Re: Responsibility - love, morals, values & government

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From: Jeff Bone (
Date: Thu Sep 14 2000 - 10:44:43 PDT

"Ernest N. Prabhakar" wrote:

> Okay, so we're talking a theory of government here, not a moral system. If
> I read that correct, you are making a value judgement that the *only* values
> worth defending/promoting at the governtment-level are "cooperative behavior
> and individual sovereignty."

That's one aspect of the argument.

> Even assuming that, I would argue that promoting long-term socially
> reinforced cohabitation linked to procreation and caregiving creates
> citizens who are better able to engage in cooperative behavior (e.g., raise
> children). Whether or not you agree with that argument - would that be
> sufficient to warrant government preferences?

Nope, not at all. I don't believe it's the roll of government (lets define that as
any collective social entity that's empowered to act without the consent of its
members in some cases, i.e. to selectively violate the sovreignty of a particular
member) to promote any particular agenda; the only legitimate roll of government
is to protect the rights of its constituents, administer punitive or corrective
measures when rights are violated, and enable economic (i.e., all consensual)

More generally, I don't believe in "incenting" one particular group of behaviors,
lifestyle, etc. It's inherently unfair to those who cannot or choose not to follow
those "endorsed" behaviors, etc. Besides which, it's abundantly clear --- even if
you define "cooperative behavior" to be "raise children," which is a huge mistake
IMO (look at the welfare mothers) --- that animals have never particularly needed
social "promotion" of cohabitation in order to make it work. We're the only
species that has all this wacky abstract mental gunk. Other animals mate for life,
have offspring, propagate the genes, ensure survivability of the species:
penguins, for instance. Still other species, the bonobos perhaps, do just fine
without even monogamy.

> I can accept paradox (we have two Dr. in my house already :).

It's a lousy basis for social institutions, or for individual interaction, IMO. I
have no problem with mathematics being either inconsistent or incomplete, but I'd
like for "the Rules" which impact my freedom and sovreignty to be consistent and

> My suspicion has always been that those who preach tolerance have a specific
> idiosyncratic set of actions they consider intolerable, with no ideological
> cohesion behind it. That is, there's no coherent way to use it to determine
> a priori the value of something under that system.

This is a fair argument. I was going to write up some blather about why I have
these arguments; the capsule summary is that one lifelong goal of mine is to
formulate the minimal consistent set of values, morals, rules for how to live
life... and live by those. The first part is turning out to be particularly
difficult, I'm 33 years into the effort and probably only 20% of the way there ;-)
At the end of the day, I'd like to be able to say: "this is what I believe, and
this is why, and here's how I apply that." A subgoal is to ensure that the set I
arrive at follows from a minimal, "self-obvious," and universally-agreeable set of
definitions of terms.

In my case, I hope, the "tolerance" thing is hopefully pretty real. (My
rage-against-the-machine persona notwithstanding, I don't much care what anybody
else does as long as it doesn't impact my own ability to opt in or out. "Your
rights stop at the end of my nose and vice versa," and all that.) I don't have
some particular set of actions that I consider intolerable but which does not
impact my person or my freedom of choice; in fact, even intolerance is tolerable.
I should've more precisely said "the only thing that's intolerable is
institutionalized intolerance." In other words, institutionalized prejudice of any
kind. And: social promotion of marriage through tax breaks, or social promotion
of the marriage commitment through unbalanced punitive measures for dissolving the
marriage contract, or social promotion of child-rearing through tax breaks or
welfare, are all institutionalized intolerance for the non-cooperating point of

Proselytizing one's own social programming isn't even intolerable, it's a great
opportunity for debate, ridicule, and humor on the part of everybody else. ;-)

> If you're actually advocating "tolerate anything but intolerance" as a moral
> code/value system, I'd be curious whether you actually try to live up to
> that in practice. Or whether its just an excuse to yell at religious
> fundamentalists who are yelling at you. ;-)

Nah, the whole thing really is a sincere attempt to arrive at a particular
foundation of belief myself. And maybe to generate a few yuks along the way. But
I really do try to live up to the tolerance thing, as a kind of extrapolation of
"the Golden Rule." It's not easy, especially when the world is filled with people
who would like nothing more than to make sure you play by their fuzzy illogical
rules and don't challenge their preconceived notions, irrational (or at least
informal) positions, and happy little paradoxes.

That's one thing I like about this list: even though *everybody* (me included) has
preconceptions, everybody here is at least willing to make an attempt to discuss
them. It's a great laboratory for this kind of thought. I don't really know what
this does to the generally-perceived S/N ratio here, but the IQ/population ratio on
this list makes it a great forum for this kind of thing.



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