The Dissipation of Moral Energies


Roughly 98% of us have a deep-rooted connection to morality. Even confirmed criminals routinely say things like, “That ain’t right,” which is purely a moral judgment. However well or poorly we use it, nearly all of us hold morality as a central reference.

And this is true across nearly the whole sweep of life. Take a hard look into any workplace and you’ll find that nearly every interaction is tied to some form of moral judgment: “He didn’t treat me with proper courtesy,” “She’s arrogant,” “That’s a man you can respect,” and so on.

Nearly everyone thinks in moral terms: what’s fair, whether or not others keep their word, who has a right to what, and so on((We covered the mechanism underlying and causing this in FMP #79.)). All of these are moral judgments, and they reveal the inherent moral focus of our race. We are morally-focused creatures by nature.

Opposition to Morality

Our present world, however, is an adverse environment for morality. This becomes obvious once we observe two simple facts:

  1. The basic statement of morality is known to nearly all of us and has been championed in nearly identical form by more or less every serious moral teacher.

  2. People are deeply confused on what is or isn’t moral.

If morality is simple and widely known and yet we’re confused, something is intervening.

The basic statement of morality is our Golden Rule of course: What is hateful to you, do to no one else. This was proclaimed by ancient Greeks, Chinese, and Hebrews, and more or less every serious thinker since. And it’s a supremely simple dictum to live by.

Why, then, moral confusion?

There are many reasons of course, but all of them stem from a single source: the people and systems that can’t thrive under a simple and clear Golden Rule.

Our Golden Rule is built upon self-reference: recognizing what we like or don’t like. It is then extended to others with uncomplicated thinking.

The enemies of morality, then, are those who don’t want us to refer to ourselves. And so they demand that we reference outside standards and obey them without self-reference and without thinking. They do this partly with fear and partly with confusion.

The fear-based method of stanching morality is the statement of authority we all know: Obey or we’ll hurt you.

The confusion-based method is the belief that our obedience has been ordered by a super-human authority: the god-king, or the god, or the majestic ancients, or the holy will of the people, or nowadays, by our magic-infused democratic processes.

Here are two statements that express this same concept from a different angle:

Government is an entity that does things we’d be condemned for if we did them to our neighbor, and yet it is held to be righteous.

Anyone with a clear enough moral view and sufficient moral energy is (at a minimum) worrisome to rulership.

Dispersion of Moral Energies

What we’ve described above is the simple opposition to morality. Worse in many ways are the less direct methods: things that drain moral energies in ways that are harmless to morality’s opponents.

Think of it this way: If what you want requires people not to engage their moral energies, it might be best if you got them to spread their moral energies every which way, so that they didn’t have much left in reserve.

Humans have limited amounts of energy after all, and that includes things like willpower and moral energies. Spread them out wildly and there is simply not enough fuel to sustain them. And this is precisely what we’re seeing in our time.

The internal energies of a mainstream, respectable couple, for example, are almost fully directed away from serious moral issues. This couple likely devotes extreme levels of emotion (drawn from the same energy pool as moral energy) to harmless diversions: the environment, their pets, hating one or the other political party, office politics, complaining about all the small moral failures they see, and so on.

All of these are dispersions of moral energy, from which no personal or civilizational improvement results. And once these energies have been expended, little is left over for more productive applications.

The Reverse View

Imagine now that your interests would be threatened if people focused their energies on the Golden Rule. What would you do to ensure your continued prosperity? I think you’d do this:

  1. Encourage and support anything that would keep people afraid.

  2. Encourage and support anything that diverts moral energies into harmless paths.

  3. Encourage and support things that make people surrender their moral energies to blind obedience.

  4. Undercut the development and application of morality among the masses.

  5. Subvert whatever purposeful development of morality remains.

And here are examples of each in the modern West:

  1. (Keeping people afraid.) News channels broadcasting fear 24/7. Political talk shows focusing on the evils of the “other side.”

  2. (Diverting moral energies.) Facebook, politics, celebrity gossip, and other trivialities.

  3. (Surrendering to obedience.) The ubiquitous and uncritical lauding of democracy.

  4. (Undercutting moral development.) The persistent ridicule of Christianity. The perennial hatred toward Christianity’s sibling, Judaism.

  5. (Subverting what remains.) The grafting of evangelical Christianity into the military-industrial complex.

This conversation could go on of course, but I think my primary point has been made.

My only exhortation is that we should leave this status quo and construct a world that does not drain our moral energies.

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Peak Obedience

PeakObedienceWarnings about Peak Oil have circulated widely in recent years, and if accurate, they are important. Peak oil, however, pales in comparison to something that’s happening right in front of us… and something that is a good deal more dangerous: Peak Obedience.

If that concept strikes you as odd, I can understand why: We’ve all been living inside of an obedience cult. (And I choose these words carefully.)

In our typical “scary cult” stories, we find people who have given up their own functions of choice and who then do crazy things because they are told to by some authority. While inside their cult, however, it all makes sense; it’s all self-reinforcing.

So, inside a cult of obedience, obedience would seem proper; it would seem righteous; and more than anything else, it would seem normal. And I think that very well describes the Western status quo.

Obedience, however, should not seem normal to us. Obedience holds our minds in a “child” state, and that is not fitting for any healthy person past their first few years of life. It also presupposes that the people we obey have complete and final knowledge; and in fact, they do not: politicians, central bankers, and the other lords of the age have been wrong – obviously and publicly wrong – over and over.

So, obedience is not a logical position to take. But we all know why we take it; and that reason is fear. The mass of humanity obeys because they are afraid to do otherwise. All the “philosophy of governance” explanations are merely attempts to distract us from the truth: people believe they’ll be hurt if they don’t obey.

We are taught not to think in such stark terms, of course. Those “philosophy of governance” explanations give us reasons to believe that obedience is the good and heroic thing to do. Still, we know the truth.

But that truth about fear, even though important, is not the point I’d like you to take away from this article. My primary point is this:

When we obey, we make ourselves less conscious; we make ourselves less alive.

Why Obedience Is Peaking

I covered this in far more depth in issue #40 of my subscription letter, but I would like to provide a brief explanation here.

Over the past two centuries, authority has benefitted from a perfect storm of influences. There was never such a time previously, and there probably will never be another. Briefly, here’s what happened:

Morality was broken

For better or worse, Western civilization had a consistent set of moral standards from about the 10th century through the 17th or 18th century. Then, through the 20th century, those standards were broken.

Note that I did not say morality was changed. The cultural morality of the West was not replaced, but broken. The West has endured a moral void ever since.

Previously, people routinely compared authority’s decrees to a separate standard (most often the Bible), to see if they held up. But with Western morals broken, authority was freed from restraint.

Economies of scale

Factories made it much cheaper to produce large numbers of goods than the old way, in individual workshops. Economists call this an economy of scale. Thus a cult of size began, making “obedience to the large” seem normal.

Fiat currency

Fiat currency has allowed governments to spend money without consequences. It allowed politicians to wage war and to provide free food, free education, and free medicine… all without overtly raising taxes. Fiat currency made it seem that politics was magical.

Mass conditioning

Built on the factory model, massive government institutions undertook the education of the populace. And more important than their overt curriculum (math, reading, etc.) was their invisible curriculum: obedience to authority. Here, to illustrate, is a quote from the esteemed Bertrand Russell, who is himself quoting Johann Gottlieb Fichte, the founding father of public schooling:

Education should aim at destroying free will so that after pupils are thus schooled they will be incapable throughout the rest of their lives of thinking or acting otherwise than as their school masters would have wished.

Mass media

Mass media turbocharged authority and obedience in the 20th century. It was authority’s dream technology.

All of these things, and others, created an unnatural peak for authority. But now, this perfect storm is receding.

Peak Obedience Is Brittle

Through the 20th century, the people of the West built up a very high compliance inertia. They complied with the demands of authority and taught their children to do the same, until it became automatic. People obeyed simply because they had obeyed in the past.

Authority quickly became addicted to this situation, basing their plans on receiving every benefit of the doubt.

Automatic obedience, however, is a brittle thing. Economies of scale are failing, the money cartel has been exposed, government schools have lost respect, mass media is fading away, and the game continues because the populace is distracted and afraid. And that will not last forever.

The ‘walls’ of reflexive compliance are growing thinner. Any serious break may ruin the structure.

And Then?

It has long been understood that complex systems breed more complexity, and eventually break themselves. As central authorities try to solve each problem they face, they inevitably create others. Eventually the system becomes so complex, and its costs so much, that new challenges cannot be solved. Then the system and its authority fail, as they did recently in the Soviet Union.

Sooner or later, this is going to happen here. (If that seems impossible to you, please reflect on the current state of the mighty Roman Empire.) But again, that’s not my primary point. Obedience matters to you right now: today and every other day.

Obedience turns the best parts of you off. It degrades and kills your creativity; it undercuts your effectiveness and especially your sense of satisfaction.

Don’t sign away your life, no matter how many others do. Live consciously.

Paul Rosenberg

Can Any Government Be Moral?


Please understand that I am not setting out to prove my pet doctrine in this column. Furthermore, I do not think that people who disagree with me are stupid. I’m taking this question seriously and I intend to examine it in an honest way.

The Morality Confusion

There must be dozens of definitions for “what is moral” and a sea of confusion surrounding the entire conversation. But it’s really not that hard.

I can trace what we call “the Golden Rule” back to about 580 BC, when the Greek philosopher Thales said this:

That for which we blame others, let us not do ourselves.

There are records of other Greek philosophers saying the same thing at almost the same time, Confucius saying it a century or two later, and a stream of people saying it ever since. I can furthermore guarantee that people whose names we don’t know said the same thing thousands of years prior.

The Golden Rule has been with us for a long, long time, and it has worked better than anything else throughout all those years. Sure, human life is complicated, and sometimes applying the Golden Rule takes some judgment, but the principle itself stands.

And yes, I know that a motivated philosopher can come up with an impossible test case, but that’s not a serious concern. Send the one-in-a-million scenario to a specialist and get busy with the other 999,999.

Statements like, “We can’t really know right from wrong,” or “You only see that as right or wrong because of your culture,” are silly at a minimum and are more commonly brain poison. I can promise you that if you act according to the Golden Rule, you’ll do the right thing 99.9% of the time. Do you think any academic system of ethics could touch that success rate?

Why should we complicate this? Integrity (which is what the Golden Rule boils down to) is a simple concept that can be understood by any functional adult. And this means that moral clarity is not only possible, but universally accessible.

Morality, in the end, is simple: What you don’t like, don’t do to others. This stands upon self-reference, something that is built into us and operates effortlessly within us.

Morality is a bit like a BIOS for human life (BIOS being a set of basic commands that control a computer). As such, it is of tremendous importance.

What passes for educated discourse in the modern world often passes off morality as silly old superstitions, but the same people who make these statements deny them by their actions every day. When any of us complain about the jerk who cuts into the Starbucks line, the cruel parent, or the lying colleague, we are accusing them of being immoral, and we are confirming that morality matters to us.

So, it is very important for us to ask questions about morality, but we should ask them sincerely, not as a tool for winning some kind of debate. Debating is a poor substitute for understanding, and word fights are primarily an exercise in entropy.

What Is Government?

If we are to ask whether governments are or can be moral, we must begin by answering this question: What really is government?

In plain terms, government is a group of humans that rules over other humans.

Formal definitions stay close to “an organization that maintains a monopoly on force in a fixed geographic area.” In actual practice, that’s all but identical to “a group of humans that rules over other humans.”

In simple terms, government is the organization that tells us what we can or cannot do. And if we disobey it, it claims the right to punish us, and quite often does punish us.

As the formal definition says, government is an organization built upon force. Without force, it ceases being “government.”

Government is not a productive organization like a commercial business or a family farm. The people who form a government live off the wealth of others, which the government system removes from those others. This is beyond dispute.

We’ll address the “Is this necessary?” question later. For now, we are merely trying to understand the nature of government. And the fact is that government survives by taking the wealth of others, by force.

We all know this, of course. Taxes are taken from us every day, under heavy and credible threats: If you don’t pay, bad things happen to you. That’s not a function of persuasion; it’s a function of force… of violence. Behind every process of taxation stand armed men.

This “money-gathering under violent threat” is the central function of government. Without it, the people who make up the government would starve. Before soldiers can be armed, before roads can be built, before anything can be done, government must take money from people by force.

Like government, businesses also take money from other people. Businesses, however, get other people’s money by persuasion: If you give me some of your money, I’ll give you these groceries. That’s a voluntary trade.

The use of force is what sets government apart from other human organizations.

Let me repeat: This is not a setup to win an argument. Nor is it an effort to sanctify my personal dogma. I’m trying to find real, honest answers here. I am certainly streamlining a bit, but not, I think, unfairly: I am using the largest factors here—things that we all experience on a continual basis.

Complication very often serves to prevent conclusions. There is a whole set of academic philosophies dedicated to the proposition that you can never know anything denominated in words. If you let those people dominate your discussions, you’ll never reach any conclusion at all.

Is It Moral?

The question here is a simple one: Is it moral for one group of men to take money by force from everyone else?

Obviously, no one likes having their money being taken by force, including tax-gatherers. Any of them would call the burglary of their home a bad thing.

So, the conclusion here has to be that taking money by force is immoral: The people who do it to others wouldn’t like it done to them. And since government can survive only by taking money forcibly, we have to conclude that government is not, and cannot be, moral.

This is not a political conclusion; it is a moral conclusion. And morality remains a primary factor in human existence.

Regardless of the fact that many people, Americans in particular, like to think that their government is an agent of good upon Earth, we cannot call any government moral. A particular government may be “less bad” than another government, even far less bad, but it can never be “good.”

Whether that conclusion troubles us is a secondary issue. The conclusion stands: If the Golden Rule has validity, then government is immoral.

For a government to be moral, it would have to stop taking money by force and start gathering it by persuasion alone.

“Are You Saying That…?”

No, I’m not saying anything beyond the fact that government cannot be moral.

If you feel like jumping to a political conclusion, let me warn you that going about to “get rid of government” is about the worst thing you could do. First of all, it would be immoral and cruel to take government away from people who desperately want it to run their lives. Second, that strategy doesn’t work.

If you’d still like a political conclusion, please print this quotation from Buckminster Fuller in large letters and hang it over your desk:

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing obsolete.

“But It’s Necessary!”

Many people have a hard time thinking of government as anything less than “that which was, is, and ever shall be.” And I understand why; we are all trained in that thinking from cradle to grave. So, here’s a scenario that accepts the truth that government is immoral but still supports it as a necessity:

Government, even though immoral, is still necessary, if every other choice would be worse.

If all other choices lead to more than 260 million deaths per century (as government caused in the 20th century); if all other choices result in the loss of more than half of a productive person’s wages; if all other choices squash independent thought worse and submerge human thinking even further into rank obedience… then government is the best choice and should remain in control of the world.

But if not, government should be abandoned as a concept.

Some experiments would clearly be in order. Too bad they’re forbidden under threat of force.

Paul Rosenberg

This article was originally published by Casey Research.