Monday, October 26, 2009

Everyone is Doing What he Believes is Right

I propose that everyone does what he thinks is right, all the time. Even when people do something that they think is theoretically wrong, there is some reason for it that makes it right for them at that moment.

For instance: "I know it's wrong to steal, but my kids are hungry, and I just can't bring myself to beg." For this person, stealing feels wrong, yet it also feels like the best option for him at that time. Or: "I know it's wrong to cheat on my wife, but I may never feel this way again." Or, "I know it's wrong to lie in court, but these evil tax protestors could destroy our civilization."

Temptation, we could say, is a struggle between the rightness and wrongness of an action in our minds. Frequently it's a struggle between what feels right for ourselves, right now, and what feels right for others and the future.

I see this as the interminable conflict of morality - the needs of the self and the present as opposed to the needs of others and the future. It is not a conflict between good and evil, but a matter of getting the balance right. Happiness is a state of the self in the present moment, and happiness is the best thing in life. But regard for others and the future can be essential to keeping those happy moments flowing as the "now" progresses through time.

Society consists of the complex interplay of many actors trying to achieve the proper balance between self and others, and between now and the future. And morality is the attempt to codify behavior in a set of rules that achieves the best balance for everyone.

We can purge ourselves of anger and hatred toward those who hurt us if we can really see that everyone does what he believes is right all the time. Everyone, deep down, thinks that his own morality is best, and should be imposed on everyone else. Before you say, Oh no, not me! consider this: I believe that the best way to achieve happiness for all is to leave people in freedom as much as possible. I believe that one person's freedom should be restricted only by the equal freedom of others. I would impose this morality on everyone else by using deadly force if necessary to defend myself and others from aggression. That which we would impose on others by deadly force is the essential core of our morality. Above that core, we have varying degrees of tolerance, indifference, and approval. But the behavior that we would enforce or prevent by means of deadly force is the behavior that matters the most to us. And of course we are equally responsible whether we wield the gun ourselves or get "law enforcers" to do it for us.

I believe, simply, that society works best when violence is not used at all; therefore my morality approves of violence only when it's used defensively. I believe that defensive violence is good to the degree that it's necessary to counter aggressive violence.

But that's just my morality. And probably yours, too, if you're reading this. My morality flows from the value I place on the happiness of every human being, and is informed by all the knowledge I have at my disposal, whether from books, personal experience, or whatever. What is good? and how is good best achieved? The answers to these questions give shape to our personal moral codes.

If we want to understand others, it's important to realize that others have different answers to these questions, based on their own ideas about human beings and the world. And if we wish to change their ideas or present them with new ideas, we should do this with as much charity and goodwill as we can muster. We must try to get into their minds, behind their eyes, and into their shoes as much as possible, in order to understand their idea of what's good, what's bad, and when it's appropriate to pick up a gun.

Of course, we really can't see the world completely from someone else's point of view. The best we can do is to imagine. This is one of the reasons I'm an anarchist. If I cannot walk a mile in someone's shoes, I will not presume to run his life.

But many others, I well know, see things very differently. Other people whole-heartedly believe that people's lives should be run by others. They believe that the main virtue for most of humanity is obedience to authority, and that the use of deadly force by that authority to enforce their obedience is virtuous and necessary.

Perhaps your mind rebels at this. No, no! you say, No one can really, truly believe that! These people are just rationalizing their evil desire to dominate others! I think that those of us who love freedom instinctively feel this way because it's almost impossible for us to imagine not knowing what we know, and not understanding what we understand. It seems impossible that these people really, really, deep down inside, don't know any better.

It's hard to imagine the world view of people far back in history because we are aware of what has happened since their time, and they were not. We cannot expunge that awareness from our minds any more than they could magically see things the way we do. People like to feel morally superior to people who lived in the past. And perhaps we are morally superior, because morality has evolved since their time, but this is not to our credit. People do their best within the confines of their own time period, their own intelligence, their own culture, and their own knowledge.

I think that anarchistic morality, with its emphasis on maximum freedom and minimum violence, is the best morality there is. Because, duh -- of course I'm going to embrace what seems right to me. To live by what seemed wrong to me would be just insane. And because I think my moral code is best, it logically follows that I think the world would be better if everyone embraced it.

We cannot get through to people by clubbing them over the head with how bad and wrong they are. The reason is that they don't think they're bad and wrong any more than we think we are. I've been persecuted, prosecuted, imprisoned, robbed, viciously slandered and derided, all in an effort to show me how bad and wrong I was. None of it has ever had the slightest bit of success.

I guess I can see that I'm obviously very bad and wrong from their point of view. But their bludgeoning has done nothing to convince me that their belief system and moral code is superior to the one that I hold. In fact, the bludgeoning only demonstrates that their morality hurts people, and their morality readily justifies throwing aside numerous other moral tenets in order to hurt people. That, I think, is one mark of a bad moral code.

I do not think that bludgeoning, either physical or verbal, leads people to a higher truth. I think that bludgeoning generally makes people hold defensively onto whatever they already think. I know we're all really tired of trying to be nice to people who advocate that we be shot for our beliefs, and dull-wittedly blame it on us. Their beliefs are a threat to us, and we have every right to defend ourselves from them. But understanding these people better can only help us defend ourselves. And forgiving those who persecute us can bring us more peace of mind.


  1. I have stated that those who oppose us think it is OK to kill us if we just don't agree with them, and we don't believe that it is OK for us to kill them unless they actually attack us. That gives them an evolutionary advantage over us in the short-term. It also shows that they are wrong.

  2. When I first got out of prison, and got into homeschooling my daughter, we started studying the Roman Empire. The conviction began to grow in me that evil is really stronger than good, and that evil will always win over good - or to put it another way, organized aggression will always conquer less organized defense. The reason is that because violence is a way of life for plunderers, they continually practice and hone their violent skills - they put all their ingenuity into creating new weapons. But the nonviolent live by means of trade, and therefore concentrate their attention on producing stuff. Is it not true that, almost by definition, those who live by means of violence will always be more skilled at it than those who live by peaceful production? And is this not why the producers have been the slaves of the warriors for millennia? Are we who hope for a nonviolent society of free people just dreaming of something that can never be? Are we going against the nature of a species that is programmed to gravitate into slave and master classes?

    These are depressing thoughts - but I could not shake the conviction that this was true. And even now, while I have regained some of my optimism, I still wonder ...

    Yes, they do have an "evolutionary advantage in the short term," as you say. But don't they also have the advantage in the long term? Please tell me what you think.

  3. I think that civilization is still getting better. By fits and starts rather than by leaps and bounds. But look at the big, historical, picture. There seems to be a trend toward greater freedom and more respect for individual life and dignity. The average, normal person seems to be getting less aggressive. Maybe they are spending some of their natural aggressiveness on violent entertainment.

    The few true aggressors seem to be getting more violent and more efficient, and to be concentrating in positions of power. These fewer bad guys are still doing a lot of damage, no doubt. There will come a time where humans either start to leave the planet, thus reducing the social pressure, or we will have to deal with the violent Rulers and other thugs. Either way, that will be an interesting day.

  4. The producers have always supported the destroyers because they regarded them as necessary for protection,e.g., the proverbal "necessary evil". when that myth is exposed, the warriors will lose their strength, which is extorted from producers by use of fear. We are the source of our own problem, or our ideas are.