Who is more free, the general or the soldier? The general makes higher level decisions, and has more power. But he also has more responsibility. He is expected to make highly consequential decisions continuously and quickly. And he carries the burden of his decisions with him — maybe thousands of lives lost due to an error. The soldier is comparatively free from responsibility. He is not burdened with making high level, high pressure strategic decisions. The solider needs only to follow orders.
Who is more free, the child or the parent? The parent can stay up late, eat candy, and drink alcohol. The way they spend their time is less constrained. But is that really true? They probably work 40+ hours a week at a job they hate. The child has many limitations imposed on them. Their diet, daily activities, education, and even sleep schedule is largely dictated to them. But they are vastly more free from responsibility. And this freedom allows children to be present and actually live life in a way that most adults cannot. Adults are almost always “elsewhere”, thinking and worrying about the future, and so on.
In the examples above each individual has some container which they operate in. They are free to move in certain directions, but constrained in others. We are mistaken if we think that we really want to have “no container”.
We think we want freedom, we say we want freedom, but most people would much rather be a soldier than a general; a child rather than a parent. It’s far easier to have a small container and fewer responsibilities. Freedom is a burden — a burden worth carrying perhaps — but a burden no less.
Nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom. Man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born.
— Fyodor Dostoevsky
Human beings need a goal, a destination, there must be better and worse, we must have values. Without values we have nowhere to go, nothing to do — we are lost.
Once we have values we can derive a corresponding morality. A morality is like the compass which guides us collectively over the landscape, toward our destination, toward our goal. The moral compass defines Good and Evil. “The Good” are those actions and characteristics which move us toward the goal. “The Evil” are those which move us away from the goal.
Of course morality and values do bleed together. Some tenet of a morality like “speaking the truth” may also be a terminal value. Speaking the truth may help us move toward our other goals, but to have many people speaking the truth can also be a goal in itself.
A given set of values does not necessarily imply one morality that could simply be followed by all people and which would then move the group optimally toward the goal — toward the maximization of the values.
The talents, capabilities, situations, and strategies of people varies so widely that one person’s Good may well be another person’s Evil — all while they are both truly serving the same values. A morality may dictate individual non-violence, for example, as a moral tenet in service of the wider goal of general peace and well-being, but there are almost certainly exceptions. What if you had the opportunity to assassinate a dangerous leader before they could bring about world war — the classic “if you could kill Hitler scenario”? And of course, having killed them before they could do their damage, it might appear to others that you’ve killed an innocent person.
Now you’ve taken action which is “evil” according to the morality, and yet — at least in your estimation — it is perfectly in-line with the higher goal of overall peace. This becomes a slippery slope though. Would you kill a dangerous author before they wrote their work? Maybe Marx? What about a group of people? A fledgling political party? And then there is the problem of predicting the future. Are you sure that this specific political leader would bring about mass chaos? How do you know assassinating them won’t actually cause more chaos?
When we make these utilitarian arguments — that killing Hitler before his rise would have been justified, for example — we’re taking a God’s eye view. In reality we can never know for sure that our action is justified. This kind of utilitarian analysis which always claims to seek the “greatest good” has likely caused much more death and destruction than it has prevented. Such utilitarian arguments were put to great use in the 20th century to justify many atrocities.
These “greatest good” arguments are dangerous not only because the world is a complex adaptive system for which our interferences have incalculable consequences, but also because these arguments can be wielded as tools by opportunists who simply claim that some action would be for the greater good. I don’t actually need to believe my proposed action would serve the good in the way that I claim, I only need to convince others that this is the case.
And if conditions are right, if the people want to believe the lie, then they will do much of the convincing themselves. And in fact, it is not even necessary that anyone at all really believe the lie. It must simply be convincing enough cover. As long as the lie can stand up to some scrutiny, and as long as the people can convincingly pretend to really believe it, then that is enough.
When weighing the good or evil of a philosophy you must always consider how easily this can be done — how could it be abused? The most dangerous philosophical tools are exactly those which seem most reasonable, but which permit some subtle manipulation. The ideas that we all recognize as dangerous, aren’t so dangerous because our immune system is primed against them. The devil comes well dressed and charismatic.
This is one of the great dangers of a rational worldview stripped of the sacred. When the tether is cut between the people and their foundational values they begin to drift — they lose their divine North star.
The degree then, to which they can be led and misled, and the places they can be led to becomes limited only by the capabilities of their “leaders” — who are really controllers more than leaders.
The battle then for the fate of the people, and thus the fate of the world, becomes largely a battle of memetics. Those most skilled in the art of crafting and pushing narrative and propaganda, those “magicians” most skilled in spell-casting — which can be thought of as the crafting of language and imagery to manipulate others — become the true controllers. These controllers can operate from the shadows, they need not even be known by the people.
They likely construct and devise a plan which suits them very well, and then wrap that plan in the most attractive possible language, imagery, and so on. They may also work to demonize, silence, and even eliminate opponents of the plan. The destination to which the people are ultimately being led may be completely unknown to them. The utopia they believe they are moving toward may turn out to be a cliff’s edge…
My deepest motivation is that I love mankind. We’re brilliant, strange, beautiful, and heroic. We’ve overcome so much. We’ve suffered so much…
I want for us to flourish and thrive and reach new heights. I don’t want for us to simply be comfortable and safe at the cost of our potential. What an insult that would be to all those who came before us. Zoo animals are comfortable and safe and it costs them their spirit. Mankind, like the animals, is meant to be wild and free.
To call the taming of an animal its “improvement” is in our ears almost a joke. Whoever knows what goes on in menageries is doubtful whether the beasts in them are “improved”. They are weakened, they are made less harmful, they become sickly beasts through the depressive emotion of fear, through pain, through injuries, through hunger. – It is no different with the tamed human being…
Mankind pays for his safety with his soul. We seem quite willing to make the trade. We think safety, niceness, and comfort should be pursued above all else, and without end. But every virtue has a dark side. Safety and comfort in excess makes us weak, it makes us spiritually sick – we lose our energy, our creativity, our beauty, our vitality. Then we lose our self-respect and self-confidence. Finally we come to hate ourselves and our lot, we tear ourselves apart, and then we find ourselves in hell.
We take the safe road but it costs us our soul, and we realize, eventually, after much suffering, that there never was a safe road anyway.
We may think there is a safe road. But that would be the road of death. Then nothing happens any longer – at any rate, not the right things. Anyone who takes the safe road is as good as dead.
What is our image for mankind? What do we strive toward?
We’ve been conditioned, programmed, and propagandized all our lives to such a degree that we no longer think clearly, or think at all, when it comes to these questions. Instead we recite state-approved Good Opinion, as if it’s Truth. We don’t see ourselves clearly.
When it comes to the other animals, however, we don’t have these prejudices. Here we can see by contrast just how contorted we’ve become.
Which animals do we admire? Which animal would you want to be, if you could be any? You might choose an apex predator: lion, tiger, eagle, wolf. Or maybe a more social animal: elephant, dolphin, orca, horse. All of these animals are elegant, strong, beautiful (except for elephants), and free – that’s why we admire them. No one chooses to be a dog, even though everyone loves dogs. They are pets. We love them, but we don’t admire them.
What animal does mankind most resemble today? Maybe we’re most like zoo animals. Once elegant and strong, now weak and sad. Mankind is the once great, free, and fierce animal now weak, tired, and tamed in his cage.