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PostPosted: Mon Apr 06, 2015 2:34 am 
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I don't much like politics. Trying to follow and have educated opinions on the issues of the day usually frustrates and exhausts me. What I do like is philosophy. None of that messy real world stuff - abstract concepts and principles for me! (In MBTI, and this is practically the definition of N v S; I am soooo N.)

It is with that in mind that I say my political views lean libertarian. That is, it is these philosophical principles that make the most sense to me. A few years ago I was trying to explain why that is to a friend of mine that wasn't very into politics or political thinking. I thought about that a great deal and I came up (with some pride) with a simple way to boil down to this seemingly large, complex subject to a belief in one basic moral principle:

"The only moral use of force is in stopping force used against others."


This basic (and purposefully somewhat a oversimplified) principle is the starting point for nearly all of my thinking on these topics. While reading through wikipedia recently I found that (unsurprisingly) others had already come up with a similar but more complete formulation calling it the Non-aggression principle (NAP):

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The Non-Aggression Principle is the idea that each person has the right to make his or her own choices in life so long as they do not involve aggression, defined as the initiation of force or fraud, against others. The principle asserts that aggression, defined by proponents as any encroachment on another person's life, liberty, or justly acquired property, or an attempt to obtain from another via deceit what could not be consensually obtained, is always illegitimate.


There are inevitably many gray areas on what exactly counts as "force" or "aggression"; I'm not too interested in discussing those here (pollution is a big one). There are also inevitably philosopher types who can come up with the tricky, problematic moral quandaries (eg. "what if you had to kill one person to stop two deaths", ect); not much interested in discussing those fringey type problems either.

What I am interested and is looking at that as a basic, core principle and asking - is this Right or is this Wrong? And if that principle is wrong, what principle would replace it? Because, you see, I've been in a conundrum for years on this.

I strongly believe that when trying to determine what is just, what is right and wrong, one should have a sound moral principle as ones guide and not just a pragmatic look at the results one wants. Even when well-intentioned, ignoring your principles to get your desired results can be disastrous (see: a bunch of history's once well-intentioned tyrants). And I look at that "NAP" principle and it see it as sound and correct and just. Could there be other morally justifiable uses of force? I haven't been able to think of any principled way to do so and other attempts I've seen to do so boil down to "force is OK when I like the results". Which is ultimately no principle it all. And hell, it surely doesn't sound bad on paper, does it? (Does it??)

Problem is, if one believes in and supports this principle...well, the result of saying everyone should live by this fairly reasonable sounding idea of are just nuts. Just wildly impractical. Because - and here is where the politics come in - if we go by this "no force/aggression" moral idea, it becomes nearly impossible to have a useful gov't of any kind. Sure, you can have cops and soldiers who can morally use force to stop force, but how are you going to pay them? Forcibly taking people's money - ie. taxation - already violates our simple little principle! That's the biggest crazy hurdle to a functional moral (by this definition) government but even if you somehow get past the issue of morally funding the government, you're still left with a gov't that can't do so many of the things that we now want and expect our gov't to do because they would break the Non-Aggression Principle - such as enforcement of discrimination laws I recently expressed ambivalence towards. I've seen many serious libertarians propose thoughtful ways around these issues but I've never been convinced that any of them are remotely practical.

So. Following what I believe is a sound moral principle leads to a uselessly crippled gov't and therefore a society just gone to hell. That...can't be right. Good moral principles should lead to a better, more just, more stable society. This one seems to lead to chaos. Something's wrong. The options: either this a moral principle is wrong and it needs to be replaced (but by what??) or the way we think of gov't is immoral and needs to be replaced (but by what??). Since I have more confidence in my moral thinking than in our thinking about governance I generally lean towards the latter, but the truth is, well, I'm stuck. :beard:

(Ugh, it took me about 3 hours to compose this post and I could say sooooo much more about all this. :roll: )

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2015 3:47 am 
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I just wanted to say, I've read this and have been thinking about it ever since. This is an extremely interesting challenge, and I hope that I might have something cogent to say in a few days. Not because I don't have an answer, but because I need to winnow my answers down to what seems appropriate to the level of the question. Kneejerk won't cut it.

Plus I am tirrrrreddddd.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2015 4:02 am 
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I have some thoughts about this, but given some of the discussions we have over the past decade or so, I'm not sure that you would want to hear them.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2015 5:58 am 
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Quote:
I've seen many serious libertarians propose thoughtful ways around these issues but I've never been convinced that any of them are remotely practical.


Yep, that's the problem all right.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2015 11:43 am 
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Primula Baggins wrote:
I just wanted to say, I've read this and have been thinking about it ever since. This is an extremely interesting challenge, and I hope that I might have something cogent to say in a few days. Not because I don't have an answer, but because I need to winnow my answers down to what seems appropriate to the level of the question. Kneejerk won't cut it.

Plus I am tirrrrreddddd.


Thanks, Primmy. Go get a nice nap. :hug:


Voronwë the Faithful wrote:
I have some thoughts about this, but given some of the discussions we have over the past decade or so, I'm not sure that you would want to hear them.


Seriously, I am hugely interested in hearing them!


Frelga wrote:
Quote:
I've seen many serious libertarians propose thoughtful ways around these issues but I've never been convinced that any of them are remotely practical.


Yep, that's the problem all right.


Do you think it's possible for an idea to be genuinely moral while not really being practical.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2015 1:39 pm 
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The cynic in me believes that most moral ideas tend to be impractical, but that's not really fair.

I would say most broad moral--although ethical might be a better word--doctrines tend to be utopian, in that they can only work if everyone involved wants them to...and enforcement of such, as you note, abrogates the ideal in this case.

I used to joke that the only problem with anarchy was that it broke down too easily...

I also find myself thinking the problem isn't so much one of ethics as it is one of game theory, where it intersects with the idea of the rule of law. To wit: laws, as a rule, are not designed with the law-abiding in mind. I had to explain that to the father of one of my son's soccer teammates a few years back, when he was complaining about housing inspections, saying that he'd never do work on his own house that wasn't up to snuff. Obviously he'd never lived in a structure built or maintained by someone who didn't have his high professional standards...

Out of curiosity, have you ever read any of Penn Jilette's (as in Penn and Teller) stuff? He's definitely libertarian, but he has his own unique take on it.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2015 2:03 pm 
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My guiding principle is very simple in theory, often more complicated in practice: try to do more good than harm. Things are almost never black and white, so I think it is the government's responsibility to navigate the sea of grey tones that represent the morality of human relationships.

My original draft was much longer, but I think that is all I really need to say.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2015 2:17 pm 
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axordil wrote:
I would say most broad moral--although ethical might be a better word--doctrines tend to be utopian, in that they can only work if everyone involved wants them to...


Can you give a specific example of something like this you'd have in mind? Cuz my first reaction to this is that I don't see why that would be the case. Even if we can't get 99% of people on board with an "ethical doctrine", if the doctrine is indeed ethical, it should be better for a society if 75% live by it instead of 50%, and 50% better than 25%, no?


axordil wrote:
I also find myself thinking the problem isn't so much one of ethics as it is one of game theory, where it intersects with the idea of the rule of law.


Are you referring specifically to this "NAP" idea or just ethics in general?


axordil wrote:
Out of curiosity, have you ever read any of Penn Jilette's (as in Penn and Teller) stuff? He's definitely libertarian, but he has his own unique take on it. [/color]


No, I haven't, got any recommendations?


x-posted with V-man, I'll be back to comment on that later.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2015 2:46 pm 
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Yov, I want to write a thoughtful response your post merits, but probably not until tomorrow.

Two quick things. 1. I will attempt to defend the thought that if an idea for governing people is not practical, it is not moral. It may be an ideal, but that's different.

2. "People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness. And so the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn’t that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people." Terry Pratchett, Night Watch.

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‘It’s a lot more complicated than that -’
‘No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.’
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2015 3:52 pm 
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Voronwë the Faithful wrote:
My guiding principle is very simple in theory, often more complicated in practice: try to do more good than harm.



Hmm. Within the context of this thread, what I'm really looking at is when it is and isn't okay to use "force" or "aggression" against someone. Your principle would seem to be "Any use of force is morally acceptable as long as its intention is to do more good than harm". Is that really what you believe?



Frelga wrote:
I will attempt to defend the thought that if an idea for governing people is not practical, it is not moral. It may be an ideal, but that's different.


I also agree with this but I wondered if maybe others had different notion.

One thing I should note here - for purposes of deciding what is or isn't moral, I put very little difference between the gov't and an individual. In my view, if it is immoral for an individual to kill, steal, cheat, ect, than it is immoral for any group of individuals to kill, steal, cheat, ect, even if that group of individuals has been granted authority over a society. This is another source of libertarian-style thinking that I believe it is morally sound but could perhaps be put up for question.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2015 5:36 pm 
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yovargas wrote:
Voronwë the Faithful wrote:
My guiding principle is very simple in theory, often more complicated in practice: try to do more good than harm.



Hmm. Within the context of this thread, what I'm really looking at is when it is and isn't okay to use "force" or "aggression" against someone. Your principle would seem to be "Any use of force is morally acceptable as long as its intention is to do more good than harm". Is that really what you believe?


No. As I would have thought my original post would have made obvious. As I said before, "Things are almost never black and white, so I think it is the government's responsibility to navigate the sea of grey tones that represent the morality of human relationships." Your formulation would be correct if I thought the world consisted solely of black and white. Since I don't, those kind of formulaic "one size fits all" constructs are impossible to apply. Every situation has to be analyzed on its own terms with as much common sense, experience and practicality as can be mustered. In some cases the use of force or aggression (I am assuming you are using those terms in the broadest senses possible) can be intended to do more good than harm, but when looked at closely most likely would not. Thus, a law that would make it illegal for your employer to fire you because they learn that you are gay would be an appropriate use of government "force" whereas a law that allows an Indiana pizzeria to refuse to serve you because you are gay based on the owner's religious principles would not be an appropriate use of government "force" even though in both cases the purveyors of the law intend to do more good than harm.

In my view.

Quote:
One thing I should note here - for purposes of deciding what is or isn't moral, I put very little difference between the gov't and an individual.


That's fine in theory, but in practice the government role in society is different than an individual's role, and thus analyses of actions taken by the government are inevitably going to require a difference calculus.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2015 5:51 pm 
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Voronwë the Faithful wrote:
Every situation has to be analyzed on its own terms with as much common sense, experience and practicality as can be mustered. In some cases the use of force or aggression (I am assuming you are using those terms in the broadest senses possible) can be intended to do more good than harm, but when looked at closely most likely would not. Thus, a law that would make it illegal for your employer to fire you because they learn that you are gay would be an appropriate use of government "force" whereas a law that allows an Indiana pizzeria to refuse to serve you because you are gay based on the owner's religious principles would not be an appropriate use of government "force" even though in both cases the purveyors of the law intend to do more good than harm.


This is essentially the same as saying that you see little value for moral principles (at least regarding "force" in the sense of this thread). Whereas I tend to be most comfortable placing principle over pragmatism (ie. the end results), you seem to value pragmatism far more greatly than principle. That's okay, I suppose, and I suspect ultimately the world is better with people of both mindsets (and everything in between) than with everyone being one or the other, but I hope you can at least understand where I'm coming from when I say that this viewpoint makes me very, very uncomfortable.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2015 7:16 pm 
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I think holding governments to the standards of individuals--or vice versa--is a disservice to both. As Blake said, one law for the lion and the lamb is oppression. (Feel free to assign identities there as needed :) )

In response to your earlier questions, I think history is full of examples of what happens when two or more groups within a society hold incompatible world-views, and the unhappiness of the outcomes don't seem to vary with the proportions. (In line with Frelga's quote, one might question how often revolts actually enjoy the support of the majority of affected people, before, during or after.) Non-violent or non-coerced outcomes only seem to arise from situations with a long-term Nash equilibrium--a.k.a. a Mexican standoff--enduring until the underlying reasons for the division become moot, or other external circumstances break the deadlock.

But then again, you're talking to someone who pretty much thinks most non-theological notions of free will are luxuries that ceased to be viable with the invention of nuclear weapons and other irrevocable Bad Choices.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2015 7:26 pm 
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yovargas wrote:
This is essentially the same as saying that you see little value for moral principles (at least regarding "force" in the sense of this thread).


Not at all. It is saying that moral principles are too important and too complicated to be left to simple platitudes.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2015 7:36 pm 
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axordil wrote:
[color=#008080]As Blake said, one law for the lion and the lamb is oppression. (Feel free to assign identities there as needed :) )


That's a terrible analogy. :P

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 08, 2015 12:16 am 
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I think (hope) we can all agree that this is not an appropriate use of force, regardless whether the officer thought he was doing more good than harm:

http://www.nytimes.com/video/us/1000000 ... grid-click

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 08, 2015 1:04 am 
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Voronwë the Faithful wrote:
I think (hope) we can all agree that this is not an appropriate use of force, regardless whether the officer thought he was doing more good than harm:

http://www.nytimes.com/video/us/1000000 ... grid-click



Is that intended to be a response to something in particular? Not complaining but I'm not following the relevance really.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 08, 2015 1:58 am 
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You indicated that you thought my position was "Any use of force is morally acceptable as long as its intention is to do more good than harm." This is yet another example of a situation in which I do not believe that is true (though a rather obvious one).

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 08, 2015 2:58 am 
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Ah, I see. So assuming the cop intended to do more good than harm (I didn't and likely won't watch the video so I don't know the specifics but let's just assume this is the case for the discussion), why, morally (as opposed to whatever the legal consequences might happen to be), shouldn't the cop use force in this case? Isn't this cop trying (if failing, I assume) to do more good than harm and therefore living by your moral guideline?

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 08, 2015 4:01 am 
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I have seen the video (which the police officer did not know was being taken, therefore providing a moral laboratory of sorts) and I think he got angry and exercised disastrously poor judgment, shooting a man running away eight times in the back and killing him. He then appeared to have made an effort to cover it up (cuffing the dead man and possibly dropping his Taser near the body; he certainly drops something, and he later claimed that the dead man had taken it from him). He lied about it until the video was posted by the New York Times. In other words, he wasn't trying to do good, but he saw a need to try to appear to [/i]have been[/i] doing "good" (protecting the community by taking down a dangerous criminal before he could harm others). He was in no danger, and the 50-year-old black man he killed after a traffic stop (followed by an altercation in which the officer apparently used his Taser) was no threat to him or the community.

My take on the whole thing is that allowing someone to use deadly force as long as they "intended to do more good than harm" gives cover to people who intended no such thing, but either have no witnesses to the deed or are able to discredit the ones there were. The bar should be a lot higher than that: immediate risk of bodily harm to the shooter or to people he is responsible for protecting.

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