Archive for May 7th, 2013

If mankind minus one were of one opinion, then mankind is no more justified in silencing the one than the one – if he had the power – would be justified in silencing mankind.  –  John Stuart Mill

outnumberedAfter thinking seriously about morality and ethics since my early teens, I eventually arrived about 15 years ago at a simple working definition of evil: “The attempt to inflict control upon others that they neither desire nor require.”  If an individual wants to be controlled, giving it to him is not evil; if he needs to be controlled to stop him from harming others (or, if a child, himself), giving it to him is a necessity (though depending on how it’s handled, possibly a necessary evil or distortion of a necessity into evil).  The right of the individual to be individual is otherwise inarguable; every individual has the right to survive, to follow his own path of growth and happiness, and to defend himself, so long as he affords others the same rights.  Furthermore, these rights are indivisible and non-commutative; they cannot be subdivided, added to those of another or re-assigned to someone else.  Each individual entity, no matter how large or small, has the same rights, and large groups do not gain more rights by adding those of their members together.  The rights of each individual, no matter how small his minority group, are inalienable; even if he is the only representative of a wholly unique species, he would still have the same rights as everyone else, no matter how many “felt” or “thought” or “voted” that his rights should be abrogated (not even for “the public good”), unless (and only if) he abrogates the rights of another individual first (such as by violent attack).  Violence is not the only form of evil, but it is the most severe, and even most of the non-violent forms are enabled by the threat of violence.  Use of violence or threat of violence against an individual who has not himself violated or attempted to violate anyone else’s rights is always wrong and always evil, no matter how offensive, unpleasant, unpopular, weak, strong, poor, wealthy, stupid, intelligent or whatever he may be, and no matter which mores, rules, ordinances or laws he has broken.

There are those, possibly among those reading this, who would argue with some or all of this definition, who would like to pretend that there are certain “mitigating circumstances” or conditions under which some group has the right to inflict unprovoked violence upon another; they pretend that it’s moral to physically restrain him, violate his privacy, interfere with his interpersonal relations and private arrangements, steal his property or impede his free movement simply because he has done something or belongs to some group they don’t like.  But that is a slippery slope indeed, because once we allow this the number of excuses for violence inevitably increases, and the size of the consensus needed to trigger the violence inevitably decreases, until we reach the nadir of America in 2013:  a single individual can now inflict horrific violence upon anyone he chooses, so long as the aggressor has the right credentials and accuses his victim of the right “offense”.  Nor are state actors the only ones who can get away with this; the right accusation by virtually anyone sets the machinery of the state in motion to crush the hapless individual hurled into it, and even many innocent bystanders who just happen to get in the way.

elephant stampede from Chang (1927)That last is the main reason that extremely large entities of any kind are dangerous, and need to be dismantled or at least heavily defended against.  We all know what happens when a mob, an army, a large corporation, a government or other large, powerful entity actually intends to harm individuals or smaller collectives, but some of these are so large and ungainly that they cannot avoid harming others even when it isn’t intended.  A bull in a china shop probably has no desire to break anything, but it’s exceedingly likely that he will; his size, strength, robustness and lack of agility combine to doom any of the comparatively small, fragile objects into which he cannot help blundering while attempting to operate in an environment to which he is unsuited.  The same can be said of elephants stampeding toward a native village in a jungle movie; the panicked pachyderms merely want to save themselves from whatever has frightened them, and any destruction of breakable property and tiny humans who happen to get in their way is incidental.  A government so large that it consumes most of its host-country’s gross domestic product in return for very little, and which limits individual freedom by its very existence, is much too large.  A financial institution so huge that governments cannot prosecute it for flagrantly criminal behavior  (due to fear of the economic repercussions) is dangerously huge.  The fact that these institutions have millions of supporters is irrelevant; those numbers do not add up to greater rights than those of even the smallest, poorest, weakest individual they have harmed.  It is long past time to either cut these leviathans down to size, or else to restrain them in such a way that their careless movements cannot crush us by the thousands without their even noticing.

Read Full Post »