The Lesser Evil

An objective review of human history would seem to point to the grim reality that by far the most dangerous thing in the world is false ethical systems.

If we look at an ethical system like communism, which was responsible for the murders of 170 million people, we can clearly see that the real danger to individuals was not random criminals, but false moral theories. Similarly, the Spanish Inquisition relied not on thieves and pickpockets, but rather priests and torturers filled with the desire to save the souls of others. Nazism also relied on particular ethical theories regarding the relationship between the individual and the collective, and the moral imperative to serve those in power, as well as theories “proving” the innate virtues of the Aryan race.

Over and over again, throughout human history, we see that the most dangerous instruments in the hands of men are not guns, or bombs, or knives, or poisons, but rather moral theories. From the “divine right of kings” to the endlessly legitimized mob rule of modern democracies, from the ancestor worship of certain Oriental cultures to the modern deference to the nation-state as personified by a political leader, to those who pledge their children to the service of particular religious ideologies, it is clear that by far the most dangerous tool that men possess is morality. Unlike science, which merely describes what is, and what is to be, moral theories exert a near-bottomless influence over the hearts and minds of men by telling them what ought to be.

When our leaders ask for our obedience, it is never to themselves as individuals, they claim, but rather to “the good” in the abstract. JFK did not say: “Ask not what I can do for you, but rather what you can do for me...” Instead, he substituted the words “your country” for himself. Service to “the country” is considered a virtue – although the net beneficiaries of that service are always those who rule citizens by force. In the past (and sometimes even into the present), leaders identified themselves with God, rather than with geography, but the principle remains the same. For Communists, the abstract mechanism that justifies the power of the leaders is class; for fascists it is the nation; for Nazis it is the race; for democrats it is “the will of the people”; for priests it is “the will of God” and so on.

Ruling classes inevitably use ethical theories to justify their power for the simple reason that human beings have an implacable desire to act in accordance to what they believe to be “the good.” If service to the Fatherland can be defined as “the good,” then such service will inevitably be provided. If obedience to military superiors can be defined as “virtue” and “courage,” then such violent slavery will be endlessly praised and performed.

The more false the moral theory is, the earlier that it must be inflicted upon children. We do not see the children of scientifically minded people being sent to “logic school” from the tender age of three or four onwards. We do not see the children of free market advocates being sent to “Capitalism Camp” when they are five years old. We do not see the children of philosophers being sent to a Rational Empiricism Theme Park in order to be indoctrinated into the value of trusting their own senses and using their own minds.

No, wherever ethical theories are corrupt, self-contradictory and destructive, they must be inflicted upon the helpless minds of dependent children. The Jesuits are credited with the proverb: “Give me a child until he is nine and he will be mine for life,” but that is only because the Jesuits were teaching superstitious and destructive lies. You could never imagine a modern scientist hungering to imprint his falsehoods on a newborn consciousness. Picture somebody like Richard Dawkins saying the above, just to see how ridiculous it would be.

Any ethicist, then, who focuses on mere criminality, rather than the institutional crimes supported by ethical theories, is missing the picture almost entirely, and serving mankind up to the slaughterhouse. A doctor who, in the middle of a universal and deadly plague, focused his entire efforts on communicating about the possible health consequences of being slightly overweight, would be considered rather deranged, and scarcely a reliable guide in medical matters. If your house is on fire, mulling over the colors you might want to paint your walls might well be considered a sub-optimal prioritization.

Private criminals exist, of course, but have almost no impact on our lives comparable to those who rule us on the basis of false moral theories.

Once, when I was 11, another boy stole a few dollars from me. Another time, when I was 26, I left my ATM card in a bank machine, and someone stole a few hundred dollars from my account.

On the other hand, I have had hundreds of thousands of dollars taken from me by force through the moral theory of “taxation is good.” I was forced to sit in the grim and brain-destroying mental gulags of public schools for 14 years, based on the moral theory that “state education is a virtue.” (Or, rather: “forced education is a virtue” – my parents were compelled to pay through taxes, and I was compelled to attend.)

The boy (and the man) who stole my money doubtless used it for some personal pleasure or need. The government that steals my money, on the other hand, uses it to oppress the poor, to fund wars, to pay the rich, to borrow money and so impoverish my children – and to pay the salaries of those who steal from me.

If I were a doctor in the middle of a great city struck down by a terrible plague, and I discovered that that plague was being transmitted through the water pipes, what should my rational response be – if I claimed to truly care about the health of my fellow citizens?

Surely I should cry from the very rooftops that their drinking water was causing the plague. Surely I should take every measure possible to get people to understand the true source of the illness that struck them down.

Surely, in the knowledge of such universal and preventable poisoning, I should not waste my time arguing that the true danger you faced was the tiny possibility that some random individual might decide to poison you at some point in the future.

[...]The violations that I experienced at the hands of private criminals fade to insignificance relative to even one day under the tender mercies of my “virtuous and good masters.”