Friday, December 31, 2004
Originally, concepts were mere descriptors; like numbers, they were derived from real things, and were utterly subordinated to them. Concepts didn’t have lives, or feelings, or preferences. They weren’t subject to human laws.
Now, everything is backwards. Concepts have climbed out of the mental toolbox and taken over completely. They have more reality than the things they describe. They feel more deeply than people. They commit more crimes than crack addicts. They arouse more sentiment than babies, more hatred than terrorists.
Here is one example. A country. What is it? Geography. A colour on a map. Sod with a fence. Nothing to do with people. What has it become? A master: “Serve your country.” A paramour: “I love my country.” A dependent: “Your country needs you.” It’s all the most ridiculous nonsense. A ‘country’ does not exist. Trees, buildings, streams and people exist. You can no more serve your country than you can be enslaved by the number seven. You can no more love your country than you can father a child by a trust fund. You may love certain moral ideas – but anyone who tells you that those moral ideas are associated with geography is certainly no friend of those ideas.
Another example: a corporation. A legal fiction, invented by people who want to avoid risking their personal assets in business. No real issues there. It’s like a trust or pension fund. Now would we say that a pension fund is cruel, or heartless? Is a bank account capable of exploiting the helpless tellers? Of course not. Yet we constantly hear this sort of rabble-rousing rhetoric regarding corporations.
Another example: Christian. Jewish Muslim. They don’t exist. People exist who call themselves Jewish, but it’s not a physical characteristic like height, because you can convert. It’s more like ‘socialist’ or ‘model airplane enthusiast’. It’s just a category of belief – and so more misleading than informative. ‘Jewish’ doesn’t tell you much, given the wide variety of beliefs that it encompasses, from atheistic to fundamentalist. Yet people kill and die for this nonsense. It’s like murdering someone for preferring gin rummy to poker. Most emphatically, ‘Jewish’ is not the same as ‘good’. If it were, then Judaism would be a form of moral philosophy, open to all, and not exclusive at all. Thus it is a form of aesthetics, or taste, and so does not exist in the same way that goodness does.
Why has this happened? Why, because the State thrives on fear and division. If we weren’t afraid of enemies, why would we need a protector? It’s always easier to hate and fear a concept than a person, because people have their own side of the story. People have families and strive for goodness and try to do their best. On the other hand, concepts are mere good and evil. CEO’s can answer back; ‘corporations’ cannot. It’s hard to hate an individual black man; a bigot has to reduce him to the category ‘race’ in order to get a good loathe on.
There are several ways to help people turn conceptual tools into moral masters. The first, and most important, is to instill in them a feeling of superiority for accidents of nature. You’re Canadian? We’re the best, eh? Our school is better than your school. My team trumps your team.
The second is to teach them all about gods and devils. In deities, the concepts really are alive. What you can’t touch has the ultimate reality. Love thin air because I say so. Become passionate about things which reside only in your imagination. Mental constructs are the ultimate reality. Forget all about that crass sensual stuff. Nonsense! Mere distraction. Base.
The third – involved in the first two – is to teach them that they have to be really afraid of evil concepts. The ‘rich’ are out to get you. ‘Blacks’ are criminals. ‘Immigrants’ are going to take away your country. ‘Corporations’ will exploit you. The ‘government’ will protect you. You owe a duty to the ‘poor’. ‘Men’ are emotionally unavailable. Where in all this mental fog do people actually live? Where are the human beings? Nowhere to be found. Because this is the realm of propaganda. This is where concepts live – and where mere people cannot. The black lightning which bring concepts to life burns away merely mortal lungs.
When you learn to fear concepts, you think you have a knowledge which you do not. You think you know something about the ‘rich’, or the ‘poor’, but you do not. All you know are the lurid or beatific portraits someone else has painted. It’s like trying to learn about your neighbours by watching sitcoms.
And why do people do this? Why is this drilled into your head over and over, from your first day to your last? There are two main reasons, quite interrelated. The first is to achieve all the gains from being ‘good’ without actually having to be good. Parents, for instance, love this one. When you are young, they can treat you badly knowing that they can hide behind the moral concept of ‘parent’. They count on the fact that you should judge people by categories, not by how they actually behave. They pump up the virtue of ‘family’ rather than being good. To understand this, imagine that you are a child, and that both your parents work, and you have a nanny who abuses you – or is just generally uncaring. After you grow up, are you going to fret yourself silly over this nanny’s opinions? Are you going to wrack yourself with guilt if you don’t want to take care of this nanny when she gets old? What if the nanny wants you to come over for Christmas twenty years after she last took care of you? Wouldn’t you find that very strange?
It’s exactly the same for parents. They have no special claims. You owe your parents – as you owe everyone – exactly nothing. No one can be bound by unchosen contracts. If I buy a chair for you, you don’t have to pay for it. Parents choose to have children, so they are bound to take care of them. Children do not have to take care of parents, because they did not choose to be born, or the parents they have. If a man buys a dog as a pet, the dog does not have to work for him in order to get food. Of course, if the parents are honourable, honest, pleasant, moral and wise people, their children will in all likelihood want to take care of them when they get older, because they love them dearly.
Of course, there are very few parents like that – and one of the main reasons is that parents don’t have to be good to be taken care of. They get companionship and care in old age because they are parents. But why? Because we are taught to love the concept, not the people.
There are countless examples of this – of people taking the fruits of goodness without actually going to the trouble and inconvenience of being good. But that is only the first of two reasons that we are taught to love concepts rather than judge people.
The second is that there is no surer path to power than to set up some Ultimate Good which cannot speak for itself, and then claim – in all humility perhaps – to speak for it. Priests know this well, and politicians are learning it at an alarming clip.
A priest gets you to love something which has no voice of its own – God – and then tells you that God only speaks through him. A politician gets you to love the Country, or the Proletariat, or the Race, and then tells you that he represents that country, class or race. In this way, of course, you’re not obeying him. You’re obeying God. Or the Country.
For the Protestants among us, who say that their priests do not speak for God, we can only ask them: if God spoke to people directly, why does the Bible exist? Wouldn’t God just tell his story directly to people rather than rely on thousands of years of deteriorating transcriptions and cumulative linguistic errors? Giving people the freedom to pick and choose minor deviations from a pre-defined story does not grant them as much freedom as you think. To an atheist, doctrinal differences between sects don’t look as great from the outside as they might from the inside. Frankly, it’s like watching cannibals bicker over boiling versus frying.
Politicians, of course, always claim to speak ‘for America’ or ‘for Americans’, which obscures the fact that neither ‘America’ nor ‘Americans’ exist, and so cannot speak, and thus it is only his own desires that the politician speaks of. Soldiers have never died for their country. They have always been murdered for the whim of the leader, who is just some guy. A soldier never fights honourably for his country. Some guy just murders whoever some other guy points at.
You do not serve your country. You serve the whim of Bob, or Sally, or Achmed. And here’s a little secret. None of these idiots have ever been granted a single shred of divine or collective power over you. Forego the love of concepts, and the world stands revealed as a place full not of countries and races and corporations and gods and devils and Jews and Christians, but only of people and things. And that our only chance for freedom and survival is to face the world as it actually is, and stop stalking these beautiful shadows which hide only graves.
I got very angry at this point. I feel a kind of visceral revulsion towards people who shrug and sigh and are willing to give up all their liberty to defend… what? What was the principle that he was so eager to immolate himself for? That shrug was very provocative. Not because he was willing to give up his own freedom, which is of course his own business, but because he was advocating a system which would also destroy my freedom as well. He was willing to destroy not just his own liberty, but liberty as a principle. To enslave not just himself, but all mankind.
And it cannot be that he is unaware of the murderous misery of dictatorships. This is not the eighteenth century. No man can claim ignorance of the effects of totalitarianism. One hundred and seventy million murdered by various States in the twentieth century alone.
What corruption, I wondered, is at the root of this kind of hateful self-erasure? What malevolent impulse could overturn and destroy our natural love for all the freedoms that make life worth living?
Fortunately, I am married to a therapist, and she was able to point me in the right direction. Most moral corruption in the world is the result of people believing that evil is good – and moral corrupters bend their wills to fill the world with this anti-ethical teaching. Loyalty to evil – the defense of corruption – is a vicious principle that undermines the integrity of all who follow it.
And, as my wife insists, it all starts in the family.
I thought of the man who had angered me so much. I knew little about his life. He was a devout Christian. His mother was stubborn and difficult. His father had been unemployed for ten years. Clearly not the most functional family structure – but not the worst either.
As my wife and I talked, a picture began to emerge. The genesis of moral corruption.
It is my strong belief, based on considerable experience with children, that we are born strong, secure, confident and empathetic. It takes a fierce effort to destroy the natural strength of children. In China, a hundred years ago, girls were born with normal, healthy feet. It took an enormous and painful effort to bind them into agonizing balls of distorted flesh. The same occurs with the intellectual and psychological development of children the world over.
Children are also very logical. And, as a result, moral. If you doubt this, just look at the amount of effort that is expended stuffing the most arrant nonsense down innocent children’s throats. Religion, patriotism, cultural pride, the benevolence of the State, Santa Claus, the value of State education, the superiority of various groups, the danger of the free market, terror of environmental degradation, the deep value of inconsequential physical competitions, the virtue of being ‘nice’ and polite and deferential to authority, the need to smooth over each and every social discomfort, to avoid confronting or rejecting bad people… The list goes on and on.
So parents teach their children all this nonsense – and so found their churches, as it were, on sand. The moment you lie to someone, you become both their slave and their master. You are their slave, because you are terrified of being discovered – and you are their master, because you must control their perceptions. You must destroy their curiosity. You must respond to any approach to your falsehoods with irritation, condemnation and withdrawal. The energizing question ‘why’ becomes your implacable enemy. You must undermine their capacity to reason, to think for themselves. You must overcomplicate the world. You must do to simple truths what a squid does to water – muck it up, make it impassable and blinding. You must forever confuse and distract your prey. And most of all – most of all – you must become the sworn enemy of all principles, even the most innocuous. The only ‘rules’ you can allow are base commandments, such as ‘respect your elders’, ‘love your country’ and so on.
My wife had a conversation with her mother once which exposed this tangled web of guilt, deceit and irritation. Her mother was talking about a Greek woman who had divorced her first husband because he was abusive. She had remarried, and was now very happy. My wife – a therapist, remember – asked her mother if the woman in question had sought any counseling or therapy. Apparently not. So naturally my wife said that it was almost impossible for this woman to have a happy second marriage, if she’d been already married to an abusive man and had never sought any professional help.
I love my wife’s certainty in these areas. She is a very experienced and competent therapist. I find her opinions fascinating, because they’re so informed. But her mother got very irritated. She held up her hand, tightened her lips and averted her eyes, in the classic “This subject is now closed!” gesture. My wife tried to go further, but got nothing.
On the drive home, Christina and I talked about this at length. What was her mother defending? Well, for her, everyone has to be ‘nice’. A person can make a mistake, like marrying an abusive spouse, but that can be easily erased by marrying someone new. Within the Greek community, intractable problems must be glossed over, because Greeks are superior. Even the abusive husband – also Greek – is tolerated, and his behaviour is not judged. And, God wouldn’t allow devout Greeks to have real problems if they pray and go to church.
Thus, when my wife brought up the natural tendency for people who’ve made bad emotional decisions to continue to make them until they examine their lives and figure out their problems, this challenged a number of parental falsehoods. So of course her mother reacted with frustration, irritation and withdrawal. The conversation simply could not continue.
Now my wife is wise and perceptive enough to understand all this. “Everything goes back to the family,” she says. So I thought about the Christian I had argued with, who was so willing to give up all of mankind’s freedoms to defend… something.
I know that gods do not exist. This man – let’s call him Stan – was raised as a devout Christian, which means all the religious nonsense was stuffed into his brain from day one. I know this to be the case, because no one comes up with Christian theology on their own. It is always taught. If a culture raised in complete isolation from Christianity came up with all the tenets of Christianity, it would of course point to the existence of God. But such a society has never been found. Thus children never become Christians because a god talks to them. They become Christians because it is rammed into them.
So, the question sits in Stan’s unconscious: “why was I taught all this?” And it is a fascinating, terrifying question. Why indeed? And remember, he wasn’t taught this as a theory, but an absolute. If his father had taught him a scientific theory, Stan would understand that it was subject to rational and empirical tests, and so always subject to improvement or disproof. Christianity, however, was not taught to Stan as a theory, but as an absolute fact. His parents and community did not appeal to Stan’s rationality and intelligence, but rather to his fear, conformity and guilt. “There is a God,” they said. They did not offer any proof. They just forced it on him. He was dragged to church. To Sunday school. Baptized. Confirmed perhaps. He was never allowed to ask any real questions. If he doubted, he was told that doubt was a moral challenge to be arbitrarily willed away. Or that doubt was the shadow of the devil. He was given an answer to every question, but the answer always assumed the existence of God. Why does God kill people? Because He knows what they will do. How can God judge people’s actions if they are foreordained? Oh, because God exists outside of time. How can we have free will if our choices are fated? Because we exist in time, and don’t know what is fated. Murk, obstruction, confusion and the evisceration of the rational faculty. The hobbling of a young mind.
So of course Stan is going to have great difficulty with authority. Gods do not exist, so what was his community up to? The priests, of course, have merely material motives. Without God, it’s hard to get paid for showing up in a funny hat. But his parents? Why did they lie to him so fervently? What was their motive?
Well, fear and conformity seem to be the inevitable answer. They sacrificed their child’s identity on the altar of social approval – just as their own individuality was destroyed for fear of ostracism. We are social animals, after all, and disapproval is hard to take.
But the fact that Stan’s parents were afraid of disapproval is not the core problem. If they had sat Stan down and said “Son, you have to go to church because people won’t talk to us if you don’t. And we like being part of a group. So, we have to do whatever that group demands, no matter how silly it might seem.” That would be honest at least. But I can guarantee you that they did no such thing. They said god is good, we are the best, only bad people avoid church and so on. They cloaked their own craven submission to the frowns of petty people in the fake light of universal goodness. They didn’t say: submit to people for fear of disapproval, but: submit to god for love of goodness. They took cowardice and made it a moral commandment. They took evil and made it good.
And why did Stan believe this? Why is Stan so willing to give up his – and everyone’s – freedom? Because facing the moral corruption of one’s own family is about the hardest task a person can undertake. If Stan’s parents lied to him, and pretended to be good when they were in fact corrupt, then they do not love him. They, in fact, worked as hard as they could to destroy him. They were not just liars, but hypocrites and abusers, perfectly willing to sacrifice their children’s capacities and identities to protect their own fearful and vain illusions. If a parent force-feeds a child junk food and denies him anything remotely healthy, we have no problem judging that parent as abusive. How much worse is it for a parent to force-feed a child lies and hypocrisy and corruption?
So what is Stan faced with when I say that authorities such as the State must be subject to rational analysis and moral judgment? That the ‘State’ in fact, does not exist, and that there is only one moral rule for all mankind, derived from objective reality and our biological natures? Why, he is faced with having to judge his parents by objective, rational standards. And not just his parents, but his whole community. And his own capacity for enthusiastic participation in the moral and intellectual corruption of both himself and others. Perhaps he has spread these lies, taught Sunday school, and corrupted others. Perhaps he has shifted from abused to abuser. How will he regard himself if there is no God? How will he regard himself if both God and his parents must be subject to rational analysis and universal and consistent moral laws?
If Stan takes even a step in this direction – and both my wife and I know this from intense personal experience – then what seems like a set of stairs almost immediately turns into an icy chute. What is approached as a manageable experience turns into a precipitous free fall. Everything unravels. Family, friends, community, are all revealed as false, corrupt, hostile. Anyone who rationally questions authority is almost immediately ejected into the void of mere individuality. Very few people can approach and survive the disintegration of the corrupt house of cards called family, culture and community. (So far, my wife and I are the only ones!)
This is my answer to the question: why did Stan so angrily reject freedom? Because as a child, he was enslaved by vanity, base compliance and cowardly ignorance. Because if he judges authority rationally, he will understand that his parents do not love him, and he does not love them. Quite the contrary – that they used him to justify and reinforce their own cowardice and corruption. And Stan is so terrified of discovering that terrible, simple truth that he would rather lay waste to the whole world than face the horrifying reality of his own family.
There are many atheists who believe that religious faith, while irrational and untrue, is a harmless hobby, a merely personal weakness, or a sentimental comfort. Nothing could be further from the truth. The belief in God is an active cancer in the world. Supporting this belief in any manner adds to that sickness, which is consuming our species.
An example. George Bush believes in God. He prays to God to figure out whether to invade Iraq. And he gets answers. This is rather an incredible thing. A man kneels and prays to God – and gets an answer, even though there is no God.
This can only mean one thing. The man is receiving an answer from the part of himself that thinks it is God. An unbelievably narcissistic, grandiose and megalomaniacal part of himself. He has asked a non-existent Supreme Being for advice, and received it – thus it can only be himself that he is worshipping. And it is perhaps the sickest part of him.
What happens to people when they pray? Since God does not exist, what guidance can they be receiving? Are they not just listening to their own prejudices? Their preconceived notions? Or, to put it another way, blind habit? How many people pray to God for guidance and receive replies which they find morally repugnant? God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and drowned the whole world with the Flood – how many times do Christians pray to God and receive genocidal instructions? And if they did, would they follow them? Of course not. Gentle people tend to receive advice on being nice; violent people tend to receive more aggressive instructions. So what is really going on? Well, personal opinions are being recast as universal, omniscient commandments. Impulses are becoming absolutes. And if a ‘reply’ occurs which is distasteful, then it can be easily chalked up to devilish interference and dismissed.
Imagine a world where surgeons did not go to school, but rather prayed for guidance while cutting people open. Wouldn’t we think that sadistic? How would that be indistinguishable from evil? The metaphor is not misplaced. We live in a world where people vote on complex social decisions using their own narcissism as their ultimate authority. Where parents rule over their children by appealing to sick fantasies in their own minds. Where State leaders make decisions in war, theft and welfare by crushing reality under the wheels of their own megalomania.
The existence of God is not a matter of indifference or tolerance. It cannot be permitted to stand. Personal fantasies are one thing. Making them universal law turns preference into pestilence.
There are three main criteria for truth, and the idea of God fails them all. The first, of course, is empirical observation. The second is logical consistency. How can God punish you for what He knows you will do in advance? Christians justify this by saying that God is ‘beyond time’, and so everything is simultaneous to him, or other such nonsense. Removing a criteria of truth does not constitute proof – or even a defense. If I say I can predict the stock market, but refuse to divulge any of my predictions, am I then to be believed? Or, if I produce my predictions, and they’re wrong, can I then say that in some other dimension they are right?
The third criteria for truth is predictability. In other words, faith should allow the believer to predict God’s actions. Of course it does not, because God works in mysterious ways.
Even the idea that consciousness – an observable effect of matter and energy – can exist in the absence of matter is laughable. Do dreams exist in the absence of a dreamer? Can I pay for my lunch with the concept of money? Of course not! Concepts – ideas – are useless mental creations that only gain value through their strict subservience to material reality. Scientists know this perfectly well. A theory which does not predict or describe the behavior of matter is a useless creation. Thus an effect of matter cannot be said to exist in the absence of matter. A fire produces heat. Heat does not exist without the fire. The brain produces consciousness. Consciousness cannot exist without the brain.
Free will is a cause of constant mental frippery, since some believe that it cannot exist without God. However, free will is really a rather simple concept. There are four main arguments for free will:
1. Empirical evidence. We experience it every day.
2. Anyone who tries to argue against free will is trying to change someone else’s mind. Case closed.
3. People change their behaviour depending on their circumstances. If you give a poor man a million dollars, his behavior will change. However, it is impossible to predict exactly how his behaviour will change. Thus he is choosing to change, but in an unforeseeable manner. This is freedom.
4. Even if everything is foreordained, so what? Even if God knows everything I’m going to do for the rest of my life, I certainly don’t, so His knowledge doesn’t matter to me in the least. If an invisible man is dancing a jig on the far side of the moon, how would that affect any decision I might make?
Christians also love to talk about the mechanistic, ‘fixed-state’ nature of the physical universe, and how material reality opposes the existence of free will. "If we knew all the variables, we could predict everyone’s behaviour." But even if that were theoretically true, so what? We can never know all of the variables. Valid propositions respect basic realities – and one basic reality is that people have free will. Christians can’t say that material reality is fixed, and so free will must come from God, because the most basic fact of material reality is that it is not fixed – because of free will. A central fact of material reality is that it contains self-generating electrical and chemical activity in the form of the human brain. Of course, we don’t know why. We may never know why. But that doesn’t matter – it’s still a fact that it exists. The science of geology did not invent earthquakes, and explaining earthquakes did not change their nature. Failing to explain them would not cause them to be more or less frequent. And so, even if we never figure out why we are the only self-generating matter in the universe, the fact remains that we are, and no God has to be brought into the equation to explain that.
The concept of God does nothing to explain free will anyway. Imagine a scientist saying: "I can’t figure out the cause of this material phenomenon, so it must have an imaginary, illogical, immaterial cause." We believe that everything falls down – then we see a helium balloon. Do we imagine that invisible ghosts are lifting it up out of love? Of course not! We examine the balloon and figure it out – and learn a great deal more about physical reality in the process. Taking refuge in fairy tales is no way to advance the species.
It is also important to remember that new claims – especially non-empirical claims – cannot violate all existing knowledge. I have never seen the Great Wall of China, but I have no problem believing that it exists. I’ve seen walls. I’ve been to China. There are photographs. However, if someone said that the Great Wall of China was composed of ice that did not melt above 0 degrees, I would feel entirely comfortable telling them that they were wrong. And if a thousand people told me that, all at once, I would still tell them they were wrong. Billions of people believe the most arrant nonsense. Angels. UFO’s. Horoscopes. Telepathy. A ruler is special. We need the State. In the past, they believed the world sat on top of turtles. That the Earth was the center of the universe. All false. Even now, every time a ‘miracle’ is investigated, frauds, lies and mass delusions are always found to be the case. People lie. They have been taught from day one that fantasies trump reality. They are loyal to those who have lied to them. They love being thought of as special. Not because they are bad. But because they have been mentally crippled by sick and socially-inflicted fantasies.
So when a religious man tells you that you believe in Queen Elizabeth I, even though you have never seen her physically, just reply that her historical existence does not fly in the face of all known empirical and scientific facts. That is how we know the difference between Queen Elizabeth I and Pinocchio.
So – God is logically ridiculous, because He must be an effect of matter – consciousness – which does not involve matter. He exists ‘above time’ – whatever that means, it might as well be ‘below the number two’. He is both ‘all knowing’ and ‘all powerful’ – but if He knows the future, He cannot change it, and so cannot be all ‘powerful’. God is morally squalid, because He murders and damns and condemns and endorses slavery and commands that atheists be put to death – all the while repeating that murder is evil. If murder is evil, then God is evil. If murder is not evil, then God is a hypocrite for commanding mankind to abhor it. If God’s morality is utterly different from ours, then how do we know He is good? It is all the purest nonsense.
Faith in God also destroys civility and empathy among people. A man who believes his own opinions are absolute truths can never be reasoned with. He will never change his mind. He will never submit to evidence, empathy, the implorings of others or any such base material concerns. With him, it is either: submit, fight blindly or walk away. There can be no intimacy. No connection. He is wedded to his fantasies, and cannot be reached.
The idea of God is socially deadly, because people take their own murky impulses as divine commandments, subject to no rational examination or empirical challenges. Since there is no God, all who receive replies from this void are hearing merely the echoes of their own madness.
During a plague, a doctor does no good by pretending that the sick are healthy. He will only aid the spread of the pathogen. As atheists, we must stop sanctioning religious ideas. We must always call this cancer by its name. The world is sick with God-fever. And the time has come for us to cure it, no matter what the cost.
Thursday, December 30, 2004
What could be stranger than to believe that the contradictory opinions of an elusive and invisible deity constitute absolute truth, whereas the biological fact that we are all human beings, and all subject to the same physical laws, is to be considered rank subjectivity.
To deal with the problem of subjectivity, a moral theory must be simple – and subject to the same tests as any logical or scientific theory. It has to have internal consistency, and cannot contradict known physical laws.
Any moral theory must satisfy the basics. It must be applicable to all people at all times, and also support the near-universal condemnation against certain crimes, such as premeditated murder, assault, rape and so on.
Any moral theory must also be able to both explain past and current phenomenon, as well as accurately predict future trends. For example, it must be able to explain why Nazism was evil, as well as Communism and fascism. It must be able to explain why Africa, for instance, remains mired in poverty and violence – as well as why the Muslim world remains so backward and violent. It must also explain the failure of imperialism. It would get bonus points for knowing in advance that the American invasion of Iraq was doomed to failure.
Also, for any moral theory to be taken seriously, it must also explain how certain advances in the human condition occurred. Why did capitalism raise the standard of living so highly? Why is democracy better than fascism? Why have wife-beating and ‘honour killings’ declined in the West, but not in the East? Why did socialism murder so many millions of people?
For anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the scientific method, none of this is startling. Scientists know that their theories have to be logical, and consistent with known reality and common perception.
Either we have property rights, or we do not. If no one has property rights, then no one has ownership over even his own body. Kidneys may be removed at will. No physical invasion is wrong. Rape is not a crime. Neither is stabbing someone. No sane person would defend such propositions. Thus we at least be said to have ownership over our own bodies. If we have ownership over our own bodies, then we must have ownership over the effects of our bodies. If I own my body, then I own my actions. If I own my actions, then I own the effects of my actions. If I do not, then I can never be condemned for stabbing or raping anyone. I obviously own my vocal chords. But what would it mean to own my vocal cords, but not the sound they produce? Owning the flesh is owning the effect. If people want to give me bread to hear me sing, then is not the bread they give me also an effect of my voice? Do I not own that bread as surely as I own my voice? All property comes from the first ownership – our own body and its thoughts. If we own our bodies, then we also own the property we produce.
Ah, but a man can come and steal my bread. How is that different from me giving him my bread? Stealing is as different from giving as rape is from lovemaking. The essential element is choice. If I own a piece of bread, it is a product of my choices and actions. If someone steals my bread, he is saying that it is a product of his mental and physical actions, which it is not. He acts to steal the bread, of course, but the bread has not come into existence because of his actions, but mine. He is contradicting reality on two levels. The first, mentioned above, is the claim that his thoughts and actions produced the bread, which it did not. The second is that he is stealing my property because he values property rights, which is a rank contradiction. I will steal your bread because I want to gain the value of owning bread – either eating it, giving it away or trading it. If everything I stole was immediately stolen from me, I would stop stealing. Thus I want the benefits of ownership, which I am denying to you. This is an utter contradiction. Illogical – and thus, when inflicted on others, immoral.
Rape is a particularly virulent subset of theft. All human beings own their own bodies, and so rape is subject to the same irrational premises mentioned above. Rape also suffers from the problem of contradiction. A man who rapes a woman is saying that his own pleasure is important. But he is simultaneously denying that the woman’s pleasure is important. But they are both human, and so he cannot make up laws which apply only to himself. Again, a rank contradiction, and so immoral.
The murdered man wants to live. His murderer wants to live. See above.
Morality is one of the easiest puzzles to solve. It is also one of the most instinctive. Children take many years to understand calculus. Take a toddler’s toy away from him and see what happens. So why is it so muddled for so many people?
Well, of course morality is the most powerful force in human life. It is muddled because whoever controls morality controls the world. It is muddled because priests and politicians and all the court toadies of the modern state have muddled it, so they can act against all the simple dictates of physical reality, base decency and common humanity. Priests tell us that God rules morality so that we will defer to their opinions. Politicians tell us that we should serve our country so we will kill and die for their petty grandeur. The primary goal of false moralists – or illogicians – is to make up an imaginary entity which defines morality, and then claim to be the only ones who can speak for it. Thus, you see, we are not serving them – just this… thing. God, country, race, priest, whatever.
And this – this is considered the opposite of subjectivity. Even if we assume that God exists, has the edicts He has handed down been so clear that they can be considered as objective as even the most fluctuating law of physics? Of course not! The Christian God murders entire cities, the entire world. He condones slavery, the murder of atheists and homosexuals, rape and all manner of irrationality and wrongdoing. If God were a man, we would rightly judge Him both mad and evil. He claims we should forgive our enemies, but punishes even inadvertent sinners with hellfire. He demands that we help others, but does not save even children from cancer. He commands us to refrain from killing, then tells us to kill unbelievers.
And – amazingly – this is all considered the most objective source of morality. The simple moral reasoning outlined above is considered the basest subjectivity, but the whims of an over-translated, contradictory, malevolent and frankly unproven deity are considered absolute and certain truth. It is the purest nonsense.
Finally, the scientific method demands that all theories explain and predict behaviour. It is simple to put the religious model to the test. The Christian Church ruled the Western world for over a thousand years, from before the fall of Rome. How were we doing? Look it up. When Church power was overthrown in the eighteen century, property rights began to be observed for the first time in human history. What was the result? The end of slavery. Capitalism. Freedom. The factories that saved mankind. The rise of the rights of women and children.
The theory of property rights explains the Dark and Middle Ages, the value of capitalism, the continued slavery in Africa, the murderous failures of communism, fascism, socialism and the barbarian habits of the Muslim states. Just as bad science produces barren knowledge, so irrational moral theories produce misery and death. All such social failures can be traced to a lack of respect for property rights – either of the effects of the body, or the body itself. The objective reality of property rights is also easily employed to predict the current and escalating failures of all State policies and programs, since the State’s power of taxation is antithetical to property rights (see ‘theft’ above).
Thus I find it amazing that irrational and inconsistent rules, backed by imaginary entities like the State, the people, the race, the country or some contradictory sky-ghost – and interpreted by men with no regard for logic or empirical truth – are considered objective, true and absolute. Simple moral truths such as those outlined above, however, which are consistent and true to the facts of life, reality and history, are considered subjective and relativistic make-believe.
It is time for us to rise above this manipulative, destructive and blinding confusion, and clearly see the simple rules inherent within both our own natures and the world we inhabit. Morality, like physics, is not defined by irrational whims or subjective preferences, but the fixed characteristics of nature. We are all rational animals, therefore we are all as subject to the same morality as we are to the same gravity. This does not mean that we must be moral – it merely means that if we are immoral, the consequences will be destructive. We may choose to jump off a cliff, but we cannot choose not to fall.
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
· where children go to school, and how they will be educated
· the interest rate citizens can borrow at
· the value of currency
· how employees can be hired and fired
· how more than 50% of their citizens’ time and money are disposed of
· who a citizen’s doctor is
· what kinds of medical procedures can be received – and when
· when to go to war
· who can live in the country
· …just to touch on a few.
Most of these amazing intrusions into personal liberty have occurred over the past 90 years, since the introduction of the income tax. They have been accepted by a population helpless to challenge the endless expansions of State power – and yet, even though most citizens have received endless pro-State propaganda in government schools, a growing rebellion is brewing. State predations are now so intrusive that they have effectively arrested the forward momentum of society, which now hangs before a fall. Children are poorly educated, young people are unable to get ahead, couples with children fall ever-further into debt, and the elderly are finding State medical systems collapsing under the weight of their growing needs – and State debts continue to grow.
Thus, these early years of the twenty-first century are the end of an era, a collapse of mythology comparable to the fall of fascism, communism, monarchy, or political Christianity. The idea that the State is capable of solving social problems is now viewed with great skepticism – which foretells a coming change. As soon as skepticism is applied to the State, the State falls, since it fails at everything except increasing its power, and so can only survive on propaganda, which relies on unquestioning faith.
Yet while most people are comfortable with the idea of reducing the size and power of the State, they become distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of getting rid of it completely. To use a medical metaphor, if the State is a cancer, they prefer medicating it into an unstable remission, rather than eliminating it completely.
This can never work. A central lesson of history is that States are parasites which always expand until they destroy their host population. Because the State uses violence to achieve its ends – and there is no rational end to the expansion of violence – States grow until they destroy civilized interaction through the corruption of money, contracts, honesty, family, and self-reliance. As such, the cancerous metaphor is not misplaced. People who believe that the State can somehow be contained have not accepted the fact that no State in history has ever been contained.
Even the rare reductions are merely temporary. The United States was founded on the principle of limited government; it took little more than a century for the State to break the bonds of the Constitution, implement the income tax, take control of the money supply and the educational system, and begin its catastrophic expansion. There is no example in history of a State being permanently reduced in size. All that happens during a tax or civil revolt is that the State retrenches, figures out what it did wrong, and plans its expansion again. Or provokes a war, which silences all but fringe dissenters.
Given these well-known historical facts, why do still people believe that such a deadly predator can be tamed? Surely it can only be because they consider a slow strangulation in the grip of an expanding State somehow better than the quick death of a society bereft of a State.
Why, then, do most people believe that a society will crumble without a coercive and monopolistic social agency at its core? There are a number of answers to this question, but generally they tend to revolve around three central points:
· dispute resolution;
· collective services; and,
The fact that people still cling to the belief that the State is requires to resolve disputes is amazing, since modern courts are out of the reach of all but the most wealthy and patient, and are primarily used to shield the powerful from competition or criticism. In this writer’s experience, to take a dispute with a stockbroker to the court system would have cost more than a quarter of a million dollars and taken from five to ten years – however, a private mediator settled the matter within a few months for very little money. In the realm of marital dissolution, private mediators are commonplace. Unions use grievance processes, and a plethora of other specialists in dispute resolution have sprung up to fill in the void left by a ridiculously lengthy, expensive and incompetent State court system.
Thus the belief that the State is required for dispute resolution is obviously false, since the court apparatus is unavailable to the vast majority of the population, who resolve their disputes either privately or through agreed-upon mediators.
How can the free market deal with the problem of dispute resolution? Outside the realm of organized crime, very few people are comfortable with armed confrontations, and so generally prefer to delegate that task to others. Let’s assume that people’s need for such representatives produces Dispute Resolution Organizations (DROs), which promise to resolve disputes on their behalf.
Thus, if Stan is hired by Bob, they both sign a document specifying which DRO they both accept as an authority in dispute resolution. If they disagree about something, and are unable to resolve it between themselves, they submit their case to the DRO, and agree to abide by that DRO’s decision.
So far so good. However, what if Stan decides he doesn’t want to abide by the DRO’s decision? Well, several options arise.
First of all, when Stan signed the DRO agreement, it is likely that he would have agreed to property confiscation if he did not abide by the DRO’s decision. Thus the DRO would be entirely within its right to go and remove property from Stan – by force if necessary – to pay for his side of the dispute.
It is at this point that people generally throw up their arms and dismiss the idea of DROs by claiming that society would descend into civil war within a few days.
Everyone, of course, realizes that civil war is a rather bad situation, and so it seems likely that the DROs would consider alternatives to armed combat.
What other options could be pursued? To take a current example, small debts which are not worth pursuing legally are still regularly paid off – and why? Because a group of companies produce credit ratings on individuals, and the inconvenience of a lowered credit rating is usually greater than the inconvenience of paying off a small debt. Thus, in the absence of any recourse to force, small debts are usually settled. This is one example of how desired behaviour can be elicited without pulling out a gun or kicking in a door.
Picture for a moment the infinite complexity of modern economic life. Most individuals bind themselves to dozens of contracts, from car loans and mortgages to cell phone contracts, gym membership, condo agreements and so on. To flourish in a free market, a man must honour his contracts. A reputation for honest dealing is the foundation of a successful economic life. Now, few DROs will want to represent a man who regularly breaks contracts, or associates with difficult and litigious people. (For instance, this writer once refrained from entering into a business partnership because the potential partner revealed that he had sued two previous partners.)
Thus if Stan refuses to abide by his DRO’s ruling, the DRO has to barely lift a finger to punish him. All the DRO has to do is report Stan’s non-compliance to the local contract rating company, who will enter his name into a database of contract violators. Stan’s DRO will also probably drop him, or raise his rates considerably.
And so, from an economic standpoint, Stan has just shot himself in the foot. He is now universally known as a man who rejects legitimate DRO rulings that he agreed to accept in advance. What happens when he goes for his next job? What if he decides to eschew employment and start his own company, what happens when he applies for his first lease? Or tries to hire his first employee? Or rent a car, or buy an airline ticket? Or enter into a contract with his first customer? No, in almost every situation, Stan would be far better off to abide by the decision of the DRO. Whatever he has to pay, it is far cheaper than facing the barriers of existing without access to a DRO, or with a record of rejecting a legitimate ruling.
But let’s push the theory to the max, to see if it holds. To examine a worst-case scenario, imagine that Stan’s employer is an evil man who bribes the DRO to rule in his favour, and the DRO imposes an unconscionable fine – say, one million dollars – on Stan.
First of all, this is such an obvious problem that DROs, to get any business at all, would have to deal with this danger up front. An appeal process to a different DRO would have to be part of the contract. DROs would also rigorously vet their own employees for any unexplained income. And, of course, any DRO mediator who corrupted the process would receive perhaps the lowest contract rating on the planet, lose his job, and be liable for damages. He would lose everything, and be an economic pariah.
However, to go to the extreme, perhaps the worst has occurred and Stan has been unjustly fined a million dollars due to DRO corruption. Well, he has three alternatives. He can choose not to pay the fine, drop off the DRO map, and work for cash without contracts. Become part of the grey market, in other words. A perfectly respectable choice, if he has been treated unjustly.
However, if Stan is an intelligent and even vaguely entrepreneurial man, he will see the corruption of the DRO as a prime opportunity to start his own, competing DRO, and will write into its base contract clauses to ensure that what happened to him will never happen to anyone who signs on with his new DRO.
Stan’s third option is to appeal to the contract rating agency. Contract rating agencies need to be as accurate as possible, since they are attempting to assess real risk. If they believe that the DRO ruled unjustly against Stan, they will lower that DRO’s contract rating and restore Stan’s.
Thus it is inconceivable that violence would be required to enforce all but the most extreme contract violations, since all parties gain the most long-term value by acting honestly. This resolves the problem of instant descent into civil war.
Two other problems exist, however, which must be resolved before the DRO theory starts to becomes truly tenable.
The first is the challenge of reciprocity, or geography. If Bob has a contract with Jeff, and Jeff moves to a new location not covered by their mutual DRO, what happens? Again, this is such an obvious problem that it would be solved by any competent DRO. People who travel prefer cell phones with the greatest geographical coverage, and so cell phone companies have developed reciprocal agreements for charging competitors. Just as a person’s credit rating is available anywhere in the world, so their contract rating will also be available, and so there will be no place to hide from a broken contract save by going ‘off the grid’ completely, which would be economically crippling.
The second problem is the fear that a particular DRO will grow in size and stature to the point where it takes on all the features and properties of a new State.
This is a superstitious fear, because there is no historical example of a private company replacing a political State. While it is true that companies regularly use State coercion to enforce trading restrictions, high tariffs, cartels and other mercantilist tricks, surely this reinforces the danger of the State, not the inevitability of companies growing into States. All States destroy societies. No company has ever destroyed a society without the aid of the State. Thus the fear that a private company can somehow grow into a State is utterly unfounded in fact, experience, logic and history.
If society becomes frightened of a particular DRO, then it can simply stop doing business with it, which will cause it to collapse. If that DRO, as it collapses, somehow transforms itself from a group of secretaries, statisticians, accountants and contract lawyers into a ruthless domestic militia and successfully takes over society – and how unlikely is that! – then such a State will then be imposed on the general population. However, there are two problems even with this most unlikely scare scenario. First of all, if any DRO can take over society and impose itself as a new State, why only a DRO? Why not the Rotary Club? Why not a union? Why not the Mafia? The YMCA? The SPCA? Is society to then ban all groups with more than a hundred members? Clearly that is not a feasible solution, and so society must live with the risk of a brutal coup by ninja accountants as much as from any other group.
And, in the final analysis, if society is so terrified of a single group seizing a monopoly of political power, what does that say about the existing States? They have a monopoly of political power. If a DRO should never achieve this kind of control, why should existing States continue to wield theirs?
Roads, sewage, water and electricity and so on are also cited as reasons why a State must exist. How roads could be privately paid for remains such an impenetrable mystery that most people are willing to support the State – and so ensure the eventual and utter destruction of civil society – rather than cede that this problem just might be solvable. There are many ways to pay for roads, such as electronic or cash tolls, GPS charges, roads maintained by the businesses they lead to, communal organizations and so on. And if none of those work? Why, then personal flying machines will hit the market!
The problem that a water company might build plumbing to a community, and then charge exorbitant fees for supplying it, is equally easy to counter. A truck could deliver bottled water, or the community could invest in a water tower, a competing company could built alternate pipes and so on. None of these problems touch the central rationale for a State. They are ex post facto justifications made to avoid the need for critical examination or, heaven forbid, political action. The argument that voluntary free-market monopolies are bad – and that the only way to combat them is to impose compulsory monopolies – is obviously foolish. If voluntary monopolies are bad, then how can coercive monopolies be better?
Due to countless examples of free market solutions to the problem of ‘carrier costs’, this argument no longer holds the kind of water it used to, so it must be elsewhere that people must turn to justify the continued existence of the State.
This is perhaps the greatest problem faced by free-market theorists. It’s worth spending a little time on outlining the worst possible scenario, and see how a voluntary system could solve it. However, it’s important to first dispel the notion that the State currently deals effectively with pollution. Firstly, the most polluted resources on the planet are State-owned, because State personnel do not personally profit from retaining the value of State property (witness the destruction of the Canadian cod industry through blatant vote-buying). Secondly, the distribution of mineral, lumber and drilling rights is directly skewed towards bribery and corruption, because States rarely sell the land, but rather just the resource rights. A lumber company cannot buy woodlands from the State, just the right to harvest trees. Thus the State gets a renewable source of income, and can further coerce lumber companies by enforcing re-seeding. This, of course, tends to promote bribery, corruption and the creation of ‘fly-by-night’ lumber companies which strip the land bare, but vanish when it comes time to re-seed. Auctioning State land to a private market easily solves this problem, because a company which re-seeded would reap the greatest long-term profits from woodland, and so would be able to bid the most for the land.
Also, it should be remembered that, in the realm of air pollution, governments created the problem in the first place. In 19th century England, when industrial smokestacks began belching fumes into the orchards of apple farmers, the farmers took the factory-owners to court, citing the common-law tradition of restitution for property damage. Naturally, the capitalists had gotten to the State courts first, and had more money to bribe with, employed more voting workers, and contributed more tax revenue than the farmers – and so the farmers’ cases were thrown out of court. The judge argued that the ‘common good’ of the factories took precedence over the ‘private need’ of the farmers. The free market did not fail to solve the problem of air pollution – it was forcibly prevented from doing so through State corruption.
The State, then, is no friend of the environment – but how would the free market handle it? One egregious example often cited is a group of houses downwind from a new factory which works day and night to coat them in soot.
When a man buys a new house, isn’t it important to him to ensure that it won’t be subjected with someone else’s pollution? People’s desire for a clean and safe environment is so strong that it’s a clear invitation for enterprising capitalists to sweat bullets figuring out how to provide it.
Fortunately, since we have already talked about DROs and their role in a free market, the problem of air pollution can be solved quite easily.
If the aforementioned group of homeowners is afraid of pollution, the first thing they will do is buy pollution insurance, which is a natural response to a situation where costs cannot be predicted but consequences are dire. Let’s say that a homeowner named Achmed buys pollution insurance which pays him two million dollars if the air around or in his house becomes polluted in some predefined manner. In other words, as long as Achmed’s air remains clean, the insurance company makes money.
One day, a plot of land upwind of Achmed’s house comes up for sale. Naturally, his insurance company would be very interested in this, and would monitor the sale. If the purchaser is some private school, all is well (assuming Achmed has not bought an excess of noise pollution insurance!). If, however, the insurance company discovers that Sally’s House of Polluting Paint Production is interested in purchasing the plot of land, then it will likely spring into action, taking one of the following actions:
· buying the land itself, then selling it to a non-polluting buyer;
· getting assurances from Sally that her company will not pollute;
· paying Sally to enter into a non-polluting contract.
If, however, someone at the insurance company is asleep at the wheel, and Sally buys the land and puts up her polluting factory, what happens then?
Well, then the insurance company is on the hook for $2M to Achmed (assuming for the moment that only Achmed bought pollution insurance). Thus, it can afford to pay Sally up to $2M to reduce her pollution and still be cash-positive. This payment could take many forms, from the installation of pollution-control equipment to a buy-out to a subsidy for under-production and so on.
If the $2M is not enough to solve the problem, then the insurance company pays Achmed the $2M and he goes and buys a new house in an unpolluted neighbourhood. However, this scenario is highly unlikely, since the insurance company would be unlikely to insure only one single person in a neighbourhood against air pollution – and a single person probably could not afford it!
So, that is the view from Achmed’s air-pollution insurance company. What about the view from Sally’s House of Polluting Paint Production? She, also, must be covered by a DRO in order to buy land, borrow money and hire employees. How does that DRO view her tendency to pollute?
Pollution brings damage claims against Sally, because pollution is by definition damage to persons or property. Thus Sally’s DRO would take a dim view of her polluting activities, since it would be on the hook for any property damage her factory causes. In fact, it would be most unlikely that Sally’s DRO would insure her against damages unless she were able to prove that she would be able to operate her factory without harming the property of those around her. And without access to a DRO, of course, she would be hard-pressed to start her factory, borrow money, hire employees etc.
It’s important to remember that DROs, much like cell phone companies and Internet providers, only prosper if they cooperate. Sally’s DRO only makes money if Sally does not pollute. Achmed’s insurer also only makes money if Sally does not pollute. Thus the two companies share a common goal, which fosters cooperation.
Finally, even if Achmed is not insured against air pollution, he can use his and/or Sally’s DRO to gain restitution for the damage her pollution is causing to his property. Both Sally and Achmed’s DROs would have reciprocity agreements, since Achmed wants to be protected against Sally’s actions, and Sally wants to be protected against Achmed’s actions. Because of this desire for mutual protection, they would choose DROs which had the widest reciprocity agreements.
Thus, in a truly free market, there are many levels and agencies actively working against pollution. Achmed’s insurer will be actively scanning the surroundings looking for polluters it can forestall. Sally will be unable to build her paint factory without proving that she will not pollute. Mutual or independent DROs will resolve any disputes regarding property damage caused by Sally’s pollution.
There are other benefits as well, which are almost unsolvable in the current system. Imagine that Sally’s smokestacks are so high that her air pollution sails over Achmed’s house and lands on Reginald’s house, a hundred miles away. Reginald then complains to his DRO that his property is being damaged. His DRO will examine the air contents and wind currents, then trace the pollution back to its source and resolve the dispute with Sally’s DRO. If the air pollution is particularly complicated, then Reginald’s DRO will place non-volatile compounds into Sally’s smokestacks and follow them to where they land. This can be used in a situation where a number of different factories may be contributing pollutants.
The problem of inter-country air pollution may seem to be a sticky one, but it’s easily solvable. Obviously, a Canadian living along the Canada/US border, for instance, will not choose a DRO which refuses to cover air pollution emanating from the US. Thus the DRO will have to have reciprocity agreements with the DROs across the border. If the US DROs refuse to have reciprocity agreements with the Canadian DROs – inconceivable, since the pollution can go both ways – then the Canadian DRO will simply start a US branch and compete.
The difference is that international DROs actually profit from cooperation, in a way that governments do not. For instance, a State government on the Canada/US border has little motivation to impose pollution costs on local factories, as long as the pollution generally goes north. For DROs, quite the opposite would be true.
Finally, one other advantage to DRO’s can be termed the ‘Scrabble-Challenge Benefit’. In Scrabble, an accuser loses his turn if he challenges another player’s word and the challenge fails. Given the costs of resolving disputes, DROs would be very careful to ensure that those bringing false accusations would be punished through their own premiums, their contract ratings and by also assuming the entire cost of the dispute. This would greatly reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits, to the great benefit of all.
The idea that society can only survive in the absence of a centralized State is the greatest lesson that the grisly years of the Twentieth Century can teach us. Our choice is not between the free market and the State, but between life and death. Whatever the risks involved in dissolving the central State, they are far less than the certain destruction which will result from its inevitable escalation. Like a cancer patient facing certain demise, we must open our minds and reach for whatever medicine shows the most promise, and not wait until it is too late.
 For the sake of simplicity, the assumption is that there is no appeal process, which is admittedly highly unlikely.
 More accurately, DRO’s will be happy to deal with such people – just as car insurance companies will insure even terrible drivers – but the cost of representation will be very high.
 This is also why existing DRO’s will be so vigilant in rooting out corruption. Faster than any other single factor, corruption will breed competition.
 Naturally, the insurance company would have to deal with the problem that it is cheaper for Achmed’s neighbour to let Achmed buy the insurance, which could be dealt with by descending group rates and so on.
 Of course, the idea of ‘countries’ may be somewhat anachronistic by this time…