Last week Loren shared this quotation in the group comments:

But here steps in Satan, the eternal rebel, the first freethinker and the emancipator of worlds. He makes man ashamed of his bestial ignorance and obedience; he emancipates him, stamps upon his brow the seal of liberty and humanity, in urging him to disobey and eat of the fruit of knowledge.
― Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin

The mention of obedience reminded me of Greta Christina's article, "Why Being Liberal Really Is Better Than Being Conservative," discussing Rebecca Goldstein's argument that the values liberals prioritize -- fairness and avoiding harm -- are indeed better, because they can apply to everyone. This is in contrast to the "conservative" core values of authority, loyalty, and purity that create a "some animals are more equal than others" hierarchy.

...if you accept the idea that the philosophical foundation of ethics is that other people matter as much as we ourselves do, and that any principles of ethics ought to apply to other people as much as they do to ourselves, then that makes liberal values… well, better. Closer to that philosophical foundation.

"Conservative" values do have their place:

As for authority… well even Little Miss Dyed-in-the-Wool Pinko can’t imagine a world entirely governed by consensus. The thought of a world population of almost seven billion being operated as a consensus collective makes me shudder with dread and want to move to the Moon immediately. I’ve been in consensus collectives. The meetings alone would take a lifetime. As much as I hate to admit it, some sort of authority — assigned democratically and with the consent of the governed and with some seriously powerful checks and balances and oversight, obviously — is probably necessary for human society to function smoothly, or indeed at all.

Even the most progressive pinko societies (I’m looking at you, Sweden) haven’t abandoned the idea of authority and law. We probably need to have laws against murder and theft and running red lights and so on… and we probably need people whose job it is to enforce those laws. (If for no other reason, our wonderful universal liberal values of fairness and harm don’t mean a lot if there aren’t any consequences to violating them.) As I always say to libertarian extremists who want a world with no government: Move to Somalia. That’s what a world with no functioning government looks like.

... unless there’s a specific compelling reason to prioritize the "some animals are more equal than others" values of authority or loyalty or purity, we ought to prioritize the universalizable values of fairness and the avoidance of harm.

And you know what? I’ll go even further.

I’m saying that any moral progress humanity has made over the centuries and millennia has been made, not in the direction of greater adherence to authority or purity or tribal/group loyalty, but in the direction of expanding our understanding and application of fairness and the avoidance of harm. I’m saying that, in every example I can think of where our morality is a clear improvement over the morality of the past — democracy, banning slavery, religious freedom, women’s suffrage, etc. etc. etc. — the core values being strengthened have been the values of fairness and the avoidance of harm: the liberal values, the ones that can be applied to everyone.

(Ellipses and bolding are mine.)

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Replies to This Discussion



When you think of the long and gloomy history of man, you will find that far more, and far more hideous, crimes have been committed in the name of Obedience than have ever been committed in the name of rebellion.

C. P. Snow

Public Affairs (London: Macmillan, 1971) p. 195

Tags: When, you, think, long, gloomy, history, man, find, far




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