Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rights of the Individual: Right Action

Previously I found myself at a fork in my thoughts on human rights.

So it's either a Nietzschean, Stirnerian free-for-all, the war of all against all, or we'd better start working on that Heaven on Earth. Somehow I imagine that each would lead to a little of the other, whatever path we take.

I continue to believe that the war of all against all is probably a good part of how the world can and does work. Additionally, I believe that it is a philosophically earnest way to see things. Shit happens, and either there is no right at all, or all that is is as it should be. You do what you can when you can, and I will too, and if I get mine or you get yours, the winner is the fitter, or the luckier, or the more meritorious, or simply the one who wins. I can say nothing to defeat reductionist materialism, or fatalism, or whatever philosophical label one may apply.

But... Say there are rights. Say that, as I argued before, there is no way to argue stratification because there is no standard of merit that we can apply to all time and situations. Then, roughly, we have equal rights. I don't have the right to initiate violence on you and you don't have the right to do the same to me. We agree on violence because it's obvious.

Some of us split off when I say that there is no right to trickery, or that deceit is wrong. After all, those of us say, we do not make anyone believe a thing. We simply allow others to be ignorant or foolish or wrong. Caveat emptor. And some of us in turn stick to an anti-deceit stance, but neither can necessarily prove the other wrong unless we enter a psychometaphysical argument about the nature of human will, choice, and responsibility, and even then I won't bet on its ending.

And we can go on down the chain through influence, which some people do not believe in, and intelligence and propaganda and advertising, which only work on weak-willed or stupid people and never, ever, on us free-thinking superior types.

So we can have all those debates on where aggression ends and begins. In some of these interactions, competition is present, fairly or unfairly. The thief contends with the possessor, the target with her attacker, the business rivals with their fellow dealers.

What about competition free of context? What morality is there to be found in pure competition? Certainly, we can find almost no pure situations in nature, but what can this ideal situation tell us about our respective worldviews?

What if two individuals find themselves desirous of the same resource? What if this resource is finite, like a lover's time or an unrenewing mineral deposit?

What is just then? Is it a fair feud? Does the winner become the aggressor and the loser the victim? Are they equals until the contest is over and then become dominant and defeated? Are they obligated to share?

All of these options and many, many others are things that I am interested in deciding for myself and others. Perhaps they are all simultaneously true, in that way that siblings can be confidants, rivals, traitors, conspirators, and mentors all at once. Perhaps we are both threats and allies. Perhaps what anarchism says is that whatever their choices are, they ought to be free to make them. But then, I wonder, may we simply end up on the other path of the free-for-all? Would that be a failure of our liberation, or a necessary risk?


  1. Cuneyt,

    Is the "war of all against all" a necessary starting point, or an arbitrary one?

  2. The free-for-all is, like most absolutes, never going to happen. There will always be competition and strife in humanity; there will always be cooperation and coexistence among some individs too.

    But yes, bellum omnes is a necessary starting point, morally, because if I come at this whole bundle of issues from a rights-based perspective I must say that either all is right and nothing forbidden or that people deserve things and should do, or should not do, certain things to others.

    I think the question of the free-for-all is a necessary starting point, because in politics one must be able to say that there is such a thing as justice or injustice. If there is or isn't, the question must be answered before progressing (if we are to be worried about right and wrong, that is; I suppose you could believe in morality and then disregard it, but that seems odd to me).

  3. I just don't see any, well, evidence for "all against all." Not even in microcosm, Cuneyt. My sons don't war with each other. A stranger is more apt to nod his head at me, than steal my coat.

  4. I'm using the phrase to discuss starting positions in ethics, not behavior.

  5. How can you separate rules to guide conduct, or descriptions of tolerable behavior, from the conduct itself?

  6. I don't think hypotheticals about shoulds and ought tos need to line up with descriptions of behavior as is. I can talk about it being wrong for me to kill without killing. Likewise, I can say that a world in which the strong do what they can and the weak accept what they must is good, or bad, or neither, without articulating that the world actually works that way.

    I never said that the world operated purely in a sense of mutual strife and backbiting. There is no purity in the world. What I said was that, if such a condition were true, it is philosophically consistent to accept it, if one likes.

    I was only saying that moral nihilism is one possible starting point, because it is as logically justified as any other moral stance, and more justified than quite a few. That is not to say that people are nihilistic. I will try to say it more plainly if this still sounds like babbling to you.