Equating intuitionism with “naive intuitionism.”

When you tell people that you’re a moral intuitionist, there is a sort of natural argument that forms in people’s minds, at least people who care about morality at all. This argument consists of equating intuitionism with what I call “naive intuitionism.” I use this term in the same way that people use “naive realism,” a term which refers to the belief that we perceive things exactly as they are. But in reality, perception is mediated by senses and a brain, which filter and interpret sensations. I refer to native intuitionism, therefore, as the belief that the propositions we develop from our moral intuitions are always a direct perception of correct moral principles.

So first, let me point out the fundamental flaw with this argument: being an intuitionist does not mean you must be a naive intuitionist, any more than being a realist means you must be a naive realist. If intuitions are the result of an evolutionary process, which I contend, then we must start from the premise that our moral faculties, like all other biological faculties, are messy. Evolution is a sloppy process of trial and error extended over ages. Because of this generous time frame, it is extremely good at eventually zeroing in on some solution to a specific problem, but it can’t start over. For instance, it can’t look for a more optimal solution if that requires it to backtrack in any way.

It is incontestable that humans are social animals adapted to life in hierarchical communities. Our moral sense is likewise that of a social animal. Not that of a solitary predator, whose calculations are almost solely instrumental (although some stupid humans pretend to imitate such a way of life), but that of a being concerned with the cooperation of others in fulfilling goals. It seems that, from the very first, human communities have fostered cooperation and division of labor. It is little wonder that predatory “moralities” are usually accompanied by a denial of evolution.

Humans interested in understanding how morality works divide intuitions in categories, like fairness, tribalism, and so on. But in our daily lives, these all co-exist and are constantly intertwined in our moral evaluations. They are not meant to be analyzed as separate units, but as facets of a moral system. When taken to extremes, they can lead to extremes of evil:

Fairness can lead to the death penalty, capitalism, and “an eye for an eye.”
Liberty can lead to vulgar individualism, and turning a blind eye to the exploitation or oppression of others.
Loyalty, and respect of authority, can lead to war and genocide.
Sanctity can lead to hatred against innocents for being “impure.”

Note that I said “when taken to extremes.” In their normal context, these intuitions should not lead one to evil. But clearly they can.

Before I continue in this line of reasoning, I want to address one objection that I foresee: some might say that the consequences I listed are the result of false premises. But this doesn’t really tell us anything, since all errors are either the result of false premises or invalid logic. The reality of the situation is that people do make grave mistakes and are often in error, and pointing that fact out does not really illustrate anything. If we could simply never make any mistakes, we wouldn’t need epistemology or morality to begin with, and this whole discussion would never need to happen (Anthropic Argument from Moral Disagreements?).

So the question becomes, how can our moral system, as I call it, get out of whack? Well, I think the answer should be obvious to anyone who understands social constructionism and hierarchical institutions. Institutions have the leverage they need to convince people that their interests are linked to the institution’s flourishing. The individual becomes identified with the nation, the religion, the economic class, the distinctive mores and traditions, the social roles, and so on, and various intuitions are associated with those same things (religion as source of sanctity and purity, government as a fair arbiter and source of liberty, etc). And when that identification is in place, it becomes relatively easy to invoke whatever intuition is needed to get people to do evil things. This is the most commonplace way to corrupt an individual.

It is rather similar to the ways in which quacks exploit our cognitive biases to make us believe in fake remedies or pseudo-science. Cognitive biases are evolved mechanisms by which we can make judgments rapidly and with finite mental resources, but they are insufficient to arrive at conclusions in complex, abstract domains, where most quackeries lie. Most people have no direct experience with medical trials, oncology, physics, or evolutionary theory. Therefore, they must rely on what they know, which is often insufficient to distinguish true claims from false claims, especially when they have been convinced that some quack theory represents some ultimate or transcendent truth. In both cases, we’re talking about natural systems that evolved under simpler social conditions being twisted by more complex structures and systems of thought.

Another good analogy is cults, because cults are just an extreme form of hierarchical institutions. People join cults with good intentions. Once they are convinced that the cult is the only way to save the world, or bring humans to a higher plane of existence, or whatever, they can be persuaded to do anything to further the aims of the cult. Their best interest, and the cult’s best interest, become one and the same.

The solution to the co-optation of our moral system is individualism, the position that one’s values and principles are more important than external obligations (like laws and religious diktats). This is rarely presented as a solution. On the other hand, vulgar individualism, the position that all morality should be purely instrumental (i.e. self-interested) and that the individual should only be concerned with their own well-being and status, is often presented as a solution, especially in this age of capitalism and neo-liberalism. But it’s just another tactic to introvert people and prevent them from looking at social realities. The more obsessed you are about yourself, the less time or energy you have to look at what other people are going through, or look at the reality of your own situation.

The Adventures of Gyno-Star on: patriarchy, makeup, and corporate exploitation.

From The Adventures of Gyno-Star (1, 2, 3).

Waiting until beauty standards change?

From Clickhole: Body Positivity Win: Dove Is Offering To Freeze Women Until A Time When Their Bodies Are Conventionally Attractive

Dove is no stranger to running empowering advertising campaigns, but their latest effort is definitely their most ambitious and most inspiring yet. In an effort to give every woman the chance to feel valued, the company has taken body positivity to a new level: Dove is now offering to cryogenically freeze women until a time when their proportions are conventionally attractive.

Can we get a “hell yeah”? This is the breath of fresh air we’ve been looking for!

Women voting for Trump due to anti-feminism.

During an interview, Stephanie Coontz discusses why she thinks so many white women voted for Trump.

Most women do not like to be sexually harassed. Most women now say that they ought to get equal pay for equal work. But the fact remains that women who have the fewest opportunities to compete successfully in the labor market are the ones who are much more likely to support the policies and values that reward a traditional division of labor in the household.

Women with more social, economic, or educational capital are much more likely to support the activities of women making their own way in the world, to be proud when they see powerful women who stand up or who are getting ahead of men in any way, and they’re also much more open to supporting social policies that reward individual initiative even if they know that it’s not always rewarded equally.

Women with less economic or personal autonomy are often drawn to a culture of family values that emphasizes men’s responsibility to look after women. Women who have a shot at achieving or competing on their own emphasize equality, supporting the kind of policies that make it possible for them to move up in their jobs and combine work and family.

Women who want to be protected in the private sphere or need to be protected in the private sphere tend to emphasize the need to protect and privilege women’s special capacities for nurturing. I think it’s a big factor in the debates over contraception and sexuality and abortion. The flip side of women having all these freedoms from male control, they believe, is that it actually threatens women’s entitlement to male protection.

What do you do if you’re in a privileged class?

There is a huge tension between being a radical and being a person who has privilege in some hierarchy or other, as most of us have. As radicals, we see privilege as an external force, something to be abolished. As people with privilege, we see privilege as something that’s a part of who we are in society. Being a radical necessarily means the desire to abolish, to cast off, part of oneself. Since they are, after all, human, a lot of radicals are uncomfortable with that fact. There is also an unfortunate tendency to balkanize, to believe that one’s specific radical ideology is the only radical ideology worth pursuing, and that all others are pointless. This makes it easy to ignore privilege, and is basically the radical equivalent of “Oppression Olympics.”

The expression currently in fashion with the liberal/SJW set is “check your privilege.” This is used to shut down arguments from a person who holds a position of privilege, whether that privilege is relevant to the conversation or not, and equating such a position with an automatic disqualification from rational conversation. In general, “check your privilege” is not used to grapple with the concept of privilege, but rather to wield it like a weapon. Since it is wielded by people who, like most of us, have some position of privilege, this betrays a lack of self-awareness or irony.

So what should a radical do when confronted with their privilege as, for instance, a Western consumer, a parent, a man, a white person, or a married heterosexual (to name only those)? What they should not do is introvert and examine themselves for their merits or shortcomings. As any radical necessarily understands, criticism must be systemic in nature, and praising or attacking the individual, even if it’s yourself, is irrelevant. The radical which strikes at the root on one or many issues must not forget to do so on all issues. Reducing everything to yourself (“but I’m a good person!”) is reactionary, because it shields some hierarchies from analysis. So is simply ignoring hierarchies if you’re on the side that benefits.

The first step is to actually realize that you are a beneficiary of a hierarchy. This small step is already a great deal more than most people can muster, which is why it’s worth noting. Intersectionality, as used by liberals, has done a lot of work in helping people make that realization a lot harder. You can ignore the fact that you’re benefiting from one hierarchy by pointing out that you’re losing out in another. But ethnicity does not cancel out class, class does not cancel out sex, and so on. These are all separate social realities which must be addressed separately.

This is the place where people can work at rationalizing their benefits in order to go back to their state of mental comfort. The gamut of rationalizations run from biology (“I benefit because I am biologically/mentally superior”) to consequences (“If you take away those benefits, the world will basically end”). It’s important to realize that this is irrelevant to the whole process. Whatever your explanation for the existence of the hierarchy, it still exists.

If you are able to go further, the second step is to look at this hierarchy and how it manifests itself in your life, mainly in the expectations it places upon you (your social role), as well as your reactions to things that happen around you. As male, for instance, I am placed in the social role of man and expected to perform masculinity. I am aware of how this has affected my life profoundly and how it has colored my actions and thoughts. Many events in my life, which previously seemed mysterious or unimportant, are revealed, upon reexamination, to have been caused by people taking on, or reacting to, the man or woman social roles. I also understand that the way in which I react to events or things people say concerning sex or gender is grounded in my socialization and indoctrination as a man. Before you can criticize, you have to understand what it is that you’re criticizing.

The third step is self-criticism: realizing how your actions have harmed other people, or how the benefits you have received have been stolen from others. As a Western consumer, my life of plenty has been subsidized by sweatshop labor and slave labor in the Third World. As a man, I have benefitted from women’s labor and women’s grooming. As a person who passes for white with a white-sounding name, I benefit in added safety and financial opportunities (amongst other benefits) which exist at the expense of people of color.

Again, the point here is not to beat yourself up, or to give up because you don’t want to feel bad about yourself, but to engage in systemic analysis. People shirk from self-criticism because they want to “stay positive.” But this has nothing to do with being positive or negative. I am not automatically a “bad person” for being a Western consumer, a male, or white-passing. Neither do I get a “pass” for not being a bigot. It’s not about you, it’s about the hierarchies you benefit from. Besides, it’s wasted work to try to understand how hierarchies affect your life if you don’t do anything with that information.

If you get this far, this is the place where you should be able to realize that the rationalizations are false and that the people who are labeled superior and inferior in a hierarchy are actually equal, full human beings. You are able to do so because you’ve realized that the inferiors (which I use in this entry in the sense of “classified as inferior on some hierarchy,” not of “actually inferior beings”) are put in their situation by the hierarchy itself, not by some personal defect, and that they do not deserve to be inferiors. If you do not have the empathy or the reasoning abilities necessary to arrive at this conclusion, it is highly unlikely that you’d even get this far anyway.

When I say that superiors and inferiors are equal, I don’t mean that they are already equal in society. Of course you can always ignore reality and claim that the hierarchy somehow has no effect on people despite systematically imposing control on them and redirecting resources away from them. But again, I assume you do not have the combination of stupidity and cruelty necessary to contort your mind into believing such a thing.

If we are equal, then nothing can justify the status of superiors and inferiors, and we arrive at our status through accident of birth or, sometimes, accidental fortune or misfortune. Any person in a situation of privilege could have been born without that privilege. That being the case, it must be true that privilege is unjust.

Furthermore, you must recognize that the situation of the inferiors is different from yours. That is to say, that due to their particular situation, the inferiors cannot simply “stay quiet,” as you are able to. Usually people are able to stay quiet because they are not the ones being exploited or oppressed. To be an inferior is to cope, either by acquiescing or resisting. One must resist the temptation of jeering, or hate, those who acquiesce, but rather recognize that we are all reacting to our place in society in different ways.

The last step is to revolt against your social role. The way in which you do this depends on what you can, and what to, do. What you shouldn’t do is introvert and feel pity for yourself or rage against others, which is, as I said, a danger at every step. You need to look outwards. Read about radical ideologies which fight against the hierarchy you’re a part of. Join, or support, some form of collective action or community. As I’ve said before, being nice to oppressed or exploited people makes you a decent person but it doesn’t actually help make any systemic changes, which is why liberals are so keen on it. Go beyond just “being nice” and actually do something that makes an impact. Speak up against other privileged people when they rationalize. Make it clear you’re on the side of the people being exploited. Donate time or money, if you have any.

Note that none of this applies to the inferiors in a hierarchy. It would be pointless, as well as mean-spirited, to throw the points I’ve listed back in an inferior’s face and tell them that they should acknowledge their faults or acknowledge that they are both equal. Inferiors are under no obligation whatsoever to have sympathy for the people who are exploiting them. Doing so can only slow down, or completely halt, the process of disentangling themselves from the socialization and/or indoctrination used to enforce that hierarchy. “Naming the oppressor” is a huge step in that disentanglement. To spend one’s time pondering the equality between themselves and those who oppress them, or to reflect on how nice some oppressors are, while technically valid, is time which could be better spent understanding and naming.

Doug Stanhope – Liberty

Existential Comics on: Anarchist Monopoly, Cat Philosophy

From Existential Comics (1, 2).

Bullying is emotional abuse.

Bullying is emotional abuse.

There is nothing that can ever make you deserve emotional abuse.

Telling people, directly or through your actions, that they’re at fault for being abused is, again, emotional abuse.

I hate the term “bullying” for this exactly reason.

“Stop bullying” programs don’t work because they treat “bullying” like its a unique, child-specific thing you grow out of once you reach the magic age of 18 and It Gets Better ™.

It’s not. It’s just a fancy word for abuse that people coined because they didn’t want to believe their precious little baby could abuse another child and everyone went along with it because NOBODY wants to believe a six year old can intentionally traumatize another six year old to the point where they want to take their own life. Its “just bullying.” It’s not abuse. Only adults can be abusers. Kids are bullies. And if a child DOES do something evil, they’re either mentally ill or an adult drove them to it. Children can’t be bad!

Except here in the land of reality, it doesn’t work that way. Being abused causes the same amount of trauma whether your abuser is 9 or 90. I don’t care if a child has the biggest, saddest sob story in the world, they don’t get to use that as an excuse to abuse other children. Adults don’t (or shouldn’t) get away with that, so neither should children.

If people really want to “fix” bullying, they need to ditch this useless term and start calling it what it is. Abuse. And then, start actually doing something about abuse besides gaslighting the victim and saying “well maybe the abuser had good reasons uwu”.