Charity: Another Definition

More Definitions? Really? You’ve gotta grant this, at least, when one hears or reads the word “charity”, an idea pops into one’s head which is radically divergent from most other people. I’ve had family members cease speaking to me at thanksgiving for upwards of four years due to this seemingly innocuous term.

Really, though, is charity giving money away, being nice, or the girl you met at the club? Just as I’ve done with honor, justice, ethics, anarchy… I’m going to define a culturally significant term that is vaguely defined at best and likely upset some people along the way.

I’ve previously written on virtue and honor as well as crime, vice, and sin. The common element in each of these cases is the fact that they are performative actions regarding one’s character. If one is virtuous, one tends to do virtuous things, if one is honorable, one tends to do honorable things, etc. So, if one does charitable thins, what do we call them? What are charitable things, anyway?

Typically, I look to etymology and history to inform my understanding of a term. This time is no exception in that regard. However, unlike terms such as “honor”, “charity” seems to be a fairly recent invention. “But right here in my copy of the Vulgate, I see ‘caritas’ something like fifteen times!” Yeah… but “caritas” didn’t have the connotation of “virtuous love” or “philanthropy” until some time in the middle ages; those ideas themselves seem to be something underdeveloped in the ancient world. Rather than fully exploring the philology of charity and losing a chunk of my readership this week, I think it may be more beneficial to simply give a modern definition of the term and demonstrate its role in my understanding of the human condition. We can devote more time to this issue in later posts concerning Scriptural translators’ notes… I have a lot to say concerning that.

If one defines charity as, “maintaining an attitude of sympathy (or empathy) and compassion, and habitually attempting an understanding of one’s fellow man”, what results do we get when looking at the term’s use in the vernacular? The least controversial application of this definition, I think, would be when one is speaking of a critical analysis or opinion, for instance “While the author did not pull any punches, his critique of the work was charitable.” In such a case, a “charitable review” would be one that attempts to understand the purpose and perspective of a particular work while also expressing the faults of said work.

Additionally, when one speaks of doing charity or donating to charity, one can see where this definition would apply, if indirectly. If one is compassionate (etymologically: “suffering with”) towards one’s fellow man, they may feel compelled to ease another’s suffering at one’s own expense, even if it is only to treat them with a dignity deserving of a human being at the expense of one’s time and energy. Donating to charity is the same idea, if one step removed from the actual act: one donates to a “charitable organization” so as to aid in that ministry of charity… or, at least, that’s the pretense for it; it could just be an attempt to get a tax break or gain social status. Even in the case of one merely pretending to be charitable (by our definition), they are doing so in order to approximate the appearance of charity as we have defined it.

Even so, why does charity, a modern and loosely-used invention, warrant a role in my list of positive human activities alongside honor and virtue? Would it not be secondary or redundant if one is already an adherent to the non-aggression principle and a pursuer of virtue? Secondary, maybe, but not redundant. I say it is secondary because if I had to choose between an individual who hated me with every fiber of their being but refused to murder me versus a person who loved me unconditionally but felt it would be more humane to murder me, I would choose the non-aggressive asshole over the do-gooder criminal. I just realized this is the easiest way to delineate the libertarian left and libertarian right… but that’s neither here nor there.

Charity is not redundant in the face of virtue and honor. In the same way sin can be considered to be a specific brand of vice, one which is considered less often but can be far more detrimental to one’s happiness in the long run, charity can be considered the equivalent on the side of virtue. Charity is a specific virtue (a habituated act which aids one in the pursuit of happiness/their telos) which is considered less often, or one’s understanding of it is often maligned, but it is crucial to one’s flourishing. This is strange coming from an brutalist egoist/anarchist, isn’t it?

I tend to not write concerning charity for two reasons. The first is that it is one of my weaknesses. Empathy doesn’t come naturally to me… it’s a skill I’ve learned for the sake of bolstering my rhetorical and oratory skills. Charity is also a difficult sell amongst most Objectivists and AnCaps, given the cultural connotation of “giving shit away to undeserving people” and the Objectivist/Capitalist distaste for moochers and looters (which I share). Charity, when defined as above, does not necessitate enabling moochers and may even discourage doing so in many cases.

For example, the effective altruists have had some degree of success in proving that economic principles and employment do far more than just moving money and resources around (they would have more success if they could stop being so statist). The New Work, New Culture movement has also been quite effective in demonstrating an authentic and humane method of lifting the poverty-stricken without subsidizing moochers (they would be more effective if they were to do a little more PR work and learn some Austrian economics). The question at the heart of these sorts of programs is not “how do we get rid of poor people?” but instead “What causes humans to make stupid decisions and how do we provide them with the tools necessary to avoid such decisions?”

These programs are far more charitable and authentic than something so banal and superficial as simply giving money to those that don’t know what to do with it or feeding those that refuse to feed themselves. There is certainly a place for such practices, but such practices must be seated in a much broader framework of genuine human interaction and care. Even communities centered on such ideas, such as Catholic Charities, fail to meet the demands such a framework entails due to a number of limiting factors. Bureaucracy, lack of funds/resources, the crushing onslaught of the disenfranchised overwhelming a small number of volunteers, state regulations… they all serve to inhibit the effective charity of an organization centered on provision as primary care and the supporting framework as a secondary one.

I’m doing my best to avoid sounding like I believe in a silver bullet to cure all ails, but charity can only truly flourish within two concentric cultural movements: a free society and an intentional community within the limits of the Dunbar number. The state and cultural controls exist in such a manner so as to discourage the formation of genuine empathetic bonds between individuals and virtuous behaviors. The slavery of the state aside, a community of sufficient size to exceed the human person’s capability to develop psychological bonds with every member of the community is forced to engage only those that are capable of bringing immediate gains to the individual. Those that are in most need of charity are typically those who have the fewest tangible resources to provide, therefore disincentivizing charity to the poor due to the limitations of one’s mental resources. In a smaller community, however, the very nature of the human mind would compel one to develop a standing relationship with even the most impoverished of one’s community, which is the basis and prerequisite for true charity.

Why does any of this matter to a philosopher or an anarchist? This is barely virtue ethics, barely economics, and would be nothing more than a beneficial side-effect of anarchy. It is important for three reasons. Without charity, one cannot effectively interact with other human beings on an authentic level, which drastically impairs one’s ability to achieve any form of happiness. A common accusation leveled against anarchists and other liberty-minded individuals (which is typically false) is that they “don’t care”. As one would expect, this accusation comes primarily from the left; demonstrating the virtue of charity in its true form would effectively shut down such accusations. Thirdly, charity is absolutely essential to the proper application of justice in a free society.

Authentic human interaction is an issue I discuss frequently enough, so I don’t feel too compelled to comment on it here. However, “not caring” is a common and typically lethal accusation made against freedom-minded individuals, and it really shouldn’t be. Where a liberal (or a “conservative” which is now just a less-racist liberal) feels as if they care about the poor and therefore feel compelled to regulate their poverty, steal from the less poor in order to give a portion to the more poor, and push economically benighted ideologies surrounding vague concepts such as equality or “charity”. In all reality, if they cared about the poor, they would attempt to understand the circumstances of the poor, both on a personal level and an institutional level. Such research would demonstrate the abject and necessary failure of the welfare state and the pernicious influence of feeding moochers.

A mere historical survey of economics will demonstrate that the poor are, in fact, not “getting poorer” but instead have seen a dramatic improvement concerning material wealth, not just in America, but across the entire globe. This is a result of economic prosperity and the very manner in which the world operates. If one were to allow nature to take its course (a-la free markets) without the stifling effects of institutionalized crime (i.e. the state), the material standard of living for all people would be improved much more dramatically and efficiently. It is the welfare state itself that causes a vast majority of the poverty the leftists claim to care about. This economic argument should be a tool in every AnCap and Objectivist’s rhetorical toolbox.

Happy side-effects aside, a more compelling case would be that charity cannot be an institutional and impersonal function, but instead must be a genuine engagement between members of a community. In which case, bureaucratic welfare programs, free markets, and philanthropic donations do not qualify as charity. Instead, one must get out and do charity themselves. Creating a job market for the less-employable (children, reformed criminals, drug addicts, the mentally ill, the elderly, etc.) which accommodates their particular market deficiencies can be an uplifting and profitable venture for all involved. Unfortunately, the leftists “care” and government regulations actively prevent such forms of charity, which have been consistently proven to be more effective than welfare programs and resource distribution.

As mentioned before, justice is restoration of relationships in spite of interpersonal damages. If one is unable to engage those that have done them harm in a manner consistent with understanding and empathy, justice is impossible. In this way, the virtue of charity is required for justice to be realized. Closely related to justice, as well, is the subject of deescalation of conflict. I’ve mentioned before, if in passing, the importance of avoiding conflicts where life, liberty, and property are at stake. Charity is a useful tool in assessing and engaging in situations where conflict is likely to escalate. This is also the basis of Non-Violent Communication (NVC), which is both an incredibly useful rhetorical tool as well as a useful methodological tool for one to simply engage with the world. It is very similar to both stoicism and epicureanism in a lot of ways.

Remember, anarchism is a philosophy of personal responsibility. Without armed thugs forcing everyone to obey the arbitrary dictates of Leviathan, we’re going to have to learn to get along on our own. A great many libertarians and anarchists have a hard time getting along, this is partly due to the tensions that run high between those who pursue truth and those that are willing to simply do as they feel the urge, but it is also due to the manner in which focus rests primarily on intellectual and martial virtues to the detriment of developing social virtues such as charity.

TL;DR: Charity cannot simply be “giving stuff to people that haven’t earned it” and it can’t simply mean “loving people”, it must be a more grounded and virtuous habit. Thus charity, in its modern incarnation, is the virtue or habit of maintaining an attitude of sympathy (or empathy) and compassion, and habitually attempting an understanding of one’s fellow man. This virtue is cardinal among virtues, as it stands in direct opposition to sin, which is chief among the vices of man.

Halloween Candy, or Crystal Meth?

A spectre wanders the suburban countryside, flitting between households and abandoned warehouses… This spectre is not one of revolution, not one of communism or capitalism, it is the shade of Harry J Anslinger.  It is the ghost of slavery, the status quo, and economic illiteracy.

On Halloween, every year, this ghost floats out of the Halls of (in)Justice and the Ministry of Truth to scare the slaves into clamoring for more taskmasters.  What I’m speaking of is the urban legends about drugs in Halloween candy, razorblades in apples, and ricin in the smoke machines.  As long as one isn’t dancing on the freeway, Halloween is the safest night of the year to be wander around one’s neighborhood in the dark.

Today’s resource suggestion is simple: it’s two articles (this one and this one) to help assuage one’s fears that are a result not of reality but, instead, of the indoctrination one is perpetually exposed to in Empire.

And besides, candy hasn’t looked like this for 20 years.

Also, a quick examination of economics would tell us that there is no incentive to poison the Halloween candy.  Therefore, the only people that will do so are the one-in-a-billion serial-killers that value the thrill of handing out poison more than the tens of thousands of dollars it would cost to buy the drugs.  Another limiting factor is the available assets to said serial killer.  One would have  to be consistently wealthy, have access to drugs, and be a serial killer with a special hatred for kids and/or Halloween.  At this point, we’re looking at a one-in-one-hundred-billion event.  So, if the urban legends are true that someone, at some time, did poison the candy, the odds of it happening again are so infinitesimal that we should be putting out PSAs about Halloween alien abductions and commie invasions before we worry about the best Halloween treats and tricks ever.

THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS!

I’ve been dancing around Sovryn Tech on the “resource suggestion” page for a while now.  I’ve Reviewed the games made by Brian Sovryn, I’ve linked to his works in my main posts, I’ve even recommended Sovryn Tech’s satellite blogs.

However, I’ve put off Sovryn Tech, itself, until today.  I’ve done so because I want everyone to listen to the show, but there’s a couple barriers to entry which may need to be overcome.  I love Brian Sovryn and all that he does for liberty.  I don’t always agree with him (he’s a non-violent libertine and I’m a violent “social conservative”, for example), but his ideas are always well-reasoned, well argued, and well worth entertaining.

This particular episode is the one I’ve been waiting for.  The bitcoin alliance is the paradigm example of the fustian deal: the de-facto rulers of bitcoin have sold their souls to the single most misanthropic entity to have ever existed.  This is why we can’t have nice things.  The whole episode is good and ought to be listened to, but one should at least listen to the segment concerning “the blockchain alliance”.

Pre-History Humans?

Anarchists, in particular, ought to be interested in history, both for the sake of understanding how the world works and for coming to know one’s enemy (the state).  A number of conflicting accounts have been presented concerning human origins, pre-history, and the nature of civilization.  However, through this plethora of theories and paucity of available information, certain narratives have gained traction based on what evidence is available, and it (conveniently enough) begins to support certain anarchist understandings of the world that are similar to my own.

One such narrative that has emerged is one which claims that the “out of Africa” theory of human origins is a load of bunk, which is based on the biological fact that race is genetic, not social.  While this particular pair of suggestions is from a website that is suspect, the case they are presenting is present in numerous publications.  The reason I chose this particular site to share is due to it’s readability (less academic jargon) and due to the fact that it is based in South Africa, which is of particular interest to me as an anarchist.

Of Course, the First Suggestion is Tom Woods

As regular readers are no doubt aware, I frequently suggest resources from Tom Woods.  Between his intellect and the quality of the guests he has on his show, there is always something to be learned, even from a die-hard, economically-inclined anarchist.

Today’s suggestion is one concerning the maligned wreck that is the medical industry.  I don’t know if I need much more introduction than that, today.


http://tomwoods.com/podcast/ep-516-listen-to-this-episode-your-life-may-depend-on-it-how-to-secede-from-a-perverse-medical-system/

About The Author (and his ideas)

Howdy? I am the titular Mad Philosopher of this particular work. I am a philosopher in my late twenties. Rather than focusing your ire on my lack of years, though, you may feel more vindicated by directing such feelings towards my lack of academic credentials. I am a proud college dropout who routinely speaks out against the academic industry.0612141803b

How can a man claim the title of “philosopher” without a degree or a chair at university? What are the
necessary and sufficient conditions for one to be a philosopher? I would argue that a philosopher is one who habitually engages in the activity of philosophy. Of course, philosophy itself is quite controversial. Is it merely thinking deep thoughts or questioning authority, or is it building a vocabulary and grammar for describing and discussing the human experience? Is it the activity of stoners and pedophile Greeks or is it the activity of academics and lawyers?

I am working on publishing a book dedicated, in small part, to addressing this controversy. In the mean time, readers of this blog (and listeners of the podcast) will notice a few family resemblances betwixt the entries on this blog which may inform the readers concerning what I believe philosophy to be. Readers of this introduction will receive the added bonus of my current working definition being explicitly provided here:
“Philosophy is the ongoing exercise of attempting to create an internally consistent, logically sound, empirically viable, and universal worldview which possesses ethical agency, utility, and (ultimately) Truth.”

I have been engaged in just such an exercise ever since I began reading the Nicomachean Ethics at the naive and virginal age of eight years. This has resulted in incalculable quantities of reading, writing, and arguing over the course of a couple decades. Also in that course of time, I have camped under the open sky for just shy of one thousand nights, earned the rank of Eagle Scout, renounced the honors associated with such an award, attended and dropped out of university (earning an associate’s degree in philosophy despite being a mere 20 elective credits short of a bachelor’s degree), married a (still) smokin’ hot woman, sired three beautiful daughters, and a bunch of other life experiences that likely only matter to me. These experiences have informed my worldview, though, and I thought it only fair to share them with you.

I tend a 500 square foot microfarm which provides nearly one ton of food each year. I make a meager living working facilities and maintenance at a church. I make time, daily, to work on this blog and my books as a matter of vocation and passion. I host philosophy clubs, play Dungeons and Dragons, shoot guns, do landscaping work, and tutor in writing, logic, and philosophy on the side.

More important than the man, I believe, would be his ideas. I doubt you are reading this blog to get to know me, personally, and are instead interested in engaging some unique and challenging views presented in a rational and grounded manner. Why else would someone read a blog titled “Mad Philosopher”? I cannot guarantee that any of these ideas presented will be unique in their substance, given that it is far more common for one to read numerous sources and simply synthesize a new arrangement of old ideas. I do guarantee, however, that I do what I can to make these ideas digestible to all audiences, that I try to make the form of the discussion engaging and bite-sized, and that these ideas are central to a series of worldviews and schools of thought which I contend ought to be at the heart of a fulfilling and eudaemonic life.

Many individuals, across the entire spectrum of intellectual ability, strive to eschew labels and “-ism”s in order to not bring others’ baggage into a discussion prematurely and to avoid feeling constrained by specific doctrines or dogmas. It may be my semi-religious upbringing speaking when I say it, but I find labels and “-ism”s to have a very unique and indispensable utility. For instance, I can provide you with a list of ideologies and “-ism”s which are the strongest influences on my worldview and method of reason, and that will help frame the discussion on this blog in such a manner that you are less likely to misinterpret my arguments.

As a matter of fact, that is what I intend to do. I will list here a series of ideologies and methods to which I owe my worldview, in order of philosophical priority, with each successive entry on the list obtaining only insofar as it is compatible with the preceding entries. I, Mad Philosopher, am a/an:

  • Epistemic Popperian: Of course, I have to put the most complicated entry at the top of the list. In all reality, it’s not too complex, only the terminology. Basically, I believe that “knowledge” defined as “justified true belief” is something to be approximated due to phenomenological limitations of the human mind (we can’t necessarily trust our senses and interpretation of experience). When one makes a knowledge claim, it must be accompanied with falsifying criteria: criteria that, if met, would force one to renounce the held belief. This is (ostensibly) the driving mechanism behind the scientific methods. I like to think that this is the underlying operating principle for all of my claims, given that I have had ample opportunities to change my mind concerning a great many important subjects. Reading this blog will gradually expose one to this catalogue of mind-changes.
  • Anarchist: This blog is technically about philosophical subjects in general. However, I choose subjects for blog posts based primarily with discussions I have IRL (in real life) and on various spots on the internet. As such, most of my posts would center on the most contentious of my beliefs. anarchism is, by far and away, the most controversial. Not because people would disagree with the premise (people shouldn’t murder, coerce, or steal from others), but because they don’t want to apply that claim to their own behavior in an intellectually consistent manner.  as far as the AnCom vs AnCap debate is concerned, I like to call myself “merely an anarchist“, but I am fairly economically literate, which would make most people consider me an AnCap by default.
  • Catholic: Yes, an anarchist can be Catholic and vice-versa. I have not fully explored this discussion in a blog post yet, but I assure you, it’s on its way. For now, It will have to suffice to say that I believe the doctrines of the Church to have sufficient falsifiability criteria to be provisionally assented to and that the doctrinal moral teachings of the Church bolster rather than contradict the Non-Aggression-Principle in any of it’s more intelligible forms. One will notice that I have issues with Catholic social teaching and a great many non-doctrinal claims. These issues are informed by the preceding entries on this list as well as a simple rational and critical inquiry into the teachings of such figureheads as Aquinas and Augustine.
  • Optimist: As a Catholic, I believe that this must, in fact, be the best of all possible worlds (It would have to follow from the claim of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God). There’s is the glaring issue of the problem of evil, regarding which I have several posts in the works. Given my issues with Aquinas, I am disinclined to endorse the Augustinian Theodicy (which is really a construction of Aquinas’) and instead hold to a cross between the Irenaean Theodicy and what I call the Rorschach Theodicy.
  • Brutalist: Almost as if to balance the claim of optimism (this is the best of all possible worlds) I also believe that this world sucks. Mankind has largely been concerned with the activity of enslaving, domesticating and murdering itself throughout all of known history (excepting the possibility of pre-agricultural revolution, pre-government times), and this has resulted in a world wherein humans are a tortured, maligned wreck. Unfathomable potential squandered by the lazy and criminal. This is why I listen to Death Metal.
    Taking on the label of brutalist is a sort of double-entendre, as there is the general disposition of a metalhead which is called “brutalism” and there is a line of libertarian/anarchist thought which strictly adheres to the Non-Aggression Principle. When I say I’m an anarchist, my particular brand of anarchism very closely resembles that of the brutalists to begin with. I do have various ethical and virtue-oriented prescriptions above and beyond that which the brutalists allow for, that’s why Catholicism precedes brutalism in priority on this list.

The name “Mad Philosopher”, itself, is a double-entendre. It’s obviously an homage to the popular phrase “mad scientist”, which seems appropriate: a mad scientist is often depicted as a social outcast reviled by other scientists and engineers for holding unorthodox views and implementing unorthodox methods. Would not this blog be the philosophical equivalent? That aside, I consider myself “Mad” in the same spirit as the mad scientist. Additionally, I am mad… well… livid, enraged, infuriated, wrathful, incensed, disturbed, repulsed, inflamed, and tempestuously, violently so. It is beyond my comprehension how one could be aware of the circumstance of contemporary culture and not at least feel a twinge of the pain, outrage, or guilt that I feel is warranted and just.

This blog is an opportunity for me to sublimate some degree of the infernal wrath I harbor, so as to maintain a level head in my day-to-day life while also hoping that others’ minds will catch fire as well. While I expect no amount of success with this project, if I were to have my way, this blog would generate a sufficient following such so as to instill a culture of resistance and intentionality. This culture would aid in making the world a better place in general, but also (more importantly to me) aid in the possibility of starting an actual intentional community outside the reach of Empire so that I can achieve some semblance of freedom in my lifetime. Oh, and it couldn’t hurt to get some bitcoin and sell some merch. on the side.

Carpe Veritas,
Mad Philosopher

A Philosopher’s 95 Theses

As mentioned in the About page, I am working on a procedural analytic philosophy book.  In today’s academic environment, there is little interest in this genre of work.  While there are any number of conspiracy theories that I have considered concerning this trend, the simple matter of fact is that an academic publisher would be reluctant to publish such a work.  As far as popular publishers go, I don’t think I need to explain why there is no demand for something as esoteric and academic.  (It really shouldn’t be esoteric, though… My, how our culture has fallen.)

Anyway, I have been considering the best alternative outlet to publish such a work, such as self-publishing, using a self-publishing service,  or simply posting it online and seeing what happens.  As it currently stands, I am considering posting individual chapters in their draft-form on this site, in order to encourage discussion and refinement of the work.  Something akin to a crowd-sourced peer-review process.

I may set up a system of donations using patreon or bitcoin by which donation thresholds dictate the rate of release of individual chapters.  Doing so requires an investment of some degree of time and resources, though, and if there is no demand for a philosophy book amongst a philosophy blog’s audience, my time would probably be better spent elsewhere.

As the latest draft of the Foreword/Introduction is completed, I may post it here as a free sample and conversation-starter.  Feel free to email me at MadPhilosopher@gmx.com, fill out the form below, or contact me through the contact page.

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Additionally,
I used to have an expansive personal library, as I spent nearly all of my discretionary income on mountain dew and books until I dropped out of college.  Unfortunately, as a result of a disagreement with my father-in-law, I lost my entire library.  I am working on rebuilding it, but some books are simply outside my price range.  Many of these books are published at academic library prices, and I simply don’t have the same sort of discretionary cash as I used to.  A great way to support my content and ability to produce more and better content would be to aid in the expansion of my library.  Here is an Amazon wish list that I intend to populate with the books I feel I ought to read but cannot afford:
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New Site!

I was having several issues working with Weebly’s free blog platform, and I’ve been looking for ways to get a “more respectable” URL to put on merchandise and link to.

I’m happy to announce that the MadPhilosopher blog is making the move to www.MadPhilosopher.xyz and getting a real host.  I’m trying to re-learn wordpress (it’s not that complicated) and, once I do, I’ll have this domain up and running.

seeing as how we have over a year’s worth of posts on the old weebly site, I’m looking for ways to move all those posts over to the new domain.  If push comes to shove, I’ll move them each over manually… or at least the best ones.

Thank you, regular readers, listeners, and commenters; you are the ones that have given me the motivation to keep pursuing this blog, despite its lack of popular content.

Carpe Veritas,

MadPhilosopher

By Virtue of… What?

A while back, I discussed honor, but neglected the other elements of the more positive aspects of human action. Where crime, vice, and sin are the trifecta of “bad” human action, charity, virtue, and honor are the opposing trifecta. Today, I am focusing on virtue.

If we were drawing direct comparisons between these two trifectas, I would say that vice is the inverse form of virtue. I defined vice as “any non-criminal activity which would prevent or inhibit the participant from effectively pursuing their telos.” Virtue, as an opposite, is fairly easy to describe by comparison: “a habit of action which aids one in pursuit of one’s telos (or end).”

Since I have already outed myself as a deontologist, it may seem odd for me to be focusing on virtue for a blog post. However, as I mentioned in “New Logo”, the brutalism of a mere prohibition against violating the NAP creates an impoverished ethical framework by which one should live one’s life. Even if I’m not murdering, coercing, or stealing from people, I am not likely to achieve happiness (take your pick of any of the, like, eight Greek words that have different flavors) if I am not pursuing some form of human excellence. Even a hedonist is really pursuing ataraxia (which is something akin to contentedness or tranquility), even if they are unaware of it.
One of the fundamental precepts of both virtue ethics and teleology is the assumption that one will be most happy when pursuing or achieving their end (telos). This assumption is awfully intuitive, and modern psychology seems to be providing pseudo-empirical evidence to bolster such an assumption, so I am reasonably confident in universalizing my own experience of such things. Of course, this virtue ethics/teleology requires a lot more exploration before one can just say “being good will make you happy”, obviously.
For example, one’s telos could be anything. For the last two-and-a-half millenia, lots of stupid people and a few smart people have argued about this very subject. I’m planning on contributing to this mess (and hopefully helping sort some of it out) in my 95 Theses, those chapters are much longer than I could expect someone to read as a blog post or listen to as a podcast, so I’ll have to be brief here.
Aristotle, and anyone who has Aristotelian influences, argues that one’s telos is primarily knowable and possibly even determined by one’s attributes. I say “attributes”, because it is the most philosophically vague term; each philosopher since Aristotle has tried to pin telos to a different aspect of a creature’s being, but they are all related in some way or another to the faculties/functions/attributes/essences of the creature in question. I’m no exception to this accusation. I argue that there are higher-order and lower-order teloi, the higher-order relating to the categorical nature of a thing and the lower-order relating to the specific nature of the thing. A simple example of these things would be that of a hammer; a hammer’s higher-order telos (categorical nature) is to hit things, however, a hammer can be a ball-peen, rubber, claw, sledge… each of which hit in a particular way, are designed to hit a particular material, or have additional functions which do not impede their utility as hitting instruments.
In a similar way, there ought to be higher-order, human teloi and lower-order individual teloi. A relatively less-controversial example of a human telos would be the necessity for growth (mental/physical/spiritual/whatever). An equally less-controversial example of a specific telos would be that of a naturally-gifted doctor; one could have the natural disposition and skill to care for others’ bodies and derive happiness from the pursuit of such, but not every human would be “called” to be a doctor. Just like the case of the hammer, one’s specific teloi can’t come into conflict with their categorical teloi, by virtue of the ontological relationship between one’s essence and existence. In the case of the doctor, caring for others’ (and one’s own) bodies can lend itself to one’s growth and, if pursued appropriately, will even aid in such a pursuit.
In this way, one can establish both a Aristotelian list of virtues which ought to apply to all men and a much more subjective and individualistic list of virtues associated with specific teloi. I wish to reserve the actual list-writing for later (time and space constraints for today’s post), but one can start composing such a list on their own. I would love to discuss such lists with people outside the blog, either in the comments below, via email, or on facebook. These discussions will help revise both the lists themselves as well as the theory we are using to compile the lists. What I want to do here is explore the specific nature of virtue, especially as relates to morality, ethics, and honor.
Virtue, defined as a habit, has quite a lot of baggage associated with it, but what matters for this discussion is to merely define “habit” as a “propensity for particular types of action”. Much like vices are habit-forming, virtues are as well. These habits often contribute to one’s productivity, epistemic rectitude, security/self-sufficiency, humanity, etc. At a minimum, though, they contribute to one’s character in a manner consistent with virtue ethics, existentialism, and a number of other ethical frameworks.
Where morality is a relationship between action and deontological proscriptions, ethics is a series of prescriptions predicated on individual value judgments and an understanding of how the world operates; I explored this in “Morality and Ethics”. Therefore, virtues are an element of ethics, in general. If one values ataraxia, an understanding of virtue would lead them to conclude that developing a habit of temperance (not the puritanical bastardization, but rather the actual meaning of “enough of all things”) will help one achieve ataraxia. If one values eudaemonia, an understanding of virtue would lead one to pursue industriousness or discipline. If one values apatheia, an understanding of virtue would lead one to pursue epistemic rectitude and objectivity.
How does one pursue such virtues? For fear of being branded an Aristotelian, I’d have to say “Fake it ’till you make it.” A praxeologist will tell you that a virtue is expressed in demonstrated preference, and I will tell you that demonstrated preference is, in fact, how one forms preferences in general. Performing an act that is virtuous (practicing one’s art without external motivation is a disciplined action) aids one in forming that particular virtue; doing so consistently will ingrain the habit of doing such… which is the act of possessing that particular virtue. So, if I wish to be magnanimous, I ought to determine what behaviors are magnanimous and do them until such a point in time that it would require effort to refrain from performing those actions. Nietzsche, G.E.M. Anscombe, and Alasdair MacIntyre each have their own particular flavors of virtue ethics, and I recommend that interested readers pursue their works in order to come to a greater understanding of the specifics.
In the mean time, though, I believe that virtue can aid in a great many limit-cases when discussing anarchist morality and ethics. Remember, anarchism is a philosophy of personal responsibility. I have been accused by several people of “wanting to live in a world totally devoid of rules, like some sort of nihilist” and “wanting to live in a world in which I exist alone in the wilderness, like some sort of solipsist”; how a regular reader of this blog could come to that conclusion is beyond me. I may wish to live in a world devoid of crime, AKA a world with no laws and will do what I can to pursue a lifestyle in accordance with such, but the very nature or reality is that of rules; “If I drop this, it will fall,” “If you want to stay alive, you shouldn’t pick fights with people better armed and practiced than you,” and every if-then statement in-between demonstrate this reality. Additionally, if one were to live a solitary existence, they would likely have their time wholly consumed with mere survival and asceticism, rather than a more common teloi, such as that of a profession or of philosophy.
What virtues allow for is reduced friction and uncertainty in an otherwise brutalist reality: in all reality, if something doesn’t violate the deontological proscription against crime, it is morally justified. I may be more interested in living amongst others who pursue and express christian eudaemonic virtues, as opposed to mere brutalists. Conversely, I may wish to live amongst brutalists and be spared the social repercussions of being a libertine amongst Christians. What these virtues allow for is the sort of self-selection mentioned in my post on mereology. Additionally, when one is faced with a limit-case, such as Nazis at your door asking if you are hiding Jews, witnessing a mother (in an anarchist society) abusing her children, abortion in all of it’s controversies, or cases of extreme discrimination, an understanding of virtue can inform one’s actions in such a circumstance. Of course, one cannot produce a categorical moral statement concerning some limit cases (if one witnesses a crime in progress, one does not have a moral obligation to intercede), but one’s own pursuit of virtue may encourage action (courage, honor, etc. would encourage one to intercede).
TL;DR: Virtue is primarily an ethical principle, much like its inverse: vice. It is a principle which dictates “If one wishes to achieve happiness (in whatever form), one ought to engender a habit of X.” This is because a virtue is best defined as “a habit of action which aids one in pursuit of one’s telos (or end)”, and intuition and modern psychology suggest that pursuit of one’s telos is a primary source of happiness for individuals. There exist virtues that are categorically applicable to all humans, and other virtues that apply to individuals, contingent upon their own unique construction. Virtues, while not necessarily necessary, are certainly useful in helping individuals pursue happiness and lubricating the gears of “society”.

An Intro to Mereology: Parts and Wholes

 

This last moth of posts seems to be “boring analytic philosophy month”. Defining property and rights, dealing in definitions and ontology, and now mereology. Before getting hung-up on what is undoubtedly a new vocabulary word, let me give you this week’s question: “What is the relationship between an individual and a community?”

Mereology is a study as old as recorded philosophy that, while involved in every philosophical discipline, is seldom addressed directly. Modern understandings of the field are heavily informed by medieval mathematics, but it’s a broader field than just parts of set theory. Many philosophy majors I know personally had never heard the name or question of mereology in either their studies of personal engagements until I had brought it up. This is likely because the question of mereology is often either ignored or merely answered in specific cases by other disciplines within philosophy. If the question of ontology is “what exists and in what manner?” then, mereology would ask, “What is the relationship of parts and wholes?”

I may be prone to subjecting my audience to raw, obscure philosophical questions, but even I am loathe to write in-depth concerning mereology… at least for a blog post. I think we can make do with just the question of this post and the paradigm established in previous posts. I trust that you can keep up and, if not, that you will email me or comment below and let me know.

As I have argued in the last two posts, collectives do not exist. If collectives don’t exist, how can I begin speaking on the relationship between the individual and his community? I did leave the door open for communities to exist, within a narrow definition. As a matter of fact, I left the door open for three types of community to exist. Before getting into a taxonomy, though, I need to define what I mean by “community” and how it is distinct, ontologically, from “collective”. For now, I believe a sufficient definition of “community” is “a series of interpersonal relationships-” or, rather, “a series of individuals who hold a series of interpersonal relationships centered on one or more commonality.”

One will notice, if reading with an eye trained by my previous ontological discussions, that this would make a “community” an abstraction akin to a collective: something which exists only as an idea or a concept with no impetus of its own and serves only to inform one in a manner consistent with one’s epistemic limitations. In exploring the taxonomy of communities, I hope to explore the specifics of the role such an abstraction plays and why I would grant it a stronger ontology than a mere collective.

The commonalities on which a community may be centered can range from something so banal as a common geographic location, common interest, common heritage… to something as intense and significant as a common life-altering event, vocational encounter, or a common goal, method, and discipline. These commonalities seem to be divisible into three types of character. By virtue of their definition, communities grounded in these commonalities can be said to have such character. These three types of character would be incidental, practical, and intentional. Based on the names I have chosen, I assume that many preconceptions and questions have already formed in your mind. I’ll try to assuage such activities, now.

Let’s just start with descriptions. An incidental community is just that: a series of individuals who hold relationships of coincidence. The easiest example is one of locality, especially in the postmodern age. Even if they are incredibly transient and flimsy, I have a number of relationships with people who live in my apartment complex. The sole basis of these relationships is proximity (and the friction it entails):competing for decent parking, upholding lease policies, random polite (and not-so-polite) encounters, etc. This same sort of coincidence exists on the freeway/highway, at the grocery store or bank, and perhaps even people that share similar attributes to myself, such as gender, skin color, geography of birth, height, or other inheritances.

I think that the most immediate observation one can make concerning incidental relationships, especially when looking with an ethical eye, is the total lack of homogeneity between individuals in the community. A brief survey of the bumper stickers seen at the common geographic locations, the Denver facebook network, a survey of white people, etc. will quickly indicate only a few minor statistical trends, all of which are better explained by external factors as opposed to the nature of the community itself (again,it’s an abstracted tool). Due to this phenomenon, one cannot speak knowledgeably about specific individuals within an incidental community, even when armed with statistics, nor can one speak of them categorically. Not everyone at my apartment complex is poor, not all blacks are criminals, not all whites like Phish, not all Denverites smoke pot, and not everyone in Nagasaki are militaristic imperialists who deserve to be irradiated or vaporized.

That description sounds like one that could be called “practical”, I must admit. If any readers have a suggestion for a better nomenclature to differentiate between incidental communities and those which I am about to describe, please let me know.

A community of practical character could be considered “a series of individuals who hold relationships entered into or maintained due to practical considerations”. This involves business relationships, to be sure; doctors and patients, contractors and property owners, student’s/families and school teachers/administrators are good examples, too. These considerations could also be centered on internet forums, conventions centered on a particular interest, or any club of one sort or another.

These commonalities are also quite transient. One anime convention is more-or-less interchangeable with another, one school is interchangeable with another (or any number of alternatives), employees and employers as well as clubs or stores (like Costco or Sam’s Club) are equally so. Because an incidental relationship or community is merely a matter of coincidence, relationships or communities which are matters of active choice (aka. practical considerations) are marginally more tangible and representative of the individuals involved. One can speak semi-intelligently about metalheads, people who hang out at Hot Topic, or engineers. A lot of (frankly, true) stereotypes are a result of statistical trends in these self-selecting communities.

A sort of “practical community on steroids”, intentional communities now become our focus. Intentional communities are best described as “as series of individuals who hold relationships centered on common purposiveness, intention, and approach to such.” If teachers and families are practical communities in schools, the PTA/PTOs student councils, teachers’ unions, etc. are intentional communities. Hippie communes; anarchist “collectives”; charities; governments, mafia, and other gangs; even some religious sects are examples of other forms of intentional communities.

Where a practical community, say, a gun show, is centered on a common utility (such as being able to buy or sell guns, exchange information, or not be reviled as a criminal for merely voicing an interest in self-defense), it lacks a certain intention or purposiveness. For example, one wouldn’t expect everyone, or even most of the people, at a brony convention to agree that they must all work towards the creation of GMO purple ponies with unicorn horns, or the extermination of all non-bronies. The KKK or (neo-)Nazis, however, gather around a central intention of exterminating or enslaving an entire group of people (usually members of certain incidental communities), evangelical Christians wish to “Baptize all nations”, communes exist for whatever commie/naturalist lifestyle one pursues, police exist to enforce laws, the Bloods exist to kill the Crips (and vice-versa), and the government exists to govern.

I used slightly different verbs when describing these different communities. It’s ok, though, because the important mereological point to remember is that a “community” is merely individuals maintaining relationships betwixt themselves., not an entity existing in its own right. However, where the incidental communities likely only provide categorical claims that are tautological (“The black community is black”), and the practical communities present only statistical correlations (“people who tend to purchase Maseratis tend to be upper-middle class”), intentional communities provide more opportunity for both generalization and categorical claims. For instance, the claim “KKK members are racist,” is effectively incontestable; someone may find an instance which appears to be a non-racist KKK member, but such a circumstance would require detailed examination.

The “non-racist”individual could either be considered a “bad KKK member” (in the socratic vein) or not really a KKK member (due to definitions), but a more likely and more easily defensible claim would be the case which claims that the very membership in the KKK is an endorsement of the KKK’s intention, therefore it is impossible to be in the KKK and not be racist. Even in the case of someone “going undercover” to break up the KKK, they are acting in bad faith, which presents its own series of issues which we don’t have time for today.

What I mean to express by exploring this taxonomy of communities is that the first two types lack any ontology beyond being a mere abstraction, much like the collectives I addressed a few posts ago. An intentional community, while still lacking ontology in itself, does influence reality in a tangible way, unique from the other two. This influence takes the form of social, ethical, and moral qualifiers included in interpersonal interaction. Where a series of employers and employees is typically to be considered a practical community, if the employers have a stated intent, purpose, or method and are hiring employees for the sake of which, any employee which enters into that relationship is doing so in the same manner one would enter into the KKK or a commune.

In other words, one cannot be pro-life and work for Planned Parenthood or the US Military, one cannot join a hippie commune and not be a hippie, nor can one become a cop and not endorse coercion and theft, or any other example that may come to mind. Any seemingly contradictory instance is merely a case of an individual acting out of ignorance or bad faith. Ultimately, this is the reason there is no such thing as a “good cop” or an “egalitarian neo-nazi”; in choosing to join a community centered on the purpose of enforcing laws or eliminating Jews, one demonstrates a preference for such criminal actions, even if they are unaware of that reality.

TL;DR; Merelology is the study of the relationship between parts and wholes. This field of study applies when looking at the relationship between individuals and the abstract concepts called “communities”. In the case of coincidental and unintentional relationships, one could consider such a community an “incidental community”. In the case of a relationship entered into voluntarily, often out of practical considerations, one could consider it a “practical community”. Most interesting would be the “intentional community”, which would be entered into with the intent of fulfilling a particular goal or furthering a particular cause, held by all members of that community. Such a joining of an intentional community is an endorsement of the intent and methods implemented by other individuals within the community, insofar as they align with the community’s intent. Awareness of this taxonomy is important when one makes statistical or categorical observations concerning various communities.