Ethical Consistency, Does it Really Matter?

We see or hear it all the time. Whether we’re on social media or having a conversation with a friend or family member, you may hear or read something like this, your redneck coworker may say, “We just need to turn the middle east into a sheet of glass!” Meanwhile, your progressive, career college student cousin may say something like, “We need someone like Bernie in the white house so we can finally get universal health care!”

More often than not these examples are due to the lack of something I consider invaluable as a Voluntaryist… ethical consistently.

To the best of my understanding, the lack of ethical consistency in today’s culture has led, and continues to lead people toward further social, economic, and foreign policy disasters. For this reason, I wanted to go over the concept of ethical consistency as I see it, the definition of the term, and some examples of how it’s applied in real world scenarios.

Consistency—the absence of contradictions—has sometimes been called the hallmark of ethics. Ethics is supposed to provide us with a guide for moral living, and to do so it must be rational, and to be rational it must be free of contradictions. If a person said, “Open the window but don’t open the window,” we would be at a loss as to what to do; the command is contradictory and thus irrational. In the same way, if our ethical principles and practices lack consistency, we, as rational people, will find ourselves at a loss as to what we ought to do and divided about how we ought to live. Ethics require consistency in the sense that our moral standards, actions, and values should not be contradictory. Examining our lives to uncover inconsistencies and then modifying our moral standards and behaviors so that they are consistent is an important part of moral development.

Consistency and Ethics, from the center of applied ethics at Santa Clara University.

I’ve observed that, especially in the realm of political opinion, being ethically consistent seems to be a real challenge. And as I wrote earlier, this leads to a lot of confusion, controversy, and conflict.

In order to further explain, I’ve provided five scenarios along with an explanation of how ethical consistency applies.

Scenario #1
-Murder is considered illegal or unethical.
-Accidentally killing civilians with drone strikes is collateral damage and therefore justified.

In this example, it should be fairly obvious that killing is inherently unethical, whether intentionally or by accident, however some people believe there is an exception to this universally accepted rule when it comes to war…or so they’ve convinced themselves. In a way, I can’t blame them. They’ve spent a lifetime inundated with nationalism, from reciting the pledge of allegiance in public school every morning to social media and network news filling them with pride for country and military worship.

And that’s the problem. The programming has been incredibly successful, so successful some people have lost their ability to discern between murder and accidentally killing innocent people.

Scenario #2
-Robbing someone of the cash in their wallet is considered illegal or unethical.
-Taking money from someone through the act of taxation is justified.

Think back to when were a child, do you remember when one of your siblings or playmates took your favorite toy from you? I’m not sure I can remember that far back either, but if you have children, nieces or nephews, you’ve witnessed this drama firsthand.

The recognition of personal property is innate in human beings, we know what is ours.

As we mature, we begin to understand the benefits of sharing, whether it’s the desire to connect with others or more selfish reasons. For example, some may share their candy with classmates in order to be seen as likeable and some may do so in order to garner social status and the benefits involved with being popular.

Although we’ve come to find sharing as a virtuous thing to do, we choose so voluntarily. We choose to donate money, our time, or make charitable donations of items because we receive some type of psychological reward.

In the case of the mugger stealing the cash in your wallet, we know this is inherently unethical. In the case of taking someone’s money via taxes, we know that this act is also inherently unethical. Why? Because, unlike charitable donations, the money is being taken from you. Some may say that they’re happy to pay taxes and that’s great! You make your charitable donations to the state and I’ll spend my money supporting alternatives to such coercive systems.

Scenario #3
-A group of neighbors come to your house and forcefully abducted you for smoking a plant in your living room is considered illegal or unethical.
-The police come to your house and forcefully abducting you for smoking a plant in your living room is justified.

Do you own yourself? Is your body, your self considered personal property? Are you responsible for actions taken? Do you have a sense of personal agency?

I would answer ‘yes’ to each of those questions, therefore my body and my actions are mine. If I were to eat a fatty steak and wash it down with a double Old Fashioned, does that affect anyone else? Of course not, but if I were to get in my car intoxicated and hit someone else, that would be violating their person, their self.

Whether it’s eating a steak while drinking bourbon, smoking weed, or doing meth, it’s my body. As long as I do so without affecting anyone, it’s my decision alone.

The act of being abducted by your neighbors simply because they made a “No Weed” rule between them is inherently immoral. The same thing applies to being abducted by the police. In addition to your neighbors, strangers helped make the rules restricting the rights of others to do what they choose with their bodies. The police enforce these rules, although they call them laws instead. Whether rule or law, a person’s self ownership precedes both.

Scenario #4
-A group of people mandating your children attend church is considered unethical.
-The state mandating your children attend school is justified.

My explanation of scenario number three applies here as well. However, in this case it’s not your person, it’s your child’s person.

What separates adults from children is the adults sense of personal agency and responsibility. Since children lack this understanding, their parents, other immediate family members, or other types of surrogate caregivers have the responsibility of taking care of them.

Now this part is going to sound insensitive and simplistic, but hear me out. Your child is your possession. Until they also have a sense of personal agency and responsibility, you are as responsible for them as you are for yourself. Therefore, you have the final say when it comes to their person.

By mandate or law, forcing a child to attend anything without the consent of the parent is inherently unethical.

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Philosophical Tools: In-Group Preference

When it comes to with whom we relate, we may consider likenesses in age, profession, or status. What we don’t consider are their philosophical beliefs, or what is at the core of the person with whom we are meeting.

As humans, we seek familiarity, commonality, comfort. We seek people like us with whom to relate. It’s only natural. We develop in-group preferences, not a bad thing, but interesting.

The reason I find this interesting is that I’ve developed my own theory on in-group preference. I call the dichotomy: Quantitative in-group preference and Qualitative in-group preference.

Quantitative in-group types seek the greatest peer acceptance by keeping their beliefs vague and acceptable by the greatest number of people.

Qualitative in-group types by comparison seek peer acceptance by being more narrowly defined. They are more focused on the details, the obscure.

Think of this like those whom are fans of football compared to those who identify with transgender dragonkin. There is a distinct difference between the two, football fans are aplenty however dragonkin… not so much.

Although this essay is more conjecture than empirical, I have personally found this to be a tool in my philosophical toolbox. A tool which has helped me discern between those of with which whom I relate, whether they seek acceptance by the majority or by the minority, the broader the thinker or the more pedantic.

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On the Violence Inherent in Voting

At some time or another, we were all taught how government works. We learned about the three branches of government and their relationships to each other. We were also told that “we are government” since each citizen over the age of 18 has the right to vote for a chosen candidate or on ballot initiatives.

That’s what we were taught.

What they didn’t tell us about was the deleterious effects of voting… the victims of voting. The fact that each voter puts their individual needs, opinions, and desires above, and to the detriment of, others.

The voter believes their actions to be benevolent or caring, but nothing could be further from the truth. Their acts of voting instead cause innocent people to be considered criminals, increases in the surveillance state, increases in the police state, punitive taxation, more war, more prisons, separation of families, et cetera.

They vote because they think they know what’s best for their fellow citizens. What the voter doesn’t know is that they are culpable. They are personally responsible for the victims of their act of voting.

The recreational pot smoker who was sentenced to prison, the hard working couple forced to pay more taxes, the young soldiers who will die on foreign battlefields; these are the victims of voting, among many others, and the “patriotic, god-fearing, tax-paying, Americans” need to realize this fact.

Voting may seem like a responsible, benevolent act, but as Frederic Bastiat wrote, “there is the seen and the unseen.” By that he meant, before you act, consider the repercussions of acting. Your decisions have consequences.

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In Defense of Objective Morality

There are those who discredit the philosophy of objective morality, their reason being that we, by virtue of our disparate life experiences, fail to derive a homogenous concept of morality, rather a more subjective take on morality.

Over the last year I’ve come to defend the legitimacy of objective morality based on the concept of natural law among other philosophies. That is, if a benevolent action is acceptable to be performed by a group, it should hold true that the action would be seen as acceptable for the individual as well.

Conversely, if a malevolent action (as defined as a contradiction to natural law) is not acceptable to be performed by an individual, then a group performing malevolent acts shouldn’t be acceptable either.

If one looks at the world today, how many malevolent acts are being perpetrated by groups of people? Why are they being sanctioned, accepted, and even celebrated when these actions are immoral based solely on the violation of natural law?

All this is not to say that natural laws and man made laws are always in opposition. If I could whip up a Venn diagram I could show several overlapping laws covered by both ideologies. Murder, theft, rape, assault… any action which results in a victim pretty much covers it.

It’s the victimless “crimes” that fall under the purview of man made laws that concern me. These laws are the constructs of men and women with no regard to objective morality or natural law. Laws borne of a lust for power and control, not of a spirit of empathy and equity.

Without the understanding of natural law and objective morality one can become tacitly complicit in the illegitimacy of man made laws and possibly suffer the dire consequences themselves.

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The Philosophical Toolbox

“If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” I’m reminded of Maslow’s ‘Law of the Hammer’ quote as I read through various comment sections on social media. I find the comments most interesting than the posts themselves as it demonstrates the general tenor of society as a whole. Although the rare cogent comment can be found, the vast majority of comments seem to be banal rhetoric spewed forth with passionate vitriol and willful ignorance. As a Voluntaryist, I defend their right to do so of course, but it does shed light on the general public’s lack of understanding in one critical element… philosophy.

Like most of you reading this, I wasn’t always a Voluntaryist and I had a very rudimentary understanding of philosophy until I had my journey toward freedom. When I was “coming of age” in the 1980’s I remember being inundated with pro-American propaganda. The cold war with Russia, the space shuttle program, the 1984 Summer Olympics, and of course Reagan’s famous “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” moment were examples of the resourcefulness and strength of this country.

I remember the US being a mighty and benevolet nation with the greatest freedoms on earth, but as they say, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things.”

As I grew older it was becoming increasingly more difficult to put away the childish beliefs with which I had been indoctrinated through government education and media propaganda. I still wanted to believe that “we” were the greatest nation on earth, that “we” were special having been born within these borders. But then I began questioning what I saw, what I heard and read. I was becoming increasingly aware of the wars and nation building through deception and killing of innocent people, the arbitrary laws punishing people for non-violent crimes, the out of control spending and burdensome taxation. However, emboldened with years of jingoistic rhetoric behind me I dismissed all which didn’t fit my “red, white, and blue” narrative as I was able to take any issue, topic, or contradiction and spin it to fit my pro-American mindset.

Until one day I couldn’t. The puzzle pieces I had once been able to make fit through trimming and massaging through mental gymnastics left too much debris in my conscience, too many inconsistencies. The cognitive dissonance became deafening. I began seeking out reasons, meanings, and definitions for what I was experiencing, this led me to philosphy.

I’m not saying that philosophy as a whole is without contradiction, however through years of weeding through different philosophies and theories I was able to find what works best for me. A collection of tools with which anyone can use to truly test whether an idea, concept, law, or edict is just, fair, and equitable.

In no particular order I’d like to present a few of the tools I use use when trying to make a consistent, rational, and logical judgement or claim.

Aristotelian First Principles: The basic, foundational, self-evident proposition or assumption that cannot be deduced from any other proposition or assumption.

Logical Fallacies: Errors in reasoning undermining the logic of an argument.

Objective vs. Subjective Morality: Objective morality claims that there are certain morals which make claims true or false. Subjective morality is the perspective that moral claims don’t hold a definitive truth.

The Non-Aggression Principle: An ethical stance which asserts that aggression is inherently illegitimate. Aggression is defined as the initiation of physical force against persons or property, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property. In contrast to pacifism, the non-aggression principle does not preclude violent self-defense.

Self-Ownership: The concept of property in one’s own person, expressed as the moral or natural right of a person to have bodily integrity and be the exclusive controller of one’s own body and life.

Lockean Labor Theory of Property: A theory of natural law that holds that property originally comes about by the exertion of labor upon natural resources.

Misesian Theory of Human Action (Praxeology): The deductive study of human action, based on the notion that humans engage in purposeful behavior.

The State of Nature (as seen from the perspectives of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Montesquieu): Hobbes argued that all humans are by nature equal in faculties of body and mind. In this state every person has a natural right or liberty to do anything one thinks necessary for preserving one’s own life; and life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. Locke believes that reason teaches that “no one ought to harm another in his life, liberty, and or property” and that transgressions of this may be punished. He describes the state of nature and civil society to be opposites of each other, and the need for civil society comes in part from the perpetual existence of the state of nature. This view of the state of nature is partly deduced from Christian belief (unlike Hobbes, whose philosophy is not dependent upon any prior theology). Rousseau suggested that people were neither good nor bad, but were born as a blank slate, and later society and the environment influence which way we lean. Montesquieu said that human beings would have the faculty of knowing and would first think to preserve their life in this state. Human beings would also at first feel themselves to be impotent and weak. As a result, humans would not be likely to attack each other in this state. Next, humans would seek nourishment and out of fear and impulse would eventually unite to create society. Once society was created, a state of war would ensue amongst societies which would have been all created the same way. The purpose of war is the preservation of the society and the self.

Whenever I read, hear, or see new information, ideas, or concepts I put it through these filters. Sometimes it’s fairly easy to weed out the inconsistencies, sometimes I’ll have to do more extensive contemplation. I believe by using these tools, we can have a better understanding of how to communicate with each other peacefully and coexist despite our differences.

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