Why this blog is now called “The Prime Directive”…

After thinking about the “great questions” about the meaning of life and what this is all about, I’ve felt greater and greater inclination to believe that all I’ve been talking about on this blog is really just the extension of one fundamental ethical principle. For the sake of nomenclature, I call this principle the Prime Directive- not for Star Trek fans (because the Star Trek Prime Directive is complete bullshit and is used to rationalize anything up to genocide), but to highlight that this principle is perhaps the one directive or duty that we must all follow above all else.

This Directive can be expressed in all sorts of ways, some more precise and complete than others. I think the most precise and complete way would be “do not impose harm.” Harm means physical injury or mental damage. To impose means to burden someone without their consent.

We must also add to this the concept of risk: to expose someone to the possibility of harm without their consent is by extension also evil. To make an analogy, if murder is evil, then rigging a machine to have a 10% chance of exploding and killing whoever uses it, and then leaving it there lying around without warning, is equally evil, even though it is a risk that is not directed at anyone in particular. It still ultimately leads to murder.

The concept of consent is central to this principle. Without consent, everything is an imposition by definition. Therefore, any system which does not function under the premise of consent goes against this principle. We can go further and talk about free agency, the freedom to think and bring one’s thoughts into action, which is itself predicated on consent. The common thread is that of using other people as a means to an end, which is a fundamental evil, and this “usage,” this “consumption” of human beings, always takes the form of some kind of harm.

I also include not lying on the blog subtitle, mainly because “do not impose harm” by itself seemed too short. Lying and control go hand in hand, and the control mentality is how we get people to view each other as evil and worthy of harm. Ultimately, only by massively lying, and getting lies incorporated into the culture, can the people who impose harm get away scot-free. People who promote irrationality, no matter how well-intentioned, are the front line troops for those who wish to do violence, murder, and kill people’s capacity for free agency. Reason and compassion put together lead to the love mentality and to a society which minimizes harm. Irrationality or lack of compassion can only lead to greater and greater harm.

It should be easy to see how Anarchism is a consequence of the Directive. Anarchism is the rejection of hierarchies, and hierarchies are defined by relations which are made without consent and which aim to further attack the free agency of the individual. Hierarchical institutions impose harm and the risk of harm on other people in order to further institutional values (religious doctrines impose harm, laws impose harm, economic power imposes harm, bigotry imposes harm, crime imposes harm, incarceration imposes harm, schools impose harm, and so on). Any institution which does not seek to impose harm wouldn’t need to be arranged in a hierarchical structure in the first place! That’s the whole purpose of it.

It is said that there’s nothing like religion to make good people do evil things, but that’s really true of all hierarchies. I could look at each hierarchy in turn here and point out the gigantic amounts of harm that they impose on people, but I think you get the idea.

Atheism, if seen from an ethical standpoint, also furthers the directive, insofar as religion is just another form of hierarchy: of God as superior to man, of the priest as superior to the believer, and of the believer as superior to the unbeliever. Religion imposes harm by demanding that people follow an irrational, elitist model of the world and of human beings, which creates wars, oppression, exploitation and forced insanity. By portraying humans as innately evil, it makes people act in an evil manner towards each other.

And now for antinatalism, which is actually what got me thinking about the directive in the first place. One of the central arguments of antinatalism is precisely that bringing new human beings into the world inevitably causes harm (Benatar’s asymmetry argument). But furthermore, bringing new human beings into the world is necessarily an action which entails treating potential children as means to an end (since they have no values that one can act towards), with all that this implies.

Incidentally, I do not intend for antinatalism to become the focus of this blog. To me, it is a topic no more or less relevant as the others. If I am to be an ethical person, talking about ethical principles as they relate to the Directive, then I must necessarily include antinatalism as part of the discussion. I know this is unlikely to please anyone, as antinatalism is a reviled topic and not likely to attract readers, but I would be dishonest and pandering if I refused to talk about it on that basis.

I know that each side doesn’t like the other (with maybe the exception of Anarchists and antinatalists being generally friendly towards atheism, which is after all the most narrow ideology of the three), but to me each of these ideologies is a natural consequence of the Directive. If it is wrong to impose harm, then it is wrong to impose harm through religion, it is wrong to impose harm through any hierarchy, and it is wrong to impose harm by creating new human beings.

One interesting argument I’ve gotten from antinatalism, but which applies to all opponents of the Directive, is the “how much suffering is it worth?” argument. How many deaths are gasoline or bananas worth? How many deaths are a social program worth? How many deaths of innocents is the police worth? How many deaths and wars is religion worth?

It’s not really an argument as much as it is a way to prod the opposition into impaling itself on a dilemma. If they answer zero, then they cannot coherently continue to defend their ideology. If they answer any number greater than zero, then they have to justify their disregard for human life, as well as their arbitrary choice of a number.

I come from a deontological position, and I reject utilitarianism completely and absolutely. It is wrong to inflict harm on one human being to pleasure or benefit any number. not even for something we consider “necessary.” It is absolute evil to inflict a terrible death on someone to give billions a bit of well-being, and we are morally required to give up anything that entails such deaths, even if it’s something overall positive for society as a whole.

Because the principle of not imposing harm is a fundamental ethical principle, opponents must bear the burden of proof. A drunk driver is not allowed to demand that we prove every single time that driving drunk is a bad idea, and driving drunk once without any incident does not disprove the assertion that drunk driving is wrong. Rather, it is the drunk driver who must justify his behaviour, because he is the one imposing the risk of harm on others. Anyone who seeks to impose harm on another human being must justify this imposition. Anyone who would impose any hierarchy, however fluid or however voluntary, on anyone else has the burden of proof.

Why “do not impose harm”? Why not “do unto others” or “love one another”? I’ve talked a great deal about love, and it would certainly fit the bill, but most people’s idea of love is so narrow and aberrated that there’s no point in trying to convince people of it. As for “do unto others,” it is merely a dysfunctional, self-oriented version of not imposing harm, insofar as if we do not wish to receive harm (which is a reasonable assumption), then we should not inflict harm on others either.

Also, watch out for my reaming of Richard Dawkins and humanism on July 1st. Hooray!

16 thoughts on “Why this blog is now called “The Prime Directive”…

  1. David Gendron June 27, 2011 at 12:05

    Great idea!

    I agree with the “Do not impose harm-Do not attack free agency.” combo. But I’m not totallly sure that the “Do not lie to people” principle is not too large. I agree that we should not lie to people in your “public” examples. But in some “private” examples, I don’t think this could be applicable in his entirety. Not now, at least…

  2. Francois Tremblay June 27, 2011 at 14:27

    Black Flag®, I have spammed a gigantic comment where you state that hierarchies are ok, antinatalism is evil (because you apparently believe that reproduction is the purpose of life- an imbecilic conclusion when it is a proven fact that reproduction is unjustified), and that bigotry is okay. You apparently do not believe in ANY of the corollaries of the Prime Directive, so why are you here? Get the fuck off my blog and stop spreading your lies on my comments section.

  3. […] mantra, what would be an example of non-fraudulent deception? François Tremblay issues a Prime Directive in three parts: “Do not impose harm. Do not attack free agency. Do not lie to people.” […]

  4. Marco den Ouden February 24, 2013 at 17:19

    I would like to get in touch with the owner of this blog, Francois Tremblay. Please email me. Thank you..

    • Francois Tremblay February 24, 2013 at 17:39

      I’m right here. What can I do for you?

      • Marco den Ouden February 11, 2014 at 11:17

        I am a long-time libertarian but am trying to read up on and understand contrary views. One issue I have with “libertarian socialism” is I don’t understand socialist economics. I understand the laws of supply and demand in a market economy and how they interact to set price levels and allocate goods. I do not understand how an economy would function under socialism. To what extent would there be property? Would people be able to own their own homes, for example? If someone wanted to start a business in his home, would that be permitted? Would there be money or would it be a barter society? If you can direct me to a good book explaining the economics of socialism, it would be appreciated.
        I came across your website because I have some issues with some aspects of libertarianism and went looking for some arguments on the topic. Particularly I was looking for a critique of Walter Block’s “flagpole hanger” scenario. I found your critiques to be very cogent and the only critiques I have seen that look like they were written by someone who actually understands libertarianism. I have written extensively on libertarian issues for various newsletters connected with the Libertian Party of Canada many years ago and am currently re-assessing some ideas as I explain on my website, The Break Out Report http://breakoutreport.com/ If you want to leave comments in the blog, you are welcome to do so, though it is monitored as yours is.
        I recently read Gary Weiss’s Ayn Rand Nation which is an interesting critique of Ayn Rand’s thought, though I disagree with much of it.
        I’m also interested to know more about you personally. There is nothing about you on your website. I was wondering if, with your French name, you are a fellow Canadian, among other things. How old you are, what you do for a living, etc. You can email me directly at the email address submitted with this post. Sorry for the length of time in replying to your reply. I hadn’t visited this page of the blog since I wrote my last note. I am bookmarking it this time and will check back.
        Even though I disagree with much of what you believe, I find your writing to be cogent and interesting.

        • Francois Tremblay February 11, 2014 at 17:36

          The problem with giving answers to the whole “how does a socialist economy work” issue is that there are as many opinions as there are people. Obviously I have my own opinions but I can’t really point to one specific book that has guided my thinking. I would recommend a novel such as The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin, if you like science-fiction. The Conquest of Bread, by Kropotkin, is another good one; although he’s a communist more than a libsoc, I still agree with most of what he was saying at the time.

          On your site, you say you are interested in writing about “freedom.” I would have to ask you, which conception of freedom? If you read my recent entry on political semantics, you should get a good idea of what I’m saying here.

          Yes, I am originally from Quebec. I had to move to Washington State due to various reasons. But I am Canadian first. :)

  5. Marco den Ouden February 11, 2014 at 22:24

    I read The Dispossessed many years ago but don’t remember any of it. I’ll have to dig it up again. I was browsing through some of your articles today during quiet time at work and read your pieces on ethics. Much sounds very much like my kind of libertarianism. The article linked to an article critiquing Austrian Economics and subjective value theory, which I will have to read at length when I have some time, but I was interested to note that it cited a work on poverty by Lysander Spooner. Spooner is very popular with anarcho-capitalists primarily because of No Treason. I plan to dig up and read Spooner’s tract on poverty now that I’ve run across it.

    I’ll have to take a look at your article on semantics. I can’t find it though so if you could supply a link, that would be helpful.

    I think what I am trying to do is look for common ground in various conceptions of freedom. Lately I have been quite interested in Isaiah Berlin’s work, having read his Political Ideas in the Romantic Age last year and followed that up with Michael Ignatieff’s excellent biography of the man. I want to explore the ideas of liberal pluralism in more detail.

    Interesting that you’re in Washington state. We are neighbours then as I live in suburban Vancouver, BC.. If you ever plan to pop up to Vancouver for a visit, drop me an email and we can have a coffee together.

    BTW: Walter Block lived in Vancouver for many years when he was Chief Economist at The Fraser Institute and I got to know him quite well. He is a very personable guy and I consider him a friend, though I have found myself disagreeing with a number of his analyses.

    • Francois Tremblay February 11, 2014 at 22:38

      Yea, I find that ancaps often use Spooner because he uses lawyer-like logical argumentation (which is not overly surprising, given that he was a lawyer) and he is perhaps the least socialist of the great anarchist writers. He’s ambiguous enough that many people can claim him as their own.

      I was referring to this entry: https://francoistremblay.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/the-narrow-nature-of-political-words-and-how-that-distorts-discourse/

      • MARCO DEN OUDEN February 12, 2014 at 02:20

        Francois, I went back to your archived blog posts and read the first one – Who Cares About Theory https://francoistremblay.wordpress.com/2006/07/20/why-care-about-philosophy/ and see that the blog used to be called Check Your Premises. It was also an article I found interesting and with which I substantially agreed. Your original title was also a well-known aphorism from novelist Ayn Rand. That led me to doing a search for you on Google to try and find out more. I came up with a couple of interesting things and would like to know if my finds are germane and whether my conclusions below are true.

        Doing some searching, I discovered a contributor to a website called The Liberator http://www.liberator.net/articles/TremblayFrancois/ with your name who is French Canadian and who had a website called objectivethought.com (which is no longer available online).

        So I am speculating that you are one and the same and that your familiarity with anarcho-libertarian thought is that you were one at one time or were a minarchist in the Ayn Rand style at one time and have since changed your views to libertarian socialism. Everything in the Who Cares About Theory article would be consistent with a former Rand fan.

        This fascinates me because I am in the process of questioning some long-held Objectivist-Libertarian views as you may have discovered from my website. So I would be most interested, if my suppositions are true, to know at what point you changed your views and what led you to do so.

        I also note that Wendy McElroy was a contributor to The Liberator and you recently criticized her views on feminism in a recent blog post at The Prime Directive. So I’m wondering if you know her and/or any other prominent libertarians. Wendy has long been associated with a group calling themselves voluntaryists who eschew political action entirely, even to the point of discouraging people from voting. I have not followed them very closely but came across their website again last year and noticed they had an essay contest which I entered and won. They published it in their last newsletter: http://voluntaryist.com/backissues/163.pdf

        I am going back and starting to read some of your earlier blog posts (not all of them but ones whose titles intrigue me) as well as going back and reading some more from the voluntaryists.

        Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree here, but I’m curious to know if my little investigation led to correct conclusions.

        I am still employed fulltime so my time is limited and I have so much to read already. But I will definitely be checking out more of your writings. Starting with your article on political words and the meaning of freedom.

        Best regards


        Sent from Windows Mail

        • Francois Tremblay February 12, 2014 at 02:26

          Yes, I am the guy who used to write for The Liberator and who had objectivethought.com. You can still read it on Internet Archive, although I wouldn’t recommend it. I don’t think my Objectivist phase was particularly fruitful, especially since I was just getting started in philosophical issues and such. But I had a few good debates on there, esp. on atheism (but a lot of that stuff can be found on strongatheism.net now).

          Yes, my familiarity with ancaps lies in that I used to be one. And before that I was an Objectivist, although not a dogmatist like so many Objectivists seem to be (I got banned from an Objectivist chat room for saying it’s okay to receive gifts).

          No, I do not know Wendy McElroy. I’ve only been addressing her absurd “individualist feminist” positions. I never interacted with her on libertarian grounds.

          Keep me posted on your research, I think you’re definitely on the right path.

  6. […] I don’t really believe that any person who has thought about these issues can have a worldview that can be described as going from point A, to point B, to point C. Yes, there are basic principles that we base our thinking on, but often you find out about an idea, agree with it, but it takes you a while to understand how it fits in the bigger picture. The result of my thinking on that subject led me to renaming my blog, as I’ve discussed here. […]

  7. Oliver Low June 12, 2014 at 03:29

    The Prime Directive is to love one another, isn’t it? You wrote a good article about love a few years ago. Not harming comes as a consequence of love, but love does not come as a consequence of not harming, therefore love is the prior, being the cause, and since love one another is a directive, and is itself not a consequence of some other directive, except perhaps love God, then it must be the prime directive. To a believer, maybe Love God is primary, and love one another a consequence, but Jesus gave them both when asked what is the prime directive (Mark 12:28-34).

    • Oliver Low June 12, 2014 at 03:32

      I should say, “do not impoe harm” rather than “not harming”, I suppose, as you do, since one can accidentally cause harm easily enough, despite taking care not to.

    • Francois Tremblay June 12, 2014 at 03:32

      I think it’s easier for people to understand if I use the word “harm.” There are too many misconceptions about love as an ethical principle for it to be a useful summary of my blog.

  8. […] The principle that one should not initiate force seems superficially noble (and similar to my Prime Directive, with one crucial difference), but in practice it is meaningless because what one defines as […]

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