On Loving the Enemy

In the wake of tragedy, in the wake of hateful actions, it is easy to turn to anger and thoughts of violent retaliation. It is easy to say that ‘love won’t win this battle’ as many have said. It is easy to fall prey to that human, all too human desire to enact justice through strength. It is easy to think that now, uniquely, is the time to use force against hatred – easier still to draw simple comparisons between the current day and a past era when force seemed to work to bring about justice. Finally, it is easy to hate those that committed the crimes, the injustices, and the hate. But what is easy is not always the correct course of action. The heat of the moment quickens the emotions but misleads them, we must stop and feel; we must stop and think.

In the wake of recent events, there are calls for an aggressive reaction and the aggressive is always the hateful; one does not ‘aggressively’ fight cancer out of love for the disease but out of hate for it. It is striking to find comments “reminding” people that “love did not defeat Hitler;” thus, we are told, “love” won’t defeat this fresh threat. Yet, here is the trap of the easy; it is easy to think that loving the enemy is inaction, easy to think that love is passivity, easy to think that only hatred and aggression are active; easy but false. To misunderstand loving the enemy as passive acceptance is to misunderstand the purpose and method of love.

To love the person is not to love their misdeeds; in fact, loving makes the hatred of misdeeds all the stronger. To love the person is not to overlook their actions but to examine their actions, understand their motives, and empathize with their emotions; all the while despising their hateful actions. This may seem a bit paradoxical, for how can one empathize while simultaneously despising? In the same way that one loves the person while simultaneously hating their actions. To give a concrete example, one must love the murderer, understand their motives, and empathize with those factors (moral, psychological, environmental, and social) that contributed to their choice of action, but maintain a hatred of the action. To love the person is to hold the person in the holistic view humanity demands; this holism of love is one of the reasons that it is so hard and why it is much easier to hate the person and hate their misdeeds.

In holding everyone in the holistic view, in seeing them as whole people, as complex products of ever more complex situations, there is an uncomfortable necessity. A necessity to examine those complex factors that contributed to the hateful action; to consider the moral and social environments giving rise to such thoughts and deeds, to examine the psychological underpins that may have played a part, in short, to look at the variety of causes that resulted in the hateful action. Rather like the chemist may examine those chemicals that played a part in a violent reaction; we must examine those factors that lead to hate and hateful actions. This is deeply uncomfortable for in examination of these factors, one might find unsettling conditions that one has been complicit either in maintaining, supporting, or writing off as just part of the system. This is not to blame any individual or group of individuals; indeed, perhaps, most unsettlingly, everyone is to blame, because everyone is, in at least some small way, complicit in some hateful action or another. For hate and transgression are spiraling things; one action of hate leads to another, abyssus abyssum invocat [1].

For this reason alone, one is compelled to love one’s enemy; perhaps, in loving one’s enemy one can quell the spiral of hatred; in dwelling in the light of love one might be able to drive out the darkness of hatred. Yet, there is not only this reason to love one’s enemy. For loving one’s enemy is not only, not even primarily, about this fleshy experience termed human life. It is not a tactic to win battles; it is not a banner for the new revolution; loving one’s enemy is, in fact, about souls. Perhaps, this is why the idea is so sneered at today, in the increasingly secular world that rejects the “silly” notion of the soul (a different discussion for a different time). Maybe there is something here, maybe talking of souls is too grand, call it the heart or the mind or whatever else one wishes; the principle remains the same. Hatred degrades and ultimately destroys the soul. This is why, hatred spirals, the degraded soul seeks to degrade, and in degrading is yet more degraded. It might be said that the task of loving one’s enemy is as much about oneself as about one’s enemy. Indeed, hateful actions are designed to generate hate, thus in responding with love the hateful act is sapped of some of its power. However, there is a mistaken interpretation of this that must not be made.

Loving one’s enemy is not excusing one’s enemy. Loving one’s enemy is not always pacifistic appeasement. At times, a violent response to violence is justified, perhaps necessary (though this is a thorny claim); actions have logical consequences. However, rather like the good parent, who in punishing their rebellious children does not cease loving them, one must not, in violently responding to violent action, stop loving their enemy. We must love but we must condemn; we must understand but we must never excuse. We must neither stop loving and understanding our fellow humans, yet we must, in no uncertain terms, denounce injustice and hatred. To do either is to do precisely what we decry. The former is to hate the criminal; the latter is to hate the victim. We must do neither. Ἒνθεν μὲν Σκύλλη ἑτέρωθι δὲ δῖα Χάρυβδις [2]. Here, again, is a reason that the task of love is so difficult. Compounding this is that love must constrain our actions; we must, in accordance with love, only ever use defensive violence, and never aggressive violence; for, again, aggression necessitates hatred of those aggressed against. To beat this path is hard, at times painfully hard, for it is natural to want to enact harsh punishments against unjust, but it is necessary to beat this path, we can do no other.

In the wake of injustice there are easy choices and there are good choices. The choice to hate those that enact injustice, ultimately, only leads to more hatred. Degradation leads to degradation. To love the person is not to love their actions, but to hate their actions. To comprehend the origins of the hatred is not to excuse the hatred; to love our enemy is not to spite their victims; indeed, loving our enemy is the same as loving their victims. To love is to oppose hatred and in opposing to turn the tides. To love is to understand the whole human and, in understanding, never to excuse transgression but evermore to despise it. To love is never passive, but always active. To love is never to refuse to punish but to limit our harshness, to avoid aggression. In all this, we mustn’t fall prey to false self-righteousness that in loving we are better than those who hate. We are all human, yoked together whether we like it or not [3]. To be self-righteous is to fail to see that we are all damaged, this is another reason that hatred comes so easily in response to injustice. In hating we are allowed to feel that those enactors of injustice are somehow separate from us; but, disturbingly, evil actions remind us that within humanity there is a capability to do both good and evil; within this thing called human life there are options to hate or to love. To hate and divide is easy; to love and unite is hard. Indeed, as Plato wrote: “χαλεπὰ τὰ καλά.” [4].

Endnotes:

[1]: One misstep leads to another; or literally: hell calls to hell

[2]: On the one side, Scylla, on the other divine Charybdis (Homer); ‘between a rock and a hard place’

[3]: For those hardcore individualists tempted to deny that all people are inexorably linked to each other, may I say that such a position ignores human reality. It is one thing to advocate methodological individualism for analysis (indeed this is a useful method) and/or to advocate for individual agency and autonomy over and against collective authority; but it is an entirely different thing to deny that everyone is bound up together as fellow human beings and that the actions and words of one person affect another, and that this effect has a chain reaction. If one is tempt to quote that famous line of Genesis 4:9: “Am I my brother’s keeper;” one may well wish to recall that this is said by a man that has freshly murdered his brother, thus, clearly, God’s answer (if one is so inclined to belief), is that yes, you are your brother’s keeper.

[4] “The fine (or good) things are difficult.” [Republic; Hippias Major]

The Problem of Opinions

Stating one’s opinion on any subject, from the most mundane to the most profound issues, is a risky business; whether in speaking or writing any method of putting forth one’s thoughts into the world involves taking deep and grave risks. Beyond the obvious danger of finding oneself in deep disagreement with one’s fellows, be they colleagues, friends, relatives, lovers, or mere fellow interlocutors; there is a graver risk. For while disagreement can sometimes lead to unpleasantness, if handled correctly it can also lead to mutual learning, understanding, and interesting discussion; whereas, the graver risk of stating opinions has no real potential for benefit, at least at first brush.

The danger of stating opinions is that once stated there are two option one has, either to become rooted in this position, or one day to admit one was incorrect and state one’s new opinion. The first option leads on into a deep and unsettling intellectual position of either refusing to accept new information an arguments that go against one’s previously stated opinion (stagnation of opinion, obstinateness) or performing twists in thinking to make new arguments fit old positions (mental gymnastics). In short, this is intellectual dishonesty and a refusal of growth. Let me be clear, it is perfectly acceptable and intellectually honest to have strong opinions that one defends in the face of all new arguments; however, this is only commendable to the point that well principle stand firm there is still change. Having firm principles is honest and commendably, being an obstinate dogmatist that refuses to engage with other, different arguments is neither commendable or decent, intellectual behavior. Again, to be clear, I want to point out that there will be times that even the best will fail to not slip into heatedness, unnecessary fervor, and/or inflective dogmatism; however, I cannot stress enough, it is out of these failures that we must arise, do better, and be better, though we will fail time and time again, each failure must serve as a reminder to do and be better.

The other path in this option is no less odious and no less common. It is often called “mental gymnastics,” a term which though tending to be used negatively, gives a fairly accurate idea of what goes on. A new argument presents itself, one that would seem to require a change in opinion, but instead one just works around it, in a dishonest way. Often this takes the form of accepting premises but reforming conclusion by sneaking in new premises. This is dishonest; the honest answer to new arguments is either to find a reasonable challenge and critique of them, or let the new arguments shape one’s opinion. I want to be clear, one should not change their opinion based off the last argument they have heard, this is as dishonest as dogmatism; however, one must open their beliefs to round criticism and robust counterarguments, not necessarily accepting or rejecting criticisms; but countering with reformed, better-honed, more robust arguments. In creating more robust arguments one’s opinions necessarily change, if only slightly, for it is impossible to robustly respond to counterarguments from a place of mere dogmatism and poorly thought out principles. This is why every ‘school of thought,’ in any field, is a place to start, never a place to end.

In all this the second option for action after stating an opinion has shown through, namely to admit one was incorrect and state one’s new opinion. This is difficult and rare, for it is much easier, much more comfortable to remain stagnate, to stop at the point of first thinking and never push forward. At least in that case one runs no risk of people finding old statements of opinions and taking that as current statements of opinions. This is a real danger, especially of stating opinions in the public form; however, this should not prevent one from either stating one’s opinions publicly or changing one’s opinions publicly. For as Cicero wrote: “if we are not ashamed to think it, we should not be ashamed to say it.” Furthermore, any honest person will admit that continued thinking about any subject will often lead to some changes in opinions, slight to major; there is one simple illustration of this: since all thinking on subjects is essentially a conversation (cf. Richard Rorty; this is why, for example, the Platonic dialogues are dialogues), it is understandable that as one hears more voices in the conversation, one’s opinions will change; it is also understandable that one has not, at any one time, heard all the voices that have spoken, are speaking, on a subject. For example, if opinions were formed purely from reading, it would be nearly impossible to never be encouraging new voices with new arguments, given that millions of books are published, have been published, since the advent of printing. Thus, though it is dangerous to share one’s opinions at one time, it is worthwhile; it is also worthwhile, in fact, perhaps noble in some cases, to publicly changes one’s opinions based on new arguments, so long as one is always changing their opinions (this is empty-mindedness, not thinking). It is difficult to place oneself in this uncomfortable position, but as Spinoza says at the end of Ethics: “Everything excellent is as difficult as it is rare.”

On 2016

As the year draws to a close, it is a perfect time to reflect on the year and look to the future.

According to some 2016 has been the “worst year” (e.g. here). Indeed, some very bad things did happen in 2016. Here’s a brief list: celebrities died, the United States continued to be a statist nation that elects presidents who have too many powers, there were diseases, there were wars, terrorism, other things anyone doesn’t like happened. How sad. I mean compared to 2016 all other years fail to even register as bad, for example: 1916 with the Battle of Somme; or the Plague years; or 1941-1945, with the Holocaust; or 1520-21 for the Aztec (fall of empire); or any of the years 1861-1865 in the United States.  I think my point is clear, 2016 wasn’t all that bad, it wasn’t great but there has never been a “great” year if you think about it.

Beyond the nostalgic view of some golden pass, every year looks pretty bad but also pretty good. Here’s the long and the short of it. People die; fight; make choices others think are wrong, stupid, dangerous, or whatever; bad, even terrible, things happen, often to good people; there are diseases and wars and potential despots and dictators. However, there are many positive things that make life worth living, for example (without getting religious): the sun continues to rise and give warmth; people fall in love, make friends, and build communities; cures for diseases are found; disasters are avoided; people innovate more and more every day. Indeed, it is true that there are many, many things that are terrible in the world, but there are just as many things that are wonderful. Certainly, some things are looking down, but just as many things, if not more, are looking up.

There is an important point here that is easy to miss. All of us are very good at projecting problems into the future, both our own problems and the world’s problems; but we are very bad at predicting the innovations, the solutions, and the ideas of the future. If you truly believe that 2016 was one of the worst years ever, than it should be a starting point to inspire new solutions. Indeed, that’s what has happened before. Many things have gotten better over the time. Disease, violence, war, and poverty have decreased over time; whereas, life expectancy, literacy rates, and standard of living have increased over that same time. Indeed, if you think about it, one of people’s biggest complaints about the year is that it “took” so many celebrities.

First of all, the year does not “take” any one, the year doesn’t do anything. People die during the year, not because of the year, but because of any number of things including: age, health conditions, lifestyle choices, accidents, or a combination of these things. More importantly, it shows how go things actually are that one of the biggest complaints about the year is that so many famous people have died this year. It is true that anyone’s death is a tragedy, but it hardly makes a 2016 any worse. I also understand that many people that bemoan this year aren’t complaining mainly about the death of celebrities but about war (a legitimate complaint, but overall this year was better than, say one hundred years ago – WWI), or, sadly much more likely, political votes not going how they would have liked.

First it was Brexit (a truly ridiculous word, but never mind) and then it was the election of Donald Trump. Let me be honest, I think the British vote to leave the European Union was a good thing (light your torches) and I am a harsh critic of Donald Trump and I voted against him (for Gary Johnson). Let’s talk Brexit for a moment, I believe that it was the best option not because I believe strong nationalism is necessarily a good thing, nor do I hate immigrants; furthermore, I think the average British person that voted in support of Brexit did not vote nationalistically or because of some deep and profound hatred of immigrants; I would hazard the guess that most of them were simply unhappy with the increasing power of the EU. I understand that one can think I am totally wrong and that’s perfectly okay and won’t ruin my year. Now onto Donald Trump; if his election actually ruined your year, I’m sorry. I really am. You see, if it truly ruined your year you obviously are under the twin delusions that (a) the US president is all powerful and (b) government and society are actually the same thing. Guess who also has these delusions: people that blindly support Donald Trump. Will he be a great president, no; a good president, maybe; a bad president, maybe; a terrible president, maybe; a dictator, no.  If you are honestly afraid of Donald Trump, you have a problem; there’s a difference between being literally afraid of him and thinking his policies will be bad.

The president is not all powerful, they cannot do anything they wish, the likelihood that one will become a death camp administering life-long dictator is low; not impossible, but very, very long while this country is at least somewhat stable. The likelihood that Donald Trump will become dictator for life is next to zero, as is the probability of him jailing those that dissent. There is a simple reason: everyone is on guard about his actions before he has actually assumed power. The moment he does something debatably unconstitutional he will have hundreds if not thousands of people fight him in the courts.

More deeply, politics is not life. Government is not society. At most it is a poor and distorted reflection of society. We must not allow government to replace society, the bullet to replace the book, or the black-and-white thinking to replace nuanced, gradated thinking. In the end, life will go on no matter what individual is the president of the United States.

2016 has been a mixed bag, but every year is. Think back to any other year and you’ll find that there were just as many negatives as 2016. Perhaps, the problem is looking for the negatives. If one looks to be saddened, outraged, or otherwise made upset, they have ample opportunities and outlets. 2017 is fast approaching and it will be just as much a mixed bag as 2016. Maybe, just maybe, if we all try not to find ever more things to be upset by and to divide ourselves over the world can continue to improve. I hope that 2017 will be a year of increased intellectual dialogue, informed and nuanced thinking, and ever more free discourse.

Pulling away from this wide view of the year and towards the personal, you are the only one that can determine how the year was for you and how the next year will be for you. In the words of Marcus Aurelius: “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

On Voting

Today is the day of the general election in the United States of America. It is the most important election of our lifetimes! You must vote! If you don’t vote, you are in fact voting for the worst candidate in history! You have a duty and an obligation to vote! Furthermore, you have an obligation and duty to vote for one of the two major parties, because voting third party is in fact voting for the major candidate you like the least. Voting for the lesser of two evils is absolved from any moral implication of supporting evil. Of course, if you don’t vote you can’t complain, because as it says in my made-up copy of the Constitution: “All citizens shall have the right to complain if and only if they have voted.”  The take away: Vote or leave the country, you democracy hating, ignorant, stupid, terrible, anarchist – you know where you can move? Somalia, have fun there with no omniglorious democratically elected government.

Wait! None of that is true, except that today is the day of the general election. You do not have an obligation or duty to vote, much less to vote for only one of the two major parties. Voting for the lesser of two evils is still evil, and even if you choose not to vote you still have a right to complain. In fact, voting is a hard-won right and, therefore, it is ludicrous (and dangerous) to claim that people must vote. This may be an unpopular position, but it is far more reasonable and humane than claiming that people are required by some civic or moral bond to cast a ballot for a political leader once in a given number of years.

One reason why one has no obligation to vote is that in national (and, often, state) elections a single vote does not matter (break out your pitch-forks, torches, and slogans: “every vote matters!”). The economists, Casey B. Mulligan and Charles G. Hunter, assembled the data for 40,036 state and federal legislative elections and found only eight elections that were determined by a single vote, only one of which was a federal election. Thus, one the basis of purely individualistic mathematical analysis, a single vote does not matter. Only when many votes come together to achieve some real result (i.e. if you want to vote do not be deterred that your single vote will not really have tremendous impact). Some may claim that simply that it statistically does not matter, one still have a moral or civic duty to vote.

Is it a moral duty, or obligation to vote?  The simple answer is: no. It is hard to see how one can have a moral duty to vote for politicians that likely will enact or help enact immoral laws and advance immoral positions. Even if one believes that their favored politician truly is omniglorious and omnibenevolent, this hardly translates into a moral duty to vote in the abstract. There is no moral duty to participate in a system that one does not like, no moral duty to have a voice in a society’s governance, certainly no moral duty to check a small box on a ballot. Even if there were a moral duty to vote there would certainly not be a moral duty to vote for the “lesser-of-two-evils.” Indeed, that would seem to contradict most moral theories, as most moral theories tend to be against evil. It is hard to see why there would exist some moral duty to vote, but isn’t there a civic duty to vote?

The answer is no, there is no civic duty to vote. At least in the United States, there is no legal civic duty to vote, if there were it would be illegal not to vote. However, some would say that there is an extralegal civic duty to vote. A duty to pay alliance to the government that protects the citizens; a duty to honor those that fought for the right to vote; a duty, in short, to prove that you are a good and responsible citizen that cares about their country. There is no such duty, especially if you believe that the government does not protect or does not represent your interests. A civic duty to vote implies that to vote is to consent to the system.

This belief, closely tied for some to “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” is utterly wrongheaded and dangerous. What is strange is that many anarchist libertarians repeat the mantra that “voting is consenting to the system,” yet, also say that tacit consent does not really exist. They are absolutely correct that tacit consent to governance does not exist, but apparently they stop using logic when it comes to voting. Voting is nothing more, to quote the abolitionist, individualist anarchist, Constitutional lawyer Lysander Spooner, than replacing the “bullet” for the “ballot.” Indeed, Lysander Spooner makes a powerful case for voting, even though it is not an effective mechanism, a moral obligation, or a civic duty:

In truth, in the case of individuals, their actual voting is not to be taken as proof of consent, even for the time being. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, without his consent having even been asked a man finds himself environed by a government that he cannot resist; a government that forces him to pay money, renders service, and foregoes the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments. He sees, too, that other men practice this tyranny over him by the use of the ballot. He sees further, that, if he will but use the ballot himself, he has some chance of relieving himself from this tyranny of others, by subjecting them to his own. In short, he finds himself, without his consent, so situated that, if he use the ballot, he may become a master; if he does not use it, he must become a slave. And he has no other alternative than these two. In self-defense, he attempts the former. His case is analogous to that of a man who has been forced into battle, where he must either kill others, or be killed himself. Because, to save his own life in battle, a man takes the lives of his opponents, it is not to be inferred that the battle is one of his own choosing. Neither in contests with the ballot – which is a mere substitute for a bullet – because, as his only chance of self-preservation, a man uses a ballot, is it to be inferred that the contest is one into which he voluntarily entered; that he voluntarily set up all his own natural rights, as a stake against those of others, to be lost or won by the mere power of numbers. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, in an exigency into which he had been forced by others, and in which no other means of self-defense offered, he, as a matter of necessity, used the only one that was left to him.

Doubtless the most miserable of men, under the most oppressive government in the world, if allowed the ballot, would use it, if they could see any chance of thereby meliorating their condition. But it would not, therefore, be a legitimate inference that the government itself that crushes them was one which they had voluntarily set up, or even consented to.

Vote today, or don’t vote today: it’s your choice, it’s your right. Vote, or don’t vote, but, either way remember that this election doesn’t (really) matter.

 

Sources:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/06/01/yes-you-do-have-an-obligation-to-vote-for-the-lesser-of-two-evils-heres-why/

https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/10/27/jacoby/PiV0sbV2bXf6OQAToXalxM/story.html

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1542-4774.2010.tb00548.x/abstract

http://www.nber.org/papers/w8590.pdf

http://ethicist.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/03/must-you-vote/?_r=0

http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/presidential-campaign/288551-why-2016-may-actually-be-the-most-important

http://www.hercampus.com/news/if-you-dont-vote-you-cant-complain-about-government

https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20121116131301AA9aTOa

http://praxeology.net/LS-NT-6.htm#NT.6.2.n1.1

http://libertarianchristians.com/2008/11/28/new-testament-theology-2/

http://libertarianchristians.com/2013/04/02/theology-doesnt-begin-and-end-with-romans-13/

http://www.notbeinggoverned.com/kill-state-consent-voting-nonsense/

https://fee.org/articles/tacit-consent-a-quiet-tyranny/

 

Also, thank God that this election is finally over (hopefully, I wrote this like two weeks ago, who knows what’ll happen tonight, Trump may legally contest the election, or something, but, at least it should be over now). Even as a political junkie this election has been a bit too much to handle, after this, I can go back to my regular arguments against the government without being associated with a political candidate.

Power and Privilege: A Freed-Market Anarchist Approach

Before discussing any sort of “answer” to the question of inequality often captured under the term “privilege,” it would be most useful to describe what the concept even means [1].  “Privilege refers to “unearned power conferred systematically” [2], most commonly to “male privilege,” “white privilege,” and “class privilege.” However, privilege is often expanded to include: “ability (health) privilege,” “linguistic privilege,” “educational privilege,” “religious privilege,” and various other forms of “privileges” [3]. Here there is a great deal of rather unproductive conflict between those that deny that privilege exists and those that affirm that it does.

One of the misinformed (and, therefore, unhelpful) criticisms of privilege theory, is to claim that it is a Marxist system. This claim is false. Privilege theory has its origins in Post-Marxist thought that explicitly diverged from the Classical Marxists [4]. Indeed, some socialists [5] oppose privilege theory because of its nature as a post-Marxist movement that they contend “is not a framework that can move the struggles forward” [ibid.].  A further, though distinct, claim against privilege theory is that it is “a shield against reason” [6]. This criticism is not without merit, at times a vulgar form of the privilege theory is used to shut down debate and silence opposition, this discredits the movement that may have good intentions at its core [7]. Furthermore, to correct this criticism one must change the way in which one thinks about privilege. If one thinks of it as a means to silence those that have been historically favored, one is engaged in a circumstantial ad hominem [8]. Whereas, if one thinks of privilege as something which creates psychological biases that can be overcome, one has the opportunity to move the conversation forward by helping clarify thinking. This is why to move forward with discourse in the modern age one must admit, or at least accept that many hold, that privilege does, indeed, exist. However, once people outside the political left admit that privilege exist, the entire conversation can change.

The issue with the intellectual monopoly by (a certain faction of) the left on the concept of privilege is that it becomes merely a political tool to further their own goals [9]. Furthermore, by possessing the total ownership on the concept they can dream up new forms of “privilege” by the day to suit their political needs (e.g. “homonormativity” [10]); often this sort of thing is used to “purge” the movement, once they people it targets have outlived their usefulness to the movement. Thus, it is imperative that other groups stop pretending privilege is entirely a myth and add their approach the concept. Luckily, some libertarians and anarchists have already begun this process; sadly they align themselves, at least in name, with the left (chiefly; Roderick Long, Sheldon Richman, Kevin Carson, and others with the Alliance for the Libertarian Left and the Center for a Stateless Society [11]). These thinkers have decided, rather unfortunately, to call their beliefs “left libertarianism,” or “left-wing market anarchism,” because they oppose things like privilege, imposed hierarchies, and the capitalistic system [12]. This is unfortunate on two counts: (1) it buys into the left’s intellectual monopoly on the concept of privilege and the struggle against imposed power, (2) it explicit claims that market anarchism and libertarianism are functions of either the left or the right (see note 1). However, despite their unfortunate name, many of their insights are interesting [13].

If the definition of privilege is “unearned power conferred systematically” [2] it seems clear that a freed-market anarchist would have a deep interest in the concept [14]. “Unearned power” is always suspect and can often lead to oppression and “conferred systematically” seems to refer to (a) governmental systems (which are suspect), or (b) cultural systems. Given these conditions the answer to the problems of privilege and power seem obvious. However, one most establish that there are problems stemming from privilege and power. Unless this is established in a rational framework, it is impossible to defeat. Often times without establish that the supposed problems do in fact exist; one is left with mere empathy for those they feel have been dealt a bad hand (i.e. the under-privileged). Though empathy is important, in the end reason (and not empathy) will do far more to solve problems [15].

It is difficult under the leftist monopoly on the concept to establish a reasonable basis that affirms that problems stemming from privilege and power exist. This is likely do to the search for evidence is seen as a threat to the concept. However, it is not; nor, do I necessarily demand empirical evidence. Society cannot be reduced to a mathematical formula like some physical reaction, it is constantly changing. Thus, if the definition or premises of the privilege theory offer deductible conclusion that would be enough to at least satisfy the rationalists. Of course there is at least some empirical evidence that privileges exist in all manners [16]. Furthermore, it is clear that the premises that (a) privilege is unearned power conferred systemically, (b) power, especially unearned, power tends to be corrupting, and (c) systemic conference requires a conferrer (namely, government, or society); leads to the conclusion that privilege is a corruption force conferred onto people by some outside force. It is, therefore, changeable. This is one of the areas where most privilege theorists are incorrect: they seem to hold “a very pessimistic and disarming theory—seeing individuals as unable to escape their prejudices or their role in the oppression of others” [5].

Approach from a different way the problems of privilege do not seem as daunting as the “pessimistic” “theory” of inescapable oppression. If, instead of seeing privilege as any inescapable consequence of uncontrolled circumstances (skin-pigmentation, sex, etc.), one views privilege as a mere cultural artifact emboldened by governmental systems and leading to ingrained (but challengeable) cognitive biases, one can see that the problems of privilege can be dealt with. First, one must realize that since the government is systemizing (or at least helping systematize) privilege, it can hardly be expected to end or even help end the problems of privilege power. There are two reasons for this: (1) societal class does exist, but Marx was incorrect in labeling them as he did, instead there exist three main classes in society: the politically elite (those in power), the strong but disconnected (this class threatens those in power, as they are hard to control, they must either be eliminated or incorporated in one of the other classes), and the weak and disconnected (this class is easy to control with the promise of a better life through political solutions  [17]) [18]; and two, as I have previously written:

The issue comes down to this: political solutions to social problems do not work. They replace education with legislation, the book with the bullet, the free mind with the shackled mind. The only way to solve any social issue is to change hearts and minds. Legislation, guns, and silence cannot do this. Force does not win arguments. Might does not make right. [19].

Therefore, the only solutions to the problems of privilege power are social solutions, social meaning non-governmental, educational, and free-speech embracing solutions. To weed out prejudice from the barrel of a gun is not a just solution. However, changing people’s hearts and minds is a (I would add, the only) just and moral solution.

One of the best social solutions to destroy the power of privilege is to put an end to the current neo-Mercantilist system by embracing the freed-market. The free-market is founded primarily upon the principle of private ownership (beginning with ownership of the self), this can take multiple forms under a decentralized system, it may be single individual ownership, partner owner, communal ownership, etc. The point is not the type of private ownership, but that it is completely decentralized and discourages violence. This leads to four more principles. The principle is that of voluntary exchange, this is the principle that people may voluntarily exchange mutually beneficial goods and services without outside interference. The next principles are free competition of firms (this would help decrease and decentralize firm size, thus decreasing hierarchical relationships), and entrepreneurial discovery to compete in the market but also to benefit society through new opportunities both social and economic. The fifth principle is that of spontaneous order, the idea that order emerges out of chaos without a central planning board directing things [20]. The nature of the freed-market is decentralized and non-violent; it is marked by voluntary interaction and social cooperation.  Thus, it would tend to prevent privilege power in a variety of ways.

First, it would disincentivize social bias on the part of both firms and consumers. On the part of the firms, under the condition of decentralized free competition, it would be not be advantageous to systemically discriminate either in employment (it would lead to more economic losses and lower productivity) or in sales (it would lead to less profit and possible social consequences, i.e. boycotts). On the part of consumers, discrimination would lead to less choice and having to pay higher prices for the same goods (or even going without). Second, by its highly decentralized nature the freed-market favors voluntary interaction based on the innate integrity of each person (i.e. on the basis of individual self-ownership); this would lead to limitation of the power of privilege by challenging the paradigms of unearned powers. Indeed, this was the sort of thing the classical liberals fought against: “the inequality of privileged lords and priests who were seen as better than peasants and shopkeepers” [21]. However, under the freed-market there might still be some social privilege and prejudice.

Human differences are a fact of life. Though people are more alike (biologically and genetically) than they are different [22]; everyone is different and that’s a good thing. Biases and prejudices are likely to persist no-matter the prevailing governmental, economic, or societal system. However, a decentralized freed-market anarchism guided by a moral presumption against aggression and injustice (unfairness), would lead to the most amiable society to fairness, openness, and toleration this was the goal of the classical liberals and ought to be the goal of the modern freed-market anarchists. By adapting and (slightly) modifying the theory privilege, freed-market anarchism can offer a solution to the issues of injustice and unfairness, by affirming individual integrity (self-ownership), peaceful exchange, and equality in liberty.

Notes:

[1] There are two risks in writing this article, insofar as being politically slurred can be considered a risk; the first is that people on the political right may accuse me of having taking a “left-turn” or of being a leftists; the second, is that people on the political left may accuse me of being a right-winger. Of course, as these would be political slurs it would be far more likely for someone on the right to call me a “commie,” or a “SJW;” and for someone on the left to call me a “fascist,” or a “bigot.” In the end any such criticism as these would be completely inconsequential to me; however, I will address them by saying this: I believe that what I am here calling “freed-market anarchism” is neither right nor left [1.1]. Indeed, it might be better to term it more fully as “ideological mixed freed-market anarchism,” as this would make clear that this system takes reasonable ideas and insights from a variety of sources, not merely supposed leftist or rightist sources.

[1.1] Chiefly: Block, W. (2010). “Libertarianism is Unique and Belongs Neither to the Right nor Left” in The Journal of Libertarian Studies 22: 127-70. Retrieved from https://mises.org/system/tdf/22_1_8.pdf?file=1&type=document. Though Block uses the term “libertarian” (in my opinion, a less precise term, thus I tend not to use it when trying to be precise), I believe that his arguments in this paper apply equally well to “freed-market anarchism.”

[2] McIntosh, P. (1988). “White Privilege and Male Privilege.” Retrieved from http://www.collegeart.org/pdf/diversity/white-privilege-and-male-privilege.pdf .

[3] Media Smarts (n.d.). Forms of Privilege. Retrieved from http://mediasmarts.ca/diversity-media/privilege-media/forms-privilege. Also: Subtirelu, N. (2013). “Language Privilege: What it is and Why it Matters” on Linguistic Pulse. Retrieved from: https://linguisticpulse.com/2013/06/26/language-privilege-what-it-is-and-why-it-matters/.

[4] Laclau, E. and Mouffe, C. (1985). Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Retrieved from http://v3.ellieharrison.com/money/hegemony.pdf.  I feel that it must be made clear that though many post-Marxist leaders still used the term “socialist” and much of the Marxist terminology, they represent a significant philosophical break with traditional Marxism (which might be thought of as modernist Marxism). The Post-Marxist were (are) also, by and large, post-modernists and, therefore, rejected “totalizing” world views [5].

[5] Choonara, E. and Prasad, Y. (2014). “What’s wrong with privilege theory?” in International Socialist. Retrieved from http://isj.org.uk/whats-wrong-with-privilege-theory/#esmeyuri142_11. This is a highly interesting article, though written by socialist and towards a socialist audience it remains a valuable piece for anyone (socialist or not) interested in the history of privilege theory, a left-wing critique of privilege theory, and privilege theory more general.

[6] Campbell, D. G. (2010). “‘White Privilege:’ A Shield Against Reason,” in Academic Questions 23: 497 – 504. DOI: 10.1007/s12129-010-9188-5. Mr. Campbell makes a rather compelling case against privilege analysis and for a return to reason, viz. “We must  speak the truth: that true intellectual diversity within an academic department or any organization cannot be attained by focusing on or exploiting skin color, family origin, or sex.”

[7] Galles, G. (2015). “The Intellectual Intolerance of Behind ‘Check Your Privilege’” in the Mises Daily. Retrieved from https://mises.org/library/intellectual-intolerance-behind-%E2%80%9Ccheck-your-privilege%E2%80%9D. Galles makes a highly useful point about the manner in which productive dialogue happens:

It would start by precisely specifying what faulty premises, assumptions, or arguments someone supposedly holds, either included or excluded inappropriately. Then it would explain why it is inappropriate for the issue being considered. It would lay out the correct or appropriate premise that would take its place and articulate the reasons why. Building on that foundation, it would show how the “new and improved” premises would change one’s conclusions. Consequently, it would lay out the appropriate remedy based on the alternative analysis.

Indeed, checking one’s “faulty premise,” especially if they are founded on a psychological bias, is one of the most important tasks in any debate or pursuit of knowledge.

[8] Copi, I. and Cohen, C. (1994). Introduction to Logic (ed. 9).  Macmillan, Inc.: New York.   The circumstantial ad hominem is a logical fallacy whereby one discounts another’s argument on the basis of the other’s circumstances. From Copi and Cohen:

When a circumstantial ad hominem argument explicitly or implicitly charges the opponents with inconsistency … that is clearly one kind of abuse. When a circumstantial ad hominem argument charges the opponent with lack of trustworthiness by virtue of group membership or conviction, that is an accusation of prejudice in defense of self-interest and is clearly also an abuse.

It seems odd that the group general most concerned about group power and dynamics is so wont to use abusive ad hominem attacks, which are tantamount to the very type of prejudice they declare to decry.

[9] Daum, M. (2014). “Using ‘Privilege’ as a weapon” in Las Angles Time. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-daum-privilege-shaming-internet-20141016-column.html. The article is well worth a read, though one line will illustrate the danger of the left’s intellectual monopoly on privilege, viz. “Now what was once a legitimate tool for self-examination is an insufferably smug platform for self-righteousness.”

[10] Kacere, L. (2015). “Homonormativity 101: What It Is and How It’s Hurting Our Movement” in Everyday Feminism. Retrieved from http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/homonormativity-101/.

[11] Alliance of the Libertarian Left website: http://praxeology.net/all-left.htm; Center for a Stateless Society website:  https://c4ss.org/.

[12] It would be apt at this point to example the terms “capitalism,” and “freed-market.” The word capitalism is often used by libertarians, conservatives, conservo-libertarians, and (“right-wing”) market anarchists, in an approving manner that affirms it as a name for the free(d) market. However, there is a deep issue in using the term in this way, namely, that for most people on the left the term has deep negative connotations. True, it is a pointless semantic battle (as Kinsella points out [12.1]), to attempt to stop people from using the term. However, it is far simpler to use the phrase “freed market” or “free market,” rather than “lassiez-faire capitalism” (which is unjustly tied to Hoover, cf. Rothbard, M. America’s Great Depression (ed. 5). Mises Institute: Auburn, Alabama.), or “capitalism, but not what we have today, which is crony-capitalism.” Indeed, there’s the rub: the word capitalism and to some extent the phrase free market have been associated with the Neo-Mercantilist crony capitalist economic system that being used today [12.2]. This is why I prefer to use the term “freed-market,” because (a) it disassociates it form the current economic system, (b) it makes clear that this is a goal not an actuality, and (c) it does not have negative connotations in a wide audience (though it may with certain libertarians and market anarchists).

[12.1] Kinsella, S. (2010). “Capitalism is Libertarian!” on StephanKinsella.com. Retrieved from http://www.stephankinsella.com/2010/05/capitalism-is-libertarian/.

[12.2] Rothbard, M. (1999). “Neo-Mercantilism” in The Mises Daily. Retrieved from https://mises.org/library/neo-mercantilism.

[13] NB this article is not about the work of these scholars are any other, this article is purely my approach to the issue of power and privilege. This is why the title says “a freed-market anarchist approach,” and not “the freed-market anarchist approach.” To reiterate this article is purely my approach, any mistakes, ill formed ideas, etc. are purely mine. Furthermore, to be absolutely clear, though there may be similarity between my ideas and those of the left-wing market anarchists, I do not consider myself a “left-wing market anarchist” (see note 1).

[14] Though my interest in these issues also stems from my conviction as an Episcopalian Christian and Hazlittian cooperatist utilitarian.  I believe that it is a Christian duty to do justice in the world, viz. the Most Reverend Bishop Curry:

Crazy enough to love like Jesus, to give like Jesus, to forgive like Jesus, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God — like Jesus.  Crazy enough to dare to change the world from the nightmare it often is into something close to the dream that God dreams for it. [14.1].

Therefore, I believe that is the duty of every person to attempt to achieve justice (i.e. anti-oppression) in the world. Furthermore, I can make this case not only on religious grounds, but on humanistic and utilitarian grounds. The humanistic grounds are that oppression is clearly against the goals of humanism (namely, human flourishing); the utilitarian grounds are that justice and anti-oppression  lead to the greatest long-run satisfaction of the greatest number of people [14.2].

[14.1] Curry, M. (2012). We Need Some Crazy Christians. Retrieved from http://www.episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/general-convention-july-7-sermon-bishop-michael-curry.

[14.2] Hazlitt, H. (1998). The Foundations of Morality. Foundation for Economic Education: Irvington-on-Hudson, New York. Chiefly, page 354, point 2f.

[15] Bloom, P, (2013). “The Baby in the Well,” in The New Yorker. Retrieved from: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/05/20/the-baby-in-the-well.

[16] take the disparities in incarnation rates between African-Americans and whites: “Nationwide, African Americans were incarcerated in state prison at 6 times the rate for Whites and in local jails at almost 5 times the rate for Whites” as one example.  Hartney, C. and Vuong, L. (2009). Created Equal. Retrieved from http://www.nccdglobal.org/sites/default/files/publication_pdf/created-equal.pdf.

[17] There is an apt quote attributed to Machiavelli in the film, Poverty Inc.: “The reason there will be no change is that those that stand to gain from change have none of the power, while those that stand to loss for change have all of the power.”

[18] This class analysis is based on Hoppe, H. (1990). “Marxist and Austrian Class Analysis,” in The Journal of Libertarian Studies IX (2). Retrieved from https://mises.org/system/tdf/9_2_5_0.pdf?file=1&type=document.

[19] Heckner, R. (2016). “Society, Government, Rationality, and Emotion” on Cogita! Retrieved from https://rhecknerlanguageblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/society-government-rationality-and-emotion/.

[20] Chartier, G. and Johnson, C. (eds). (2012). Markets Not Capitalism. Retrieved from: http://www.libertarianismo.org/livros/gccjmnc.pdf

[21] Crider, P. (2016). “Libertarian Social Justice,” in Libertarianism.org. Retrieved from http://www.libertarianism.org/columns/libertarian-social-justice.

[22] Highfield, R. (2002). “DNA survey finds all human are 99.99pc the same,” in The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1416706/DNA-survey-finds-all-humans-are-99.9pc-the-same.html.

Bibliography:

Block, W. (2010). “Libertarianism is Unique and Belongs Neither to the Right nor Left” in The Journal of Libertarian Studies 22: 127-70. Retrieved from https://mises.org/system/tdf/22_1_8.pdf?file=1&type=document.

Bloom, P, (2013). “The Baby in the Well,” in The New Yorker. Retrieved from: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/05/20/the-baby-in-the-well

Campbell, D. G. (2010). “‘White Privilege:’ A Shield Against Reason,” in Academic Questions 23: 497 – 504. DOI: 10.1007/s12129-010-9188-5.

Chartier, G. and Johnson, C. (eds). (2012). Markets Not Capitalism. Retrieved from: http://www.libertarianismo.org/livros/gccjmnc.pdf

Choonara, E. and Prasad, Y. (2014). “What’s wrong with privilege theory?” in International Socialist. Retrieved from http://isj.org.uk/whats-wrong-with-privilege-theory/#esmeyuri142_11.

Copi, I. and Cohen, C. (1994). Introduction to Logic (ed. 9).  Macmillan, Inc.: New York.

Crider, P. (2016). “Libertarian Social Justice,” in Libertarianism.org. Retrieved from http://www.libertarianism.org/columns/libertarian-social-justice.

Curry, M. (2012). We Need Some Crazy Christians. Retrieved from http://www.episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/general-convention-july-7-sermon-bishop-michael-curry.

Daum, M. (2014). “Using ‘Privilege’ as a weapon” in Las Angles Time. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-daum-privilege-shaming-internet-20141016-column.html.

Galles, G. (2015). “The Intellectual Intolerance of Behind ‘Check Your Privilege’” in the Mises Daily. Retrieved from https://mises.org/library/intellectual-intolerance-behind-%E2%80%9Ccheck-your-privilege%E2%80%9D.

Hartney, C. and Vuong, L. (2009). Created Equal. Retrieved from http://www.nccdglobal.org/sites/default/files/publication_pdf/created-equal.pdf.

Hazlitt, H. (1998). The Foundations of Morality. Foundation for Economic Education: Irvington-on-Hudson, New York.

Highfield, R. (2002). “DNA survey finds all human are 99.99pc the same,” in The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1416706/DNA-survey-finds-all-humans-are-99.9pc-the-same.html.

Hoppe, H. (1990). “Marxist and Austrian Class Analysis,” in The Journal of Libertarian Studies IX (2). Retrieved from https://mises.org/system/tdf/9_2_5_0.pdf?file=1&type=document.
Heckner, R. (2016). “Society, Government, Rationality, and Emotion” on Cogita! Retrieved from https://rhecknerlanguageblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/society-government-rationality-and-emotion/.

Kacere, L. (2015). “Homonormativity 101: What It Is and How It’s Hurting Our Movement” in Everyday Feminism. Retrieved from http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/homonormativity-101/.

Kinsella, S. (2010). “Capitalism is Libertarian!” on StephanKinsella.com. Retrieved from http://www.stephankinsella.com/2010/05/capitalism-is-libertarian/.

Laclau, E. and Mouffe, C. (1985). Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Retrieved from http://v3.ellieharrison.com/money/hegemony.pdf.

McIntosh, P. (1988). “White Privilege and Male Privilege.” Retrieved from http://www.collegeart.org/pdf/diversity/white-privilege-and-male-privilege.pdf .

Media Smarts (n.d.). Forms of Privilege. Retrieved from http://mediasmarts.ca/diversity-media/privilege-media/forms-privilege.

Rothbard, M. (1999). “Neo-Mercantilism” in The Mises Daily. Retrieved from https://mises.org/library/neo-mercantilism.

Subtirelu, N. (2013). “Language Privilege: What it is and Why it Matters” on Linguistic Pulse. Retrieved from: https://linguisticpulse.com/2013/06/26/language-privilege-what-it-is-and-why-it-matters/.

Happiness

«Au milieu de l’hiver, j’apprenais enfin que qu’il y avait en moi un été invincible.» – A. Camus.

Life is difficult. Sometimes life’s difficulties can cause people to become disheartened and depressed. At times the struggles of life obscure one’s goals and one’s blessings. Most people do not enjoy being in a state of prolonged sadness, though momentary pain and sadness, are important in human life. Indeed, since Aristotle most of Western philosophy has held that “all men agree that” the goal of life “is happiness.” Now, what happiness means varies from person to person. Aristotle held that the “contemplative life” is “happiness in the highest sense.” The early Utilitarians held that happiness meant maximising pleasure and minimising pain. Henry Hazlitt’s system of utilitarianism holds that happiness is to “maximize our satisfactions in the long run” fostered by “social cooperation.” The definitions of happiness could fill entire volumes and still fail to account for one’s personal view of happiness. Furthermore, it must be noted that there are some that do not believe happiness is the ultimate goal of life or even a subordinate goal of life. However, most want to happy; in whatever way they define it.

At times being happy is difficult, but there is always hope. The first step to becoming happy [1] is to recognise that one does not have to be happy all of the time and that pain and sadness are essential parts of the human experience. Indeed, as Camus wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus: “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.” This suggests that not only are struggle and pain it a necessary part of life; they are a requisite condition for happiness. Under this view, all utopias become logically incoherent, as they posit that people can be happy without any struggle; they suggest that people can feel joy without knowing pain. This utopian vision infects many people’s life-views and does great damage to happiness. In believe that every moment of life one should be happy, one becomes trapped in a dangerous fantasy that once destroyed will cause much greater pain than if one simply admits that they will not always be happy and that they are not victims of adversity but masters of it. This final point reveals the second step in becoming happy.

One must never accept a life-view that says they are the victims of adversity, for a victimhood mentality leads to the greatest and most corrupting evils of human life, namely self-pity. Once one begins to pity themselves, they commit treason against their own happiness and well-being. Self-pity is utterly and entirely destructive to the self and to happiness. To quote Stephen Fry:

Self-pity will destroy relationships, it’ll destroy anything that’s good, it will fulfil all the prophecies it makes and leave only itself. And it’s so simple to imagine that one is hard done by, and that things are unfair, and that one is underappreciated, and that if only one had had a chance at this, only one had had a chance at that, things would have gone better, you would be happier if only this, that one is unlucky. All those things. And some of them may well even be true. But, to pity oneself as a result of them is to do oneself an enormous disservice.

Self-pity is generally predicated on a victimhood life-view that will destroy happiness in the end. It is impossible to pity oneself, to see oneself as the victim of some great injustice (whether temporal or cosmic), and to be happy. One must take the place of the other. Once one has stopped view themselves as a victim and instead begins to view themselves as a saviour or a master of the struggles and adversities of their life, then one can see the tremendous blessings of life.

In many ways the third step in becoming happy is by far the easiest. It is simple to count one’s blessings. Though it is easy to look around and see all the terrible things in the world, it is equally easy to look around and see all the great things in the world. Absolute poverty has declined, the caloric intake of human population has risen, more people have access to clean water and education than ever before, violence is in decline, etc. Not only is it simple to see that the world is bright and that there are many things to celebrate, it is easy to find things to celebrate in one’s own life. Certainly, there are many material things for many to be happy about, but there are things that one need not have money of goods to enjoy. Perhaps the weather is fair and one can be warmed by the light of the sun. Perhaps one has friends or a significant other that one can be thankful to have in their life. Indeed, if one looks there are many things one can be thankful for and happy about [2]. Of course, some of these things do not equate to long term happiness.

The fourth step in becoming happy is to recognise two things: (1) one is capable of setting and achieving long-term goals that will make them satisfied; (2) to quote Haruki Murakami: “pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” Once one has accepted the first point one will find that they are able to find fulfilment. Setting and achieve goals is important in life and contributes to long-term satisfaction. These goals have the same infinite variety as the humans that set and achieve them. The second point harkens back to the first step. In life there will be pain and there will be struggle; however, allowing oneself to be overcome by this pain, allowing it to sap one’s self-efficacy, is a choice. Every day one must make a choice whether to be happy or to suffer. Indeed, though I have written about “becoming happy,” the true key to happiness is that it is, by and large, a choice.

Happiness is a choice. Indeed, it may be a choice of choices, meaning that happiness consists of many subordinate choices that one makes. The choice to recognise that pain and sadness are important aspects of life, the choice not to be victims, but masters of this pain and sadness, the choice against self-pity, the choice to find things to celebrate, the choice to set and achieve goals, the choice not to suffer, etc. In the end the happiness is one of the most important choices that one will make in their life. The final and perhaps most important lesson in choosing happiness is, in the words of Camus, “no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger, something better, pushing right back” (emphasis added). [3, 4].


Notes:

[1] I define happiness close to Hazlitt’s definition, that is maximizing satisfaction in the long term. This definition specifically refers to “satisfaction,” i.e. not merely hedonistic pleasure, but a more well-rounded and multifaceted goal of fulfilment of life goals, of blessings, of healthy relationships, et cetera. It also refers specifically to “in the long term” this is, again, to distinguish it from a hedonistic happiness, by making clear that some things that might make one temporarily “happy” (for example, using heavy drugs) will actually decrease one’s “satisfaction” in the future (for example,  by making one ill, or getting one in legal trouble). It also should be noted that though I use this definition of happiness for this article, I believe the suggestions made are applicable in other ways of conceiving of happiness.

[2] This is the point where some people object by stating that they are “realists.” These so-called “realists” are not happy, nor do they general have happiness as a goal, for life is nothing but unbearable suffering or strife or pain. They may admit that there are some good things in the world, but they have a view that believes bad outcomes and negativity are the inescapable lot of human life. Certainly, many may be credited for seeing that life is absurd and that it has, to quote Sartre, “no meaning a priori.” However, these “realists” must be taken to task for perpetuating a negativistic view of humanity, they must be taken to task for giving life a pessimistic meaning. Indeed, some “realists” are, in reality, nihilists; and nihilism, despite positing that there is no meaning to life, that there is no point to life, that there are really no true values, often ends up creating a world view of a negative life meaning (life is pain), a negative point to life (the point of life is to suffer), and an anti-satisfaction extreme asceticism (pain is a virtue). Other so-called “realists” are merely pessimists who believe that in the end things will turn out badly. The issue with pessimism is that it often turns out to be a victimhood life philosophy, often it is tied to a vulgar fatalist belief that everything is doomed and that there is no point. NB that I have used the term “vulgar fatalist” to describe a belief that everything is doomed and therefore there is no point in anything. This is to distinguish it from what may be termed “Nordic” or “heroic fatalism,” a belief that though everything is ultimately doomed it is noble and good to fight this losing battle. Where “vulgar fatalism” dooms one to unhappiness and nihilism, “heroic fatalism” may have the ability to allow one to be happy, for under “heroic fatalism,” though one is ultimately doomed to one’s fate, one is still the hero of one’s life in fighting this fate.

[3] One may wonder, if they come from a Judeo-Christian background, if the advice given herein is applicable within a Judeo-Christian framework, or if the advice requires one to adopt a different framework. The answer to this may depend on a few considerations, viz. one’s stance on the free-will debate and one’s other theological views in some aspects of morality. If one is an extreme determinist they may reject this advice on the grounds that if God’s unshakeable (and infallible) design calls for one to be unhappy, then it is impossible and completely immoral for one to attempt to reject this design. This extreme determinism has many serious problems, which are far too difficult to discuss in an endnote; however, a simple argument against this and, indeed other softer forms of the self-same argument, is to simple ask: (1) “would a loving God design some of His children to be condemned to misery?” and (2) “why would God want His children to live in despair?” Indeed, this latter question is applicable to this entire commentary; no matter one’s theological views, it seems unlikely that God would desire for His creation to live in despair. In fact, this idea is laughable and unsound. Thus, to answer the question as to whether the above advice is acceptable within a Judeo-Christian frame: I would say most certainly, yes; however, it is not only applicable within one narrow frame-work or life-philosophy. I believe the advice given is helpful for anyone in almost any life-philosophy (excepting those that are predicated on self-pity, despair, and/ or absolute victimhood).

[4] Any discussion of happiness must, I think, include something concerning the “only true philosophic question, that of suicide” (Camus). Suicide is a difficult and extremely sensitive subject. However, it is important to talk openly and frankly about it. I firmly believe that suicide is a supreme act of cowardice, I understand that this view is not very widely liked; however, I wish to be completely frank about the subject. To be clear, I do not believe that anyone that thinks about or commits suicide is a worthless person or even necessarily a “coward.” Indeed, I struggle to understand the use of the word “coward” as a noun. To me “cowardice” applies only to actions never to persons, useless every single action is one of cowardice (which is a near impossibility). Though I believe to commit suicide is a cowardice act, I do not believe that the person that thinks about or commits it is anything else but a sick human being. Depression must be understood as an illness, as the common cold is an illness. They need help and not condemnation. They must be reminded that there is always the choice to be happier, that there are people that will support them, and that suicide is never the correct answer to their condition similar to how cutting one’s nose off is never the treatment for nasal congestion. If you know someone that is thinking about suicide or you suspect someone is, reach out before it is too late. Come as a friend they can talk to, come as someone that understands, and come as someone to share their pain with. If you are someone that is suicidal: know that there are better ways to deal with your pain, know that there are people that can help you, and know that things can only get better if you continue to breath. You can also call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (888) 628-9454.


Sources:

“Stephen Fry discusses self-pity” video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_2kelqYz_o

Alliterative (2016). “Weird: Word History Connections” . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYPoTrHTXVQ

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by W. D. Ross

Camus, A. Lyrical and Critical Essays.

Camus, A. The Myth of Sisyphus.

Hazlitt, H. (1998). The Foundations of Morality. FEE: New York

Norberg, J. (2016). “Why can’t we see that we’re living in a golden age?” In The Spectator. http://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/08/why-cant-we-see-that-were-living-in-a-golden-age/

Vernezze, P. “Is there a Doaist in the House” in House and Philosophy [edited by Jacoby, H.]

Quick Overview: Validity in Logic

In everyday speech to say something, especially an argument, is “valid,” means that it is reasonable and has a sound basis in logic and/or fact. However, in logic something being valid means that the argument’s conclusion must follow (is entailed) by the argument’s premises. Note, that validity (more fully called deductive validity) does not affect the truth of an argument, that is, an argument can be invalid but true, or valid but untrue.

A valid argument would be:

All dogs are animals

Purple is a dog

Therefore, Purple is an animal.

This argument is valid because the conclusion (“Purple is an animal“) must logically follow from the premises.

Another example of a valid argument would be:

All planets are flat,

Earth is a planet,

Therefore, Earth is flat.

Despite being utterly false, this argument is because the conclusion is entailed by the premise.

Remember, validity does not equate to truth, merely that a conclusion is necessitated by the premises.