Sunday, June 23, 2013

Neoreactionary Metaethics - MacIntyre, Aristotle and Federalism

(Most of this discussion is found in MacIntyre's After Virtue)

After discussing a very general worldview of empiricism and tradition in my last post, I have decided to discuss a slightly more specific topic in philosophy. And how it relates to the Dark Enlightenment is rather important. The extent to which emotivism pervades modern culture is rather striking and also rather unknown to most (even the most politically aware, though they may have an intuitive awareness of emotivism). Emotivism can most effectively be thought of as the boohoo/hoorah form of ethics. It consists in moral judgments that are based on how something strikes ones fancy. It's almost an unconscious form of moral judgment (thus a very irrational form of judgment), and its presence is seen everywhere. From the most benign topics of judgment -what shall we eat for breakfast; I like the feeling that McDonald's gives me, therefore, I judge to eat McDonalds - to the most important of moral judgments. Politics. The agenda of the Progressive, which is intrinsically tied to the Enlightenment project of ethics, finds its foundation in this type of ethical system (though you could argue it is combined with a type of Nietzschean perspectivism and/or Bentham's ultilitarianism, which I would easily concede - these will be briefly discussed later under the guise of subjective moral systems).



The severance from Aristotelian teleological accounts of ethics has its genesis in the time period where most topics were removed from purpose driven explanations, namely, the Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinkers were encouraged by the success of a mechanical physics, which was in opposition to Aristotle's teleological physics. And by most accounts, this was the proper route to take. But with the success in physics, as philosophers with physics fetishes are want to do, such a framework was applied to ethics as well. And thus, ethics was severed from its telos, meaning that what is right and wrong was no longer related to particular context, history, or the culture. Morality became a study of subjective universal moral principles. Relativism, utilitarianism, and emotivism subscribe moral agency to individuals, thus making them case-by-case bases of subjective morality. But each system is universal in that it is to apply to everyone, regardless of history, context, etc. And despite this severance, ethical discussions kept the previous vocabulary of teleological ethics (I will refer to telos based ethics as virtue ethics from now on), keeping an appearance of apparent objectivity implicit in the language of virtue ethics. Sadly, the quasi-objectivity that is possible with an ethical system related to a specific culture and context is not even remotely possible with modern subjective notions of morality. Whereas language related to ethical notions was intrinsically connected with particular places and contexts, the schism and attempt at universality removed the actual content of such language. Modern ethics has evolved into empty talk about empty things that literally tells us nothing about what is right and wrong. But hot damn, it sure does make us feel good and give us the same tingly brain feelings that our ancestors felt whenever they were actually building civilization and generally not being shitty people.

How is it that we can hope to re-infuse meaning into our ethical system? How can our morality exist apart from the very institutions and history that created it? Is the progressive use of emotivism as a system of what is right and wrong a salient and effective way of legal and ethical existence? Under emotivism, how could one argue against categories of degeneracy that even progressives hate, such as pedophiles or rapists? Certainly, child molestation is ethically permissible to the molester and rape is permissible to to the rapist, as each moral inquiry is supported by each agent's subjective judgments of right and wrong. This isn't a matter of relativism, but a matter of the implications of subjective moral values. Despite my objections to the attempts to objectify moral values via God's divine command or some other promiscuous endeavor, I do see a need for something better. Whereas in the past, ethics were derived from the traditional, and thus collective empirical experiences of a group or culture, such a return to form is highly necessary. Ethics based on collective experiences arise from actual utilization of moral systems. Namely, what does and what does not work for a certain group. And not only is such a type of ethics able to give meaning back to morality, it is also very possible in the traditional system of federalism. The system of federalism from which the United States has increasingly fled, but upon which it was founded.


Not only is federalism completely and totally compatible with a type of virtue ethics that is focused on telos, but the two are the perfect fit for each other. A cursory example of federalism and particularist values going hand-in-hand is gun control. (Let me offer this caveat before this brief example - I'm from Tennessee. I own guns. My culture is very conducive to gun ownership, and the county in which I live simply does not have murders, and when murders do occur, they involve people who are not a part of our culture.)

In Chicago, African-American gang members can be seen as the principle cause of gun violence. Perhaps, a very rational means of helping to curtail this violence (let's assume gun control works for the sake of example - since the 1990's and the implementation of gun control and despite the hysterical cries of the media, gun deaths have fallen since their zenith in the 90's - if you want statistics do 5 seconds worth of google searches) is gun control. Limiting the amount of guns available to these tribalistic criminals, in terms of empirical study and not matters of principle, has worked. And it may or may not continue to work. Regardless, with federalism, its that city's/state's responsibility to do what is in the best interest of its citizens. But whenever such attempts at applying ethics becomes universal and are attempted at the federal level, the results become hysterical and irrational and are comparable to boohoo/hoorah system of morality (see Sandy Hook and the won't someone think of the children argument). Why would there be a need for gun control in my county, where the levels of gun ownership are astronomical and the levels of gun deaths are zero? How could anyone ever think this is rational idea?

Objectivity exits legislative policy and is replaced with universalism, which is based on good feelings and intentions. A central government utterly lacks the ability to incorporate particular and contextual empiricism to its decisions. A stronger system of federalism fits hand-in-hand with the feedback that comes from implementing legislation on a more local level. Not only would local regions have the ability to tailor their moral codes to that particular region, but so-on for districts and states. Such systems allow a significant amount of voice, especially at the more local levels. And the ultimate method of voting, exit, would be a substantially more powerful form of voting than anything in our current system of so called federalism.

This ignores the other problem of hierarchy, elites, and how does one keep stupid people from electing stupid leaders. But a strong turn toward federalism would be a great start at the very least. Then you could work on say, repealing the 17th Amendment...

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