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Selfishness, morality and murder.

0 votes
In an Anarchist society is morality based upon the individual or upon a group consensus of what is acceptable behaviour and what is not? If morality is to be decided by the individual, if the individual is to define what they consider to be right and wrong or acceptable or unacceptable, what is to stop the moralizing of a kind of survival of the fittest, social Darwinist stance, whereby I could simply kill to get what I need and to hell with the rest.
asked Jul 27, 2013 by Anarcho-Goth (730 points)
Moralism has no place in anarchist practice.

edited to make into a comment
Ok, why not? and what is an alternative?
its kind of like asking whats the alternative to laws, to each i would answer: none
lawrence, i don't understand why you're bothering to answer the question when you do it with such brevity. is your plan to come back later and flesh it out?
there is nothing obvious for most people about what is wrong with morality; it absolutely calls for a more robust explanation (or, you know, *any* explanation).
Fuck, you're right of course. I'll come back later for a more robust fleshing.
Yes, I suppose it is, it's also a question of what would stop me from simply being selfish, would I be stopped by those around me or would other factors be involved? am I just supposed to be idealistic and choose not to be selfish and/or violent?
what stops you from being selfish and violent now?
What I would call my own personal morals, I suppose you could call them personal ethics but that is rather just a matter of semantics. I rather live by the phrase "Treat others as you want to be treated", it sounds cliche, but I tend to think if you do no harm to anybody else, then they have no reason to do you harm, if you do positive things for others, if you help them, then they will respond positively(mutual aid?). This however is merely my own personal belief, my personal morals. Whilst I may reserve the ability to defend myself, from those who may do me harm,  others may not be able to defend themselves or may be unwilling to defend themselves, are we to just leave them?
This is actually not a semantic issue. Ethics are personal and micro; morals are cultural and macro. Virtually every philosopher says the same thing about it. Morals are how you expect others to behave (with or without yourself included). When you invoke the behavior of others as a guide, whether those others are religious leaders, philosophers, public intellectuals, politicians, whoever else might hold themselves up as paragons of virtue, you are using morality. When you begin from yourself and what you know to be right and wrong for your own behavior, that's an ethic. Ethics is not a competition for virtue; morality is. Hope that helps explain things. There's much more at stake than the meaning YOU attach to particular words.

4 Answers

+3 votes
this site is frequented by many anarchists who have been influenced by post-left ideas, or by stirner, or by individualist/egoist anarchists, or all of the above (they're all connected). nietzsche is also influential in this...

to quote jason mcquinn (or - the wiki entry on the post left take on morality)

"Morality is also a target of post-left anarchy just as it was in Stirner and in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche. For McQuinn "Morality is a system of reified values—abstract values which are taken out of any context, set in stone, and converted into unquestionable beliefs to be applied regardless of a person's actual desires, thoughts or goals, and regardless of the situation in which a person finds him- or herself. Moralism is the practice of not only reducing living values to reified morals, but of considering oneself better than others because one has subjected oneself to morality (self-righteousness), and of proselytizing for the adoption of morality as a tool of social change." Living up to morality means sacrificing certain desires and temptations (regardless of the actual situation you might find yourself in) in favor of the rewards of virtue.
So "Rejecting Morality involves constructing a critical theory of one's self and society (always self-critical, provisional and never totalistic) in which a clear goal of ending one's social alienation is never confused with reified partial goals. It involves emphasiz­ing what people have to gain from radical critique and solidarity rather than what people must sacrifice or give up in order to live virtuous lives of politically correct morality."

that said anarcho-goth, your use of the word "morality" is probably not the point, since i expect what you're trying to get at has to do with whether one person's perspective can be as valid as that of a group. (to side step the "morality" issue, you can use the word "ethics", but i'm not sure either is necessary for your question).

and, to get back to the actual question i think you're asking, there is not necessarily anything to prevent someone from making decisions that you and/or i might not like. there is only the idea that the social constructs (or lack of them) don't allow for too much power to get into the hands of any individual or group.
there is no template for a utopia.
answered Jul 28, 2013 by dot (50,520 points)
to expand a bit on my own answer, presumably most people would have ways of defending themselves from aggression, ways that are understood and appropriate to the situations they find themselves in (which are hard to anticipate from where we're at now). so if one group became over the top in what they were demanding from other groups (or within their group), then presumably people would take them down.

but again, the main point for me is that my anarchy is not trying to create a place of fairness and equality for all. it *is* trying to create a place where the problems are human-sized.
I suppose my general thought is that the individual and the group, potentially threatened or oppressed by another group or individual, would be free to defend themselves potentially with violence(they could shoot those who tried to shoot them or steal from them what they needed) however this solution ends up sounding very dependent upon both individual and group strength(you can't defend yourself if your old or weak etc) in which case what happens to the weak group? or the weak individual? surely we cannot simply say "Well we'd look after them because we're nice like that", not every weak individual is going to be part of our family or circle of friends nor necessarily are we going to feel any compulsion to protect them simply because if we don't they may suffer. Though I suppose, as you say, all of this would be a "human-sized" issue, we are not really talking about a situation of genocidal lack of "help" millions are not going to starve if I eat all my own pie and nobody Else's.
i would assume that groups would be made up of weak and strong members, and that we are all weak in some ways and strong in others, ie most of us have something to offer in a conflict.
young people have energy and vigor, old people have experience. etc.
for one anarchist perspective on moralism, i suggest the quick read of the front page piece in apio ludd's most recent edition of "my own" (#9), entitled: "amoral ethics and principles?"
+3 votes
Agree with dot that the issue is decentering abstract social constructs to make most (if not all) interactions human-sized: face to face, intimate, unmediated, direct...

Tribal cultures have workable - but certainly adaptable - models for these unmediated mechanisms of conflict resolution. The definitions of deviance and acceptable would be different depending on the explicit socio-cultural values of whatever community/social unit one happened to be in.

To answer your last question (even though I suspect it's not really a serious one), what stops you is your own sense that killing to get what you need is a rather short-sighted and unnecessarily predatory method for fulfilling your desires. People who value direct relations with each other don't usually kill to get what they think they need. Also, what's to stop anyone (or everyone) in a given community/social unit from killing someone who manifests no desire to engage with and/or adapt to their ideas of cultural cohesion?

As a system that creates rigid and (presumably) unchangeable notions (and sanctions) concerning right/wrong, good/evil, acceptable/prohibited, morality is inherently authoritarian and hierarchical; it is meant to be institutionalized and regulated by people who know what's best for everyone else. Oscar Wilde had a good quip about morality; he said something like morality is how you want other people to behave.
answered Jul 28, 2013 by lawrence (18,030 points)
He said,

“Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people we personally dislike.”
+3 votes
Social Darwinism is an ideology of a class hierarchy. Nazism was its zenith. I would be shocked to find any evidence that such a thing would or could be instituted or even found to be intelligible in an anarchic way of life. Attributing what is held by scientific consensus to be "the survival of the fittest" to this ideology is erroneous. Anarchy didn't make Social Darwinism, much less natural selection itself. (Even Darwin can't be made culpable.) I am saying this because it is important for you to understand that these things do not happen in the circumstances that comprised most of human life and history. Most of those who have comprised humanity did not fertilize cabbage fields with the cremated remains of people who were massacred in gas chambers. A lunatic ruling class and its state did that. The causality that you have supposed between "morality decided by the individual" and the strong culling the weak — however intuitive it might seem to you — is an invention of your own mind, primed by your life under the rule of class.

I have to agree with dot that what you're really inquiring about is the conflict between ethics and morals. So this is a universal question that will never be truly resolved. In fact, it might even be that those who believe they have resolved it and who endeavor to compromise the choices of others in order to express their dislike of those people and their choices that is a root of anarchist's objection to moralism. Anarchists can give you many perspectives about this, but this is not something that we alone have to square away.
answered Jul 29, 2013 by madlib (2,970 points)
edited Jul 29, 2013 by madlib
0 votes
"Morality" is never decided by the individual. It is always a social construct representing an interval between what is desirable/acceptable and what is not desirable/not acceptable given certain circumstances. And it exists in a constant interplay between individual values and values perceived in the groups where he or she socializes (or is socialized).

Each group has its own rationale for legitimating values that, given enough time to mature, become institutionalized. This rationale may be contested within the group and from pressure from outside the group. But when some value becomes an institution, it is usually for the legitimization of a specific function for that group - either internally or in its relationship with other groups.

For instance, Max Weber shows how religious principles helped pave the way for capitalism. Protestant ethics stimulated people to work and accumulate wealth while living in austerity. Given the right conditions in 19th century Europe, this gave rise to specific "work ethics" that define many of today's "morals": like the idea of a professional "vocation", or simply that to be a useful member of society you need a "real job", something that you "do" outside your private setting.

So, "morality" doesn't ever depend only on what a given individual, or a specific group believes, but on the permanence of certain types of relationships among groups within one society. And it is continuously contested, just as relationships shift (or not). This brings other problems to the table, related to different entities in society having different levels of symbolic power that can be used to frame issues according to specific sets of values that suit them best. But that's a different debate.. Putting it in one sentence, morality is simply a form for the legitimation of social practices.

Anarchism isn't chaos. It doesn't mean "the rule of the fittest" in any way. Quite the contrary, it means that people recognize their interdependence in full. It means that you can self-organize with others and have the right for full political participation, while at the same time, recognizing those rights in everyone else. So "morals" in an anarchist society would hardly legitimize killing or stealing. Individualism is not egoism. You can have the first - in the sense that you can value each individual for him or herself, for his particular contribute and his own work and merit - without the second. Actually, the idea is that if you eliminate social inequality, no one will even need to steal.
answered Aug 2, 2013 by alien (150 points)
the characterization of egoism as something like ideological individualism actually comes more from its bad faith characterization by collectivists rather than from its 'theorists'.  as much anarchism may (or may not) be recognizing 'full' interdependence, its is as much about recognizing something like personal autonomy, and not just the kind that 'makes the group better' or that doesnt create conflict but that allows for freedom in spite of others if that be the case.

also, your quote: "Each group has its own rationale for legitimating values that, given enough time to mature, become institutionalized. This rationale may be contested within the group and from pressure from outside the group. But when some value becomes an institution, it is usually for the legitimization of a specific function for that group - either internally or in its relationship with other groups."
-this sounds something like an underhanded way of sneaking in an acceptance of morality or to say that the creation of morality is a natural outcome of people living together.  To say that all groups create value systems is different than claiming to create systems of values is the same as creating a morality.  It seems like (and i may be wrong) the way you see around capitalist morality, is by choosing a new morality (rather than the protestant work ethic, we will say 'thou shalt not kill' in the anarchist society).
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