Justice Is a Social Construct

If you’ve spent more than five seconds on the internet, chances are good you have heard of the concept of a social construct. Most notably, social justice warriors tout the idea that race or gender are social constructs. This discredits the idea that social constructs actually exist because race and gender are both biologically determined and determinant. There are distinct attributes that separate the races, and there are specific sex organs that separate the genders. These are scientific facts and the debate of which are outside the scope of this article. However, what I would like to discuss is the fact that justice is a social construct.

A social construct is defined as a jointly constructed understanding of the world that forms the basis for shared assumptions about reality. What then is justice? A cursory dictionary search will produce several definitions, but the only descriptive and meaningful definition in this context is, the administering of deserved punishment or reward. There are several questions that we must now ask. What is deserved punishment? Who decides what is deserved? How should it be administered? Who is responsible for administering the justice? We will see in the answering of these questions we must come to a shared and chosen agreement between ourselves as to what is just; we must construct in a social setting what we believe justice to be.

What is deserved punishment?

I think we would agree that the punishment must fit the crime. Surely taking off someone’s hand for stealing a loaf of bread is a bit extreme, however often the practice may have taken place in more barbarous civilizations in the Middle East and Africa. Letting the crime go unpunished also seems a bit too lenient. There is also the possibility that the owner of the bread may take mercy on the thief if he or she is starving and may let him or her have the loaf as an act of benevolence. We see then that there are many conditions that go into determining a just punishment. We must consider the crime, the intent and motivations of the perpetrator, and the wishes of the aggrieved. Surely it would not be just to throw a man in prison for stealing a loaf of bread when the baker that baked it would rather the man eat the stolen bread than go to jail. Also, it would not be just to let a rapist go free simply because he justifies his rape on the grounds of a lack of sex. We must also consider if killing violent offenders is something we consider just. Is jail the correct option, or is indentured servitude a better solution? This leads us to our next question.

Who decides what is deserved?

As we discussed earlier, who is aggrieved by the crime must have a say in what is deserved, at least in so far as if punishment should be administered. A grieving mother may want to see the murderer of her children flayed openly in the public square, however, the rest of the members of society may find that punishment to be entirely too severe, or at the least something not worth displaying publicly. Who else should be involved? The elders of the society who have seen the outcomes of crimes and punishments administered in the past? Perhaps scholars who have researched the best applications of different punishments? What about a jury of your peers? These are questions that must be answered and agreed upon by every member of society, otherwise no system of justice will be recognized as just.

How should justice be administered and who administers it?

Think of your current legal system. In America we have police, attorneys, prosecutors, judges, juries, and a prison system. We have determined that police should apprehend offenders, prosecutors should bring charges against them, a judge ensures their trial is fair, an attorney defends them, and a jury judges them. Sentencing is also often carried out by the judge, and then the administration of that punishment is carried out by the prison system. Is this the best solution possible? How do we even decide what the best solution ought to be? This leads to our final, and yet unasked question.

What is the purpose of justice?

The concept of justice is often represented as a blindfolded woman with a scale in one hand and a sword in the other. The blindfold assures there is no bias in the evaluation of wrongdoing; only the facts are heard. The sword ensures that the society and the system are defended and the capacity to mete out punishment is adequate. Finally, the scale is there not to ensure the punishment fits the crime, but to attempt to restore the value that was destroyed by the initial crime. If you steal my car, I not only lose the value of my car, but also the convenience of being able to transport myself wherever whenever. This may include my job, so I may lose wages. It may include my girlfriend’s house, so I may lose pleasure. It may include the movies, so I may lose leisure. Returning my car to me does not rebalance the scale. I am owed the value of my lost wages, pleasure, and leisure, plus the depreciation on the car that occurred while it was not in my possession. Replacing my stolen car with a new one may rebalance the scale, depending on the value of my old car. However, if it does not, I am owed some form of additional compensation. Locking a man in prison will most likely not regain me my lost value from the crime, so the punishment may not be just.

So what is the purpose of justice? The purpose of justice is to restore the value that was lost during the original crime. We as individuals have to decide the value of things in our lives, and we as members of society must agree upon a system that is best suited to restore that value when it is taken from us by acts of aggression and violence. We must agree that all values are subjective, and that any system we devise will be inadequate in restoring that value, regardless of how detailed or intricate our system is. This is why we must strive to live in a society without crime in the first place. It is only through such a pursuit that we can flourish, and it is why I believe in anarchy so much. We must be free to determine our own systems and beliefs by which we choose to live our lives because otherwise we will never be able to construct a system of justice, let alone a just system for life.

All Rights Are Positive Rights

If you’re not familiar with rights theory, two classifications of rights are said to exist, positive and negative. Negative claim rights came first, and they are called negative claim rights because they are considered to exist in absentia of other people. These include the right to life, liberty, and property mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of the United States. These are considered negative claim rights because they do not require other people in order for them to exist. Positive claim rights, on the other hand, do require other people to be involved. These include, but are not limited to the right to healthcare, education, social security, and any other promised free handout a government wants to sell you. I cannot get healthcare without a doctor to treat me, and I cannot get educated (in theory) without an educator to teach me. This is why they are positive claim rights. In this article, I am going to argue that all rights are inherently positive claim rights. They are all derived from a positivist approach to legal theory.

There are two theories of law, natural law and positivism. Natural law is the idea that our conduct as humans is governed by an observable, objective set of moral principles. Murder, rape, theft, and deception are all considered crimes under natural law because they have an observable victim that has been harmed. These laws are believed to exist as gravity exists; they are a condition of reality. Legal positivism, on the other hand, believes that laws are socially constructed, are relative to the society that creates them, and are established by best practices within a given society. Under such a legal system, you have the right to free speech if and only if the law allows it. The only rights you have are those granted to you by the government.

At this point it would make sense to connect natural law to negative rights, and positivism to positive rights, and that is typically what has happened throughout most of our public discourse on rights and legal theory. However, rights do not exist. They are not a tangible part of reality. My water bottle and this computer are tangible. My physical body is tangible. Rights are not. They are beliefs held in your head, and sometimes they are written on paper. No matter their presentation, whether in your head or on paper, they require recognition from other people in order to be real. It is not a right that is observed when someone does not steal from you. You are witnessing a choice being made by an individual person. Choices are real, and actions are observable. However, the reasons people have for their choices are always up for debate. In any case, your right to life and your right to property are every bit as dependent upon the choices and actions of others as are your rights to healthcare and education.

Due to the fact that negative claim rights are as dependent upon the actions of others as are positive claim rights, all rights must be characterized as positive claim rights. Natural law does not require the recognition of rights, only the presentation of an aggrieved party. Also, anarchy does not require the recognition of rights, only the recognition of reality, part of which is self-ownership, something I discuss here.

Now, the argument can be made that natural law depends upon the actions and choices of others to recognize the suffering of the aggrieved party and act in a way to ameliorate that suffering. It can also be argued that anarchy demands that others recognize self-ownership. While both arguments are valid, natural law and anarchy require only that members in society live in accordance with observable reality. It is easy to observe when someone is the victim of a crime, and it is easy to observe self-ownership. In fact, one is using self-ownership when they engage in the act of observing. Determining when something is wrong, in the sense that it does not comport with reality or violates self-ownership, is like observing the weather; you need only pay attention. I would like to note here that punishments for crimes, justice, vengeance, and retribution are all positive acts and thus require a positivist framework within which to operate. These are concepts outside the scope of this discussion.

I do not argue from a rights perspective because rights do not exist, and the argument over rights is like arguing about whether or not a hypothetical rain storm will extinguish the fire that is currently consuming your house. So much time, effort, thought, and language goes into arguing and debating rights that in so doing we miss the very obvious wrongs being perpetrated by our governments and the people that run them. Taxation is theft. War is murder. Citizenship is slavery. Until we, as individuals, start recognizing reality for what it truly is, we are doomed to live a dimmed existence of our potential selves.

The Three Justifications for Morality

Morality, defined here as conformity to how one ought to act, has three different foundations throughout history. They are God imposed, State imposed, and self-imposed. All three of these theories are also theories of ownership because it is only through ownership that proper action can be dictated. Ownership is defined here as the ability to execute exclusive control on an object. This includes your body. So, who owns you? Our perceptions about ownership have defined our lives in the past and our legal structures that subsequently evolved. It is through our understanding of this history of ownership that we can seek to liberate ourselves and achieve true freedom and flourishing.

The first ideas of morality come to us from religion. These ideas are God imposed, most notably in the Western European world as the Ten Commandments, and they have been implemented and followed throughout our legal systems to a large extent. My concern here is less with the history of the legal systems and more with the ideology that governs our recognition of authority when it comes to dictating morally correct action. In the God imposed theory of morality, we are all owned by God. Jesus is our shepherd and we are but lambs, and language of the like. The very mentality of the religious believer is that the individual is incapable of knowing right from wrong; only God can know such things. So, in order to be virtuous, I must do what I am told by God. God controls my fate, and it is only by his grace that I shall make it into heaven, lest I be cast into hell. God has the power to dictate how you ought to live, and this can only be established through the recognition and acceptance of God’s ownership over your body.

Of course, it may also be argued that God has given us freewill, and we have the capacity to choose our actions. This may be technically true, but God still dictates which choices are correct and incorrect. We lack judgement over our own actions, a fundamental necessity of ownership. In the religious view, we are no different from a cow owned by a farmer. We may choose when to eat grass and where, but our choices are limited by the fence around the field. Yes, the fence may offer us protection from predators, but it also prevents us from eating whatever grass we may desire, and it has also deprived us of the choice to erect our own fence should we choose to have one. We are not autonomous creatures that own ourselves.

The second idea of morality comes from government. Sometimes called rights, the government dictates to us what actions we can take, and which ones we cannot. The punishment and reward systems are not as prolific as those in religion, namely freedom from jail is heaven and jail is hell, however, they do still exist. Instead of listing commandments, the government grants rights. Governments take a more positivistic approach; they tell you what you are allowed to do, and if it isn’t listed, you cannot do it. In some legal traditions, most notably common law, it was understood that if the law didn’t explicitly forbid it, you were allowed to do it. This interpretation has since given way to the more explicitly positivistic approach in which the government allows you certain freedoms through rights. An example of this is with the U.S. constitution. When the first amendment was written, James Madison marveled at its relevance. He argued that the right was superfluous because nowhere in the constitution did the government have the capacity to regulate speech. This interpretation has since been turned on its head and every free speech battle has been about what the first amendment allows the citizens to do and not what power is given to the government by the constitution.

Governments steal from their citizens through taxation and asset forfeiture, they limit services we can provide or receive, they decide who can provide what services and how through licensing, they mandate how we can receive medical care, they dictate what constitutes money, and they regulate what we are allowed to put into our bodies. Again, it could be argued that we have the freedom to decide these things because we have the freedom to vote, but this is even less reassuring than freewill. At least with freewill we can make choices on a daily basis. With voting, we get a choice maybe once every two, four, or six years. And even then, politicians rarely keep their campaign promises. We are owned by a schizophrenic, sociopathic master, with no regard for our wellbeing, and every incentive to sell us out as chattel to the highest bidder. We are not just cows in a fenced in field anymore; we are in the back of a semi-truck on our way to the slaughterhouse and all we get to decide is who is driving the truck.

Finally, we come to our final theory of ownership, and thus basis for morality; self-ownership. I am the only being capable of moving my fingers to type this article. I am the only being capable of blinking my eyes, turning my head, or walking a mile on my legs. You can put a gun to my head and force me to do these things, but you cannot control my body as I can. No being on the planet is capable of exclusively controlling the body of another living creature. I cannot will a rabbit to eat grass, a gazelle to run from a lion, or a person to read this article. I can use force or the threat of force to compel action. I can use compelling speech or coercive deception to compel action. However, I have no capacity to will action from another being. This is because self-ownership is self-evident, it is a priori, and it is a condition of reality. Once we recognize this, no other basis for morality is possible save our own self-imposed one.

I am not arguing for moral relativism, i.e. the idea that every individual has their own morality and thus can to whatever they feel is right at the given moment. No, I am arguing for a morality that acts in accordance with our observed reality, the one that demonstrates that every living being owns his, her, or its body, and to try to compel action from another necessarily requires force or coercion, which violates the self-ownership of the being actively being compelled into action. You are the only person that can decide to use your eyes and your brain to read and interpret this article. If I put a gun to your head and force you to do it, I am violating your ownership over yourself. Your exclusive control over your body is being violated by my threat of complete destruction lest you choose to comply with my dictates. My actions would be immoral because they do not comport with reality. Indeed, they violate the evidence of reality.

Self-imposed morality, or a morality based upon self-ownership, dictates that in order to be moral, we must act in accordance with reality. Reality very evidently shows that you own your body and I own mine. For anyone to attempt to violate that ownership, they must aggress against us, and thus their actions are immoral. This is where the concept of the non-aggression principle is derived. It states that the initiation of the use of force is morally wrong. This is a valid moral principle because the initiation of the use of force always results in a violation of someone’s self-ownership.

Self-imposed morality also gives us the freedom to decide for ourselves how we ought to act. We are limited only by the immorality of aggressing against other living beings. We are free to decide what relationships we value, what labors to pursue, what virtues to embody, and how happiness is best experienced. Religion is unnecessary, however, you are free to follow one as long as you or your congregation are not violating the non-aggression principle. Governments are also not necessary, however, should you and your neighbors choose to form a voluntary coalition with common goals, you are free to do so as long as you do not aggress against anyone. You are free to make or earn your bread as you so choose. You are even free to characterize this state of existence as anarchy, and I encourage you to do just that.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

The revolution will not be televised. We’ve heard this expression countless times throughout our lives, but have you ever stopped to consider what it means? The most obvious explanation is that the major news organizations have a vested interest in the status quo, and, having no incentive to broadcast the change in operations, hide the news of the revolution from the audience. This is a perfectly reasonable explanation, and given our current understanding of the bias of the major news media and their reasons for it, it is a likely one. However, I would like to pose a different explanation.

The revolution will not be televised because television as we know it will cease to exist by the time the revolution happens. We can see it happening more and more every day. Millions of people get their news and commentary from the internet. They increasingly look there for entertainment as well. YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming sources all provide far superior outlets for news and entertainment, and there are countless blogs and websites that are putting print media into the dust bin of history. This, however, is not the only reason the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised because the revolution itself is not a singular event. We might like to think that the global financial markets will melt down one day, and from the ashes of ruin, a phoenix of free market capitalism and sound money shall rise, however, this is very unlikely. Yes, the global financial markets are built upon a Ponzi scheme of fiat money and trillions, if not quadrillions, of dollars of debt, but that does not mean the world will end when that system collapses. It also does not mean that the collapsing of that system will be the revolution.

The revolution is already happening. It has been happening. The revolution is not one singular event. It is the creation, evolution, and adoption of new systems that improve our quality of life. The revolution in human communication occurred when the telephone was invented, it evolved into cell phones, and everyone now uses them. The same happened with education. Once the internet was invented, improved upon, and accepted into mass usage, you can learn anything you want online, whether formal or informal via a YouTube video. Transportation is another revolution that has occurred over the last century. We went from horses, to trains, to cars, to airplanes, to everyone having their own car and driving wherever they want.

The last great revolution that will occur is in money. I know that the government runs and controls many things via the threat of a gun, but it is monopoly control over the money supply that affords them the power to rule over us. If we can do with money what we have already done with communication, education, and transportation – that is to say, create something better than the fiat we use, let it evolve into something that works for almost everyone, and get it adopted by the mass population – we will liberate ourselves from the shackles of tyranny seemingly overnight.

Many will argue that our beacon of hope is crypto currencies, and while I like the technology quite a bit and believe it has tremendous potential for contributing to human flourishing, I can’t get my head around the idea of a series of digits on a screen having intrinsic value. They are a great medium of exchange, or currency, but they are not money. Going into further detail on the discussion of crypto currencies is beyond the scope of this article, however, know that they are an alternate and competing system with our current fiat based currency system and they offer some hope for the revolution continuing according to the needs of human flourishing.

Just like the formerly skinny person that wakes up fat one day and wonders, “How did this happen?” so too shall be our revolution in human flourishing.  The observed situation did not occur overnight with the now fat person, rather it was a series of little decisions over the course of many years. Our revolution will happen much in the same way. We will make one individual decision today, and then another tomorrow, and one the next day, and before you know it, we will all wake up one day and realize, we live in a pretty great world.

You Are the Variable

What is the purpose of a life well lived? What is the purpose of life? What is the purpose of anything? Purpose denotes meaning, that there is a reason something happens. There is no preexisting reason you are alive. You exist. That is all. What you do with your existence is up to you. No one can give you anything you aren’t willing to take, no one can take from you anything you aren’t willing to give, and no one can show you things you aren’t willing to see. Reality is a constant, you are the variable, and you have the power to choose. You create your reality. Looking at a tree does not change the tree. I will remain the same whether you see it or not, but you will be different after you have seen the tree. What you do with that experience is up to you, because you are the variable. You change, and while you have the power to change the world around you, the greater change is always within yourself.

Let’s say you remodel your kitchen. What was it like before? It had some cabinets, a refrigerator, an oven, a stove top, counter tops, a sink, and maybe a dishwasher. What is it like now? It has some cabinets, a refrigerator, an oven, a stove top, counter tops, a sink, and maybe a dishwasher. It really hasn’t changed, at least not from what our concept of a kitchen is. Now, let us ask, how have you changed?

You went from being dissatisfied and possibly even distraught over the sight of your old kitchen to being positively elated! You love your new granite counter tops, your stainless steel fridge, and your center of the island stove top. You are so happy to be in your kitchen, and you love cooking in it. The chores that were a complete bore are now an absolute joy! Yet, your kitchen isn’t functionally any different than it was before. You could cook, do dishes, and feed your family just as well then as you could now. So what has changed?

You have changed. You took a reality you did not have control over, the original design of the kitchen, and you took control over it. You asserted your existence upon the kitchen. You have done this with other aspects of your life, but perhaps you weren’t aware of it. Every time you choose to change something in reality that exists so that makes you happier, you are asserting your existence. It is easier to do with inanimate objects, but it can be done with people too.

When you are in a relationship, whether with a friend or a lover, you assert your existence by stating your preferences and clarifying your boundaries. No matter how crazy of a story your buddy has, you don’t want him calling you at two in the morning to tell you about it. No matter how good the sex is, you will not tolerate an abusive lover. You do not have direct control over them in the way you do the kitchen, but you can control whether or not they are in your life.

Anarchy is the recognition that everything in the world is chaos, and we choose to forge from that chaos order. There is no meaning to life unless we choose to give it. Anarchy is the recognition of the fact that there is no reason why you are reading these words, unless you choose to give your action of reading meaning. What’s more, anarchy is recognizing that by reading these words, they will not change, but you will. You are the variable. Everything else in life is a constant.

 

The Moral Case for School Vouchers

How much do you know about public school funding? If you do not have children, I would be surprised if you knew very much. If you do have kids, it could quite possibly be the biggest headache of your life. The reason for this is due to the fact that public education funding is drawn from property taxes, and the higher your property value is, the greater the revenue is for the local public school. This may seem pretty straight forward, and it may even seem equitable or fair, but I can assure you it is not.

The purpose of public education is to ensure every child has equal access to education. That seems simple enough, yet, as with all things involving people, the idea is not so straight forward. Every child is different, and what constitutes an education varies widely. In an effort to parse these ideas into concepts that are manageable, let us accept that every child is different, because in reality they are, and let us also define education as the development of skills and accumulation of knowledge that helps an individual flourish.

By this standard, our current public schooling system fails miserably. On the front end, we have a system that tries to universalize standards and teaching methods across the board. Every student must sit in a desk and be lectured to. If they do well in this environment and like the subject matter, they get good marks and get to move on. However, if they are not engaged physically, creatively, or intellectually, they flounder. Worse yet, graduation rates being one standard of success for schools, in an effort to show improvement, the standards for graduation are reduced so more kids, who are not engaged properly, are pushed through a system that has effectively taught them nothing.

To add insult to injury, standardized testing has stripped individual children of their curiosity and interest in learning. Teachers are no longer teaching children so they can flourish in life; teachers are teaching children so they can pass a test. Life is not about your ability to fill in the correct bubbles on a test; it is about applying your innate talents, developed skills, and acquired knowledge in a way that will help you experience happiness as often as possible. No part of our current system teaches this to children, let alone prepares them for it.

On the back end, our children are suffering even more. After going through the meat processing plant that is our current public education system, our children are not equipped to handle a regular nine to five job, let alone get married, buy a house, and have kids. These were the standards of the American Dream, and instead of improving our institutions to ensure all of our kids can accomplish this dream if they want, we have changed the dream itself to simply, “Be happy with what you can get.” Upwards of fifty percent of college students need remedial courses upon enrollment. This is a clear statement of the failure of our current system.

I personally have first-hand experience with how inadequate our system is. I graduated from one of the wealthiest school districts in the state of Ohio. You are probably thinking, how is that a bad thing? It is a bad thing because it is proof our system works just well enough for those with means to not complain about it. My mother did everything she could to get me into the school district I went to, which meant moving within its jurisdiction. She was fortunate enough to be able to move me there, and I benefited greatly from the choice she made. The problem is that access to great education should not depend upon your zip code. If the people that moved into affluent areas with wealthy school systems were forced to send their kids to the same underperforming institutions the less affluent have to endure, the system would be changed in a matter of months. Instead, because those with the power to change the system can simply move to an area where the system is still working, nothing changes.

I do not fault these people for moving. In fact, I applaud their hard work to ensure their children have the best possible opportunities, just as my mother did for me. The people I do fault are the legislators for seeing the broken system and being either too controlled by teachers’ unions or too afraid or lazy to make the changes necessary. What are those changes, you might ask? Simple. A publicly funded voucher program.

As it stands, all of the money gathered locally for schools goes to the public institutions, and the kids are sent there based upon their zip code. The state and federal governments have money that they grant for various programs, some of which are voucher programs, but a large portion goes to the institutions as well. A voucher program will instead send the money to the children directly. Every child, regardless of zip code, will receive the same amount of money from the state for the purpose of funding the child’s education. The parent will then be able to choose to which school they will send their child. This will allow for a whole new market in educational services to grow.

Private schools, charter schools, online schools, Montessori schools, other institutions unimaginable right now, and yes, even public schools will all be competing with each other to provide the best possible education for our children. If a parent does not like what their child is learning, or if the child expresses dissatisfaction with their teachers or school, the parent can change where the child learns in a matter of days. Schools will have to work to serve the children, and not the legislative mandates and bureaucratic entanglements that ensnare and obfuscate progress on a daily basis in our current system. Teachers will have the freedom to teach their students in a way that accords with their abilities and beliefs, and the students will have the freedom to choose the teachers that suit their aptitudes and interests. If our goal is to help every individual child flourish, a voucher system is the only solution that can come from a publicly funded educational program.

The argument is simple. If human flourishing is our standard of value, forcing children to go to underperforming institutions with poorly designed educational programs and unsatisfactory methods of teaching clearly fails our standard. Our children are suffering, and the most in need of quality education are suffering the worst. The system we have still works for the wealthy, and they should not be faulted for taking advantage of it. For those of us that see the problem, it is our job to point it out and educate all those around us so they too can see the truth. If we want to live in a society that works for everyone, we must admit when society is failing those among us that need our help the most. The educational system we have is failing, and it will be only a matter of time until it affects everyone, even the wealthy. This is why we need to tackle this problem now and start working towards a better future. Take voucher programs seriously, and start advocating for school choice today. If we want a better future, we must help the children that will inherit tomorrow flourish today.

By this point you may be wondering, “What does this have to do with anarchy?” After all, in a world of entirely voluntary interactions, the only “public” education would be that provided by private charities or voluntary community organizations. We do not live in that world. We live in a world with public education, and if we ever want to get into a state of anarchy, we must start pushing for a freeing of the educational system so that the ideas of freedom start permeating the minds of our children. That can only happen today through a system of school vouchers and school choice. This is why it is relevant to anarchy, and it is why, if you are reading this blog, it should matter to you.

What Is Politics?

A friend of mine recently told me that politics escapes her. Given that we recently had a presidential election in the United States, I thought it would be appropriate to take a stab at trying to explain the concept because it is clearly lost on many people.

The first thing we have to understand is that politics is the end of a much longer and more in-depth train of thought that begins with morality. I am going to define three concepts that all build upon each other, and I will start with morality.

Morality- The discussion and determination of the rightness and wrongness of an action based upon a universal standard of value. (See my discussion on morality here.)

Ethics- The discussion and determination of the rightness and wrongness of enforcing morality.

Politics- The discussion and determination of the rightness and wrongness of a system designed to enforce ethics in order to achieve justice.

These may seem esoteric and possibly difficult to conceptualize in these terms. So, allow me to simplify with an example. Murder is one of the most commonly cited morally wrong and universally banned actions, and as such, I will use it to explain how the action fits into my definitions.

When discussing morality, we ask, “Is murder right or wrong?” I think every person can agree that murder is wrong. Why murder is wrong is also something discussed in morality, and let me put it simply that murder is wrong because it violates the self-ownership of the victim. (Again, see my blog here for more.)

Now that we have accepted that murder is morally wrong, we must ask, “Is enforcing a ban on murder right or wrong?” As an aside here, you may be wondering if we should ask, “Should we ban murder?” The answer may seem a self-evident “Yes!” but for any detractors I will say this. What would be the point in determining if murder is right or wrong if you weren’t going to ban it on some level? Even restricting you own actions against murder because you know it is morally wrong is a ban on the act. If murder is wrong, and a ban on it is something we should support, even if only on a personal level, would it be acceptable to tolerate a murderer living amongst us? This would be a contradiction of morality. If a ban on murder is good, then people violating that ban are bad and must be dealt with. Thus, we establish that enforcing a ban on murder is right.

We know that murder is morally wrong and enforcing a ban on murder is ethically right, but how do we implement our ethical determination? This is where politics comes in. Politics is the engineering in a world where morality is the physics. What works neatly in theory does not always work with the materials available. Bridges used to be built with stone and wood, then brick and mortar, then steel, and now with steel, titanium, concrete, and computers. The materials improved and thus so did the bridges. The physics was always the same, but the engineering adapted to the materials. In politics, our materials are individual people. The physics is still the same; morality remains unchanged. The only way to improve our materials is to improve people’s understanding of morality and enhance their capacity to act upon that understanding.

Politics is like bridge building with rocks, bricks, wood, steel, titanium, and the occasional computer design; you never have enough of any one input to build a bridge perfect for your material, so you cobble together what you can where you can. This is pretty much why politics sucks. Imagine you are a piece of steel trying to justify the building of a bridge that you are capable of supporting, but you are talking to a bunch of timber, bricks, and rocks. Are the rocks going to be able work with you on that bridge? Most likely not. To dispel the idea that I am calling stupid people rocks in this analogy, think of it this way. How hard is it to build a bridge of rocks and stones compared to a bridge made of steel? When building with steel, the complexity increases considerably. With rocks, you just stack rocks until you get your bridge. Both are applying physics to meet a desired end, and one does it with far less complication. When discussing politics, you want to be the rock, not the steel.

To our idea of murder, how do we enforce a ban on murder in a way that does not violate morality while simultaneously achieving justice? Answering that question is the purpose of politics. The system devised is limited by the people devising it, implementing it, and to which it applies.

If the people devising the system believe that, while murder is wrong, forcible imprisonment is right, they might devise a system in which every single person is in solitary confinement all the time. Murder would certainly be stopped, but so too would anyone’s will to live.

If you lived on a world where the intelligent people were three feet tall and blind, while the aggressive and violent were six feet tall and had no compunction against murder, the implementation of any system the intelligent people designed would fail.

If all of the animals of the jungle were to try to devise a plan in which murder was banned, the entire ecosystem would collapse. The predators such as lions, cheetahs, and tigers would all die off as they would not be able to eat, and all of the prey species would overpopulate and decimate the vegetation, thus killing themselves off in the process. Trying to apply politics to that scenario would undoubtedly fail.

For humans, if we were all perfectly rational, well informed, and had a strong grounding in morality, we would have no problem building a political system out of rocks. Ideally, anarchy is a world in which the rocks work freely together with the rocks, the steel works with the steel, and whoever wants to build whatever wherever is perfectly free to do so because every participant is doing so voluntarily. Unfortunately, we do not live in that world, and few of the materials in our political metaphor understand politics, let alone anarchy. So, we are stuck building the best bridge we can with the inputs we have.

The Want-Need Relationship

It has come to my attention that many people believe that they can go through life happily not getting what they want as long as they get what they need. This is an odd belief and it shows a lack of understanding about the want-need relationship. Allow me to elaborate.

Do you need to eat food and drink water? You’re immediate answer is probably yes, but the correct answer is no. There is nothing that you inherently need to do. You don’t even need to breathe air. That is, unless you want to survive. You don’t need to eat food or drink water unless you want to live. You don’t need to have shelter unless you want to survive the elements of nature. You don’t even need to wear clothes unless you want to live in society, nudist colonies notwithstanding.

The want-need relationship is imperative to understand because without knowing what you want, you will never know what you need. Do you want to be happy? Then you need to live a virtuous life directed at being a good person. Do you want to be healthy? Then you need to eat a plant based diet and exercise regularly. Do you want to be loved and feel desired in your intimate relationship? Then you need to be a virtuous person, find a virtuous partner, and work to make sure each of you is engaging the other to be better every day.

Your desires are the guideposts by which you orient your life. The desires you have express your maturity and values. A child may desire candy and cookies, but that is because he doesn’t know any better. An adult who desires candy and cookies has a very immature mentality and does not value health or long-term happiness.

Philosophy should help you determine what it is you want out of life and how best to get what you need in order that you may experience happiness as often as possible. Philosophy is not merely understanding the want-need relationship; it is determining what you as an individual need so that you may accomplish what you want.

As you grow and change as an adult, what you need will invariably change because you will develop a more profound understanding of what it is you want out of life and why. Experiencing happiness is what we all want, but what it is that makes us happy is different for everyone. It is also different for the same person over time. Future you will undoubtedly need different things than current you needs in order to experience happiness, and what current you accomplishes will impact what future you needs. Future you’s understanding of happiness will be tempered and encouraged by what current you experiences. Philosophy will put into perspective the importance of knowing what you want now and in the future, and it will help you prioritize so that you may experience happiness as completely as possible. (I talked about the relationship between current you and future you in a previous post, here.)

If your desires are the magnetic poles, then philosophy is your compass. Understanding the want-need relationship is the equivalent of building a state of the art GPS system, launching the satellites into space, developing a cool interactive and user friendly interface, turning it into an easy to use app, and making sweet, sweet moolah. Money isn’t everything, but metaphorical money used to represent happiness? Those are the dollar bills to stuff under your mattress, stack in your safe, and hopefully have enough of one day to do a Scrooge McDuck style high dive into and swim around in. That is a dream worth achieving.

The Two People in Your Life

There are two versions of you that exist. There is the person you are right now, and there is the person you will eventually become; current you, and future you. At the end of reading this article you will be future you from the perspective of current you, and you will be a different person. Time and experience make the future version of ourselves different from who we are right now in this moment. Even if we do nothing but stare blankly at a wall for four hours, the person we are at the end of that four hours has changed, even if seemingly imperceptibly. You will at the least be four hours older, and perhaps at the most, someone who has achieved a profound understanding of themselves. You could have been meditating about your life during that staring, only you know for certain. The point is, we are always changing, and the only control we have is over the direction of that change is the choices we make.

You can do nothing to change who you are right now, but the choices current you makes will determine who future you is. That sounds clunky, so let me rephrase. There are two people in your life, the person you are, and the person you will eventually become. You have the power to determine who you will eventually become, and you can ensure that version of yourself becomes who you want to be by the choices you make in the present. It can be empowering and scary to realize the kind of power you have over the direction of your life and the future you will have. You have the capacity to become what you have always wanted to be, to be the kind of person that will make you happy. Eventually, current you will be future you, and when that day comes, will you be happy?

We must side track for a moment to define happiness. Happiness is a state of being. It is a kind of joyous satisfaction with your life that comes as a result of living the virtues that make you a good person. It is not the immediate satisfaction of your most base desires in the moment that defines hedonism. Happiness does not come from consuming the bowl of ice cream; it comes from knowing that you have the power to choose if you want to eat the ice cream, and if you do, it will not ruin your health. Happiness is self-empowerment and self-control. Happiness is not spending time with people in your life; happiness is knowing the people you spend time with in your life are there because they practice the same virtues as you. Happiness is knowing that you will become the person you want to be because you are already making choices that make you more like that version of yourself every day. But, how do we achieve happiness?

The first thing we must realize is that happiness is not an achievement, and it is not a destination. It is a state of being, which means it can only be experienced. So, how do we experience happiness? We must make choices every day that make us virtuous and good people. I say virtuous and good because I believe virtue is living in accordance with your values. If you value honesty and want to be virtuous, you must be honest and truthful with yourself and the people in your life. You could value hurting other people, and thus would be virtuous by hurting other people. But that wouldn’t make you a good person. In order to be good, you must virtuous in living the values that make one a good person. Those values may be self-evident to most people, but this is short list of some of them: honesty, integrity, trust, compassion, empathy, sympathy, kindness, generosity, courage, and magnanimity. That is by no means an exhaustive list, and to provide a complete list may take a lifetime of work. Another reality is that being virtuous and good also takes a lifetime of work.

The truth is, none of us will ever be perfectly truthful, perfectly honest, perfectly empathetic, and that is OK. We are human. It is more important that we try and are dedicated in our effort to achieve virtue than it is to actually achieve the ideal. Being virtuous is a skill, and like any other skill, it must be practiced if we are ever going to be good at it. You do not have to be excessively rigorous, but it is important to have a working understanding of your virtues. Otherwise, you will not know what choices to make. If you want to be an honest person, this means you must always tell the truth, no matter how embarrassing. Sharing embarrassing truths can be hard, but there are two ways to make it easier. One, you start with easy, little truths. Perhaps you tell your friend you secretly have a crush on the awkward person that used to work in the mail room, or despite how obnoxious your boss is, you respect and appreciate them for what they are trying to accomplish in the workplace. Two, you have people in your life with which you can share your truths openly and honestly without fear of judgement or reproach because they accept and appreciate you for the person you try every day to become.

This is another truth; achieving virtue is a life-long pursuit, and you must make choices every day that direct you towards being virtuous. You must practice every day, every time you have to make a choice. No matter how small the choice is today, it will impact future you. You may think, “Ah, it’s just one cookie, what could it hurt?” but it is not just one cookie. It is a value judgement about whether or not immediate gratification is more important than long-term success. If you are trying to lose weight, saying no to the cookie today will make it easier to say no to the cookie tomorrow, and after saying no to the cookie a few days in a row, you will feel so empowered that no cookie will hold sway over you ever again. Understanding the kind of power future you has the potential to wield must be an ever present idea in your mind because it will have a profound impact on the power current you is able to exercise.

Future you will eventually be current you, and if you want future you to be happy, successful, and the culmination of your life’s biggest dreams, then it requires consistent, diligent work from current you. It is not about some singular herculean effort, rather it is about a lot of little efforts every single day. One snowflake is not capable of covering the mountain, but when enough of them accumulate over time, and their fall is consistent enough, you can build a ski resort and make a lot of money. The snowflakes are your choices, and the ski resort is your happiness. Isn’t it time you started accumulating?

The Irony of Collective Individualism

Individualism triumphs the idea that humans should be evaluated on individual merits, not on the merits of the group to which they may belong. For example, a black man should be evaluated on his individual capacity to perform a job, not on the actions of the black people that destroyed Charlotte recently. This is a perfectly reasonable and good position to have. It is illogical to assume that every member of any group thinks the same way and has the exact same capacities, especially when that group affiliation is not freely chosen. The irony is that this line of thinking, that individualism is the ideal, requires a large collective of people, a vast majority, to value it in order for individualism to matter.

This can be plainly seen by the hatred toward white people and cops coming from the rioters in Charlotte and any other place Black Lives Matters shows up. The hatred, also known as racism, directed at whites by the black rioters is collectivism pure and simple, and no matter how much the white guy getting curb stomped in the parking garage values individualism, every black person there is beating his ass because he is white. The guy getting his skull crushed didn’t choose to be white, yet the color of his skin is the only thing the collectivist, racist, blacks care about in that moment.

The case for the cops is similar, but you still have the choice to be a police officer. There was only one police officer that pulled the trigger that killed Scott, yet all cops are being blamed, attacked, and hated for it. The vast majority of cops are good people, including the one that pulled the trigger in the incident as it was justified. Despite this, because there are a few bad apples, all cops are being demonized. This is also collectivism, and as a society that values individualism, we should not tolerate it. We have systems in place to evaluate when an individual acts inappropriately; we must have the courage to stand up for what is right and get rid of the bad apples.

When we evaluate every Muslim or refugee by the same standards of collectivism, believing they are all bad because they are Muslim or because they come from the Middle East, we are not living by our standards of individualism. Should we ban all Muslims from entering the country because some of the ones that come in may murder some people? Until we can find an adequate way to evaluate them as individuals, yes. Letting them all in because a majority of them are good is just as much collectivism as is not letting any of them in because a minority of them are bad. The difference is, you can only guarantee the safety of the domestic population by excluding everyone until you have an adequate screening process. Islam as a political ideal is a subject for another time, but it is a collectivist system worse than communism.

Given all of the different factions in our world attempting to establish dominance for their specific group, how are we as individualists expected to maintain our culture of individualism? This is where the irony comes in; we must form a collective movement. A collective movement of individualists is the only way we can advocate for our values and virtues. We must collectively work together to make sure each individual is evaluated as an individual, not as part of a group. This is not to be mistaken for the reality that a person’s voluntary affiliation with a group does speak to their character, however, it is not the only component, nor is it a disqualifying characteristic. We should not prevent a terrorist from entering our country because he is a Muslim; we should ban him because he wants to initiate force against the citizens of this country.

The idea of collective identity or collective organization can be a foreign one, especially to me as someone who takes great pride in my individualism. However, I know that if I want to continue to live in a world that values individuals, I must find likeminded individuals, and we must work together as a collective to ensure our ideals are achieved. Those of us that value individualism must work together not just for our own survival, but for the survival of our culture and because it is the right thing to do. I hope, like me, you are apprehensive about the idea, but I hope like me, you are willing to give it a shot. This fight is far too important.