Archives for category: Philosophy

You ever notice how incredibly stupid the idea of individualism is? It’s essentially saying, “I’m going to make it on my own in this crazy world, and I’m going to do it wholly dependent on literally everyone around me.” We depend on our bus drivers to get us from point A to point B, and if we drive, we depend on our car manufacturer to provide that same function. We depend on our grocers to sell us food, who in turn depend on wholesalers, truck drivers, farmers, and so on, in order for them to get the food to sell us in the first place. We depend on strangers on the street to not stab us for no reason as we go about our day. We depend on our roommates to cover their share of rent. We depend on our actors to provide us entertainment. We depend on our athletes to provide vicarious exercise for our slovenly lifestyles.

But wait, you might say! I make my own money, and I use that money to induce others to perform those tasks for me! I am independent! But alas, no, you’re not. You depend on someone to pay you. It is perfectly conceivable to imagine a world where your employer decides not to pay you, or pays you insufficiently for what you’re worth, and then you become dependent on lawyers, judges, and the legal system in order to obtain redress. It’s also quite reasonable to suppose that there could be those you induce to take your money who do not then provide their service at all, or do an insufficient job. I suppose you could say that you could induce fair labour treatment using only the threat of the violence you personally could commit, but I can’t imagine a society like that ever thriving.

We depend on loved ones for comfort. We depend on our mentors for guidance. We depend on strangers for security. Like I said, we depend on literally everyone around us for literally everything we do. Others too depend on us in turn. You can’t criticize collectivism on the basis that it eliminates human individuality because human society¬†is a collective. It can’t function otherwise! Certainly people are individuals with their own unique traits, but they exist in a collective within which they depend on others for absolutely everything. Individuality only serves to add colour and diversity within the collective, but it cannot possibly act as a substitute or civilization would crumble into dust.

So why do people so ravenously defend this ludicrous idea? Well, if you look at every movie, you’ll see a lone figure who abides by (his) own rules because society could not exist without (him) to keep it afloat. Sometimes it will be a small group, but generally even then there will be one (male) who stands above the rest who is the most individual of them all. We see it as social progress when that one individual is black, or female, or even a black female, though there are those who decry even that, as God forbid a woman be a lone heroine who stands outside the common rules of society to show how inadequate they are. Now I kind of want Hollywood to remake a bunch of John Wayne movies with a female protagonist. Sure it’s hypocritical of me because I’m calling it individualist propaganda in this very paragraph, but just imagine how many people it would piss off. Totally worth it.

It’s why we focus on Martin Luther King Jr. alone, despite the massive community organizing that propped him up. The Civil Rights movement wasn’t an individual, it was a collective (a movement is, by definition, a collective), but that is a narrative rarely heard. Gandhi had millions of people alongside of him, and he didn’t do all that work on his own. We love our generals, despite them being completely worthless without a collective surrounding them functioning smoothly and efficiently.

This leads us to our next question: why would nearly every piece of media perpetuate asinine individualist propaganda that doesn’t make any sense when given two seconds of casual thought? The answer, as always, is capitalism. People will be less inclined to complain if we can blame them as individuals for not pulling up their bootstraps hard enough to get out of poverty, even though, again by definition, the collective is responsible for that very situation. If we disconnect people from the intrinsic connection of human community, they won’t band together in support of that very community. Keep people distanced from one another, and they’ll be more likely to connect to things rather than to each other.

If we recognized the basic structure of civil society as a collective, we would be guided toward a more democratic method of organizing the mechanisms within it. Compassion would replace greed, as greed is individual whereas compassion necessitates an other. Communities would be measured by the success of the whole, not the success of its smallest minority. I’m not advocating a Utopian ideal, just an inclination toward a more natural social order.

Post-script: There will be those who criticize collectivism as willing to sacrifice the individual for the sake of the group. You have to keep in mind that we already do sacrifice individuals for the sake of the group; it’s called the justice system. We put people in jail who disrupt civil order. It’s not uncontroversial. The bigger concern, from what I’ve witnessed in individualist philosophies, is the willingness to sacrifice groups for the sake of the individual.

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You know how murder is wrong, and how every single religion declares that it is wrong, and how every moral philosophy uses it as their go-to for extreme thought experiments to showcase how their theories would hold up under the most dire circumstances (would it be okay to lie to prevent a murder, for example)? Of course you do. “Murder is wrong” is quite possibly the least controversial statement. Well, it turns out that people have been killing each other en masse for thousands of years in the form of war, and everyone generally seems to be okay with that, despite how uncontroversial being against killing is.

Why do people go to war? Well, people start wars almost exclusively to attain a greater degree of power, but since they can’t use that as an excuse, they need to justify it in other ways. People who start wars don’t typically fight them, so they need to convince those who do that killing and dying to enrich the already powerful is the right thing to do. Enter the Just War theory, to relieve people from the hypocrisy of condemning killing but supporting a war.

Just War theory was developed during the Roman Empire, and then revitalized during the Crusades. Christians were beginning to suspect that massacring Muslims might go against God’s very specific decree to not kill, and so the thinkers of the day had to come up with ways to justify how an ideology based almost entirely on love and forgiveness could slaughter people by the hundreds of thousands.

What makes a war just? Regaining what was stolen or repelling an attack from the enemy are typically perceived as the conditions for a just war, though there are some stipulations on top of these. For example, if someone steals your watch, you are not justified in murdering that person, since to be just there requires a degree of proportionality. It should also be the last resort, since there can often be other means to regain stolen property or repel an attack.

Beyond the intention of the war, there needs to be the right kind of authority at the head of it. A private individual cannot exact vigilante justice, for example, whereas the leader of a nation can. It is assumed that a private individual can go to a higher authority to arbitrate justice, whereas there is no higher authority than a King. War becomes the negotiating tactic of rulers to settle their differences. Peasants are under moral obligation to their lords, and so are obligated in turn to kill for them. They become morally excused due to that hierarchy, and the legitimacy of murder comes from the rank of the King.

Of course, during the Crusades, there was a higher authority than the King, and that authority was God. The Pope, being the representative of God on Earth, dutifully fulfilled that authoritative role and decided to use that authority to, as was already discussed, slaughter a bunch of Jews and Muslims. These apostate religions constituted an attack on the Christian faith by their very existence, and so war against them was inherently justified. Hm, non-Christian religions that by their very existence are a threat to the properly civilized, thus legitimizing violence against those religions as a moral duty, hmmmmmm. I’m struggling to find a modern parallel.

Anyway, Thomas Aquinas decided that there were three foundations of a Just War: proper authority, as already discussed, proper reasoning, as the common good must be at its foundation, and proper intention. Aquinas’s theory of intention created the Doctrine of Double Effect. This doctrine allows that if our intentions are noble, then the consequences of that action cannot be tied to it. For example, if during a war a munitions factory is bombed and civilians die in the blast, the death of those civilians is acceptable since the intention was not for them to die. Eggs and omelettes metaphors apply.

This brings up criticisms of proportionality, for if our intention is noble but the consequences are catastrophic, then is it truly a just act of violence? Can we bomb an entire city to kill one terrorist? This begets a debate between deontological ethics and consequentalism, but we can try to understand Aquinas from his contemporary predicament: actions had inherent moral value during the Middle Ages, so finding a way to justify murder was his goal, consequences of that justification be damned.

Understanding Just War theory is imperative. During the trials of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, instigating a war of aggression was seen to be the greatest offense. To quote the tribunal, “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” All the bad things that happen in war are the result of there being a war in the first place, so starting a war for the heck of it is appropriately labeled as being “The Worst.” So if someone says that the war in Iraq was a war of aggression, that means that all the consequences from that war, like say the rise of ISIS, are at the feet of those who started it.

Critics even say that soldiers participating in an unjust war are culpable, denying the previous justification to celebrate soldiers of every stripe, regardless of how many atrocities they commit. An example is given of a burglar entering someone’s home, and the homeowner getting into a fight with them. If the homeowner kills the burglar, it is self-defense, but if the burglar kills the homeowner, it is murder. If the burglar was ordered to enter the home, does that mitigate or multiply the responsibility for the actions they commit while inside of it? If someone asks you to do something and threatens you if you don’t do it, violence committed against a third party while following through with that order is still burdened on you. Being bullied does not justify murdering someone uninvolved in that bullying.

Wars are no longer fought at the behest of God… generally. However, they are still sold to the public under the guise of defending civilization so as to demonize the enemy who is using the same justification for their own aggression. The greatest military in the history of the world with the wealthiest populace is apparently under huge threat from militarily insignificant countries like Vietnam, Panama, El Salvador, and of course Afghanistan and Iraq. This laughable narrative is crucial since a threat must exist for self-defense to be feasible, as we all must avoid being labeled “The Worst.”

Is the West engaging in a Just War in the Middle East? Of course not. It invalidates every principle. There are higher authorities, the United Nations and the International Criminal Courts, which could be used to arbitrate justice between nations which were ignored. The Middle East does not possess property of the West that the West is entitled to use violence to reacquire. I suppose if you believe the Crusading myth about existential threats against civilization itself from small groups of individuals with hand-me-down guns and MacGyvered explosives, then sure, but then you’re also a fucking moron. Looks like we got to my thinly-veiled modern parallel after all!

The more intriguing question would be, are terrorists engaging in a Just War with the West? The higher authorities have been shown to be ineffective in keeping back the aggressors. Land and resources are being stolen out from under them. Violence and threats are being instigated against them pretty much at random, so self-defense could also be argued.

Here is where I believe Just War theory falls apart. In order for terrorism to be justified based on its qualifications which do by all accounts fall under the purview of Just War, the West would need to be a unity that could be attacked, but it’s not. The West is not The West, it is a collection of diverse people, opinions, and actions. #NotAllWesterners. Blowing up an Ariana Grande concert is not an attack on “The West,” it is an attack on children dancing to their favourite singer. Terrorism cannot be justified because it is not an attack on those who are responsible for their tragic situation, because those people commit their deeds with the bravery of being out of range.

Were German soldiers representative of a Nazi unity during World War 2? Possibly. It is often said that soldiers have more in common with each other than they do with those who are giving them the order to kill one another. Arguably the resistance in France could be justified, but what about the firebombing of Dresden? Or the atomic drops on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? When both sides act viciously and amorally against one another, can we call it a Just War? The complexity of even “The Best” of wars are such that making a justification for the whole is impossible.

Being that no war can truly and completely fall under the definition Just, there cannot truly and completely be a Just War. War becomes just as reprehensible as murder. Murder, as established, is wrong. Maybe let’s not do it so much.

Post-script: A lot of my non-referenced information came from here: https://historyofphilosophy.net/just-war

There is a fairly cynical worldview out there called Psychological Egoism. What this means is that every human action, regardless of how altruistic, can only be motivated by some kind of personal gain. A common example is the story of Abraham Lincoln, of all people, saving a pig stuck in some mud, and then explaining afterward that he would have been bothered all day had he left the pig stuck in its predicament. It’s probably not a factual depiction of history, but it gets the point across.

Some go further than the uncomfortable feeling one might possess if they had not rescued a pig in distress. Complete self-sacrifice, such as throwing oneself onto a grenade in order to save one’s peers, has been argued to be selfishly oriented as well. The story goes that the person is of such a disposition that the life they would have led had they not sacrificed themselves would be less agreeable than death. It is a selfish act because they choose for themselves the less painful of the two options. The introspection and regret would have been too much, and so to avoid that personal suffering, they selfishly kill themselves, saving everyone else.

Charming, right? Such a lovely mentality.

I want to take a different approach. Since those who argue for humanity’s inherent selfishness look to the altruistic paragons in order to tear them down, I’m going to look at the most selfish behaviour, and see if I can’t argue that it is inherently selfless. Since I want to look at the worst of the worst, I will of course be examining the Trump family.

The Eric Trump Foundation’s charity golf tournament, which raises money for children with cancer, falsely tells its donors that 100% of their donations go to charity. Eric Trump alleges that his father Donald allows them use of his golf course for free, when in reality, the Trump organization charges them for everything, raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars “donated” by unsuspecting philanthropists. Surely this must be a selfish act!

Eric Trump connives and takes advantage of cancerous children for the sake of his family. He has no interest in himself, but spreads the wealth that he steals from charity to the people he cares about most. He would risk his name being dragged through the mud, vilified for his deeds, in order to bring in extra money for the only people that matter to him.

Now you might think, the Trump family already has enough. As president, Donald is seeking to eliminate the only taxes that he appears to have to pay! Surely they do not need the extra cash. Yet I expect that the Trump family believes that they would make better use of any funds given to them, bettering the world by making sure that those who best know how to utilize money are the ones given the opportunity to do so.

Those who routinely decry taxation as theft, who would rather spend less on the property tax on their vacation home, do so because they believe that they know how to spend their money better than some government. They believe firmly that the world would be better off if they had the choice on whether the money they earned sends poor children to school or buys a second vacation home, rather than have that decision made for them.

The natural human lifespan necessarily requires altruism. Leaving a legacy, preparing a dynasty, we as individuals always leave this mortal coil, which means that a portion of our life is inherently dedicated to who and what we leave behind, but let’s say that Donald Trump was not going to bequeath his vast wealth to his children when he dies. Let’s say, after he has stolen so much from so many, he burns it all, rather than dispersing it to anyone, loved ones or otherwise. This would obviously be because he believed that the world would be improved without this money in it. Why else would he burn it if he didn’t believe the world would be better off?

Every act we take is based on helping the ones we love (even if it negatively impacts others), and improving the world based on the personal standards that we hold it to. Even if others might disagree on those standards, we cannot help but abide by our own.

Perhaps you might think my examples far-fetched. The Trump family is a difficult sell as decent human beings of any sort. Yet my story is just as plausible as the soldier jumping on a grenade for selfish reasons. We can come up with speculation to justify or betray any behaviour.

In all honesty, there are certainly selfish behaviours, just as there are selfless ones. Trying to confine the complexity of humanity into one is just as absurd as confining it to the other. How we judge and perceive the actions of others is more determined by what story we are willing to tell. If someone perceives every action as selfish, I believe that speaks greater volumes about the accuser than it does about our human nature.