An Offense to Open Society – part 2

Continued from part 1

“… Ideologies which claim to be in possession of the ultimate truth are making a false claim. Therefore they can be imposed on society only by force. … Popper proposed a more attractive form of social organisation, an open society …”

Soros is an ideologue, just like his “communist, fascist, and national socialist” counterparts. (To various degrees, everyone has an ideology — an articulation of ones desires as a framework for how the world ought to be). The subjective basis of an open society being “more attractive” is Soros’ ideological foundation. This is his unverifiable ideological basis to be enacted by force. This is because he is either implicitly making the “ultimate truth” claim that an open society is more attractive, or that his preference for an open society is nothing more than a personal opinion, not worth “imposing on society by force.” Since, the Open Society Foundation is clearly imposing its will on society by force, we can assume the former, and criticise Soros by his own logic.

“… an open society in which people are free ...”

Free? Freedom in what context? There is no such state as absolute freedom in this reality. This is due to the nature of competing wills in a world of limited resources: every being seeks to expand its own power. One will eventually butt heads against a neighbour, and resolution is achieved by limiting ones own actions or limiting ones neighbours. Freedom means, “the freedom to do X until that freedom is taken away.” Who then, creates the space in which the ability to do X is allowed, who grants “rights to do X” by their leave? It is the sovereign, whether an individual, or a state. So if there must be a sovereign for there to be freedom, then there is a context; freedom within constraints. Soros is incoherent when he advocates for freedom without context. It is not possible in a world where many minds desire few things.

What follows is that freedom for all would require a sovereign over all. This is paradoxical because freedom does not tend to be understood as complicit servitude of a benign master. When we speak of freedom, we are speaking of the freedom from X, Y, or Z, and hence we are speaking of rights.

If there are to be rights, they must be enforced, by some agency large enough to enforce them without hindrance. The state, naturally. The more rights we discover, acknowledge, and demand enforcement of, the more powerful and unhindered the state must be.

Adam Katz, “Power and Paradox“.

Since this is the nature of freedom, the way of the world, it is not to be resented, but to be understood, and accepted. It is a social mechanism of restraint to work within. Let’s examine this closer. If one is sovereign over oneself, i.e. one is a truly sovereign individual (an almost infeasible situation), then 1) one agrees wholeheartedly with the ruler (oneself), 2) our desires are congruent with the sovereign’s, and 3) there are no constraints upon ones actions: one has complete freedom. In this scenario, we are restricted only by natural laws, not by any other social beings.

As our sovereignty is ceded to other beings, our individual desires begin to diverge to some degree from that of the sovereign, as no two conscious agents possess the exact same will. Even ones’ own family have similar but incongruent desires, which, even if small compared to a stranger from a strange land, begin to introduce restrictions upon our freedom. So for example, as children, our freedom is limited by the sovereignty of our parents. Our parents, who have (physical) power over us, force us to go to school, or brush our teeth. These restrictions arise from the difference between the wills of children and parents. The restrictions of freedom also rely on the physical ability of parents to enforce constrains upon their children.

The restraints upon any person is not always due to good-will: sometimes the restraint upon our freedom comes from those that are not concerned with our well-being. Since people are not equal, everyone has fundamentally different wills, consciousness, abilities, desires, and starting points. As a result, they come into competition in a world of scarce resources. We may ‘agree to disagree’ to some extent, but eventually the tension which grows between members of a community reaches snapping point. This process becomes inevitable when the sovereign’s rules do not stay in alignment with his subjects’ desires. The degree to which this manifests as tangible hostility and physical violence is something we, in the 21st Century, are seeing at an accelerating pace. For example, see the growing resentment of progressives, represented by the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA (and around the world), towards the establishment (especially white privileged males). This discordance between the desires of the mob and the established power centre results in revolution to enthrone a new sovereign (or alter the nature of the existing one to be more progressive).

Hence, there is a fundamental error in the Soros’ assumption that different people can or should live together. Unless everyone can be made the want the same things (at least to a sufficient degree), there will be an exponential difficulty in creating a global market or “free” individuals — there will be reactionaries.

One resolution to the reality of different communities, of competing desires in a world of limited resources, is for groups with a shared set of values, to live together — to the exclusion of others. Forcing everyone to live together would require a supreme sovereign, imposing excessive restrictions on each person, so that no one person’s desires impinged upon any other’s. Again, since there is a lot of natural diversity in this world, this would require a lot of restriction. The extent that each sovereign nation, would allow different views (foreigners of spirit) into their realm, would remain their prerogative. Within each community, the process of discordant views begins again, recursively, all the way down to the individual level of interaction in society. The difference being, that by the time we reach have separate “nations,” we are avoiding physical violence, and the community is maintained.

Whether Soros is sincere in his ideological foundations, or whether he is just misguided, what seems clear is that he:

  • Misunderstands that ideology is based on subjective preferences, asserted by those with a will and the power to enact them.
  • Fails to see that force used by “communists, fascists, and national socialists” is qualitatively the same as the force his own Open Society Foundation uses to enact his will;
  • Ignores the tribal nature of human nature. He doesn’t think people are fundamentally composed of groups of self-identified friends and enemies.
  • Down plays the necessity of a powerful global government to enshrine global “freedom.”
  • Assumes that large groups of people with diverse abilities, desires, goals, and spirits, can live together in harmony, either naturally, or without an unacceptable amount of restrictions.

1 https://www.economist.com/international/2011/01/27/a-waxing-crescent?story_id=18008022
2 https://web.archive.org/web/20180822190937/https://www.svt.se/nyheter/granskning/ug/ny-kartlaggning-av-valdtaktsdomar-58-procent-av-de-domda-fodda-utomlands)

An Offense to Open Society – part 1

The below quote by Open Society Foundation founder, George Soros, reveals some telling assumptions about his ideology and political projects. Below I will identify and criticise them.

The empirical truth can’t be known with absolute certainty. Even scientific laws can’t be verified beyond a shadow of a doubt. They can only be falsified by testing. One failed test is enough to falsify, but no amount of confirming instances is sufficient to verify. … Ideologies which claim to be in possession of the ultimate truth are making a false claim. Therefore they can be imposed on society only by force. This applies to communism, fascism and national socialism alike. All these ideologies lead to repression. [Karl] Popper proposed a more attractive form of social organisation, an open society in which people are free to hold divergent opinions and the rule of law allows people with different views and different interest to live together in peace.

George Soros Lecture Series: General Theory of Reflexivity – 11 Oct 2010 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCaCrWzFPYY Retrieved Jan 1, 2021

Note first, a glaring non-sequitur: why make insights about ideology after observations about empirical science? Insights about ideology simply do no follow from the philosophy of science. Why equate ideological goals with empirical claims? They are not the same beast.

Science attempts at empirical truth and facilitates claims about objective reality. Ideology on the other hand is a framework for organising human society which is ultimately grounded in subjective desires for how society ought to be. Unlike scientific empirical claims, there is no sense in which norms and desires can be false. Desires cannot be false, they can only be asserted, repressed, or denied. Yes, it is true that certain empirical claims made by ideologues are false, but drawing correlated conclusions about the philosophy of an ideology based on the philosophy of science is Soros’ first misstep.

“… Therefore [these repressive ideologies] can be imposed on society only by force. …”

All action is “imposed” by force. Hardly, therefore, is the use of force a critique of ideology. Not only is force necessary for any action in the world, but force need not be viewed as only violence. As Soros understands well (otherwise the Open Society Foundation would have no motivation to continue its philanthropy), force need not be directly physical to enact ideological change. The following quotes from the Open Society Foundation website illustrate this.

The foundations seek to expand people’s access to information in Eastern Europe and Russia—including by distributing photocopiers to independent groups to break the Communist Party’s grip on information [in 1984].

https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/who-we-are/our-history Retrieved Jan 1, 2021

Open Society announces investments of $220 million to build power in Black communities, promote bold new anti-racist policies in U.S. cities, and help first-time activists stay engaged.

https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/who-we-are/our-history Retrieved Jan 1, 2021

Taking the above examples, money, invested into creating literature, intent on changing hearts and minds or invested into capital to distribute ideas, ultimately empower people to enact change in the world through concrete physical force.

It is therefore myopic to view the force of violence as qualitatively different from the actions that set a competing ideology on its own path. In both cases, agency manifests physical change through material force. It is disingenuous to slander an ideologue that you don’t like for using force but not recognise oneself for doing the same.

“All these ideologies lead to repression.”

Repression for whom? Soros does not appreciate Carl Schmitt’s concept of the political: there is always an “enemy–friend” distinction to be made. Soros assumes that everyone is equal, that everyone is interchangeable, and therefore that any repression is repression of someone who we ought to be concerned for. I care for me, my family, my tribe, my nation, my species, my planet, in roughly that order. (Although I have a soft spot for animals). I do not exalt random individuals above me, my family, etcetera. Soros seems to think that all life values itself as equal to all other life. This is tangibly not the case. I doubt Soros even does this. Perhaps the Christ was, but few people are truly non-tribal, and since non-tribal folk are wiped out by tribal folk, nature selects for tribalism.

Even Soros’ open border society, a truly globally homogenous market, leads to repression. Do the indigenous Australians benefit from open borders when the European colonisers settled? Do the Swedish natives benefit from the forced diversity of non-European migrants? Perhaps the Australian aboriginal people are materially better off in a Europeanised Australia, but perhaps they are spiritually repressed and disconnected from their traditional relationship with the land and their own people? Perhaps the majority Christian Swedish natives who have been experiencing increasing racial diversity (especially since 2008 and the European migrant crisis of 2014-19) don’t feel liberated with its growing Muslim population (predicted to double to 10% by 2030)1 and unprecedented increase in rape per annum, of which half the perpetrators are non-European.2 Whether these examples are convincing or not, Soros’ open society goal is not immune from instilling ideological repression. The question is always “Repression of whom? Freedom for whom?”

Continued in part 2

The Egalitarian vs. Hierarchical Model of Morality

Only within hierarchy can equality be instantiated. And only at a cost. Egalitarianism is a less moral order than that of formalised hierarchies.

Image 1

Morality

Morality is a social phenomenon, a creation of a human community, grounded in anthropological and linguistic roots. The scope of the moral domain is therefore defined by the social order it resides in. Moral norms are therefore ultimately subjective, not universal or something that constitutes an objective, universal, capital-m Morality.

Different families, companies, and language speaking populations have their own central values. These values constitute the morality of these communities. There are therefore different (and contrasting) moralities for each community that exists. In each case, a social order has a shared set of desires, a centre, to which each community member is beholden to. This centre is their conceptual God, the Sacred.

Whether embodied by a tangible individual (e.g. a CEO in a company), or a God in the case of religious communities, this sacred centre has a Will and desires which establish the community’s purpose (telos). The embodiment of the centre is a sovereign will, a final commander. The sovereign issues commands, which flow from the centre’s desires, and define moral norms for the community.

To make this explicit, if a new CEO wants to mine iron, rather than coal (as contrasted to a previous CEO), then this means that moral statements such as, “mining for iron is good,” is true (as opposed to, “mining for coal is good,” or “mining for iron is bad”). The company has a purpose and individuals within a community can be assessed as acting morally or immorally according to this standard.

It follows that different social orders, with different centres, have different moralities, which can, and of course do, compete in a myriad of ways. There is no ultimate arbiter of such disputes but it is worth accepting that history is written by the victors, and to not assert one’s own values over another’s is to accept a conceptual defeat before ever entering an actual battlefield.

Power

Individuals have differing abilities and unequal desires to obey commands from the sovereign. While some are incapable of doing almost anything (often due to no fault of their own – e.g. due to brain injury), others are highly capable and willing to serve the centre. The difference between people’s ability, capacity, merit, and motivation is an assumption which appears undeniable.

By defining power as the ability to achieve one’s goals, to realise one’s will, or to attain one’s desires, then we can  understand one’s power within a social order (i.e. a morality) as the ability to achieve the sovereign’s goals. This means to serve the centre – – to be in agreement with the shared desires of the community. So, to be powerful within a social order means to be highly capable of fulfilling the sovereign’s will.

Hence, if one is powerful within a social order then they are more moral than those that are not as high performing.

This conception of morality states that the sovereign’s will is good because it expresses the community’s desires, the centre. A good act is one in alignment with the centre.

The question that I now want to consider concerns egalitarianism and hierarchical social orders. In our first version, egalitarianism refutes my assumption that people are not equally capable, whereas a more sensible form of egalitarianism merely reject that unequal individuals should be considered unequally moral. The first version of egalitarianism is not worth considering seriously. The second version raises the question is: can egalitarianism ever be instantiated in reality, and if so, how?

My answer is simple. To the degree that there can be egalitarianism in practice, equality requires hierarchy. As a conceptual social order, equality can only be a sub-structure of a greater hierarchical ordering.

Egalitarianism’s error is to state that individual agents are equally capable, or that they should be treated as such. There cannot be pure egalitarianism, either conceptually or in practice.

Conceptually, equality requires individuals to be equally capable and willing, but I have noted this is not in accordance with observation. Practically, if each individual is equally moral (i.e. considered equally capable despite their abilities) then, ironically, this results in more immorality. The additional errors that lesser-capable agents make while attempting to fulfill commands from the centre are the result of egalitarianism’s error. 

I can imagine an objection from an egalitarian, moral relativist at this point: “So what if a society is less moral than it could be? Didn’t you say that morality is ultimately subjective to the sovereign anyway? Why should a society strive to be more moral?” Well, by definition, a human community is a social order that shares a set of desires. This subjective value system’s centre (subjective relative to other communities’ values), is what defines morality, hence to question the importance of being moral is to question the existence of the community. At some level, a community only exists for Darwinistic reasons, so the cohesion of the community is an existential question. I restate my earlier aside: at some inevitable point, a competing social order (with better aligned imperatives and implementations of the centre) will be at the gates with sword or subversion. This society’s morality may not be objectively, universally, or cosmically right or wrong, but when it is more moral than not (i.e. aligned to the centre), it has a better chance to survive all the while reducing resentments between its members.

It’s not that I am against egalitarianism entirely, I accept that with respect to a centre, many of its subordinates are equals. However I also accept that there are many degrees of subordination to the centre, and believe that a well-functioning society (a moral society) is one in which hierarchy is understood and it has its place.

Equality within Hierarchy

Referring to Image 1 above, consider an individual A, B, and C.

A has the highest power, B second, and C the lowest within a social order. For whatever historical reasons, A is the sovereign. (Recall that A need not be a real person, but could be the “will of God” – it is the shared set of desires among a community). The will of A results in commands to his subjects.  To achieve A’s will (the goal/purpose for the entire community), A gives specific commands to B. B gives specific sub-commands to C. This model of a social order would be more accurate if we conceived that B and C represented power centres, rather that single individuals, however this simplistic version still illustrates the core mechanisms of a moral social order. It doesn’t make sense however to model A, the sovereign, or sacred centre as a multitude, for all commands must ultimately derive from a single will.

The commands given by the sovereign are imperatives; tasks that require completion. Each task successfully completed moves a society closer to its goal. Each task successfully completed is a moral act. Each mistake is immoral.

A receives completed tasks from B; likewise B from C. A naturally prioritises input from B over C (that is if A allows direct input from C at all), and part of B’s role is to triage C’s errors before they can reach A.

Compare the above hierarchical model to an egalitarian one.

To instill equality within this order, A would need to give commands to both B and C directly. B and C would report directly with their completed tasks to A. This is how equality could be created: B and C are equals to each other with respect to A.

While this type of egalitarianism could and sometimes does occur, it has its issues. I call this situation “egalitarianism under hierarchy,” which can feasibly exist in reality, despite its issues (which I will elaborate on shortly). Pure egalitarianism, however, could not.

It is not possible to conceive of a purely egalitarian order where A, B, and C are equal. If everyone is of an equal rank, who do they report to? Where are any commands coming from? Certainly no one would be obliged to uphold obligations from others who do not have the ability to over power them. If there are no commands in pure egalitarianism, then where is the community’s collective goals? What/who defines what is moral? If no one is moral, no one is immoral, so we may dispense with the concept of morality entirely: we are now talking about dispensing with any sense of a community at all. Such an anarchistic order would collapse under its own antagonisms and lack of cohesion. (In reality, it wouldn’t last long before a Big man took place at the centre and began the process of issuing commands, binding the community together through a common purpose.)

To return to the problem of equality within hierarchy, A would have to either give equally high-level (and unpersonalised) commands to B and C, or give personalised commands to B and C, reflecting their individualised tasks. In the first case, the commands would be likely to elicit errors from C who is not as capable as B, and in the second case, the time it would require for A to give appropriate commands to B and C would ultimately be a hindrance to the sovereign’s goals.

Upon the completion of imperatives, C would be likely to make more errors under this “egalitarian under hierarchy” model than if he had been given appropriate commands from his intermediate to the sovereign, B. Furthermore, such errors would have no opportunity to be corrected at a lower-level in the social order, before reaching the sovereign, compared to a purely hierarchical ordering. This is a problem because this is an imposition upon the sovereign, the most capable, moral, and powerful member of the society. Such an imposition strikes at the heart of the sovereign’s ability to be or channel the centre, the very values that constitute a community’s existence.

Accepting morality

If we are willing to accept commands, from above, and issue commands to those below; accept responsibility for our actions, and correct those from our subordinates, then we can live within a society where morality is clear: we are morally good if we obey the centre; it is immoral to reject the centre’s intentions for us. Such an arrangement will provide existential purpose: knowing one’s place, one’s role, imperatives, tasks. We can be content with our roles and responsibilities within society since they naturally match our abilities. We have the freedom to up-rank ourselves, gain responsibility and power should be be so capable and inclined. We are able to escape a society of resentment, where those less capable are exalted as equally capable and moral as ourselves. Likewise, we can accept and revere those more moral than ourselves: we can exalt a value system of cohesion, ability, power (whatever that power is driving at).

And, if we ultimately don’t like the telos of our “community,” we can leave to create another. (Which is to say, we always serve some centre, by leaving the service of one, we become amoral according to one society in order to be moral in another). What will remain true between any different social orders, regardless of their centre, will be the effectiveness of hierarchy and the intangible benefits it brings with it.

Egalitarianism cannot exist except within a hierarchy.

Generative Anthropology’s Morality

While this post can read by itself, it follows directly on from the post called “Moral Error Theory’s Error”, where I presented the problems that moral error theory has. These problems arrive from the theory’s conception of morality and result in unsatisfying outcomes for the human animal which desires an understanding of their place within “something greater”. To solve this problem, a different understanding of morality is required, one that is found within Generative anthropology (GA).

GA is a theory of the origin of the human (and human culture) through the origin of language. In the hypothesised “originary scene,” a heuristic event proposed to account for the minimum mechanisms that pulled the human out of the animal world, Eric Gans creates an account for language, religion, morality, community, agency, and more.1

Gans details how language could emerge naturally from a pre-human, hierarchical order. Language began with a first sign and was the basis for the first attributed “agency” (the “sacred” centre), the first awareness of a non-animal. Later, members of the language community modeled themselves with this agency, and awareness of personhood began. The first sign created a “scene” of abstract representation, a linguistic space which bonded the community together in a now egalitarian social order. (Each member of the community is equal with respect to each other, while remaining equally low in relation to the “sacred” centre of the community.)

Gans shows language to emerge first as ostensive signs (pointing; directing shared attention), then evolving through other stages towards the declarative mode that I am using now (which is the fully developed form of “topic”-“comment”, subject-verb-object, etc.). As a result of each phase of language, the human animal has access to new concepts. Each stage naturally generates the next, and their culture as a community adjusts to these new developments. Gans shows this development in meticulous detail and proceeds from the material world and physical animal life as his basis — something that will ground morality as an intelligible concept. Much more could be said.

GA is as powerful and wide scoping theory. Its strength lies in its explanatory power, minimal assumptions, compelling argumentation, and detailed mechanics (i.e. descriptions of how language and the human emerged from proto-humans through each stage of language/culture).

As explained in the previous post, the irreducibly normative reason of the analytic tradition’s moral error theory is unintelligible; but morality, to the extent that is actually exists in the minds of human beings, communities, and therefore in nature at all, and to the extent that GA is an accurate theory, is constituted by the norms of a community.

Morality is not characterised by irreducibly normative reasons, but by the motivation to uphold linguistic presence, to avoid violent centralisation for digressions against the commands of the “sacred” centre. While this sounds esoteric to the uninitiated, these terms in GA can be reduced to simple natural mechanics.

For example, the centre is the aggregate desires of the community anthropomorphised as an agency. This is the commander that issues moral commands. The commander exists as something “sacred”, whether God, abstract reason, or otherwise. Regardless of how the centre is believed to exist, the norms of the community are the will of the centre, and expressed as imperatives, myths, narratives, etc. To be moral is therefore to obey the centre; immoral is to not obey the centre; amoral is to not be part of the community.

The centre provides the first moral imperative, upon which the community is bound together in obliging. Prior to this event the proto-humans were amoral, but now the entire community is party to the imperative of this first command. The community has obtained a morality. To not share this scene of representation, is to not understand or respect the command from the centre and is to be apart from the community and therefore amoral (or perhaps a member of a different community and moral according to another morality).

A community member is “good” if he performs the imperatives of the centre well. Likewise, “bad” or “evil” if he fails to perform the necessary act to fulfill the imperative well (or at all). The motivation to be “good” comes from the fear of attention one brings upon oneself for failing to maintain linguistic presence, i.e. failing to “complete” an imperative. (The imperative derives from a mistaken use of an ostensive sign, which can be “corrected” by bringing the referent into the scene.)

Here we have made intelligent the concepts from analytic morality. We can still understand morality as “commands from a commander” because now there is a commander (the centre), and we can remove the absurd notion of morality being constituted as “obligations without consequence” because consequences do exist: the community has the capacity to excommunicate, physically attack, or otherwise motivate each community member to be “moral”. Morality is a social practice, if you want to remain in the security of the community, you must remain moral. Here we plainly see the nature of morality as contrasted with moral realism’s conception.

This is the normative force of morality – it comes from the anxiety, fear, tension, which arises from knowing that by not fulfilling an imperative from the centre, a community member draws attention upon himself. This attention can accompany feelings of resentment (for the “immoral” act is not “fair”) and can spiral towards danger and violence.

This spiraling (or compounding) is due to the mimetic nature2 of the human animal — we imitate, copying, and desire that which we see others desire. If we see others’ attention and resentment towards an immoral person, our own feelings of resentment grow stronger.

It is the fear of physical violence that is the normative (prescriptive) force behind both the “sacred” and analytic moral statements. Grounded in physical force, nature, anthropology, and linguistics, we can finally make sense of the problem that remains lurking after moral error theory rejects the overly-rationalised errors of morality.

To the extent that the human is constituted as a member of a community, bonded by their shared attention of a central authority’s will, there is indeed morality: commands from a commander (the “sacred” centre). The history of such imperatives trace the evolution from ostensive, imperative, through to declarative cultures, however always resolve into an understanding of the centre’s desires as “the good”. (Only later, in the declarative culture does “the good” become the explicit object of rational examination – a process which itself leads to the absurdity of moral realism’s categorical imperative.)

Each individual of a community has desires and the aggregate desires of the community can be called the “centre”. This centre is therefore internal to the community in a sense, but also external to any specific member. This centre happens to be exalted as an authority (through mechanisms GA explains), and the commands He gives are the moral ultimatums of the community.

Morality as a practice is therefore the study of the centre’s will, i.e. “which statements correctly articulate the centre’s desires for the community?” A centre means an ethics. The centre is an authority for it is the focus of the community, and each member is aware that each other is in thrall to be centre’s commands. It is the shared attention upon the centre’s desires that maintains peace within the community; the threat of mimetic violence motivates “moral” behaviour and is the “normative” force equivalent of analytic moral realism.

The intersection between Desirism (Joel Marks’ amoral theory of ethics) and GA’s understanding of ethics could be expressed as so: The individual Desirist follows their fully (rationally) considered desires as commands from an internal authority; but the community member according to GA follows imperatives from the centre. Like Desirism, the desires of the community in GA are not mind-independent, universal or objective, so they are not unintelligible and are ultimately relative (to the individual in one case, to the community in the other). The Desirist however operates on the assumption that there is no community – that a community is a set of individuals with discrete desires, where they are only beholden to their own desires. GA on the other hand states that the community was there at or prior to the creation of the human, and so there is an imperative prior to individually derived imperatives to remain a member of the community. This is the “something greater” that moral error theory (or more aptly anarchistic ontology3) cannot provide.

While there are no irreducibly normative relations, the human is a mimetic animal, and the violence present at the originary scene echoes through its iterations. The awareness of this threat of violence (which originally motivated the first moral act), likewise remains in the community after the originary event as the first moral (“do not appropriate me” and subsequent evolutions) motivates members of a community to uphold linguistic presence, motivates them to obey their cultural narratives/myths.

A definition of morality is thus achieved which does not profess that obligations exist without consequence. Obligations to obey the community’s norms proceed from tangible threats of violence. Unlike moral error theory, GA does not define into absurdity the moral domain. The questions that remain though, given GA’s understanding of morality are: which centre to serve?

If morality is merely the aggregate desires of the community, a centre’s will, then what is the obligation to remain part of this community, or to placidly maintain the current centre? Why not relocate it? Why not usurp it — if you can? Certainly GA has more to say on this, but the question that remains in the eternal existentialist’s mind is about which centre to serve — or which centre to push society toward? Regardless of this ongoing inquiry, GA provides a much more powerful and detailed understanding of morality than I have found in the analytic philosophical tradition.

1For an overview of GA see: http://anthropoetics.ucla.edu/gaintro/; For Gans's first book on GA, see The Origin of Language (1981) https://www.amazon.com/Origin-Language-New-Eric-Gans/dp/1949966135; For Gans's current blog see: http://anthropoetics.ucla.edu/views/; For a great glossary and helpful way into GA's dense set of terminology, see https://theglossary.home.blog/generative-anthropology/; Another noteworthy link, Adam Katz: http://gablog.cdh.ucla.edu/
2GA builds on (and deviates from) the work of Rene Girard and his mimetic theory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mimetic_theory
3https://thejournalofneoabsolutism.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/absolutist-and-anarchistic-ontology/

Moral Error Theory’s Error

Moral error theory critiques morality from within the analytic philosophy tradition. It defines morality, as being characterised by objectively prescriptive statements. That is to say, statements such as, “murder is wrong” or “charity is good” are to be understood as imperatives that do not derive from a mind or conscious commander. Rather, moral statements are true or false, and these facts exist regardless of whether you or I consider them at all.

As Jonas Olson points out, this critique is best understood through the concise articulation: there are no irreducibly normative reasons.

… the best articulation [of moral error theory] is that moral facts are queer in that they … require certain courses of behaviour, where the favouring relation is irreducibly normative. … it is the irreducibly normative favouring relations, or reason relation, that is queer. … (they are queer in that they have the irreducibly normative property of counting in favour of some course of behaviour).

Olson, J. (2014) Moral Error Theory: History, Critique, Defence. Oxford University Press: Oxford, United Kingdom.

To the extent that morality is characterised by irreducibly normative reasons, the moral error theorists are right: there are no irreducibly normative reasons, hence all moral statements are systematically false: there is no morality (as they define it), ergo moral error theory is correct.

Correctly, the moral error theorists reject prescriptively mind-independent facts, for if morality is conceived as “commands without a commander” or “obligations without consequence” then the concept is nonsensical. At the same time, since moral error theorists conceive of morality as being defined by queerness,1 they do not consider commands from an actual commander to be within the moral domain proper, strictly speaking.

The moral error theorists have a specific definition of morality, leading to its unsatisfying resolutions. This is their error.

We can correct this error by bringing moral discourse back to ground. I am advocating a return to a coherent conception of morality — to a definition that is grounded in the physical world: for commands, there must be a commander; for obligations there must be consequences.

By reclaiming morality into the (fundamentally) physical domain, we regain moral obligations as imperatives from a “legitimate” authority who is capable and willing to enact (ultimately physical) consequences. But first, what are moral error theory’s unsatisfying resolutions?

The Irresolutions of Analytic Moral Critique

Moral error theory, once derived, understood, and accepted as described above, leaves open the ongoing task of resolving the deeply ingrained problem of moral belief in an amoral world. How do moral error theorists account for:

  1. The pervasiveness of moral intuitions,
  2. The desire for existential meaning, and
  3. A desire to know right from wrong.

Can these psychological drives be satisfyingly dismissed as evolution’s vestiges and ignored — or will the human demand further resolutions in ways that analytic philosophy cannot provide?

In the absence of any ultimate telos or goal, moral error theorists struggle to answer basic questions of ethics, such as, “What will I do?” (They certainly can’t answer, “What should I do?”) Their attempts at this “Now What”2 problem ever so carefully try to derive descriptions about what a fully rational human animal would do in a given ethical dilemma (without hypocritically falling back on obligational shoulds for human action).

This ongoing debate, leaves little in the way of deeply satisfying views for the moral error theorist or onlookers. Anyone getting this deep into meta-ethics for philosophical answers to moral questions, would likely be deeply unsatisfied with being informed that, at the end of the meta-ethical tunnel, the great mystery of morality has been resolved by understanding ethics not as the study of “what one should do” but rather as “what one would do.”

Beyond the individual, the “Now What” problem, when applied to groups or nations, generates serious work for moral error theorists. If moral error theorists struggle to explain how an individual might reply to mundane remarks like, “Isn’t it bad that so many people died due to COVID-19?” then how will their theory contribute as a base for a larger project: how would a moral error theorist justify political action?

If all actions are just the result of individual desires, then what holds communities together? Remember, moral error theorists have no ability to argue for a course of action beyond the individual. Joel Marks’ Desirism, an amoral system of ethics, explains how individuals could do whatever they rationally desire all things considered. But what if an individual settles upon murder? The Desirist has no recourse to say that the murderer ought to be moral, social, or desire the desires of others (i.e. not to be murdered). How would the Desirist respond?

Perhaps they themselves could rationally settle upon resisting the murder, fighting back, putting the murderer in jail, etc. But then there would have to be thought before each act. Why not just act? Do we really need to consider all rational aspects before settling on resisting murder?

It seems that amoralism in ethics is cold, and has it backward: it exalts reason over desire. There is desire, but it is primary, not secondary to rationalising processes. Even Desirists must acknowledge this, for choosing Desirism expresses the desire to only act once all things have been rationally considered. So while I am not advocating the absence of reason, I am noting the primacy of desire, and the essentially non-rational animal that humans are.

At best, the moral error theorists clear the errors of moral realism (as understood by moral error theorists), but in in doing so they go further along an analytical path which never circles back to the essential problems of the human. They cannot provide an individual a set of guidelines greater than themselves; they cannot provide a community binding directive. These are serious problems that makes moral error theory unappealing.

Moral error theory is an analytic triumph but an existential dead-end.

Existential and ethical questions remain in the bosom even after the scalpel of contemporary analytics has excised the errors of rational thought. Perhaps the answer to such burning questions lies prior to rationality, at the essence of the human.

Go to part two here, where I introduce generative anthropology and its understanding of morality — an understanding that reclaims intelligibility in the concept itself and allows us to understand the human both as individuals and community members, and as warm-blooded, primarily non-rational animals.

1https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-anti-realism/moral-error-theory.html
2This is know as the “Now what” problem for moral error theory, see Lutz (2014). https://www.jstor.org/stable/24704134