You Don’t Know Jack, Part Two


Law, the entire concept of law, is perverse. It is anti-social. It is the root of violence and revolution. It is the cause, not the cure, for failed countries like Somalia. It looks like it promotes order, but it actually sows the seeds of chaos whenever it arises. Please join me. Please, help me free the world from the disease we call “rule of law.”

When we’ve rid the world of so-called law, we should move on to literacy. All of these literate people you see walking around cheapen culture. With their “books” and “letters” they don’t have to remember anything. Indeed, their memories are absolute garbage because whenever they need some shallow, poorly understood piece of “knowledge,” they can just read it. Not only that, but look at the ruined state of education. Children think they know something when they read it. They think they REALLY know it. Ridiculous.


These ideas seem pretty silly, do they not? The first one sounds like the drunken dream of a delusional communist. The second sounds like something your great grandfather would say from deep within the fortress of his advanced dementia. What if I told you that the first “insane rambling” came from Confucius, the single most influential thinker in Eastern history and the “ode to dementia” came from Socrates, the single most influential intellectual in Western history? What if I told you that each position was, and is, completely logically defensible, not just then, but now as well?

Confucius opposed law because he believed it created a false equality between rulers and the ruled. If there is equality before the law, why would the servant listen to his master? Why would a soldier listen to his commander? If they are equal, what would compel a child to obey the edicts of a congressman?

He was right to worry, incidentally. The worst countries in the world are not the homes of despots, they are the lands of nobody in particular. They are places like Somalia and Yemen. They are places where local chiefs have zero regard for the words of their kings. They are places where a man can declare himself God’s Chosen Emperor and be recognized.

He also thought that people would take advantage of loopholes in the law to do evil without fear of punishment. That he was correct on this line of reasoning is so obvious I will not belabor the point. Indeed, Confucius reasoned, is it not much better to simply raise and select a few extremely educated, very moral people and leave decisions in their hands? Surely it is easier to make one or two extremely moral people than to make a law for every contingency. If there is a logical error here, I’m not finding it.

Socrates also had several perfectly valid points when he opposed literacy. Literate people, and people who depend on writing, do in fact have lesser memories than the illiterate. If you value personal possession of knowledge over easy access to a variety of knowledge, you should agree with Socrates on this point. Socrates also dislikes the shallow way we “learn” things we read. Anyone who has seen students cramming for a test can testify to the shallow, unengaged way many (most) people learn when they read.

Lastly, Socrates says that by writing an idea down, you are robbing that idea’s vitality. You are taking something fluid, beautiful and evolving and killing it. When a philosopher speaks an idea, he can defend it, he can help his audience understand its logic, its elegance, its beauty. When he writes that idea down, he makes it vulnerable to misunderstanding. He loses all power over that idea. He puts it in the hands of lesser minds.

The one, small thing that keeps me from truly opposing literacy and the rule of law, however, is the fact that Socrates and Confucius were wrong. They were wrong with sound reasoning. They were wrong while being much smarter than you or I. They were wrong with the best of intentions, but they were still wrong.  Societies with literacy and the rule of law survived where those without perished, and survival is the true test of morals.


I heard an interesting thought experiment from Dr. Steven Novella that I think can shine some light on the problems of Confucius and Socrates. Please answer these questions to yourself as we go along.

1. Think of your beliefs. Everything from religious views to your philosophy for playing StarCraft. There should be a lot of them. Are all of your beliefs correct?

2. Probably not, right? I mean, with so many beliefs, chances are you are going to be wrong on some of them.

3. What are your wrong beliefs?

Number 3’s a doozy, isn’t it? After all, if you knew your belief was wrong, you would change your belief. So here we are, almost certainly wrong, but believing anyway. And we really can’t escape this position, which has several possible consequences.

We could simply despair, which would be funny to watch from an outsider’s perspective. We could double down and substitute strength of belief for truth of belief – which basically makes us the most annoying person at any dinner party. Or, we could embrace a little humility. We could, the next time somebody throws a bizarre belief our way, at least entertain the possibility they are right.

After all, it’s a mistake to believe a belief.

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  1. LOVE THIS!!!! You can never really get away from laws since as soon as you say we must do away with law, you’re creating a law. 🙂

    1. Glad you enjoyed it!

      Confucius idea was that if you could simply ensure the leader or leaders were sufficiently moral, they would decide matters on a case by case basis.

      The benefit is that John Gotti doesn’t get off on technicalities. The downside is that Confucius thinks morality is mostly internal and I think it’s almost entirely contextual.


  2. Number three is indeed a doozy. Sort of like asking, “if you had it all to do over, what would you change?” Without absolute knowledge of the unintended consequences of such change would it not be foolish to change anything?”

    Contextual morality? How does that differ from “situational ethics?” Unless you mean morality in an overall cultural context.

    If cultural, are we to cut someone slack because he wants to continue to express his cultural version of morality after having moved into a different culture and call it diversity?

    There, you went an made me think and now my brain is getting tired and confused. Fie.

    1. I think that the morals inside a person are, unless that person is very disciplined and very thoughtful, unimportant. I base this on information like the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Milgram Obedience Trials. I also base it on the fact that when you look at the worst moral outrages of history, they were perpetrated by morally normal folks.

      Hitler didn’t kill anybody, for example. Tens of millions of perfectly nice Western Europeans found his moral vision compelling enough to do the killing for him.

      Thus, I believe that a person’s environment almost always has a large effect on moral actions.

      That’s what I was trying to say.

  3. Very good and thoughtful post, Ben. I’m afraid it opened my mental floodgates. I am sure you likely know all that I mention below, but I have to say it anyway. 😀

    Confucius opposed law because he believed it created a false equality between rulers and the ruled. If there is equality before the law, why would the servant listen to his master? Why would a soldier listen to his commander? If they are equal, what would compel a child to obey the edicts of a congressman?

    I agree that this is a problem not of laws being bad in and of themselves, but of the contextually of the laws. Often, where there are a lack of foundational laws, society suffers immensely.

    For example, I think one of the greatest, perhaps THE greatest mistakes made by the founders of our U.S. Constitution–astute as they were–was to allow monetary influence in government. Some of the founders, however, understood the error:

    “I hope we shall… crush in its birth the aristocracy of our
    moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our
    government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of
    our country.” –Thomas Jefferson to George Logan, 1816.

    Currently, we have corporations actually writing laws to their own advantage, with no small bribe-of-politicians willing to sponsor them and a propaganda network to convince the voters that all is in their best interest. Objectivism now rules both on Wall Street and in Congress, and the nation is sliding into a kleptocratic oligarchy–if it isn’t already there.

    Language might have some bearing on this slide, especially in conservative circles. There is an unfortunate similarity in the words “equality” and “equity,” and this lends itself easily to effective propaganda, the oil that lubricates the slope and increases the slid.

    When a liberal/progressive speaks or writes of “sharing the wealth,” he is not talking of equality of income, but equity of income. for example, if the workers of a corporation produce 10% greater value/wealth for the company, they should benefit for their labor and receive an equitable increase in wages, percentage-wise equal to the rise in the worth of the corporation and the income of its owners.

    Laws that are good establish a general equality of opportunity of access to all the basic structures, offices, and necessities of life in a society (such as food, education, healthcare, housing, public office, etc.). Discontent in society arises where there are laws that disadvantage the people but advantage the upper class, or a lack of laws that have the same effect.

    True equality would assume everyone is born equal. They are not, of course. It is certain that not everyone is born with the same abilities, physical and mental, which makes equality in society impossible. But equity in society IS possible.

    Therefore, from a Rawlsian point of view, I think there must be two basic aspects of a just society (justice defined as fairness); equality in opportunity of access, and equity (parity) in the distribution of wealth. The trick, of course, is to figure out how to keep the more astute and shewed from exercising their abilities to their own benefit at the expense of the masses. Such has never been accomplished in any society, to my knowledge, for obvious reasons (self-interest, greed, indifference, and a failure to establish truly just laws).

    Taking this into consideration, if the republic of the United States continues on its current course in the ever widening disparity of income (since supply-side economics kicked in under Reagan), we are in serious danger on a number of levels. Personally, I think it is now too late.

    Hitler didn’t kill anybody, for example. Tens of millions of perfectly nice Western Europeans found his moral vision compelling enough to do the killing for him.

    Yes, while this is true, it is clear as well that the Nazis were masters of propaganda (mind control)–a very powerful tool of social engineering. In 1996, Newt Gingrich, doubtless a student of Goebbels, wrote a memo to GOPAC titled, “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” It is a formula for effective propaganda, and there was an esoteric message one could read between the lines as well. This is why the rancor and personal attacks have spiked since then and why all conservative candidates and “news” outlets continually speak of liberals and progressives in negative sentences.

    Thus, I believe that a person’s environment almost always has a large effect on moral actions.

    Precisely. Even one’s religious “truths” are a function of happenstance of birth and have little or nothing to do with truth. One most often believes for life that which he was taught to believe from tothood, and the context (truths) depend almost entirely on the beliefs of the society into which he was born. The matrix of one’s early years molds him.

  4. […] my speech about Confucius and Socrates for Toastmasters. If you’d like to read in in English, please click here. 여기 저의 넷번쩨 토스트마스터스 연설입니다. 영어로 쓴 각본은 여기 […]

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