01 March 2020

Intractable failings of moral systems at scale

So Myke Cole tweeted

Ooooooooooo! I am the ghooossstttt of Republican ethics past! Oooooo!!! You oooonce believed in a common set of moral principles! You once had lines you would not croooossssss!! Ooooooooo! Noooo, don’t hide under the coooverrrrs! I will take you on a joooourney into decency lost!

That's not an unusual response to present events in a chunk of the service-culture population.

Myke's a scholar; it might be that Myke hasn't studied things like systems or dispute resolution (aside from Ultima Ratio Regum).

Moral systems don't have a way to resolve disputes; "good" and "bad" are uncontexted absolutes.  (Because, way back, these are proxies of the judgements of an almighty and omniscient god.)  You can't resolve disputes about them without either one side submitting or being destroyed.  As a result, anything that's a morally-mediated system in the present day -- the product of many iterations of this whole dispute resolution problem -- has immense internal support for demanding submission and justifying destruction.  (Take a look at the Bernie Sanders campaign; it has lots of supports whose reflexive response to believing themselves correct is to demand the submission of everyone else, since everyone else is obviously less correct.  That's what persistent moral systems must do to persist, and very few of those folks are aware they're valorizing conquest as a domestic political dispute resolution mechanism.[1])

You get what you reward; Reagan's republican party has rewarded looting the proles.  (Since they're mostly pro-slavery Confederates, actively against the existence of a United States federal government able to compel their obedience to its laws, this isn't much of a stretch.)

This is also why the media blackout on Elizabeth Warren is inevitable; Warren's pushing material-results criteria for policy.  This has the immense advantage of actually working (if you can do it) and the massive disadvantage that every single member of the aristocracy is burningly aware that in a "does this work for everybody?" environment there isn't an aristocracy.

Personally?  Yeah, of course you have morals.  Hopefully those work for you; this is going to be increasingly a time where getting along with the neighbours is important.  It's getting those to scale that won't work; even by the time you're looking at community solidarity for fifty people, it needs to work on the basis of material results.  What do we want this thing to do? instead of Is it good? or Is it right?

[1] In many ways, fascism is a single-mutation failure of being good; if you believe you are good, and you lack the humility to consider that you might be in error, you're going to set out to make sure everyone else is good, too, and that the bad is removed from the world.  It's a bit like the folks who are smart enough to realize that they're clever but not smart enough to realize that there are people much smarter than they are.


D. C. said...

Of course "material results" is also a "moral" (value) criterion. It's just a sort of least common denominator one, in that groups who subordinate it cut into their fitness margin and eventually self-select out of the game. Think Shakers --nice people, good neighbors, left us culturally richer, but are well on their way to self-chosen extinction.

Graydon said...

+D.C. it's certainly a value judgement to prefer material outcomes, but it's got one other important feature.

The material is measurable, and thus there's the possibility of resolving disputes on a basis fundamentally external to any particular person's head.

The collective endeavour to construct facts isn't easy and it isn't perfect -- look up what it takes to produce gauge blocks sometime if you're unfamiliar with that -- but it offers the possibility of a form of lasting dispute resolution that doesn't rely on submission or death.

Mardonius said...

I don't think Sander's supporters are necessarily taking the wrong approach here. Namely, even if you are focused on changing material conditions, you might well have to win by conquest first if the political sphere only values conquest. It's basically a cliche that people don't vote for the centre-left because compromise is seen as loss and weakness by the right and the populace.

It's not great and it might well corrupt your movement to fight on this moralist framework, but it's hard to hammer materialism into a societal structure that has been conditioned on idealism and we don't have time.

dilbert dogbert said...

Re: Gauge Blocks
Just one part of the on going efforts to standardize products. Engineers since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution have been doing that. Back in the day the SAE handbook was near at hand as I worked. Also Machinery's Handbook. That said the English vs Metric still plagues us to this day.