Morality is hard, but it could be easy

[By Ryan Noble]

Morality, like any other concept, does not exist. Your right to life exerts no force in stopping someone from murdering you. Professional ethics has no avatar preventing corruption. Feet and inches determine the length of nothing. Concepts have power only in their ability to convince real, thinking people to exert their force in one way or another. Concepts only create order when they are shared enough to inspire shared action. Ants with a perfect shared behavioral algorithm will act in total harmony, but this is only true because they lack self-awareness and consciousness. The effect of concepts on human behavior is harder to map because of discord between our instincts and our minds. For example, strict belief in chastity can slingshot to extreme sexual deviancy when biological instinct is suppressed. When it comes to morality we will never achieve perfection, we are biologically incapable of it. This, however, is not why we have moral problems in our societies. Our moral crisis’s exist because, simply, hardly anyone really thinks about morality.

When you dive down the sucking abyss of moral philosophy you will inexorably end up empty handed. There is no spoon. This is a problem for the feint hearted, and specially a problem for the unconfident or dependent. They depend psychologically on a sense of order derived from a belief in a morality that is in some way meta-physical , ever-present, or consistent. Strictly speaking, however, a void is perfectly consistent and perfectly homogeneous. No grey area, only black. The void metaphor only fails in that one cannot construct anything upon a void. We can actually build upon the emptiness of destroyed moral superstition with reason and a little game theory.

Many (or most, or almost all?) people’s moral guidance comes primarily from the moral instincts we are given by our biology. Indeed, this fact gives us our first guide post on how to formulate morality from the void. Any moral system that we hold cannot grossly conflict with our innate biological morality. Such a system would lead either to its own collapse when the person gives it up, or the collapse of the individual holding it, which subsequently destroys the moral belief. This is one example of the most important characteristic a moral concept must have. A moral concept must be sustainable, over the course of a lifetime, over the course of  generations, over historical time. Any morality that fails this test will perish. So, for example, chastity could be considered a moral imperative by one person, but not by their children, for they do not exist. The concept dies after one generation. Total equality could be considered a moral imperative, but it will be competed out of existence by an incompatible morality over some period of time.

A good morality does three things for us. Firstly, it directly benefits us (over the long run) when we share compatible morality with others. Secondly, it enables others to engage with us in a way that benefits them. This combined with the first thing creates a platform for win-win synergy of effort (you know, like a market). Lastly, it helps us live with ourselves; it helps us feel good about our actions and supplements our sense of self-worth. Any morality that is sustainable and achieves these goals is, well, good enough. But there is a lot of room for difference here, finding perfect agreement will be impossible. Perfect agreement, however, happens to be unnecessary.

The libertarian or anti-statist position is in some way a call for a détente from moral conflict. It could be considered the desire for an ultimate compromise between differing moral concepts. Differing moral ideas will interact and compete in any way they wish except one, coercively. This exposes a major problem for the libertarian. Who would agree to such a ceasefire? Only people who believe one or more of the following things: Those who believe their morality would survive and thrive without coercion, those that believe their morality cannot survive in the presence of coercion, and those that are ok with endangering their moral concepts by exposing them to a much different battlefield, the battlefield of the market. It may be the case that, if asked, most people would affirm one or more of these things. Ironically, seeing as the vast majority of people are statists, most of those people favor using force to defend a moral principle other than non-coercion. If these things are true (which I’m basically certain they are) it means we are surrounded by total moral confusion, or I suppose more accurately, a total lack of developed moral reasoning. Libertarianism stands no chance under these conditions. Libertarianism depends both on developed moral reasoning and people holding values that are either subservient to non-aggression or compatible with non-aggression.

Morality is really hard, but it could be easy. Economics teaches us that emergent systems are the most harmonious. The economic world is full of overlapping spheres of voluntary association, individual choices, freely willed action. This makes economics easy for a person to navigate, in a way that is impossible in a centrally planned system. The same could be true for moral beliefs if we followed the same rules as the free market. Anything that doesn’t coerce another person is fair game. Imagine in your head the beautiful and intricate web of voluntary economic association. Now imagine in your head a similar web of competing moral ideas, each choosing their own terms on how to associate with each other. Both markets, economic and moral, failing or succeeding based on their merit, operating on a bare bones principle; “don’t hit”. What a wondrous, beautiful idea that is.

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