Monday, August 24, 2015

Good Advice: peace or chaos?

I got this one from Waller Newell in his book The Code of Man.

It's really a question but it's a very important question to ask yourself: What is the natural state of human life? Is it peace or is it chaos?

If you think it's peace, then you'll be inclined to blame all evil on human action. You'll be inclined to believe that things would be just fine if people didn't keep messing them up. If you think it's chaos, you'll be inclined to think that it is only constant human effort that creates and maintains order.

These two views are not moral outputs. That is to say, they don't come about because of moral reasoning. They are, instead, assumptions that moral arguments are built on.

Many of us start of believing in the former. I'm not entirely sure why. Part of the answer is our mothers. Our mothers want us to behave so they convince us that our peace and happiness depend on our cooperating with them. If we don't upset mummy, we can have a trouble-free life.  Eventually, this gets expanded to include the belief that we can have a trouble-free life only if other people don't upset mummy either.

We also get a lot of it from popular culture. Star Trek's prime directive being a classic example. You'd also see it in the cynicism of M*A*S*H which had us believe that a couple on uncommitted layabouts could do more good by doing less evil. Both shows reveal that it doesn't really work by cheating all over the place. On Star Trek the prime directive is little more than a plot complication hauled forth when useful much like Captain Renault shutting down Rick's place for gambling. On M*A*S*H, the cheat was that the two cynical layabouts just happen to be brilliant surgeons who can rush in and save lives whenever it might otherwise become obvious that the whole show is a fantasy for men who never want to grow up. (If you read the books it was based on, BTW, you'll see that is exactly what it was to begin with.)

By now, you're probably thinking that you can guess how I'd answer the question and you're right. But go ahead and answer it for yourself—I'm sure you're mature enough not to be influenced by my thinking. (Once you have your answer, think about political theories and ask yourself which side they fit on. Some are obvious: Locke, Marx and Rawls are obviously on the peace side. Plato, Aristotle and Machiavelli are obviously on the chaos side. But what of Hobbes? At first he seems obviously to be on the chaos side but his solution to his own problem seems so easy that I suspect he really was a peace man.

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