Immorality and control

October 24, 2008 – 11:07 am by John

I liked this post by Francois Tremblay about hierarchies and control. One of the good things about being a libertarian blagger is that you can have intellectual debates with other amateur (or, sometimes, professional) philosophers about real, substantive issues. The bad side is that libertarians often disagree over semantics and have different conceptions of the same word.

I think you should read the whole thread if you haven’t already, because it’s long, and I think I made some good points, and I’m not going to reproduce or summarize the whole thing here.

The reason I’m writing this post is because I failed to respond to Francois’s last response to me because I’ve been busy and I didn’t revisit the post until a couple days after he made his response, at which point I thought it was kind of pointless to respond because very few people would see it, and even fewer would care. Maybe no one cares now…

In the beginning of his post, he defined “hierarchy” thusly:
A hierarchy is any social system where control is used in a way that is both 1. systemic and 2. directed.

Eventually, in his last comment to his own post, he challenged me:
Can you name any hierarchy that I listed (or any other you can think of) that was not founded on control?

Can you name any hierarchy that I listed (or any other you can think of) which persistence does not depend on the continued use of control?

Since I’m being asked to come up with my own examples of hierarchies, I guess it very largely depends on what I consider to be a hierarchy. Furthermore, I already stated my clear objections to his presentation of the concept of hierarchies. So I’ll use my own preferred definition of the word, from the American Heritage Dictionary, which somewhat predates Francois’s:

1. A body of persons having authority.
2. a. Categorization of a group of people according to ability or status.
b. The group so categorized.

I have two examples of hierarchies that do not use control, both of which he mentioned in his original post: my relationship with my parents, and my relationship with my boss.

You might object, “But those are founded on control; your acceptance of them is just so ingrained that you don’t recognize the systemic control inherent in them!” Pardon me for being so arrogant, but I will determine when I am being controlled and when I am not. (Hint: a mutually beneficial issuance and acceptance of orders, advice, rules, and constraints does not qualify as control in my opinion.)

In the interest of being rigorously correct, I’ll admit that since authority often entails the use of some form of control or another, we should look into situations like parenting or boss–employee relationships for subtle but persistent (i.e., systemic) force—involuntariness—control. Without doubt, on more than a few occasions, my parents made me do things I didn’t want to do, which means they exercised their authority as parents in a controlling manner. They made me go to school, play baseball, and stop misbehaving in public. I am immensely glad they did all three. I am not going to go any further into the morality of such control except to say that it isn’t the least bit immoral and any assertions to the contrary are absurd. This is self-evident. After I was about 10 or 12, the number of occasions they made me do things could probably be counted on one hand. Either way, the control was occasional and not systemic; the relationship between my parents and me (and my siblings) was not founded on control (it was founded on biology and the evolutionary urge to procreate); and it was mutually beneficial (and no, I was not brainwashed into thinking their controlling authority was beneficial to me because they controlled my thoughts from day one).

As for my boss, to the extent that he “makes” me do things I don’t want to do, if I really didn’t want to do them, I wouldn’t keep working here, so there isn’t the slightest bit of actual control there. Q.E.D.

However, they are both hierarchies, based on the American Heritage Dictionary’s definition of the word.

Francois’s second challenge was to something I had written in my last comment, about unpleasant things like racism and bigotry:
[quoting me] “It doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do something about it, but it does mean we can’t use offensive or defensive force to combat it.”

I don’t know where this is coming from. Are you using the same “immoral=justified in using force again” equation as Cork? If so, I already refuted it in my latest entry.

Hmm, basically. I define “immoral” as rights-violating. I think humans are only justified in using force when their rights of liberty and property are violated, or such violation is obviously imminent. And, to be perfectly frank, I think the rest of my last comment explained very well “where this is coming from.”

Francois said hierarchies are immoral, but, being a libertarian (anarchist), he would never use force to prevent someone else from joining all the hierarchies they want. I think like 95% of the disagreement we have is, as I said, semantic: I wouldn’t define it as immoral if no one is justified in using force to prevent it from happening; he might. My definition of immoral is just very narrow. I don’t think this makes it wrong. My definition of hierarchy is perhaps very broad. I don’t think this makes it wrong. (For some examples of things I consider unpleasant or mean but not immoral, see my last comment to his post.)

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  1. 5 Responses to “Immorality and control”

  2. You are hopelessly naive.

    And I have already refuted the voluntaryist argument more times than I can count. The fact that a relationship is "voluntary" does not make it moral, and it does not exclude control. If you believe control magically disappears because you "agreed to it," then you are simply refusing to see reality.

    I would post a reply to this, but I'm afraid there's not much more to say than that. I must have touched a nerve to make you openly, willfully denying reality (talking about hierarchies tends to do that, because they are ingrained in our lives and people defend them out of pure brainwashing).

    By Francois Tremblay on Oct 24, 2008

  3. And I've already said all I can say in as many ways as I can say it. I guess that's fine.

    By John on Oct 24, 2008

  4. You keep promoting control and I'll keep fighting against it. At least I know I'm on the right side, do you?

    By Francois Tremblay on Oct 25, 2008

  5. If this be brainwashing, then fine, let us celebrate our brainwashing!

    By Mike Gogulski on Oct 26, 2008

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