18 August 2018

Moral rot

"The moral rot of Trumpers like Dennard is breathtaking." That's Josh Marshall about some specific presumption-of-corruption incident.

I have this axiom that as soon as you're trying to explain anything beyond maybe a specific individual at a specific time in moral terms, you're making a mistake. Moral systems do not scale and have effectively no explanatory power. So what's going on?

Your complex modern world demands a couple of things, one obvious -- a willingness to accept you're going to have to approach it through abstraction -- and one much less obvious -- you're going to have to abandon anything that turns out to be counterfactual.

You can get a really clear example of "abandon the counterfactual" in drug policy. If the goal of the policy is to minimize harm[1], punitive laws don't work. Legalization and medical support mechanisms work.

Thing is, if you were raised in an authoritarian worldview, you probably can't do that. Abandoning your counterfactuals isn't something you've got the cognitive machinery to do, and you're nigh-certainly strongly conditioned to regard it as failure to attempt to do so. There's one immutable truth and you can never escape or alter it. (Facts aren't mutable but facts aren't the stuff in your head, either, and facts are just as complicated as the world they describe. Facts are a surprisingly poor tool for understanding. (Hence abstraction being both difficult to do well and essential.))

So what we're seeing isn't people in the grip of moral rot, so much as what we're seeing is a bunch of authoritarians who cannot abandon the counterfactual. (One of those counterfactuals is "money is virtue".) That inability leads to using an erroneous understanding of reality; it doesn't match up and the cost to get the reality map folded correctly starts to approximate "start over". This is impractically difficult for anyone to do. If you're rich enough, no one will expect you to and you'll wander around the landscape arguing what public schools (which at least approach the ideas of abstraction and abandoning the counterfactual) are bad, because they teach things which aren't authoritarian.

If you're not rich enough, you'll suppose everyone else is using your exact set of collapsed axioms and get angry when they won't admit it. Because what else could people be doing?

Simple does make things easier to copy into the future for awhile. Thing is, wrong is expensive, even when the complex society does its best to minimize the immediate consequences, that only lasts for awhile.

[1] the purpose of the system is what it does. Drug policy exists as an excuse for enslavement and terrorism with a side-note in avoiding civil control of the police by creating an independent revenue stream.

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