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Wrong and Right [Sep. 16th, 2003|02:40 am]

Among the topics 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 (and more historical commentary) courtesy jwz. Then I top it all off with a glance at This Modern World.

I find Ashcroft very scary, because he is someone who 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 law
Merriam-Webster Online

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, moral 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-righteousness, 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 morality.

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 morality systems 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.


[User Picture]From: deliriumdreams
2003-09-16 08:44 am (UTC)
What?? Are you saying that the lawmaking body doesn't share the same morals as the whole entire country?? Huh. Somebody better tell them that.

No, seriously, we need to sit down with many beers and discuss this. :-)
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