JR'S Free Thought Pages
                                                                       No Gods  ~ No Masters    ~ No Bullshit



People Behaving Badly

A Perspective on Ethics

By JR, May, 2021

Everything excellent is as difficult as it is rare - Baruch Spinoza, Ethics

An ethical person ought to do more than he is required to do, and less than he is allowed to do - Michael Josephson

The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history - George Orwell


In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act - George Orwell

In the 1960’s when Stanford biologist Paul R. Ehrlich wrote his compelling The Population Bomb, there were approximately 3 billion humans on planet Earth. But by December 2020 the number had risen to almost 8 billion. The world is now dangerously overpopulated and with every passing day the existential threats continue to multiply in concert with the increasing number of people that continue to be added to what Ehrlich thought was an unsustainable level five decades ago. Humans are the only species, other than viruses, dogs and other pets, that is not threatened by extinction. Even the humble bumble bee has been added to the extinction list.

If the current rate of human reproduction continues the United Nations estimates that by 2050 there will be close to 10 billion of us. Growth is greatest in Africa, where the agency expects more than half of global population growth between now and 2050 to occur. In other parts of the world, Europe and China for example, the birth rate is declining. The idea of almost 10 billion people is, at best, unthinkable.

Population increases create greater demand on the world’s finite natural resources – water, food, fuel, land, clean air and the need for universal health care, free education, affordable housing and transit. And even though it’s the rich and multi-national corporations that are responsible for most Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, surely adding 2 billion more people in another three decades will be catastrophic.

But let’s be clear, excessive consumerism and greed primarily by the wealthy and malevolent institutions like the military that are forces driving greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, as the vast majority of the poor consume little. It’s the rich that ravenously accumulate houses, yachts, cars, private jets and use other unnecessary services air travel, including loads of superfluous “stuff” followed by the consuming masses in developed countries. Conspicuous consumerism is a man-made disease called affluenza; an artificially induced ideologically mind virus and addiction inflamed by endless marketing and superficially instilled desire where wants and needs are conflated. Raw materials, production and transportation are required to subdue the discontent, the machinery of business cycles with their endless cycles of bubbles, busts and bailouts as GHG emissions are spewed out disrupting the natural order, sowing chaos, perpetuating ecological breakdown, species extinction and general malaise. Poverty, gross economic inequality and depression, not covid-19 are the real global epidemics with billions of people taking drugs both legal and illegal to mitigate the widespread malaise. This we call “progress”, but not for the British Columbia resident and writer Ronald Wright in his excellent book A Short History of Progress in which he argues that we are locked into a death march to oblivion.

Capitalism, now the hegemonic and overriding political and socio-economic ideology that is at best intrinsically immoral, as financial predation has become acceptable while everything has become a commodity. Any means are acceptable as long as someone, usually an already wealthy parasite, bank or multi-national corporation gains monetarily. Capitalism, what was referred to as the “Mega-machine" by Lewis Mumford in the 1960s, has been transmogrified into something far more sinister and evil. For example, how is it that two people (men and women) in a cage with seemingly no rules are allowed to beat one another to a bloody pulp?  This barbaric spectacle is called UFC and deemed a sport? Such an activity demonstrates how debased our so-called “civilization” has become, descending into a deep moral abyss. Overpopulation and its concomitant over-consumption may be the most serious existential problems among many we face but they are issues very few want to address, especially capitalists, the religious and other proponents of delusions about endless procreation and infinite growth.

I believe that these issues of overpopulation and over-consumption are not only existential problems, but serious ethical issues caused primarily by a global immoral and unsustainable authoritarian socio-economic dogma called capitalism. Today having more than one child, even if a family can afford it, seems insanely unwise, unethical and irresponsible.

These existential and moral issues are the most serious diseases of our existence, not the crass doltish neo-fascist Donald Trump and pandemics like covid-19 which are merely symptoms of systemic dysfunction. To be a human being is to acknowledge our animal instincts, but to be a moral agent is to make every effort to overcome them. Otherwise how can we call ourselves “human”? We’ve all behaved badly at some point in our lives and have made ethical compromises for which we ought to regret and feel ashamed. No one is perfect since perfection is a delusion; we abhor bad behaviour in others but implicate ourselves at least to some degree in hypocrisy; after all we tend to judge others by their acts, often without examining extenuating circumstances, but we judge ourselves by our motives.

More than one moral philosopher has remarked that the litmus test for our moral sensibilities is what we do with power. But surely there is a difference between unavoidable innocuous moral failings and inconsistency and blatant hypocrisy. Hypocrisy seems to arise in two ways:  (1) hypocrisy which is structural, forced upon individuals by immoral socio-economic systems largely beyond any given individual’s control, and (2) the freely chosen avoidable flagrant hypocrisy of powerful people, often those in positions of authority so anaesthetized by complacency and ideology that they fail to see how their behaviour appears to an outside observer. These people are indifferent or cavalier upon being confronted with evidence of hypocrisy but perhaps are not hypocrites but rather have have simply foresworn the claim to any modicum of ethical consistency or adherence to ethical principle. Instead they opt for the banality and impenetrability of power held axiomatically by most conservatives and fascists: might is right. With them, the logic of hypocrisy or any other moral failing simply does not obtain. This is the persona of the psychopath, someone without conscience.

Generally people who are in positions of power – and those who covet political power in particular are not only hypocrites (do as I say, not as I do) but are frequently either psychopaths or having many psychopathic tendencies including what is called Machiavellianism or “political realism”. Political realism is the view that the foundation of political order is not justice or truth, but raw power. In domestic affairs, politics relies on a monopoly of force, coercion and violence to create a modicum of order. But international political life and philosophy within capitalism or any other hierarchical system will always be characterized by cynicism regarding human nature that we are naturally competitive and authoritarian rather than cooperative, acquisitiveness and greedy rather than sharing and empathetic, prone to conflict rather than peace, characterized by hatred, and antagonism rather than love and good will. We’re taught in our cynical capitalist schools and churches that there never was and never will be real democracy, universal peace, justice, order, and goodwill  - and war is a inevitable permanent feature of international affairs. Utopian dreams are just that - dreams. Some version or other of this conservative might is right world view has been held by Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, Sigmund Freud, Carl Schmitt, Hans Morgenthau, Samuel Huntington, Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney, con man and former US president Donald Trump, the charlatan psychologist and self-help guru Jordan Peterson and many others. Despite the fact sociopaths, psychopaths and others without conscience or moral compass do exist - and a capitalist system and culture that rewards psychopathic self-serving conduct such as greed, avarice, love of money and other appalling behaviors (every neighborhood has such copycat people), they are fortunately in the minority. Otherwise, human beings would not have survived this long. As I will try to argue, there are countless historical examples of cooperative, caring and compassionate societies. Our history, evolution and biology present a much different narrative; no one including one such as such as me could maintain his position as an anarchist and anti-capitalist without such an enlightenment based optimistic understanding of human behavior.

CBS’s 60 Minutes recently told the inspiring story of how six marooned teenagers from Tonga cooperated peacefully and democratically to survive on a tiny uninhabited South Pacific island for 15 months in the mid-1960s. The story offers, CBS noted, a real-life refutation of the dark image of humanity portrayed in the widely read and still commonly assigned high school 1954 novel Lord of the Flies, wherein shipwrecked British schoolboys descend into tribal bloodshed, rabid competitiveness, distrust and murderous hierarchy. It was an uplifting piece and brief antidote to the endless news about corporate corruption, financial parasitism and political sycophancy. Still, 60 Minutes would never entertain a serious left wing account by a cultural critic, anti-capitalist or bottom up theorist or public intellectual such as Noam Chomsky or Christ Hedges to explain why a cynical, dystopian and depressing novel like Lord of the Flies ever rose to the status of a modern classic. As any good historical materialist could explain, William Golding’s insipid tale cleverly channeled the reigning Western bourgeois/capitalist/conservative notion of “human nature” as inherently aggressive, selfish and inherently violent, thereby demanding proper control, policing and punishment by a purportedly mature and so-called civilized capitalist state. In some ways similar to the paradigm of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in an much earlier era and Garrett Hardin’s depressing but sadly also exceedingly popular and disastrously influential essay The Tragedy of the Commons fourteen years later in 1968. Lord of the Flies bestowed on the ruling elites and corporate oligarchs a class based comforting moral narrative and cautionary tale on behalf of capitalism and its socio-economic and political doctrines of private property, selfishness, acquisitiveness, authoritarianism and hierarchy.

It is often believed that political realism has its intellectual roots in moral and epistemic skepticism and relativism. After all, if there is no truth, no morals and no justice, then hierarchy and power is the only basis of political and societal order. But it is a mistake to assume that political realism relies exclusively on moral and epistemic skepticism. On the contrary, it is quite compatible with the moral absolutism of Christianity. There is truth and justice, but they belong to their invisible omnipotent God. Fallen humanity as depicted in the Old Testament cannot live according to the precepts of truth and justice. Threats of terror are necessary to contain evil in this world. In fact, Augustine is usually considered one of the classic exponents of the doctrine. But in my view, the alliance of Christian beliefs with political realism makes the doctrine much harsher than its secular incarnation. Nevertheless, Augustine provides political realism with one of its earliest and clearest expressions.

It must be strongly noted that a pessimistic assessment of human nature is the foundation of political realism. For example, Machiavelli thought that human beings were too selfish to be good citizens. Of course, being the classic elitist hypocrite, he was not referring to exalted members of humanity such as himself, only the uneducated, unenlightened masses. Unless they are united by a common enemy and their self-preservation is threatened, people are not likely to be willing to sacrifice their own interests for those of the state. So, if you want political health, you need a formidable enemy, and if you do not have one, then you had better invent one. Freud thought that war is necessary to give the aggressive instincts a legitimate outlet, without which human beings would be neurotic and self-destructive. Hobbes thought that the human striving for power after power ending only in death can be kept in check only by an overarching force great enough to keep all others in check. Whatever their differences, political realists consider terror, not justice, to be the foundation of political order.

Nothing captures the essence of political realism more clearly than the tale told by Augustine of the pirate who was captured by Alexander the Great. When the pirate appeared before Alexander, the emperor asked him what he meant by all his piracy? The pirate responded indignantly, saying: what do you mean by all your piracy? Just because I do it with a little ship and you do it with a great fleet, you are called an emperor while I am called a petty thief. But in truth, there is no difference between us, other than a difference of scale and hardware. You are not morally better than I am, just much better equipped. Augustine marveled at the astuteness of the pirate’s response. He agreed wholeheartedly with the pirate. After all what are kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a large scale? What are criminal gangs but petty kingdoms? The difference between Alexander and the pirate is not a difference of kind, but of magnitude. The message is that the function of politics is not to uphold justice but to bridle evil. This can be achieved only with even greater evil. Social order is founded on terror of sufficient magnitude to subdue all others.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Russians longed for the days of Stalin. It was not that they had forgotten his criminal brutality; they simply recognized that it is easier to withstand the treachery of one arch mega-criminal than to contend with the abundance of cheats and petty criminals.

But there are microcosms of moral failings with neighbours inflicted by moral mind viruses right in your own community. For example, I frequently witness unethical behaviour by people walking on the sidewalk in front of our home, often with one or more dogs on a leash (or not). The increasing human and dog populations, and more importantly the irresponsible dog owners, are becoming serious ethical, sanitation and environmental issues. One existential problem is contamination of one’s living space called earth and specifically one’s own localized living space once called a neighbourhood or community. How much longer can we continue to irresponsibly reproduce our species like sex crazed rabbits and treat the planet as a trash heap? Even many animals, birds and insects instinctively will not contaminate their own nests. But what are the excuses for so-called “intelligent” and “moral” species called humans – or Homo sapiens? Sapiens literally means wise - a misnomer if there ever was one. There is no shortage of examples of intellectual and moral failings so permit me to focus on one of a multiplicity of ethical examples that has recently irritated me – those irresponsible unethical dog owners who don’t understand the concept of freedom. Not unlike the neighbours from hell, to cite on example on our street, who offload his problems of too many vehicles, boats, trailers and other superfluous toys combined with lack of parking space onto their neighbours? I’ve had some wonderful neighbours over the years as my wife and I moved often especially in our early years when people were more community minded, civil and polite. In the past two or three decades of increasing moral and cognitive infirmity, there invariably seems to be at least one selfish uncaring jerk/asshole on every neighbourhood street.

One issue that irks me in our fast growing city of Chilliwack in the Fraser Valley “Bible Belt” of British Columbia is the appalling air quality. This is to me an ethical issue that is especially irritating for me because I’m allergic to any smoke or other air contaminants and can recall the days when smokers were allowed in the workplace and public venues like the pub. Even venturing outside for some gardening, bike ride or walk is usually very unpleasant. The farming community of Chilliwack nestled in a beautiful valley between mountains and lakes and rivers, the local municipal government permits outdoor burning which is incredibly obtuse in a world threatened by increasing CO2 levels. It's a simple thing one can do to improve the air quality as in the former community of Surrey we inhabited banned outdoor burning back in the 1970s. If you walk along the Chilliwack River which is a mere five minute walk from our home, it's disturbing to witness the garbage, including fishing tackle, plastic toys, beer and pop cans (and now face masks) and other debris that people randomly toss wherever they happen to be. Being a nature lover since childhood, this behavior has always bothered me immensely – as it did my nature loving RCAF World War II vet alcoholic father, an environmentalist long before the world was introduced. Like the uncaring dog owners (the dog population is becoming a serious problem) that permit their filthy mutts to defecate on my lawn and on the sidewalk and even many times on my driveway.

I’ve been afraid of dogs since childhood, having been attacked and bitten by them several times, especially in the past when dogs were not required to be on a leash. Since childhood I’ve been involved in sports – primarily hockey and tennis - and therefore engaged in a lot of running to stay fit, often early mornings before heading off to work. This ritual was not without risk, eventually requiring a club to fend off barking snarling mutts who would bolt from someone’s property and chase me down the road. I’ve been bitten by dogs multiple times both as a child and several occasions during my early morning jogs. Now I resort to bike rides and walks but still have to tolerate people’s dogs on a leash (sometime not, although it is legally mandated) sniffing at my leg and often jumping up at me - which still terrifies me. As the atheist dyslexic might say, “I don’t believe in dog”. Moreover, when you walk on the sidewalk and someone with three dogs on a leash is approaching you, it's frequently you (for me and my wife verging on our 80th year) who must detour onto the road.

If you insist on “owning” a pet, from the perspective of time commitment and cleanliness, why not choose a cat or pet rock? Cats, for example, are very clean and independent, refusing to act like a slave - a characteristic I admire - and they don’t defecate on your carpets. Moreover, cats, in addition to their cleanliness (they let you know when their litter box needs attention), meow and purr rather than bark and growl. However, if your fragile ego requires a slavish sycophantic pet, cats will not be your choice as their anarchistic DNA doesn’t require gods or human masters to worship and drool over. The guy who came up with the pet rock idea in the 1970s was evidently able to exploit the average person’s credulity and make a few million bucks on this bizarre idea of low cost low maintenance “pets”.

The surrogate teddy bear cell phone addicted zombie solipsists walking on the sidewalk by our home, usually with one or more Fido are looking for some place, other than their own property, to poop and pee. When they sense that no one is looking, they frequently don’t clean up the disgusting slimy coiled turds and their nasty residue. When I objected to one woman’s sense of entitlement for her three dogs on a leash to pee and crap on my lawn, she became indignant and rude. There’s little value in pointing out to self-absorbed obtuse people such as this that I don’t enjoy cleaning up shit and repairing brown blotches every time I cut the lawn.

I’ve been compelled to put up an 18” wire fence alongside my lawn that borders the front lawn and sidewalk to deter people who permit their dogs to piss and shit on my lawn. Some indignant assholes have even smashed down the fence. Am I surprised by this? No, not in today's world of narcissistic cell phone addicted  walking dead. Even some parents permit their kids to mangle or stomp on the fence which is unsurprising since children on TV are typically depicted as out of control undisciplined chimps and their preoccupied ADHD parents, baboons who even sleep with their pets. Maybe I’ve morphed into a grumpy old cynical geezer and am not tolerant of other people’s broad conception of liberty that includes freedom to do whatever they want without any responsibility or consequence to the world or its inhabitants. Did these people not have mothers who taught then basic rules of decency and moral behaviour?

When these amoral free riding halfwits do pick up the disgusting dog turds from someone else’s lawn, they quite often do not properly dispose of the plastic bag of smelly yuck. Often this dog dung is found on the sidewalk, road or lawn which I expect is the case with people who take their mutts for a walk at night. One dimwitted dog owner disposed of his plastic bag full of dog shit into my blue box. The blue box is for recyclable plastic, metal and paper and the green box for biodegradable food and yard waste which even the typical 21st century average 85 IQ homo sap chumps and chimps ought to have figured out by now; duh? But the all-too-common overweight lazy ass dog owners perhaps know this, but like much else that really matters such as the dismal state of the natural environment, they just don’t give a damn. Perhaps these behaviours are a manifestation of the anonymity of Plato’s parable of the Ring of Gyges - which I also suspect plays a role in how people play out their incognito online lives. A few days ago a lady directed her incredibly ugly slobbering bulldog to dump on my neighbour’s driveway. From my front doorway I shouted at her to clean it up as she walked away giving me the “up yours” middle finger.

What passes for 21st century “ethics”, “decency” and “civility” is beginning to thoroughly piss me off. I won’t miss it much when I cross over into my infinite dreamless sleep.

Dog shit is not unlike the face masks, cigarette butts, plastic, fast food refuse and other trash you see littering the landscape. On the Rotary Trail along the Chilliwack River about a two to five minute walk from our home you see the same consequences of lazy irresponsible behaviour as all sorts of rubbish pollute the trail and shoreline of the river. Fishermen are some of the worst offenders as they discard fishing tackle, beer cans, paper wrappers and other refuse alongside or in the river itself. Walking along the river, I’m able to fill a plastic bag full of garbage which I know is a losing battle but I at least feel better doing so. I often wonder where the recyclables from our green and blue boxes end up; perhaps much of it (that they can’t ship off to some Third World country) ends up in a landfill - as more than one environmentalist film maker has revealed.

These appalling behaviours are moral failings combined with stupidity, sloth and weakness of the will. Although this ought to surprise no one in our cult of selfishness and extreme individualism, the apparent absolute right to do whatever they want short of killing someone (for dumb ass cops this is ok)  – which, I dare say, is the ethos of capitalism and business in general. Although our multinational corporations (especially resource extraction companies of which Canada is especially guilty) and the mafia banks that they deal with have no problem with murdering people who stand in the way of their right to plunder and profit. I urge the reader to watch the “necessary sequel” to Canadian law professor Joel Bakan’s 2003 book and documentary The Corporation exposing the psychopathic nature of corporations titled The New Corporation. Many don’t seem to understand the requirement of responsibility that accompanies any “freedom” whether it’s a multi-billion dollar market cap mining fossil fuel corporation of the guy who lets his dog crap on your meticulously manicured lawn.

These are habits that have been internalized from their elite corporate oligarchs and the corrupt politicians who serve their interests. “Greed is good”, a slogan invoked by the vulture capitalist character Gordon Gekko in the 1980s Oliver Stone movie Wall Street has become the mantra of neo-liberal global capitalism which has funnelled down to copycat small businesses and to the populace in general, of which the “neighbour from hell” and don’t give a rat’s ass dog owners are manifestations.  

Did their mothers not teach these assholes manners, proper behaviour, basic decency and rudimentary ethical norms such as the minimalist “Golden Rule”? Like the increasing prevalence of psychopaths, are they void of conscience and just don’t give a shit about the consequences of their acts? My loving intelligent mother cared deeply about injustice and bad behaviour and there were dire consequences for any ethical transgressions. And these moral adages were taught and maintained without any appeal to corporal punishment or the carrot-stick dogmas of heaven and hellfire from the horrible Christian religion.

My constantly proactive affectionate mother taught me many habits I continue to value today: politeness, decency, treating others fairly, orderliness, neatness, cleanliness, valuing the truth regardless how unpleasant and keeping a list of important obligations and things to do. She died in 2019 at the age of 94; I miss her dearly and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to hold to her utilitarian practises and moral principles that have worked quite well for me. How is it that there are people these days who make a living by calling themselves “Life Coaches”, instilling habits and values my mother taught me before the age of five or six. Living a decent life is not particle physics. And why the thousands of books churned out every year under the category of “Self Help” which George Carlin dismissed as common sense axiomatic truisms, appropriately referring to these books as “Help”. Want to balance your budget?  Take out your grade 2 arithmetic textbook:  you have $X income, then don’t spend $(X + 1); full stop.

Some psychologists have argued that not only have moral sensibilities like caring and empathy diminished in recent decades - consistent with the neo-liberal Ayn Rand (the economy destroyer and incompetent dullard Alan Greenspan was a member of her cultish inner circle) hyper-capitalist philosophy of greed peddled in her 1964 book with the outrageous oxymoronic title “The Virtue of Selfishness” - but the average IQ, at least according to one German study, is now 85, synonymous with Beavis, Butthead, Ronald Reagan, George W Bush and Donald Trump. Perhaps the satirical futuristic 2006 dystopian movie Idiocracy is not so implausible.

Globalized Bad Behaviour

You show me a capitalist and I’ll show you a bloodsucker – Malcolm X

Through the tax code, there has been class warfare waged, and my class has won; it’s been a rout – Warren Buffet (Certified Capitalist Bloodsucker)

Warren Buffet one of the most obscenely rich billionaires in the world glibly admitted that his maid is in a higher tax bracket than he, who has most of his wealth hidden in offshore tax havens. The fact that tax invasion is a crime bothers him not one iota – or any of the thousands of other degenerate wealthy plutocrats and multinational corporations that do the same. The fact that it’s a global scandal that billionaires even exist at all is the direct result of a political ideology imposed on the rest of us by power elites and their sock puppet boot licking governments for the past four or five decades. Democracy is a rotting corpse and has throughout history invariably been a sham. The authoritarianism of our degenerate and systemically corrupt capitalist system that pollutes the moral landscape today is perhaps the most immoral, hierarchical and tyrannical in history, which sadly has been the norm since we homo saps emerged from hunter gatherer societies.

Perhaps these far too many instances of insensitive behaviours and basic moral maxim transgressions I regularly witness in my community are negligible in scale compared to the sort of systemic immorality, and in many cases crass criminality, that are so prevalent in our hegemonic capitalist socio-economic regimes. I’m referring to the globalized world of financial parasitism and corporate criminality, the political enablers and international consortium of financial puppet masters of, for example, the Godzilla bankers, WEF billionaires and oligarchs who meet at Davos, Switzerland every year to plan their strategy for carving up what’s left of the planet. These technocratic authoritarian psychopathic creeps are simply one the primary capitalist cabals that are directly involved in ongoing pillage whereby any means is acceptable to achieving the end of profit, placing it ahead of the needs of people and the natural environment. Donald Trump, among countless other moral degenerates I could mention, is the quintessence of this amoral capitalist creature. The current form of neo-liberal capitalist dogma imposes no limit to its excesses and no one is held responsible for its many crimes. Not understanding limits is the one of the hallmarks of immorality, exactly what our financial institutions and multinational corporations systematically violate. It seems to me if everyone held to the Golden Rule, “do not do to others that you do not want done to yourself” it would be difficult to imagine capitalism surviving another week. Sadly, the real existing Golden Rule in our hierarchical authoritarian political and social arrangements that have prevailed throughout history is “those who have the gold make the rules”. A corollary to this is “Never conflate the laws crafted by our financiers and corporatist rulers to serve their interests with morality or democracy”. [1]

In a hegemonic authoritarian capitalist world grounded in degraded immoral human traits and habits, appeal to authority is often a justification for unethical acts. This is common in people who often unthinkingly defer to authority such as the religious (it’s the will of god or I following one of the Ten Commandments, only two of which are remotely related to ethics), police, soldiers and corporate bureaucrats. Remember Adolph Eichmann who rose from a lowly background to become a high-ranking bureaucrat in the Nazi SS.  He was granted responsibility for the deportation of European Jews and involved in the planning of the “Final Solution”, the systematic murder of millions of Jews, leftists, labour leaders, atheists and other disposable people during the Second World War. At the end of the war he managed to escape from US custody and with the help of the Catholic Church fled to Argentina, where he lived under a variety of aliases, until the Israeli secret service captured him in 1960 and brought him to Israel for trial. The Israelis accused Eichmann of crimes against the Jewish people and put him on trial in Jerusalem. His defence was “I was only following orders”. He was found guilty, sentenced to death, and hanged on May 31, 1962. Stanley Milgram’s controversial social psychology experiments in 1963 have changed our understanding of moral behaviour in the face of authority as his controversial experiments have frequently been explained with reference to the fact that orders from a deemed authority make individuals feel less responsible for their acts and their outcomes.

The entire gamut of the corporate controlled media and its neo-liberal capitalist ideology operates under the umbrella of financial oligarchic control, something that is not new, just more egregious and loathsome with every passing day. The corporate media serve as the stenographers for wealth, power and the financial parasites that pull all the strings and plunder what’s left of the commons, although they pull out all the stops in propagandizing the credulous masses that this isn’t so. If they cannot eliminate, they will co-opt every progressive movement such as BLM and provide pseudo-enemies such as Russia and China to despise and provide distractions from the real problems that are right at home.


But just like symptoms are not the disease, the capitalist state provides people with a phantom enemy such as communism. This ploy of using fear to control people is used with regularity as it was during the 20th century Red Scares following both world wars. Alongside religion, this allows the ruling corporatist clique to subdue the populace into compliant docile sheep while the real political, social and economic diseases of the exploitation and pillage of finance capitalism continue unabated. Not unlike someone suffering from an addiction like heroin, pot, tobacco or a cell phone, the drug, booze, tobacco or cell phone is not the source of the problem, although it can becomes one since it might kill you in a variety of ways. The problem is why one takes drugs or can’t put down the cell phone even while walking in traffic or driving a vehicle; what are the symptoms when one’s mind is tranquilized or rendered inoperable. The corporate controlled mainstream media is the heroin that serves to mask the core truth of an oligarchic cancerous techno- feudalistic warfare state stupefied by raw power as it spews out endless propaganda. We are mere pawns in a nefarious amoral, unjust undemocratic game of “might is right” and “winner take all”, the two key adages invoked by every reactionary conservative regime throughout history and it continues today with our fraudulent sell-out self described neo-liberal capitalist regimes.

A recent example highlights one of the methods in their sociopathic madness. There is a recent, ongoing Spotify podcast – “Renegades: Born in the USA” – featuring Mr. Hope and Change Barrack (Killer Drone) Obama and the long standing pop singer Bruce (Limousine Liberal) Springsteen in chummy good buddy conversation. They are two phony self-described radicals and rebels, stunningly ridiculous of course; but there you have it. Two super rich celebrities stroking each other’s egos in an elitist upper class setting. Springsteen is the pop singer who rose to wealth and fame seemingly out of nowhere as the voice of mid-west small town America and their besieged abandoned working classes. His good buddy Obama is a mixed-race politician who rose to prominence also out of nowhere from a family background imbued with the pungent odor of the CIA. These are two latte liberals (don’t ask classical liberals such as John Stuart Mill or John Rawls), two hypocritical celebrities of pop culture crossing over to conservative respectability with a smooth gloss of posturing and prime cut bullshit, informing their disciples that they we all need to return to the good old days when the banalities and ambiguities of the political centre maintained the American Dream (George Carlin’s Nightmare). People are supposed to (and sadly, they do)  take this bovine excrement dialogue between good buddies seriously, as the two sit together, not wearing masks or attending to social distancing, at a time when people are ordered to wear masks and avoid close contact with those outside their households. As a smiling Bruce strums his guitar, any half-way sentient person would realize he was being played for a fool.

Today one frequently hears about what is called the “Deep State”, an alleged nefarious clandestine cabal like the Illuminati that pulls all the strings of our capitalist neo-liberal states. But there is nothing mysterious or “deep” about the undemocratic corrupt capitalist system that controls and manipulates us; it’s right there out in the open and strikingly evident for anyone who is willing to observe and think. Consider the big business “think” tanks, lobbies and other forms of legalized bribery, the Chambers of Commerce, corporate controlled mass media, the entire lap poodle political apparatus, the compliant churches which are also capitalist outfits who covet and need money. These and other organs of the capitalist gorgon are supported and justified by the schools, laws and legislation crafted by the corporate lawyers and wealthy elites - and as history has vividly shown, if these mechanisms don’t work, there is state violence by the police, prisons and the military. These latter groups are all “serve and protect” institutions that serve capitalism, wealth and its ruling power elites.  In short, corporate oligarchs, billionaire techno-elites and longstanding family dynasties own your country and the careerist sock puppet political pimps, whether it’s the USA, Canada or almost any other country on our FUBAR unjust undemocratic planet. This state of political and economic hegemonic injustice has been in place throughout human history and, given the current state of affairs, is going to get a whole lot worse. We are now indeed facing a bleak future, not only with failing ecosystems and the loss of sovereignty and whatever minimalist justice and democracy the capitalist state once provided for the 99%. We are rapidly entering what I would call techno-fascism and a 21st century version of feudalism called the “gig economy” (aka wage slavery) whereby working people scramble for bullshit pseudo-jobs working for the likes of Walmart, Skip the Dishes, Uber or Door Dash as workers are only marginally better off than the increasing mass of permanently under employed and unemployed. Moreover, an increasingly corporatized anti-intellectualized substandard college education will only provide you with a lifetime of un-payable debt, a third rate degree in marketing flimflam and an unlivable shitty job.

I would think most readers would agree that the three seismic events of the last twenty years are the September 11, 2001 attacks (now called 9-11), the 2007-09 global financial collapse and subsequent public multi-trillion dollar bailouts and current covid-19 pandemic with even larger massive multi-trillion dollar bailouts. The first, not only because of 3000 plus victims that died that day, but for how it led to so much retaliatory death (in the millions) and devastating destruction of countries bombed into oblivion throughout the world around the world now called never ending war on terror that resulted in the demolition of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc, etc.. Then we were subjected to the erasure of basic liberties and privacy via the Patriot Act and the Orwellian surveillance police states of which the USA is the paradigm. The current pandemic, much the result of incompetence of conservative and liberal politicians, has resulted in millions of deaths word wide and the further loss of basic civil liberties under the lockdowns as governments throughout the world institute unprecedented measures of control while the already wealthy are enriching themselves at the expense of everyone else. The manipulated primed global stock markets are at all time highs as economic inequality is also at historical highs while the economic conditions of the 99% are experiencing Great Depression lows. Clearly these three events stand out over the decades; the future looks bleak as some black swan event is likely to bring the entire system crashing down. Why people are not in the streets en masse raising hell is a mystery. These three cosmic events are reflected in two decades of massive U.S. and NATO war crimes, the growth of the FAGMA (Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple) dictatorship and techno national security complex, an obscene increase in wealth for the masters of mankind, the widespread loss of opportunity, livable wage jobs and the privacy and civil liberties for all but a tiny elite.

And as everyone knows, September 11th 2001, the 2007-09 global market meltdown and COVID-19 have resulted in great controversies and much debate because of their serious implications and obvious questions about the official story lines raised by many respectable writers and researchers of varying political perspectives. At the very least, one would expect that the socialist libertarians, anarchists and lefty liberal critics of the corporatist surveillance state and the machinations of the elite’s propaganda and ongoing wars would have engaged in discussions about these three seminal events or written critical analyses of them. But for a core group of prominent media outlets, these three events have been avoided like they are of no importance. No serious debates, no discussions, no analyses of causation and why criminals and con men have been granted golden parachutes rather than being charged with crimes and prosecuted following every inevitable boom, bust and bailout sequence.

A global capitalist system that rewards psychopaths and corporate criminals and their political lackeys such as like Reagan, Thatcher, Mulroney, Bush, Obama and Trump, bails them out when they engage in endless wars, indebting the country, grand larceny and bring down the economy while promoting policies that destroy not only ecosystems but the mere sliver of “democracy” that prevails. Like all corrupt empires of the past, they are thereby guaranteeing their own inevitable demise and the perhaps the inevitable death of all life on the planet. This tyrannical oligarchic neo-conservative/neo-liberal descent into depravity has been a long time in the making as American historian Caroll Quigley (1910-1977) stated as early as 1966:

“The powers of financial capitalism had another far reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole.” 

This truism was echoed many times by one of the most famous economists of the 20th century John Maynard Keynes and in the brilliant film Network in 1976, “There are no nations. There are no peoples… There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today… We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies… The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business.” (Corporate executive speaking in a one of the many graphic scenes from Network)

Over a century ago insightful and prophetic political theorist Robert Michels, argued that democratic institutions undermine themselves precisely because they are co-opted and held captive by power elites and oligarchies. This dismal condition of putative democracies serving elitist interests of wealth and power was recognized by Michels in his revealing book Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Organizational Tendencies of Modern Democracy, 1911, thus creating the expression “the “iron law of oligarchy”.

Max Weber examines the relationship between our putative democracy and bureaucratic organizations, while discovering a paradoxical relationship between the two institutions. Some legal requirements further democracy as well as bureaucracy, such as, the principle of “equal justice under the law.” This would also include technical and scientific knowledge rather than arbitrary decisions. Nevertheless, according to Weber, “‘democracy’ as such is opposed to the ‘rule’ of bureaucracy, in spite and perhaps because of its unavoidable yet unintended promotion of bureaucratization.” A major reason for this is that bureaucracy concentrates power in the hands of those in charge of the bureaucratic apparatus and thereby undermines democracy. Robert Michels, in Political Parties, also argues from another perspective, that a number of complex tendencies in organizations oppose the realization of democracy. He postulates that democracy leads to oligarchy and consequently the elite domination of policy outcomes. Michels goes on to state, “It follows that the explanation of the oligarchic phenomenon which thus results … from the consolidation of every disciplined political aggregate … reduced to its most concise expression, the fundamental sociological law of political parties (the term ‘political’ being here used in its most comprehensive significance) may be formulated in the following terms: ‘It is organization which gives birth to the dominion of the elected over the electors, of the manditaries over the mandators, of the delegates over the delegators. Who says organization says oligarchy.’”

Michels’ thesis in the “iron law of oligarchy,” challenges Rousseau’s concept of direct popular rule and both Madison and Jefferson’s representative form of democracy. The dysfunctional nature of existing democracy, for Michels, is not simply the result of social and economic underdevelopment and alienation, inadequate education, media control of propaganda advertisements, or the capitalist control of government organizations and institutions. Rather, the problem of democracy is rooted in its organic nature, and according to Michels’ logic, any organization must confront its tendency to be controlled at the top. He states, “The formation of oligarchies within the various forms of democracy is the outcome of organic necessity, and consequently affects every organization.” This phenomenon, for Michels, is an intrinsic dimension of bureaucracy and any large-scale organization or institution. As a result, “Every party organization represents an oligarchic power grounded upon a democratic basis. We find everywhere electors and elected. Also we find everywhere that the power of the elected leaders over the electing masses is almost unlimited. The oligarchic structure of the building suffocates the basic democratic principle. It is invariably a problem of scale as well. It seems clear that large-scale social organizations and democracy are incompatible, a compelling thesis proposed by E. F. Schumacher in his book “Small is Beautiful”, a position similar to arguments that elitist interest-group liberalism (limousine liberalism, the norm in today’s globalist dogma of neo-liberalism) undermines democracy and the contention that large groups fail to identify and act on their self-interest, reinforce Michels’ position that the elite emerge from democratic dysfunction to dominate organizations. Michels found that even socialist organizations and trade unions that valued democracy could not pursue their goals, even with strong leadership. From this Michels proposed a general law that “the majority of human beings … are predestined by tragic necessity, to submit to the dominion of a small minority, and must be content to constitute the pedestal of an oligarchy.”

The underlying notion of a liberal democracy is that government organizations and institutions are to be administered in a democratic fashion by majority rule, respect for minority rights, freedom of speech and dissent, based on a constitutional framework. On the other hand, while democratic values and policies are to be implemented, the task must be implemented through the most efficient and effective administrative methods available. Therefore agencies, governed primarily by the principle of efficiency and effectiveness, tend to act in an autocratic fashion. Nevertheless, if Michels’ argument is a sound one, then the implications for government are startling: organizations and their subsequent policies are held captive by an elite clientele. The reality of an elite ruling government agencies, and for that matter, political parties, unions, religious organizations, etc., conveys the idea that popular rule is subverted. This leaves little doubt organizations and institutions by their very nature are predisposed inherently to being co-opted by an elite faction. Thus organizations and institutions are designed to serve the interests of an elite cadre and not its rank and file members.

In summary, the “iron law of oligarchy,” with respect to democratic organizations and policy outcomes, functions in four different capacities. Organizations and policy outcomes: (i) mobilize the forces of indoctrination and formal socialization in the direction of established interests and dominant values; (ii) control the means of rewards and punishments based on organizational structures and behavior; (iii) preempt competing behavioral forms and thus structure the definition of “reality” to the advantage of the elite; and, (iv) reinforce their own existence by preventing any question or ideological challenge to its purpose and mission. Thus Michels believed that any organization or political system, democratic or egalitarian, becomes oligarchic and therefore undemocratic. For a more detailed analysis of Michels’ thesis refer to the endnote [1b]

Ethical Foundations and Theory

In my view, the realm of ethics factors into almost all human activity and is impacted significantly by the generally abysmal behaviors of corporate leaders, politicians and other so-called “leaders” of our deeply flawed political and socio-economic capitalist order. Power, after all, corrupts and as real history and not the typically sanitized versions in our high school history classes, has graphically shown that the vast majority of these people in leadership roles and positions of authority in business despite laughable courses in “business ethics” - an oxymoron – seems to have done little or nothing to improve the behavior of capitalists and their sock puppets in politics and politics. There are of course rare exceptions such as principled men like Tommy Douglas who considered political life public service, not as an opportunist lucrative career. The history of capitalism has demonstrated over and over that business people and the politicians who support them tend to behave dreadfully, certainly more than the average poor and working poor who tend to populate our prisons. Since the values of elites are generally internalized by the masses through a complex network of indoctrination, propaganda, “education”, religion and by a systemically immoral capitalist culture of selfishness and acquisitiveness, it ought to surprise no one that the ethical sensibilities of far too many people are appalling. After all, ordinary people tend to mimic those in power, the business classes, bankers, financial parasites, economic opportunists, corporate leaders and entrepreneurs and the corrupt politicians who do their bidding.

The foundations of ethics include many topics in meta-ethics [2] spilling over into metaphysics, epistemology, semantics, conceptual analysis and moral/cognitive psychology in addition to issues of moral theory. One traditional issue at the foundations of ethics concerns the viability of objectivity, rationality and truth in its moral assertions and arguments. As a matter of philosophical and historical fact, issues about objectivity in ethics raise a number of the secondary issues, particularly epistemology. In a post graduate dissertation in philosophy, I argued for an ethical component to belief formation. My contention was that we must take seriously the moral consequences of belief when evaluating and choosing between alternative belief-forming practices and deciding to accept and act upon any proposition within our web of beliefs. If we value the truth, the power of evidence and sound argument, then it would seem that religious faith or any other claim to belief without evidence such as indoctrination, brain washing, mind-control and wishful thinking must be relegated to the trash heap of science, history, philosophy and especially the realm of ethics. Surely, any claim that can be accepted without evidence can be rejected without evidence. What we require to be a rational functioning human being is knowledge, not hope, faith or any other form of non-evidentiary belief. Neither faith nor hope are viable game plans for life. And regarding truth: if there is one idea that may be called intrinsically coercive, it is the idea of truth, since what is true is independent of what anyone desires or believes.  

I include the most relevant passages on ethics from my MA thesis in the endnotes here and in endnote [3]. Apologies for my inability to properly format the notes possibly due to the incompatibility of the word processor of several decades ago in comparison to the one I currently use. However it does not impair the ability to read the text, footnotes and references. You can read the entire thesis Skepticism, Critical Thinking and the Ethics of Belief here:


Insofar as I’d like to deal with meta-ethical issues and their bearing on our views about the objectivity of ethics, it may be helpful, before I outline my personal views about the foundations of ethics, to distinguish in an introductory way conflicting views regarding the objectivity of ethics. The popularity of both epistemic (or cognitive) relativism and moral relativism have always been with us but the primarily offshoots of the late 20th century trend in postmodernist have exacerbated this line of thought, The origins of relativism can be traced to the Greek philosopher Protagoras who claimed that “man is the measure of all things”. The mid-twentieth century fad of postmodernism has cleverly crafted quite compelling counter-arguments to the enlightenment project, but has fortunately been recently declining as a philosophical trend. It has existed at least since the mid-1960s following the publication of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and perhaps, as some have argued, was first inspired by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) with his insights into what have become referred to as “conceptual schemes”. Those who hold to epistemic relativism make claims about the efficacy of truth and claims to knowledge. For example, it’s at the root of pragmatic approaches to truth whereby some people will claim that “truth is whatever works for you”, often to the point of confusing fact with opinion. We are entitled to our own opinions, but surely not our own facts. The notions of relativism are plagued by multiple problems, including coherence and contradiction. After all, if one claims that “all truth is relative to culture or to the individual”, that very proposition is assumed to be absolutely “true”, like “a + b = b + a” or “the earth revolves around the sun”. Fairies, goblins, ghosts and gods exist for you but not for me. However, the relativist abandons questions about the justification of epistemic and moral claims in lieu of sociological, anthropological and cultural ones thus providing what I consider highly dubious explanations as to why they exist.

It’s disturbing to accept from recent Gallup polls that forty percent of Americans believe God created the Earth and anatomically modern humans, less than 10,000 years ago. About half of Americans believe humans evolved over millions of years, with most of those people claiming that God guided the process. Religious, less educated, and older respondents were likelier to espouse a young Earth creationist view that life was created some 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. Americans also consistently report high levels of belief in the supernatural and paranormal. According to a 2013 Pew survey approximately 80 percent of Americans believe in miracles and three-quarters believe in the virgin birth and resurrection from death of Jesus Christ. Religion which continues to survive the tidal wave of corrosive influences from science and the enlightenment is undoubtedly the primary purveyor of ignorance and superstition throughout the world. As I attempted to argue in my graduate dissertation Skepticism, Critical Thinking and the Ethics of Belief, there is a moral dimension to belief acquisition and one’s views regarding truth. Motivated reasoning, cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias are only three of literally hundreds of cognitive flaws and fallacies, but these are likely the most toxic to our intellectual lives. The preponderance of false beliefs and ignorance is also a function of endless propaganda and indoctrination perpetrated by religious institutions, politicians and corporate advertisers aided and abetted by our corporate controlled media. Private religious schools of course are merely platforms for religious brainwashing but sadly the public schools often fare no better as the efforts to introduce logic and critical thinking courses have been steadily blocked by the powerful conservative forces, especially the churches that continue to wield power over the political institutions at all levels of governance. I know this from personal experience.

At the onset of the twentieth century, over 40 percent of Americans did not know that the earth orbits the sun while another 52 percent did not know that dinosaurs died before the appearance of humans, and 45 per­cent were unaware that the world is older than 10,000 years. These disturbing statistics on scientific ignorance have changed little. It is unnecessary to mention the equally alarming numbers of people who believe in gods, ghosts, space aliens, paranormal mon­sters, demonic possession, angels, the devil, miracles and a host of other supernatural phenomena. With some encouraging signs that among our young people religion is waning, this trend to superstition, medical quackery and anti-science mumbo jumbo has continued unabated.

This primarily scientifically illiterate public seems to lack the necessary thinking skills to distinguish between contending claims to knowledge or differentiate between fact and opinion. We now live in a frightening and perplexing "post-truth" era of disinformation [5], "fake news," "alternative facts”, conspiracy theories, magical thinking, religious superstition, quackery and countless other irrational mumbo jumbo that has included a disturbing unhinged neo-fascist US president who is anti-science, an ignorant narcissistic sexual predator and serial liar. Bogus and irrational ideas and beliefs that have been discredited, falsified or are simply un-falsifiable are flourishing and appear to be widely received and accepted. However, tolerating irrationalism and scientific illiteracy poses many existential and moral threats. Numerous people have died because of their trust in sham alternative medical cures, and many others have lost their life savings by believing in psychics, quacks, religious con men and faith healers. But even more than that, acquiescence to irrationalism threatens the well-being of our societies, as critical thinking philosophers Theodor Schick and Lewis Vaughn have put it:

“A democratic society depends on the ability of its members to make rational choices. But rational choices must be based on rational beliefs. If we can’t tell the difference between reasonable and unreasonable claims, we become susceptible to the claims of charlatans, scoundrels, and mountebanks.”

Purveyors of supernaturalism, anti-intellectual dogmas, medieval credulities, political demagoguery, economic hocus pocus and "alternative forms of knowledge" that are a daily affront to our intellects and moral sensibilities are swarming with bombast and hubris that science is now defunct and offer their own "truths" and "ways of knowing". However, before we submit to the assertions of religious zealots, miracle workers, self-help gurus and medical frauds like Dr. Ho and make their "truths" the basis of our worldview we need to ask the following question: Are the assertions that science is defunct based on compelling evidence?

The moral objectivists of whom Steven Lukes in his book Moral Relativism support and argue in favor of, there is more difficulty in overcoming moral relativism than its cognitive or epistemic counterpart. Concerning cognitive relativism we can, with moral philosopher Bernard Williams, say that reality has a habit of hitting us hard if our cognitions are too wide of the mark. After all the earth is not flat and there is zero evidence for ghosts, goblins and gods. Moreover, people with superstitious, paranormal or magical thinking about the “realities” of the cosmos will suffer and even perish more quickly than people with reality tracking cognition, the most of important of which is science. Thus, notwithstanding ignorant science denying philistines like Donald Trump and the fanatically religious, agreement or convergence on the big questions of empirical fact and scientific discovery is at least possible.

Like most un-indoctrinated children we are all empiricists; and without being so we could not survive and thrive successfully in the world during our day-to-day interactions without assuming that physical reality exists independent of whatever anyone thinks. Despite many factors that bias our perceptions in various ways, our senses do not systematically deceive us all the time. After all, that is why we do not intentionally bump into walls, walk off cliffs, jump off ten story buildings or step into oncoming traffic. Hence, we are not hopeless prisoners of language. We navigate the world not using faith and hope but rather using the same principles encapsulated in the scientific enterprise by continuously making decisions about our perceptions according to the rules of inductive and deductive hypothesis testing and refutation; and science accomplishes this more systematically and successfully and than any other human endeavor.

However, although the arguments of relativists are not particularly compelling, the more serious problems arise with ethical relativism in areas such as morals that are unique to culture and the current doctrine of multiculturalism, both of which entail dubious premises. Surely reason, logic and evidence of general well-being override faith, religious belief or cultural practices in such epistemic and ethical debates. Was Mussolini’s Italy, Nazi Germany or today’s Saudi Arabia as moral or rational as modern day Norway, Denmark or Finland? Was virgin sacrifice, burning of “witches” or the cruelty and torment inflicted by the Catholic Inquisition ever moral? Was slavery acceptable in the US South pre-civil war but not okay before or thereafter? Is the Hindu ritual of sati moral or its rejection of certain classes of people as less than human? Is genital mutilation morally acceptable in Pakistan but not in Canada? Was the cultish family of Charles Manson, a cultural group in the 1960s morally acceptable and if so were the murders justified? Surely even tolerance has its limits.

Can torture, which the US government farcically refers to as “enhanced interrogation techniques” and has been used indiscriminately, ever be acceptable? Torture is wrong whether inflicted by the Catholic Inquisition or the US imperialist state. Limousine liberal Barrack Obama glibly admitted “we tortured some folks” as if it was no big deal when it is really heart of darkness terrain. Is tax avoidance by offshore havens right for the big corporations and the rich but not for everyone else? Is capitalism, a socio-economic system based on selfishness, exploitation and profit before all else, moral? Are some of capitalism's sordid practices such as dishonest marketing, reverse mortgages, predatory hedge funds, usurious banking, insider trading, stock buybacks, government bailouts of corporate crooks and criminals, gambling casinos, lotteries and barbaric cage fighting ethically sound? Pay day loan sharks and reverse mortgage scams are peddled by already wealthy celebrities, including the former shameless third rate sportscaster mediocrity Bill (“Invest with me”) Good and the forever smiling former figure skating icon Kurt “Bullshit” Browning. Do these insensitive jerks have no moral compass? Outrageous fees and usurious interest rates by Canadian banks as the prime rates verge on zero are surely criminal. At one time in the so-called Dark Ages imposing any interest on loans was considered immoral and illegal as offenders were shamed in public by being locked in pillories for several days and then tossed in prison. And gambling casinos, lotteries and banking scams are fine with our slimy corporate controlled bribed governments. When overt criminality by banks, corporations, hedge funds, wealthy elites and other financial con men that operate with impunity become the norms and dominate the so-called capitalist “marketplace”, justice, morality, decency and any modicum of democracy cease to exist. This psychopathological behavior, for which a serial liar and huckster like Donald Trump is the prototype, we have reached a global state of moral sickness from the individual, political, economic and cultural perspectives. Nothing seems real. Impunity produces within the individual and the collective psyche a refusal to consider limits which is the essence of what it means to be moral. It’s as if none of our business and political leaders have been taught by either their parents or schools any ethical boundaries or been held accountable for their toxic psychopathic behaviors. These habits have spilled over to our local communities as we see far too many neighbors who don’t care about anyone but themselves. Anyone who has lived as long as I cannot help but notice the trends, especially over the last three or four decades, of narcissism, uncaring selfish behaviors, the mere existence of billionaires and refusal of so many to abide by even the minimalist ethical principle of the golden rule. One wonders if people have never been taught this rule which is antithetical to the ideology of capitalism and almost all business practices. Even life itself and the individual have been rendered commodities with the ever-increasing economic inequalities and emerging techno-feudalist fascist surveillance police states throughout the world.

As Noam Chomsky rightly observed, every American president since World War II would be deemed a war criminal who has been committing endless crimes against humanity if they observed the rules they themselves set up following the post war Nuremburg Trials of Nazi war criminals, at least the ones they never recruited to fill positions in their newly minted CIA. Chomsky called it the American Fifth Freedom, the freedom to exploit, rob and murder in order to preserve the American Way of Life (AWOL). It has been estimated that the US government has been responsible for the deaths of 30 million people in 37 countries since that time, 5-6 million in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos alone. Hannah Arendt referred to this normalization of violence, torture and mass murder as “the banality of evil”. The connection between what we affectionately call “Western Civilization” its its colonialism, imperialism, terror, genocide and widespread malevolence has been not only been seriously misconstrued and misunderstood, but distorted and sanitized for public consumption in our history courses and the culture as a whole. We live by comfortable myths and outright fabrications regarding our deeply immoral and violent history, for which racism, colonialism, imperialism and the associated theft, terror and genocide are merely a few of countless sordid episodes. Surely the Christian white man is one of the most vile and destructive species to ever inhabit our FUBAR planet. 

A deeply cynical and more realistic bottom-up interpretation better informs our Western understanding of the relation between terror and civilization. The Christian assumption that human nature (a dubious concept at best) has been profoundly corrupted by the mythical biblical fairy tale of the fall from grace has led to the belief that repression, terror, and tyranny are necessary to civilize a fallen and thoroughly depraved humanity. Far from being opposites, terror and civilization are intimately connected, thanks to Christianity and the political regimes of the nation states that followed its deadly template. The assumption is that the quartet of power, control, coercion and terror - religious, political and psychological - is the model for the success of what we call “civilization”. Supposedly, fear of violence and death sustained by the top down laws drafted by the powerful and sustained by indoctrination, propaganda, whitewashed history by the religionist and pedagogue accompanied by corporal punishment such as the lash and the strap and most importantly, state violence of police and military, fear of imprisonment in a dank cage, the executioner, the will subdue the masses, rendering them docile and obedient. In other words, so-called civilization succeeds because it confronts force from below with even more powerful and effective force and violence from above. But, despite persistent endless bullshit, lies, indoctrination and propaganda there will be some independent critical thinking minds that will be aware of the fraud of democracy, systemic injustice and institutionalized grotesque economic inequality. Sadly, thanks to the subduing effectiveness of a conservative political order and authoritarian punitive Christianity, this awareness often manifests itself in guilt, self-flagellation and resignation, turning resentment and anger against the self as the dual powers of religion and the capitalist state seem acceptable.

The worst moral atrocities inflicted on humanity have their source in the zealous pursuit of a sublime absolute idea that is believed to be so noble, profound and magnificent that it justifies every sacrifice, every hardship, misery and abomination. Christianity, Islam and Capitalism are examples of these exalted “civilized” ideas as only a sanctified idea can combine war, treachery, torture, theft and mass murder with a clear conscience. In other words, what is intended to civilize us can also make us monstrous. [1a]

Many moral philosophers have convincingly argued that states and their political operatives should be moral exemplars, at the very least analogous to the best behavior of any ordinary citizen and held to a higher standard. Sadly this is generally NOT the case. On a daily basis we are bombarded by cases of endless corruption, criminality and self-serving bad behavior of not only our corporate oligarchs, but the politicians who do their bidding in our demented immoral and anti-democratic global capitalist system. Precious few of these wealthy power elites and their political lap poodles even hold to the minimalist principle of the golden rule and defer to the decadent manipulated “laws” of “the market” despite the fact that there is no such thing as a “free market” or "laws of the market" outside the parameters of the government or the state. Never confuse economics and politics with mathematics or science. Chomsky is right when he writes, “With the development of industrial capitalism, a new and unanticipated system of injustice, it is anarchism that has preserved and extended the radical humanist message of the Enlightenment and the classical liberal ideals that were perverted into an ideology to sustain the emerging social order.”

Capitalism demonstrates all the features of an economic system that is fundamentally anti-human, anti-nature and immoral and no actual anarchist or freedom loving egalitarian, yours truly included, could support it based on the intrinsic immorality alone.

Ultimately, as the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin famously wrote in his 1899 work La Commune de Paris et la notion de l’éta, liberty is a condition neither the state nor capitalism, that is, “the privilege of some founded on the slavery of the rest”, can guarantee. For Bakunin, liberty is rather “the full development of all of the material, intellectual and moral powers that are latent in each person,” and this liberty observes “no restrictions other than those determined by the laws of our own individual nature, which cannot properly be regarded as restrictions since these laws are not imposed by any outside legislator beside or above us, but are immanent and inherent, forming the very basis of our material, intellectual and moral being…” These, moreover, are not limiting agents but simply “the real and immediate conditions of human freedom.”

Without Conscience

The causal connection for people who are chronically without conscience, referred to as psychopaths, can be traced to malfunctions in the brain. Sociopaths, who exhibit the same behavior patterns as psychopaths have typically incurred some sort of psychological trauma, often in childhood. Developmental psychologists and neuroscientists have found that the chronic immoral and manipulative behavior of these people exhibit characteristics that include lack of empathy, compassion, anxiety, or guilt, a skewed theory of mind that results in a form of solipsism, a paucity of compassionate and empathic emotions, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to satisfy their aims and desires. It ought to surprise no one that whatever it takes was precisely what Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell proclaimed as the covid-19 pandemic spiraled out of control. During March of 2020 the crazed erratic Powell assured Wall Street he would move mountains to save their pathetic greedy asses as the stock markets suffered steep declines. Violating the Kantian ethical dictum of conflating ends and means, he did just that, in the form of trillions of dollars into the pockets of the larcenous banks, hedge funds, brokerage houses and corporations such as Goldman Sachs – the same voracious vultures bailed out in 2007-09. If there is something called “evil” beyond the religious metaphors and violations of god’s will, this is surely it. The major global stock market indices are now in May 2021 at record highs despite the grim economy for the 99% as hundreds of thousands of small businesses are bankrupt, covid-19 is still with us, despite multinational pharmaceutical companies raking in huge profits on their rushed to market vaccines for a virus that may become permanent as mutations proliferate.

Humans apparently have an empathy circuit within the brain composed of ten interconnected regions and when that empathy circuit is faulty an individual is unable to be empathetic and compassionate. This deficiency has been found to be related to both genetic and environmental causes (psychopathic and sociopathic respectively), the latter being something such as an upbringing in which a child experiences severe physical and or mental abuse. In the United States it is estimated that psychopaths, diagnosed as such, make up approximately four to five percent of the general population. But when that number is expanded when the large number of people is included who are undiagnosed and the influence psychopaths such as Trump have on others by their psychopathic charismatic manipulative behaviors, that figure could be 20%. Another form of empathy deficiency includes antisocial personality disorder, which is similar to psychopathology and is marked by characteristics such as impulsiveness, chronic lying, cheating, belligerence and a lack of guilt or remorse.

Robert Hare (b. 1934 - ), professor emeritus of Criminal Psychology from the University of British Columbia, would agree.  Hare spent his academic career studying psychopathic behaviours and is the creator of the Psychopathic Checklist, the 20-item personality evaluation protocol that sparked the 2003 documentary The Corporation, which argued that corporations are fundamentally psychopathic organizations that attract similarly disposed people. Compelling recent evidence from recent events abounds to support the film’s thesis. Noam Chomsky rightly refers to corporations as tyrannical totalitarian institutions.

Belief is not knowledge and moral norms dictated from absolute authority are dubious at best and fraudulent at worst. Rule #1: Always question authority, regardless of the source and by all means learn to recognize authorities that are legitimate, truthful, moral and reliable. Being IN authority does not necessarily imply being AN authority.

What does it mean to be Moral?

I just finished re-reading Colin McGinn’s Moral Literacy, William K Frankena’s Ethics, Peter Singer’s Practical Ethic, James Rachels’ Elements of Moral Philosophy and Kai Nielsen’s Why be Moral in addition to Steven Lukes’ Moral Relativism and Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape: How Science can Determine Human Values. Some of the remarks that follow have been influenced by these excellent books, in addition to several other volumes on ethics I have read over the years.

First, I reject the religious authoritarian approaches to ethics which is essentially what “God commands”, refuted by Plato over 2400 years ago. First I don’t believe in supernatural entities; nor do I believe that the source of morality is in decrees by an authority (do as I say or…), supernatural or otherwise. Rules, like much else demands more than explanations and appeals to conscience, they requires justification; specifically why some moral imperative is right or, in the case of cognition and knowledge acquisition, why it is right to believe something.

The moral philosopher A. C. Ewing expressed this criticism succinctly: “Without a prior conception of God as good or his commands as right, God would have no more claim on our obedience than Hitler or Stalin except that he would have more power than they had to make things uncomfortable for those who disobey him.” (Cited in Kai Nielsen, Ethics without God) Notwithstanding the highly dubious existence of god or gods, is it prudent or correct to follow such a supernatural supreme being being’s commandments simply because it is more powerful than we are? Perhaps still the best discussion of this can be found in Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro, in which the title character is a naïve know-it-all blowhard bent upon prosecuting his own father for murder – not because he is particularly disturbed by the action itself (the victim was a slave who was left in a ditch overnight and died of exposure) but because to commit murder is to violate the will of the gods, and hence impious. Socrates asks Euthypro what seems to be a simple question: Is an action moral because the gods decree it, or do the gods decree it because it is moral? For instance, if god should decree that all blue eyed babies must be slaughtered, would it be right to do so? Such a question cuts to the very heart of all divinely sanctioned ethical systems, for it shows that mere belief in the gods or a god is insufficient to justify following their dictates. This is the all-too-typical political conservative notion of “might is right”, the quintessence of any person interested in only raw power and void of ethical sensibilities. As Thucydides remarked on the Peloponnesian Wars, “The strong do what they will and the weak suffer as they must”.

As one of the forerunners of classical liberalism John Stuart Mill wrote:

“Whatever power such a being may have over me, there is one thing which he shall not do: he shall not compel me to worship him. I will call no being good, who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures, and if such a being can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go.” [John Stuart Mill, Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy, 1865]


Charles Darwin, in addition to establishing the foundations for modern biology, offered insightful criticisms of the moral teachings of Christianity. In his Autobiography he repeats the objections to the Divine Command thesis mentioned earlier. Why, he asks, should one accept the Bible as divinely- inspired, rather than other holy books, such as the Koran, the Analects of Confucius or the teachings of the Buddha? And if one does decide that the Bible is superior, how can it be understood? Are the stories of miracles to be taken literally or only figuratively? He critiques specific doctrines of Christianity, especially the doctrine of hell:

“I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe and this would include my father, brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine.”

Darwin broadened the argument raised by Mill. There is certainly much evil in the world, but it is not just evil for humans – why did the deity create so many species and why for millions of years preceding the emergence of humans did they suffer?

“That there is much suffering in the world no one disputes. Some have attempted to explain this in reference to man by imagining that it serves for his moral improvement. [...] But the number of men in the world is as nothing compared with that of all other sentient beings, and these often suffer greatly without any moral improvement. This very old argument from the existence of suffering against the existence of an intelligent first cause seems to me a strong one; whereas, as just remarked, the presence of much suffering agrees well with the view that all organic beings have been developed through variation and natural selection.”

For all of this, Darwin remained wary of grand narratives and speculations, holding that the human mind cannot be completely trusted when it draws such grandiose conclusions. Scientific thinking insists that one’s theories not outrun the evidence that is needed to support them.

Consistent with the many books on ethics by James Rachels, Frans de Waal in his Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals argues that one of the keys to morality is “reciprocal altruism”: treating others kindly with the expectation that they will accord one the same treatment should a similar situation arise - a notion similar to, if not identical with, the Golden Rule. Such reciprocal altruism will not occur when individuals are unlikely to meet again. It requires good memories and stable relationships and communities, conditions which occur mainly in the primates. “Evolution has produced the requisites for morality: a tendency to develop social norms and enforce them, the capacities of empathy and sympathy, mutual aid and a sense of fairness, the mechanisms of conflict resolution, and so on.”                             

De Waal’s book is filled with examples of apes taking care of disabled members of their group, showing sympathy for those in pain, and engaging in mutual aid. The principle of parsimony, he states, holds that if closely related species act the same, then the underlying process is probably the same, too. Much, if not all, of what constitutes human morality can be found by closely studying the social practices of our fellow primates. De Waal writes: “It is not hard to see why monkeys would want to avoid harm to themselves, but why would harm to another bother them? Probably they see certain others as extensions of themselves, and the distress of those resonates within them.” To see one’s self in the plight of another is perhaps the basic building block of morality and one can grasp this point without reference to sanctity or divinity. In fact ethics has its source in human needs, for well-being such as shelter, nourishment, safety, love, freedom, peace, knowledge, truth and cooperating in common pursuits. Religion, specifically Christianity, is neither the source nor the foundation of ethics, and never has been. [5] Corporal punishment in the schools and the death penalty still exist in many mostly southern states in the USA, the rationale for which is primarily religious. I had the infamous strap inflicted on me many times, a few of my violations being asking precocious questions about the incredibly boring morning ritual of bible readings, to cite one example. The same can be said with somewhat lesser force for the laws that are created by and for those in power to serve their interests, many of which have no relationship to ethics. There is no such thing as Christian Mathematics, Christian Science or Christian Morality. After all, faith, if it is ever right about anything, is right by mere accident.

De Waal speculates that primates look at each other as sentient beings. The capacity to care for others is the bedrock of all of our moral systems. The rules which arise from such a capacity nurture and expand upon it, but they are not its foundation. Other conditions for morality can be found in non-primates who have the capacity for rule-learning, internalization of commandments and guilt-like behavior when such commandments are disobeyed. Witness, for example the apparent Pavlovian stimulus response behavior of a dog which has clawed up and crapped on his master’s decorator carpet and is caught in the act. Despite wild claims of dog owners and their Dr. Doolittle dogs - which lack the consciousness and putative ethical sensibilities of most humans - these “bad dog” behaviors are outside the purview of ethical consideration.

I’ve always admired Noam Chomsky’s intellect and his many exposes of American capitalist corruption, imperialism and war but even more important is his moral rectitude which cannot be surpassed. One of the claims he has made numerous times is the “universality principle”; namely, behavior we demand of others, we must at the risk of inconsistency and hypocrisy, demand the same of ourselves. But being moral entails much more than merely following minimalist principles such as the “Golden Rule”. Compassion, empathy and going far beyond what is expected (supererogatory acts) and less than you are permitted is what it really means to be moral. Think of special people such as Tommy Douglas, Noam Chomsky, Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela who would fall into that rarified ethical category. What we do is generally far more revealing and more important than what we say. Adults for example, can instruct children how to behave and what to believe, but kids pay attention to the way we act, how we behave, to determine if those acts and behaviors are consistent with our pronouncements regarding how they and others ought to act. The same can be said about those in positions of power such as politicians, cops, military officers, bosses, corporate managers and CEOs. The anarchist is correct to be suspicious of all power, most of which is illegitimate.

One of the best litmus tests for one’s character is what a person does with power. The result is usually not uplifting as I’m sure many of you have witnessed in the workplace regarding people who were once friends and colleagues are elevated to managerial positions. I suspect that some of these people who gravitate to those positions of authority are full blown sociopaths or psychopaths who get their rocks off manipulating and wielding power over others. Anarchists rightly challenge all sources of power, authoritarianism and hierarchy, holding to the truism that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

Conservative and liberal politicians alike, specialists in hypocrisy and deceit, routinely say two things that display how deeply in denial they and their constituents are as a ”society”. One is, in response to the latest horror show of the Trump incited invasion of the White House by a red neck neo-fascist mob, “this is not who we are as a nation,” when it is of course the incident that says very much about what the United States is as a nation, although many prefer to delude themselves about it. The other is “we’re all in this together” and “there’s nothing we can’t accomplish when we work together,” which is not merely stupid in assuming that the United States is a genuine democracy with solidarity and consensus, but also total bullshit. Moreover, there are biophysical limits that no society, capitalist or otherwise, can ignore indefinitely, although the modern global theology of neo-liberalism and rapacious consumer capitalist economy encourages us to ignore obvious unpleasant realities. The existential and ecological crises we face, including but not limited to rapid global warming, pollution, species extinction, over-consumption and overpopulation are a result of delusional self-satisfied humans ignoring those limits - with the United States Empire of Amnesia leading the way.

There is no hope that a global population of eight billion people with the current level of aggregate consumption today can continue much longer. It’s important to recognize that this consumption isn’t equally distributed; in fact the degree of global economic inequality is obscene and grotesque and widespread injustice needs to be addressed. But we have to face the reality that high-energy/high-technology societies are unsustainable no matter how wealth, goods and services are distributed. The end of the current deeply immoral and ecologically unsustainable socio-economic system will likely be in this century and perhaps much sooner than we expect. Presently humans are the only living creatures not in population decline. But let’s assume we survive the looming political, economic and environmental catastrophes and collapses; no one can predict what will happen after that. In light of earth’s 4.54 billion years, humans have occupied this planet for a miniscule period; and the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the phenomenon of entropy guarantee that we will not last forever. And in light of our foolish wanton treatment of our earth home as a garbage dump, it won’t be much longer.


[1] In a recent paper titled “Whence the Revolution” I wrote about the deep seated immorality of the global capitalist system, offering no ethical exemplar or moral guidance for our young people - or anyone else on our beleaguered planet. It’s difficult not to notice that the behaviour of people in general has greatly deteriorated over the past few decades of neo-liberal financial predation. It would seem that many people are simply mimicking the typical “greed is good” of corporate "leaders" and their bought and paid for pimp politicians.

“In 1971, reflecting on  the civil rights movements , anti-war and black power organizations of his era (such as the Black Panthers), Gil Scott-Heron released the popular proto-rap/hip hop mass media and marketing bashing song The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, the lyrics of which can be read here.

Revolution, at least in the sense of a major transformation of the disenchanted, yet revolutionary counter-cultural mindset of most of the Western world at the time, there remained a tacit assumption that a better world was possible; revolution was a live option and seemingly imminent. This is surely not the case today, despite an increasingly dysfunctional corrupt world that has deeply deteriorated communally, politically, economically, ecologically, ethically and existentially.  Not only will the revolution not be televised, it’s seems clear that it is not going to happen at all, barring World War III or a total implosion of the anti-democratic neo-liberal corporatist ideology, dictatorship of money and culture of oligarchic greed and pillage that now prevail throughout our overpopulated increasingly agitated world.

In an interview two decades later, Scott-Heron explained, “You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and the way you move… The thing that’s going to change people is something that no one will ever be able to capture on film. It will just be something you see and all of a sudden you realize, ‘I’m on the wrong page’”.

Revolution was still in the air during the 1960s and early 70s but to contemplate the possibility today, given the far right wing neo-liberal counter-revolution that ensued - and despite global unrest, frustration and anger - revolution seems extremely remote. In consideration of the cultural vacuum, complacency, imagination vacuity and docility of mind numbing technology, consumerism, endless marketing, identity politics, the atomization of the individual as autonomous entrepreneur, human malfunction as failure of the self, political fragmentation of the left, growing authoritarianism that includes a return of fascism, unprecedented economic and social inequalities combined with lack of working class solidarity, nihilistic narcissism and quasi-religious pervasive ignorance that prevails on Face Book and other social media, the prospect of real bottom up revolution is remote. Given the spectre of global warming, overpopulation, environmental degradation, failing ecosystems and now a global pandemic, all life’s species are facing extinction (except humans – at least for now) the world as we know it will likely end before a much needed revolution happens.

And sadly environmentalism like the post WW II counterculture (including the music of the 1960s and 70s), has been shamelessly hijacked, misrepresented, whitewashed and co-opted by our corporate capitalist masters for exploitation, propaganda and profit. Even the songs of the 1960s and 70s are shamelessly hijacked for marketing purposes as people are depicted as total idiots. For those who needed the palliative of religion, Buddhism, Taosim and Zen were very popular as the English intellectual for which Alan Watt's became a popular proponent. And for the renegade Christian theologian Paul Tillich, “god” was for him, not some anthropomorphic cosmic ruler of the universe but construed metaphorically as “ultimate concern”, a profound moral principle for which there is no compromise or conflation of ends and means. For the entrepreneurial and corporate capitalist, global warming, species decline and other environmental concerns are of NO concern as profit takes precedence over all else, as collateral damage is reduced by finite engineering or balance sheet compromises and concessions they call “sustainability”- never “ultimate concerns” as articulated by Tilllich and Watts. For Tillich, “sin” was not some biblical imperative or violation of god’s will, but rather whatever detached us from our consciousness and deeply felt moral obligations – our “ultimate concerns”. But by the 1980s, these enlightened movements were dying, in conjunction with a full frontal attack on the labor movement and unions by Reagan, Thatcher and other reactionary political ghouls and neo-conservative crypto-fascists.

To cite one of countless examples of Orwellian deceit, former Christian zealot and former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen (Petro Pete) Harper criticized the expression “Tar Sands” to describe the land from which toxic bituminous gunk is being steamed up from Alberta’s delicate ecosystems in the Athabasca Valley and nearby Indigenous people’s lands and waterways of the once pristine Athabasca River and Jasper National Park. Christian fundamentalist and theocrat capitalist and Rapture believer Harper is now a corrupt businessman pimp facilitator and advisor to big business for seamless corporate mafia connections with the equally corrupt Canadian government. Harper euphemistically preferred “oil sands” and “ethical oil” when referring to the abomination of the Tar Sands projects where Mother Nature is creaming "rape". After all we Canadians are much more polite than those slimy Islamic Saudis. Oh yeah, you bet Stevie old boy, the collateral damage and cost of capitalist plunder can be easily offloaded to the public and future generations as it always has; privatize profit and socialize cost is and always has been the name of the capitalist game .

Will taxpayers be responsible for finding a new habitable planet? Sigmund Freud’s “Prosthetic Gods” is an apt description of modern capitalists, both conservative and liberal, who have always accepted the dictums “Devil take the hindmost”, might is right and preat mundus, dum ego salvus sim and that their sordid activities depend on abuse and suffering as long as they are not on the receiving end. Some people persist in their belief in human “progress”. Can it be that the modern corporate oligarch and larcenous mafia style banker, Adam Smith’s 21st century “masters of mankind”, is the apotheosis of such progress? As Tom Waits put it in one of his songs, “the earth dies screaming” while we continue our dreams of phantom benevolent gods and electric sheep.

The 18th century Enlightenment philosopher, humanist, heretic and critic, Voltaire was once asked, once eliminated, what he would do to replace the oppressive dual tyranny of monarchy and theocracy. His response was, “A ferocious animal has sucked the blood of my relatives. I tell you to rid yourselves of this beast, and you ask me what you shall put in its place?” This is not unlike today when conservatives - and many lip-service double speak liberals - who challenge those who want to replace the authoritarian, anti-human, environmentally destructive, exploitive, unjust, corrupt and violent state sanctioned dictatorship of capitalism? If democracy is no more than another form of elitism, hierarchy and control, we humans ought to be the authors of our own destinies. Surely our imaginations and intellects are not so barren as to not be able to conjure up far better alternatives to what is an unsustainable immoral social and economic arrangement? Money, for example, is not just a benign medium of exchange, but a source of greed, war, theft and violence. The reformism that emerged after the Second World War was only meant to be temporary as the “masters of mankind”, the oligarchic elites and financial master minds, will eventually reverse this stop gap measure. I’m reminded of an old left wing adage: “Money always returns to its rightful owners.” They want it all back and have, for the most part accomplished this during the trickle down neo-liberal reversal of the past forty years, as economic inequality is back to normalcy – in fact now at unprecedented levels. The predatory pimps of capital now own and completely control the increasingly authoritarian political regimes throughout the world, as fascism is making a big comeback, an ideology that worked harmoniously with capitalist states between and during the 20th century’s two world wars. Why working people in our sham elections vote for conservatives and the ghouls of the current malformation of liberalism remains a mystery; after all, these are the bastards who have waged a forever war against labour unions and social services, ultimately destroying or at least co-opting and corrupting them, rendering them almost useless. Preferring a liberal candidate of today over a conservative is like choosing death by a thousand lashes with barbed wire over an exploding bullet to the forehead.”

[1a] In consideration of how religious beliefs inspire pernicious and malevolent conduct we should begin with Christianity because it is our own odious Western creation. The Christian fascist zealots who regularly ignore the constitutional dictum of separation of church and state and wield so much political power in the United States of Jesus have wet dreams about creating a theocracy in that country. After over three centuries of secular liberal revolutions in the West, re-empowering the Churches would be a regression to the Dark Ages when religion ruled. The reason is not just that there are nothing but bad people running all the churches; the reason for resisting efforts to re-empower the Christian churches is that people who believe much of what Jesus believed are not likely to behave well in positions of power unless they are willing to keep their religion out of politics as their revolutionary socialist Jesus apparently had done. Any suggestion that the Churches should be granted political power has its source in historical amnesia. In my view, the political crimes committed in the name of Christianity were not historically contingent accidents; they were a logical consequence of Christian beliefs and biblical dogma.

The resurgence of militant Islam since 9-11 and its aftermath of brutal US invasions in the Middle East have led some Christians to imagine that Christianity is a civilized religion of love and peace as opposed to the violent barbarism of Islam. It is time for the West to stop deluding itself into thinking that Christianity is superior to Islam. Both tyrannical monotheisms, Christianity is no more moderate, tolerant or “civilized” than Islam and is no more or less authoritarian, anachronistic or dogmatic. Any semblance of freedom, democracy, justice, prosperity and scientific advancement achieved by the West has been achieved in spite of Christianity and not because of it. It is because we have challenged the powers, superstitions and ancient dogmas of Christianity that our societies are more free and prosperous than those of Islamic countries.

[1b] Michels’ “iron law of oligarchy” refers to organizations and institutions, specifically the left-wing parties of Western Europe in the pre-World War I era, which called for egalitarian reforms through mass democracy and popular governance. Yet, as Michels observed, these same democratically minded organizations and institutions could not resist the tendency to become de facto oligarchies. In spite of their revolutionary identities and democratic structures, the labor parties of Michels’ era were dominated by tightly bound cliques with the intent of perpetuating their own interests rather than the goals of equality and self-rule. The irony, Michels noted, was that in a democratic organization like the German Social-Democratic Party (SPD) to which Michels belonged at the time, only a few people in executive positions actually held power and decision-making privileges. This phenomenon also applied to traditional conservative parties according to Michels. Nevertheless, the “leaders” of the SPD valued their own elite status and social-mobility more than any commitment to the goal of emancipating Germany’s “industrial proletariat,” from exploitation. Inevitably, the SPD’s actual policies became increasingly conservative, often siding with the imperial authorities of Wilhelm’s Germany. Eventually, while SPD leaders gained constitutional legislative power and public prestige, they failed to serve the collective will of its mass membership; they were in fact dominating and directing it for their own ends. Research today by Gilens and Page only confirm what took place with Michels’ research a century ago.

Michels concluded that the day-to-day administration of any large-scale, differentiated bureaucratic organization, such as the SPD, by the rank-and-file majority was impossible. Given the “incompetence of the masses,” there was a need for full-time elite professional leadership to manage and direct others in a hierarchical, top-down manner. And the rank and file members were not necessarily opposed to this. In theory, the SPD leaders were subject to control by the rank-and-file through delegate conferences and membership voting; in reality, the elite leadership was firmly in command. The simple organizational need for a division of labor, hierarchy, and specialized leadership roles meant that control over the top functionaries from below was “purely fictitious.” Elected leaders had the experience, skills, and superior knowledge necessary for running the party and controlling all formal means of communication with its membership, including the party press. While proclaiming their devotion to the party program of social democracy, the leaders soon became part of the German political establishment. The mass membership was unable to provide an effective counterweight to this entrenched minority of self-serving party officials who were more committed to internal organizational goals and their own personal interests than to radical social change on behalf of their members. Michels believed that these inevitable oligarchic tendencies were reinforced by a mass predisposition for depending upon, and even glorifying, the party oligarchs. As Michels states, “Though it grumbles occasionally, the majority is really delighted to find persons who will take the trouble to look after its affairs. In the mass, and even in the organized mass of the labor parties, there is an immense need for direction and guidance. This need is accompanied by a genuine cult for the leaders, who are regarded as heroes.” Thus elites maneuver their way into power and the members abdicate their participation in self-governance.

The “iron law of oligarchy” was a product of Michels’ own personal experiences as a discouraged idealist and disillusioned social-democrat. His magnum opus Political Parties was based upon an empirical study of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and a number of affiliated German trade unions. From his direct involvement Michels observed that the ordinary members of these working-class organizations were virtually excluded from any decision-making process within their organizations, either structurally as a result of their own apathy. Michels argued that the inherent tendency of large and complex organizations – not just conservative and liberal political parties, but including radical socialist and communist parties and labor unions – to develop a mass membership to provide any effective challenge to a ruling clique of leaders, was doomed. Smaller, less complex organizations also manifested similar tendencies to be controlled by elites as well, often exacerbated by “groupthink”. These inherent organizational inclinations were further strengthened by a mass psychology of leadership dependency. This analysis made Michels increasingly skeptical regarding the possibility of democratic governance, precisely as a result of the general frustration he and others, such as Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca, had with so-called democratic organizations. Thus one reason why fascism and elitist theory became increasingly popular by the twentieth century, and specifically for Michels, was because oligarchy in democratic institutions became increasingly entrenched. Some have argued that Michels may have formulated an “iron law of bureaucracy,” mistakenly seeking “democracy in structures, not in interactions,” and thus ignoring the real difference between democracies and non-democracies. But the notion of hierarchy and power from above has a long history which has been internalized by the masses, what Karl Marx called “false consciousness”. Rather than challenging these insidious relationships of top down power, working class people from the lower layers of society are deluded into believing that they too could be wealthy and be elevated to positions of wealth and power. People began to be more cognizant of the oligarchic nature of our fraudulent democracies with the Occupy Wall Street movement which was eventually illegally shut down by the eternally corrupt New York police. The Supreme Court decision Citizen’s United has only confirmed the existence of an oligarchy as the courts, including SCOTUS has been co-opted by the corporatist version of Adam Smith’s “masters of mankind” as well.

But there are many explanations for these conditions other than historical precedence.

First, the classic liberal view of society is based on the perspective that a collection of individuals and groups is in essence a free association in which socially defined identities and roles spontaneously emerge. Throughout the course of a person’s life, one’s actions and choices are shaped by social roles and statuses. In every society, certain characteristics such as age, sex, ethnicity, appearance, division of labor, and social class, have a direct impact on the allocation of individual roles in society. These assigned roles are not a random occurrence; they are the outgrowth of deeply embedded interests and power relations which have been institutionalized. In this way status can be understood as either ascribed or achieved: ascribed, meaning it is assigned by tradition, irrespective of individual initiative; achieved, meaning it is the result of personal accomplishments and talent. This is the case since achievement is itself almost always dependent upon arbitrary and antecedent conditions of custom and class.

Second, the term “organization” implies the mobilization of individuals into roles and statuses committed to the performance of some form of collective behavior. “Organization” also describes the precisely defined structures of group authority which can be found in churches, militaries, schools, corporations, political parties, agencies, and governments. While class structure as an organization is not usually defined as such, it is, nevertheless, the composite of people who differ in wealth and social prestige, who then in turn, are served in a relative fashion by the various institutions. What then connects these institutions is a “functionally integrated system” built around networks of communication, interest, power and social class, which comprise what is known as a “social system” or “social structure.” The process in which individuals become socialized into their milieu is determined for the most part by the organizational and institutional roles which they assume. These roles, generally, are not individually determined, but are shaped instead, by the very organizations and institutions in which they are co-opted. In turn, organizations are determined by their essential interests and minimal requisites of role performance. More specifically, the essential interests of organizations are manipulated by the interests of those who have the most power within the organization to control the outcome to their advantage.

Third, individuals are socialized to believe that their well-being is to avoid conflict and thus secure a place for themselves within the system based on the system’s own terms. The path to success, according to Ralph Miliband, is found in conforming to “the values, prejudices and modes of thought of the world to which entry is sought.” Those who are skeptical and even question the virtues of the given organization discover, either painfully or at great personal risk, that they must conform and adjust to minimal role demands or suffer adverse consequences. Organizational control, nevertheless, conveys attitudes of obedience disseminating among subordinates in any organizational structure within a society. The social norm then becomes the external and internal force for compliance upon the individual and the pressure to obey comes not only from the superior or elite but from the collectivity of subordinates. In this manner pressure for role fulfillment, then, can be felt vertically from the higher authority that controls the agenda of role performances, but also horizontally from similarly situated subordinates who, having internalized the organizational values of obedience, are as critical as any superior of departures in role performance. Such departures, being seen as an unwillingness to carry one’s share of the burden, is perceived as a violation of essential professional duties, a “letting down” not only of one’s superiors, but of one’s peers, be they ordinary co-workers, professional colleagues, or comrades in arms.

Fourth, to control the essential structures of role behavior, as is the case with organizations, is to shape social consciousness in ways that rational exercises cannot do. Roles, within organizations, become habit and custom. For persons socialized into institutional roles, most alternative forms of behavior either violate their sense of propriety or escape their imagination altogether. They do not think of themselves as responding to a particular arrangement of social reality but to the only social reality there is. In this regard the absolute nature of this social arrangement is not questioned because, in the words of social theorist J. Peter Euben, “realism becomes an un-argued and implicit conservatism,” and as Sanford Levinson also argues “the most subtle form of ‘political education’ is the treating of events and conditions which are in fact amenable to change as though they were natural events. This is not a question of treating what is as what ought to be but rather as what has to be.” Organizations and social institutions, nonetheless, are those massive monuments of society which capture and confine the vision of people, and an organization’s very existence becomes its own legitimating force. In economic terms it is a case of supply creating demand. The dominant organizations in the social system lend the legitimacy of substance and practice to the established norms which in turn teach and reinforce adherence to the ongoing social system. What should be recognized is that the social norms or values are not self-sustaining, self-adaptive consensual forces; they are mediated through organizations and institutions, and to the extent that organizations and institutions are instruments of power in the service of elitist interests. Thus, social norms themselves are a product of organizational interests and power relations. This is why oligarchies become imbedded in institutions and organizations and preclude democratic governance and popular control of economic resources and accountability.

Basically, a type of authoritarianism, if not outright dictatorship, emerges in which democratic rule and economic egalitarianism are hijacked and sabotaged by oligarchic rule. But the elites, and their oligarchy, define it as “civil society” or “democracy.” All decisions of course are justified by the amorphous expressions such as “the national interest” as if it meant “the common good of all”. Liberal philosopher Michael Walzer observed that the executives and directors of most corporations and other top down organizations:

“…preside over what are essentially authoritarian regimes with no internal electoral system, no opposition parties, no free press or open communications network, no established judicial procedures, no channels for rank-and-file participation in decision making. When the state acts to protect their authority, it does so through the property system, that is, it recognizes the corporation as the private property of some determinate group of men and it protects their right to do, within legal limits, what they please with their property. When corporate officials defend themselves, they often involve functional arguments. They claim that the parts they play in society can only be played by such men as they, with their legally confirmed power, their control of resources, their freedom from internal challenge, and their ability to call on the police.”

The boards of directors of most business firms do not exercise a “collegial” power except in the formal, legal sense. In other terms, even among themselves directors seldom operate democratically since usually one or two of them enjoy a preponderant influence over the corporation. Bruce Berman notes that private power is exercised both “in the economy and society” through “organizations whose internal political processes are, with few exceptions, authoritarian, oligarchic and devoid of any democratic procedures or controls.” Where the board of directors consists of corporate employees dependent on the president for career advancement, the board simply reaffirms past decisions or presents modest but inconsequential changes. Top corporate managers, themselves board members and large stockholders, are the active power within a firm, selecting new members, exercising a daily influence over decisions, and enjoying a degree of independence. This same scenario can easily be translated into nonprofit institutions, education, churches, government, unions, administration and policy. Furthermore, the institutionally controlled roles are themselves so legitimized by practice and custom, that the coercive element of this oligarchic arrangement is in effect disguised.

It appears evident, at least from what has been discussed, that authority is delegated downward within an organizational system and institutional structure and that it is extended, in anti-democratic fashion, in order to better serve those at elevated levels. Ralf Dahrendorf states, “For the bureaucrats the supreme social reality is their career that provides, at least in theory, a direct link between every one of them and the top positions which may be described as the ultimate seat of authority. It would be false to say that the bureaucrats are a ruling class, but in any case they are part of it, and one would therefore expect them to act accordingly in industrial, social and political conflicts.” Rousseau refers to people in this elite category as persons “hurried on by blind ambition, and, looking rather below than above them, come to love authority more than independence, and submit to slavery, that they may in turn enslave others.” Interestingly enough, Adam Smith also identifies this anti-egalitarian tendency when he states, “All inferior shepherds and herdsmen feel the security of their own herds and flocks depends upon the security of those of the great shepherd or herdsman; that the maintenance of their lesser authority depends upon that of his greater authority, and that upon their subordination to him depends his power of keeping their inferiors in subordination to them.”

The monopolization of privileged positions and scarce resources by the hierarchical elite in an organization is justified by the claim that only experienced persons or trained experts have the expertise to participate in decision-making. However, Francis Rourke and Glen Brooks state the organizations and institutions are, “often forced to put on a dramatic show of scientific objectivity in its budgeting process in order to justify its requests for continued support, even though the dramatic props – elaborate formulas, statistical ratios, and so on – may have little to do with the way in which decisions are actively made within the … establishment.” Thus, modern hierarchical organization with its elaborate stratification of command and fragmentation of tasks may itself be less the outgrowth of technical necessity and more a means whereby the few control the many. Consequently, Michels argues that the bureaucratic structure within organizations has two main functions: efficiency and class domination. The former is admitted, open and manifest; the later covert, unrecognized (by many) and un-admitted. In this sense, class conflict declines with the growth of bureaucracy, not because bureaucracy’s efficiency and productivity satisfies potential dissenters, but because the structural features of bureaucracy stifle the power resources of potential dissenters. It would therefore be correct to say that bureaucratization is another form of class conflict, a form in which one side wins and the other loses—and which might better be called class domination.

Every privileged class tends to propagate the notion that the existing social system constitutes the natural order of things. In this way, those elite members of organizations give legitimacy and permanence to their position. These elites, according to Weber, intend “to have their social and economic positions ‘legitimized.’ They wish to see their positions transformed from a purely factual power relation into a cosmos of acquired rights, and to know that they are thus sanctified.” The legitimating myths or “status-legends” serve not only to bolster the self-esteem and soothe the conscience of the elite within organizations, but reinforce the important function of assigning an almost divine status to class dominance and the rule of elites within organizations. Rousseau captures this same idea when he states that “the strongest is never strong enough to be always master, unless he transforms his strength into right, and obedience into duty.” This can be seen in present day capitalist societies; profit and property are represented as serving not only the owning class but also all citizens. What corporations do for themselves is said to benefit the entire “Free World.” In the German Ideology Marx identified this tendency in which every group seeks to give “its ideas the form of universality and [attempts] to present them as the only rational and universally valid ones.” Both Marx and Engels held that throughout history, and in particular the historical development of capitalism, that government had been controlled by key capitalists and their allies, and thus the state in effect serves as the “executive committee” of the ruling and exploiting class.

In a society based on acquisition and competition, people acting in their self-interest do not readily sacrifice their own class advantages out of regard for the needs of others. Any notion of justice, based on utility maximizing, is not likely to compel “individual actors” to cast aside their own privatized pursuits. The history of class divided societies offers little hope to those who do not share in the relative access of resources in the midst of scarcity. In the absence of its natural defenders the interest of the excluded is always in danger of being overlooked according to both Mill and Marx. Theorists such as Lindblom and Woodhouse state that the common understanding is that, “the fundamentals of the existing system of wealth and privilege ought not to be challenged.” Moreover, borrowing from Lenin’s critique of Western imperialism, Martin Luther King in the “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” concludes that “history is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.” And Obama has become a team player for the privileged elite because of the TPP treaty.

Thus, the threatened loss of power in organizations, and the tendency toward a more equal distribution of wealth and privilege, is seen not merely as a material loss, but as the cataclysmic undoing of all social order. Operating on the assumption that all distribution must be competitive (albeit, like the stock markets, tenaciously and shamelessly rigged and manipulated) rather than communal, the elite anticipate – correctly – that more material resources for the marginalized will only mean less for themselves, since a fundamental reordering of social priorities would entail a marked diminution of class privileges for the elite. Within this social and economic setting the reality of conflict is spawned and determined, according to Marx, precisely because “men make their own history; but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past.” Here Rousseau and Marx agree, arguing that the elite of any organization enjoy their status “only in so far as others are destitute of it. Because, without changing their condition, they would cease to be happy the moment the people ceased to be wretched.” Consequently, Rousseau argues that “we find our advantage in the misfortune of our fellow-creatures, and the loss of one man almost always constitutes the prosperity of another.” Noam Chomsky even goes so far as to state that organizations such as these are “designed to undermine democratic decision making and to safeguard the matters from market discipline. It is the poor and defenseless who are to be instructed in these stern doctrines.”

[2] Meta-ethics is the philosophical analysis of formal features of what passes for moral discourse, the meanings of ethical terminology and concepts and examination of moral judgements and arguments. For example, this inquiry involves what is meant by “right”, “good”, ”evil”, “wrong” and “ought” and the core question as to whether there such a thing as moral knowledge? This forces the inquirer into other branches of philosophy such as ontology, metaphysics and epistemology. Incidentally, many people use the words “ethics” and “morality” interchangeably; however Professor of Law and Philosophy at New York University and Professor of Jurisprudence at University College London, Ronald Dworkin, makes a distinction when he claims that “ethics includes convictions about which kinds of lives are good or bad for a person to lead, and morality includes principles about how a person should treat other people.”

[3] The Englishman William K. Clifford (1845-1879), a mathematician, philosopher and fellow of the Royal Society, was praised as “a brilliant, witty, charming man, who was also an excellent teacher.”[i] Clifford proposed the development of a geometric theory of gravity, later accomplished by Albert Einstein, born 11 days after Clifford died. In philosophy, Clifford took a robust ethical and epistemic stance against any claim based on faith or having conviction and belief in propositions that exceed the evidence. After all, the very idea of objective knowledge acquired through honest observation, logic, evidence and valid reasoning processes has values built into it as every effort we make to discuss facts depends upon principles that we must first value such as  logical consistency, reliance on evidence, parsimony, avoidance of cognitive fallacies and mental traps such as confirmation bias and dissonance.  Beliefs about facts and beliefs about values seem to arise from similar processes in the brain as it appears we have a common system for judging truth and falsity in both domains. Clifford expressed this nowhere better than in his 1877 essay, “The Ethics of Belief,” for which I provide an excerpt, namely, Section 2: Ethics of Belief from my MA thesis Skepticism, Critical Thinking and the Ethics of Belief which can be read in its entirety online here:


One who has not been scrupulous in knowing cannot be scrupu­lous in doing - Lorraine Code                                              

 The foundation of morality is to give up pretending to believe that for which there is no evidence, and repeating unintelligible propositions about things beyond the possibilities of knowledge - T.H. Huxley



                          (2) THE ETHICS OF BELIEF

          2.1 Ancient and Medieval Sources

The central problem of epistemology is the individual's concern with what to believe and how to justify those beliefs. Hence, many philosophers have held that there is an important connection between epistemic concepts such as belief and ethical concepts such as justification. Plato regarded the form of the Good; i.e., Goodness itself, as the ground not only for all goodness, but also all being and all that is knowable. Many medieval philosophers such as Thomas Acquinas regarded goodness and truth as two of the transcendental ideas, coextensive and ranging across all categories.

Partially in reaction to the presumptuous rationalism and dogmatism of the Church, sixteenth century humanists such as Montaigne, argued that it was best to suspend judgement about matters of general theory, and to concentrate on accumulating a rich perspective, both in the natural world and human affairs, as we encounter them in our actual experience. This respect for the possibilities of human experience was one of the chief merits of the Renaissance humanists, but they also were also sensitive to the limits of human experience and knowledge. Human modesty and humility alone, they argued, should teach reflective Christians how limited are their ability to reach unquestioned Truth or unqualified Certainty over all matters of doctrine.[48]

          2.2 Enlightenment Skepticism

Francis Bacon argued at length that material, human and social progress had been retarded for centuries by false philosophies that pandered to human credulity, superstition and what he called the "Idols of the Mind".[49] The pervasiveness of the "Idols" and the all-too-human tendencies toward intellectual laziness, credulity and fanaticism give plausibility to the skeptic's arguments for the fallibilism of knowledge. If Bacon had to choose between the skeptic and the dogmatist, he would choose the former since the dogmatist curbs or conceals the doubts that are essential to genuine inquiry.[50] Bacon's solution to our predicament was the cultivation and eventual resol­ution of doubt through diligent application of inductive procedures of inquiry and verification. The cognitive-ethical thrust of Bacon's position is that genuine knowledge and the prospects it holds are possible only if his standards and procedures for open-minded disciplined inquiry are adopted. To fail to do so, for people to indulge their credulities and cognitive inadequacies, would rob them of their promise for a satisfying intellectual life. For Bacon, the proper choice between dogmatic certainty and radical skepticism seemed clear.

          2.3 Locke's Ethics of Belief

John Passmore describes the tight connection between the normative and the epistemological in modern western thought as follows:

Modern philosophy was founded on the doctrine, uncompromisingly formulated by Descartes, that to think philosophically is to accept as true only that which recommends itself to Reason. To be un-philosophical, in contrast, is to be seduced by the enticements of Will, which beckons men beyond the boundaries laid down by Reason into the wilderness of error. In England, Locke had acclimatized this Cartesian ideal. There is "one unerring mark," he wrote, "by which man may know whether he is a lover of truth for truth's sake:" namely "the not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built upon will warrant." Nineteenth-century agnosticism reaffirmed this Lockean dictum, with a striking degree of moral fervour.[51]

 H. H. Price, who has put it forward as a definition of rationality, has supported Locke’s normative principle of belief. Price states "the degree of our assent to a proposition ought to be proportioned to the strength of the evidence for that proposition."[52]

Locke's two doctrines, then - that assent has degrees, and that the degree of assent ought to be proportional to the strength of the evidence - may easily seem platitudinous. One would be happy to think that they are. For if they are false, our human condition must be both more miserable and more intellectually disreputable than we commonly suppose... It would be more miserable, because we so often need to be able to assent to propositions on evidence that is far less than conclusive; and therefore, we need to be able to assent to them with something far less than total or unreserved self-commitment, if we are to have any guidance for our subsequent thoughts and actions... But... we do not always have to choose between an inert agnosticism - a helpless "wait and see" attitude - and a total and unreserved self-commitment. When our evidence for a proposition, although not conclusive, is favourable, or favourable on balance when any unfavourable evidence there may be is taken into account, we can assent to that proposition with a limited degree of confidence; and we can then conduct our intellectual and practical activities "in light of" the proposition, though not without some doubt or mental reservation.[53]

 Any degree of belief involves the elements of commitment, responsibility, and intellectual integrity. The degree of commitment may vary: a belief held too strongly may bring with it an attitude of disregard, though not complete disregard, of alleged evidence which conflicts with the belief. One must remain open-minded and open to counter-evidence. All beliefs ought to be based on evidence and the degree of commitment should be, as Hume and Price have claimed, in proportion to that evidence. According to W. K. Clifford, who I will discuss in greater detail later, what counts as evidence for one person must be confirmable by any other person under similar circumstances. Beliefs based upon personalized, internal Cartesian "intuitions" or "revelations" which cannot be publicly corroborated are highly suspect. Moreover, a priori postulations of metaphysical entities that cannot be empirically verified or hypotheses that cannot be falsified are deemed intellectually irresponsible. Karl Popper's "falsifiability principle" is relevant here. A proposition is considered falsifiable if we can know what would have to happen, be happening or going to happen, in order to prove that the proposition or doctrine is not, after all, true.[54] Also, any kind of indeterminateness or vagueness in meaning regarding metaphysical constructs were often, and is often intended to, disarm potential criticism and serious skeptical inquiry. But for those who, like Bertrand Russell's "pedant", having an aversion to self-contradiction, prefer their statements to be true, will not tolerate unfalsifiability or any other kind of obscurity and indifference to truth. Russell, in making a point in one of his skeptical arguments, claimed that one couldn’t prove that the universe was not created five minutes ago - but neither is there any evidence for this claim. Similar points can be made concerning the hypothesis of the existence of God. According to Clifford, anyone who believes in a supreme deity believes on insufficient evidence and hence violates the "ethics of belief" by displaying the vice of credulity. If there is evidence for God's existence, it is evidence that should be available to everyone and open to refutation.

The degree of supporting evidence needed for a belief is clearly contingent upon the urgency and importance of the proposition under examination. As the stakes are pushed higher, one might want to examine more thoroughly the grounds for a certain belief. For example, hearsay evidence or the testimony of my neighbour may be sufficient for me to believe that the Canucks won the hockey game last night, but may be clearly deficient in determining my assent to the propositions "Moose Pasture Resources is going higher" and "This mushroom is edible." If the subject matter or conjecture is important, it is clearly irresponsible to hold a belief on slight evidence or in the face of unexpected contrary evidence. A person may be simply naive and gullible (or stupid) but it is the power of the skeptic's intellectual scrutiny that can embarrass and induce the awareness of his bewilderment, carelessness and dishonesty. The power of critical and constructive skepticism, as I will argue later, is its ability to suppress the propensity to credulity and in the force of its arguments against the claims of dogmatism.

          2.4 Epistemic and Ethical Concepts

According to Aristotle, both intellectual and moral virtues are character traits but intelligence and wisdom are the supreme virtues, with ethics tied to knowledge and intelligence inseparably tied to ethics. Intellectual virtue helps one to select the correct goal, and intelligence to choose the correct means (Ethics, Book 6, Sec. 13). A reasonable virtue must be very closely connected with an ethical one, and must interact with it. C. S. Peirce, in referring to our reasoning, our believing and concluding, stated "we have here all the main elements of moral conduct; the general standard mentally conceived beforehand, the efficient agency in the inward nature, the act, the subsequent comparison of the act with the standard."[55] Peirce further asserts that "what is more wholesome than any particular belief is integrity of belief, to avoid looking into the support of any belief from fear that it may turn out rotten is quite as immoral as it is disadvantageous."[56]                                       

In contemporary twentieth century philosophy the connection between ethical and epistemic terms has been discussed at some length. A. J. Ayer defines knowledge as including "the right to be sure."[57] He writes of "being entitled" to talk about some thing being true [58] and of someone's "right to reproach me" if my epistemic credentials do not meet certain standards.[59]  C. I. Lewis refers to the "sense in which cognitive rightness is itself a moral concern"[60] and any belief that explicitly or implicitly has the character of inferred conclusion - any belief that is such that the test of its correctness will “involve test of some inference implicit in it” - is either "justified, warranted and right" or "unjustified and wrong."[61] One is naturally assuming, of course, that the belief is within the subject's control. As Lewis states later, "the sub­ject must have no reason to be unju­stified and non-rational or irrational."[62] Roderick Chisholm has noted that epistemic reasoning and discourse are very much like ethical reasoning and discourse and makes the strong claim that "when a man fails to conform to the ethics of belief he is ipso facto, behaving irrationally."[63] He believes that many characteristics that philosophers "have thought peculiar to ethical statements also hold of epistemic statements"[64] and that "presuppositions of the theory of evidence are analogous, in fundamental respects, to the presuppositions of ethics."[65] Chisholm does not, in other words, attempt to conflate epistemic principles with ethical principles or to reduce the former to the latter, but points out that there are similarities in the process of justification.[66] One might ask, for example, whether it is ethical to believe anything, provided that it does not harm anyone. John McDowell (1979), Ernest Sosa (1980­, 1985), Alvin Goldman (1986), and Lorraine Code (1987) have held that, at least in part, epistemology should be thought of as an account of the intellectual virtues and, not unlike Chisholm, that there are important similarities between epistemic and moral evaluation. Code establishes connections between intellectual virtue, epistemic responsibility and wisdom where wisdom "has to do with knowing how best to go about substantiating beliefs and knowledge claims, where best means with intellectual honesty and due care."[67] This process of justification involves "a willingness to let things speak for themselves, a kind of humility toward the experienced world."[68]

          2.5 W.K. Clifford's Ethics of Belief

The motivation and inspiration for this thesis has come from many sources which include the influence of Bertrand Russell and twenty-five years experience teaching senior high-school Mathematics, but W. K. Clifford's perspicuous and incisive essay "The Ethics of Belief" (1877) provided the major impetus for me. W.K. Clifford (1845-1879), English mathematician and philosopher, was a brilliant student at Cambridge who, in his very short life[69] became a distinguished professor (he was elected fellow of Trinity College at the age of 23), public lecturer, member the London Mathematical Society as well as the most prestigious intellectual society of the day, the Metaphysical Society. Clifford's examination of the basis of belief in the natural sciences led him to a more general analysis of belief. In fact, it was this general analysis of belief and the agnostic and humanistic conclusion to which it led that induced vehement opposition on the part of William James in his essay, "The Will to Believe." Clifford argues that the survival of civilization itself depends upon the habit of forming only justified beliefs. Credulity, the propensity to hold unjustified beliefs, he asserts, threatens the very foundations of society - "the credulous man is the father to the liar and the cheat."[70] He ultimately concluded, "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything on insufficient evidence."[71]

In order to make his point and secure this unconditional imperative within the context of real-life events, Clifford tells several stories. One of these concerns the owner of an un-seaworthy emigrant ship. He laid all anxieties aside by ignoring contrary evidence in order to believe in the ship's seaworthiness. He then authorized the voyage and collected the insurance when the vessel went down. Clifford declares that the ship owner "had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him"[72] and that, even if the ship had returned safely, his guilt would be diminished "not one jot."[73]

When an action is once done, it is right or wrong forever; no accidental failure of its good or evil fruits can possibly alter that. The question of right or wrong has to do with the origin of his belief, not the matter of it; not what it was, but how he got it; not whether it turned out to be true or false, but whether he had a right to believe on such evidence as was before him.[74]

 Hence, the ship owner is open to censure not merely because of what he did and its consequences, but also because of the manner in which he arrived at the belief upon which his action was based. The action itself is immoral, but the belief is epistemically irresponsible and morally reprehensible because "it is not possible to sever the belief from the action."[75]                                              

According to Clifford there are normative imperatives for the proper formation of our beliefs just as there can be normative requirements for control of our actions. These imperatives might be deemed duties to oneself - moral action done in accordance with beliefs formed for good reasons and not merely prudential or self-serving reasons. An action is not considered moral if done unintentionally or for self-interested reasons. Beliefs affect actions in so far as they embody expectations about what the results of these actions will or would be. Although our democratic freedoms of thought and expression prohibit it, Clifford might be thinking of why we punish a person for his irrational behaviour, yet do not punish him for his irrational beliefs. If certain things are believed to be true, it is considered rational to act in a certain way, but thinking and action are considered mutually exclusive entities by our system of justice. One can believe what one wants provided it does not spill over into action, which would be extremely rare.  Nevertheless, the ship owner is unethical because his unwarranted belief in the ship's seaworthiness was motivated by his selfishness and self-deception. It was Adlai Stevenson, I recall, who once said "we judge others by their acts, but we judge ourselves by our motives." For example, a person would be judged a saint for saving a drowning child even if his private motive for doing so was to engage in some aerobic exercise. If the ship had not gone down, the ship owner, as Clifford has argued, would still be guilty because of his unworthy motives. The ship owner distorted evidence and engaged in rationalization and self-deception in order to arrive at conclusions that were more self-serving and congenial to him.

Clifford's story of the ship owner reminds me of the 1948 movie All my Sons, in which a young man, played by Burt Lancaster, discovers that his father (played by Edward G. Robinson) was responsible for his company's shipment of defective aircraft parts to the U.S. Air Force, resulting in 21 deaths. The son initially succumbs to rationalization and refuses to accept evidence of his father's guilt because he is blinded by his affections, sense of commitment and familial attachment. This trust and commitment of intimate relationships often rules out strict conformity to the rules of evidence, but surely this does not mean that love and friendship should permit us to slide into a reckless and arbitrary flight from rationality and truth. Was it Tolstoy who once said that it is better to be deceived than to be skeptical? Surely this is bad advice on a used car lot or when listening to the appeals of politicians during an election campaign, yet it does seem to represent a sound prima facie maxim for love and friendship. However, in spite of the e­motional bonds and the "will to believe" in his father's innocence, the son conducted his own investigation into the matter and came to the inescapable conclusion that his father was guilty, that "...he lied to himself and he doesn't know - he's got to see it and be his own judge. There are some things that are bigger than yourself and your family." It is clear that this "bigger thing" is the truth, and the truth, at least in this story, does eventually prevail. A more recent true story is the case of Christine Lamont and David Spencer who were charged with kidnapping a San Paulo millionaire and subsequently sentenced to 28 years in a Brazilian jail. In spite of their conviction and more recent compelling evidence of their guilt, the parents of both of these young people remain convinced of their innocence. We may admire the loyalty of these parents who go on believing that their children are innocent of a crime in the face evidence of their guilt; we may even admire the patriot whose slogan is "My country, right or wrong". Certainly there is merit in loyalty that does not give way too easily; but there is also ample room for the concept of misguided loyalty and misguided devotion.                    

Lorraine Code (1982, 1987) provides an example similar to the above, telling the true story of Philip Gosse, who falsified his scientific discoveries because they conflicted with his deeply held religious beliefs. Gosse was a nineteenth century biologist who "chose to discount the findings of the new biology because of their incompatibility with his belief in the literal truth of the creation story as set forth in the Book of Genesis."[76]  Gosse accepted the conclusion that Archbishop Usher had arrived at from his study of the chronology of the Old Testament, that the world was created in 4004 B.C. In order to get around the difficulty of the conflict between Usher's analysis of the Genesis account and his scientific findings, he maintained that God had indeed created the world in 4004 B.C., but filled it with delusive signs of a much older world in order to test people’s faith. The strength of the geological evidence, he argued, was proportional to the extent that the Deity was prepared to go in carrying out this test. Hence, according to this view, fossils are real, but their appearance of old age is illusory. What good, however, can this logical possibility do to the creationist's story? If God is a deceiver, as the possibility under consideration implies, then his words in the Bible are quite possibly deceptions as well. Even if we allow Gosse's postulation of a Creator and a beginning in time, there is no way of refuting his position. Any evidence which geologists uncover can be assimilated and explained away by his "theory." But if the findings of science are to be accepted in other fields, it seems hardly plausible to assume that its laws break down just at that point. Gosse's failing resulted from his disinclination or inability to modify his beliefs when the evidence available to him indicated that he ought to do so.                                                             

Code describes Gosse as a man who is "quite unaware of his own dogmatism" which led to a "failure of integrity, wisdom, and epistemic responsibility."[77] In another sense, Gosse's failure was a failure of judgement. Inquirers of good epistemic character attempt to arrive at sound judgements by exercising their discretion appropriately in seeking out and assessing the worth of both evidence and counter-evidence. Some contemporary physicists with a "spiritual view" of the universe have distorted Quantum Physics and the Big Bang theory to argue for the existence of God.[78] What would be impressive however, as Robert Nozick has pointed out, is some physicist being forced to conclude by the weight of the evidence, but contrary to his own personal preconceptions, biases and desires that the universe is strictly materialist, that "the universe is at base spiritual."[79]

Phillip Gosse's failing is explained in the psychological literature as cognitive dissonance - a propensity to actively defend oneself by means of a distortion and denial of disconfirmatory evidence against deeply held beliefs. An important study conducted by C. D. Batson showed that "a person confronted with irrefutable disconfirmation of a personally significant belief will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truths of his belief than before."[80] Subjects in the study who both expressed belief and accepted the veracity of the disconfirming information subsequently expressed a significant increase in the intensity of the belief. Cognitive dissonance and its partner confirmation bias, it would seem, are possibly functions of tenacious beliefs that have been acquired by some process of indoctrination, a matter that I will deal with later.

          2.6 Clifford's Normative Epistemology: Evidence

By holding that a certain way of proceeding with respect to one's beliefs is "wrong" (but not in the sense that a certain mathematical procedure is wrong), it is clear that Clifford is proposing a moral­ thesis or principle. He maintains that believing on insufficient evidence leads to a variety of harmful consequences that include depravation of character, undermining of public confidence, irresponsibility and self-deception. Clifford puts sufficiency of evidence forward as a necessary condition of the legitimacy of belief or, at least, an insufficiency of evidence is a sufficient condition for the immorality of belief. But what is the sufficient condition for a morally sound belief? For an ethics of belief to be tenable, it must be determined whether it is a function only of evidence, and if so, under what conditions are evidence sufficient and the grounds adequate to affirm a belief? There are no clear-cut rules that we can assume a priori - it depends partly on the context of inquiry, the unique facts of the case and whether the relevant reasons adduced to support a conjecture or theory are considered to be sufficient.           

Clifford's moral argument for basing belief only on epistemic reasons is, in a sense, ironic. His reason for not accepting beneficial reasons in justifying belief are ostensibly based on one type of beneficial reason - the undesirable moral consequences of doing so. Perhaps Clifford should have argued that there is a freestanding epistemological obligation to base one's beliefs on purely epistemic reasons. He could have argued that there is a prima facie epistemic duty to believe what appears to be true in the light of the evidence and, moreover, there are general beneficial reasons for believing only what is implied by the evidence. This creates a strong presumption that one should only believe something is true on the basis of epistemic reasons. In addition, there is a presumption that beneficial reasons will only be used when there are no epistemic reasons for disbelief. In other words, beneficial reasons may be invoked to decide whether to believe some proposition p or to believe ~p when there are equally strong epistemic reasons for p and ~p. Although there are circumstances (which I will discuss shortly) in which this presumption can be overridden, they are uncommon. Hence, there is both a moral duty and an epistemic duty not to believe something on insufficient evidence unless there are good epistemic reasons to believe them.

Bertrand Russell has a belief prescription that might be thought of as a mitigated version of Clifford’s, namely, "that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true."[81] Russell's precept is less restrictive, for it says when there is "no ground whatever," whereas Clifford extends his prescription more aggressively to "insufficient evidence," suggesting disbelief when the grounds are inadequate. Russell's imperative, however, seems so persuasive that no rational person would deny it. It is difficult to imagine a belief for which one has no clues or indications whatsoever, not even a trace of evidence. But there do seem to be some things that we are justified in believing, such as free will and causation that are not a direct function of "evidence". We are quite justified on some occasions in taking action based on beliefs for which we can­not have sufficient evidence. William James is right when he claims "our personal nature not only lawfully may, but must decide an option between propositions, whenever it is a genuine option that cannot be decided on intellectual grounds."[82] In other words, few important decisions can be made on clearly formulated rules or maxims applied to objective, fully verified empirical evidence. Moreover, it does seem to me that there are some beliefs we are morally obliged to hold even though we do not have sufficient evidence on which to base them. In other words, there appear to be weak epistemic or non-epistemic occasions for believing - a manner of faith that is morally acceptable in the sense that we extend someone "the benefit of the doubt" in the absence of conclusive evidence. It is reasonable in science, for example, to give tentative assent to a hypothesis that is only plausible, yet lacking in evidential support and in social contexts to trust others before there is sufficient evidence that trust is justified since trust is necessary for cooperation.                                                              

Giving the other person the benefit of the doubt can help one avoid bias in making moral judgements and is consistent with open-mindedness. For example, a wife might feel that she ought to believe that her husband did not cheat on her, or a person might feel that she ought to continue to trust a life-long friend who she suspects may have betrayed her - even in the face of what may be considered, in the absence of the special relationship, adequate evidence to the contrary. Also, one could argue that the content of a belief might morally justify believing against the evidence. For example, although one must question the value of such research, suppose that there is found compelling evidence to support a claim for racial superiority? I think there are certainly cases, like the ones just mentioned, in which value considerations should impact upon beliefs that are justified by purely factual evidence. Hence, rather than our usual philosophical concern over whether factual statements can justify value statements (the proverbial Humean "no ought can be derived from an is"), we might legitimately ask whether or not value considerations can help justify beliefs about purely factual matters (can an "is" be derived from an "ought"?).[83] If we accept that "ought" implies "can", then perhaps Clifford has no business telling us that we ought to believe only on the basis of sufficient evidence unless he takes belief to be, in some sense, a voluntary matter. I think it was Kant who stated somewhere in The Metaphysics of Morals that we have no obligation to believe anything. If I understand him correctly, Kant claimed that one has the right to believe (but not to "know") that God, soul, immortality, justice and freedom exist, not as metaphysical necessities, but as pragmatic moral necessities. We have the right to consider these notions as synthetic a priori truths if doing so will make us better, more successful people. Kant's position on this issue is not unlike that of William James, who I will deal with in the next chapter.

There are instances for which it could be argued, on practical or psychological grounds, that one should act as if one believed a proposition, even without sufficient evidence. For example, suppose that I have won only 20% of my tennis matches against Ralph. I am playing him on Saturday morning and based on the evidence before me, I ought to believe that I will lose. However, believing that I will win (i.e., believing against the evidence) increases my confidence and hence creates evidence in favour of my winning the match. These psychological devices, "the power of positive thinking" and "mind over matter" can be useful, as many self-help and religious gurus have demonstrated. As William James has stated, "faith in a fact can help create the fact."[84] Someone seriously ill, for example, could justify his belief in recovery on the basis of (1) the salutary psychological or pragmatic causal effects of his belief that he will recover and, (2) his physician's diagnosis/prognosis and laboratory tests. But surely only (2), and not (1), is epistemically relevant to the question of whether or not he will likely recover from the illness. The question that must be asked, however, is: when do these mechanisms spill over into exercises in self-deception and neurotic vanity? If a person wants to be reasonable and realistic about his projects, relationships and beliefs, then fantasy, illusion and self-deception must be suppressed as much as is humanly possible. Akrasia is often a function of one's failure to confront the claims of reason and one's fear of facing the truth. Should I believe that I can defeat Pete Sampras or Stefan Edberg at tennis? Hardly! Eamon Callan views incontinent behaviour - such as akrasia, self-deception and wishful thinking - as dispositional, a function of the failure of intellectual autonomy and an unwillingness to face the "real world as it is."

What often causes confusion in this area is a tendency to drive a sharp wedge between the things we choose and the things that "simply" happen to us. It does not make much sense to say that one chose to believe such and such, but neither does it make much sense to say that a person's beliefs or feelings are given facts about himself in the sense that his mortality is. For what one comes to believe and feel is immensely influenced by how one chooses to direct one's mental energies. One can decide to face disagreeable facts or engage in wish-fulfilling fantasies instead; one can passively indulge in longings for what one has come to see (or what one should see) as futile, imprudent or evil, or else one can focus one's attention on how to live in the real world in which one finds oneself [85]

          2.7 Clifford's Normative Epistemology: Responsibility

How and what one comes to believe, Clifford argues, involves not only an important obligation to oneself, but entails a responsibility to the rest of society. This manifests itself in two ways. First, although some beliefs are not actively demonstrated, perhaps because of their insignificance, others because of their expression would be in some way inimical, threaten­ing or embarrassing to both the believer and society. However, Clifford does not accept the view that some beliefs, such as religious beliefs, are thus epistemically entitled. The reason he gives is that to hold such beliefs, no matter how trivial, disposes the mind to accept others like it and leads to a reckless self-perpetuating attitude toward truth itself.[86] Vulnerability to bad arguments in one domain, for example, may open the door to being manipulated in another domain.

No real belief, however trifling and fragmentary it may seem, is never truly insignificant; it prepares us to receive more of its like, confirms those which resembled it before, and weakens others; and so gradually it lays a stealthy train in our inmost thoughts, which may someday explode into overt action, and leave its stamp on our character for ever. Every time we allow ourselves to believe for unworthy reasons, we weaken our powers of self-control, of doubting, of judicially and fairly weighing evidence. But a greater and wider evil arises when the credulous character is maintained and supported, when a habit of believing for unworthy reasons is fostered and made permanent.[87]

The claim made here is that to deplore the communication of false beliefs is to assume that it is imprudent and immoral to believe what is not true. Generally speaking, this is a reasonable prima facie assumption, but, it could be argued, is not universally correct. There are some things, such as the precise date of our death, of which we would rather not know the truth. The general principle that true belief is beneficial rests to a large extent on the dual notions that truth has intrinsic value and the fact that most of what we do is not done for its own sake but as a means to some further desired or chosen end. Second, Clifford argues that not only are the actions I am led to by false or unreasonable beliefs harmful to others, so is the possession and dissemination of false or unreasonable beliefs by them. For teachers, this dictum has important implications.

If I let myself believe anything on insufficient evidence, there may be no great harm done by the mere belief; it may be true after all, or I may never have occasion to exhibit it in outward acts. But I cannot help doing great wrong towards humankind, that I make myself credulous and lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them. The harm which is done by credulity in a person is not confined to the fostering of a credulous character in others, and consequent support of false beliefs. Habitual want of care about what I believe leads to habitual want of care in others about the truth of what is told to me. People speak the truth to one another when each reveres the truth in his own mind and in the other's mind, but how shall my friend revere the truth in my mind when I myself am careless about it, when I believe things because I want to believe them, and because they are comforting and pleasant? [88]

Hence, one of the prices one pays for credulity, faulty reasoning and unwarranted beliefs is the familiar problem of the slippery slope. How do we prevent the occasional acceptance of a belief on unsubstantial or flimsy evidence from influencing our habits of thought more generally? Thinking straight about the world is a valuable, yet difficult, process that must be rigorously cultivated and fostered. By attempting to turn our rational faculties and critical intelligence on and off at will, we risk losing it altogether, and this impairs or endangers our ability to see the world clearly and truthfully. Moreover, by failing to fully develop our critical faculties, particularly the will to doubt, we become vulnerable to the arguments and exhortations of those with other than honourable intentions. And as Stephen Jay Gould has noted, "When people learn no tools of judgement and merely follow their hopes, the seeds of political manipulation are sown."[89] 

          2.8 Clifford's Normative Epistemology: Authority

Clifford's concern for the ethics of belief contains two moral elements: the first is expressed in the language of ethical obligation (one ought not to believe on insufficient evidence); the second is expressed in the language of intellectual or epistemic virtues and vices (reverence for the truth, persistent care regarding one's believing and avoiding credulity). I will discuss these two elements later, but it should be stated that the proper examination of these two normative components of belief would involve a thorough philosophical analysis of the relevant epistemic and moral concepts which far exceeds the scope of this thesis (I will, however, later discuss at some length the notions of truth and objectivity). Clifford ventures some distance into these areas in the latter half of his essay, pointing out the fallibility and limits of inductive inference, the necessity for "the assumption of uniformity in nature", and the fact that, in dealing with our everyday needs and circumstances, we find that we must act on inconclusive evidence and probabilities. In order to avoid slipping into an undesirable state of universal skepticism, he states there are many cases in which it is our duty to act upon probabilities, although the evidence is not such as to justify present belief; because it is precisely by such action and by observation of its fruits, that evidence is got which may justify future belief. We therefore have no reason to fear lest a habit of conscientious inquiry should paralyse the actions of our daily life.[90]

Clifford admits that the majority of what we believe and claim to know results from the acceptance of testimony and appeal to authorities. But why is it rational ever to accept anything another person tells you? He states that our acceptance of authority is contingent upon three factors, his veracity, his knowledge and his judgement.

In what cases, then let us ask in the first place, is the testimony of a man unworthy of belief? He may say that which is untrue either knowingly or unknowingly. In the first case he is lying, and his moral character is to blame; in the second case he is ignorant or mistaken, and it is only his knowledge or his judgement that is in fault. In order that we may have the right to accept his testimony as grounds for believing what he says, we must have reasonable grounds for trusting his veracity, that he is really trying to speak the truth so far as he knows it; his knowledge, that he has had opportunities of knowing the truth about this matter; and his judgement, that he has made proper use of the opportunities in coming to the conclusion which he affirms.[91]

 In other words, most of the time we cannot directly examine the evidence for a belief and we must accede to the testimony of an authority or so-called "expert" (e.g., my belief that there is a country called Japan where I have never been). This second order inquiry, which is parasitic upon other people's inquiries, is how most of our knowledge is acquired. But this does not mean that we abdicate our epistemic autonomy and intellectual responsibility. The deference to expert opinion requires rational judgement and critical thought. Hence, in evaluating the testimony of another, Clifford insists that we ask three questions: (1) Is he moral? (i.e., does he usually tell the truth?), (2) Is he a reliable source? (3) Did he arrive at the conclusions using the acceptable methods of inquiry? One might be reluctant to judge as intellectually virtuous a teacher, for example, who is epistemically responsible in professional matters but is dogmatic or credulous in private life.

Moreover, a person's testimony gains in credibility insofar as that person has nothing substantial to gain by being believed, and perhaps even something to lose. It should be pointed out, however, that it is fallacious to assume that an assertion should be dismissed as false, or an argument discredited as unsound, simply because it is uttered or presented by, an interested party. But that a statement is uttered or an argument presented "by someone who is in a position to know, and has no motive for trying to deceive us, is for us, who are not in a position to know, better evidence for believing that it is true than the same assertion" [or argument] "made by someone in an equally good position to know, but with opposite interests."[92] The arguments of many postmodernist philosophers, neo-pragmatists and proponents of the sociology of knowledge are fallacious (and self-refuting) in this way. They argue that there cannot be any objective standards of rationality because all truth is distorted and rendered relative by vested interests, gender, ideological or cultural frameworks, and the desire for power and domination, etc. (I will be dealing with these arguments later in this thesis.) However, they do make one good point: one who is "in authority" is not necessarily "an authority". "One of the most important and difficult steps in learning who can be trusted is realizing that authority cannot create truth."[93] Students must learn to judge what and who are worthy and reliable sources of knowledge. We should value testimony only from those persons who have demonstrated reliability, intellectual honesty, critical inquiry, a cool and judicious skepticism, and who encourage others to question their claims.

          2.9 Primitive Credulity and Suspension of Judgement                  

To learn to distinguish the plausible from the implausible is to develop one part of wisdom; it leads as well as anything can toward true belief. David Hume developed principles of rational criticism and laid down important standards for separating wisdom from credulity, which he referred to as the "love of wonder and surprise" and "...the strong propensity of mankind to the extraordinary and marvellous."[94] H. H. Price, echoing C. S. Peirce, states "the natural tendency of the human mind is to believe any idea which comes before it, unless and until that idea is contradicted directly and obviously by sense experience."[95] This tendency he calls "primitive credulity." In order to counter this "natural tendency" and hold it in check, Price states that: 

The power of suspending judgement, of asking questions and weighing evidence, the power on which reasonable assent depends, is not something we possess from the beginning. It is an achievement, which has to be learned, often painfully. To put it in another way: the attitude of "being objective" about a proposition which comes before one's mind and assenting to it only with the degree of confidence which is warranted by the evidence, and of suspending judgement unless and until these conditions are fulfilled - this attitude is something which "goes against the grain" of our natural tendencies. We have to acquire this attitude of being "objective" and impartial, much as we have to acquire the power of controlling our instinctive desires.[96]  

The "suspension of judgement" is an option that Clifford does not seem to consider. He feels that we must find the threshold between belief and disbelief and decide one way or the other. Insofar as a person's ends are epistemic, one really has only three options - believing, disbelieving or suspension of belief. Disbelief is believing a sentence false, i.e., it is a case of belief. To believe a sentence false is to believe the negation of the sentence. For example, to disbelieve in clairvoyance is to believe that clairvoyance is false. Suspension of judgement could be construed as unbelief or non-belief, i.e., neither believing a sentence nor believing it false.[97] Although one could perhaps argue for degrees of truth, it sounds odd to make a statement such as "I believe that P is fairly true", but reasonable to say "I believe that Q is probably true." Consequently, when there exists some doubt or if the supporting evidence for what we are asserting is inconclusive, it surely makes sense to say "I am inclined to believe Q." It should be noted that a person must be as responsible in her disbelief as in her claim to believe or to know and often suspension of judgement, pending further evidence, is the most responsible alternative.



[48] The writings of the Renaissance humanists displayed an easy going open-mindedness and skeptical tolerance that were distinctive features of this new lay culture. Their ways of thinking were not subject to the demands of ecclesiastical duty and they regarded human affairs in a clear-headed, non-judgemental light. This led to honest practical doubt about the value of "theory" for human experience - whether in theology, natural philosophy, metaphysics, or ethics. In spirit, their critique was not hostile to the practice of religion, just so long as this was informed by a proper feeling for the limits of the practical and intellectual powers of human beings. These sixteenth century followers of classical skepticism never claimed to refute rival philosophical positions. Such views do not lend themselves either to proof or to refutation. Rather, what they had to offer was a new way of understanding human life and motives. Like Socrates, and Wittgenstein in our own time, they tried to show people how to avoid dogmatism and recognize how philosophical theories often overreach the limits of human rationality.

    [49] Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, pp. 5-10, 19-36.

    [50] Bacon, p. 41.

    [51] John Passmore (1968), p. 95.

    [52] H. H. Price (1969), p. 131. This normative rule was also endorsed by Hume (1748), for example, who states that "a wise man proportions his beliefs to the evidence." (Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding, Sec X, Part 1, p. 110.)

    [53] H. H. Price (1969), pp. 133, 155-56. Similar views were held by Bertrand Russell (1966) who states: "The true precept of veracity which includes both the pursuit of truth and the avoidance of error is this: We ought to give every proposition which we consider as nearly as possible that degree of credence which is warranted by the probability it acquires from the evidence known to us" (p. 86). And W. V. Quine (1978) writes: "Insofar as we are rational in our beliefs, the intensity of belief will tend to correspond to the firmness of the available evidence. Insofar as we are rational, we will drop a belief when we have tried in vain to find evidence for it" (p. 16).

    [54] Karl Popper (1963), Chapter I.

    [55] quoted in R. Chisholm (1966),  p. 225.

    [56] C. S. Peirce (1877), in P.P. Wie­ner, ed., p. 111.

    [57] A. J. Ayer (1956), p. 31.

    [58] Ayer, p. 22.

    [59] Ayer, p. 17.

    [60] C.I. Lewis (1969), p. 163.

    [61] C.I. Lewis (1955), p. 27.

    [62] Lewis (1955), pp. 88-89.

    [63] Roderick Chisholm (1966), p. 227.

    [64] R. Chisholm (1969), p. 4.

    [65] R. Chisholm (1980) "A Version of Foundationalism" in Midwest Studies in Philosophy V

    [66] Hilary Kornblith (1983) has stated that "questions of justification are...questions about the ethics of belief." (p. 34)

    [67] Lorraine Code (1987), p. 53.

    [68] Code (1987), p. 20.

    [69] Clifford contracted tuberculosis but eventually lost the battle with the disease and died on March 8, 1879.

    [70] W. K. Clifford (1877). Lectures and Essays, Vol. 2, 3rd Edi­tion (1901), p. 174.

    [71] Clifford, p. 175.

    [72] Clifford, p. 164.

    [73] Clifford, p. 164.

    [74] Clifford, pp. 164-65.

    [75] Clifford, p. 168.

    [76] Lorraine Code (1987), p. 17. Code's account of Phillip Gosse relies heavily on the book authored by his son, Edmund Gosse, Father and Son (Harmondsworth, Middlessex: Penguin, 1970).

    [77] Code (1987), p. 23.

    [78] Many of these attempts, such as the Anthropic Principle, are reformulations and revisions of the old Cosmological and Design Arguments for the existence of God, arguments dispensed with by Hume over 200 years ago in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. The Anthropic Principle states that the Universe is the way it is because we exist; that is, an attempt to invoke the presence of humans as an explanation of the way the universe is. It has obviously not occurred to the proponents of this theory that we exist because the Universe is the way it is. The Anthropic Principle really explains nothing, and in the end it reduces to some of our species’ oldest intellectual pathologies: egocentrism and the quest for certainty. Scientists such as Paul Davies (1992) who write books about the Universe and God (The Mind of God) would be better off writing more scientifically and less metaphorically and poetically. Davies is a scientist with strong spiritualist and metaphysical leanings who insists that the Universe must have some intrinsic meaning or sense; that is, sense and meaning that is congruent with his notion about sense and meaning. Now, I do not know what the Universe has in mind, but it is highly unlikely that, whatever it does have in its mind, it is not at all like what Davies or anyone else on our insignificant planet has in his mind. And, considering what most people have in their minds, which generally lacks any depth of understanding or profundity, it is just as well. For the theistically inclined, the journey into the world revealed by physics ends with God; for a materialist, the symmetry and order revealed at the heart of existence would only be marred by the addition of an extraneous deity. Both are mistaken. Physics is not a device for discovering a primal simplicity, and the complexity of life is not a veil to brush aside in gaining a vision of True Reality.             

    [79] Robert Nozick (1993), pp. 101-102.

    [80] C.D. Batson (1975), p. 179.

    [81] Bertrand Russell (1962b), p. 11.

    [82] William James (1897) "The Will to Believe." in Pragmatism and Other Essays, 1963, p. 200.

    [83] But one must be careful about inferences such as: "I ought to believe in X, therefore X is the case."

    [84] William James (1897), p. 209.

    [85] Eamon Callan (1984), p. 71.

    [86] This point will be reinforced later when I discuss the dispositional requirements for skepticism, critical thinking and belief.

    [87] Clifford, pp. 169, 173.

    [88] Clifford, pp. 173-74.

    [89] Stephen J. Gould (1987), p. 245.

    [90] Clifford, pp. 177-78.

    [91] Clifford, p. 178.

    [92] Antony Flew (1975), Thinking About Thinking, p. 62.

    [93] Lorraine Code (1987), p. 248.

    [94] David Hume (1748), Enquiries, sec. X, part 1, pp. 117-118.

    [95] Price, p. 213.

    [96] Price, p. 214.

    [97] Quine & Ulliam (1978), p. 12-13.

[4] In a recent edition of Free Inquiry, Gregory S. Paul wrote how the moral relativism of American Christianity has been exposed under the presidency of moral degenerate anti-science sociopathic clown Donald Trump. Trump revealed his gross ignorance and depravity by ignoring the warnings of heath care scientists regarding the serious threats from the spreading covid-19 pandemic. The United States, deemed the wealthiest country on earth (notwithstanding the most economically unequal) has 4% of the world’s population but between 25% and 30% of confirmed cases and over 20% of deaths. With almost a half million deaths as of February 2021, this amounts to not only gross negligence, but an impeachable and indictable criminal offence.

Gregory Paul wrote:

“For all the damage Donald Trump has done, he achieved something no one else has. He exposed for all time what many strongly suspected but had limited evidence of—the deep, cynical depravity of theism, especially of the right-wing flavor.

For millennia, theists have claimed (without verification) that worshipping a righteous deity is necessary to give humans the steady, principled morals and decency they need to run sound, virtuous societies. Never mind that the sociological research I and others have conducted shows that the most atheistic democracies enjoy the best socioeconomic conditions in history, while the exceptionally theistic United States suffers exceptional levels of dysfunction.


But Trump has done the most to prove to what degree the great majority of conservatives lack moral principles. A sociopathic performance artist of deep cynicism who sees those on the Right as his willing and equally cynical marks, Trump himself noted the lack of basic ethics in his base in early 2016 when he boasted that he could openly shoot people and his followers would be okay with it. Trump has been pretty much everything those of self-proclaimed traditional virtue pretend to oppose: rude, vulgar, profane, hyper-arrogant, a constant liar, sexually promiscuous, a chronic adulterer, a serial wife-dumper, and effectively irreligious—he almost never attends church and does not seek the forgiveness of God. (He may be a prosperity gospel Christian after the model of Norman Vincent Peale, who conducted Trump’s first wedding.) By all the criteria that conservatives have demanded be applied to politicians of the center-left lest the nation sink into deep depravity, Trump should have been excluded from high office with prejudice.

Instead, Theo-cons loved (or at least tolerated) Trump because he pushed a conservative vision of religious liberty at the expense of everyone who’s not Christian. At the same time, he championed the gun industry, banned abortion, and promoted fossil fuels and the free-wheeling capitalist way in general. It is vital to understand that in doing so, the Right is not out of line with biblical Christianity or with the presumed nature of a creator of the planet. The god of scripture (including Jesus) is a thuggish dictator who is fine with the conquest, slaughter, and enslavement of humans en masse (including kids, even when they are not specifically guilty of a serious offense), favors an armed citizenry (the entourage of Jesus enters Jerusalem bearing swords), and sociopolitical violence (Jesus fashions a whip and commits a hate-crime assault at a religious site). And, oh yes, he accepts the Old Testament principle that women are property. As for our planet they say he created, it is so loaded with diseases that it has killed off tens of billions of children.

By being such a convenient boost for the power of the Right, loutish Trump gave an enormous chunk of Theo-conservative Americana an excuse to show how low its moral standards truly are. Theo-cons do not want virtue, morality, or majority rule in the context of liberal democracy; they crave sheer power.

Never again can those on the religious Right who backed The Donald claim to be moral. It is the gift to secularism that will never stop giving. Be ready to use it whenever it is of use, for decades to come. The next time a Theo-con starts to promote his or her “moral,” “family values” agenda in your presence, ask if he or she voted for Trump. If the answer is yes, then feel entirely free to explain that he or she has no moral standing to claim to be ethical about anything. By going with Trump, conservatives—including religious ones—leave no doubt that they are unhinged moral relativists and compromisers of the highest order, and their protests against profanity, divorce, adultery, alternative sexuality, or whatever anyone else does that they do not like possesses not the slightest authority. Ask, “How can you favor family values when Trump ripped desperate families apart on the border?” If he or she prattles on about how the wise Lord works through flawed humans such as King David or Cyrus, reply it just shows that his or her idiot creator is a base moral relativist—throw in the crimes of the biblical God and how half the kids on his planet have died for good measure.

Hit those who claim to be “prolife” with how Trump literally committed premeditated homicide by holding rallies he knew were COVID-19 super-spreader events certain to kill attendees and others in their various orbits. The murderous psychopath did what he said he could: kill fellow Americans and get away with it. Use this for when most “pro-life” Trump fans wave away the pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands.

Tell Trump Theo-cons how their amorality has forever proven they do not possess basic common decency in their search for boons from their defective deity, and there is nothing they can say to change that. They blew it.”

[5] In 2005, Stephen Colbert introduced the term “truthiness” which has been defined as being persuaded by whether something feels true or what someone wants to be true, even if it is not necessarily backed up by the facts, evidence or argument. Distorting reality to correspond with or justify one’s opinions, beliefs and desires is a long standing ruse by politicians, bullshitting advertisers and marketers and the religious racketeers for centuries. Undermining or rejecting the notion that some things are true irrespective of what we think or feel about them is nothing new. Consider the response of George W. Bush’s childish reliance on his intuition or “gut” and ultimately God informing him that he must invade Iraq, referring it to a “crusade”.  Then there was Dubya’s nomination of Harriet Miers (White House Staff Secretary from 2001 to 2003 and White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy from 2003 until 2005) for the US Supreme Court and ignoring the fact that there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When the term “truthiness” was introduced by Colbert, it was treated by him and most informed thinking people as a big joke. No one is laughing about it any longer.

As presented in current debate, the word “post-truth” is irreducibly within the realm of ethics, an expression of concern by those who care about the concept of truth and feel that it is under attack. We would do well to heed the advice of John Maynard Keynes who once said, “When the facts change, I change my mind; what do you do?” Paying attention to truth and valuing only beliefs that are consistent with truth, facts and evidence is an ethical issue as much as it is epistemic integrity.

Permit me to cite a story about truth and its submission to power from 1986 that involved one of my intellectual heroes, the late brilliant physicist and engaging eccentric personality Richard Feynman. On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger split apart just over a minute following take off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, killing the entire crew. The science that had been used to create the shuttle had been rigorous and this was not its first mission. After the disaster, President Reagan appointed a special commission of prominent scientists and astronauts to look into what had gone wrong. While the engineering was sound, upon investigation it was learned that there had been preexisting concerns about the ability of the rubber O-rings on the shuttle to withstand cold temperatures, which would cause them to buckle. The shuttle was not recommended for launch in subfreezing temperatures. January 28 was an unusually cold day in Florida. So why had the shuttle been scheduled for launch? It was an administrative decision, made over the objection of some NASA engineers.

The problem with the O-rings was dramatically illustrated by Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, a key member of the commission, who submerged one of the O-rings in a pitcher of ice water that was sitting on the table at one of the public hearings. The facts were the facts. No amount of spin, lies, bullshit, or happy talk could contradict them. After the shuttle crashed, no one much cared about the instinct or intuition of the NASA officials who had thought they could control reality. Soon after, Feynman released a statement that included the following phrase: “for a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

The cautionary tale underlying this story - and this is the primary threat of both political or economic power that find it profitable to undermine truth – or superstitions like religion that are today’s biggest business rackets - that it can be lethal to subdue the truth and ignore reality.


In this context, one ought to heed Upton Sinclair’s famous quote: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”


And keep in mind the truism about all wars war: “the first casualty is the truth”.




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