Morality, social framework and law. {part 1/3}

In this post, I would like to disentangle three major concepts which are often confused and mangled: morality, what I call the “social framework,” and law. Often people claim not to believe in one when they mean another, or they define one in terms of the other, so these three concepts can get very confusing. Each of them also incorporates other important concepts, which are sometimes confused. So let me go ahead and give you a short guide to this conceptual spaghetti.

Let’s start with morality. Unlike the other two categories, morality is concerned with the individual’s own personal judgment and decisions. In the moral perspective, the social framework and law are both factors in one’s decisions, but not deciding factors. What is discouraged by society or the State may still be very moral. For instance, we widely recognize that civil disobedience can be extremely moral (Gandhi, Oskar Schindler, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks being some well-known examples), and yet by definition all civil disobedience goes against the law.

So it is very important to state that the individual’s moral outlook is distinct from the society in which he lives, or the law he is subjected to. As I have already proven, no moral duty can be inferred from the social framework or the law: at best, one can show that those two things support or interfere with the individual’s values, and that thus they have some moral importance. Indeed, it would be impossible to argue that the State does not make it harder for people to fulfill their values. It can also make it harder for some people to be immoral, but this is mostly a side effect of ruling class interests.

Morality is composed of three parts, which we can use to analyze the individual process of decision-making and moral judgment: values, virtues and purposes. Values are especially important because of how they mold the social framework, and how they are often co-opted by they political process. A very simple way to define values is to say that values are what we, as individuals, seek to obtain or keep. This can be something as concrete as getting something to eat and something as abstract as justice.

I said the concept of values is often co-opted. The textbook example of this is “family values.” By expressing a concept of law, of political means, as a moral concept, they portray themselves as people dedicated to cultivating values instead of portraying themselves as participants in the process of social warfare. Who could be against people helping each other fulfill their values? But as participants in social warfare, their goal is in fact to prevent others from fulfilling their own values, not to fulfill their own. All political means entail preventing others by force from fulfilling their values, and therefore all political means are anti-moral and coercive (from voting to police action and “imprisonment”).

Historically, morality has been associated with religious dogma, and this has made most people believe that morality is law, that morality is about prohibiting freedom, and therefore they want nothing to do with moral principles. This is a grave and insane confusion. Everyone has values and everyone has moral judgment, and to reject morality is merely to refuse to look at those values and that judgment and to run on automatic. This is, at best, a risky attitude to hold, at worst, rushing headlong into disaster.

So it is crucially important to make the distinction between morality and law or duty, in order to understand anything on the topics I am discussing. Morality has nothing whatsoever to do with exterior determinism, except once again that the individual must take those exterior determinisms (like the State) into account when they attack his values.

Morality is strictly about personal determinism, which is to say, personal decision and personal values. Any duty incurred within the moral context can only be a duty that the individual imposes on himself, not any duty imposed by anything exterior to himself. Any discussion of submission, obedience, imposed duty, imposed rules or hierarchy cannot by definition be a discussion about morality.

In the next part, I will begin my discussion of the concept of the social framework.

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