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Coercion and Morality

  1. profile image0
    Sooner28posted 3 years ago

    There is a conservative argument I've heard that goes something like this.  So for now, I'm going to pretend like I accept this argument and try to do it justice. 

    For a decision to be moral, it must be the result of free choice.  We wouldn't claim that if a mad scientist were to secretly give us a "morality" drug, that, even if our decisions would be better than our current ones, we would in any sense be acting moral.  The Christian conservative also uses this same line of reasoning to defend God.  Either option is available to the defender of this argument (where I first heard it in passing I can't recall, but mostly recently in Dinesh Dizouza's Letters to a Young Conservative).

    The conservative then claims that government redistributing income to help the poor is coercive.  So, the government comes to your door and points a gun to your head and says give me $300 dollars a month to help pay for your neighbors food and medical bills.  Even though it may be objected we live in a democracy, the point would still be that the government is "stealing" our money against our will. 

    The obvious conclusion here, is that government redistributing income to help the poor is not moral. 

    In fact, if one accepts the second premise, that government redistribution is purely coercive, it could even be argued that government social programs for the poor that are not based on the free will of taxpayers would be immoral, because of the way the money was collected!  Interesting conclusion, I think.

    I think every conservative would be okay with a voluntary system, where if people want to give money to the government to use as a charity, then that's their prerogative.  This was often the retort when Warren Buffet said he should pay more taxes.  "Well, then send the Treasury Department more money Warren!"

    I have some obvious objections to this in mind, but I'm wondering what you think.  Have I mischaracterized the argument?  Do you agree?  What kind of objections do you think would be fatal to it?

    Here is D'Souza in his own words.

    http://aaenemies.blogspot.com/2012/12/d … nment.html

    The obvious problem with Obama's horse example is that he leaves out the "legitimacy" of democratic decision making.  That's why I used democracy in outlining the argument.

    1. Josak profile image60
      Josakposted 3 years ago in reply to this

      As exemplified by the "taxation is theft" mantra.

      Well here is my criticism, it's simple.

      Let's take the law for example, a person never specifically consents to the law, it is forced upon him by coercion. Say a pedophile is captured, he has just as much right to claim that his arrest and trial are assault as anyone does to claim that taxation is theft, he never consented to the law and he believes that he did nothing wrong.

      This principle then that no amount of societal agreement justifies coercion can only lead to complete breakdown of the most basic laws.

      If a principle would lead to the destruction of ten thousand years of human progress and the most basic needs of humanity then in practical terms it's an incredibly bad principle.

      I would also like to clarify this is an anarchist principle, not a conservative one. Conservatives may flirt with it at times but ask a conservative if he is OK with the army not being paid for and the answer will be no.

      I think we can safely add this to the dead and gone principles list, well actually the vast majority of humanity already has.

      1. innersmiff profile image78
        innersmiffposted 3 years ago in reply to this

        Law itself does not require coercion. In a private property society, law would be akin to club dues - in order to live in a particular street or town, you would have to agree to abide by a set of rules. It's just contract-making, no coercion. Then when the contract is signed (or by verbal contract or whatever), the individual living in the street or town is explicitly agreeing to the rules within it and the punishments doled out for breaking them.

        You might not agree that this is a good idea, but it's proof that any contract you might see is an example of non coercive rule-making. Is it true that when a golf-club exercises the right to throw members out if they are being violent that they are coercing the members? Obviously not - now just imagine that for all kinds of rules and laws.

        Government law is different in that government has not been formed by the people voluntarily, but begun the law-making and imprisoning and then argued "you can always leave" after the fact. Whereas the golf-club owner owns the property and therefore has right to make rules for its membership, the government actively aggresses against other people's property.

        1. Josak profile image60
          Josakposted 3 years ago in reply to this

          Yeah so when I break into your block from another place, rob you and kill you, I never broke a law I agreed to so I did nothing wrong. If you punish me it's coercion. Your comment is not a reply and you know it.

          You are just extending the issue not solving it.

          There are plenty of people who don't agree to the right to private property. Hell the majority of anarchists don't and in fact believe that property itself is theft. So they would have no problem breaking into your home and could do whatever they wish obviously because they never agreed to your rules.

  2. innersmiff profile image78
    innersmiffposted 3 years ago

    I think you're possibly making a conflation. For a decision to be moral or immoral, it has to be the result of free choice. If someone has committed an action under coercion, it doesn't necessarily mean that the action was immoral, it means that we cannot apply a moral judgment to the person that was coerced.

    Say someone gave money to a homeless charity. One could argue that this is a good thing. However, if we find out that this person was coerced into it, it doesn't necessarily follow that morally, money should not have been given to the charity. It only indicates that the person should not have been coerced.

    Therefore, we cannot say that the tax-payer is either good or bad by paying into a public program seeing as they have no choice in the matter. What we can say is that the government, by raising funds through coercion, is immoral, regardless of what they use it for. If it weren't for your bit about conservatives being OK with a voluntary system, it would sound like you were saying that everyone who believes in the premise believes that public services are immoral stat because of this technical conflation.

    Hopefully I've made the point you're making a bit tighter.

    1. wilderness profile image95
      wildernessposted 3 years ago in reply to this

      That's the way I see it as well.  A person choosing to give to charity is doing a moral thing, a person paying taxes is making a choice between paying taxes (giving to charity) and going to jail, - a choice that has to do with individual preference, not morality.

      I would go on to say that a group of people choosing to force others to give to charity (pay taxes) is a moral decision ONLY as long as it directly benefits and maintains the society as a whole.  Should the group decide that wealth redistribution is a good thing without regard to the results to the givers that decision is immoral in and of itself.

      1. profile image0
        Sooner28posted 3 years ago in reply to this

        "That's the way I see it as well.  A person choosing to give to charity is doing a moral thing, a person paying taxes is making a choice between paying taxes (giving to charity) and going to jail, - a choice that has to do with individual preference, not morality."

        It's not morality?  So say, if I know by paying taxes the government is going to put Jews in concentration camps with that money, the choice has no moral complications?

        1. wilderness profile image95
          wildernessposted 3 years ago in reply to this

          IMO, there comes a time when your choice (jail or pay taxes that you do not then control) that it leaves the field of morality and effectively becomes coercion.

    2. profile image0
      Sooner28posted 3 years ago in reply to this

      "I think you're possibly making a conflation. For a decision to be moral or immoral, it has to be the result of free choice. If someone has committed an action under coercion, it doesn't necessarily mean that the action was immoral, it means that we cannot apply a moral judgment to the person that was coerced."

      Wait wait wait.  That's a dangerous principle, is it not?  So if the Nazi's coerce someone into running a concentration camp, does that mean that "we cannot apply a moral judgment to the person that was coerced"?  The Nazis actually tried to use the "following orders" objection, and at the Nuremberg trials, it was explicitly rejected.    Thoreau thought the same thing when he decided to not pay taxes to oppose the Mexican-American war, that even if the government was coercing you, it's better to go to prison that follow some coercion.  The assumption behind this is that you always have a free choice to go to prison, or flee the country you live in, not just to simply pay taxes or follow orders.

      So now it's become more interesting, because the result of the coercion is now being brought into play.  In my examples, it seems like following the coercion is obviously immoral.  In yours and the ones I outlined at the beginning, the consequences actually help people, they are just gone about in the wrong way, at least according to libertarians and conservatives.

      1. innersmiff profile image78
        innersmiffposted 3 years ago in reply to this

        Can we say honestly say that we can apply the same moral judgment to Nazi grunts as we can to Hitler? In order for an action to have any moral value, there has to be free will - I thought this was the assumption we were starting with?

        "We wouldn't claim that if a mad scientist were to secretly give us a "morality" drug, that, even if our decisions would be better than our current ones, we would in any sense be acting moral. "
        - This is the same principle you are now claiming is dangerous. I'm confused as to what your point is.

        1. profile image0
          Sooner28posted 3 years ago in reply to this

          Nope.  It's not the same.  You can choose NOT to follow Hitler's orders.  Mass injustice cannot occur unless the masses blindly follow authority.  Hitler didn't kill 6 million Jews; millions of people following his orders did.

          With my example, the mad scientist has literally altered your brain chemistry so you COULDN'T do otherwise, like an animal who is following instinct can't do otherwise. 

          Sorry if I wasn't clear on that.  I wasn't defining free will as being free from coercion, but literally not able to do otherwise.  The argument I outlined seemed to be assuming that though.  I think it's obvious now that D'Souza's argument is fatally flawed.

          1. innersmiff profile image78
            innersmiffposted 3 years ago in reply to this

            Then the mad scientist example is not about coercion, per se, as coercion implies a restriction of choice based on threat of force. Since the victim is incapable of making a choice, whether coerced or not coerced (I thought you were making the link), the situation does not apply.

            1. profile image0
              Sooner28posted 3 years ago in reply to this

              Yes it is!  That's the problem with D'Souza's argument.  It assumes coercion takes away free choice, which is a completely unjustified assumption, as history and commonsense morality has borne out.   He also completely ignores the consequences of the coercion.   

              He also didn't use the mad scientist example.  I used that to defend the reason that morality requires free choice, so a scientist literally changing your brain chemistry doesn't give you ANY choice in the matter.

              I should've outlined another reason in the steps to make it clearer.  He seems to be saying, "A decision has moral value if and only if the person has no outside interference when making the decision."

              Your self-interest only goes so far in justifying your following of authority.  What if the government held a gun to your head and told you to rape babies?  Would you say you had no moral complicity in the action?

              Sometimes none of our choices are good.  Morality isn't always, "There's a clear cut right and wrong here."  If you don't follow the Nazis, they kill you, so your self-interest does play a role.  But if you do follow them, millions of Jews die, BECAUSE you followed orders.  Most people, if they are honest, will say it's better to die than do something so horrific.  What happens in practice though is another story.

              1. innersmiff profile image78
                innersmiffposted 3 years ago in reply to this

                I'm willing to accept the argument that your actions have some moral value even if you are being coerced, provided that you should not be under the same judgment as if you had performed them of your own accord. Coercion is not a circumstance of existence but an aggressive action by another individual, and they must hold the majority of the judgment.

                Are you making the argument that coercion in the name of social good is justified because the victims of the coercion still have some element of choice? If you are you have to make a non-arbitrary distinction between what you perceive as "social good" and the worst horrors of statism in history (many of them also done in the name of "social good").

                Or are you making the argument that those who do not make a concerted effort not to pay taxes are participating in statism and implicitly agree to everything that is done to them?

                1. profile image0
                  Sooner28posted 3 years ago in reply to this

                  Is coercion wrong when we take a murderer or child molester off the street? 

                  It's a bit of a complicated question.  Even in a completely anarchist society, there would still have to be certain communal rules that required some sort of enforcement (whether that be exile or whatever).

                  I'm not making that argument though.  Nor am I claiming "that those who do not make a concerted effort not to pay taxes are participating in statism and implicitly agree to everything that is done to them?" 

                  I don't know where this implicit agreement for everything done to them even comes in.  There is SOME moral responsibility for not doing some sort of resistance (whether that means voting for candidates who are in line with your views, or going to jail to oppose a war).  Like I said before, mass injustice cannot occur without mass participation (at least until some evil genius gets a bomb and somehow solely drops it). 

                  Hitler could hate Jews all he wants, but what if only 10 Germans decided it was a good idea to kill them all?  He'd be a forgotten name, only known to German historians who studied anti-semitism.   

                  I haven't figured out exactly how much responsibility people bear.  I'm still thinking it through.

                  1. Josak profile image60
                    Josakposted 3 years ago in reply to this

                    I read an interesting book (the name will come to me) that claimed that in fact the population which supported people like Hitler and Pol Pot bear a greater responsibility through their aid or inaction than either of the leaders. In the case of both those men and their immediate lieutenants their sanity is very suspect. Both had serious psychological issues which to some extent explain (but do not justify) their actions.

                    On the other hand most of those who helped them (indeed allowed them to) commit these atrocities surely did not. They did it not out of insanity but out out of convenience or weakness of character.  Even if Hitler was completely sane he certainly believed what he was doing was right, a huge portion of his army however did not, they knew it was wrong but did it anyway because the alternative was very inconvenient. Making Hitler at best insane and at a worst horribly misguided but those who went along with him were calculated murderers who killed out of self interest.

                    I am not sure if I wholly agree but it's an interesting perspective. I often have to level this criticism at myself as a socialist in a capitalist country.

  3. Mighty Mom profile image90
    Mighty Momposted 3 years ago

    I don't see paying taxes as coercion at all. Taxes "with representation" are a basic premise of the American form of government.
    You use the example of the government using tax money redistributing income.
    All taxation is a redistribution of income, just not all of it to the poor.
    Unlike giving to, say, United Way, where you get to check off the boxes of which charities you want your donation to go to, when you pay taxes you must rely on the judgment of our elected officials to determine how your money gets applied.
    There are plenty of things the U.S. government squanders my hard-earned tax dollars on (paltry as they are) that I personally do not agree with. I would not, given a free will choice on my own, choose
    to support those causes.
    As Wilderness says, the morality/immorality comes into play because we're talking about maintaining and benefiting our sociey as a whole. Wilderness said:
    "Should the group decide that wealth redistribution is a good thing without regard to the results to the givers that decision is immoral in and of itself."
    Decisions like invading Iraq fall into that category.

    1. wilderness profile image95
      wildernessposted 3 years ago in reply to this

      Maybe.  A very good case could be made for not leaving Hussein with WMD's for fear he would use them on our society or that of our friends.  Had he had them that decision might have been a moral one.

      Even when he did NOT have them, to declare the decision immoral is to declare that the person making the call knew that.  Honest errors to not make an action immoral.

      1. Mighty Mom profile image90
        Mighty Momposted 3 years ago in reply to this

        By that logic we should invade Iran.
        And Syria.
        And North Korea.
        And about a dozen other countries around the world because we believe they "might" harm our society or that of our friends.
        Investing taxpayer money in war is no different than investing taxpayer money in any other endeavor.
        Those who agree with the endeavor will find a way to justify it as moral.
        Those who disagree with the expenditure will proclaim themselves coerced.
        And so it goes.
        And, I imagine, so it has always been!

        1. wilderness profile image95
          wildernessposted 3 years ago in reply to this

          MM, this is one of those many things that are gray in nature.  Attack is not always immoral - if someone points a gun in my face and I believe they will pull the trigger I will do my best to attack first.  Morally.

          We could argue Iraq until the cows come home and not come up with anything.  But that's unnecessary, I think - the contention is that attack is not always wrong - unless you disagree with that we are in basic agreement.

    2. profile image0
      Sooner28posted 3 years ago in reply to this

      Yeah, like I said at the beginning, I don't agree with this argument.  I also didn't want to poison the well, at least in this case, by providing objections at the beginning.

      I think your objections are pretty good.  Though we then get into questions of when a democratically-sanctioned action is legitimate, which opens up a discussion that can lead to some interesting results.

      The objection about not wanting to pay for stuff can also be turned back on the conservative who used this argument.  A big military budget, and a giant spying agency are very much enforced "coercively", but conservatives claim it is moral to have them because we have to defend ourselves against terrorists, and that people should be coerced into paying for them, for their own good and the safety of the nation.  So there is a certain inconsistency I think.

      1. wilderness profile image95
        wildernessposted 3 years ago in reply to this

        The "For your own good" is a touchy concept, but is also cornerstone to what government does.  I still maintain that at it's root the question of belief that an action (choice of spending) done for an honest evaluation of the good of the giver is probably moral.  Actions taken for the good of a third person, that do not benefit the giver, are not moral.  Only the giver has the right to make that determination.

      2. innersmiff profile image78
        innersmiffposted 3 years ago in reply to this

        "For the good of society" can basically mean anything anyone wants it to mean, and is way too vague a notion to justify violence, in my opinion. If you're going to make the caveat that "coercion is justified in the aim of helping society as a whole", you're granting others the right to do pretty much whatever they want. What's the difference between some activist who wants to use violence to fund a homeless charity with some general who wants to use it to fund the invasion of Iraq with some warlord who wants it to wine and dine each of his nine wives?* Both could, given adequate campaigning and lobbying, convince the majority of voting populace (maybe something like 15% of the population as a whole) that their idea is necessary on the basis of "society as a whole", but they'd still be doing the same thing: coercing people. At least someone is going to disagree, unfortunately.

        If you're going to say that taxation is coercive and wrong when it's done for selfish interests, you have to say that it is wrong for what you perceive as "good for society as a whole", too. "Societal good" is wishy-washy nonsense that reflects nothing in the real world.

        *Check dat assonance

    3. innersmiff profile image78
      innersmiffposted 3 years ago in reply to this

      Mighty Mom said: "Taxes "with representation" are a basic premise of the American form of government."

      Government, which is coercive by its nature: democracy necessarily needs guns in order enforce the majority's will upon the minority. How is this anything other than coercion?

      1. wilderness profile image95
        wildernessposted 3 years ago in reply to this

        Any government that exists solely to enforce the will of the majority, without regard for protection of the minority from the majority, will not endure.

        1. profile image0
          Sooner28posted 3 years ago in reply to this

          With that, I agree.

  4. prettydarkhorse profile image65
    prettydarkhorseposted 3 years ago

    I don't know but having a moral is in itself not having a free choice. Do we really have free choice?

    Social contract theory.

 
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