[ExI] Religions and violence.

Jebadiah Moore jebdm at jebdm.net
Sat Aug 7 07:58:34 UTC 2010

2010/8/2 samantha <sjatkins at mac.com>

> This is the wrong way to look at it.  Either individuals have rights just
> on the basis of being human beings or they do not.  If they do then it does
> not matter how many may benefit from violating those rights.  It is still
> wrong.

I don't believe in natural law or natural rights, as you seem to do and as
most of the Western world definitely does ("We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men... are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable Rights").  It's rather strange that so many atheists do.  After
all, they are clearly an intellectual product of religion, and more
importantly, they assert a form of universal morality which really doesn't
make sense independently of a belief in some sort of spiritualism or
divinity or non-physical reality of some kind.

I'm all for positivist rights, though; I think it's a good thing that we
have a system of rights, since they protect both my interests and the
interests of most others.  But, obviously, if there are no natural rights
and no universal code of morality, then what rights we observe is malleable,
and we ought to think about what rights we assign, and be willing to alter
our law.  Again, without a universal code of morality there isn't a "best"
set of rights, way of observing them, etc., and so which code of morality we
choose to follow (if we use the framework of morality at all) is in a sense

However, if you think about morality from an evolutionary (both genetic and
memetic) standpoint, you can see that while it may not matter (in a
universal sense) what code of morality we ascribe to, we can understand why
our intuitions are the way they are, and perhaps even derive a
universal-with-a-little-u code of morality (or set of codes of morality)
that we would expect all intelligent social beings to evolve towards.  One
particularly strong moral meme is the one which favours the many over the
few, especially in a relatively homogeneous population, because an
individual in a society which favours the 99% over the 1% benefits from such
favouring 99% of the time (on average).

In this light, your assertion that it is always wrong to violate the
individual's rights doesn't really make sense.  (Of course, I'm operating
under a completely different framework, so perhaps it doesn't make sense to
evaluate your assertion at all in this way.)  People will tend to favour
moral systems which benefit the majority, therefore it is likely to be
considered moral to violate some previously assigned rights of a small
number of individuals in order to provide a benefit to a large number.

I think most people would disagree with this assertion, even if they are
staunch laissez-faire libertarians.  Most people would agree that the right
to not be intentionally killed by another human is the most essential basic
right, but by your logic it would be wrong to kill someone who was about to
kill some other people in order to prevent it.  You can get around this by
saying that you can violate the rights of people in order to prevent them
from violating the rights of others, or that killers don't have rights, but
I think you'd be hard pressed to explicitly describe a code of morality in
which the individual's rights could never be violated which wouldn't have
some reprehensible conclusion.

It is also wrong in that it implies that any numerically more numerous group
> may do whatever it wishes in principle both to every individual in that
> community and to the community itself.

Indeed, the proposition that "any numerically more numerous group may do
whatever it wishes in principle both to every individual in that community
and to the community itself" will probably seem intuitively despicable to
most people.  There's a simple reason behind this; nearly everyone belongs
to a minority group of some sort.  Thus, people want a check on the
unlimited principle of majority rules (or authority rules) and so assign
rights.  This applies especially in cases where the groups are split only in
a slightly lopsided way; people are more likely to approve of helping 99% to
the detriment of 1% than they are to approve of helping 60% to the detriment
of 40%.

So, over time people will tend to adopt moral codes in which groups are
favoured over individuals, but with checks against damages to personal
interests (the sorts of things typically exalted as individual rights),
usually in forms clearly guided by perceived injuries of the past.  This
will occur especially when the majority has access to basic needs, doubly so
when power is distributed more evenly.

Note that I'm not making a normative statement at all, just a descriptive
one.  I think that normative moral codes are in the same class as religions,
neither of which I subscribe to (and which I take it you believe to be
mostly damaging).  You say that "It is also wrong in that it implies that
any numerically more numerous group may do whatever it wishes in principle
both to every individual in that community and to the community itself", but
I don't think it makes sense to evaluate wrongness universally like you do.
 I can evaluate it relative to my personal desires/moral
intuition/philosophy--in all three cases, I would prefer that groups were
not able to do whatever they wanted based on number alone--but I recognize
that just because I believe this doesn't mean that everyone does/"should"
(which again doesn't make sense as I reject universal normatives).  Of
course, that doesn't mean I can't/"shouldn't" advocate my position and act
in my interest.

When it comes down to it, morals are a social tool, and violations of a
given code of morality only matter when somebody is in a position to do
something about it.  In that sense, a numerically large group (or at least a
powerful group) really "may do whatever it wishes in principle both to every
individual in that community and to the community itself".  Of course, if it
does things badly then the group in question may shrink, or a resistance to
the group may form and remove it from power.

By such reasoning if it seems to the majority of the world more beneficial
> to destroy the US and parcel the assets thereof and of its citizens to
> everyone else then you would have no moral objection.

I don't have a moral objection on the basis of universal morals to anything
at all.  I might object as a US citizen (and thus act in my own interests),
as someone who values the lives of others who would be hurt by this, and as
someone who thinks that redistributing wealth by force generally hurts
almost everyone involved in the long term, and I might object on the grounds
of my moral intuition.

I actively choose not to use the language of universal morality in order to
prove a point, although that language could *approximate* what I want to
express at times in a manner more efficient than the language I used above.
 In doing so, I explicate the fact that I do not believe in natural law, I
make my "true" motivations more clear, and I raise awareness for something I
believe in.  Similarly, I choose not to say things like "X deserves Y", "X
is unjust", or "X ought to Y", or "X should be punished".

 Second, and more importantly, a community ought to be thought of as an
> entity in its own right, not just as a collection of individuals.  Saying
> that a community is only a collection of individuals is like saying that a
> human is only a collection of cells.  It's true, in the sense that a
> community is composed entirely of individuals (well, plus perhaps some
> cultural artifacts, memes, etc.), but it's a bad way of looking at things
> because it makes you miss the forest for the trees.
> It is your assertion it ought to be thought of as not only an entity but as
> an entity with more rights than possessed by the individuals that comprise
> it.   And no, it is not the same thing as the cell-body analogy does not
> accurately map to the relationship of an individual human being to a
> community.

I don't think a community should have the same sorts of rights as humans.
 When I say "ought", I mean it in the sense that it is more illuminating,
not in the sense that it is the morally correct thing to do.  (This is a
good example of me not being careful enough with my language.)

Of course the mapping in the cell-body analogy isn't perfect.  But in this
case, it doesn't matter; my point is that thinking in terms of  "only" makes
a value judgement that clouds understanding.

Even if you were to believe in some sort of universal morality, though, how
could you know that the community really doesn't have more rights than the
individuals?  Perhaps communities as entities do something on a level that
is entirely incomprehensible to us, just as we as individuals are entirely
incomprehensible to our cells (since cells don't seem to "comprehend",
although they do compute).

(Honestly, you can't "know" what a universal morality is or if it exists any
more than you can "know" what God is like or if it exists.  But even if you
assume our intuition is somewhat close, there's obviously enough variation
between people that any given individual's can't be perfect, and that it is
quite conceivable that societies or ecosystems or planets are the true unit
of morality or at least an equally important one.)

> You have already heard the core argument.    It is not a mere topic for
> debate.

What do you mean by "mere"?

Perhaps I missed the core argument you refer to (which shows that when
people value the community, the happiness of individuals is decreased).
 Could you point me to it?

Jebadiah Moore
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