Is Virtue Possible Without Freedom?

Albert Jay Nock on doing the right thing

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Nock concluded that the purpose of his advocating freedom was nothing less than “that men may become as good and decent, as elevated and noble, as they might be and really wish to be.”

The lesson of Nock’s essay is that champions of the freedom philosophy need never be silenced by the charge that freedom makes vice possible—for without freedom, there can be no virtue.

Sheldon Richman is editor of The Freeman, where this article originally appeared.

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  • mybarber||

    Those that have no 'vices' have dangerous virtues

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Those that have no 'vices' have dangerous virtues

    Rather like a woman with no flaws is a sad creature. She necessarily has terrible secrets.

  • plu1959||

    She necessarily has terrible secrets.

    Such as bathing in the blood of virgins.

  • John||

    This article is wildly naive. Man is not perfected by being left alone any more than he he perfected by social engineering. Why is man virtuous? Generally he is not. Generally he is loathsome, selfish and tribal. Where he is virtuous it is the result of an almost random and irrational goodness. History is never a battle between great good and great evil. It is a battle between huge unimaginable evil and tiny almost irrational good.

  • Randian||

    There, ladies and gentlemen, is the true Christian's view of man.

    And hence why Christianity is pretty evil all on its own. Goodness, saith the John, is fleeting and random, and Man's fundamental nature is evil.

  • John||

    If you want to live in denial, that is your choice. But if you think man is anything but evil, you are kidding yourself. I have 10,000+ years of history on my side. I also have the dead bodies of hundreds of millions of people who have been murdered in the name of perfecting man's nature. That is what the Communists and fascists were doing, perfecting man. And that is what leads you to the gas chamber.

    True evil is the idea that man can be perfected. Every great evil man has ever committed has been in the pursuit of that false God. It is the most noble of all ends. And the more noble the end, the more evil the methods that can be justified in pursuing.

  • Randian||

    If you want to count the bodies of history, I get to count the bodies created in the last sixty years, to wit: the world population in 1950 was about 3 billion. Sixty years later, it's 7 billion and growing.

    True evil is the idea that man can be perfected.

    Au contraire - the true evil is the notion of Original Sin; that everyone on the planet has done something "wrong" according to the standards of some ethereal world created by the Platonists and their hangers-on.

    If anyone got the idea that they could perfect man and create heaven on earth, they got it from the mystics such as yourself. They got it from the notion that Man is Evil and dammit he doesn't have to be, if only he could live as his betters, be that Christ or the Aryan Race or the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

  • John||

    What evidence do you have that man isn't evil? What person hasn't committed evil? If human beings can be perfected, why haven't you perfected yourself? Name one person or one human institution in history that hasn't been responsible for evil? Name a nation that wasn't born in the blood of another nation?

    Funny how objectivists seem so impervious to so much empirical evidence.

  • Randian||

    You think because of bad acts committed by some, or evem most, means that the nature of every person is Bad. That's not only fallacious but an evil, nihilistic view.

  • John||

    Why does people being evil mean there are not degrees of evil? Yes there are degrees of evil. I didn't say there was no good. I said that man's nature is evil. Sure he does good. But he will always do evil.

    That is why you have to have a limited government. Man can never be trusted to have a lot of authority over another. You need government for common defense. But it cant' be trusted with much else and barely that.

  • Randian||

    Yes there are degrees of evil. I didn't say there was no good. I said that man's nature is evil. Sure he does good. But he will always do evil.

    Because you believe that one flaw ruins the painting, John. this is a choice of perception on your part.

  • John||

    If only the world were like that. It is the opposite, most of the world with evil with tiny pockets of good.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    The idea that man is by nature evil is not nihilistic. A nihilist would reject the notion that there is such a thing as evil.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    What evidence do you have that man isn't evil?

    The fact that human communities have not self destructed in an orgy of evil.

    What person hasn't committed evil?

    What is evil?
    Doing harm to others for your own pleasure or profit...seems to be the modern definition.

    But originally(and maybe still) it was extreme individualism, with no regard for others, that threatened the cohesion of one's community. Which is why victimless things like divorce or blasphemy were considered evil while killing outsiders in war was not.

    So yes, everyone has evil impulses, which are overwhelmingly self controlled. The most basic human societies would be impossible if that were not true.

    So no, most people are not evil and everyone is capable of some doing evil.

  • Sam Grove||

    OK, what do you mean by "evil"?

  • Brutus||

    I think you misunderstand the idea of Original Sin. It means earthly perfection is impossible and that rulers are to remain humble because of it. The perpetrators of the genocidal regimes you mention, after all, would not have been found clogging the pews on Sunday, and were virulently against religion and even the idea of the existence of a transcendent God.

  • Randian||

    I don't misunderstand it all. The motivation to perfect comes from the notion that we are born flawed.

    It means earthly perfection is impossible and that rulers are to remain humble because of it.

    That isn't borne out by the dogma on the subject. Original Sin was created to make sure Man falls in line - even the tiniest, most innocent babies are Sinners the Hands of an Angry God. It's to make Man evil on a fundamental level.

    The perpetrators of the genocidal regimes you mention, after all, would not have been found clogging the pews on Sunday

    That doesn't mean that the epistemological and ethical implications of the neo-Platonists didn't infect them. it did, with terrible results.

  • John||

    It's to make Man evil on a fundamental level.

    LOL Man doesn't need to be made evil. Man is evil on a fundamental level. To deny that is to deny pretty much all of history.

  • Randian||

    That's just your Christianism talking. Man has to be evil because you are too afraid of the implications if you thought of Man as good. If Man were good, he wouldn't need god or the charlatans who peddle Salvation, praise Jesus and pass the offering plate.

  • ||

    LOL Man doesn't need to be made evil. Man is evil on a fundamental level. To deny that is to deny pretty much all of history.

    Fuck off John. What a bullshit argument. Aren't you an attorney?

    To argue man is evil based on history is ridiculous. History documents atrocity because atrocity is newsworthy. It doesn't go out of its way to document normal people going about their lives in a moral fashion. How many men committed those atrocities compared to the number of moral individuals throughout history? Percentage-wise the good vastly outnumber the evil.

  • Sam Grove||

    Humans, like all biological creatures, is motivated primarily by self interest.

    To call this evil leads one to a dead end. It should be merely acknowledged as man's nature.

    We can now recognize that man's self interest can utilized to promote the well being of others through production and trade rather than through conquest and enslavement, because through these behaviors, man can best achieve his goals by helping and allowing others to pursue their own goals.

    Man can be good or bad depending upon the incentives he faces and the values he holds within. Thus moral principles are what individuals use to keep from submitting to the temptations provided by incentives to "bad" behavior.

    And so, libertarians support a free market because there are the rewards, incentives, to good behavior in pursuit of personal goals, with government performing only the function of providing disincentives to "bad" behavior.

    Government in excess of this "limiting" function creates incentives for men to benefit themselves at the expense of others through the use of arbitrary institutional power.

    Man is not inherently good or bad, but does respond to incentives according to his self interest as regulated by the moral principles he holds and the apparent consequences of his actions.

    Evil lies in the pretense that bad behaviors can be sanctified by collective agreement. This is the evil temptation of political power.

  • Sam Grove||

    EDIT! humans ARE motivated

  • Brutus||

    This makes no sense at all. If the root cause of these genocides was the concept of Original Sin, don't you think those that actually live and practice the doctrine that specifically incorporates that concept would be the ones perpetrating those crimes, not the ones that specifically reject the premise?

    Original sin cannot be expunged, thus the drive to earthly perfection is folly. Any Christian knows that. That's why the genocidaires specifically rejected it, to the deaths of tens of millions.

  • Randian||

    If the root cause of these genocides was the concept of Original Sin, don't you think those that actually live and practice the doctrine that specifically incorporates that concept would be the ones perpetrating those crimes, not the ones that specifically reject the premise?

    It's called Revealed Preference. You don't have to specifically embrace one particular religion or religious tenet to implicitly accept its premises and act it out. Look at the parallels:

    1. Man is fundamentally evil and cannot be redeemed
    2. The bourgeosie children are evil and must be run out of society
    3. The Jews are fundamentally evil and must be exterminated

    If you're upset with these things, look at the doctrines you're propounding. Only a doctrine that says that Man is fundamentally good and doesn't need the guidance of his betters can stand up to Statism and violence.

  • Brutus||

    That's just the thing, Randian: There are no "betters." Ponder the consequences of that idea.

    And #1 above is not like #2 and #3. think about it.

  • Randian||

    I get the notion. No, really, I do. There is no evidence that anyone anywhere hasn't made exceptions to my #1 above.

    If you treat people like evil, they're going to act evil. If you treat people like children, they're going to act like children.

    You view Man as fundamentally Evil. Don't be shocked when he lives up to your expectations.

  • Brutus||

    "Flawed" =/= "Evil"

    And if I see myself as flawed (and I do), I'm certainly not going to be quick to impose my views on others. OTOH, if I'm really a super person at heart, maybe I should be forcing others to bend to my will.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    This makes no sense at all. If the root cause of these genocides was the concept of Original Sin, don't you think those that actually live and practice the doctrine that specifically incorporates that concept would be the ones perpetrating those crimes, not the ones that specifically reject the premise?

    Actually, John is correct on that point.

    The totalitarian ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries can be seen as heretical christian belief systems.

    Basically replace Christ and Jehova with god x. The all have some type of original sin, a revealed truth, a group of believers that must proselytize the truth and ultimately force unbelievers to accept it through violence.(that isn't part of christian theology but has been part of christian historic reality) All to remove the original sin and create paradise (here on earth instead of in heaven or after the resurrection).

  • Randian||

    Isn't this a variation of "but no True Christianity has ever been practiced!"

    If the basic notions of Religion are so easily and frequently corrupted, doesn't the bespeak of fundamental corruption, at the very core of the belief system itself?

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Maybe.

    But you miss my point, which was not that Christianity is good. But that modern isms have sprung from Christianity.

  • Randian||

    Oh, wait, your point is my point, and I just missed it. My bad. I should have recognized that.

    Your phrase here:

    Basically replace Christ and Jehova with god x. The all have some type of original sin, a revealed truth, a group of believers that must proselytize the truth and ultimately force unbelievers to accept it through violence.(that isn't part of christian theology but has been part of christian historic reality) All to remove the original sin and create paradise (here on earth instead of in heaven or after the resurrection).

    Is exactly what I have been going for. I just misread it as "heresy" and therefore you meant that as "bad", but that's not what you said.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    You are loading moral meaning into the word heresy, not me.

    I can observe that an opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine exists without validating either.

    You do however demonstrate the repulsive obnoxiousness of objectivists perfectly.

  • Randian||

    I just said that I understood what you were saying, dude. I said that I misread you. I admitted an error.

    You are loading moral meaning into the word heresy, not me.

    I can observe that an opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine exists without validating either.

    I know, that's where I (me, I, myself) made the mistake, not YOU. My fault. Sorry.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Sorry for being a dick at the end.

  • Brutus||

    But you miss my point, which was not that Christianity is good. But that modern isms have sprung from Christianity.

    I don't see that at all. Marx was a secular Jew, Hitler's gang was pagan and no serious argument can be made that Mao, Ho, Kim and Pol Pot were driven to their madness by Christian doctrine.

  • Randian||

    You don't see because you choose not to see it. VG laid out the parallels pretty well.

    The philosophy is right there: man is a Fallen Being, but there is a True Path that will restore him to Heaven. People have been taking this basic neo-Platonism to heart, and that has been the cause of much of the world's distress.

  • ||

    The philosophy is right there

    Only if you accept that the entire planet subscribes, and has always subscribed, to the Christian notion of original sin and shares a Judeo-Christian, Euro-centric cultural moral model, which is patently false, particularly in the cases of China and Vietnam. It's possible to arrive at the same conclusion from completely different logical/philosophical paths. Post hoc =/= propter hoc.

    Ironically, the object lesson I was always taught as a kid in Sunday school about the Adam and Eve story was essentially Nock's premise: Free choice was given to man by God to test his morality, because without free choice between the alternatives of right and wrong, no true morality actually exists. Of course, one may disagree with Christianity's definitions of the terms, but the premise is the same. A "moral" society in which "good" or "right" behavior is a Hobson's choice created by force is not really moral at all.

  • mr simple||

    If the basic notions of Religion are so easily and frequently corrupted, doesn't the bespeak of fundamental corruption, at the very core of the belief system itself?

    Not necessarily. Why can't it also be said that it bespeaks of fundamental corruption at the heart of the believers?

  • Ice Nine||

    So the world's population has doubled in sixty years. How exactly does that fact counter John's point?

    I believe the same thing he does - thought it was pretty obvious to most everyone - and I didn't get the idea from Christianity but from casual observation. I'm an atheist - but I've been around the planet a while.

  • Randian||

    Why does John get to point to 10,000 years of human slaughter, but I don't get to point to 200 years of rapid population growth and material betterment?

    John says that people are evil based on what is seen. I say that people are good based on what is unseen. John is basically peddling the historical version of "if it bleeds, it leads". Just like you never hear about the guy who helps a little girl find her puppy, you never hear about the billions of human interactions that made people happier, wealthier, better...you only harp on the negative.

  • Ice Nine||

    Because he said "the dead bodies of hundreds of millions of people who have been murdered in the name of perfecting man's nature", not "the hundreds of millions of people who simply died". The non-sequitur that hundred of millions of people have randomly been born in the same time does, of course, do nothing to refute that notion.

    As for your second paragraph, you didn't mention that addendum but are simply throwing it in now. I think we all realize that little girls get help finding their puppies - most often I'm sure, by "helpers" that the very next day will quite readily exercise their inherent selfishness (sure, call it evil) and screw someone over in some minor way. John wasn't touting Christianity nor was he denying the existence of goodness. You are just annoyed by the likelihood of the fact that he stated leading someone to think that there should be a law or two.

  • Randian||

    Because he said "the dead bodies of hundreds of millions of people who have been murdered in the name of perfecting man's nature", not "the hundreds of millions of people who simply died". The non-sequitur that hundred of millions of people have randomly been born in the same time does, of course, do nothing to refute that notion.

    Except for the fact that John is using those numbers to demonstrate that man is evil. So why again don't I get to use the number of people who have not been killed, who have thrived and flourished and lived and loved, as a counter to that? john says "here, look at how evil man is and how many have been killed as evidence!" Why isn't the contrary decent counter evidence.

  • Ice Nine||

    Well, first of all, you did not say that. You used the number of people who have been born. Secondly, the (as you cited) number of people who have been born in a certain period is not the contrary of the number who have been murdered in that period - it is the "contrary" of the number who have simply died of all causes. I cannot make this point any more clearly so, I'm out.

  • Pi Guy||

    ^^DOUBLE PLUS THIS^^

  • VG Zaytsev||

    True evil is the idea that man can be perfected. Every great evil man has ever committed has been in the pursuit of that false God. It is the most noble of all ends. And the more noble the end, the more evil the methods that can be justified in pursuing.

    Who's talking about perfecting man here?

    The idea that Nock expressed has been summarized by one of your fellow neo-cons in the phrase:

    The larger the government the smaller the citizen.

    As government grows it subsumes individual responsible.

    First towards your community,(I pay taxes to take care of the poor not provide charity)

    then your family (Social Security takes care of my elderly parents, not me; Shcools education my kids)

    and finally yourself (my work when I can collect WIC, UI, Section 8 etc.)

  • Sam Grove||

    Don't you wish there was an edit function?

  • ||

    That is patently retarded John. In the great balance book that is human life there are way more millions of people who have died of natural causes over the last 10,000+ years of history. It wasn't until the last few hundred years that man has been able to kill his fellow man by the millions.

  • John||

    And I would include the evils committed by Christianity in that list. Christianity goes off the rails when it thinks it can save everyone. When it thinks it can make this world into heaven.

    Libertarians are utter fools if they think man can be perfected via science or freedom or whatever. They can't. And trying to will just make matters worse.

  • Randian||

    Libertarians are utter fools if they think man can be perfected via science or freedom or whatever. They can't. And trying to will just make matters worse.

    So why try, right? This is how the mystical world collapses in nihilism, and why the proverbial Witch Doctor and Attila need each other.

  • John||

    Why not try? First, because it is impossible and therefore a quixotical. Second, because doing so inevitably leads to coercion and more evil.

    Again, name me a human endeavor aimed at changing man's nature that didn't result in monstrous evil.

    But I know, Randian, it will be different next time.

  • Randian||

    I'm not talking about some kind of coercive, government-based movement to 'perfect' man. My problem is that you view humans as a combination of sewer and abyss, instead of having any sort of redeemable characteristics.

    If anyone thinks they can perfect humans, it's the fault of the Religionistas.

  • John||

    No. IT is the fault of the secularists and the enlightenment. It is the enlightenment that came up with the idea that man could perfect himself. That is what gave us the French Revolution and Communism.

    There is another side to the balance sheet.

  • Randian||

    Oh please. the Enlightenment is what led to the radical notion that society, religion, and state should be separated. It is when those lessons are forgotten that we get the kind of regimes you're talking about. The spasms of the French Revolution, Naziism and Communism show the Enlightenment didn't go far enough and hasn't thoroughly permeated as base knowledge, not proof it somehow went to far.

  • John||

    They didn't take the enlightment far enough? That will come as a hell of a surprise to the people who started at year zero in the French Revolution. That will come as a hell of a surprise to Pot. That is just nonsense. They took the enlightenment to 11. And that was the problem.

  • Randian||

    How did the French Revolution effect the separation of state, religion, and society? Oh wait, it didn't - it effectuated yet another merger.

  • Xenocles||

    Enlightenment thinkers seem to have arrived at that idea via two different paths. Rousseau seemed to be saying that it's the state that corrupts man, so we should eliminate the state and allow man to revert to nature (the noble savage concept). Others seemed to be saying that since rulers come from the same crooked timber as the rest of us, we should concentrate power as little as possible.

    White Indian might disagree but I believe the latter view best conforms to reality.

  • affenkopf||

    The enlightenment also gave us the American revolution and classical liberalism.

  • Sam Grove||

    Um, freedom isn't an endeavor to change man's nature, but to accommodate his nature so that he may pursue his selfish goals through cooperation rather than through extortion, by accommodating the equal rights of others rather than by violating those rights.

    The distinction between libertarian political philosophy and others is that libertarians accept that humans are necessarily motivated by self interest and so envision a social/political environment that encourages humans to satisfy their self interest through production and trade rather than through criminality or collective extortion.

  • Huck||

    I don't think man can be perfected either. Yet, I also think that the historical record suggests that neither Hobbes nor Rousseau was fully right or wrong. Man has been terribly and cruelly destructive, usually in the name of some horrible religous or political ideology. Yet, the break-outs from the various evils - cruel punishments, witch hunts, slavery, etc. - were hardly random. They were deliberate events, inspired by a few courageous, liberal, souls, who were willing to question the status quo. They were inspired by developments in science and moral insights from thinkers, by the development of literacy with the creation of a reading culture, the gradual expansion of empathy, and other movements.

  • John||

    It doesn't mean things cannot get better. But also understand that the very places that broke out from that and created the enlightenment, also created the French Revolution, Communism, Colonialism and death camps. I love the West as much as anyone. But you can't deny it has produced a whole lot of evil to go along with the good.

  • Huck||

    The 'places' didn't create those events, evil people did. You can't blame Locke, Hume, Kant, Hobbes,Galileo Voltaire, Spinoza, Beccaria, et al, for the French Revolution or communism.

  • Brutus||

    And I would include the evils committed by Christianity in that list. Christianity goes off the rails when it thinks it can save everyone. When it thinks it can make this world into heaven.

    It'll never make this world a Heaven...that is reserved for actual Heaven. But it can save everyone, just not at the point of a sword.

  • Randian||

    What do people need to be saved from? Sin...as conveniently defined by the religion itself. You set up a system no one can escape and then ask for hope. You tell people they're irredeemable then ask them to act as if there is another possibility anyway.

  • Brutus||

    It's not my system.

  • Randian||

    Oh, right, it's the Lord's.

    That is not a counterargument, by the way.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Christianity goes off the rails when it thinks it can save everyone.

    Christianity goes off the rails when it thinks men are doomed by the eating of an apple, and are saved by the execution-by-torture of an innocent man.

  • Pi Guy||

    Christianity goes off the rails when it thinks men are doomed by the eating of an apple, and are saved by the execution-by-torture of an innocent man.

    I've liked this each of the times you've commented(Friday I believe you wrote it into Riggs Gallup Poll article) thusly - and who doesn't like typing thusly when they can! - because it underlies the other fallacy of Xianity: that all you have to do to get to heaven is accept Jesus.

    If you can be forgiven on your deathbed then I don't understand at all what the hell Hell's all about.

    I don't think that the Bible anywhere identifies Hell as eternal punishment except for the Lazarus parable, and only then to illutrate the evil of material wealth and earthly comforts. After that, what's the point of being good if you can just pull your "Get into Heaven Free" card at the Pearly Gates?

  • Brutus||

    Hell is mentioned in many, many places.

  • Randian||

    I only care about Hell insofar as it shows that if there is a Christian God, he's a real, 100%-pure solid-gold asshole.

  • ||

    The Christian pastors I've queried on that subject (mass-murderer making a death bed conversion was the example I used) explained it as the ultimate expression of God's mercy, and also pointed out that the repentance must be genuine, and that only God himself knows whether it truly is or not.

    Hell as eternal punishment didn't get popular until the New Testament, but it is discussed many times there. The Old Testament doesn't talk much about hell in the eternal punishment sense. In fact, most Jewish theologians don't subscribe to a concept of eternal punishment.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    History is never a battle between great good and great evil. It is a battle between huge unimaginable evil and tiny almost irrational good.

    I was fortunate enough to be young in a time when most of the survivors of WWII were still alive. I was able to talk to people who were part of both sides of that struggle and believed they were doing the right thing. I went into it all looking for the root of a Great Evil, but what I was struck by time-and-again was how insipid all of it was. Lifeless little men doing monotonous little things for the Good of the People while saying Who am I to judge?

  • yonemoto||

    1) no where does nock advocate "leaving people alone". He just says that doing the right thing is not advanced by coersion.

    2) humans are not generally loathsome, only sometimes selfish, and I'm not sure that tribality is *necessarily* bad. The notion that virtuousness is random and irrational is completely rediculous. It's part of the way we are built. This shouldn't be a surprise, as any species that doesn't follow the iterated prisoner's dilemma is likely to be evolved off of the planet.

  • np||

    History is never a battle between great good and great evil. It is a battle between huge unimaginable evil and tiny almost irrational good.

    No. History is always a continuously battle between liberty and slavery. Every single case of perpetuated enslavement--only differing by degree, whether petty tyranny or mass oppression--has always been done in the name of "good". That "good" is done in the name of the tribe or the name of religion or some belief. It's ironic that the greatest evil is always done with aggression in the name of battling the great evils.

    Sheldon isn't saying that men are angels or anything at all about reaching perfection. What he's saying is that in order for men to be virtuous, to exercise their potential for virtue, you must have the freedom to do so. Hence his reference to Nock's explanation. It's a straw man argument to bring up the lack man's perfection to dismiss the very objective idea that freedom is required in order to exercise any real virtue at all.

  • Whahappan?||

    Perhaps I'm missing something, but it seems you've fundamentally misunderstood Nock's, and Richman's point. Nobody is talking about creating a "perfect man", merely pointing out that freedom and voluntary exchange tends to reinforce the good tendencies and discourage the bad, allowing us to become better people (NOT perfect) and fosters better (NOT perfect) outcomes. I don't see what's controversial about that.

  • Sheldon Richman||

    Indeed.

  • ||

    Sheldon, Nock is a good read....for the choir.

    Those that believe all virtuous behavior is the result of coersion are the same ones who cannot distinguish a wide spectrum of concepts that have only superficial similarities but are in fact substantially different. Example; respect and fear, or my favorite, self defense and defending honor or reputation.

    In other words, those people are moral idiots. Reading Nock for them is a waste of time as the concepts are beyond their grasp.

    Having said that, thank you for introducing me to Nock. I was formerly unfamiliar with him.

  • Brutus||

    I'm a big fan of Nock, particularly his model of social vs. state power he defines fairly early on in OETS. I think it's spot-on.

    That said, I think his definition of the "right thing" that people are naturally inclined to do does tend to be a little naive. The right thing is clearly and heavily influenced by culture, defined as the norms, mythos, manners, customs of a people. It's here, the culture, that the Left has been wildly successful at reshaping, creating expectations and norms that are incompatible with a free society. Once that project is complete - and it very nearly is - we'll no more be able to build a liberty-loving society than we could a round house on a square foundation.

  • plu1959||

    I agree. Nock made the mistake here of assuming that everyone was approximately as intelligent as he was. Do-it-yourself morality seems to work fine for people who are above the mean in intelligence. But for people of below-average intelligence, some outside system of guidance is needed. Lack of impulse control and foresight comes with lower intelligence, such that people on the left-hand side of the curve tend to need more than the rewards and punishments built into nature to keep from screwing up their own and others' lives.

    I would strongly prefer that this outside guidance come from religion rather than the state, because religion is voluntary and (in most forms) more inspiring than state commands. But the left and mass media in the West have weakened the appeal of religion so much in the past 50 years that I don't know if it can ever play the steadying role that it used to in the lives of the less-intelligent in the West.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    They have lessened the appeal of Christianity (a specific religion) not religion generally. As demonstrated by all of the neo-pagan and state worshiping beliefs that have sprung up as Christianity has weakened.

  • plu1959||

    Christianity was the religion most affected, because most people in the West were Christian before the mid-20th century. But no organized religions have taken its place. People still have a spiritual impulse, which can manifest itself in various ways, but it doesn't have a "moralizing" influence unless it causes the individual to adhere to an ethical code. Islam, for example, seems to do this for some African-Americans, but I think the numbers are still quite small. (According to Wikipedia, there are about 2.6 million Muslims in the U.S., and about 25% of them are black, i.e., 650,000, as against a total of 38.9 million blacks in the U.S.)

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Generally agree, but quite a few people have adopted the moralizing code of leftwing statists, ie equality as the highest value with envy a close second.

    Similarly, a lot of people have adopted a bastardized form of Hindu values in animal rights and veganism.

    It seems that a need for spirituality and transcendent values are an inherent part of human nature.

  • Brutus||

    I don't even think it's an issue of intelligence. Some of the most idiotic shit imaginable today is pumped out of the academy, and high-end academy at that. In fact, I'd go as far as to say a lot of the pathologies we see today in the lower-income groups is the result of their mimicking the behaviors of the so-called elite.

  • plu1959||

    Yes, that's kind of my point. Smart people can espouse all kinds of dumb crap yet still hold a job, take care of their offspring, etc.

  • mkkdash1||

    Nock was not privy to the brain science that increasingly indicates that we are not the rational creatures acting with free will that the libertarian movement is predicated upon. Repeated, controlled experiments in the lab show that our brains make decisions before we are even aware of them, and that we habitually make irrational choices. The evidence is ALL around us, every day, and always has been, but hard core libertarians and religious fundies both cling to a well-intentioned but misguided belief that there is some "soul" or autonomous executive function guiding each of us individually. This is not to suggest that the government knows better and should guide our every move. Rather I think it suggests that we need to look at the evidence, dispense with rigid ideologies, and attempt to come to some agreement that will hopefully cause the greatest benefit across the board for our species, which is, whether we like it or not, a highly social species with a penchant for individualism. We have to try to accommodate both natures, and it won't be easy (nothing is, despite our desperate wishes that it would be, which I think is why we come up with rigid ideologies...because then we can stop thinking and just say "nope...this is how it should be...I'm done".

  • John||

    The problem is that when you go with a strictly biological explanation for human behavior, you have to dispense with free will. And maybe that is the case. But it seems that people who advocate for a strictly biological explanation often still try to cling to a concept of free will.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    The problem is that when you go with a strictly biological explanation for human behavior, you have to dispense with free will.

    No you don't.

    Why would you think such a thing?

  • John||

    Because if my biology determines how I act, then I just am. I don't choose to do it. My actions are no different than having blue eyes.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Does biology determine what you find sexually attractive?

    Does that mean that you have no choice regarding who you fuck?

  • Pi Guy||

    Is it wrong of me to note that Xians in African nations are still adhering to a very ancient, largely no-longer-practiced variation of the religion? It's not brought any peace or overwhelming sense of morality, at least as I define it, to the continent.

    If anything, it only seems to have provided a new justification for perpetrating, uh... evil.

    Yes. That exactly the word I wa looking for.

  • Pi Guy||

    But it seems that people who advocate for a strictly biological explanation often still try to cling to a concept of free will.

    Sam Harris wrote an entire essay on the illusion of free will. He's both an atheist and a scientist.

    OTOH, he's no libertarian. But I do believe that he's very concerned with the implications of morality so perhaps we might be thinking about this differently in a couple of decades. But, judging by the tenacity with which so many here seem to cling to it, I have a feeling that their beliefs, it could take far longer, if in fact he's correct, for the meme to spread.

  • Randian||

    The brain science in this context is irrelevant. Just because people make irrational choices does not mean that some compromise between libertarianism and statism must be the 'answer'.

    Rather I think it suggests that we need to look at the evidence, dispense with rigid ideologies, and attempt to come to some agreement that will hopefully cause the greatest benefit across the board for our species

    Why should I limit myself for the betterment of 'the species'? Do I owe a duty to 'the species'?

    Libertarianism is not necessarily predicated on each and every human making carefully considered choices and claiming that due man's careful, considered nature, we obviously make 'better' choices on our own. It is predicated on morality and that it isn't any of your business to tell another moral agent how to live his life, provided he isn't harming you in some way.

  • Randian||

    I never understood why a certain class of thinker considers consistency (oh, sorry, I mean 'rigid ideology') as an ipso facto sign of an 'unthinking' person. Couldn't it be that I have thought through most if not all of the other possibilities and arrived at the best? Isn't there a time in one's life where you are supposed to decide what's right and take a stand? Why does this certain Intellectual Class insist that mealy-mouthed half-fealty to every position ever is the sign of a thinker? To me, it's the sign of either the indecisive or the pseudointellectual.

  • Mike Laursen||

    It's just that empirically, from everything I've seen in my life, somebody who claims to have a consistent system of deducing every moral answer (Baptists, Objectivists, Libertarians who think all answers can be deduced from a non-initiation of force principle) end up straying into woppingly strange conclusions at some point.

    Contrast with people who analyze a moral (or engineering or whatever) problem using multiple evaluation frameworks, looking for the solution that makes sense from multiple points of view. They are less prone to coming to ridiculous conclusions.

    It's the same basic principle that one uses when doing math. You should try to check your answer using a different method.

  • ||

    And it's thinking like that which gives us convoluted, self-contradictory laws and regulations that are literally impossible for any one man to fully comprehend because we used wildly divergent premises to reach a Grand Unified conclusion (see e.g. the US tax code).

    The only reason why consistency seems to produce "strange" results for a lot of people is because of their own cognitive dissonance. The results of the consistency seem "strange" in the mind of a person holding many inconsistent views only because they are consistent. A little observation will usually bear this out: most people are libertarians until they want their Social Security and Medicare. Most people are liberals until someone else's repugnant behavior needs to be reigned in by the state. And most people are conservatives until their own repugnant behavior needs to be reigned in by the state. Consistent outcomes don't always necessarily provide the best utilitarian benefit.

    Your example is somewhat faulty since mathematics has axioms that translate across disciplines. Political reality is more analogous to checking your math solution by consulting the rules of English grammar and then cross-checking it against the geologic record.

  • RG||

    *Golf clap*

  • Mike Laursen||

    You're giving the U.S. Tax Code as an example of a grand unified conclusion?

    RG hands out golf claps for some pretty shoddy golfing.

  • robc||

    Nock was not privy to the brain science that increasingly indicates that we are not the rational creatures acting with free will that the libertarian movement is predicated upon. Repeated, controlled experiments in the lab show that our brains make decisions before we are even aware of them, and that we habitually make irrational choices.

    Bullshit.

    The rational man trains his brain to make the proper decision without the need for previous thought. Because he made the rational decision MUCH EARLIER.

    Just like a five year old has to calculate 2+2=4, but I can do it without the calculation center of my brain activating.

    Athletes do the same thing. Muscle memory is about training the body to do things in a certain way without having to think thru it. Because the thought occurred during training.

  • John||

    The rational man trains his brain to make the proper decision without the need for previous thought. Because he made the rational decision MUCH EARLIER.

    It doesn't matter how rational you are. Your decisions are only as good as the information you have. And we can never have enough information to make the right decision on a large scale. Think of it as the Hayakian critique of political ethics.

  • ||

    If you're an advocate of that position, then you should be even more radical a minarchist than me.

    Awesome. If you can never have enough information to dictate how and what people do on a societal scale, stop allowing men to dictate how people live their lives.

  • John||

    Randian how do you square the idea of man being good with limited government? Plato was right. The best government is the enlightened dictatorship. If you could show me the just and perfected man, sign me up for making him dictator right now.

    But of course that man doesn't exist. And we are all flawed and corruptible and can't be trusted with ultimate power. That is why limited government is the only answer.

    If man were great and could be perfected, we really would have philosopher kings and call it a day.

  • Randian||

    Because power can corrupt even the best of men. Just because a person is good does not mean he should be given power over others.

    Because Man is good, each should be treated as neither master nor slave. They should be treated as rational adults interacting with each other in myriad ways for the betterment of each.

    Because Man is good, his choices needn't be controlled or abrogated by force. The unrestrained products of mens' minds, unleashed on the world, produces far better results, on the whole, for this existence than a yoke.

  • John||

    Because power can corrupt even the best of men.

    It is almost as if man is by nature evil or something.

  • Randian||

    This is you choosing to take that away as the lesson rather than read the rest of what I had to write.

    Tell me, John, if people are so fundamentally evil, why aren't the enviro-religionistas right when they say Man is a blight on the world and should just die like the virus he is?

  • John||

    Because even that small irrational good is worth saving. But frankly, if you are an atheist, nonexistence is a viable option. See for example Schopenhauer who quite rationally made just such a conclusion.

  • ||

    You skipped a step. Let me clarify.

    There are good people. There are evil people. Power can corrupt good people and make them into bad people. That doesn't make people that are good fundamentally bad.

    Fresh meat isn't cooked. It can be made to become that way, but it's not fundamentally that way.

  • John||

    That is nonsense RPA. If people were good, they would be good. There is nothing about power necessarily that makes people evil. It is that people are innately weak and corruptible and power capitalizes on that.

    Moreover, even when they are not corrupted, they still end up doing evil because they just don't know what the good is. Knowing the good and the right is impossible on the scale of human society. What is right for my people is often quite evil for others. There is no way around that.

  • Randian||

    What is right for my people is often quite evil for others.

    This is just collectivist relativism run amok.

  • John||

    You have to have a government you half wit. And even not having a government represents a collective decision not to have one. We can't do good on the personal level. We hurt and do evil to each other all of the time. What makes you think we can do good on the societal level?

  • Randian||

    We can't do good on the personal level.

    We do good on the personal level all the time, every day, all day. It's pretty much the default of human affairs. The evil is the aberration.

    And even not having a government represents a collective decision not to have one.

    And action = inaction!

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    We can't do good on the personal level.

    That's odd.
    My next door neighbor with a wife, little girl and a new baby sure thought I was doing good letting him use one branch of my generator to run their fridge and some lights every evening the week or so we were without power after Hurricane Isabel. We were running it anyway, using the other branch. And I sure thought he was doing good chipping in extra gas to help keep it running.

  • ||

    You don't get it. Good people may be corruptible -- susceptible to worsening -- but they're not fundamentally evil. I don't know how to explain this in any simpler way.

    "It is that people are innately weak and corruptible and power capitalizes on that."

    Power can't do anything -- but men can do much with power.

  • John||

    If you think that the fact doesn't make men evil, then you don't find much to be actually evil. Of course that makes them evil. Meaning well doesn't make it less evil.

  • ||

    Moreover, even when they are not corrupted, they still end up doing evil because they just don't know what the good is.

    -------------

    Which isn't being evil -- it's making mistakes. Red herring.

  • ||

    Some people are evil. Some people are not. I don't see how that has to impact our sort of political philosophy -- that liberty is supreme, that the only laws that may of right exist are those that defend and preserve it, and that, pretty simply, authoritarianism makes shit worse.

  • John||

    If some people are not evil, then why not just find those people and make them dictators? Who would not want a dictatorship of the virtuous?

  • ||

    If you want an honest answer, I'm sure there are people alive today that would make fantastic harbingers and enforcers of minarchism if they were granted absolute power.

  • John||

    You think minarchism would be paradise. Others would consider it hell on earth. You are assuming you are right. And you are also assuming that there is some perfect man out there who can resist the temptations of power. He doesn't exist.

  • ||

    What the fuck is up with the virulent relativism? I don't give a fucking shit what life-sucking societal parasites consider hell or the useful idiots that enable them think or "consider hell."

    The only moral way, in ABSOLUTE terms, is liberty. Period.

  • affenkopf||

    Minarchist dictatorship (or at least something close to it) has worked pretty well in Singapore.

  • Randian||

    Just because there are people who are, on the whole, better than others, morally and ethically, does not mean that they should be made into Rulers.

    Who would not want a dictatorship of the virtuous?

    Just like exposure to excessive radiation causes bodily weakness, prolonged exposure to physical power causes moral infirmity. The fact that the human body doesn't respond well to poison does not make it proper to classify it as fundamentally weak, however.

  • John||

    That is just another version of Top Men. It doesn't matter how good they are. Humans can't even know what the good is at the level of societies. Therefore they are doomed to do evil.

  • ||

    Humans can't even know what the good is at the level of societies.

    ----

    Therefore, minarchism. That's the whole point. Take MEN out of dictating the lives of other MEN.

  • Randian||

    That is just another version of Top Men.

    It's the TOTAL OPPOSITE of that, John.

  • newshutz||

    Because any process you put in place to find the virtuous would be gamed by the villainous.

    The virtuous do not want to rule over others.

    Perhaps the most villainous are those that want to rule over others for their own good. Inquisitors thought they were saving souls.

  • Xenocles||

    "The virtuous do not want to rule over others."

    This is really the root of it all. I once read that Acton's mistake was that power doesn't corrupt - it attracts the corrupt (or the corruptible). Even that might not go far enough; perhaps it is the exercise of power that has that effect. I would accept a great deal of power just for the purpose of ensuring it lies idle.

  • John||

    It is not that man always means to do evil. It is the opposite. Man means to do good but ends up doing evil. He just can't help himself. There are two reasons for this.

    First, it is impossible to have enough information to know what the good is, so you can't do it even though you want to. We don't even know what the right thing is at a personal level sometimes. Take for example someone who is self destructive. They come to you for money and help. Do you deny them the help? Do you give them the help and then risk becoming an enabler? Good luck figuring that our. And if you do do the right thing, it is probably out of luck as much as anything.

    Second, other people's fallen nature makes it impossible for us to act perfectly good. I have all of this great stuff. I am possessive of it. I would shoot someone who tried to take it. Yet, there are people out there who are starving and dying. Isn't wrong of me not to try to help them? Sure. But suppose I do try and help them. Suppose I just let anyone have anything of mine they want. What would happen? The answer is of course people would take advantage of me. And my own family would go without and I would commit the evil of being a neglectful husband and father (if I had kids). If man were not by nature sinful, people would never take advantage of me and I would never have to be possessive of anything. But we don't live in that world.

  • John||

    For the longest time I was puzzled by what Plato meant in the Republic. How could he think this seeming hell is the ideal society. Was he being ironic? Then it dawned on me, there is no sin in Plato's Republic. In Plato's world the philosopher kings never are corrupted by power. People always raise children like they were their own and so forth. If everyone was virtuous, why not raise kids communally? Why not put the best and the brightest in charge? Of course in our world, man is sinful and innately evil. So the philosopher kings become tyrants. Communal child rearing becomes communal neglect and so forth.

  • Sevo||

    "Of course in our world, man is sinful and innately evil."

    You are familiar with the fact that, as far as we know, there is no judge nor director of morality in the universe other than man, correct?
    It follows that if your statement were true, there would be no way for you or any other individual to recognize "evil", nor would the concept have meaning at all. It would be as water is to a fish; simple, constant, reality. It further follows that your statement is internally contradictory.
    Your statement presumes a sky-daddy; there is not a shred of evidence that such a being exists. As a result, this 'being' to whom you are appealing must obviously be nothing other than an invention of 'evil mankind'. So while you are claiming 'mankind is evil', you are, at the same time, appealing to an invention of that 'evil mankind' to somehow make men good.

  • ||

    tl;dr

    Honestly, I stopped caring about your profoundly childlike opinion on this when, in response to losing the debate to RPA, you called Randian a half wit.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Second, other people's fallen nature makes it impossible for us to act perfectly good.

    Isn't refuting that sentence more or less what the whole Sermon on the Mount was all about?

    I don't see how people can take Genesis 1, etc. so literally--and then turn around and treat the Sermon on the Mount like it needs to be freely reinterpreted?

    Why couldn't Jesus really have meant what he said?!

    Isn't the idea that the way other people treat you shouldn't determine the way you treat them a huge chunk of what Christianity is all about?

    The Sermon on the Mount is certainly more essential to Christianity than the creation myth or hating on LGBT.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Second, other people's fallen nature makes it impossible for us to act perfectly good.

    Jesus says you don't know what you're talking about.

    38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:

    39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

    40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.

    41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

    42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

    43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

    44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

    45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

    46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

    47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

    48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

    Matthew 5: 38-48

    KJV Baby!

  • Mike Laursen||

    And how do you know that Jesus actually said anything that was quoted above (and I'll allow for any change of meaning that may have crept in when translating from Aramaic).

    Or that Jesus even existed?

  • Mike Laursen||

    (And, of course, I'm just trying to see how long we can make today's thread. :-) )

  • Sevo||

    "Or that Jesus even existed?"

    There is not one shred of evidence for an historical jesus, ignoring pedantry.

  • Brutus||

    He was mentioned by Tacitus in Annals.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I'm a big believer in the epistemological concept of fallibilism, which has a number of aspects. One aspect is that the things that have withstood the most scrutiny are the things that are most likely to be true.

    Imagine if everything we knew about Washington came by word of mouth. Some things would be exaggerated in the retelling. He never skipped a silver dollar all the way across the Potomac--that's impossible. It doesn't survive scrutiny, so if that story came down to us, we'd be wise to be skeptical.

    Even if we only knew him by way of stories, though, we'd probably know that he crossed the Delaware and defeated the Hessians at Trenton.

    We don't have anything Socrates wrote himself, but both Plato and Xenophon wrote an Apology about his trial. Xenophon wasn't even there at the time, but he wanted to set the way Plato told the story straight. Why do we buy some historical accounts and not others?

    continued...

  • Sevo||

    Brutus|6.3.12 @ 1:48PM|#
    "He was mentioned by Tacitus in Annals."

    Yes, there is no evidence.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I think you're conflating evidence with conclusive evidence.

    Those are two different things, you know?

  • Sevo||

    Ken Shultz|6.3.12 @ 8:59PM|#
    "I think you're conflating evidence with conclusive evidence.
    Those are two different things, you know?"

    Uh, no.
    The *fact* that claims of some mythological being was mentioned by someone is not 'evidence' whatsoever.
    It is a statement that 'these people have claimed...' No more, no less.
    I think you're conflating rumor and myth for evidence.

  • Ken Shultz||

    You're running a circular argument here.

    You're saying that we shouldn't believe the claims about Jesus' existence in the Bible because those claims are in the Bible?

    Why are the essential, natural historical claims from the Bible less trustworthy than those of the Iliad?

  • Ken Shultz||

    The New Testament, likewise, is an historical document albeit more like, say, the Iliad. Feel free to be skeptical about the supernatural abilities of some of the heroes, but the parts of it that are most likely to survive scrutiny are the parts that are most likely to be true.

    Certainly, just because the heroes do some supernatural stuff in the Iliad doesn't mean we should dismiss it entirely as an historical document.

    It may tell us more about the people who developed the story, how they saw the world, and what their perspective was on the events in question, but to say there was no Achilles; there was no Agamemnon; that they never made war against Troy; etc., all because there were some supernatural elements in the telling?

    The New Testament is like that, too. Say what you want about the supernatural aspects--what about the way Jesus says you should live your life in the New Testament? Did someone teach that stuff to his followers? I'm not so sure that his existence or the essentials of his message can be completely disregarded as historical evidence just because the several accounts we have ascribe supernatural abilities that some people still believe really happened.

  • Sevo||

    Ken Shultz|6.3.12 @ 2:29PM|#
    "The New Testament, likewise, is an historical document..."

    It is nothing of the sort. It is a collection of myths voted for inclusion many hundred of years after the supposed events.

  • Ken Shultz||

    It is a collection of myths voted for inclusion many hundred of years after the supposed events.

    So is the Iliad.

    If you don't think there's any history in the Iliad, you're wrong.

    It's an historical document.

    Just because the Iliad isn't all true doesn't mean it isn't an historical document. Like I said, by way of falliblism, some things are more certain than others because they've survived more scrutiny.

    The idea that there were various Messiahs running about preaching in Palestine in that period of time isn't exactly controversial. A lot of this stuff is supported by Archaeology, etc.

    Doesn't mean it's absolutely certain, but then if you only believe in things that are absolutely certain, then you must not believe in much.

    Certainly almost nothing about the ancient world.

    Surely, when you see someone going on about Christianity, especially if they're questioning how someone else should treated with the context of Christianity, you're better off using the alleged words of Jesus against them--rather than trying to convince them that Jesus didn't exist.

    Quoting "If you've done so unto the least of these, you've done so unto me" is a lot more persuasive than "Jesus didn't exist". You're probably going out farther on a limb when you say he didn't exist than they are when they say he did.

    You can only attack a system of faith from the standpoint of uncertainty for so long before people start asking why you're so certain that yourself.

  • Sevo||

    Ken Shultz|6.3.12 @ 8:58PM|#
    "It is a collection of myths voted for inclusion many hundred of years after the supposed events.

    So is the Iliad."

    False equivalence, and you know it.
    No one promotes the Iliad as a basis for human activity.
    Cut it out.

  • Ken Shultz||

    False equivalence, and you know it.
    No one promotes the Iliad as a basis for human activity.
    Cut it out.

    There's no false equivalence.

    You were suggesting that Jesus didn't really exist, were you not?

    You were suggesting that the books of the New Testament aren't historical documents, and the suggestion was that it's becasue of the supernatural stuff in them, isn't that right?

    I merely pointed out that there are other books from the ancient world that likewise have supernatural characters in them--that very well may be historically accurate in the most basic, purely natural way.

    It speaks directly to what you were saying. If you don't have a better reason to doubt the existence of an historical Jesus than that, you should find a better one. ...if you're gonna keep grinding this axe of yours.

  • Sevo||

    Ken Shultz|6.3.12 @ 10:33PM|#
    "There's no false equivalence."
    Fail.

  • Sevo||

    Oh, and sophistry fail.
    There is nothing in the Iliad that claims the mantle of "truth", nor is there any claim that the Iliad should have any possible effect on what I do.
    You're really stretching, but since you're obviously a bleever, it's not surprising.

  • Sevo||

    Oh, and:
    "

  • Sevo||

    Oops:
    Oh, and:
    "You can only attack a system of faith from the standpoint of uncertainty for so long before people start asking why you're so certain that yourself."

    You have that exactly backwards.
    You can only promote silly superstition so long before people start asking why you're so certain of yourself.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Thanks, Sevo. I trolled Ken purely for the sake of starting a nice, long thread and then found something else to do with my Sunday. You've done a fine job of carrying on the argument.

  • Sevo||

    Hey, Mike,
    I got my chores done, read a book and don't mind laughing (on the web) at bleevers trying desperately to justify fantasies.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Who's promoting silly superstition?

    Weren't you suggesting that Jesus didn't really exist? That's not about superstition; that's a question of fact.

    Why do you think that Jesus didn't exist? ...to the point that you're willing to challenge people on it. Do you imagine that no one should believe in anything unless there's absolute proof?

    Surely, the very existence of Jesus isn't one of those things. I took a class in the history and practice of Zoroastrianism at UCLA. I came away with the idea that Zoroaster probably really existed.

    I'm not a Zoroastrian (although there are a lot of Zoroastrians in the Persian community in Westwood), but there are good reasons to think Zoroaster really existed. I certainly can and have argued about Zoroastrianism with Zoroastrians and told them why I think they're wrong.

    ...but even if I didn't think Zoroaster really existed, why would anyone try to convince them of that? Just because there isn't any conclusive proof?

    That's silly. The real world is a world of uncertainty.

  • Mike Laursen||

    The biggest reason do doubt Jesus existed is that it was quite common, in that era, to create stories of idealized personas with mystical qualities such as having been born of a virgin, working miracles, etc.

    People didn't possess the modern concept of striving for journalist or historic accuracy in their accounts. And religious stories were often understood to be allegorical.

  • mr simple||

    I think the Bible is a pretty cool guy. eh kills the devil and doesn't afraid of anything.

  • Sevo||

    (cont'd)
    "I'm not a Zoroastrian (although there are a lot of Zoroastrians in the Persian community in Westwood), but there are good reasons to think Zoroaster really existed. I certainly can and have argued about Zoroastrianism with Zoroastrians and told them why I think they're wrong."
    OK.

    "...but even if I didn't think Zoroaster really existed, why would anyone try to convince them of that? Just because there isn't any conclusive proof?"
    Most every bleever conflates me laughing at their silly superstition as equal to me trying to change their bleefs. You seem to have missed the point I mentioned several times; I don't give a flying fuck if you bleeve in the FSM.
    I do care if you use your silly superstition to try to direct my life.

    "That's silly. The real world is a world of uncertainty."
    Argument from ignorance. Not worth rebutting

  • Sevo||

    Ken Shultz|6.3.12 @ 10:44PM|#
    "Who's promoting silly superstition?"

    Uh, 'nuff said.

  • Sevo||

    Shucks, why not?
    Ken Shultz|6.3.12 @ 10:44PM|#
    "Who's promoting silly superstition?"{
    You.

    Weren't you suggesting that Jesus didn't really exist? That's not about superstition; that's a question of fact."
    Yes, it is.

    "Why do you think that Jesus didn't exist? ...to the point that you're willing to challenge people on it. Do you imagine that no one should believe in anything unless there's absolute proof?"
    Well, you're close. If you presume some character should direct your life, well, it would be a good idea to have some evidence that the character in question actually existed, don't you think?

    "Surely, the very existence of Jesus isn't one of those things."
    Yes, it is.

    "I took a class in the history and practice of Zoroastrianism at UCLA. I came away with the idea that Zoroaster probably really existed."
    OK.
    (cont'd)

  • Ken Shultz||

    And how do you know that Jesus actually said anything that was quoted above.

    That was a response to John about something John wrote. Regardless of whether you believe any of those words were actually spoken, the Sermon on the Mount is essential Christianity. It's the essence of what Jesus taught--according to Christians.

    If John both believes in Christianity and thinks that "other people's fallen nature makes it impossible for us to act perfectly good", then asking him why he's ignoring perhaps the most fundamental teaching of Jesus himself is a perfectly legitimate question to ask John.

    ...regardless of whether you, me or anyone else believes Jesus ever said those things. That being said, I would argue that the principles set forth in the Sermon on the Mount are true or false regardless of whether there was a Jesus or whether he actually spoke those words.

    Actually, if I had to distill libertarianism into its most essential, self-explanatory form, it would be "Do unto others as you would have done unto you". If the overwhelming majority of Americans started living by that precept today--whether they were Christians or not--we would have instant Libertopia.

  • Sevo||

    Ken Shultz|6.3.12 @ 1:25PM|#
    ..."Regardless of whether you believe any of those words were actually spoken, the Sermon on the Mount is essential Christianity."
    Which means those who bleeve might agree with you.

    "It's the essence of what Jesus taught--according to Christians."
    Yes, according to other myths, this myth is correct.
    [...]
    "Actually, if I had to distill libertarianism into its most essential, self-explanatory form, it would be "Do unto others as you would have done unto you". If the overwhelming majority of Americans started living by that precept today--whether they were Christians or not--we would have instant Libertopia."
    There's a reason for that. Humanity invented religions, so it should come as no surprises that human notions are included in those inventions.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I don't think there's any question among anthropologists about whether religion is adaptive.

    I have questions myself about the reasonableness of expecting people to discard social adaptations like religion if they still find them useful.

    If you've got a religion that teaches people to treat each other like they're worthy of the sacrifice of their God--and insist on themselves being treated that way too? I'm not sure I understand why anyone should try to dissuade them of those notions specifically.

    There's an awful lot that Christianity can do to further the libertarian cause--and the most effective way to stuff the fundamentalists who would use religion to discriminate against gay people, etc. is to use the word of Jesus himself against them.

    They're practically defenseless against that.

  • Sevo||

    Ken Shultz|6.3.12 @ 9:06PM|#
    "I don't think there's any question among anthropologists about whether religion is adaptive."
    They certainly are, given that the powers running then desire to preserve their positions. And?

    "I have questions myself about the reasonableness of expecting people to discard social adaptations like religion if they still find them useful."
    I really don't care what people chose to bleeve, so long as they don't use their bleefs to confine my activities. Including using those bleefs to influence those with coercive power to do so.
    To make it short: Keep your silly superstitions to yourself.

    "If you've got a religion that teaches people to treat each other like they're worthy of the sacrifice of their God--and insist on themselves being treated that way too? I'm not sure I understand why anyone should try to dissuade them of those notions specifically."
    Again, I really don't care if the FSM is their savior...
    Outside of the basic dishonesty of those promoting mythology for their own gain...
    Depak Choprah comes to mind.

  • Ken Shultz||

    They certainly are, given that the powers running then desire to preserve their positions. And?

    You imagine that anthropologists are trying to trick people into thinking that religion is an evolutionary adaptation--for the same reason coal miners say climatologists are faking the data about global warming?

    This is absurd.

    If religion isn't an adaptive product of our evolution, then where did it come from? Why did every society that made it out of the stone age feature it so prominently?

    You know there's a lot more to human evolution than just physical anthropology, right? Holy crap, if you don't think religion is an evolutionary adaptation, does that mean you think God is real?!

  • Sevo||

    Ken Shultz|6.3.12 @ 10:54PM|#
    "You imagine that anthropologists are trying to trick people..."

    No.
    Try reading again, without superstitious bias.

  • Sevo||

    Oh, and:
    "If John both believes in Christianity and thinks that "other people's fallen nature makes it impossible for us to act perfectly good", then asking him why he's ignoring perhaps the most fundamental teaching of Jesus himself is a perfectly legitimate question to ask John."
    Could be, but the real question is why John thinks his superstition has any relevance at all.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Some aspects of his thinking may not be entirely superstitious.

    That turning the other cheek thing, Gandhi by way of Tolstoy, MLK and others, have used it to great effect--and cited the passage I mentioned as their inspiration. It wasn't superstition that got rid of Jim Crow or chased the British out of India. That was "turning the other cheek" in action.

    Likewise, if someone were to put the principles Jesus taught into action, and they found qualitative improvements in their lives because of it, I'm not sure we can summarily dismiss that as superstition.

    Like I said, if people find something useful, especially for dealing with quality of life and peace of mind issues, then how do you argue with them about the results of that?

    And you don't have to believe that Jesus really existed (or that he really said what the book of Matthew says he said) to believe that putting those principles into practice is worth more than it costs--if that's his experience.

  • Sevo||

    Ken Shultz|6.3.12 @ 11:02PM|#
    "Some aspects of his thinking may not be entirely superstitious."
    Never claimed it was. The fact that human notions were co-opted by various bleever 'officials' in no way makes the notions bad. It simply means those notions exist independent of the particular 'officials'.

    "That turning the other cheek thing, Gandhi by way of Tolstoy, MLK and others, have used it to great effect--and cited the passage I mentioned as their inspiration. It wasn't superstition that got rid of Jim Crow or chased the British out of India. That was "turning the other cheek" in action."
    Again, so? Yes, a human notion is valuable to humans. Claiming it came from a shy-daddy is fraud.

  • ||

    Greek. New Testament was in Koine.

  • Sevo||

    kibby|6.3.12 @ 9:37PM|#
    "Greek. New Testament was in Koine."

    Uh, what?

  • Sheldon Richman||

    The title, in keeping with Nock's view, should be: "Is Virtue Possible without Freedom?"

  • Raistlin||

    According to Tony, of course it is! All we have to do is madate virtue and create a Department of Virtue Enforcement. After all, if you make something mandatory and use force to ensure compliance, then its a done deal! Just as long as it's either "for the children" or "the greater good."

  • Raistlin||

    Or high speed rail.

  • ||

    Taxi medallions?

  • Raistlin||

    That's the spirit, soldier! Now go forth and force people to be virtuous. Or else.

  • Brutus||

    Don't they have almost exactly that in Saudi Arabia?

  • yonemoto||

    don't we have almost exactly what we want in Somalia?

  • yonemoto||

    Rooooooaads!!

  • Brutus||

    Wasn't that a Kantian point, that without the option of doing evil, virtue withers? I would agree with that.

    I still maintain that Nock's assumptions all ride on the issue of culture, for they determine what is right and wrong. It's our culture that is decaying, leading to so many doing wrong and calling it right.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Certainly it's true that in a libertarian society, where the law doesn't necessarily compel people to behave morally, people choosing to behave morally of their own free will would be much more important than it is now.

    Hell, if a big chunk of libertarianism is the idea that we should replace the government with morality--then morality should be really important to libertarians.

    A lot of people reject libertarian solutions for exactly that reason--simply because they don't trust other people to choose to behave morally.

    But the reason most of us don't go about stealing, murdering, raping, plundering, and pillaging has nothing to do with the fear of the law. I've seen people loot stores in a riot, but even that was just a small number of people. We're really not psychopaths by default.

    The idea that people should be free to make their own choices really is, ultimately, a moral argument, and if we worked harder to make our argument in moral terms, we might find less resistance to libertarian solutions.

  • Mike Laursen||

    All of the really smart libertarians I know are deeply concerned about ethics.

  • Robert||

    That's pretty much it. Goodness and virtue are distinct features. Few people concern themselves with virtue, rather only with good. It doesn't matter whether the flashlight has any choice in going on or off when you manipulate the switch, only that it does what you want. Similarly, most opinionators only care whether other people do what the opinionator wants; that's pretty much how we judge whether someone is a good person, not their degree of virtue per se.

    And I do think that virtue, i.e. voluntarily acting the way the opinionator wants you to act, tends toward liberty, for the following reason: If you're already doing what they want, they're less likely to use force to make you do it. OTOH, if too many people are doing what opinionators don't want them to do, the opinionators will try if possible to deprive them of their liberty to act that way. Of course you may think a liberty of that sort is trivial, but that's always the nature of liberty; as long as there's more than one person in the world, one person always has the ability to deprive the other of liberty.

  • Sam Grove||

    It's a conundrum.

    If government is needed to make people good, then the assumption is that people are inherently bad.
    But if people are inherently bad, then all government does is institutionalize that nature.

    Bad people, bad government.

  • ||

    OT: http://www.gamespot.com/featur.....ModsDragon

    Skip to the 10:15 mark. Lol.

  • plu1959||

    BTW, I just noticed that "On Doing the Right Thing" is available as a Kindle e-book for $2.99.

  • Mike Laursen||

    I don't have some grand all-encompassing theory of good and evil, but my empirical observation is that most people are sufficiently good for the purposes of sustaining a decent society -- as long as the cost of being good remains below a certain threshold of hardship and temptation.

    For example, your average person would feel morally obliged to keep paying their mortgage payment as long as their housing investment is just a little bit under water. But when being underwater gets beyond a certain threshold, they respond rationally to the incentives.

    So, if you want a functioning society, the rules should be set up to try to keep most peoples' circumstances within the range that they can handle without anti-social behavior.

    And that means that you should work with people a bit. To give a mundane example, If pedestrians are always jaywalking at a certain place on a street, instead of cracking down put in a crosswalk.

  • ||

    In other words, you prefer Huxley to Orwell. Good on you.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Also, if your system of government involves people (as opposed to say a government completely run by robots), then you had better have a sufficiently-good society that can act as a "farm team" for decent people that can take roles in the government.

  • ||

    Damn, why do yall have to get into this on a sunday when I am stuck doing honeydos?
    It seems to me yall are arguing absurdities, I will have to set you straight tomorrow when I can sit here for more than 5 mins at a time.
    good.....evil....sheesh. Man is neither, man is self-serving. Good and evil do exist, but I think we need to have a solid definition of both.

  • yonemoto||

    man is not self serving. Today I spent an hour, with no benefit to myself, volunteering some ideas to help a researcher cure a kid with a serious, terminal congenital disease. Of course, this made me feel a little bit better about myself, does that count as 'self serving'?

  • yonemoto||

    feelings don't put food on the table.

  • Sevo||

    "Of course, this made me feel a little bit better about myself, does that count as 'self serving'?"
    ------------------
    "feelings don't put food on the table."

    If you were hungry, you might not have spent that time to feel good about what you did. Economics shows that 'currency' is dependent on circumstance.
    Politocos trade power; if they were hungry, they probably wouldn't.

  • Sevo||

    Oh, and (added by the non-existent edti feature):
    That is exactly the reason that prosperous people concern themselves with 'the environment'; they *can*.

  • ||

    "...this made me feel a little bit better about myself, does that count as 'self serving'?"

    Yes, of course it does. I do things for this reason all the time, as do many people.
    You ( your brain ) received the same pleasure from knowing you are a 'good person' that it receives when you get a paycheck.

  • ||

    I should add that this in no way detracts from the goodness of what you did.

  • np||

    To add to that, this is described by praxeology and what Mises called a psychic benefit.

  • Voros McCracken||

    "Of course, this made me feel a little bit better about myself, does that count as 'self serving'?"

    Of course it does.

  • Robert||

    I'd be interested in learning more. Please e-mail me.

  • Robert||

    About the disease and your suggestions, I mean.

  • Heata||

    Evil is a very simple concept for me; using force against others. Most people are born with the instinct to co-exist peacefully within their community. Those who aren't born this way are labled psychopaths. We feel the need to lable them because they aren't the norm.

    Religion creates a new set of boundaries in order to force the behaviour of others like, for example, sex outside of marriage. What would otherwise be a perfectly acceptable biological behaviour suddenly becomes "evil". Since all humans have a biological need to procreate and can do so in a consenting fasion, religion has to use coercion to convince us that extra marital sex is wrong in order to control our behaviour. If every thought and desire I have is labled as "evil" before I can even act on it, then I need someone to obey so that they can "save" me. Therefore, we give up our individual power to priests or senators or presidents or whoever is claiming to lead us all to goodness.

  • Randian||

    Evil is a very simple concept for me; using force against others.

    So telling a child he's an ugly little monster to his face to make him cry...that's not evil.

    *sigh*

  • mr simple||

    Yes, that sounds equivalent to murdering thousands. You either have a very low threshold for evil or you just like to argue.

  • ||

    I think he is pointing out that sadism is evil....even if it doesnt mean murdering thousands.

  • ||

    I apologize for making assumptions Randian...I have no idea if you are a he or a she.

  • mr simple||

    He's not pointing out, he's positing his beliefs as fact. He's arguing that the previous poster's definition of evil doesn't go far enough, saying instead it should encapsulate those who would yell at a child to make it cry. He doesn't say whether the person saying it is a child, whether the person is doing it out of retribution, whether they felt bad about it later or if they're just mean. Either way, to me being a mean person does not equate with being evil. I believe in the power of words and that we should save the horrible words for the truly horrible. What's more he does it in an incredulous, dismissive way, as if everyone knows that the person who laughed at you when you tripped and fell was the evul!! I'm not saying this board should be all rainbows and hugs and warm fuzzies, but you shouldn't make a condescending post when you have little to no argument. Then it looks like he just wants to argue, even if he has no standing.

  • Sam Grove||

    Humans, like all biological creatures, is motivated primarily by self interest.

    To call this evil leads one to a dead end. It should be merely acknowledged as man's nature.

    We can now recognize that man's self interest can utilized to promote the well being of others through production and trade rather than through conquest and enslavement, because through these behaviors, man can best achieve his goals by helping and allowing others to pursue their own goals.

    Man can be good or bad depending upon the incentives he faces and the values he holds within. Thus moral principles are what individuals use to keep from submitting to the temptations provided by incentives to "bad" behavior.

    And so, libertarians support a free market because there are the rewards, incentives, to good behavior in pursuit of personal goals, with government performing only the function of providing disincentives to "bad" behavior.

    Government in excess of this "limiting" function creates incentives for men to benefit themselves at the expense of others through the use of arbitrary institutional power.

    Man is not inherently good or bad, but does respond to incentives according to his self interest as regulated by the moral principles he holds and the apparent consequences of his actions.

    Evil lies in the pretense that bad behaviors can be sanctified by collective agreement. This is the evil temptation of political power.

  • Sam Grove||

    Freedom isn't an endeavor to change man's nature, but to accommodate his nature so that he may pursue his selfish goals through cooperation rather than through extortion, by accommodating the equal rights of others rather than by violating those rights.

    The distinction between libertarian political philosophy and others is that libertarians accept that humans are necessarily motivated by self interest and so envision a social/political environment that encourages humans to satisfy their self interest through production and trade rather than through criminality or collective extortion.

  • Huck||

    A virtue is not a virtue unless one has the freedom to have that virtue tested......test me test me!

  • Sevo||

    OK, how about:
    AFAWK, only humans conceptualize "good" and "bad". No other agent in the universe does so.
    Absent a social milieu, the terms "good" and "bad" are irrelevant. A single extant human can decide what those terms mean, but absent others, the terms are meaningless.
    Humans, in social settings, decided early on that certain activities are "good" and others "bad"; as 'Uga', you'd like to hunt for food without looking over your shoulder for 'Gua' trying to steal what you killed. Hence, property rights; you kill prey for food, you own it. And so on.
    Those who were both physically powerful and lazy (this would be 'Gua') figured out that stealing what 'Uga' stalked and killed was easier than doing it herself. Hence the need for cooperative protection.
    The first efforts include (and I use the present sense) inventing religions and priests in the hopes of scaring the 'Gua's into line (using the obvious human rules as a basis, and adding eternal damnation as the threat), and when that didn't quite work, investing some particular members with special purely human powers to punish the 'Gua's with punishment in the here and now.
    Unfortunately, both have lead to the 'appointed' powers overstepping their warrants; power has the tendency to make more 'Gua's.
    In the best effort to date, the US founders tried a "Constitution". The results are mixed.

  • Robert||

    Lots of other types of living things exhibit goal-directed behavior, so they must have some idea of good y bad, i.e. comparative valuation. (Like my ampersand substitute?)

  • Sevo||

    Robert|6.3.12 @ 11:38PM|#
    "Lots of other types of living things exhibit goal-directed behavior, so they must have some idea of good y bad, i.e. comparative valuation."

    Uh, no. Simply doing a thing is no proof of any concept.

  • Robert||

    They may not know much, but they know what they like or dislike -- which defines good y bad.

  • Robert||

    So valine steals from a terminator?

  • Sevo||

    Ken,
    Let's be clear:
    Do you have one shred of evidence that junior existed?
    Yes or no.

  • Randian||

    I have to say that the citation to Tacitus and the Annals convinced me.

  • ||

    Does it really matter?

    Christianity and the NAP aren't exactly incompatible.

  • Ken Shultz||

    You keep insisting that evidence isn't evidence unless it's conclusive. ...which makes me wonder if you really know that inconclusive evidence is still evidence.

    I suspect you've become so locked in your position that you assume anyone who disagrees with you necessarily must be irrational. That's a fairly common tendency among a lot of armchair atheists, actually. ...along with the idea that no one should believe anything unless there's incontrovertible evidence to support it.

    But that last bit, that's just logically incorrect. Does the term "inference to the best explanation" mean anything to you--you big logician, you?

    I see the evidence other people have mentioned (Josephus' doesn't hurt any either); I see that the conditions of what was going on within Judea at the time are consistent with the story; I know quite a bit about how oral history is transmitted across generations... Did you know the oral tradition Homer put to paper retained details in subject and meter that originated from Mycenaean Greece some 400 years before?

    I see the consensus of the scholars--I see even Dawkins concede that Jesus probably existed--and, yeah, I think it's safe to infer that the best explanation for all of that is that there probably was a historical Jesus.

    That he went about and preached some damn fine sermons, and it started the movement that evolved into the Christianity we know today.

    What's your best explanation for how Christianity got started?

  • jason||

    Liberty is the best policy for a country peoples have to get it at any cost.

  • Cloudbuster||

    "Nock’s essay on the Right Thing is a reminder that the advocates of the paternalistic state, whether 'left' or 'right,' have it backward: good conduct isn’t a precondition of freedom; it is a consequence of freedom."

    The advocates of the paternalistic state have it wrong, but so does Nock. Empirical evidence shows over and over again that just because you hand freedom to a people, does not mean you will, consequently, get good conduct. In South Africa, in Rhodesia, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, the people were handed the reins of freedom, and squandered it on barbarism and tribalism.

    A certain moral maturity and capacity for good decisions and good conduct is a necessary component of a free society. I am unconvinced that a paternalistic state can ever breed this quality into the population -- in that Nock is right, patnernalism can only ennervate -- but what does that leave us with? It leaves us with the depressing realization that some people are not suited for freedom and that they cannot easily be taught to become suitable for freedom.

  • ||

    "In South Africa, in Rhodesia, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, the people were handed the reins of freedom, and squandered it on barbarism and tribalism."

    Yes, Cloudbuster, the reins of freedom lie at all our feet all the time. It is the culture of any given group that determines whether or not they will pick them up or drop them.

  • Carol Moore DC||

    "In South Africa, in Rhodesia, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, the people were handed the reins of freedom, and squandered it on barbarism and tribalism."

    I think it would be more accurate to say, after years of living under brutal white Anglo rule or after being savagely attack by Britain in the 1930s, had a nation set up so minority Sunnis ruled majority Shiites, being encouraged to go to war vs Iran by Reagan, and to go to war vs. Kuwait by Bush III's ambassador, being bombed and sanctioned by the US and then being invaded again by the US - geez, you think maybe FOREIGN INTERVENTION might have had something to do with the ensuing tribal conflict and violence?? What is the tribal problem with these America Christians and Jews and Israelis that they have to keep attacking and killing people from other nations who don't kiss their asses? That's the real question you guys should ask.

  • Carol Moore DC||

    And then there's the Anglo Brit rule the South Africans and Rhodesians had to put up with. And the Afghans too had to submit to 80 odd years of Anglo Brit rule; then 20 odd years of White Commie-Christian Russian rule and rebellion vs that. Then yet another invasion by white western Americans because a few guys were living in caves in Afghanistan - and they high tailed it to Pakistan as soon as they could. What kind of White Anglo Supremacist tribalism led to all of that?? Naval gaze for a few minutes anyone, boys.

  • Malcolm Greenhill||

    Man is neither evil nor virtuous. He is simply capable of both evil and virtuous acts. The Founding Fathers would have agreed with Nock. Both Jefferson and Madison thought that it was only by being able and willing to make life and death decisions (the right to bear arms) and taking full responsibility for our actions, that we could become ethically mature and so earn the right to govern ourselves.

  • DanT||

    "The lesson of Nock’s essay is that champions of the freedom philosophy need never be silenced by the charge that freedom makes vice possible—for without freedom, there can be no virtue."

    A direct corollary is this: In the absence of choice and temptation "being good" is not a virtue.

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