Saturday, May 14, 2005

More on Morality

On a previous post, my friend Hammer commented thusly:
…It is certainly true that people will act out of their own self-interest (generally). Without addressing the exceptions, I would put forth that, barring allowing everyone to "do as he sees fit", we must change what is in someone's self-interests.

There are two ways to do that: 1) Make them value the good through their willful acceptance of it as such.

2) Have them fear the consequences of doing the "not good".

All laws are the second. "Legislating morality", the clarion call of the left, is not restricting evil. It would be punishing the failure to do good, like not saving a dying man.

I am not comfortable with people doing things "the way he hopes everyone else might". My problem isn't that it isn't a good mantra - the problem is that, for some reason, many do not, and hence, we must force them to do otherwise.
I’ll let Hammer speak for himself, but I would like to elucidate my view of morality, with respect to legislation. Firstly, I think it’s appropriate to define “morality”, which I attempted in a post a couple of months ago when I was an even more obscure blogman than I am now. Here’s an excerpt from that post:
Now, some assert that a particular moral code can be objective. That begs the question: on what basis? If on the basis of the respect for individual liberty, then I say it has merit. But the problem arises when a particular group consensually denies their own individuality in the name of communal living. This is certainly not what I desire, but there are those for whom codependence is "natural" and "good" in their estimation. For a one-size-fits-all moral code to be exclusively superior, the liberty to choose collectivism or some religious dogma must necessarily be suppressed. In such case, freedom is meaningless. As an individualist, I support the freedom of another to self destruct, as long as there are no other victims. Again, different moral codes can coexist as long as individual freedom and consent predominate.

I will say that the concept of morality in general is an objective verity, but I reject the notion that any particular moral code is objectively superior, because reasonable, intelligent people can disagree on the fine points of subjective ideology.
In essence, I’m arguing that morality, while an objective concept, comes in many varieties that are as divergent as philosophies and political ideologies. To be sure, I have a clear idea of what I consider to be moral and immoral. The problem lay in proving that I’m correct and everyone else ought to follow. Sadly, neither mine nor anyone’s moral code is self-evident…other than the most basic principles of non-violence. To demonstrate my point, take Dada, the wooden Head, who’s world-view is quite dissimilar to mine, in that he advocates a level of coercion to achieve his moral ends that I simply find unconscionable. As a “leftist”, he thinks that government ought to compel individuals to monetarily assist their fellow man…through force if necessary. Make no mistake, it’s always by force. Just try to inform the IRS that you plan to pay only what you think is justified to support the basic functions of government. The enforcement mechanism of the IRS is not exactly subtle or even lightly armed.

Another strong argument against compulsory moral behavior has been made by Eric the Grumbler, who articulates the folly of coercive “virtue”.
I'm sure that most folks on the left, Dada included, don't think of what they are doing as "coercion", any more than the right authoritarians pushing their social agenda think of it as "coercion". But if you want to use the power of government to require me to do what you deem to be right then you are "forcing me", "coercing me", "making me" do it. There's no getting around that.
To sum up my position, I’ll say that making the case for a particular moral code is very difficult, to put it mildly. This is why I advocate a minarchist-libertarian philosophy, which essentially allows individuals the freedom to pursue happiness without preventing another from pursuing their own. This is not unlike allowing one such as myself to enjoy a theist construct, while not acting to eradicate atheism. I simply ask for the same respect and liberty in return.