Thursday, August 02, 2007

Society is not a Volitional Entity

Andy: "However, because it is reasonable for a society to establish such an authority, the existence of such an authority in society is not necessarily a violation of natural law or natural rights.

Furthermore, because this authority labors to provide a service to the society, then he has a right to an award from society for services rendered."

You say that it is reasonable for "society" to establish such an all-encompassing authority [someone who makes judgments upheld by coercion.] Yet "society" is not a singular volitional being capable of making decisions: it is not a leviathan, if you will. To illustrate the difference, let me state that I do not think it is possible for a "society" to choose to go to war. When people say that "a society" goes to war, they really mean that "many individuals in a spatial region are going to war." Because a society is a collection of individuals with a common end. If I am a conscientious objector, and do not adhere to the end of that war, I'm not really a part of that society at all, am I? It is only the majority of individuals who are going to war: not society. The two terms are not synonymous.

Most true societies want justice. I'm all in favor of that end. I'm with them on that end. I am not, however, part of the particular society (the numeric majority) that wants to support a particular system of meting out justice that I believe uses unjust means to accomplish that end. I am still a member of a justice-seeking society, even though I refuse to espouse the means espoused by other members of the whole society. I am not a member of the "coercively-funded majority-dictated justice system," society. I believe that because every member of the justice-seeking society did not in fact agree on this system, that its means are contradictory to its end. The good end of upholding justice does not legitimize coercive taxation as a means, and not just because there are other means of upholding justice.

The argument you use is a non-sequitur: "Because this majority-chosen justice system is the only means of securing the end of justice, the means of forcing even the minority to pay for its upkeep is the only means that will work, and therefore, it is obviously a just means." It's like saying, "I have a wife and children I need to support, and it is my duty to support them. You must give me your money or else." No: there are proper means of achieving this end. And you wouldn't even necessarily have to work to achieve the end of supporting your family: it's not the only means. You could have a huge bank account already. Or you could solicit donations from people who were willing to pay you to support your family. That would be morally legitimate as well. If you have to take money from others against their wills, (especially those who have a reasonable claim that justice is not being done in such a system, and the end would be better served in another system,) then it is really time to re-examine the morality and effectiveness of both the means and the end such a system.

Anyway, back to a society and how one can remove himself from it.

If I am a robber or rapist, I have, by the very nature of my actions, recused myself from pursuing the common end of those who live together for mutual material security. I am inimical to that society, and no longer a part of it. In addition, whether I am caught or anyone knows about my crime is immaterial. (There would be no justice for such acts in a private or majoritarian justice system, anyway.) I could have a card saying I was in the organization of the KKK, but yet not hate blacks and Catholics. Would I really be a member of that society, even if the other Klansmen didn't know I wasn't racist?

Just as someone who commits a mortal sin has removed himself with the heavenly society until he has done penance, a criminal is not a member of a non-criminal society until he has repented and made restitution.

A true society of men pursuing a common goal would rapidly develop into a working system of justice. Without a centralized coercive authority chosen by a numerical majority, why would there be any more injustice than there is now, if the majority of men are rational and good the majority of the time? Would there still be injustice? Yes, from time to time. Would there be constant private reclamations for injustices? Not so many or of such a degree that they would be disruptive or unduly escalatory. Consider driving on a freeway: most people freely choose to conduct themselves safely and considerately not because they're going to get caught by a cop, but because their actions have immediate repercussions, if not from physics, then from other drivers. There is nothing that says these repercussions would be of a "legal" or even a morally just nature! Nonetheless, these repercussions do exist, and do maintain order on the roads more so than any legal ramifications for misbehavior. Rational self-interest suggests that you not endanger others on the road.

I fail to see why a centralized (majority-chosen) coercive entity would be required for a justice system. Private, voluntary arbitration happens all the time right now. In the absence of a coercive central government, other coercive entities would form, and would be directly accountable to their clients, and truly, "society" as a whole, so long as they want to maintain a reputation with which they can remain in business. Right now, we have a centralized coercive entity that really isn't accountable to anyone. The government is not synonymous with any society except the society of government: and it is only a very loose representation of the will of the majority of individuals in a region, with whom the minority still interacts in society. Government doesn't even necessarily reflect the will of the majority, as you know, considering 70% of people are in favor of banning abortion except in cases of rape and incest.

Government stays within its boundaries (but even then, not really) right now only because it feels like it. Nothing but the threat of armed revolt keeps it from instantly raising taxes to 90% or killing off dissidents. No lion stays in a parchment-and-ink cage because it can't tear out of it. It can, whenever it chooses to, or something startles it. But of course, the lion likes to eat and grow, and people like to feed the lion, because it makes them feel safe to have it around, for some reason. It's STILL A LION. You should count on individual human beings to be just and to work out justice between themselves, not threaten to sic the communal lion on them.

Every man, in other words, should have the lion's share of power. If a man becomes aggressive and begins to hurt others, other men will take him to task for it. This is a method that is in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. Men would not long tolerate disorder in a true society. But order does NOT have to be imposed from a majority-chosen coercive entity. Order naturally arises through the interactions of men themselves: government is merely an unwise means of trying to maintain an already pre-existent order. Order can be better maintained by individuals voluntarily choosing a local mediator, complete with the terms of mediation and payment.

Remember St. Paul's monita to the Christians? To paraphrase, "Do not be so willing to go before pagans to be judged! Aren't you better than that? Can't you work it out between yourselves?" Yes, we can. And so can the pagans, because it's part of our human nature and in our natural self-interest to resolve cases without the mediation of a even a voluntarily-chosen third party, if possible. If it is not possible to come to an agreement between two people, let them go to a third party. It's what happens on "People's Court" all the time. If they shirk the ruling after they had agreed to follow the ruling, it would have happened under a central majority system, or ANY OTHER system.

Nothing makes the majority-chosen "justice" system more just than any other system. In fact, it is less so, due to the patent lack of accountability. Like those 20 robberies those two rapist-murderers in CT had under their belts. After 20 robberies each, they were out on parole. They raped and murdered a doctor's wife both of his young daughters. Oh, no. Heck, no. Not in a private justice system would that have happened! Because even if they had not been forced to pay restitution by a coercive private party, and thereby actually turned away from a life of crime the first time they were arrested, they would have been removed from society long before they were able to commit these heinous crimes. Permanently.

I've come up with a new slogan. "Think outside the State."


richard said...

State? What state? Do you mean those buffoons in funny looking clothes that are all the same?

Esto vir liber

The state is an idea, a moral decay, a violation of the dignity of persons. There can only be one morality, to say that one man may live by a different moral code is to say that that man is a superman and the others are not men at all.

Geoff said...

The State is the homogenous, nebulous mixture of individuals, societies and government. It's merely an idea, kind of like a unicorn. A unicorn that can gore you whenever it feels like it, because it has a magical morality.

healthily sanguine said...

Well, if a unicorn could really gore you, wouldn't you say it is more than just an idea?

Geoff said...

The unicorn/state doesn't gore you. A government does. And it's immoral when it does it. (Conscription, "eminent domain," taxation, etc.)

Andy Bodoh said...

There seems to be two issues that we are at odds with here: that meaning of "society" and the capacity for "society" to act "as a volitional entity".

You define society "a collection of individuals with a common end." Using this defintion you imply that if people do not share common ends, they are not in society together. Thus each individual acts wholly for himself in all things:

When people say that "a society" goes to war, they really mean that "many individuals in a spatial region are going to war."... If I am a conscientious objector, and do not adhere to the end of that war, I'm not really a part of that society at all, am I? It is only the majority of individuals who are going to war: not society. The two terms are not synonymous.

From here you attack me for saying that a civil authority is a majoritarian-elected figure:

The argument you use is a non-sequitur: "Because this majority-chosen justice system is the only means of securing the end of justice, the means of forcing even the minority to pay for its upkeep is the only means that will work, and therefore, it is obviously a just means."

(Allow me to point out here that I never saint taxation was the only way of doing this. I said taxation was a reasonable means of doing this. If the judge was paid by the individuals before him on a case by case basis, his financial interests might color his judgment. Furthermore, if a person cannot afford to pay a judge, then disputes he wanted to see settled wouldn't be resolved. Thus it is reasonable for the system to pay the judge to be independent of the parties before him. As all people in society might find cause to come before the judge, it is not unreasonable that all in society should pay for the judge).

You return to the idea that an individual can stand wholly apart for a society, using examples that indicate that you are include in your theory the ability to stand apart from civil society, such as war and crime.

In contrast to the above, I define society as "a collection of people comprising a network of real interpersonal relationships in which the limits of the society are defined in some relevant way." I define civil society as "the network of relationships through which the members of the network work to achieve the satisfaction of their basic, day-to-day needs and wants."

Based on this contrast, I would argue that your concept of "society" is much more abstract and individualistic than the common use of the term. If I accepted your concept of society, then I would never know who I was in society with. "Civil society" would mean nothing, because I cannot be certain that I agree with anyone what the ends of "civil society" is. I frankly think that your definition is tainted with the notion of radical individualism. I cannot accept it.

I believe that my definition can avoid some of these pitfalls. The question of society does not focus on "who shares common ends" but instead on "is there a network of relationships among these people for some general end". The presence of human relationships is intrinsic to a society in the most perfect sense of the term. I think it is a stretch to say that if I am in society with a man from China who I don't know exists (even if we share common ends), unless the society is a pretty general society. Once again: a society is most true where human relationships are the strongest.

You can not stand apart from your civil society because you are a part of a network of interpersonal relationships that is directed to the aquisition of day-to-day needs and wants. Even if you object to something going on in civil society, you are a part of the civil society.

Now, the second point of general disagreement is whether or not society can "act" as a "volitional entity". I admit that I need to demonstrate what I mean when I say "Society does X" like "society...establish[es] such an authority." Until then, I have not demonstrated that a ligitimate civil authority can even exist. However, I ask you to defer the issue until after my next post which will explain what I mean. The issue is intimately bound up in the legitimacy of civil law (i.e. criminal law) and I will handle this in my next post. The only reason I put it out there was to show you why I am going where I am going: to show you one way in which I think taxes are legitimate. I will take up the matter later.

That being said and despite your claim that I argued for a majoritarian-elected authority. I simple said "it is reasonable for a society to establish such an authority". I never specified how such an authority would be estanblished. Your attacks on majoritarian rule are misplaced in this post: I have neither said nor intended to imply anything about majoritarian rule at this point.

Furthermore, you seem to think that I argue that a centralized authority is the only means to achieve justice. I never said this. I said a civil authority to judge disputes is reasonable and I even argued that its arises from the concept of "people's court". In other words, the power of civil authority to judge disputes between parties presupposes the ligitimacy of parties to resolve differences outside of a civil authority.

However, I still assert that you have not responded to two difficulties I raised regarding "people's court". First, what happens when one party does not want to resolve the issue, and secondly what happens when one party does not obey the judgement they recieved? These two difficulties are the source in my argument of societies reasons for granting the power of coercion to someone in society. You responded only that "If [the parties] shirk the ruling after they had agreed to follow the ruling, it would have happened under a central majority system, or ANY OTHER system" Agreed. People can shirk the authority of a established civil authority. However, that is why our court system uses has the power to find people "in contempt of court" - a criminal charge. In other words, "the people's court" has no way to bring an issue to judgment or ensure that the judgment in carried out. A civil authority with coercive power can do so by punishing those people who stand in the way fo seeing a matter judged or a judgment executed for "contempt of court".

The fact that private arbitration has no easy way to bring matters to judgment when one party wants it so or see a judgment executed means that a civil authority with the power to do so is a reasonable means to see justice done in society.