The Most Moral Person on Earth.

Part of the anxiety of living in society is that (barring new technology, of course) we do not have access to other people’s minds. This leads to a number of problems.

In epistemology, the barrier between the personal experience of mind activity (first-person) and its ontological expression as we observe it in other minds (third-person) creates the “diaphanous fallacy.” This fallacy occurs when we assume that the way the mind works (third-person) should correspond to the diaphanous way it feels to us (first-person), and since it doesn’t, the mind is in some way deficient, distorting, irrational. This may seem like a rather abstract error, but most philosophical errors about perception and reason are due to the fallacy, and by undermining individual cognition, it opens the way to collectivism as well.

Another, more concrete, problem is the necessity of trusting other people if one is to live in society. We cannot know their intentions as well as we know ours. Granted, we can ask someone about his intentions, but we must then trust them to say the truth. We naturally assume that other people share our values when it reinforces our sense of collective unity, but most of the time we mistrust others.

Why is that? Well, I think part of the answer is that we do not feel assured that everyone had the same experiences that formed our own morality. I don’t think this lack of assurance is warranted, since most of us do indeed go through the same general formative experiences. And this explanation does not apply to everyone- I, for one, certainly don’t think that most people are not to be trusted. It is collectivism I fear the most, not natural morality.

Collectivism may indeed be the biggest part of the problem here. You can see it as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. If your whole social structure is based on the premises that the individual is impotent epistemically and that only what is collective is relevant, then you force people to fit themselves into the collective mold. Over time, the incentive system impoverishes the substance of morality and replaces it with moral dependence. Therefore, if you start from the premise that people need to be controlled, then you will eventually end up with people who need to be controlled.

Given this state of affairs, it seems more natural for someone who accepts these premises to feel anxious about other people’s moral compass. As individualists, we understand that it is the state or the religion which erodes man’s moral compass and presents itself as the solution to this problem that it itself created. But for the believer, who looks at this from a memetically limited perspective, it appears as if people are so morally corrupt that they need to be subtended by the edifice of the state or religion.

This widespread belief becomes exposed when you try to deconvert believers, be they statist or religious, especially when said believers have been indoctrinated for a long time. When you try to discuss a world without a state or without religion, they inevitably say something of this sort:

“If we didn’t have the state/religion, people would just go around killing each other or stealing.”

“Without the state/religion, people are too selfish and wouldn’t want to help each other.”

“You are too optimistic about human nature.”

Now, there are problems with these statements as they stand. People already go around “killing each other or stealing,” and very little prevents them from doing so, state or religion notwithstanding. If people would not want to help each other out, then there is no more reason for them to do so now, and yet they obviously do. As for the last one, I personally am not optimistic about human nature at all, at least not in the way most believers intend: I do not even believe in altruism.

Finally, all of these positions, or indeed any position which relies on people’s immorality as an argument to justify hierarchies, are neatly refuted by the Argument from the State of Nature. If we must reject non-belief on the grounds that people are immoral, then any hierarchy we construct to try to compensate for this will inevitably be made of immoral people as well. And why should we expect immoral people to regulate immorality away, or to not exploit this power for their own evil gain? The only conclusion that “people are immoral” leads us to, in hierarchical terms, is that “hierarchies, being made of people, would be immoral, and hence undesirable.”

That’s for the conceptual aspect. What about addressing these believers? If a believer tells me these things, I get a feeling that they believe that they are the most moral person on Earth. Who would admit that they themselves want to murder, steal, or not case about others? And yet they are clearly eager to impute these ills on everyone else.

Well, there are a few things you could do at this point. You could discuss the fact that the state or religion are counter to morality, and only impose a top-down ruling class framework. You could discuss the development of morality in the individual, although that would take a rather long time. You could set up some real-life examples without the state or religion.

But here is, at least to me, the one-shot refutation of any moral dogmatism, be it based on “religion”, “the commandments”, “the law”, or any other doctrine that people claim is necessary for morality.

When they tell you : “If people didn’t have X, they would just go around raping and killing people. How could you stop anyone from coming in your home, killing you, and stealing all your possessions?”

Ask this : “If YOU didn’t have X any more, WOULD you go around raping and killing people? Would you come in my home, kill me, and steal all my possessions? YES OR NO?”

By tearing down their pretense of “people are like this or that,” you reduce them to an unsavory choice : either they are the only moral person on the planet, which is impossible, or they were dead wrong. If they wouldn’t do these things, then what reason do they have to believe most people would? The anxiety I discussed can equally be turned into confidence, insofar as in the absence of information, we have to rely on what we know, and we only really know our own minds. if this is all true, then one’s benevolence should be a nice counter-example to the assumed depravity of “people”, wouldn’t it?

One thought on “The Most Moral Person on Earth.

  1. kidpieces January 2, 2007 at 23:44

    rather a long writing but worth reading..lik eur ideas tho!

    nice blog!

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