05 May 2022

No slaves

 The United States' progress towards naked theocracy has ratcheted up.

It seems the opposition doesn't understand what they're opposing; or at least, there isn't much in the way of evidence for it.

Somewhere, Fred Clark — Slacktivist — notes that the reason for abortion as a political issue was to recover the white evangelical position of moral superiority after they were publically and discreditably on the wrong side of civil rights.

I would call that well-supported as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough.

Politics is about power: the ability to compel others to abide your will.

The moral authority was just authority; the power to say what is normal. (And if you aren't normal, you had better start; if you don't, you get hurt until you either become normal or die.)

The present political problem — the inability to do what needs doing because the right refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of facts — arises because of an alliance between factions who want to own women, factions who want to own workers, and factions who want to own those people.  (Factions which, de facto, generally do own women, workers, or those people.  But not enough; society doesn't thank them for it, not directly enough.  The void still yawns.)

That's the problem.  Almost everything else — including the probable Alito decision from the US Supreme Court — is a symptom.

One of the symptoms is a belief in morals; morals don't scale.  Morals are personal, a matter of taste and history and aesthetics.  (The parallels to social conformity in dress are strong.)  You can't make effective policy out of morals and you certainly aren't going to make an effective insurrection out of morals. (Whatever you would like history to say.)

The best don't lack conviction; the best lack an awareness that the system got built, is indeed built every day, and can be built different.  They're trying to be good.  The slavers want to own people; then they'll call it good.

Do not teach your children to be good; teach them to be effective.


Peter T said...

You keep saying that about morals, and I do not know what you mean. Any policy that takes as its goal some form of human welfare has a moral basis: why human? why that sort of welfare? whose welfare? Utilitarianism is a moral position, as is consequentialism and any form of deontology. Any mix justifies the boundaries morally. Or do you mean something else? Yours in sincere confusion, since I share much of your outlook.

Graydon said...

+Peter T

Well, three things:

- the system, be that society, a distinct bureaucracy like the ministry of transport or the phone company, or the commercial interactions necessary to obtain the necessities of life, isn't a moral entity; the capacity isn't there in its procedural nature

- the hard problem is deciding between goods. Morals provide no structural mechanism for making this decision, and indeed tend to get axiomatically wedged even within individuals. There's no getting away from subjective preference, so it's a terrible tool of policy; it won't let you handle questions outside your experience or where your preference isn't universal.

- morals do not answer "what is right action?"; morals are a framework for how you feel about what you did. Which make them a constraint on the system, not a variety amplifier. Something that can work at small scales but not large ones.

Peter T said...

I think we are using 'morals' in two different senses. To my mind, morals (a rough social consensus on what constitutes right) are exactly answers to what is right action. They can be the wrong answer (as in 'of course it's right to enslave people' or 'coloured/poor/other religion etc people deserve to be ill-treated because they are inferior') but, as Terry Pratchett' Death observes, there's no justice in the universe other than the one we make.

Bureaucratic policy often embodies these moral choices. Transport puts the freeway through the poor area, unemployment benefits are deliberately made hard to get and so on. I was a bureaucrat once, and saw the difference a change in the moral outlook of those at the top could make.

Graydon said...

+Peter T

Even presuming the consensus on a society scale -- not a safe presumption! -- the purpose of a system is what it does. In that case, what it does is about how people feel, rather than a material measure. No one does or can know enough as an individual to know what the system is really doing; the abstraction mechanism of morals of its nature produces horrors, because of its nature it exists and functions to comfort the powerful.

This is in large part why the powerful hate facts, and act to destroy the social mechanisms that permit facts to be known. If there's the option of using facts, it works better.

So, yes, of course it matters who is at the top; how they feel about things has sweeping consequences. How anybody feels about things should not have sweeping consequences.