them to vote for one warmonger instead of another etc. If you tried to convince them of subjectivity of morality - you would lose them forever, so to speak. I personally take different approach and try to convince of objectivity of morality, which is a part of NAP and self-ownership. With subjectivism these two principles are useless.

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MadMiser replied on Wed, Oct 26 2011 4:34 AM

 

To Physiocrat:
It is necessary to believe that Action X is inherently bad and also to believe that force to prevent Action X is less bad than the occurrence of Action X, in the sense that if somebody believes the use of force to prevent Action X is worse than the occurrence of Action X, they wouldn't support the use of force to prevent it, so are outside the scope of my argument, which is about changing the minds of people's who believe force is justified against action X. But you're right, I'd need to show a strong empirical relation between the two to show that such people are indeed a majority, and I've no data at hand for that, other than personal experience of interacting with various individuals, a majority of whom have at some stage expressed desire for violence against some individual or group that acted in ways of which they don't approve. Would you say that, in your interactions with the general population, the majority of people you meet have or have not supported the use of violence/regulation/taxation/general coercive force against people who commit actions they see as immoral, even if those actions harm nobody?
True too that the aggression could be carried out by individuals or families, but I don't see how that's relevant. If trying to sway some animal rights activists to the cause of freedom, would telling them "well in an anarchist society, you yourself would be free to commit violent actions against the exporters, in an attempt to prevent the export of animals to countries that treat them inhumanely, although they might respond in kind" really be particularly effective?
 
To MaikU:
No, "the end justifies the means" is objective morality in the sense that they assume the end is justified. If they were subjectivists, they'd realise that said end in turn requires another end to justify it, which requires another end to justify it, and so on in infinite regress, such that no end is truly 'justified' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regress_argument). Stuff like the NAP and self-ownership, augmentation ethics, the non-aggression principle, etc, are all very cogent arguments, but also all involve some form of assumption, the taking of an end as justified for its own sake, self-justifying. A subjective moral system, on the other hand, doesn't require such an assumption; it's described particularly well here: http://mises.org/daily/5683, far better than I could hope to explain it. The ends justifying the means is the exact opposite of belief in deontological morality, not necessarily the exact opposite of belief in objective morality, as objective notions of morality can be either deontological or teleological.
True, if you can convince them of the NAP or self-ownership, they'll be much more open to libertarianism/anarchy. But if that fails, convincing them of the subjectivity of morality could still succeed; Mises didn't believe in objective morality, but he certainly wasn't 'lost forever'.
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Autolykos replied on Wed, Oct 26 2011 5:56 AM

At the risk of going off-topic, I'd say the following are bigger impediments to anarchy:

1. The belief that there can be certainty about the future. You find this every time a person asks a question of the form "How will X be provided in anarchy?" or "How will X be prevented in anarchy?"

2. The belief that people can literally control - and be controlled by - others. You find this every time a person says "There ought to be a law against X!"

3. The belief that people can have literally no choice whether to make a certain decision. You find this every time a person says "I have to do X" when he means "I'm going to do X / I want to do X" and "I can't do X" when he means "I'm not going to do X / I don't want to do X".

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Wheylous replied on Wed, Oct 26 2011 8:42 AM

 This is why I advocate incorporating a deconstruction approach:

http://mises.org/Community/forums/p/25282/441012.aspx#441012

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MadMiser replied on Wed, Oct 26 2011 8:48 AM

 

To Autolykos:
I agree that 3. is probably the greatest impediment to anarchy, in the sense that people who believe they have no choice generally don't believe in personal responsibility (such as the 99%ers who believe they were 'forced' into taking out college loans), and it's hard for somebody who doesn't believe in personal responsibility (such as honouring contracts, promises etc) to support the idea of an anarchic, contract based society. But, I think that's not really something that can be changed, so there's no point in discussing it (it's easy to identify if somebody doesn't take personal responsibility, but practically impossible to persuade/convincing them to start taking it). 2. is the kind of thing I'm talking about: if you showed people how their own preferences were subjective and not inherently any more valid than anybody else's, they'd no longer desire to control others, no longer think "there ought to be a law against X!", since they would no longer believe that they knew the 'best' course of action for others to take. For 1., I've found analogies tend to help there, such as how the citizens of the Soviet Union when asked couldn't conceive of how they'd get bread and milk if not for the Government, or that thing floating around on an avatar here somewhere about the freed slaves preferring the security of slavery (or something along those lines).
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Autolykos replied on Wed, Oct 26 2011 9:59 AM

MadMiser:
To Autolykos:

I agree that 3. is probably the greatest impediment to anarchy, in the sense that people who believe they have no choice generally don't believe in personal responsibility (such as the 99%ers who believe they were 'forced' into taking out college loans), and it's hard for somebody who doesn't believe in personal responsibility (such as honouring contracts, promises etc) to support the idea of an anarchic, contract based society. But, I think that's not really something that can be changed, so there's no point in discussing it (it's easy to identify if somebody doesn't take personal responsibility, but practically impossible to persuade/convincing them to start taking it).

I think that, as long as the vast majority of people don't consistently believe in personal responsibility, a stateless society is highly unlikely.

MadMiser:
2. is the kind of thing I'm talking about: if you showed people how their own preferences were subjective and not inherently any more valid than anybody else's, they'd no longer desire to control others, no longer think "there ought to be a law against X!", since they would no longer believe that they knew the 'best' course of action for others to take.

I don't think it's a matter of them realizing that their preferences are subjective. I don't see how that would necessarily make any difference. Maybe they even realize this already, at least implicitly. In that case, they simply don't care about the "validity" of their own preferences. Those are the preferences they have and they want to impose them on everyone else - if only to prevent others from imposing contrary preferences on them. But what makes them think that they can actually impose preferences on others? Only the notion that people can be controlled can make them think that.

MadMiser:
For 1., I've found analogies tend to help there, such as how the citizens of the Soviet Union when asked couldn't conceive of how they'd get bread and milk if not for the Government, or that thing floating around on an avatar here somewhere about the freed slaves preferring the security of slavery (or something along those lines).

Notice that 1 and 2 are connected. Adhering to the notion that people can be controlled requires adhering to the notion that certainty can exist about the future. After all, what is the notion of "controlling a person" other than ensuring that he will do one or more things at one or more certain points in the future?

I think the best way of refuting the notion that there's certainty about the future is to show that, in spite of all the myriad laws that the state has declared, people still violate them. Obviously, then, neither the law per se nor even the force presumably backing it necessarily prevents its violation by anyone.

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MaikU replied on Wed, Oct 26 2011 10:41 AM

Autolykos:


I think that, as long as the vast majority of people don't consistently believe in personal responsibility, a stateless society is highly unlikely.

 

This.

"Dude... Roderick Long is the most anarchisty anarchist that has ever anarchisted!" - Evilsceptic

(english is not my native language, sorry for grammar.)

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Autolykos replied on Wed, Oct 26 2011 10:46 AM

 

smiley

Let me add that I think a corollary to the notion of self-ownership is consistent belief in personal responsibility.

 

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MadMiser replied on Thu, Oct 27 2011 6:11 AM

But if consistent belief in personal responsibility is necessary for people to embrace self-ownership, what hope does libertarianism/anarchy have, haha? It's not exactly something that can easily be taught, rather one of those things that has to be more learned than taught.

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Oct 27 2011 8:10 AM

I would say it has a non-zero hope. smiley

Personally, I think nearly everyone is born with a set of moral instincts that approximates the non-aggression principle. I also think that nearly everyone is born with an instinct to avoid contradictions (see the laws of thought). What happens in the modern day is that people are put into highly coercive environments when they're young. They are punished for not doing what they're told to do, and oftentimes they're even punished for merely questioning what they're told to do. Many parents behave this way as well. Anyways, such an upbringing seems to me to do the exact opposite of reinforcing a consistent belief in personal responsibility.

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MadMiser replied on Thu, Oct 27 2011 8:44 AM

Very true, but what could be done to prevent children being subjected to such coercive upbringings? We're not statists; it's not like we could use force (legislation) to make parents raise their kids in a certain way, or have them raised by the state, or force them to attend non-coercive schools. There's also the opposite problem: parents who don't coerce their children but also generally shield them from the ill consequences of poor decisions. This introduces a moral hazard, like socialism/bailouts; the children don't learn personal responsibility, because they never have to face the consequences of their actions. 

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Autolykos replied on Mon, Oct 31 2011 10:33 AM

Sorry I took so long to respond to this.

I think not sending our own children to public schools (or their private-school lookalikes) is definitely a good thing to do. Homeschooling would be the best option IMO, if you can afford it. Aside from that, I think the only other things we can legitimately do are proselytize our philosophy to others and defend ourselves from others when we are able or find it prudent to do so.

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I can tell you from experience, there are plenty of anarchists who are all about objective morality.  I spent most of my time on these forums arguing with all of them!

Let's think about the action axiom.  We all act to some degree, yes?  Since we lack omniscience, we never know if any action we take is the "correct" one, i.e. the one that will alleviate our suffering the most.  We can take an educated guess, but that's about the best we can do.  To the actor, this guess becomes the "right" thing to do.  Of course, this can become a problem if people decide that their guesses are so right, and that their satisfaction so important, they are justified in coercing others into their way of thinking.  I think it's called "being an asshole".

Now, the apparatus of the state is not a "actor".  It has no goals, no objectives.  It is a tool; like a knife, or a gun.  It is the hall pass for violent compulsion.  Obviously, this is very powerful tool.  The assholes know this.  That's why they are always clamoring and struggling with one another to get their grubby paws on the levers.

So, in order to be left alone in this world, you have two options:

Get rid of assholes, or convince people not to be assholes (good luck)

Get rid of the tools that enable assholes to become so powerful (somewhat more likely, but not much)

The patriarchial, "nuclear family" is just another tool of control, like a "mini-state".  "Not under this roof, young man!"

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Eric080 replied on Mon, Oct 31 2011 7:48 PM

You could maybe make a sociological/empirical case that, if people didn't believe in objective morality, they would be less inclined to use violence to enforce their preferences (like prohibiting sodomy or prostitution or something).  They wouldn't actually spend resources on stopping it because it's not that important to the mass of people that these law services cater to if they believe the action to be amoral.  On the other hand, people could be more likely to lie, cheat, or steal if they don't feel inhibited.  I believe there have been studies that show that subjects who are enticed to believe in determinism moreso than free will are more likely to be aggressive and feel as if they are out of control of the events that shape their lives (an unrelated philosophical problem, but somewhat tied in to personal responsibility in the same way that nihilism may be).

 

I think the problem isn't necessarily morality, but it's inconsistent or faulty ideas of morality.  I kind of come from a fictionalist/Nietzschean camp when it comes to this topic, although my inclinations toward libertarian political morality feel very real to me.

"And it may be said with strict accuracy, that the taste a man may show for absolute government bears an exact ratio to the contempt he may profess for his countrymen." - de Tocqueville
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MadMiser replied on Tue, Nov 1 2011 12:27 AM

 

If the nuclear family is just another tool of control, and home-schooling is the best option, I wonder how many anarchists support alternative familial arrangements, such as group marriage? From an economic standpoint, it'd be far more cost-effective to have one family of 6 adults and 12 children living in a single domicile, than to have three families living in separate domiciles of 2 adults and 2 kids each. The six adult family could easily afford to have one or two parents stay home to raise and school the kids whilst the others worked. Empirically speaking, dual parent households generally have better child-rearing outcomes than single parent ones, so why not the more parents, the better? It'd also be closer to how children were reared in paleolithic times. State regulation of marriage as a two-person institution limits innovation, as does any State regulation, so in an anarchist society, mightn't other forms of marriage become more common, if they were found to better suit the needs of the individuals in question? Considering how in much of the developed world fertility rates are below replacement, to the extent that this is due to the expenses involved in child rearing, any innovation to the family system that reduced child rearing costs would surely be a good thing.
 
Interesting psychological term relating to determinism and personal responsibility: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locus_of_control
"Individuals with a high internal locus of control believe that events result primarily from their own behavior and actions. Those with a high external locus of control believe that powerful others, fate, or chance primarily determine events. Those with a high internal locus of control have better control of their behavior, tend to exhibit more political behaviors, and are more likely to attempt to influence other people than those with a high external (or low internal respectively) locus of control. Those with a high internal locus of control are more likely to assume that their efforts will be successful. They are more active in seeking information and knowledge concerning their situation."
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The socialist/communist ‘exploitation’ is based on the labor theory of value which is nonsense.

No, sorry, but it's not.  It's based off seeing "x works his ass off daily, y really doesn't work all that hard.  Y derives by far the largest benefit from this."  This is as true from an STV viewpoint as it is an LTV.

(Also, most STV arguments against the LTV are straw men; STV talks about prices and calls it value, LTV takes into account exchange value, and adds on it use-value.  I'm more of a proponent of STV, than LTV.  But seriously "subjective theory" is a contradiciton in terms.)

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"No, sorry, but it's not.  It's based off seeing "x works his ass off daily, y really doesn't work all that hard.  Y derives by far the largest benefit from this."  This is as true from an STV viewpoint as it is an LTV."

Isn't the LTV just a way of attempting to philosophically justify the idea that "Y derives by far the largest benefit from this"? By looking at things on a very short timescale, and not accounting for the work previously done by Y in obtaining the capital to create X's job and in taking the risk of the venture's failure, and also not accounting for the fact that if not for Y, X's job wouldn't exist? 

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Isn't the LTV just a way of attempting to philosophically justify the idea that "Y derives by far the largest benefit from this"? By looking at things on a very short timescale, and not accounting for the work previously done by Y in obtaining the capital to create X's job and in taking the risk of the venture's failure, and also not accounting for the fact that if not for Y, X's job wouldn't exist? 

No, the LTV long predates Marx; advocated by both Smith and Ricardo. 

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"No, the LTV long predates Marx; advocated by both Smith and Ricardo."


‚ÄčAh, okay. Still, it doesn't change the fact that under the labour theory of value, an exact measurement of value is impossible, as far as I'm aware (much as Marxists could never agree on a mathematically exact amount of 'exploitation' occurring at a given wage). Whereas the subjective theory of value can determine value exactly: value is the price buyers are willing to pay for something. As value in the LTV is not accurately measurable, that is why I refer to it as an 'objective' theory of value, as it assumes that some individual's personal concept of value is universally applicable, that 'value' is an objective thing, like 'justice' or 'perfection' - things which in reality only exist in the minds of individual humans, and are not measurable (much as how socialism is an objective theory of value, in the sense that it assumes socialists' sense of 'fairness' is universally -objectively- applicable). As opposed to STV, which assumes the only value of somebody's labour is the value others place on it, expressed in the price they are willing to pay. STV doesn't abstract out any universal notion of 'value' and say it is the 'right' value, and hence is not an objective theory of value in that sense.

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Communal dwellings and alternative family structures certainly had their place in other times and cultures.  Although perhaps there is some population "critical mass" after which these social arrangements tend to break down and factionalize.  I'm no socioligist, so I'm not sure.

Some links:

Native American Long House

Band Society

Polygamy

History of Patriarchy

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As far as I'm aware, monogamy was a response to sexually transmitted infections that, like most other human infectious diseases, became prevalent when people started urbanising, packed tightly together in cities alongside many other humans and animals. Monogamy was, and still is, one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections. The theory is urbanised societies that did not develop a culture of monogamy would have been crippled by STIs, giving monogamous societies an evolutionary advantage, and thus ultimately allowing them to dominate the urbanised world. Assuming this were the correct explanation for the cultural prevalence of monogamy and the nuclear family, then if the free market found a cure or effective prophylactic for all STIs, monogamy would no longer serve the cultural purpose for which it evolved, and if non-monogamous families had more children, then they'd ultimately come to dominate, and the culture would change (cultural evolution). If however monogamy is due to some inherent biological preference in humans, rather than a cultural thing, then it's unlikely family structures would change significantly, regardless of whether or not the State regulated marriage. So that'd ultimately determine the answer: are human biological preferences closer to those of free-loving bonobos, or of mating-for-life gibbons? Likely, preferences would vary amongst individuals, and so the market would provide a variety of marriage/relationship options, much as it provides variety in other consumer goods.

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There is a natural behavior mechanism at work that opposes things that are different.  It's the same mechanism that attracts people to groups or government.  The additional feature that government brings is the ability to coerce others without risk.

As much as people may try to be objective, it's against human nature, which is largely subjective.  While you can go about life with an objective thinking mindset, you still make decisions and act based on subjective thought.

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