Friday, September 18, 2020

On Medium: Who Deserves to be Happy?

This article is about the paradoxes found when we reflect not on how to be happy but on the prior questions of whether anyone deserves to be happy, and if so, whom.


  1. I can agree that (generally) those who are most deserving of happiness are almost certainly unhappy. Even if a saint, as in your example, stumbles upon a fortune through no effort of her own, she'd probably give it away to the poor. In any case, no matter how lucky the saint might personally be, her compassion for the less fortunate would ruin whatever happiness she might achieve in spite of her crippling moral code.

    Where I differ with you is at the end of your essay I'd like to play Devil's Advocate here & address each of those points in turn.

    First of all I think that the very consistency with which virtue is punished in this world while vice is rewarded tends to undermine either atheism or the concept of human justice. If the universe came about by accident & is amoral then I wouldn't expect evil people to be any happier than good people. If evil people consistently prosper then either civilization is designed to reward their behavior or it isn't. If it isn't then that would mean something greater than human justice is watching over & enabling them.

    You say that justice & morality are human creations, but I ask why should natural creatures which evolved within an amoral universe come up with a supernatural moral code. If the universe isn't just, then why do humans almost universally expect it to be? Evolutionary psychology does a reasonably good job of explaining conventional quid pro quo morality, but fails to address asceticism. Doesn't the very existence of ascetic morality undermine naturalism?

    You say there’s no deus ex machina or uplifting universal purpose served by being or by life’s evolution. But if evil is rewarded with happiness while good is punished doesn't that indicate just the opposite? Rewards & punishments serve a purpose after all: behavior modification. If nature (not human civilization, but nature) rewards certain behaviors while punishing others, doesn't that imply purpose? Maybe good people are so miserable because God is displeased & wants them to be evil. Or maybe God is testing them, to ascertain if they really love virtue for its own sake & aren't just practicing it out of prudence.

    You say that death proves that we are things after all, rather than immaterial spirits who deserve eternal life. I would counter that death only proves that our bodies are things, which would tend to uphold the spirit/body dichotomy rather than undermine it.

    1. The appeal to an evil or trickster God is likely to be more farfetched than a natural explanation of the world’s real treatment of “nice guys.” So the question is whether the paradoxes I raise can be naturally explained.

      We can start with a roughly Nietzschean explanation. Morality evolves as a coping mechanism for the poor and downtrodden to feel better about their actual lowly station. Those who succeed the most do so on amoral grounds and they’re naturally corrupted by their power and authority, so life for the rest is relatively unpleasant. That social arrangement is tolerable in the wild, because animals lack the imagination to conceive of alternatives or the means of bringing them about. For our species, the dominance hierarchy is intolerable because we can think outside the box. But instead of creating a fair and just society that rewards rather than punishes conscientious folks, we devise ideologies to cope with the natural unfairness by rationalizing it. The Christian defense is that saints are only temporarily punished since God will later reward them. Or we say morality is its own reward.

      So in reality, conscientious people are punished because their benevolence is exploited as a weakness by pitiless sociopaths who naturally acquire positions of dominance (because they’re charismatic risk-takers and aren’t held back by empathy or a conscience). Amorality is rewarded because the dominance hierarchy stabilizes social relations to prevent chaos (the “Iron Law of Oligarchy”). These are the yin and yang, the counterbalancing poles that enable social creatures to survive: the free-riders need the gullible, peaceful mob, because the former would rather not try living on their own or in prison, but the saints and do-gooders need the amoral leaders or at least a plausible excuse for their inevitable rise to power. Thus, instead of thinking of the leaders as alpha males (savage beasts,) we deify them in both religious and secular contexts. These become heroes (kings or CEOs) who earn God’s favour or their wealth because of their genius and so forth.

      Thus, the role of morality in the real world isn’t so mysterious to me.

    2. I don’t say morality is “supernatural” in the metaphysical sense. I say or at least mean to say that morality is unnatural and thus anomalous and virtually supernatural or miraculous. But by “morality” here I’m not talking so much about slave morality (the feminine code of conduct that acts as a counterweight against the cult of the hypermasculine dominators). Rather, I’m talking about the application of any imagined ideal or idea of how things should be, to the world of actual facts, the latter being typically flawed if only because of its existential absurdity, godlessness, mindless indifference, and so on.

      I’ve written a lot on asceticism and social outsiders. I doubt the view from nowhere refutes naturalism, but the existential perspective is deeper than a strictly scientific view of the empirical facts. Philosophy and an enlightened value system refute not science but scientism. Philosophy goes deeper than science in some ways, just as the outsider perspective is deeper than the conventional, mainstream one. Asceticism arises because of disenchantment with societal rationalizations, and because of a mind-blowing vision of our existential situation. This is a kind of religious experience that sets the enlightened individual against society; thus, it’s the social myths that conflict with asceticism and with the view from nowhere (philosophical detachment and objectivity).

      I don’t trust in any deus ex machina, although it’s fun to speculate about posthumanity; if there’s any deus ex machina, that’s where it will come from: the end point of human progress. I wouldn’t say exactly that there’s an objective purpose or goal of human evolution, but I have speculated that the aesthetic stance picks out objective values or standards that go automatically with objective knowledge (since they’re both products of personal detachment).

      You’re suggesting these paradoxes might indicate we’re in the worst of all possible worlds or at least that the theist can explain away these paradoxes. The theist can explain away any contrary data, because theism is explanatorily empty. The question is whether one scenario is more likely than the other. A more respectable deity might indeed test people to see whether they’re truly enlightened; in that case, moral folks might be punished. But such a deity would surely go further and reward atheists ahead of theists, since only the atheists wouldn’t have betrayed their intellectual integrity. In that case, the deity sets up a world that lacks sufficient evidence to rationally believe there’s a God. But this is conspiratorial thinking, which takes the lack of evidence to be positive evidence. It’s just dubious. There may be such a trickster deity in the end, but in the meantime we’re justified in being atheists, because that’s what’s entailed by the available evidence. The rest is baseless speculation.

  2. Humans don't invent morality. Morality are the reasons for behaviors. Of course, humans invented the term, conceptualize, analyse it. But all living beings have behavior-codes fundamentally based on their adaptative paths. The fundamental criterium for all behaviors they practice is what is imprescindible for them to survive. They have no choice. Humans evolved at the point to be capable to evaluate, compare and choice actions they judge ideal for the moment or situation. Morality is everything which is imprescindible to be practice or tolerated based on perceptual/existential levels of living beings. Humans are such complicated and thus fascinated creatures because we surpass the limits of food chain and can, variably speaking, evaluate behaviors per si and not only as extra-utilitarian value. That's why sex can be easily viewed as separate from procreation as valuable by most of us even among some of the most religious. We don't need to do things always as a means to the another ends but as an ends in themselves. By this human meta-adaptative perspective, the ideal is the conjugation of both of food chain utilitarism view and existentialism view. But, conservatism fall too much on the first while current progressivism fall too much on the late.

    1. Well, I'm having this same discussion with another reader on Medium, where I talk about what I mean by the creativity of morality and of culture more generally. It has to do with the existential revolt against the wilderness for the latter's absurdity, amorality, and general godlessness. We create anti-natural worlds to improve on the given state of affairs, and we do by imagining ideals and the technological means of achieving them.

      I explain this further in lots of articles but also, more recently here:

      By the way, I don't think "imprescindible" is the word you're looking for. It's not really a word, although "prescind" is, with a fairly narrow meaning.

    2. Revolt to me has an image of something abrupt and destruction-prone. Humans evolved to be capable to access existential perspective of reality, the intimacy of their own reality. Not just have an access. We feel it all the time. I already wrote a comment here explaining my view about it. But civilization don't seems as a result of "revolt against genuine philosophical enlightenment" per si if it was what you mean, but by increasing of human communities size and or conglomeration of them thanks for improvement of techniques on civil engineering, architecture and agriculture. The social verticalization is another result of it. When first and among the brightest humans decided to analyse intellectually their already much less self centered/humanlike perspective, religion was created or emerged as the best answers.  Religion is the first childhood of human knowledge/intelligence. But why it emerged by human need to explain existential perspective? Religion is the preservation of ancient or instinctive impetus of self centedness to feel and interpret/perceive reality that is compulsory for all nonhuman living beings. They felt they are not in the center of universe but interpreted it as such because fear, confusion, feeling of inferiority and or just  because they saw anthropocentric explanations (even among animistic religions) the best they could have. 

      Again, you would be better in your counterargumentation about what i said/wrote developing your reasoning. 

      Now, who is really analysing only by semantics seems be you.
      Nonhuman morality is inevitably what is imprescindible. They have no choice as we teorically have. They are forced by circumstances and they don't have our luxury to select facts they want to believe. It's all about surviving in real time based on what they can understand of reality.For nonhumans, every piece of factual information is valuable. Humans can choice, at priori or limitedly what they want to believe.  This factor reduce significantly our ideal commitment with morality. Result: 400 consecutive years of Black slavery in Américas by the most silly arguments or reasons ever (from "god say Blacks are inferior and enslavable" to "in that time it wasn't viewed as wrong"). A parasitical wasp can't choice between parasitize or not. We can and see another and better alternatives than enslave "losers". Cruelty it's not imprescindible to survive. Inteligence does. Nonhuman living beings utilize all available factual information they can, they are in their ceilling of possible  knowledge or "wisdom". We are, weirdly, not. 

    3. Your main argumentation about morality seems to be

      "Nonhuman animals committed cruelty one each other... so cruelty is more natural than avoid it because human being are existentially desperated cattle who invented 'inatural' logic to deal with it."

      Look an animalistic fallacy, buddy 

      First of all,do you know non human living beings also have genuine affection one each other and that it's not all species who are absolute predators isn't?? 

      Well. Food chain perspective is not the whole or the absolute perspective of reality. The ceiling of species perception-reach define what is the most natural or adaptably coerent for them. For us it's not devolve to the instinctive level... sorry. I understand you are not advocating for it but it's not just sound-wrong define as absolutely natural based on food chain/labyrinth logic but also you are giving arguments to people you don't want to succeed. 

      Again, most people who defend for social justice regardless how tamed they are, reach the real existential perspective where we are essentially the same, where we perceive ourselves not by race, religion or social class but by the most universal of all identities: humans and lives. If we go die anyway, if there is just one life to live (both existential or absolute truths) why we need compete, kill and oppress one another?

      Humans are not just like (sad comparison but useful and efficient too) domesticated nonhuman species which have their instinctive capabilities docilized but also only species which can know and internalize the absurdity of life and the existence itself and start to interpret the reality and approachings based on it. 

    4. ''Is chimpanzee society unnatural? As I said, these things come in degrees. The divide is between the absurd, amoral, godless wilderness, and an existential revolt against that order by intelligent, imaginative creatures that rebel by creating a new world, namely one that achieves cultural ideals by largely technological means. Obviously, we do that far more than do chimpanzees, but perhaps some such recognition is implicit in chimpanzee (or elephant, dolphin, octopus, raven, or ant) behaviour. I see no reason to deny the possibility of a continuum here. I’m interested in the distinction between animals and persons in the existential sense; the more species of people (of visionary rebels against the wilderness), the better.''


      More instinctive the behavior = more "natural" 

       Your definition of naturalness doesn't fit with "my" own. 

      Natural = everything that belongs or is derived to nature

      Indeed, metaphysical fantasy is innatural but the care/with/the of other one is natural. It's at priori just part of a range of possible behaviors justified from the most simplistic instinctive mechanisms to the human intelectual virtuosity.  

      But even if god is a human fantasy or product of human imagination, the self centeredness of all living creatures are primarily logical with the "epicenter logic" that what a perspective perceives always starts by itself and in the most of life perspectives, nonhuman ones, it's also finishes on itself. 

    5. Unfortunately, from what I call tell, many of your summaries and criticisms bear little relation to anything I’ve written. In particular, I distinguish between the domesticated, unenlightened masses with weak interior lives, and the more introspective minority who have developed an existential perspective. The latter are more anomalous, self-directed, authentic, and thus personal than the former, although even the former aren’t just animals in the biological or psychological sense.

      I’ve argued against the eliminativist, Scott Bakker, for example, in defense of the personhood of all biological humans. I’m talking about an elevated, “spiritual” or existential sense of personhood, which doesn’t apply to every human. Moreover, I’ve written at great length about how humans “know and internalize the absurdity of life and the existence itself and start to interpret the reality and approachings based on it,” as you put it. This is called “existentialism,” and I have a whole section on it in the Map of the Articles on my blog.

      No, I don’t think religion developed originally as an existential revolt against the wilderness. Religion developed from folklore, animism, and altered states of consciousness which bridge our animalistic prehistory and behavioural modernity. Organized religions arose with civilization, and it’s Neolithic civilization that marks the beginning of the major revolt or rebellion against nature. Hunter-gatherer, nomadic life is more animalistic, in the sense that Paleolithic people were more at home in the wilderness, whereas sedentary societies build up literal walls to block out the parts of the world that aren’t fully under our technological control.

      I’m aware there’s cooperation in the wild and that Darwin exaggerated the extent of competition between animals, projecting the conditions of the Industrial Revolution. Still, the horrors and wonder of the wilderness are manifold. We escape from nature not just because everything natural terrifies us, as though we were perfectly helpless. We are relatively helpless as far as our bodies are concerned (compared to the strength of predatorial animals), but our brains obviously gave us an advantage and enabled us to survive for hundreds of thousands of years as people prior to the breakthrough of agriculture. Our revolt against nature is based also on promethean hubris, on the religious dream that we can transcend nature by associating ourselves with gods we can control by magic (by prayer, divination, and animal sacrifice). It’s not just that we were disgusted by everything we saw in untamed nature; it’s that we imagined an alternative, ideal, human-centered world, and we set out to build it.

      I must say I’m only getting the gist of many of these comments of yours, because of the language barrier. But from what I understand, we don’t actually disagree too much on the difference between animals and people or about the nature of morality. I’ve written an article that will be coming out soon, on the existential basis of morality. In that article I criticize the standard religious and secular philosophical justifications of morality, pointing to the need for an existential approach.