Category Archives: Human nature

Reviewing the case for psychological altruism.


(from Savage Chickens)

It is an accepted fact of economics and sociobiology that humans are fundamentally altruistic, that is to say, act for the benefit of others (to be more specific, when I say “others,” I mean the concept of the “universal stranger,” an abstraction representing any possible humans or a subset thereof, unless I specify otherwise). Before we continue, it is important to distinguish between two categories of altruism:

Psychological altruism: The position that humans are always naturally motivated to act for the benefit of others, even when it seems they are acting egoistically. In economics, this is called homo socialis.
Ethical altruism: The position that humans should be motivated to act for the benefit of others.

Likewise, there exists also psychological egoism and ethical egoism, although such positions are considered bizarre at best, and are very rarely represented in the literature (I will discuss one salient exception later in this entry). One may further note that if psychological altruism is true, as most experts in the field contend, then both ethical altruism and ethical egoism cannot be true (if we always act altruistically and cannot do otherwise, then dictating that one should do it, or not do it, is a futile endeavor).

It is recognized that altruism is composed of two general parts, which are self-love (the fulfillment of one’s own needs) and other-love (the fulfillment of other people’s needs). One needs self-love to be altruistic because someone who is unable or fails to fulfills basic needs will be unable to help fulfill other people’s needs. Advocates of egoism have argued that the orientation of acts of self-love make them egoist acts, but since we define egoism as acts which benefit the self at the expense of others, self-love cannot be egoist because it is not done at the expense of others.

Since altruism is the default, it has been argued that acts of apparent egoism require some explanation. Many thinkers and scientists have attempted to reduce all acts we call egoist to some deeper altruistic motive.

The most popular explanation is that egoism, reclassified as compulsive or obsessive self-love, is just another of the strategies used by individuals to help others. Since self-love is effective at empowering the individual to help others, excessive self-love may be an attempt to expand that empowerment. Attempts have been made in humanist psychology to explore issues of self-worth as they relate to altruism: some people feel that they are not worthy enough to connect with other human beings unless they fulfill some obsessive form of self-love, such as having more resources than others or being more attractive than others.

Another popular explanation is that of “reciprocal egoism.” This is also called the Invisible Hand theory in economics, although you probably haven’t heard that term as it has been thoroughly discredited. Basically, the idea is that if everyone acts in an egoist manner towards each other, everyone will end up accidentally helping one another because the best way to get what one wants is by providing for others’ needs. So while every individual egoist act is done at the expense of another, the set of all egoist acts balances out and everyone ends up winning.

Freudian analysis also provides an explanation. Freud believed that egoist actions were a reaction to the fear of death. Based on that fear, we attempt to extend ourselves at the expense of others, to obtain signals of immortality (such as more children or a bigger legacy), which leads to obsessive self-love.

It has also been hypothesized that the so-called “selfish genes,” a term coined by Dawkins to argue that evolution works at the genetic level, provide a source of egoism. However, Richard Dawkins himself has pointed out many times that his use of the term is metaphorical and that genes are not literally selfish. Therefore this tells us little about possible acts of egoism done by humans.

Now, these explanations may put various forms of egoism in their proper place as subsets of altruism, but is there such a thing as a properly egoist act, that is to say, an act for which we can provide no altruistic explanation?

First we have to clear up one point. Saying that an act is altruistic does not mean that it is rational. Indeed, many altruistic acts are irrational, and the fact that we cannot provide a rational explanation for them does not mean they are not altruistic.

Take theft, for example. As you know, theft is always the first example people use when trying to argue that egoism exists. It is claimed that theft does not actually help others. But from a utilitarian standpoint, theft can be construed as reasonable if we assume that the money stolen will be of more benefit to the thief than to the person it belonged to. This may seem irrational to us, but as long as the thief believes it, we can say that the act of theft has altruistic motives.

The example of war is also often used. This, however, is already explained by the concept of narrow altruism, i.e. altruism applied to a subset of humanity (such as one’s nation or one’s tribe). Being a soldier in a war is still a form of altruism (albeit a misguided and narrow one), so it’s not a good example to use here. Besides, narrow altruism is explained scientifically by Hamilton’s Rule.

The Holocaust is another crowd favourite. In fact, egoists seem to take some pride in that one, as if it was a stumper that no one has ever been able to answer. However, it fails to take into account the fact that the people of Theocratic Germany were indoctrinated to believe that Jews were responsible for all the woes of the world, as well as vermin, rats, and so on. If we take that into consideration, we can see that the SS officers who killed Jews could have honestly believed they were committing altruistic actions by their murders, even that they were saving the world. Most people involved in cults are honest people who want to help others, and yet people brainwashed by these same cults eventually come to believe that all sorts of bizarre and evil actions are altruistic, so this should not be too surprising.

Egoists have tried to patch the problems with all these examples, and have come up with somewhat artificial-sounding scenarios which attempt to exclude any possible altruistic motive. No such scenario has been successful as of yet, and the chance of egoism existing seems very remote indeed.

Because of these failures, egoists have moved to full-blown arguments in order to try to defeat the theoretical basis of psychological altruism.

One such argument is that we are all forced to act altruistically because we live in societies formed around cooperative institutions (team learning in schools, gift economy, restitutive justice, localized and accountable governance, respect for all life, and so on), and that a true egoist wouldn’t last very long. Instead, these people have to hide their true desires and go along with the program. If our society wasn’t so biased against egoism, we might get to observe actually egoistic behavior.

I personally find this argument absurd. Who would rather live in a society predicated on competition? Such a society would be pure Hell, and no one would want to live in it. Who wants everyone else to be their enemy instead of their friends or potential allies? Furthermore, it would be completely unsustainable, as some people would accumulate more and more resources, until the whole thing fell apart (the fall of Capitalist Russia being a good example of this). I suppose we might observe selfish actions, if such a thing could logically exist, but only for the short time before such a society would collapse. So what would be the point?

The more formal answer to this argument is that, while our cooperative institutions do present a very strong incentive for individuals to curb or self-censor what we colloquially call “selfish behavior,” they cannot, in and of themselves, make such behavior theoretically impossible. Whether egoism is possible or impossible, the nature of our institutions cannot change that basic fact at a theoretical level.

By way of analogy, in Capitalist Russia, the strict imposition of gender roles provided a powerful incentive for girls to not practice sports, but Capitalist Russia nevertheless produced female athletes, some even winning Olympic medals against the Socialist West. Selfish individuals may be disincentivized and marginalized, but not more so than those female athletes.

Another argument they use is to claim that if all acts are altruistic, then the term is tautological. But this is a misunderstanding of psychological altruism. If egoists could show us one act which cannot be explained altruistically, then psychological altruism would be falsified. And if psychological altruism can be falsified, then the term cannot be tautological.

Egoist arguments are unconvincing because we know in our own hearts that they are just rationalizations. Even when we perform acts which may superficially be qualified as egoist, deep down we know that altruistic motives lie underneath. We’re always really doing things for the sake of others, even though we might fool ourselves into thinking otherwise. Introspection is the simplest and most direct way to refute claims about egoism.

Even though the truth of psychological altruism is self-evident, some persist in rejecting it. One philosopher who was famous for preaching ethical egoism was Alisa Rosenbaum, originally an emigree from Cold War Capitalist Russia. She wrote many books on a philosophy she called Foundationalism, which claimed that “man is an end in himself.” Sexist language aside (which is explainable given where she came from), what she meant was that individuals must live for their own sake, and that rational self-interest is the highest moral purpose. By this she does not mean that rational self-interest is the best way to achieve altruistic purposes, which at least would make some sense, but rather that self-interest itself is the highest purpose, which is just bizarre. How can the pure non-reciprocal self-interest of the individual be good for people other than the individual? Furthermore, pure self-interest is unrealizable in practice, as it’s impossible to act without benefiting others in some way.

Some have hypothesized that Alisa Rosenbaum was a deep cover altruist (for definition, see the similar concept deep cover liberal). This would explain a great deal, including her bizarre praise of murderer William Hickman and her acceptance of Medicare and Social Security money. Also, it is widely pointed out that her ideal of rational self-interest was little more than a pastiche of the widely accepted ethical concept of rational other-interest (which holds that our other-interest must be determined by the use of rational principles, and not only emotionalism or dogma).

What Rosenbaum didn’t understand is that there’s a good reason why we label behavior motivated by her ideology as “obsessive self-love.” Without some other-interest, self-love is pointless and wasted. Besides, it may be possible for a few people to be wholly occupied by self-love, but most people just aren’t built like that. So even if egoism was the way to go, the best we could do is leave it to those who can stomach it, and let the rest of us continue contributing to society as we’ve been raised to do.

***
NOTE: Although many parts of it are based on what I think is reasonable thinking, this entry is actually a satire. I hope it wasn’t too hard to figure that out, as well as the various things I’ve satirized. I admit I had some fun with the whole mirror universe aspect as well.
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“Childbirth is our purpose!”

Because we are subject to so much indoctrination designed to elicit an affinity towards procreation and a desire to procreate, many confused people are led to the conclusion that procreation must be instinctual, that it’s part of what it means to be human, and even that it must somehow be our ultimate purpose to procreate. in the same way that it is a hammer’s purpose to drive nails and a train’s purpose to carry people and goods over long distances. Any procreation-unfriendly position is likely to run against these ideological obstacles, therefore it seems appropriate to address them.

First, let me dispel the belief that we have a procreative instinct. If we did, then with a rise in health care technology, fertility treatments, artificial reproduction, and so on, we should observe a sharp rise in procreation. Instead, we observe the exact opposite in the Western world, as reproduction rates keep going down. We also observe that this holds true for individual families (rich families are more likely to have some children, but the vast majority of families with more than three children are poor).

No, it is clear that what we have is a sexual instinct, not a procreative instinct, procreation being a side-effect, and a nasty one at that, of coital sex. Before the widespread availability of birth control, coital sex did entail the ever-present possibility of procreation (while homosexual sex, on the other hand, never has). But now, coital sex does not have to mean procreation; because we have no procreative instinct, and in fact many of us have some aversion (however slight or deep) to procreation, birth control is used widely.

These supposedly sex-specific instincts have been used as tools of sexism for centuries, especially the belief that “women are nurturing by nature” and that “women are meant to have children.” The fact is that we have plenty of counter-examples, but that because of social taboos we are unable to really evaluate how prevalent, or not prevalent, non-nurturing or voluntarily childfree women are. But because they are used as tools of sexism, we must reject claims of such instincts prima facie until the taboo is lifted and we can rationally assess, after a generation, whether they were entirely elicited by indoctrination and propaganda, or if something meaningful remains.

The very fact that such propaganda exists is inherently suspicious. We have no need of propaganda to tell people to breathe, eat, have sex, or sleep (although we may tell people how do to these things in a healthy manner).

There is a vicious circle in which indoctrination and propaganda become a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, because they create a social climate where disagreement is suppressed (either explicitly by law or implicitly through intimidation and censorship) and agreement becomes normal, accepted, natural. Dissidents feel alone and scared, and don’t dare to speak up. In fanatically religious societies, the assumed benefits of religion and the assumed naturalness of religion are not questioned. It is simply posited that humans are naturally religious and that’s all there is to it. Same for natalist societies.

In a natalist society, the individual must, whether willingly or unwillingly, take on procreation as part of eir very identity. The human being is not just a being living in human systems, but becomes responsible for the perpetuation of those systems (be it the economy, the State, the family, the race, etc). We say that in capitalism, profits are privatized and losses are socialized; in natalism, we have the exact opposite: the benefits of procreation are socialized and the hardships are privatized. But while many people are rightly coming to the realization that capitalism is a false bill of goods, they are more than happy to take on the numerous hardships and risks of procreation for the benefit of abstract systems. In fact many are explicitly proud of this sacrifice.

This leads to a great deal of confusion about what is or is not natural for human beings. We always tend to believe that the institutions that exist in our present society are timeless and reflect something real about how human beings are made (we need government because people are innately evil, we need organized religion because people need salvation, we need nuclear families because that’s how it’s always been, we need a penal system because people who disagree with the norm can be converted by punishing them, etc).

No one will argue that procreation is not, in itself, natural. Of course procreation itself is a natural biological process, but so is cancer. The fact that procreation is a natural biological process does not have any direct ethical consequences.

Many people, however, believe that procreation is our objective purpose. Implicit in such a belief is an insult: anyone who does not procreate is objectively useless. This belief, therefore, serves to reinforce the indoctrination on childbirth; you are either objectified (“you are an evolutionary dead end”) or vilified (“you’re so selfish [for not submitting yourself to the mandatory sacrifice like we did]!”).

Science-minded people use the theory of evolution to try to prop up this belief. Because evolution works by differential reproductive success, with the “fittest” leaving more offspring and spreading their genes, we associate procreation with “winning.” This metaphor is then taken as literal fact and used to talk about purpose. The purpose of all living thing, it is surmised, must be to procreate, and so we must procreate too, or we will “lose.”

I have analyzed this bizarre set of beliefs in my entry debunking Richard Dawkins and my entry on the Ice Cream Argument. It is not really one single belief as much as a gradient of ignorance going from science-like metaphor-gone-awry (analyzed in the former entry) down to outright sports-fan thinking (analyzed in the latter entry).

What they, and the God’s will argument, all have in common is the desire to reduce human lives to the status of means to some abstract, inhuman end, whether it be God, evolution, or “mankind.” To which we have to reply: why are we beholden to these abstract concepts? A hammer and a train suit their purpose because they are inanimate, unthinking objects. We are not inanimate, unthinking objects (although many of my opponents think very little). We are able to deny any abstract purpose and put human values front and center, where they belong.

In fact, we already do so in the three categories I’ve mentioned. We have already issued our “fuck you” to natural selection with modern medicine; by the way we treat each other, we obviously don’t believe in “mankind”; and organized religion is constantly “reinterpreting” God’s will in accordance with secular morality.

Since my opponents have no qualms treating children and (in most cases) pregnant women as means to an end, in order to fully debunk the argument, I should answer this question: why is it wrong to treat human beings as means to an end? Why should we care? Because the proposition that we should not treat human beings as means to an end is fundamental to our conception of justice. We oppose murder, theft, fraud, assault, and we don’t want to be subject to them, because they harm us, but the basis of this harm is that we are treated as a means to someone else’s end instead of being treated as moral agents. There are plenty of actions which are painful or harmful which we gladly accept because they help fulfill our values.

Furthermore, treating people as means to an end goes against the most crucial social values: freedom, equality and cooperation (people using others as means to an end elevate themselves as an elite class exempt from the manipulations they inflict on others), consent (using people as means to an end is either done against their consent, or by manipulating their consent) and human rights (to use others as means to an end is to prevent them from fulfilling their own values). The ultimate end result of treating people as means to an end is slavery, which is also the opposite of being in society; slaves are objects, not equals. But the more we treat someone else as a means to an end, the more we treat them like slaves.

All of this may seem uncontroversial to my opponents, but, if that is the case, they must explain why they believe it is perfectly fine to use children and pregnant women as means to an end, when they already agree that it is wrong to treat people as means to an end. And if my premises seem controversial to them, they must explain why they believe it is fine to use people as means to an end given all that I’ve already said. Both prospects seem rather daunting, although I am open to refutations.

Note that I am not saying that pro-choice advocates should not believe in “mankind” or in choice, or that anti-abortion advocates should not believe in God or in “ensoulement.” What I am saying is that they should not seek to impose concrete harm on the basis of these abstract concepts. Whether their ends are justified is a separate issue, which I think I have sufficiently addressed in previous entries. But either way, whether these ends are justified or not, it is still wrong to treat people as means to an end (I wholeheartedly reject the consequentialist argument that it is okay to sacrifice lives as long as it serves a greater justified purpose).

The only right conclusion, I believe, is that there cannot be such a thing as a right or duty to impose harm on others. And the only position compatible with this conclusion is the pro-abortion position.

Now, I mentioned God’s will regarding procreation, but I left the discussion of this topic for the end, so that you may skip over this theological ending if you wish. Now, it is true that Genesis 1 states:

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it

However, contrary to what Christians believe, this is not a command given to humans but rather a blessing. Not only does it say so in the verse itself, but consider these other verses in Genesis 1:

And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.

Obviously God is not commanding the whales and the fowls to procreate. How would a whale or a fowl understand commands? It is very obviously a blessing, not a command. So the belief that God commands humans to procreate in the Bible is plainly false on its face.

Sociopathy as the “killer” moral argument.

UPDATE: This entry has been linked to by some bigot who calls me an “abnormal mentality.” All I can say is, don’t encourage the trolls (which is why I will not post a link to his blog).

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I’ve had some interest in sociopathy, and I decided to read Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, a book from the most established expert in the field, Robert D. Hare. I wasn’t exactly bowled over by the book itself. Many conclusions were unsupported and obviously were only adopted by Hare because they are more conducive to him getting money. There are also some logical gaps. All in all, it’s a spotty piece of writing.

The theory behind it, however, is clear enough. Sociopaths are people who have no conscience, no empathy, and no higher emotions. They see other people as nothing more than means to an end, and have no qualms about lying, hurting and killing others. They feel no guilt about their actions. Despite being only around 2% of the population, they compose a large proportion of criminals, and a majority of the violent criminals. The more successful sociopaths spend their lives exploiting others to get up the corporate or political ladder. Sociopaths are attracted to instant gratification and control over others most of all.

And the problem is not that they don’t understand laws or rules or mores: they do understand them, but they simply don’t have the motivation to follow them. These are individuals whose ethics are very limited, because they lack the internal components that would motivate them to be ethical. They understand that other people suffer, but they don’t have the empathy necessary to relate it to their own experiences. They understand that hurting others is wrong, but they can see no reason not to do so. They understand the consequences of breaking the rules, but long-term consequences simply don’t register.

The first conclusion we can draw from this is that sociopathy proves that morality is innate. If the opposite was true, and that all that sufficed for an individual to be good was for him to be subjected to, and understand, laws, rules and mores (including their consequences), then sociopaths should not be different from the rest of the population in that regard. But they are drastically different. The only possible explanation for this phenomenon is that morality is based on internal mechanisms, and disabling these mechanisms necessarily disables the ability of the individual to distinguish right from wrong, regardless of how much he intellectually understands the difference (forcing a disbelieving blind man to remember by rote that “there is a river to your right” is not the same as actually seeing the river).

This is not really surprising: Kropotkin already proved it a century ago, and scientists keep “discovering” it every year (and somehow they’re always surprised by it, and forget all about it the next year). But this is probably the most elegant proof of them all.

This also leads us to the interesting conclusion that sociopaths are, to a certain extent, innately evil. But that’s what the more principled statists claim all human beings are. They believe that without laws, rules or mores, human beings would be in a constant struggle against each other, because human beings are innately evil and only seek self-gratification at the expense of all other goals. This description actually almost completely fits sociopaths, the only difference being that sociopaths are like this whether laws, rules and mores exist or not.

The other interesting aspect to this is that sociopaths themselves seem to have a very pessimistic view of human nature. They share with statists the belief that man is innately corrupt, that you should harm people before they get a chance to harm you, and they see weaker individuals as being saps, as deserving to be harmed because of their weakness. In a pastiche of leftist views, they see themselves as victims of society, their upbringing, and so on; they cannot accept that they are at fault because they actually do believe that they have done nothing wrong, even if they were mass murderers.

Hare himself draws the exact opposite conclusion: his position is that anarchism, not statism, is more like sociopathy. In fact, I believe he falls into this confusion because he fails to differentiate between internal and external rules. He assumes that because Anarchists refuse to conform to external rules, they display something that is like a lack of conscience.

But that merely means that he has failed to grasp the lesson that morality is innate. As Lysander Spooner has demonstrated, moral laws, which he calls natural law (and which we now know to be an evolutionary adaptation), are universal and accessible by all- which we must now amend to mean, all those who are not hindered in their mental capacities in the way that a sociopath is. We Anarchists have nothing but the greatest respect for these moral laws: in fact, we often oppose hierarchies on the basis that they break these moral laws constantly and with impunity. For example, the excellent documentary The Corporation details how a corporation is like a sociopathic individual (and with the personhood granted to corporations, we can also say “literally”).

We Anarchists do not reject internal rules, rather the contrary. We also do not reject external rules which are legitimately established by the will of the people and implement rational and fair justice. We only reject external rules which are not legitimately established- a prime example of this being the byzantine system of laws and show trials which currently binds us. Suffice it to look at the actions of Anarchists and the actions of the policemen who gas and beat them to see which side is closer to cold wanton violence in the name of self-indulgence.

So once we realize that, we must examine legalism both from the aspect of outer rules and from the aspect of inner rules. The Anarchist rejects only part of the former, but the sociopath rejects both. Seen from that perspective, the sociopath is seen to correspond perfectly to the concept of atomistic individualism: an individual who lives as if he is in a vacuum, making decisions in complete disregard of society or any part of society. So not only is the sociopath a representation of the statist’s straw man, but he is a representation of the collectivist’s straw man as well.

In fact, sociopaths are our enemies, both on the criminal side and on the hierarchical side. Their lack of conscience and empathy makes them expert criminals, and their capacity to exploit others and their lack of remorse makes them good at climbing organizational ladders. And Anarchists should strive to learn more about them, because it is always better to know one’s enemies.

Sean Prophet on: man is innately evil…

UPDATE: Also see a debunking of Sean’s arguments at Division by Zero.

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I have already mentioned that the belief “man is innately evil” is a fundamental part of understanding people’s opinions about politics and society. Perhaps there are people who believe that what I describe is not really taken seriously by the indoctrinated. In fact, this is a belief which is taken very seriously by a lot of people. Certainly there can be no doubt that Christians take it very seriously. But statists take it equally seriously. One only has to look at all the “law and order” rhetoric to realize that.

That being said, I wanted to show you an example of a particularly indoctrinated individual. Sean Prophet, a former collaborator of mine, has recently argued with me on Facebook on the subject of human rights (he believes in “might makes right” and that people must be controlled). Here are some choice quotes from this discussion, written by Sean:

No, we can decide what is right democratically. We just have to be willing to back it up with force.

Before civilization, might used to make right. Since the Magna Carta, we began to agree on a broader definition of what was right, and used armies to enforce it. As time went on, the agreement of what was right evolved, and so the concept of “rights” evolved. All the while, it is backed up by threat of force. Slaves were … Read Morefreed because of superior force in the American North. It’s bald-faced obvious. Otherwise, the strongest and best-armed people in your neighborhood would come, rape you, and steal your stuff.

Again, Francois, not *reality*, like gravity or physics, but politically enforceable freedoms.

(which leads us to the strange conclusion that freedom, that which he strives for, is actually not real)

You pick your poison. Be a thug or hire thugs to do it for you. We call that government. It’s the lesser evil.

And now to the “man is innately evil” rants:

People spend about 98% of their time and energy trying to manipulate, negotiate, and get what they want from each other or society. Some fulfill their agreements and obligations while others scam the system in whatever way they can. You can either play the game or get played, whether by government or by others. Your place in the social hierarchy is determined by luck, skill and cunning. Or you can just deny such competition exists, and still end up on the losing end.

Brad, you guys have fun with your idealism. It would be “Lord of the Flies” in no time. I’d just love to watch a bunch of card carrying anarchists duke it out on a desert island. Last man standing wins. Hey, that’s a great idea for a reality show!

(apparently Sean thinks Anarchism is exactly like the Highlander movies- THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!)

People don’t cooperate. People won’t agree to relinquish their self-interest. They won’t stop trying to undermine each other.

People smile at each other while they are secretly working to underbid their associates, eat their friend’s lunch or bang their other friend’s wife.

(if you’re one of Sean’s friends, beware! HE MIGHT BE BANGING YOUR WIFE!!! seriously, how hilarious/sick is this?)

Still, Communism and Anarchy rely on almost identical erroneous assumptions about human nature. Even when people have the best of intentions, they still don’t end up cooperating. They do it until it is no longer in their interest. Then comes the knife in the back.

I’ve had the same arguments with believers. People love to insist on a basic goodness in human nature. Because the alternative scares the hell out of them. But what if it were true? I thought you always put truth over comfort?

I don’t think it’s dark. I think human nature can be harnessed with the proper structure, which accepts it for what it is and creates a system of checks and balances.

I’m amoral, I think you are amoral. I just don’t think you’ve been pushed to the limit yet. Put you in a cage match, and see what happens.

The state uses corrective force when people lose sight of their own longer term interests.

Thus ends the sad saga of Sean Prophet, liberal, Greenie, serial lunch thief.

The belief that people are innately evil. (part 2/2)

But that being said, there are four further problems that the statist must contend with.

1. If the belief that “man is innately evil” is the result of indoctrination (whether the believer realizes it or not), why should we believe it? And where does the belief that “man is innately good” come from? When I observe my own self, I observe no desire to kill or steal (at least, not legitimate property). This observation is also available in other people’s own selves, if they have access to it (granted, this is a big “if”) and desire to know the answer. This cannot be conclusive evidence, but it is factual nevertheless and it is enough evidence for me to arrive to a personal conclusion that is something more than an article of faith.

2. If man is innately evil and thus must be controlled in order to put a stop to his animalistic impulses, it leads to reason that the less control there is in a society, the more crime there should be. Often control is the result of a mass movement, and it is true that in the wake of a mass movement crime rates go down due to the displacement of energy. But more oppressive governments, strong religious institutions, and so on, are generally correlated with higher crime rates. So this is something that needs to be explained.

A statist may reply that, as the control needs to be two ways, there isn’t enough control by the people over their authorities in those societies and so corruption is allowed to remain rampant. But most societies have a democratic process similar to ours, and there’s no reason why one shouldn’t work as well as the other. Corruption has more to do with how poor the public officials are, and how much power they have, than it has to do with the efficacy of any given democratic process.

3. I have already discussed the monkey in a cage argument in a previous entry called The Fantastic Cage. The monkey in a cage argument is that, just as one cannot draw conclusions about monkey behaviour from looking at monkeys in captivity, one cannot draw conclusions about human behaviour from looking at humans in captivity. The sort of captivity is different in each case. In the case of monkeys, it is a physical captivity, and in the case of humans it is both a physical and a mental captivity, with the mental side being much more used. With that in mind, the main argument is still valid, in that making assumptions about human nature based on the behaviour of captive humans is just as inane as making assumptions about monkey behaviour based on the behaviour of captive monkeys.

So if the statist points to criminality as a reason to claim that human nature is evil, one may justly reply that in the absence or great reduction of poverty, powerlessness, monogamous jealousies, and so on, crime would be greatly reduced. All behaviour, whether moral or immoral, exists within a socio-economic context, and to ignore it is simply irrational. The same applies to things like greed, stupidity or being overly self-centered. When people are kept greedy, stupid and short-sighted by a system that wants people to run around making money instead of living purposeful lives, to be schooled and uneducated, and to not look at the morality of their actions, you’re gonna get greedy, stupid and self-centered people. It’s as simple as that.

4. If we look at the issue logically, the argument that human nature justifies control is just a different version of the statist argument that human nature justifies government. Because of this, it suffers from the same fundamental flaw: it assumes that a good system can come from evil intentions.

Take the origin problem, for instance. If people are innately evil, then the apparatus of control must be the result of the actions of evil people. Why should we believe that an apparatus made by evil people is morally sane? How can people who are innately evil be trusted to build a system which supposedly enforces sanity?

Now, to look at the present. If people are innately evil, then their actions are evil. If people’s actions are evil, then their control over others will inevitably seek evil ends.

The only model that can get the statist out of this logical quagmire is that of “peace through fear”: that people are so scared of other people’s crimes that they will seek to suppress criminality more than they will pursue their own crimes, and that in our society, which is to them the equivalent of a band of depraved criminals, fear of others will trump greed or ambition. But even this model is not satisfactory, as there is no disharmony between fear and greed. In fact, fear is the prime weapon politicians use to pursue their greed for power and fear of job loss is one of the ways capitalists use to suppress dissent.

So instead of looking at man as an homo economicus, a rational consumer, as economists do, they look at man as a rational tyrant moved by fear.

Democracy is therefore ultimately based on fear, the fear that the fellow in charge will control you, or others, in the wrong way. Of course, this sort of system has to fail, if only because whoever is in control of the rules of the democratic process also controls the choices people have, and can thus marginalize anyone he wants (and we observe that this is what actually happens in reality). As I’ve pointed out before, whoever controls the rules of a game is the real winner of the game.

This is the principle that “you become what you fight against.” People fear exploitation, therefore their solution is to exploit each other. People fear being mistreated, therefore their solution is to mistreat each other and hope that it all evens out. People fear class divisions, therefore their solution is vertical mobility. In their mindset, the evil is mitigated by the fact that everyone has a chance to perpetrate it. This is, by the way, why ending discrimination is so important to the statists, not because it is unjust (in fact, they don’t care at all about the injustice) but because it reinforces the belief that everyone has a chance to become an exploiter.

Capital-democracy fulfills this criterion very well, the theory being that anyone can rise through the ranks of the economic apparatus and the political apparatus, and the people in power are theoretically controlled and made accountable by others (be they shareholders, voters, or what have you). Because, in theory, anyone can become a high-ranking executive or politician, we are led to conclude that we live in a classless society. In fact, the existence of social classes does not depend on people being stuck in them for their whole life or not. Insofar as the system is concerned, it does not matter who is in control, or if it’s always the same people or not, as long as someone is.

I’ve talked about obedience as being a necessary component of the statist mindset. If all you have is the belief that “people are innately evil” without the obedience circuit, all you can do is kill people because you have no other solution. Lynchings, the death penalty and other such eye-for-an-eye penalties are a remnant of this. When we feel that we have no control over someone (if they live in another “country,” for instance), then we try to kill them. This is why tribal societies are sometimes very violent (although not nearly on the same magnitude as our geo-political entities today): not out of any particular evilness, but because they can’t control each other, and they see no authority they can rely on to solve conflicts, to control their opponents.

There’s no middle ground between wanting people to be free and wanting people to be controlled (no matter how much the statists wish for control to be freedom).

The belief that people are innately evil. (part 1/2)

The belief that people are innately evil is a central pillar of both collectivism and of the control mentality, and as such it deserves attention. I have discussed it to some extent, first as an essential part of the bait of collectivism, and more recently as an underpinning of the obedience circuit. That being said, I think there’s more to look at.

The number of variants on this belief is as great as the number of mainstream worldviews. The Christian belief that “man is born a sinner” is the granddaddy of them all. Christian dogma states that, thanks to original sin, man is born a sinner and remains so for his whole life, only redeemed from this status by his belief in Jesus as saviour. From little babies onwards (if we exclude the “age of accountability,” a doctrine they fabricated to cover up the utter imbecility of believing that a little baby is pure evil), we are all worthy of eternal torment.

The modern belief pushed by the power elite is a little more subtle than that, since it does not rely on religious dogma, but it is no less bleak. As one neocon told me, and I quote: “The majority of humans are scum when it gets right down to it. Stupid. Lazy. Evil.” Not only that, but we are bombarded with propaganda telling us that most people have criminal intentions and that anyone who disagrees with your ideology is evil and insane. We live in a society where new criminals are constantly being created by law, and this process is passed off as the absolute proof that man is a criminal. We are constantly told that every state of chaos and violence in the world is caused by a lack of government control, and that the more free from control people are, the more they become like beasts.

Think about how you would see society if you seriously believed that. Think about how much you’d trust your fellow homo sap if you actually believed that “the majority of humans are scum.” Is it any wonder that this belief leads to major psychological, social and political aberrations?

More recently, science and capitalism have given us a different take on man. Instead of blaming man for his nature, they see it as infinitely malleable. In this conception, man is a push-button machine. By finding out which buttons one must push, you can make a man consume your product, think the right thoughts, vote for the right choice, and kill the enemies you designate. Free will is an illusion, a sort of background noise lost in the statistical signals one uses to measure behaviour, an uncertainty interval that can and must be shrunk until it is eradicated.

Utopians also share this belief, but without the scientific aspects. In the Marxist worldview, it is posited that man is a blank slate (that is to say, a human with no particular “human nature” whatsoever) on which the environment and education imprint patterns of thought and action, and free will is once again an illusion to be replaced with “pressing the right buttons.” I hope I don’t need to mention how utterly unscientific this is, and has been thoroughly refuted by evolutionary psychology.

Either way, I will not discuss this particular “push-button” conception further, since it is not particularly relevant to the topic except in an incidental way (in the “man is innately stupid/gullible” sense).

Now, the interesting thing is that a person may not consider himself to be evil. In the Christian conception, this is not true, since the believer must also considers himself a sinner, otherwise he misses the whole point. But in the statist conception, it is entirely possible, and entirely likely, for a person to believe that most people are innately evil, or that man is innately evil, while still believing that they themselves are not evil. In fact, very few people consider themselves evil.

So there is a pretty easy reply to people who say that man is innately evil, that without a control apparatus people would just go around killing and stealing, and so on and so forth, the reply being “who would you kill first?” Of course they do not want to kill anyone, and they will say so, although they are convinced that the masses harbour in their hearts a desire to kill.

So from a logical point of view, we have a paradox which leads to three possible solutions: either the answerer is somehow special and has escaped the evilness of human nature, or he is lying to himself and really does want to kill, or he is wrong in his basic belief. Generally people will not go this far and will refuse to answer you, but if you press them, they will give you the first or second option (the option that the belief could be wrong is of course unacceptable, since they constructed their whole political worldview on it).

Before I continue, I would like to diverge into a bit of a side-issue: when statists say “man is innately evil,” in accordance with what standard do they use the term “evil”? Seemingly, in accordance with the innate moral standard of man, which sees murder, theft, and so on, as social evils. Interestingly, this entails a direct contradiction, since they assume that our innate moral standards are valid, while stating that man is innately evil at the same time. The statist may argue that there is really no contradiction since the law provides the standard necessary, although this entails two further problems, namely: 1. how did the first rules of conduct come to be, if not from man’s innate moral standards, and 2. how he intends to prove that a law generates a moral obligation (a necessary step to go from “illegal” to “evil”), something which I have proven is logically impossible.

Either way, the principle that murder and theft are evil is of no help to the statist, since the State is by far the greatest agent of murder and theft. It is estimated, for instance, that governments have murdered approximately 260 million of their own subjects in the past century, six times the amount of war killings in the same period, and many times that of private murders. The amount of money extorted and stolen by governments (by taxation, inflation, expropriation, etc) is so many orders of magnitude greater than private thefts that it would be silly to even try to calculate it. If statists are using this standard to claim that man is innately evil, then we can reply that their solution is worse than the disease. If murder and theft are evil, then statism is morally inferior.

To this a statist may reply that this is a contradiction, as the people populating governments are, according to us, innately good and therefore should not be so murderous and thieving. This objection ignores a fundamental fact of social organization: who populates a system has no bearing on its incentives and the general nature of its results. As I’ve pointed out in the past:

… Even if every single politician, corporate executive, bureaucrat, policeman, soldier and technocrat was a fair-minded, benevolent angel, we’d still get the exact same end results.

The error that statists commit is that they believe that politics and economics are driven by individuals. But that only applies when people take responsibility for their actions. When people don’t question their own actions, and follow the system blithely (and why should they not, when they’ve been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe in it?), then they become nothing more than puppets for that system. In that case, we can say that politics and economics are driven by the properties of their systems.

In short, a culture of compliance nullifies the influence of individual morality on the incentives of a system. Collectivist systems are destructive beyond measure because their incentives are destructive beyond measure and there exists no mindfulness of that fact in their members. Power corrupts angels as much as it corrupts demons, because whether angels or demons we are still human beings.

No matter what moral system the evaluation is based on, the consequences of believing that man is innately evil remain the same. If man is innately evil, so goes the reasoning, then all men must be controlled so we can be safe from each other’s evil desires. The ultimate freedom is therefore ultimate control, with love having no place whatsoever in a secure society. It is a hopeless, nihilistic article of faith which can only ultimately lead to a war of all against all, a life “poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (words used by Hobbes to characterize the state of nature, but which apply much more aptly here).

One may reply that the belief that “man is innately good” is also an article of faith. I have no objection to that position per se. Suppose it is true. Then both the statist and I are in possession of an article of faith as the foundation of our ideologies, but one could argue that a positive faith based on hope is more useful than a nihilistic faith based on fear, insofar as it spurs people to a better sort of action. Even if we claim that either belief is unproveable, the belief that “man is innately good,” put to action, would create a better society than the belief that “man is innately evil” (at least, as the statists interpret it).

Either way, if the issue is one of faith against faith, then rational discussion is over, for most intents and purposes. Where faith is concerned, everyone believes what they believe and there’s no point in trying to convince anyone that they’re wrong. Faith is incompatible with dialogue.

Continue to part 2.

The Inner Light doctrine.

Political positions are mostly taken as a priori. Few people bother to examine the source of people’s beliefs on the subject, unless it is a particularly interesting fringe (like Christian right-wing extremists).

I would like to propose a hypothesis on why people adopt the political beliefs they do: I propose that they depends on one’s position on certain fundamental questions of social ethics, and that social ethics informs one’s politics, in the same way that epistemic beliefs (such as skepticism or emotional anti-rationalism) inform one’s position on various issues such as religion or alternative medicine. I would also like to discuss the Market Anarchist perspective on those fundamental questions.

My position is that the way we grow up and are educated, and our early experiences with people, in short our mental attitude towards others, mold our sense of social ethics, and that social ethics determine our political beliefs. Here are the three questions I consider most fundamental to social ethics and most influential on our political beliefs:

1. Can the use of force (murder, theft) be good and in what circumstances? This question goes to the root of the dichotomy between relativism and universal morality. All forms of collectivism support the doctrine of relativism: that moral principles can change depending on the time and place, generally at the whim of people in position of authority. Christianity entails the belief that the absolute moral principles dictated by God only apply to certain people at a certain time, democracy entails the belief that laws are relative to place and time (through voting and ruling class decisions), racism entails that people of different races have different moral standings, and so on.

A person who believes in the relativist doctrine will therefore have no problem in accepting that the ruling class can perform extortion, kidnapping, murder and fraud on everyone else. He will see no moral problem in positing that “we need the law in order to protect rights,” when such law is established and maintained by force. Either “practical expediency” or “might makes right” becomes his guiding principle. Since he cannot accept universal principles, his founding documents (such as the Constitution) become “living documents” whose meaning changes with the times.

To a person who believes in universality, on the other hand, extortion, kidnapping, murder and fraud are not acceptable actions to perform against any individual, regardless of the rationalizations used to justify them. The belief that the ruling class uses these crimes for “the common good” is seen as hypocrisy and indoctrination, since crimes cannot yield any moral gain. There are fixed universal principles that must be followed by all (such as “no initiation of coercion”) in order to have a healthy society.

2. Is man fundamentally malleable, or does he have a basically fixed nature? Do people’s decisions come from themselves, or are they made up of outside influences?

This is, in a sense, relevant to the issue of free will and determinism, in that it demonstrates how people analyze the issue. People associate “decisions coming from yourself” as “free will,” and “decisions made up of outside influences” as “determinism.” This then turns into all sorts of confusions. They ask questions like “if determinism is true, then how can you change your mind?” This question, of course, is a confusion: you can change your mind because your decisions come from who you are and what you think. But because they equate “your decisions come from who you are” with “free will,” and the opposite with determinism, they cannot make that connection.

In reality, “decisions come from yourself” is merely another way of expressing both determinism and free will, and they are both aspects of the same thing. Determinism expresses the causal relation between our mind and our actions, and free will expresses our mental capacity to effect such a relation consciously.

The opposite view is that our decisions are a composite of exterior influences: the media, video games, our parents, our friends, the food we eat, what we wear, what we own, etc. Of course, this creates a little “origin” problem: if our actions originate in those of other people, and so do their actions, then how does anything get started?

Putting aside the major logical problem, this stance is the basic moral justification for social engineering, paternalistic policies, and attacks on civil liberties (especially for teenagers). The left-wing sort of people tend to believe in determinism because they believe that exterior influences are most important, and also tend to believe that man is malleable, and therefore that through the State’s coercion we can make society “better.”

Now, I grant you that, unlike the previous question, there is room for nuances on the answers to this question. One can believe that both positions are viable to a certain extent. The answer would here mostly depend on which position one believes is the most important: whether our actions are mostly our own or the product of exterior influences.

3. Are the vast majority of human beings (excluding psychopaths and the mentally handicapped) fundamentally good or evil?

What I am referring to in this question is specifically the collectivist doctrine of Original Sin, which all collectivist belief systems (including political ones) share. They believe that man is born corrupt, and is too selfish/greedy/sinful/individualistic to live in society without a transcendent authority (God/the Church/the State/transcendent principles) to “lay down the law,” figuratively or literally. In this view, man is born corrupt, and is made good by coercive action.

The opposite position is that man is born innocent and, if left uncoerced and without collectivist indoctrination, will remain good. In this view, transcendent authorities corrupt the individual by taking him away from his own moral standards and imposing alien standards which pursue the interests of hierarchies and beliefs, not of the moral agent. The State and religion corrupt the individual in the name of making him good.

This is what I call the Inner Light doctrine (after the Quaker use of the same term). It is the belief that almost all individuals have a moral “inner light,” an intrinsic moral compass, that comes from biology, growing up, interacting with others, empathy, education, and other areas. The few who don’t (such as most serial killers) are exceptions to the rule.

The Inner Light doctrine sets the table for the moral debate, because it forces the statist to contradict himself. If the doctrine is false, then the State itself is the product of immoral people, and therefore it is itself immoral. If the doctrine is true, then the State is a useless aberration, and its continued existence is immoral.

The Natural State of Man.

So what is the natural state of man, and how can we know about it? Well, there are three general ways of figuring that out. We can look at how people act when they are outside the purview of coercive belief systems. We can look at the constants of history. We can also look at more primitive tribes that still exist today. While none of these give us a strict answer, they certainly give us a good indication of the answer.

The first thing we know from human history and psychology is that people naturally tend to form societies. A society is a system of interrelations wherein people exchange values. The primitive hunter-gatherers had to band together to ensure the fulfillment of their most fundamental values of survival. Later on, people had to band together to produce food in an agrarian society. As technology grew, people needed to assemble together to produce more efficiently and pull themselves out of the harsh work and poverty of farm life. So one universal principle here is that people naturally seek to form societies, markets for resources (by exchanging their labour and the products of it), and progress within them.

The second thing we learn from history is that non-statist societies, when left alone, do not naturally tend to develop states. Likewise, a person who deconverts from religion does not naturally tend to go back to religion. Now to a certain extent this is true of any system of thought, as most people are apathetic and will try to adapt to any context, but it seems to be most true of individualist systems. So individualism and freedom seem to have a strong inelasticity- once people possess them, they may resent them (just as people resent their opposites) but they don’t want to relinquish them.

These two principles put the lie to collectivist believers and their assertion that we should consider their belief system as an organizational and moral default. Now, they already have the burden of proof, given that they believe that not only individual action but also collectivist belief are necessary, while we only affirm the former as necessary, making them prey to Occam’s Razor. But if the natural state of man is to live in society, to assemble in markets, and to retain his freedom and individuality, then collectivist belief is not only found lacking but utterly destroyed.

And yet the astute reader can return the point to me. After all, if collectivism is unnatural, then how has it come to dominate human thought for such a long time? If we look at the process of evolution, we observe that there is a critical mass of adaptability beyond which a replicator can take over the entire space. Homo sapiens is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

I think the same thing is true of religious systems and statist systems. When examined from a memetic standpoint, we observe that the most popular of these systems are extremely powerful and adaptable. It seems reasonable to assume that, after having evolved in one specific area, supported by some of our psychological impulses, the religio-political quickly adapted to varying social conditions and spread to the whole world, in the same way that homo sapiens quickly adapted to a large variety of climates and resource distributions.

Does this mean that the situation is hopeless? I don’t think so. If the religio-political is a freak of memetic evolution, then we do not need to fear its reappearance, or at least we can guard against it by watching for its specific symptoms. After all, if it is freakish, then there’s no risk of a widespread emergence of collectivism. Unfortunately, it does mean we need to particularly fear it right here and now.

A major error that believers commit is to confuse the behaviour of people under collectivism with their natural behaviour. When I debated Nikhil Rao, he made that exact mistake on round 3 by assuming that the fact that people do not value freedom and cheer the welfare state is an argument against anarchy. Quite the opposite! If the natural state of man is to desire to be free, then we must put the blame solely on the religio-political for warping man’s desires around its depraved incentive systems.

How can we explain this behaviour, then? People trapped in a statist system are conditioned to believe that statism is a universal condition of human existence (despite the historical facts). Therefore they naturally desire to effect as much of their values as possible through the gun of the state before others manage the same. This is the incentive that leads to the social warfare endemic to democracies.

Should we be surprised, then, that people cheer the rise of the state? The more power in its guns, the more power they can take for themselves. This, however, has no bearing at all on the behaviour of free individuals. Monkeys in zoo cages don’t act in the same way than monkeys in the wild, after all.

The social system we live in, therefore, has a critical influence on our own morality. The more individualistic and self-oriented the system is, the less moral beliefs we should observe. The more collectivist and group-oriented the system is, the more moral beliefs we should observe.

Religion is no exception to this. The more educated people are (especially about the diversity of religions in the world), the more prosperous they are, the least religion they seek. But with peer pressure and religionist laws, people are forced to self-indoctrinate or die. The fear that an atheist might feel in Iran is the same as the fear a counter-revolutionary might feel in Cuba- with the same incentives to profess religion (whether it be that of Allah or Fidel). We naturally expect that while beliefs would certainly not be gone in a totally free society, such a society would yield far less social damage from these beliefs than any society existing today.