Category Archives: Deconverting people

The true self, seat of love. (part 2/2)

Another necessary prerequisite to be loving is to have the freedom to be yourself. If the State, society, or any other exterior determinism forces you to remain in an identity (whatever it is), then you lose the freedom to leave that identity and experience love.

This all leads to one important question: how do you know if you are your true self? One indication would be whether you are still subject to the indoctrination you have received (all those “shoulds” and “musts” that we use to evade our true self). I don’t think it’s possible for a person to be completely free from it, but it is possible for it not to affect our behaviour or thought patterns, except as a curiosity. Another indication would be whether the person is comfortable in saying and doing what he truly desires. Another indication is whether the person is happy with his life as a whole. A person who “follows his bliss” (to quote Joseph Campbell) is much more likely to be happy than a person who suppresses it.

When I say you should be comfortable in saying and doing whatever you want, I don’t mean that you must necessarily be a hedonistic, short-term centered being. Obviously the human being does have a bias towards pleasure and short-term benefit, but we are also thinking beings with our own values, and those values that are authentic should not be rejected. I may have to stop myself from doing something because it would not be beneficial to my values in the long term. As long as the reasoning is rational, it is not a suppression of the true self, but rather a fulfillment of it.

Indeed, we must not fall into the trap of saying that the true self is immaturity of irresponsibility, as many people believe, and that “doing what we should do” is a sign of maturity or responsibility. Quite the opposite: because identities are based on unthinking obedience, because they are roles assigned by someone else, following them is quite irresponsible. We see this expressed most strinkingly in the “soldier” identity, where one must obey all orders, even mass murder, without question. Once you make the choice to surrender your moral compass, you should not be surprised to learn that you have become something quite unholy. As for maturity, while it is true that little children live mostly free from shoulds and musts, being raised and educated beats this into them, and being able to come back to that state requires a great deal of courage. “Maturity,” at any rate, is mostly a word used by people to mean that you do your “musts” and “shoulds” like everyone else.

The end result of this process, when you get back to the true self, we call authenticity. Apart from being fully yourself again, and having access to your source of love, what are the benefits of authenticity? Depends how you go at it. If you’re less diplomatic about it with others, you may become somewhat less popular. But what is universal is that people who are authentic experience less stress, more happiness, and feel that their life is much more meaningful- because they follow their own path, and are likely to feel less powerless or railroaded by life. They are also more likely to have successful relationships. Being authentic pushes one away from conformity, away from the trivial, and towards the important, but it also opens one to all the little pleasures in life that might be repressed by a more “mature” person.

Being authentic is scary because it demands for one to look at the good and the bad in himself, and to do the same with others. It is uncompromising, but it is the only way to live.

There is one objection I expect to be raised, so I will address it here. One might say that part of human nature includes things that are very much against love, such as xenophobia and jealousy. That’s true, and certainly someone who is authentic would want to recognize it in himself, so he can deal with it, if he does feel those impulses.

As for myself, I have never felt those impulses, or only in extremely small quantities. I cannot claim to be a completely authentic person (I do not know if such a thing is possible), but I am very satisfied with the level at which I have been able to “clear myself.” I feel that I am not constrained by anything but my own values (of course, whether I am correct or not is another matter). I am happy, not stressed, in a great relationship, focused on the important, and experience all the little pleasures of life that I want- and everyone I know feels the same way. I know personal experiences are not evidence, but I can at least tell you I know it works.

The true self, seat of love. (part 1/2)

While certainly we cannot say that there is a center of selfhood somewhere in the brain, or that what we call our self is necessarily a perfectly coherent unit, we nevertheless all agree that there is such a thing as the self. I am a person with certain properties, and I can sometimes “not feel like myself,” for instance when using medical drugs.

I can also say that I may do things that are not “like me” in order to fulfill a social role. By doing so, I take on a mask by which other people may see me and, hopefully, respect me more. Most people’s lives consist of going from one mask to another, always hiding their “self,” which for the sake of preventing confusion we may call the “true self.” The only time when they can be “truly themselves,” if at all, is when sharing intimacy, which is why intimacy for most people is so risky and yet so desired.

For the sake of simplifying this discussion, let me create and define a few terms. The true self is the nature of the individual without social pressures and collectivist indoctrination, the core of every psyche. The basic beliefs are those personal (centered on the self) beliefs that originally made the individual believe in whatever identity or belief system you are analyzing. The distal beliefs are those beliefs that are used to rationalize the identity or belief, post hoc, and the proximate beliefs are those beliefs upheld by the individual on a daily basis (the difference between a proximate and distal belief is that the believer will readily give you proximate beliefs, but will generally only show his distal beliefs when he is further probed or refuted). And finally, an identity or false self is an “I am…” adopted by the individual which railroads him into a number of “I should…”s and “I must…”s which do not come from his true self. With each identity comes beliefs about others which distance themselves from their loving true self.

With these elements, based both on theory and my own extensive observations, we have a primitive but workable (and testable) model of the individual psyche. Perhaps a simple example will help explain this. You talk to a person who is in the identity of “I am a statist” (which would actually probably defined in his mind as “I am not an Anarchist”). His proximate beliefs may include “Democracy is the best form of social organization” and “The law exists to protect our rights.” Proximate beliefs always present a rosy and seemingly coherent picture. But once you probe and refute these beliefs, he may fall back to distal beliefs such as “might makes right” (although not so crudely expressed) and “if everyone believes something, it must be true.” This is generally as far as you will go, if you keep taking that route. If you can get him to take down his guard and talk to you as an equal, and to start talking in “I” language, he may tell you about his basic beliefs, such as “I was raised feeling like I always needed to obey authority figures” or “I don’t think most people can be trusted.”

The identities and the true self are what concern us the most, because they are what the individual projects into the world around him (if not the true self, then some identity), they are the living products. They concern us specifically because the true self is where love and compassion reside. As identities are constructed and maintained, they keep us separated from that source of love, and make us see others as abstract entities, as enemies or as tools for an end, and treat them coercively. This alienation sustains a number of “I should…”s and “I must…”s for each identity, both in terms of positions and actions, which present a model for the person to follow in that identity. In the case of “I am a statist,” we could say that it entails things like “I must believe in democracy,” “I must follow the party line,” “I must consider people who support other parties as being my enemies,” “I should vote,” “I should be patriotic,” “I should support our leaders,” “I should support the military,” and so on. The laundry list would be pretty long and would depend on the exact form of statist belief of the individual.

That being said, there are innumerable identities that any person can take: “I am white,” “I am black,” “I am a worker,” “I am a boss,” “I am a politician,” “I am a prospective boyfriend/girlfriend,” “I am a housewife,” “I am a woman,” “I am a man,” “I am a straight man,” “I am a homosexual,” “I am a soldier,” “I am a victim,” “I am a poor,” “I am a bourgeois,” “I am a communist,” “I am a Christian,” each with their accompanying “I should…”s and “I must…”s. Once you drop all these identities, all the “I should…”s and “I must…”s, all that is left is “I,” the self, not being anything or being enforced anything, just the self in and of itself (no pun intended).

The goal in taking down identities is to find the true self of the other person and free it. This is not much different from deconverting someone from a belief system. In fact, any identity implies some belief system, and any belief system implies some identity. So the process is very similar, because nonbelief is part of the natural state of man, and so is love, compassion and empathy.

Belief systems are almost completely based on projection, and the same is true of identities. To be able to love, you must first love yourself, your true self. If you are stuck in identities and loathe yourself or have no self-esteem, then this will inevitably lead to projections such as “others are not to be trusted,” “others are such hypocrites” or “others lead such empty lives” (or whatever the individual feels about himself). Not only will people project, but they will also suffer from confirmation bias (i.e. remember what confirms their accusations, and forget about what doesn’t). On the other hand, people who love themselves will be able to love others, and will tend to project loving intentions on others, thus making loving intentions more likely.

Proceed to part 2.

How to deconvert people: tips and pointers.

My work in the movement is mostly concerned with helping other people in their deconversion efforts, and yet I rarely, if at all, blog about it. So I thought it might be useful for those of you who decon (decon-verting people), or are interested in deconning, to go over some general and basic points about how a decon should generally go. Take it or leave it, but these methods are tried and tested, and they work.

For the sake of classification, we can say there are two basic approaches to deconning: the theoretical (bottom-up) approach and the practical (top-down) approach. The theoretical approach starts from moral principles and then points out how they apply against the State (this is the approach I take in my book). The practical approach starts from various concrete facts about the State and then points out how they are systemic. Here are some examples:

Universality argument, geometric argument -> The State is immoral because it claims “rights” to do things that are considered criminal behaviour in normal people and groups. (see flyer 2 for a whole walkthrough) Theoretical approach.

Freedom as the expression of individual values -> The State as greatest barrier to freedom. Theoretical approach.

The Constitution is not based on consent -> No government is based on consent, no government is moral in nature, government is the enemy of society. (see flyer 3 for a whole walkthrough) Practical approach.

The war in Iraq is based on lies, costly and immoral -> War is the cause and health of government, government cannot exist without immorality. Practical approach.

Note that the source of both is very different. For theoretical approaches, you will want to start from some argument or two. Of course, it is always helpful if you know your arguments and be ready to use any of them when necessary, not just as a foundation. Here is a short list. For practical approaches, recemt events can be used, such as in my example the War in Iraq, or the 9/11 Truth movement, or Ron Paul’s ideals.

You have to adapt your approach to the situation and who you’re talking to. If you’re talking to someone who already self-identifies with a group that lends itself well to a practical approach, then do that. On the other hand, some people respond better to a more theoretical approach, especially people who are already minarchists or liberals/civil libertarians. Some people might be more emotional, in which case you will have to address their feelings before you talk about concepts. Everyone thinks differently, and if you miss that boat, you won’t get anywhere with most people, because most people do not think the way you do!

In all cases, your foundation must be of a moral nature (never argue from efficacy, unless you are answering a question where this is appropriate), you must keep in mind that foundation, and you should always seek to come back to it whenever possible. Whatver your approach, your objectives are two-fold:

Objective 1: Get the other guy to agree to your foundation (whatever it is).

Objective 2: Get the other guy to agree about MA being desirable.

What you should NOT do, is immediately start talking about the stateless society and how great it is. If you do not first establish a foundation, a connection between you and your interlocutor, something he can grasp, then any answer you give him on MA will go right over his head. You need something to anchor your answers to, so that he can grasp what it is you’re trying to communicate.

So as, for instance, someone may tell you:

“Anarchy is no good because we need the State to protect us from terrorists.”

If you just rampage head-on in the conversation and answer him with some complicated point about perpetual warfare or incentive systems or whatever, he will have no way to relate that to anything he knows. So he will simply reject your answer.

Now suppose you are arguing from the universality approach. Your foundation is, “The State is immoral because it claims “rights” to do things that are considered criminal behaviour in normal people and groups.” Your answer could be something like this:

“How do we need a terrorist organization to stop terrorism? The State does plenty of terrorist things through its military, they are just not recognized as such. The most obvious way to stop terrorism is to stop the enemies of our society from having the means to attack us, and that means the State first and foremost. Furthermore, terrorist attacks are perpetrated against States, not society. It is government actions that terrorists fight against and seek vengeance for, not for you and me.”

Never get diverted for too long on issues of detail or efficacy. Do answer the questions, do not evade any question, but try to find a way back to your foundation through your answer. The statist may invoke particular cases where, say, the State allegedly stopped terrorists. You should engage his question or point, but always keep in mind that you should come back to your foundation. You should reflect on the fact that the actions perpetrated by the State were in fact immoral, and how this reflects badly on the State’s abilities as a whole. This is just one idea.

As a basic rule, you need to establish the foundation, and once you do that, you need to return to it as often as you can. It’s the only way that you can make any headway with someone who is not already familiar with MA ideas.

I hope this article will be helpful for deconners out there, in terms of refining your technique and getting better results. If you have any questions, put them in comments and I will address them (general questions, particular cases of deconning gone bad, etc).

The power of Special Pleading.

In my previous entry, I discussed projection, which is a universal phenomenon amongst collectivists. In this entry, I will examine a fallacy that is more or less the flip-side of projection: Special Pleading.

Special Pleading is almost as endemic as projection in collectivist arguing. Remember that collectivism relies on attributing a flaw on the whole of human beings (such as sinfulness or selfishness). Collectivism also relies on transcendent standards (such as God or the State) which must be excluded from these flaws. If one tried to do the logical thing and transposed these professed flaws to the standard, the belief system would be easily defeated.

Here are two direct examples:

(1) “Everything has a cause. If that’s true, then the universe must have a cause. That cause, we call God.”

(2) “People are too selfish and violent to cooperate in a society. We need a way to keep people in line. This is why we need the State.”

The Special Pleading is obvious in both cases. In (1), the believer both posits that everything has a cause, and excludes God from this “everything,” since he does not want his entity to be caused. In (2), the believer posits that people are too selfish to cooperate, and then posits an entity in control of society, the State. But the State is made of people, and if those people are “too selfish to cooperate,” then the State itself cannot exist, since there is nothing controlling the people who compose the State, forcing them to cooperate.

Recognizing the Special Pleading in (1) and (2) exposes the hypocrisy of the belief system and its proposed universal flaws (“original sins”). It shows that the belief system is fundamentally incoherent. Without god being the first cause, there is no monotheism. If the State is not necessary for order, then there is no more justification for the State. The correct tactic to use here, once again, is not to go on the defensive, but rather to expose the Special Pleading and defeat your opponent’s position.

I say Special Pleading is the flip side of projection because they are used in different contexts. Projection is used when the collectivists attacks his opponent’s position, while Special Pleading is used when the collectivist tries to justify his position. It is crucial for the atheist or Anarchist debater to detect these fallacies every time they present themselves, because doing so can turn around a debate, and not doing so can mean getting dragged down into unproductive issues and not being able to get off the ground.

In both cases, the Special Pleading is used to disguise criminal immorality. All Special Pleading is fundamentally an attempt to rationalize away or validate evil.

Once we stop seeing god as a special being and start looking at it purely from a moral standpoint, we find that this god fellow is far more immoral than any human being has ever been. The layers of Special Pleading used to disguise this are numerous: “God is good because whatever God says is good,” “evil exists because Satan put it there” (then who created Satan?), “God has his reasons, we can’t presume what they are” (can’t we say the same about any other mass murderer?). Similar arguments apply to religions specifically.

Likewise, the extortions, thefts and murders committed by the State every day are glossed over with excuses like “the State acts in our name” (did the Nazi State act in the name of the Jews?), “the State is a necessary evil” (how can something evil be necessary?), “by voting, we validate the State” (can two people vote to kill a third?). The same arguments, of course, apply to the nation, the law, and other such constructs.

The violent history of religions and States also provide some rich veins for Special Pleading, usually under the form of the No True Scotsman fallacy (“they weren’t real Christians,” “real democracies never do war”). When you try to use concrete evidence that refutes a moral claim made by Special Pleading, you will see this sort of argumentation. In my opinion, the best avenue to take in these cases is to simply note the use of the No True Scotsman fallacy but not engage your opponent on it (because it will inevitably lead to little points of detail which you may not be best equipped to deal with), and go back to the Special Pleading instead.

The power of projection.

If one debates collectivists for any period of time, one will soon find that projection is the most common defense mechanism of all for those folks. All collectivists seem to use projection in copious quantities, and the vast majority of their arguments include some form of projection. Being ready to deal with projection is therefore an essential tool of the individualist debater.

So what is it? Basically, projection is a process by which your opponent pins on your position flaws which in fact are more applicable to his. Simple examples of projection may include:

(1) “Atheists are relativists and reject moral standards because they are ashamed of their sins.”

(2) “Anarchists want to live in a society where criminals can act in all impunity.”

It is easy to see that, in both cases, the believer is taking flaws of his own position and accusing you of them. In (1), it is the Christian, by following a moral doctrine that is wholly a cultural construct (as a religion) and purely subjective (as divine edicts), who is a relativist and rejects moral standards. But he wants to portray himself as a moral absolutist and portray the atheist as a relativist. If you do not recognize the projection, it distracts you from looking at his beliefs, and forces you to defend your own position.

In (2), the statist tries to portray the Anarchist as supporting criminality, when in fact it is the statist (through Special Pleading, which I will discuss in the next entry) who supports criminals acting in all impunity. He is ready to defend the extortions, thefts and murders of the State at the drop of a hat, as well as defend a ridiculous “justice system” which has very little to do with justice and creates more crime. But by accusing you of this desire, he takes people’s minds off the problems of his own position, forcing you to defend yourself in everyone’s eyes. Now you are the bad guy.

The effective response to any projection is not to assume a defensive position, but rather to restore the equilibrium of the discussion by pointing out the projection. Thus, the debate now moves to “which side really has this flaw” instead of “can the non-believer get out of this one.”

Why is projection endemic? My opinion is, because it’s the most effective way of arguing that exists. In one fell swoop, you can not only divert the attention to your opponent, but you hide the flaws in your own position. After all, people would be less likely to examine your position for the flaw that your opponent is suspected of harbouring!

When someone argues against your position (as opposed to arguing for his position), always check for projections and deal with them accordingly.

Here are two more examples:

(3) “Anarchy would just degenerate into one big monopoly what would rule over all of us like tyrants.”

This is perhaps the most direct example of projection one can find, since that’s what statism already is! The State is “one big monopoly what rules over all of us like tyrants.” So to attribute this to Anarchy is rather disingenuous. An Anarchist caught unaware might try to get into an economic discussion of monopolies and how they arise, but one aware of projections could easily make the statist look ridiculous at this juncture.

(4) “Atheists are very cynical and refuse to believe in anything. Because of this, they will never find the truth.”

This is a trickier case, but if you keep in mind the maxim “I contend that we are both atheists, I just believe in one less god than you do,” you can see that the atheists and the Christians are equally as “cynical” (if we accept the premise of the argument). Both reject the rich belief systems of hundreds and hundreds of past and present gods. But the atheist, at least, appears more principled than the Christian. Why should one reject hundreds and hundreds of gods, only to adopt a single one of all these to believe in?

As such, the atheist can point out that they are both as cynical, but that at least he does seek the truth, unlike the Christian, who merely seeks something to believe in.

New forum for activists.

For those of you who are Market Anarchist activists, Agorist activists, allied folks, or who have an interest in getting involved, I would highly encourage you to join my new forum. Make it the launching pad of all your new projects. Let’s aim to misbehave!

Theorems For Dropping Out.

What makes one person predisposed to abandon his beliefs in one or two hours, and another spout one rationalization after another until you’ve given up? This question should be of interest to anyone who is involved in activism.

First of all, there are certain personal attributes that make a person more receptive to different ideas. Teenagers tend to be most receptive to non-belief, as they are exposed to the absurdity of statist attitudes every day in school (if they go to public school, anyway), but haven’t had the time to see themselves as dependent upon it yet. This brings in the opposite factor that people who have interests in the system (such as their job, or their financial support) will be much more difficult to deconvert. Tenagers also tend to be more open-minded and old enough to start developing their worldview at such an age, which explains why other belief systems court colleges actively.

Another important factor is intellectual flexibility. It is found to be helpful if the individual already experienced the process of deconversion. Someone who has dispensed with religion in his own life will be more likely to be willing to dispense with the State, and vice-versa. Someone who has never experienced deconversion may find the process too dangerous or unsettling.

Whether one talks to a single person or a group also affects the process. The nature of groups is that to reinforce agreement. Because of this, deconverting a person who is firmly planted within a group of friends will be unlikely to succeed. However, a recent study found that if the group has at least on vocal dissenter, an individual is far less likely to stick to the initial groupthink. From this, we must conclude that the person needs to be signaled that he is free to consider alternatives and still be part of the group. When alone, on the other hand, he does not feel that his allegiance to any group is in jeopardy, since no member of the group is there to remind him of the group’s general agreement.

Social factors also contribute to the ease or difficulty of deconversion. In any given society, certain levels of belief and unbelief will prevail, as well as activism on both parts. In our Western societies, both the support and criticism of Christianity is widespread. An average Christian living in such a society will generally have been exposed to criticism and be aware of the general nature of the criticism against his belief. Thus he will have developed rationalizations a long time before you talk to him. For statists, the opposite is true. As no one criticizes statism at the moment, he will not have yet rationalized his belief.

This means that statists are easier to deconvert, while Christians are not; the latter has a core of rationalizations that the former does not, even if both have equally weak arguments. Thus, for the Christian, his lack of evidence is a strength (you must have faith, that’s how God wants it, you gotta believe in something). To the statist, it is a weakness, as he simply expects that such evidence exists, and when none is forthcoming, he is stuck.

On the other hand, Christian belief is weakened by the availability of information in a different way. Serious opposition can create cognitive dissonance in the individual. Talking to your average secular is not likely to create doubt in a Christian’s mind, but talking to a gentle and well-informed atheist might, if the Christian is in the right frame of mind. So the availability of information plays against the Christian’s assumed confidence by showing contradictions within his belief system. Reading the Bible also provides a tremendous amount of conflicting information, as the believer realizes that the Bible conflicts strongly with his own values and knowledge. At that point, he can choose one of two paths: investigate further or cement his faith by pledging allegiance to the Bible he was taught to rever.

I don’t think everyone is deconvertable, even in principle. Famous theologian William Lane Craig has once declared that he would continue to believe in Christianity, even if he went back in time and SAW WITH HIS OWN EYES that “Jesus” did not rise from the dead! A less charitable commentator may argue that Craig is flirting with delusional thinking. Is Craig deconvertable? I rather doubt it, at least if his epistemically radical profession of faith is to be believed.

The final factor is how the information is presented. If we present non-belief to the individual as a morally superior alternative, we have more chance of being heard than by addressing relatively irrelevant arguments. For most people, Christianity is a form of social cohesion and moral cohesion, not a doctrine about God or “Jesus.” Most people couldn’t care less about theology; theology is used to affirm a group identity. It circumscribes the group, but does not justify it. The theology and the citizenship- being born in a given sect and in a given “country”- explain why we subscribe to one sect or “country” over another; it does not explain why people have a religion or support a State at all. People are not atheists and Anarchists because they believe that they gain a moral and social high ground by doing so, not because God is three in one or because our local democracy has given the vote to women.

So when atheists address the contradictory nature of God, or when Anarchists argue that the State is wasting yet more resources, they fail to address the reason why people believe. At best, they are attacking some rationalizations of the believer, which may be counterproductive and certainly a waste of time.

Finally, one cannot drop out without a landing pad. Ignorance of the alternatives can scare a believer into staying in his belief because “there’s nothing else for me anyway.” Non-belief opens the door, but you also have to lower people’s gaze long enough for them to see that there is a floor on the other side too.

The Most Moral Person on Earth.

Part of the anxiety of living in society is that (barring new technology, of course) we do not have access to other people’s minds. This leads to a number of problems.

In epistemology, the barrier between the personal experience of mind activity (first-person) and its ontological expression as we observe it in other minds (third-person) creates the “diaphanous fallacy.” This fallacy occurs when we assume that the way the mind works (third-person) should correspond to the diaphanous way it feels to us (first-person), and since it doesn’t, the mind is in some way deficient, distorting, irrational. This may seem like a rather abstract error, but most philosophical errors about perception and reason are due to the fallacy, and by undermining individual cognition, it opens the way to collectivism as well.

Another, more concrete, problem is the necessity of trusting other people if one is to live in society. We cannot know their intentions as well as we know ours. Granted, we can ask someone about his intentions, but we must then trust them to say the truth. We naturally assume that other people share our values when it reinforces our sense of collective unity, but most of the time we mistrust others.

Why is that? Well, I think part of the answer is that we do not feel assured that everyone had the same experiences that formed our own morality. I don’t think this lack of assurance is warranted, since most of us do indeed go through the same general formative experiences. And this explanation does not apply to everyone- I, for one, certainly don’t think that most people are not to be trusted. It is collectivism I fear the most, not natural morality.

Collectivism may indeed be the biggest part of the problem here. You can see it as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. If your whole social structure is based on the premises that the individual is impotent epistemically and that only what is collective is relevant, then you force people to fit themselves into the collective mold. Over time, the incentive system impoverishes the substance of morality and replaces it with moral dependence. Therefore, if you start from the premise that people need to be controlled, then you will eventually end up with people who need to be controlled.

Given this state of affairs, it seems more natural for someone who accepts these premises to feel anxious about other people’s moral compass. As individualists, we understand that it is the state or the religion which erodes man’s moral compass and presents itself as the solution to this problem that it itself created. But for the believer, who looks at this from a memetically limited perspective, it appears as if people are so morally corrupt that they need to be subtended by the edifice of the state or religion.

This widespread belief becomes exposed when you try to deconvert believers, be they statist or religious, especially when said believers have been indoctrinated for a long time. When you try to discuss a world without a state or without religion, they inevitably say something of this sort:

“If we didn’t have the state/religion, people would just go around killing each other or stealing.”

“Without the state/religion, people are too selfish and wouldn’t want to help each other.”

“You are too optimistic about human nature.”

Now, there are problems with these statements as they stand. People already go around “killing each other or stealing,” and very little prevents them from doing so, state or religion notwithstanding. If people would not want to help each other out, then there is no more reason for them to do so now, and yet they obviously do. As for the last one, I personally am not optimistic about human nature at all, at least not in the way most believers intend: I do not even believe in altruism.

Finally, all of these positions, or indeed any position which relies on people’s immorality as an argument to justify hierarchies, are neatly refuted by the Argument from the State of Nature. If we must reject non-belief on the grounds that people are immoral, then any hierarchy we construct to try to compensate for this will inevitably be made of immoral people as well. And why should we expect immoral people to regulate immorality away, or to not exploit this power for their own evil gain? The only conclusion that “people are immoral” leads us to, in hierarchical terms, is that “hierarchies, being made of people, would be immoral, and hence undesirable.”

That’s for the conceptual aspect. What about addressing these believers? If a believer tells me these things, I get a feeling that they believe that they are the most moral person on Earth. Who would admit that they themselves want to murder, steal, or not case about others? And yet they are clearly eager to impute these ills on everyone else.

Well, there are a few things you could do at this point. You could discuss the fact that the state or religion are counter to morality, and only impose a top-down ruling class framework. You could discuss the development of morality in the individual, although that would take a rather long time. You could set up some real-life examples without the state or religion.

But here is, at least to me, the one-shot refutation of any moral dogmatism, be it based on “religion”, “the commandments”, “the law”, or any other doctrine that people claim is necessary for morality.

When they tell you : “If people didn’t have X, they would just go around raping and killing people. How could you stop anyone from coming in your home, killing you, and stealing all your possessions?”

Ask this : “If YOU didn’t have X any more, WOULD you go around raping and killing people? Would you come in my home, kill me, and steal all my possessions? YES OR NO?”

By tearing down their pretense of “people are like this or that,” you reduce them to an unsavory choice : either they are the only moral person on the planet, which is impossible, or they were dead wrong. If they wouldn’t do these things, then what reason do they have to believe most people would? The anxiety I discussed can equally be turned into confidence, insofar as in the absence of information, we have to rely on what we know, and we only really know our own minds. if this is all true, then one’s benevolence should be a nice counter-example to the assumed depravity of “people”, wouldn’t it?