that I thought I might write about, one has come up today
after reading marieofroumania's latest
entry on the Bush Administration's
latest distortion of the truth,
as well as the daily
abuse of power
more historical commentary)
Then I top it all off with a glance at
This Modern World.
I find Ashcroft very scary, because he is
defines anyone different as a criminal.
The tie-in to my list of topics is through
a question; one that is (on the face of it)
quite simple: What, exactly, is a crime?
There is an obviously correct — but mostly
content-free — definition:
an act or the commission of an act that is
forbidden or the omission of a duty that is
commanded by a public law and that makes
the offender liable to punishment by that
I've gradually become more interested
in the political process; as a consequence,
I've become quite a bit more cynical
over that time.
The connection is the idea of
“consensual crimes” an
interaction where everyone involved is
a willing, non-coerced participant, yet
society has at some level decided that
a crime is being committed.
Classic examples of these so-called
crimes are possession and use of drugs;
prostitution; gambling; homosexuality.
In some cases there is a large amount of
truly criminal behavior associated with
these activities, but I see much of that
as being second-order; once the primary
activity is legitimized, the surrounding
illegal activities will be much reduced.
The origin of most of these laws are,
if you believe their originators,
in some sense. For the most part, these
people use moral interchangably
with Christian. [I'm speaking
from a deeply-entrenched USA perspective;
I don't know enough about the rest of
the world to comment intelligently upon it.
Other than the observation that most
widespread monotheistic religions seem to
inspire their followers to stupidity,
self-aggrandizement, and brutal bloodshed.]
The problem — and the source of my
concerns/terror of the current USA
administration — is when people,
even if they're currently the
majority, force others to live by their
I've met people whom are quiet startled
that an atheist can have a robust,
self-consistent morality system. (Which
is interesting, as most [western] religious
can't even begin to claim to be
reasonable, let alone self-consistent.)
To me, morality is all about causing minimal
harm. It's inevitable that we will hurt
others (physically, mentally, emotionally) as
we go through life. Being a Big Dumb American,
I'm happily consuming ten times my share
of resources. I try not to waste it, and I
don't expect to have kids, so I feel I'm
doing “my share”...
I don't claim to have a very highly
developed moral or ethical sense. But I do
claim that mine is a very common sense
morality: “How is this hurting me?”
The answer to that question is the same reason
that I hold “consensual crimes” to
be a complete and utter oxymoron.
In every interaction, I can come out better
or worse than I was before; the other party
will also come out better or worse than
before. The goal of all the negotiating
classes sold in in-flight magazines is to
try to teach you how to find the place where
both you and the other party get some benefit
from the interaction, making it a
“win-win” situation. People who
don't appreciate this balance can often
be a net negative force on the world
(since they're violating — or,
maybe, living up to —
The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity).
This is the start of a rational morality.
Game theory provides the tools needed
to explore it. [Of which, more later.]
For now, just remember: two wrongs
don't make a right, but three
lefts often do.