14 January 2020

Does right action arise from them, or you?

That's it.  That's the whole thing.

If right action arises from them, you need a taxonomy.  A taxonomy can't be correct.  So as soon as you need a taxonomy you need a mechanism of enforcement.  If you set limits on the mechanism of enforcement, you set limits on the security and the power of the folks who define the taxonomy.  They're competing with each other; limits of authority, limits on what the mechanism of authority does, are removed.

(You can sometimes get limits through conflict between mechanisms of legitimization for the exercise of force, but mostly you get what we have; an arbitrary prescriptive norm forcibly established as the basis of authoritarian social norms.  And it has a strong feedback mechanism to keep it going in as much as "too different" increases general insecurity more than most things, because most things don't get you beaten as a child and told you deserved it.)

If right action arises from you, well.  You have an idea of how you ought to behave; you don't need a taxonomy.  (You might have one, but you don't need one.)

The trick is to figure out how to do that so the (much larger) arises-from-them side doesn't kill you for it.


Moz said...

Postmodernist Moz says "false dichotomy".

Right action by an individual is the political made personal by a combination of social forces mediated through that individual's filter. This means that it's possible (and common) for two individuals living in seemingly identical circumstances to each act rightly but in opposite ways.

Right action by a collective is the same but also limited by the means by which the collective is organised. A small cooperative is likely to be consensus-based, a democratic organisation votes right up to a representative democracy like a country or corporation votes for leaders who do whatever the hell they want subject only to the degree to which any laws limiting them are actually enforced.

There are also many situations in which "man is a rationalising animal" means that people do not act rightly by their own lights. I assume we are ignoring those, except that they affect the ability of others to act rightly. It is difficult for a voter in a democratic country to vote such that their vote will encourage right actions by the government they are voting for, for example.

Graydon said...

@Moz --

That's declaring for a taxonomy.

Try it as "does right action arise from labels or understanding?", maybe?

Moz said...

I was trying to be clear that my answer is "yes". Yes, right action arises from labels and understanding, because understanding abstract concepts necessarily needs labels, but labels by themselves do not create understanding.

A simple example of each: the Dalai Llama still uses aeroplanes despite understanding that doing so is ruinously expensive for the ecosystems that support him. But so do some XR protesters who happily use the labels "we must all stop flying".

Hence my labeling yours as a false dichotomy. Like "can a good god create evil"...

Graydon said...

+Moz I think that might be a scale confusion.

Collectively, yeah, the increase of knowledge involves testable taxonomies and abstractions.

As an individual person stuck with primate ancestry, I'm pretty sure there's not much option of not having a concept of right action. Primate notions of fairness are in there. Any taxonomy personally held is necessarily false; one person can't maintain an even plausibly accurate one, and "accurate" is always questionable with inherently lossy things like taxonomies. (Or abstraction in general.)

At which point the question of "what do you do when you haven't got time to invoke the extelligence?" does come up.

Moz said...

I think you're right that there's scale confusion, because you seem to be saying that an individual sense of right must be innate but a group must use a taxonomy. Fair enough, but hard to discern in the original post...

And I think you mean "reach an agreement" rather than "design a categorisation system for different moralities". And the agreement might be, and often is, of the form "I will not kill you as long as you obey", or the equally common but invisible to a certain type of white male anthropologist/zoologist "we will accept you in the community as long as you don't piss us off".

There's no great time requirement for either of those, and I'd love to see someone write up the bonobo moral taxonomy, or even the dog one. Since you're apparently arguing they must have one :)

Moz said...

The more I think about this the more I question the notion of innate socialisation, which is what moral sense comes down to. I mean arguably a solitary individual has no need for morals and hence might not have a moral sense, but since the trees don't talk in a way we can understand we can't ask them, and even they are social or at least cooperative. Which implies morality. Or possibly "feed your symbiotes or they will die" isn't morality, and we need to draw the line higher in which case we have a taxonomy of morality by definitional necessity.

I don't think you can develop a moral sense without interacting with others, though. So while there is evidence for a degree of innate morality, I think that's so heavily mediated by experience that it might well amount to an inclination to be social/moral rather than Chomsky-esque "universal morality", where the universal aspects arrive through a Darwinian process. Sure, there may be local optima where working moral codes arise that are significantly different from the most optimal morality (the one true morality?), and the optimum is also situational.

Looking at human history I think you could well argue that for example corporate democracy or whatever it is we have now is an awesome solution to the problem "kings keep starting wars" and also "they hold back innovation", but may not be a good long-term solution to "let's keep human society". But then democracy is a really shit solution to "my family is hungry" especially if you're a small group of people in a big savanna full of opportunities to die.

I guess I'm trying to distinguish "good social skills" from "good morals" and failing. But I still can't agree that morality requires taxonomy.

Sergey Rybasov said...

I think having to use some moral taxonomy is no more than having to decide what to do. You have to decide (to choose between some solutions), and doing so you necessarily create your emergent taxonomy of solutions. Collectively or not, you have to do it individually in the first place, there is no other way: to make a solution is to do it with your own mind, not collective/hive mind we haven't.

The only way to define moral w/o referencing some esoteric phenomena is to reference collective scope of comfort choice* - and that's what any archaic culture do to define good (and, oppositely, evil): moral is just good, applied to some cooperating group. And then we have Axial Age - cultures turn into esoteric definitions of moral, that is was. We can turn it off, can return to material, practical socialised definitions of good and evil, but we cannot turn off labeling/taxonomy of our thinking, even if we'd have to. And there is no need, nothing to receive this way.

(*) Not scope of choice only: having more choises of some different kind of hell, that's not what you want, individually or collectively. So "more good" is "more ability to do what we _want_" - that's exactly what any "pre-axial" culture define as good and, applying to cooperating group, as moral. I know no better definition and I think there is no need to have another; that one is fine, clear and practical.