Monday, May 17, 2010

The Subjective Layer

Original Posting

It is impossible to live without values. Without values and preferences, all we could do is sleep and lay in bed waiting to sleep. Actually, not even that, since we would have to prefer inactivity to activity in order to spend all day in bed. We could kill ourselves, but first we would have to prefer nonexistence to existence. Action is only made possible by having preferences and values, whether implicit or explicit, and life is only made possible by being capable of actions.

If values and morality are not objective facts about the world, as I hold, then we are forced to add a subjective layer to the objective facts of the world. We all do this, often without reflection. People are, objectively, a collection of atoms. Rocks are, objectively, a collection of atoms. Without reflection or argument, we generally say that there is nothing wrong with bashing rocks with a hammer while bashing people with a hammer is wrong. This is our subjective layer at work.

In general, our subjective layer is tied to emotion, pragmatism, and the expectations of those around us. We unreflectively prefer things that make us feel good as opposed to things that make us feel bad. We choose things conducive to our goals as opposed to things that hinder them. As social animals we feel societal pressure to like the things our peers like (in some people this is reversed, they hate the things that our peers like. This is still value based upon societal pressure, though). It is my belief that we can transcend these and base a system of value upon pure will, but what I exactly mean by that and whether or not anyone would desire to do so will have to wait for another time.

A problem arises from the fact that because these things are subjective they only matter to the person creating them. This would be fine except for the fact that we have to live in a society with all of these people and all of their subjective layers on the world. We have to create policies that everyone is expected to live under regardless of their preferences. Not only that, but these subjective layers often come into conflict, and any war between two subjective layers can only be solved by force because it is impossible to appeal to any objective facts to settle the matter through reason.

The only way we avoid oppression in society is by making no claim to objectivity in subjective matters. As soon as we claim that the subjective is objective we have a claim to power. For example, if I like Shakespeare, but I don't claim Shakespeare is objectively good, then everyone can read whatever they like; if I like Shakespeare and I claim Shakespeare is objectively good, then I have cause to force others to read Shakespeare in order to objectively improve them. This is a tame example, I could always come up with a few examples that relate to Godwin's law.

However, in order to balance all of these subjective layers in society, we have to have common ground. Not only that, but in order to preserve society we must actively fight against those who do not prefer society. Further, there are often situations where we would prefer to oppress a person rather than allow them to follow their preferences (child molesters, for example). We all force our subjective layer on other people, and yet we almost all say that this is wrong. We usually overcome this contradiction by not focusing on the subjectivity of our beliefs whenever we want to force them on others, we pretend that they are facts about the world. This, however, is dishonest, and therefore it is an option only available to those who do not value truth and understanding.

So, to what degree should we force our subjective layer on others? This too is subjective. Go too far and you're a fascist. Too little and you're an anarchist. Since we're on the topic of subjectivity, I'll give my subjective answer.

First one should decide whether or not they value society. If you answer 'no,' the courteous thing to do would be to find a remote island somewhere, and leave those who value society to have their society (of course, that's only if you value courtesy). If you answer 'yes,' then you can value force insofar as it is necessary to make society exist. Take note of the fact that I said 'exist,' not 'excel' since excelling would require a subjective conception of the good for the society to aspire to, and this would involve more force than I like.

From here, I think a minarchist system is best for accounting for the diversity of subjective layers. We must force our wills on others in order to preserve society, which means that we must keep people from harming each other. Apart from that, though, we would be stepping beyond the goal of preserving society, and therefore should (heh, “should” in a subjective statement) not proceed further.

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