Morality and Society: A Liberating Elegy
When I was a teenager, and I was exposed to ideas as a simple as ‘taxation is theft’, I swallowed them as easily as a cold beer on a hot day. I devoured the whole world of rationality, objectivism, libertarianism and Austrian economics. I loved the whole system of logical analysis, because it made sense of the world, and gave me a framework for classifying and understanding all of the minutiae of data that come flying at us every day. The world became more than base preference; it became something scientific, clear, organized – and alarming.
For many years – too many, for a man with a scientific bent – I believed that I was like other people. Since I had so easily accepted the reality of certain obvious propositions, I assumed that such radiant truths would illuminate others just as they had illuminated me.
Of course, like all of us, I ran full-tilt into the blank irrationality of my fellow men. I would strive mightily to convince a person of a particular fact, gain their grudging agreement, and then find the next day that they had reversed their position without any reexamination. I was subject to the most bizarre psychological cross-examinations – i.e. what in your past makes you so addicted to these ideas? Well, yes, my mother was mentally ill, but so what? Even if that were my primary motivation, what effect would that have on the truth of my propositions? If a man finds a cure for cancer because it killed his mother, does that mean that his cure is illusory? Would those afflicted by cancer scoff and call his cure nothing more than the obsessive symptom of a psychological ailment?
I was also subjected to the usual ad hominim attacks. I was heartless, cruel, thoughtless, had never suffered myself, wanted their sick relatives to die etc etc blah blah. All just noise, since these attacks never dealt with the rationality of my arguments – thus did the Vatican attack Galileo’s theories for causing people to lose faith. The possible effects of ideas are always irrelevant. Should Einstein have refrained from publication because he feared the creation of nuclear weapons? Bill Gates wants a computer on every desktop – dictators, organized crime and the IRS also have desktops. Should he throw up his hands and close down his company?
I was also visited – if that is the right word – by the most staggering form of indifference. I know that I am intelligent, logical, creative, and a good writer – a combination which is not as common as it should be. Yet as I laboured through my undergraduate degree and graduate studies, I was ignored in a manner that was chilling at the time, but in hindsight was entirely logical. It took me months to find a thesis adviser, who then gave me an ‘A’ without reading my thesis, mostly to stop me from pestering him. I would argue for particular positions in class, and over and over receive a shrug and ‘well, that’s just your opinion.’ I was aghast at the idea that modern academics was all opinion, but of course I shouldn’t have been.
I’d like to share what I have learned since those dark, maddening days, because I think it will be helpful to all my secret friends out there who may be struggling with the same problems.
My particular issue was that I was rational enough to know the truth, but not rational enough to accept the facts. The fact that I was unwilling to swallow – despite ample and daily empirical evidence – is that people are very sick, very crazy, and very corrupt. I now believe that it is too late to save our current society, and we are too early for whatever is to come next. I don’t know how early we are, but I do know that we are too late by over a hundred years.
The simple fact I had such a hard time accepting was that people are just not interested in freedom or rationality. They don’t mind arguing about it as an academic exercise, but they just don’t like to think. They don’t know how to think – but they also don’t know that they don’t know how to think. And that is why I say that it is too late, and we are too early. If you are a doctor with a cure in the middle of a plague, but people don’t even know that they’re sick, what are you to do? Should you run around trying to stuff pills down everyone’s throat? You’d be arrested for assault! That, in a nutshell, is the modern world. People are sick, and we have the cure, but they don’t know they’re sick, so we appear dangerous and incomprehensibly obsessed. The more we insist that they’re sick, the more sick we look to them. There is no way out of this vicious circle.
You can change a mathematician’s mind about a particular equation if you present incontrovertible proof, but you can’t in any way even affect the mind someone who doesn’t believe in numbers. You are just shouting into the wind. You can change a smoker’s mind about smoking if you have convincing proof that puffing away causes cancer. You cannot change a smoker’s mind if he does not believe in medicine, cancer, health, his lungs, or even the existence of his cigarette – because, in this case, there is no mind to change.
This is perhaps a rather chilling realization, but it should come as no surprise to us logicians. Logical argument has no effect on people who do not believe in – or submit to – logic. And logic, like language, is not something that can be developed later in life. The reasons for that are complicated, but mostly have to do with the fact that a man can survive corruption only if he has never corrupted others, and later in life most men have, through their own irrationality, deeply harmed their children, spouses, employees, friends and so on. Once a man harms others, he cannot change, because he becomes the enemy he needs to fight. Moral sickness and mental stagnation is the inevitable price of corrupting others.
I used to place our goal – the development of a moral science – in a historical context; I saw that the physical sciences were doing well, but that the moral sciences were almost non-existent. The moral sciences were, to me, roughly where the physical sciences were during the early Middle Ages.
This was a grave mistake.
The moral sciences are the exact opposite of the physical sciences, because the physical sciences serve State power, while the moral sciences are in direct opposition to that power. During the late Middle Ages, the rise of the physical sciences corresponded with the discovery of the New World. The world had to be accepted as round so that States could sail soldiers off to rape and pillage the New World. This harmed the Church’s infantile cosmology in the short run, but the Church primarily serves the State, and so had to accept it.
As scientific and capitalistic progress swelled to serve State power, the State realized that it was gaining far more by taxing capitalists than it ever did from pillaging serfs. So the State encouraged the growth of the free market and the expansion of the scientific method – both for the increased wealth and better weaponry that capitalism and science produced. Even now, the modern State funds science and allows aspects of the free market to operate.
Since science and the free market served State power, they were allowed. However, the danger of freedoms in commerce and science is that they tend to spread to other areas of thinking. Since it turns out that commerce and science only thrive in the absence of a central tyranny, why wouldn’t society flourish without a central State? The simple moral rationality which would confirm this had to be killed in the crib.
So, over a hundred years ago, the State took over the education of the children.
This was the only step that could be taken. The State needed people to be rational in business and science, but not in morality. So it trained citizens in empty, formalistic, merely pragmatic rationality, but destroyed their ability to understand and integrate moral concepts. To save its own power, it prevented the development of people’s moral rationality – and so their ability to love, be good, be happy, and live lives of any real satisfaction.
In this light, my belief that the moral sciences were where the physical sciences were in the Middle Ages was entirely incorrect. The physical sciences were encouraged because they served the power of the State. Any rational moral science would destroy the State, and rational morality is – and will forever be – the mortal enemy of the State.
It is not paranoid to believe that those in the State act instinctively to protect their own power, since a knowledge of steps necessary to control and exploit others is a deep part of our instinctual apparatus. This is easy to see in the realm of families. Parents who beat or abuse their children are almost never exposed. They do not take special night courses on the steps required to maintain their children’s isolation and silence – it just comes naturally. The steps required are very complicated, but never have to be learned. Another example is that no secret State directive exists ordering teachers to ensure that students cannot think rationally, yet almost no student comes out of State schools with the ability to think. Destroying the natural development of rationality is a complicated process, but it comes so naturally and easily to us.
Simple biology explains this fact. There are only two survival strategies for any organism. Find/produce food, or steal food. Human beings can go either way – we can either be productive, or exploitive. If we are exploitive, it is a far better survival strategy to steal without combat, since we, as parasites, must by definition be far fewer in number than those we prey on. Thus we must steal without war – and for that, the moral subjugation of our prey is required.
As human beings, we have within us both the productive and exploitive instincts, which is why exploiting others is so easy – and the necessary steps so ingrained in our natures.
None of this analysis means that we shall never win. It just means that we are not about to win. We are not even close. The parasites currently run almost everything, and the successes in capitalism and the physical sciences should not blind us to the fact that they are allowed to succeed because they serve the greed of the parasites – and that our theories would unseat them utterly.
So in my view, we are too early. Perhaps a thousand years too early, who knows? But since we claim to be rational thinkers, we must work empirically, from all the evidence of our experiences. We are doomed to be the lonely keepers of a lonely flame, for all our days to come. We shall not prevail against the armed might of the modern State, because its violence has destroyed the concept of rationality in the minds of the vast majority. In the dark illiteracy that rises around us, we must keep the candle of our language alive. Not because we shall prevail in society, but because at this stage in human development, freedom is only possible for isolated individuals. We who are blessed with its bounty should experience all the joys that only we possess, because striving to share freedom only turns us into the slaves of those who hate and fear our gifts.
Stefan Molynuex, is the host of Freedomain Radio (www.freedomainradio.com), the most popular philosophy site on the Internet, and a “Top 10” Finalist in the 2007-2010 Podcast Awards.