A friend on Facebook recently posted a Fox News video about “liberal agitators” at a Trump rally. Being that this was from Fox News, the agitators they chose to show were not particularly articulate. I was milliseconds away from forgetting all about it until I saw this comment beneath the video:
“They’re being paid to protest.”
I seriously doubt that’s true, but for the sake of the ethical analysis I hope to carry out, let’s just assume a shadowy cabal is paying inarticulate protesters to harass Trump rallies. In the formal Christian analysis, I hope to show that such an action is morally wrong. In the ethical Christian analysis, I think we will also find that clandestine payments to anti-Trump protesters is wrong. In my proposed alternative moral system, well, you’ll just have to wait to the end of the article.
So let’s begin with the formal Christians. As I conceptualized them in the previous “Beyond Christianity” article, the formal Christian’s ethics are based on two assumptions – “I am good” and “I am part of the establishment.” The formal Christian, upon discovering the shadowy anti-Trump cabal must necessarily condemn the payments.
After all, such underhanded techniques undermine lawfulness and our traditional values about open discourse. These payments represent an attempt to corrupt our tradition of democratic elections and they are dishonest. We can join hands, walk across our lawns and denounce the shadowy cabal for corruption, lies and lawlessness.
Unfortunately, any new or better group of people wanting to reform our cherished establishment are necessarily going to be outside our traditions and laws. Since the formal Christian is good and part of the establishment, the new or better group is necessarily evil from the formal Christian’s point of view. This makes our moral analysis a bit of an extermination campaign against progress.
There’s also the problem of what we do with this analysis. I suppose we can attempt to suppress the cabal in the hopes of vanquishing dishonest politics forevermore, however unlikely that seems to succeed and however likely that project seems to spell doom for the forces of progress.
The ethical Christian will also condemn secretly paying protesters, but for different reasons. The cabal’s paying protesters, the ethical Christian will point out, is an attempt to thwart the will of the oppressed (and therefore good) normal people by the powerful (and therefore bad) cabal. By allowing rich (and therefore bad) groups to influence elections and campaigns, the cabal is institutionalizing structures of injustice and oppression.
Once again, what we do with this analysis is a puzzling question. Suppression again, I guess? The problem there, in addition to the fact that suppression is awfully hard to accomplish, is that in order to suppress the powerful (and thus bad), the ethical Christian must become powerful (and thus bad) enough to overthrow the original villain. Any successful suppression of evil, therefore, will involve the creation of a new bad guy. I don’t know how to escape this cycle except to have the hero commit suicide or otherwise die at the moment of triumph, which seems a bit impractical. It also seems like that best case scenario creates a power vacuum.
The first step in my proposed alternative is to take all your notions of justice and stuff them in the nearest recycling bin. Heroes and villains do not exist in this realm, at least not in the forms commonly recognized. Good and bad are still things, but we no longer believe in evil and condemnation is a waste of time. We are officially uninterested in moralizing of any type.
This probably sounds like moral nihilism or amorality and, in a sense, I can see why you’d think so. Indeed, this project began when I was a moral nihilist because I wanted to avoid the problems previously mentioned regarding ethical and formal Christianity. That said, nihilism can’t distinguish any good from any bad and thus falls apart when we try to use it as a moral system.
How then to get away from moralizing without slipping into nihilism and nothingness? My proposed solution takes two roads, reducing moral values to their absolute minimal states and emphasizing consequentialism over moral intentions.
First, the reduction of moral values. I don’t include freedoms in my list of essential good things because it is perfectly possible for conscious beings to live without freedom. I likewise don’t include equality, humility, charity, generosity or fairness in the essential goods because, like freedom, people can, do and have survived without them.
This is not to say I would recommend you become a tyrannical, elitist, arrogant, selfish and arbitrary jerkass, but simply that I reject most traditional values as universally good. Freedom, charity etc would, for me, slot into an inferior category of contextual goods. By this I mean that it is often good to live in a state of freedom, but not always and not in all contexts.
The higher categories of absolute goods and absolute bads would include only four things. The absolute goods are continued existence and the imposition of meaning on reality. The absolute bads are extinction and meaninglessness. Why? Because without existence we cannot have meaning and without meaning existence is barren.
(I do think there is a hierarchy of existences and meanings, but I’ll get to them in another essay.)
You will perhaps notice that this morality is consequentialist. Hindsight is 20/20, you might say. I really don’t have an answer to this other than to admit I’m guilty as charged. However, I can counter by saying that in our day to day lives, we are generally isolated from intentions but we are never isolated from outcomes. Getting a paycheck from a person who intended to defraud me but failed is every bit as useful as getting a paycheck from someone who is wholeheartedly devoted to my happiness.
This is not to say intentions don’t matter, and indeed, my likelihood of getting next months pay check are better if my boss is good-intentioned, but it is to say we are ultimately judged by outcomes and that, as such, outcomes are the ultimate arbiter of good and bad.
A necessary consequence of this outcome-focused morality is to admit that, when we perform an action, we can’t actually know if it is good or bad at the time. We can estimate the probabilities of our actions being good or bad, but we can never be certain. I’d be lying if I said this bothers me very much, but perhaps greater minds than my own will find what I’d consider unavoidable ethical uncertainty objectionable.
So, let’s go back to the cabal that keeps sending paid protesters to Donald Trump rallies. Dishonesty is no longer necessarily bad, so we can’t automatically cry foul just because the cabal is playing tricks. Being strong or manipulating the people is, likewise, no longer automatically a bad thing so we’ve successfully escaped the realm of Christian ethics, whether those Christians be of the formal or ethical flavors.
Since our absolute goods are simply continued existence and meaning and we can’t know if we’re being good or bad in the moment, our ethical analysis of the cabal reduces to a matter of estimating probability.
Does Donald Trump winning the election seem good for our continued existence and our continued ability to impose meaning on reality? This answers is of course hugely dependent on context but, if we estimate that the answer is yes, Trump is “good,” we must next decide if the cabal’s action is likely to hurt Trump, and thus be “bad.”
If, on the other hand, we estimate that Trump winning the election is bad for our abilities to exist and impose meaning, we must then estimate if the cabal’s actions are likely to stop Trump and thus become “good.”
My personal analysis would come down to something like this: Trump is unlikely to be “good” if he becomes president, though he could be “good” in any number of other contexts. However, the cabal’s actions are so likely to backfire that they will probably end up helping Trump. As such, Trump is bad and so is the cabal.
It seems to me this system of morality avoids most of the previously mentioned problems. This analysis also seems likely to be much more useful to the cabal, to Trump supporters and to Trump opponents than either of the Christian analyses. This is because it leads naturally away from moralizing and naturally toward cool-headed analysis.
Almost nothing is inevitably good, including the formal Christians, and almost nothing is inevitably bad, including the powerful who so bother the ethical Christians. Context triumphs over absolutism in all cases except where existence ends.