Morality and ethics.

I freely admit that my interest in morality is unusual, as it’s not exactly a hot topic. The idea of evaluating moral action on the basis of values and personal principles doesn’t really exist any more as far as I know. Well, except for the Objectivists, but the less said about them the better: they’re not even anarchists, which doesn’t bode well for an ideology supposedly based on rationality.

Anyway, the little discussion that takes place on the subject is usually centered around utilitarianism, which is not really a moral topic but rather an ethical topic. When I talk about morality, I’m specifically talking about personal, individual evaluation, ethics being of course about the rules established by society as a whole or some group within it. The whole purpose of utilitarianism is to eliminate morality altogether; if every action we perform can only be evaluated by how they impact others, and there is no way for us individually to measure our impact on others, then this destroys the possibility of personal evaluation, and by extension of personal knowledge.

It also make every individual completely subservient to the hierarchies of authority in his society, since the hierarchies will inevitably declare themselves as having the only proper way to measure everyone’s impact on everyone else. And why not? Since the State is a fantasy, and comparing utilities from mind to mind is also a fantasy, why shouldn’t a fantasy be more habilitated to calculate another fantasy? Ultimately, the nuclear bombs used to kill 200 000 innocent Japanese people represent the nadir of this ideology: even murder is deemed acceptable if it “spares more lives.”

Why should morality be eliminated? No doubt some of the opposition to morality (especially from other anarchists) comes from a sense that people are too individualistic. As I’ve discussed before, I think that comes from an unclear definition of individualism. It’s not the emphasis on individual values that are the problem, but rather not putting enough emphasis on them, a failure to recognize society as a whole as an integral part of one’s life. Human values do not contradict anarchism, rather the contrary. Otherwise we wouldn’t need constant indoctrination in order to distract people from their own values and enforce belief in hierarchies. I think I’ve proven that well enough on this blog.

For most people, morality is also despised. This can be easily understood when we look at the travesty of morality which has been promoted by monotheistic religions for millennia. We know that these rules are a combination of regional common sense turned into dogma and blatant hierarchy-building. Nowadays, of course, people have dropped the former and kept only the latter. No one believes eating shrimp or wearing mixed fibers is evil, but they still believe in subjugating women, paying tithes, preparing for the end of the world, and killing homosexuals and witches, all of which are hierarchical issues (although to be fair they only kill witches in third-world countries now, which is somewhat of an improvement).

If we look at this from a more general perspective, we can come to the same conclusion. Morality is innate and mostly intuitive. Therefore, complex elaborations upon it are most likely to be wrong than right, to err on the side of untruth and attempts at controlling others. This means that eventually all moral systems will be perceived as untruths and attempts at controlling others. This is not surprising at all.

Ethics, on the other hand, seems to be flourishing. Not only do the ever-present social issues always provide fuel for that fire, but every new technology seems to bring with it ethical challenges. As I mentioned, most moral considerations are rejected in favour of ethical considerations. What is good, so goes the argument, is what helps others or maintains the social order.

But human values are foundational. Suppose we posit that freedom is a desirable social feature, that people should be free. But the question arises: why should people be free? Answering something like “because a society based on freedom brings the most happiness for the most people” only pushes the problem further, since we have no justification for using that standard over any other. Why not base society on what brings the least suffering for the greatest number? Or the greatest happiness and least suffering? Or the greatest happiness for the smallest number? Or, for that matter, any other number of possibilities.

Ultimately we have to come back to the source, the human will, which is deployed within the principles of human nature. If no individual human being sought to be happy, then preaching happiness as a guiding principle of society would be pointless. The existence of society is predicated on the existence of shared values and principles which each individual decides to agree with.

Setting aside individual values necessarily sets aside the individual, period. Without the realization of how basic freedom is to the individual, personal freedom necessarily becomes secondary to some collectivist consideration (such as “the happiness of the greatest number”). Human lives are objectified, turned into statistics, pigeonholed in categories and killed for being in the wrong one.

As they are discussed today, ethical considerations generally revolve around emphasis on laws and guild rules. This is why I think it is counterproductive for anarchists to argue on these grounds. Real ethics- ethics founded on individual values and human nature, which seek to establish social principles that enhance freedom instead of stifling it- are what anarchism is all about.

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