Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Constructing Society

The construction of society should be based on these two basic tenets:

A) I exist.

"There is nothing in this world that I can be absolutely certain of except for the existence of my own consciousness."

and

B) There exist others.

"However, evidence suggests that it is reasonable to believe that the others I perceive in this world are in a similar situation."

The first tenet suggests our first basic principle for society. Because there is nothing more real or more direct than my own consciousness, the things that I feel and experience are going to necessarily be the most important to me. Therefore,

1) The individual is supreme.

But the second tenet implies that there are others who feel the same way. If I am not about to submit to another consciousness' superiority, then I must recognize that I, too, cannot subjugate any other consciousnesses. Unless I am ready to give up the first principle, and resign the supremacy of my own conscious experiences, I must respect the supremacy of others' as well. At best, we can only be equals. Therefore,

2) No individual supercedes another.

This is the doctrine of the fundamental equality of persons, and is a foundational principle in democracy. It is a step above dictatorships and monarchies, which presume the supremacy of one or more individuals over all others. However, many democracies submit to a collectivist fallacy, emphasizing the second principle while forgetting the importance of the first. As a result, individuals band together in groups to wield power and influence over others that they don't have as individuals. The first principle, however, demands that the individual be superior to the group. For, after all, the individual's conscious experiences are far more real and direct than the concept of a group.

However, there is a paradox of individuality in that though all persons share a fundamental similarity - this is the concept of 'humanity' - in reality, a vast diversity of personalities exists. If all persons were of a like mind, there would be no conflict, and no need for diplomacy. But, of course, everyone is different, and therefore we need some rules to ensure the smooth running of society.

The first principle above implies our first rule. Since the individual is supreme, one must retain the power of choice in decisions affecting one's own life. This informs our understanding of morality, which I define as the guide for how to lead one's life:

I) How one chooses to lead one's own life is determined by a subjective morality.

The determination of that which constitutes virtue and that which constitutes vice, and of what decisions an individual should make in order to lead a righteous or satisfying life, are a matter of personal opinion. To make those sorts of decisions for other people is to violate the founding principles.

However, where people can make decisions that will affect the lives of others, the second principle demands some concern for the effects one's actions may have on others. This informs our understanding of ethics, which I define as the code of how one relates to others:

II) How one may relate to others is determined by an objective code of ethics.

The role of law is to govern how individuals interact with one another, and how they treat each other, so as to uphold the two founding principles, and must therefore be informed by an objective code of ethics. Theocracies make the mistake of legislating morality, which violates the principles by trespassing against the individual who does not share the enforced moral code. Ethics dictates how an individual may live within society without violating the two principles, and since this is something that everyone in society has to agree on, it must be based on objective reasoning and not subjective feelings.

Individual laws may be drafted to delineate what sort of actions are right or wrong in the context of the social order, but must always act in support of the two founding principles, and not violate them. Law exists to defend order in society, NOT to dictate how individuals should live their lives. Neither the code of law nor the state that enforces it is as real or as direct as the individual's conscious experiences, and this must never be forgotten.

The details of this code of ethics is worth discussing, but I leave that as an exercise for another day. I will say, however, that one of the defining features will be the issue of consent. The notion of "consensual crimes", or "vice crimes" absent victims (except consenting "victims"), as exists in the current social order, is an abomination that violates the supremacy of the individual, and would be completely done away with under the new social order. If we define crime as an act that harms a non-consenting person or their property, there remains the question of what constitutes harm, and how to measure it (which will be informed by evidence-based science as opposed to emotion and tradition) - which is an exercise for the justice system. Nevertheless, the abolition of "consensual crimes" will allow for the reallocation of much wasted time and energy to those real issues of justice.

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