Morality as a tool of control.

For most of our intellectual history, religion has claimed a monopoly on morality. It should be no surprise that today, with the slow retreat of religion from the public sphere, believers are on the defensive and using morality as their battle flag.

One problem with morality discussions is that we group a lot of different things under the term “morality.” Christians call the rules of the Bible “morality,” but I would argue that they do not add up to anything of the sort. I call “morality” any set of principles which provide us with the tools to independently evaluate actions. The Bible provides us with orders from God with the threat of death or eternal punishment backing them up; orders are not principles or ways to evaluate actions.

Nevertheless, it is true that the Bible tells people what to do and what not to do, which is probably a more common definition of “morality.” But if that’s true, then any authority becomes a moral compass. And I think you can already see where this is going…

This topic was first brought up by blog reader tnt666, who posted this comment:

It’s the reason I think morality and BS like the Golden Rule are but more tools to keep the powerful in place, and the peons in their place. Morality never applies to those with power, but it sure is a common discourse for the ruling class, protecting their collective arses from peon retaliation, we are so well subdued by the moral imperative and the delusion of pacifism.

The rule of law is really the cover of hypocrisy used by criminals to shield themselves from punishment. It is not justice.

Although this is not directly related, I can’t help but think about how Nietzsche addressed the issue of master morality and slave morality, especially as regards to Christianity. Nietzsche’s idea is somewhat different, in that he believes master morality and slave morality develop independently in response to their proponents’ social status, but, even if Nietzsche is right, it’s clear from history that the development of slave morality leads to masters manipulating it for their own purposes. Nowhere did we see this better than in their treatment of actual slaves.

If we look at the kind of morality that is authoritarian by nature, then obviously there must be doubletalk. For example, rulers must say murder is bad from one side of their mouths and order the deaths of innocents from the other. This is not a function of how much corruption or democracy we observe in a society; it is a necessity in any hierarchical moral system. By virtue of being in control, authorities must claim for themselves the freedoms that they must deny to their subjects.

We learn to deal with this concept at a very young age. Not only do we learn that our parents can order us around, but also that those orders don’t apply to the parents themselves. Accusing parents of hypocrisy is pointless, since parents know they are in control of their children and that little can prevent this (apart from child protection services or the police, but they rarely get involved, and even when they do, the punishment is extremely light).

Throughout history (at least until post-WW2 democracy), a major problem of authorities has been preventing revolt. This is why slave morality has always been engineered so the masses do not revolt. Christianity has famously been used to pacify slaves and the destitute, by reminding them of the bounties that awaited them after their death (as famously parodied in the song Pie In The Sky, which I’ve quoted before).

There are many responses that have been offered to the possibility of revolt throughout history. Murder is a very common one, accompanied with the threat that revolt is futile because it will be met with violence and there’s just no point in trying. An equally common response is an ostensibly moral one: that revolt is wrong and that authorities have the right and the duty to preserve their authority in the name of the country/God/economy/whatever.

Back to my first point. A moral principle (note that I am not here talking about intuitions but about their formulated corollaries), like any other principle, has a justification, can be defined and analyzed, and one can pass judgment upon it on the basis of their own reasoning. When a parent tells a child to clean their room, that’s an order, not a moral principle. When a government passes a law outlawing homosexuality, that’s not a moral principle either. Neither is any other law.

So we must make a distinction between universal morality and master/slave “morality.” In the past, I have defined the universality principle as such:

An ethical principle or system is invalid if it is asymmetrical in application (to locations, times or persons).

Tnt666 brought up the example of pacifism, which is a good one. The dispossessed are always enjoined to remain non-violent, and that violence is always an immature and criminal act. The powerful, on the other hand, never hesitate in using various levels of violence to quell protests or direct action.

Yes, non-violence may be a winning strategy, but it may also be an easy way for one to get massacred. The more publicized a cause is, the more likely pacifism may lead to success. The creation of martyrs is absolutely useless if it is not witnessed; then it is only a death amongst many, and governments excel at killing people.

The policy of the emperors and the senate, as far as it concerned religion, was happily seconded by the reflections of the enlightened, and by the habits of the superstitious, part of their subjects. The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful.
Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (not Seneca the Younger!)

Gibbon here is talking about religion, but the quote can apply equally to any other hierarchy that exists in our society, including false morality.

One of the prime characteristics of false morality is that it makes it impossible to differentiate right from wrong, which, by the way, is what morality is supposed to do. So as moral systems, things like laws and doctrines are complete failures. But in their actual purpose, which is to secure control over populations, they are on the whole imperfect but generally successful (keep in mind that many revolts are actually one hierarchy over another, such as patriotism towards one’s original country as opposed to that of an invader country).

8 thoughts on “Morality as a tool of control.

  1. Independent Radical May 27, 2014 at 01:21

    Liberals think the only options are authoritarian morality and no morality. They don’t like authoritarian morality so they declare that “morality” is a bad, oppressive thing that ought to be abandoned and that everyone should just do whatever the hell they want. It’s a way of thinking that’s characteristic of children (and that’s probably an insult to children.)

    But yes it is possible to have a morality that’s not based on authoritarianism in the same way that it is possible to learn about objective reality without blindly believing whatever authority figures say. Of course, kids in our society haven’t been taught critical thinking so when they reject authoritarian morality/epistomology they don’t have anything else to turn to and they promote this liberal, post-modernist, anything goes nonsense, which is ironically promoted to them by their professors (yet another authority.) I’d feel somewhat better if they at least had sound rational arguments for rejecting authoritarian morality, but usually they don’t. They just say “I wanna do what I wanna do” accept with more sophisticated words (e.g. agency, subversion, transgression, identity, etc.)

    Liberal, post-modernist academic articles: they’re like the journal entries a spoiled little kid would write, if he/she had better vocabulary.

    Okay they may not all be like that, but the ones pertaining to gender, health, sex and culture are. Plus, there are the ones that preach cultural relativism, can’t forget about those.

    • Francois Tremblay May 27, 2014 at 01:29

      I agree with what you’ve said. I do think liberals, at least the atheists I know, think it’s either authoritarianism or nothing, which is extremely silly. No one really lives like that.

      I love cultural relativism as well, it’s just so much fun “debating” such delusional nonsense.

      I believe in having strong values and moral principles informed by intuition, reason and compassion for all living things.

  2. LoneSword7878 May 27, 2014 at 04:36

    I personally don’t believe in morality because, in the end, it’s all just based and shaped on simple and flawed human perception.

    • Francois Tremblay May 27, 2014 at 12:49

      Everything is based on human perception. So I guess you don’t believe in this comment thread either. And yet you commented on it.

  3. Cann Abyss May 27, 2014 at 05:09

    “What is good and evil no one knows yet, unless it be he who creates! He, however, creates man’s goal and gives the earth its meaning and its future. That anything at all is good and evil—that is his creation.” – Nietzsche

  4. LoneSword7878 May 28, 2014 at 05:12

    What I was trying to say was that morality can mean whatever the person who invokes it wants it to mean.

    • Cann Abyss May 28, 2014 at 06:16

      Exactly. If something can be immoral, then it has to also be moral, for in every good there is some evil, and in every evil there is some good…

      • LoneSword7878 May 28, 2014 at 09:18

        That’s not exactly what I meant.

        What I was trying to stay is that morality is invisible, so it’s given form as some sort of representative for whatever the user of it finds as the most convenient.

        It’s mostly comes to appealing to something higher than the human mind or hands.

        Therefore, I think that the best solution is to simply let go of it; not to believe and instead just act and learn from experience.

        The more we insist on enforcing these systems of morality, of imaginary “good” and “evil,” the more we loose our ability to use our brains to properly analyze and determine like the computers they are.

        I hope that sounds logical enough.

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