By Neil Lock
This is the fourth part of a six-part re-formulation of my philosophical system. In this essay and the next, I aim to put a little more “flesh” on the five dimensions of my system.
Today, I’ll cover the first three dimensions, corresponding to Metaphysics, Epistemology and Ethics respectively in classical philosophy. I call these three the “I” dimensions. For the questions about humanity, which must be answered in these dimensions, are phrased in the first person singular. “What am I?” “How do I know what I know?” And “How should I behave?”
I’ll repeat the outline diagram of the five dimensions from the third essay.
Figure 1 – Outline of Honest Common Sense 2.0
The first dimension: Be
The lowest dimension, I call Be. It’s about what is. It corresponds to Metaphysics in classical philosophy. In this dimension, there are two main questions to be answered: “What’s out there?” and “What am I?” As I visualize in the diagram below, for human beings, the first dimension contains in embryo all five of our dimensions, “curled up small” as it were.
Figure 2 – The metaphysical or Be dimension
To “What’s out there?” my answer is: Reality. Ayn Rand’s answer was “Existence exists.” As I made plain in the first essay of this set, I agree with Rand on a lot of the fundamentals of metaphysics. What’s out there exists objectively, independently of any models we may try to make of it inside our minds. Furthermore, there is only one reality. (At least, only one reality perceptible by, and relevant to, us). And we human beings are a part of that reality.
To “What am I?” (or alternatively “what is my identity?”), I answer: I am a human being. For, as Rand put it, existence is identity. So, the process in this dimension is Identity. And the product, for a human being, is Humanity. (For a cat, for example, it would be Felinity). These two pithy statements by Ayn Rand, “Existence exists” and “Existence is identity,” form what I think of as the twin mottoes of our first dimension.
My metaphysical opinions
I still hold to many of the metaphysical opinions I proffered in the original Honest Common Sense. I still hold that, since metaphysical notions exist at a level below rational thought, it really isn’t worth trying to argue rationally about metaphysics. Metaphysicians just have to assume away, and then justify their theories afterwards. Metaphysical theories can be disproved if they lead to contradictions; but they cannot be proved.
I still hold my “dual aspect monist” position, that existence and consciousness are two aspects of the same thing; just as are body and mind. I still hold that we have free will, though I freely (no pun intended) admit that we don’t yet know exactly how it works. I still hold that a new mathematics (and science) of consciousness will be needed in order to understand free will, and to explain why time appears to us to flow.
One significant addition, however, is that I have taken on board the view that what is right and wrong for a sentient being to do is determined by the nature of the species, to which that being belongs. It was Ayn Rand who first pointed me in this direction; and Frank van Dun confirmed for me that I was on the right track. Thus, what is right and wrong for a human being to do is determined by human nature; and so, is the same for all human beings. That is the fundamental reason why all human beings are ethically equal. I shall be looking into this in more detail when I get to the third dimension.
The nature of a human being
At a first cut, the nature of a human being is given by the entries in the Answer(s) column in the diagram above. In the Think dimension, we seek knowledge, using the process which, following Jason Alexander, I call Identification. (Ayn Rand and others have called it Reason). As to Behave, we must behave according to our nature, that is, with honesty; and we must respect others’ rights. And a human being, who behaves according to human nature, becomes convivial; that is, fit to be lived with. Thus, I hold even more strongly than I did before to the position that humans are by nature good rather than bad.
At the level of Organize, we build civilizations. And we do so by organizing ourselves for Aristotle’s “common good.” That is, for maximum benefit to all. Or, as John Locke put it: “the good of every particular member of that society, as far as by common rules it can be provided for.” This means that we organize ourselves to achieve three ends. One, to deliver common-sense justice; which I define as the condition in which each individual is treated, over the long run, in the round and as far as practicable, as he or she treats others. Two, to uphold the rights of all those who respect others’ equal rights. And three, to allow maximum freedom for everyone, consistent with living in a civilized community.
At the top of the tree, in the dimension of Do, we create, we trade, and we enjoy and appreciate. We fulfil ourselves and realize our potential, both as individuals and as a species.
With regard to animals: Each species has its own nature, which determines what is right and wrong for a member of the species to do. Different species have different levels of development in their second, third and fourth dimensions. As far as I’m aware, though, no non-human species on the planet has yet developed the second dimension to anything like the level of science, or the third to the level of an explicit sense of right and wrong. And only humans have, to date, started to open up the fifth dimension at all.
What is special about us? What is it, that makes us different from, and better than, mere animals? First, we have evolved languages that are intricate and expressive. Second, we can think abstractly; for example, we can do mathematics or philosophy. Third, it is in our nature to take control of, and to leave our mark on, our surroundings. And we can record our ideas for posterity, for example through writing, art, music and architecture. Fourth, we have business and trade; not just at the level of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” but also, as Adam Smith put it, “give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want.” Fifth, it is in our nature to be creative, and to build civilizations. Sixth, we have invented, and are still developing, life-improving conveniences like money, property rights, workable systems of justice, and economic production. Finally, we are a fast-moving species. And despite periods of stagnation or regression, such as the Dark Ages, we tend to get better – and faster – as we go.
Thus, we are, in a real sense, superior to other animals; and I hold to my position that we can own animals, and use them, as we see fit. Though it is, of course, both wrong and inelegant to be cruel to them unnecessarily. They are sentient beings, after all; as are we.
I’ll end my discussion of the first dimension with religion. Religion lives down at the level of metaphysics, because it isn’t amenable to rational thought. There’s no point in trying to argue about religion with a born-again Christian! Or with an atheist.
I was brought up in a Christian family. My mother was a moderate Anglican. My father went to church only because he enjoyed singing in the choir. But I was sent for five years to a heavily Christian boarding school. As a result, as soon as at age 16 I was mature enough to start to think critically, I lost Christianity. It simply leached out of me.
Of course, I’m aware of the Stoic idea of the “logos,” a mind which permeates and animates the Universe. And if there was such a thing as a deity, I guess it would be of this kind. But I have no hard evidence either for or against the existence of such a mind. So, I simply don’t worry about the issue. My answer to the question “is there a god?” is: I don’t know. And I don’t care.
All that said, I have no problem with individuals who are personally religious. Nor with those who wish to worship with like-minded others. Thus, I follow what I call Neil’s First Precept of Religion: If you let me have my religion (or lack of it), I’ll let you have yours.
But I do have a problem with institutional religion. The Christian church of the dark and middle ages was the main weapon used against us by our enemies in their second counter-revolution. And today, the church of environmentalism is the biggest single plank of our enemies’ fifth counter-revolution. So, anyone that tries to force or to browbeat their religion on me against my will is going to get short shrift.
The second dimension: Think
The second dimension, Think, corresponds to Epistemology in classical philosophy, Here, there is one question: “How do I know what I know?” Jason Alexander has supplied a good answer to this question: “Knowledge is the Identification of Identity.” For me, Alexander’s sentence is the motto of our second dimension.
My views in this area have not changed much over the last few years. I still like to show the way in which knowledge arises from the six levels of our thinking processes in the form of a diagram, which I call The Knowledge Pump.
Figure 3 – The Think dimension – The Knowledge Pump
Our senses – sight, touch, smell, taste, hearing – all generate sensation as a result of the external stimuli to which we are subjected. The sub-process of perception then assembles the sensations into percepts; that is, specific thoughts about things. When you touch a table, you may think, for example, “This table has a flat top,” or “This table is made of wood.”
Our perceptions are usually fairly reliable. But unlike Ayn Rand, I do not claim that the perception process is always flawless. The table, which you think is made of wood, may actually turn out to be made of plastic disguised to look and feel like wood.
Conception is the sub-process which forms concepts. A concept is an abstraction, formed from a percept or from many percepts. For example, it might make a statement about a class of things, for example “All tables have flat tops.” It might define a quality of a thing or of a class of things, such as being brown in colour. Or it might widen the scope of the objects to which a concept applies; such as from “Two tables plus two tables make four tables” to “Two plus two make four” (of anything which can be counted).
Concepts can be meaningful (well-formed) or meaningless. Among those meaningful concepts which make statements, some are true, some false and some tentative or undetermined. And this truth value can vary with time and experience. For example, finding a table with a tilting top pushes the concept “All tables have flat tops” over the line from as yet undetermined to false. (Unless you are willing to revise your definition of “flat!”)
Logic, the fourth sub-process, combines concepts, according to certain rules, to form other concepts. Logic has a very long history. Aristotle was the first to study it intensively. It has been developed in many different directions. And among philosophers and mathematicians, there are still unresolved controversies in it.
For the fifth sub-process, I now prefer to use Ayn Rand’s term, “Objectivity.” In the past, I have called it “reason,” “logic grounded in reality,” “reality check” and “the bullshit meter.” Objectivists describe it as “the act of referencing reality in determining the truth.” It is the point in your thinking at which you ask: Do my conclusions really hold up in the real world? And you look for evidence for and against your thesis. When your conclusions have successfully been through the validation process, you regard them as provisionally true, and add them to your store of Knowledge. You can regard such knowledge as true, until new evidence leads you to re-examine it.
Ideas which constitute Knowledge can themselves be pumped back into the Think stack, to fuel further thinking. These usually arrive at the level of Perception or Conception. They can be pumped from the inside – for example, from your memory of past situations, or from knowledge which you have gleaned from personal experience. They can be pumped from the outside – by receiving them from others, for example by reading or hearing. Or they can be products of your creativity, which often arrive as intuitions, hunches or oddball “what if?” questions. They all require a pass through the bullshit meter, before you start building other ideas on top of them. If not, you may waste your time, or be led to wrong conclusions.
At the top left of the diagram is the sixth sub-process, Science. Science is a, more or less formalized, method of discovering knowledge. But it’s important to note that science, if it is to be Science, must be utterly honest. It must focus on the evidence and the facts. It must make falsifiable predictions. It must aim to be replicable by others. And it must make its theories fit observations, rather than to try to modify, adjust or cherry-pick the data to fit the theory. Anything – like much of today’s climate science – that purports to be science, but isn’t entirely honest, isn’t Science. It is what I call nonscience (rhymes with conscience).
“Science” has acquired an almost cult status among many of the enemies of humanity today. They see it as something done by “experts,” which always produces truth. To them, science is infallible. But unfortunately, even experts make mistakes. As physicist Steven Weinberg put it: “An expert is one who avoids the small errors while sweeping on to the grand fallacy.” And even where simple errors are successfully avoided, failings like groupthink, or perverting science into an attempt to find evidence for a desired conclusion, can render the products of “science” worthless or even downright dangerous.
The third dimension: Behave
In the third, the ethical dimension, the question is: “How should I behave?” Hence my name for it: Behave.
From the third up, the dimensions become more complex internally. At the outline level, the third dimension has three primary processes: ethical equality, honesty and respect for human rights. “Ethical equality” is the name I use for the principle that what is right for one to do, is right for another to do under similar circumstances, and vice versa. It is the first of my three common-sense principles. And in addition to the conventional meanings of the word “honesty”, I use it to mean “being true to your nature.” Or, otherwise put, acting as it is natural for a human being to act.
The product of the Behave dimension, “Conviviality,” is a word I have borrowed from Frank van Dun. To be convivial is to live together, and to do so well. I also use convivial to mean “fit to be lived with.”
The Behave dimension, like the Be dimension, should I think have two mottoes. Both these mottoes are my own work; and I gave them both in the first essay of this set. For the general motto, applicable to all species, I propose: “Identity determines morality.” For the motto specific to human beings, I suggest: “Humans are by nature convivial animals.”
When I focus in on Behave, our ethical dimension, in more detail, I see far more components to it than just three. Here’s my attempt at a diagram to represent it more fully.
Figure 4 – The ethical or Behave dimension
The lowest layer within the Behave dimension, I call survival ethics. It interfaces downwards, towards our first and second dimensions. This is a layer which we share with other animals; though in their case, it is more often called instinct.
As individuals, we have an instinct that makes us act for our continued survival. As part of this, we seek our own well-being, both in the short term and the longer term. In a slightly different direction, we feel a pull towards the survival of our species, the human species as a whole. This is what leads a majority of people to want to have children. It also leads most of us to take a generally benevolent view of our fellow human beings; as long, of course, as they show similar benevolence towards us.
The third part of this layer of survival ethics is what I call reasonable caution. We judge, consciously or not, whether particular risks are or are not worth taking for us. Thus, each of us seeks to balance the down-side of risk, both to ourselves and to others, against the up-side of potential rewards. And as we acquire more and more life experience, our judgement tends to become better adjusted to our own particular strengths and weaknesses.
The middle layer within our third dimension, I call the convivial core. It is here that the virtues, which make an individual convivial (or, otherwise said, fit to be lived with), reside. This is the centre-piece of our third (and central) dimension. And at its centre is Honesty.
Depending on your dictionary, “honest” may mean truthful, sincere and free of deceit; morally correct or virtuous; honourable in principles, intentions and actions; or trustworthy and not likely to steal, cheat or lie. Ayn Rand defined honesty as never attempting to fake reality. And then, there’s my own definition, which is all of the above and more: “Honesty is being true to your nature.” Honesty is behaving as a human being.
Around Honesty, I arrange six virtues, all of which are aspects of it. There’s Independence: which I see as the process by which a person controls his or her own life, and seeks to avoid becoming a drain on others. Ayn Rand included this among her list of virtues. There’s Truthfulness: seeking the truth in any matter, and telling the truth as best you can. There’s Responsibility: accepting accountability for the foreseeable effects of your voluntary actions on others. There’s Integrity, another on Rand’s list; I see this as following through on your promises, and practising what you preach. Moving towards the virtues for dealing with others, there’s mutual Tolerance, which can be put succinctly as: Live and let live. And there’s mutual Good Faith: which leads us to be sincere and straightforward in our dealings.
The upper layer, which I have labelled “Respect for others” on the diagram, is the one which interfaces upwards towards the fourth dimension, and encapsulates the ethics of dealing with others. I have divided it into two sub-layers. The lower half is the one which determines our attitudes towards others. The upper half determines how we actually behave towards them.
In the lower sub-layer, the first component is respect for ethical equality. To respect ethical equality is to accept that what is right for you to do, is right for another to do under similar circumstances. And conversely, that what you think is wrong for them to do, has to be wrong for you too.
The second component is respect for the equal rights of others. To respect that equality is to accept that whatever rights you claim as a human being, you must allow to other human beings too. The third component does the same for freedoms. Whatever freedoms you claim, you must also allow to others. And the fourth component is respect for justice; that is, for the kind of justice I call common-sense justice. To respect this kind of justice is to behave towards others, as far as you can, at least as well as they themselves behave towards those they interact with. And, as long as they generally behave in a convivial manner, you should treat them at least as well as they treat you.
The first component in the upper sub-layer, I call judgement by behaviour. It represents a practice of judging individuals by examining how they behave. It means that you should not take too much account of things outside the individual’s control, such as race, social class, received religion or disability. You should judge people by their actions. And, of course, their motivations for doing what they do, as far as you can work them out. To sum up: It isn’t who you are that matters, but what you do.
The second component I have labelled respect for difference. Every one of us has a culture and a moral upbringing. In many respects, our cultural characteristics are shared with others of like upbringing. And those from different backgrounds may well have somewhat different customs and mores from ourselves. The essence of this component is tolerance of difference. Just because a culture is different, doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. And just because someone is different, doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person.
The third component, which I label social contracts, refers not to some “social contract” in a political sense, but to contracts between societies and their members. When you join a society, or when you are an officer of a society which accepts a new member, you are making mutual agreements. For someone, who voluntarily joins a society, is giving their assent to its aims and purposes; and, for the time being at least, to its current direction. All that said, you should strive in good faith to make your agreements reasonable, and to keep your side of them.
The last component, mutual agreements, refers to agreements which you make with other individuals or societies, such as partnership, business or employment contracts. Again, its ethical content is good faith in the construction and execution of these agreements.
The ethical equality principle arises from the idea that what is right and wrong for a human being to do is determined by human nature. And so, right and wrong are the same for all human beings. My one-sentence statement of the principle is: What is right for one to do, is right for another to do under similar circumstances, and vice versa.
There are other arguments for ethical equality, too. First, the idea of “the rule of law,” which dates back to ancient times but has become prominent since the Enlightenment, is an application of the ethical equality principle. Under the rule of law, the rules an individual is required to obey, whatever they may be, must be the same as for every other individual. Therefore, all rules made according to the rule of law must implement ethical equality.
Second, to those that quibble with the idea of ethical equality, I say: If we are not all ethically (and so morally) equal, then exactly who is to be allowed moral privilege over others? How much? When? Why are they to be singled out to have privileges? Who are you to decide? And why should you yourself not be thrown down to the very bottom of the heap?
Third, I can adapt John Rawls’ “original position” thought experiment – usually seen as an argument for equality in the economic sphere – to justify instead the ethical equality principle. In this thought experiment, a group of people aim to agree on a political and economic structure for themselves. Each is behind a veil of ignorance. Meaning, they don’t know what their own abilities or characteristics will be, or how well a particular social structure will favour them as individuals.
Rawls argues that they will use a strategy called maximin, aiming to maximize the payoff in the event of the worst possible outcome. Now, this seems to assume that people make decisions in a more rational manner than we often see them do in the real world. But accepting the maximin argument, if I were in Rawls’ original position behind my veil of ignorance, I would start out by choosing a social structure based on political equality, not economic. That is, I would pick an equality, in which no individual is subject to another. As John Locke put it: “A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another.”
Rawls’ argument can be used to – apparently – justify any kind of equality you want it to! So, from here, it is only a short step to choosing ethical equality. Would you pick a structure where everyone is ethically and morally equal, and may do the same things in the same circumstances as anyone else? Or one of moral inequality, in which an in-group – of kings or princes, say – have moral privileges over everyone else? For example, they can make laws to bind us, while we can’t do the same to them in return? Or they can evade the consequences of their actions to others, while we are to be held to the consequences of ours? Few, I think, would pick such a structure of ethical inequality. For the likelihood of being born an oppressed commoner would grossly outweigh the minuscule chance of being born a prince.
I’ll repeat what I said in the third essay: Let no-one be in any doubt how radical this ethical equality principle is, when contrasted with current politics. For Jean Bodin’s 16th-century scheme of sovereignty, under which we still suffer today, allows to the sovereign of a state (whether an individual or a group) an extensive list of moral privileges over the subjects in that state. But under the ethical equality principle, a sovereign cannot rightly exist; and so, the state cannot rightly exist. The political state and the ethical equality principle are fundamentally incompatible with each other. If you accept the ethical equality principle, you must reject the state. And if you want to accept the state and sovereignty, you must disprove the ethical equality principle.
The Convivial Code
From the ethical equality principle, it follows that there exists a moral code of what is right and wrong for human beings to do. To see this, try the following thought experiment. Take a large (large!) sheet of paper, and make two column headings: Act and Circumstance. Then write down pairs of acts and circumstances, in which the act is wrong for any human being to do under the circumstance, and should be prohibited. Any such prohibition must apply equally to all individuals. Continue until you have covered all such situations you can think of. Then take another sheet (rather smaller), and do the same for acts which are required. In other words, it’s wrong not to do the act under the circumstances. When finished, you have your moral code. The first sheet lists its prohibitions, the second its mandates.
I call this list of core rules the Convivial Code. It is the “law of the land” for convivial people; Frank van Dun calls it the “laws of conviviality.” And it is independent of place, culture or the social status of an individual. It is also, to a large extent, independent of time. For, being based on human nature, it will need to evolve only as human nature itself evolves, or as new circumstances arise which it did not cover before.
The Convivial Code encapsulates a minimum set of standards of behaviour for all human beings worth the name. It is, in essence, a touchstone for humanity. Applying not just now, but in the future; and to the past, as well.
Before anyone gets too excited, I’d point out that some thinkers have opined that such a code would be empty. Historian Will Durant, for example, once wrote to the effect that if you added up all the behaviours considered sacred by some culture, then subtracted all the behaviours considered taboo by some culture, you would end up with nothing.
But in my view, the Convivial Code is definitely non-empty. Confucius’ Golden Rule, for example, is in one form or another part of the morality of all human cultures. And I have another candidate, too. As an American friend once opined: “Don’t be an asshole!”
Rights and Obligations
I go further. For behaving convivially is, in large part, about respecting the rights of others. As one whose primary view of ethics is rights-based, I see two of the main tasks in constructing the Code as, first, to make a list of valid human rights. And then, to back-to-back these rights with obligations which, when kept to by convivial people, result in those around them enjoying the corresponding rights. These obligations then become the core of the Code.
It’s important to understand that an individual’s rights are conditional on the individual himself or herself respecting the equal rights of others. Thus, rights are earned, not granted by any individual, organization or deity. And those that do violate others’ rights can’t complain if they, in their turn, suffer violations of their own rights in reasonable proportion. This is why it’s OK, for example, to deny freedom of movement to convicted criminals in prison.
Over the centuries, many lists of human rights have been constructed. From Magna Carta of 1215, via the 1689 English Bill of Rights and the 1791 US Bill of Rights, to the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (just about the only half-way good thing the UN ever did), these have had positive effects on the conduct of many of those in power.
These lists contain three types of rights. First, there are fundamental rights. These result from moral prohibitions – that is, obligations to refrain from doing something, which apply to everyone – of the form “Thou shalt not…” followed by something bad. Second, there are rights of non-impedance. These result from more nuanced moral prohibitions, of the form: “Thou shalt not put any obstacle in the way of…” followed by something good. Rights of non-impedance always carry an implied rider: “…provided it does not violate your, or anyone else’s, rights.” And third, there are procedural rights. These are rights such as the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, which must guide the procedures used in confrontational situations. And, in particular, must guide the new forms of governance, which will supersede the state.
At right angles to this division, there is another split of rights into two groups: general and contractual. By a general right or obligation, I mean one common to all convivial human beings. Thus, a general right accrues to everyone without exception, subject only to the individual keeping to his or her general obligations. Contractual rights or obligations, on the other hand, arise out of contracts and mutual agreements made with others.
There is a third group of supposed “rights,” which I label “misguided.” They are misguided, because they cannot be delivered without violating the rights of other individuals. For example, an indiscriminate right to “social security” requires some people to be forced to pay for things that bring benefit to others, not to them. Most of these misguided “rights,” however, can quite easily be re-formulated into rights of non-impedance. The supposed right to work, for example, turns into the right not to be impeded in trading with others in whatever way is mutually acceptable. And social security becomes the right not to be prevented from insuring against, or associating with others for protection against, economic hardship.
Agreement to vary
An important aspect of the Convivial Code will be what I call “agreement to vary.” Through such an agreement, societies will be able to agree among their members, if they so wish, extra rules or different rules from the core Code in their dealings among themselves. Individuals and societies will also be able to agree, by mutual consent, to vary or waive certain provisions of the core Code, either for one transaction or on a more regular basis. For example, this will allow people, who so wish, to agree to do dangerous activities such as playing sports. Or religious societies to impose dietary restrictions on their members.
One of the problems with lists of obligations is that it isn’t always practical to keep to them with absolute strictness. For example, to include in the Code an absolute prohibition on physical violence would be impractical, because it would not allow those under attack to defend themselves. Each rule of the Code must, therefore, also specify the conditions under which individuals may reasonably break it, and at what level they may do so.
I identify four sets of conditions, which may justify deviation from the Code in certain circumstances. The first two arise from the layer of survival ethics; they are self-defence, and defence of others. The other two come from the “respect for others” layer, and are required to enable future systems of governance, based on common-sense justice, to be effective. One of these is for proportionate acts in the execution of common-sense justice. Such as, enforcing judgements made by honest courts. The other is for proportionate acts, based on reasonable suspicion of real violation of the Code; such as arresting someone to bring them to trial. Which of these four exceptions apply to a particular right, depends on which right it is.
Virtues and vices
But human rights are not the only source of obligations to others. There are also the obligations which correspond to the virtues, including honesty, which I outlined above; and to other virtues which thinkers, such as Ayn Rand, have included in their ethical laundry-lists. Because sometimes a virtue may not be attainable in practice, these will often be couched in terms like “Strive to…” followed by a statement of the virtuous behaviour. These kinds of obligations generate, for the recipient, something similar to a right, but less strong. I will dub as “expectations” the benefits, which arise when people keep to such obligations.
It is important, I think, to exclude from the Code the false virtues, like altruism and self-sacrifice, that are often promoted by collectivists. Where you have not taken on an explicit obligation to help someone in a particular situation, the decision on what to do must always be your own. The species survival instinct may lead you to help; as long as you have the requisite skills and courage, and the effort and cost are not too great. But to sacrifice yourself for the sake of others, against your better judgement, is madness.
Moreover, you don’t have any obligation to give help to those that have done harm to you; for example, those that have promoted or supported political policies hostile to you. They owe you compensation for what they did to you; you don’t owe them anything.
Beyond encouraging virtues, the Code is likely to discourage certain vices. I do not mean the kind of arbitrary “vices” that in themselves harm no-one else, such as being gay, taking drugs or drinking alcohol. Rather, I mean the kind of vices that psychopaths often show. Such as: arrogance, bad faith, corruption, deceit, recklessness towards others, and untrustworthiness.
This is the place, I think, to bring up the vexed subject of discrimination. Although the judgement by behaviour principle tells us not to put too much negative weight on traits outside a person’s control, it is a fact that most people favour dealing with those who have some kind of commonality with them. Shared race, religion, nationality, interests, culture, political orientation or upbringing, for example, may provide such a feeling of commonality.
The Code cannot make a blanket prohibition of all such forms of discrimination. When deciding with whom they want to interact, all individuals and societies must have the right to discriminate as they see fit. For example, a club may admit only members of certain races or religions. A company may refuse to hire Jews, Irish people, communists or former politicians. A woman may pick a tall man to offer her love to, in preference to a short one. Or a Christian baker may refuse to bake a cake for a gay wedding.
However, discrimination does go against the Code if it is done in bad faith. Thus, if a club or company does not wish to deal with certain types of people, they must make that clear before any contract is negotiated. And they should make any such discriminatory policies public up front.
Other sources of rights and rules
Another source of potential obligations for the Code is the corpus of moral rules, which we have inherited from rule-based systems of the past. One example is Confucius’ Golden Rule, in both its negative and positive forms. The secular among the biblical Ten Commandments are also candidates to generate obligations of the Code.
There are further rules, which we have received in the form of folk wisdom; or, perhaps, as “consequentialist” ethical principles. For example: You must compensate those, whom you have intentionally harmed, or damaged through irresponsibility or negligence. If you want to subject others to risk, you must make sure you have the resources to compensate them if things go wrong. If you have children, you must take responsibility for their actions towards others until they have become mature enough to take responsibility themselves; and you must bring them up and educate them to be convivial human beings. All these candidates must be evaluated, and where appropriate converted to one or more obligations.
Here are some more rules of a similar kind, many of which I discussed in the original “Honest Common Sense.” Don’t do intentional harm to others. Don’t put any obstacle in the way of anyone’s access to the free market. Don’t try to take more from others than you are justly entitled to. Don’t intentionally do or aggravate injustice. Don’t try to claim that you have moral rights that others do not. Don’t unjustly deny others the right to make their own decisions. Don’t require anyone to prove a negative. Strive to uphold the principles of Civilization: voluntary society, common-sense justice, human rights, and maximum freedom for all. Don’t lie, deceive, cheat, mislead or bullshit. Strive to be independent in thought and actions. Don’t willingly let yourself become a drain on others. Always strive to do what you have knowingly and voluntarily agreed to do. Do not knowingly aid, encourage or condone disconvivial behaviour. Do not tolerate dishonesty, unless there is good and objectively justifiable reason to be dishonest in a particular situation. And last, but not least: Practise what you preach.
To review all these many sources of rights and rules, to assess the relevance, validity and appropriateness of exceptions for each suggested right or rule, and to draft statements of the corresponding obligations, are mammoth tasks. They demand a follow-up essay, or several. There are also practical issues to be addressed, such as: How to get a first such Code agreed among very many people? And how to control any changes to it, which may prove necessary?
I’ll briefly discuss property rights. For, behind life and security of person, property rights are the most important rights of all. Property rights imply that money, land, goods and other wealth, which have been justly earned and have not been traded or given away, must remain under the control of those who earned them, and may not be unjustly taken by others.
After the Neolithic revolution, the idea of property was rooted in real estate – areas of land and water. Containable resources, like crops and domesticated animals in the fields and fish in the lakes, also became property. Soon, to these were added the buildings on the land, their fitments, and the tools which enabled people to pursue the necessities of life.
John Locke recounts, in a famous chapter in his Second Treatise of Government, how the idea of property had evolved from these roots up to his day. For him, the key element in making something into property is “mixing labour” with it. Indeed, he observes: “In most [products useful to the life of man] ninety-nine hundredths are wholly to be put on the account of labour.” He tells, also, how the invention of money enabled people to acquire, through their own efforts, more possessions than had been possible before.
Property can be justly acquired in three ways. The first, not so easy today, is by “mixing your labour” with resources not previously owned by anyone, and thereby taking possession of those resources. The second is by voluntary trade of resources, including your labour, with others. And the third is a special case of the second, where one individual makes a gift to another of what they themselves have justly acquired.
Tracing back each individual’s justly owned property to its source, I find that every item of it has been earned, wholly or mainly, through labour. And this is so whether the labour is physical or mental, and whether in business, in do-it-yourself or for a wage. So, all justly owned property can be traced back to part of someone’s life being expended in creating or improving it. Thus, as I like to say, property is life.
For most of us, who don’t receive big legacies from rich parents or uncles, this means that our property is the product of our own productive lives. Your earned money and property represent the time and energy, which you used up in order to earn them. Thus, if a criminal gang, or anyone else, takes away your money or property, without providing something of value acceptable to you in return, they are killing the part of your life, which you used to earn that money or property.
This includes the situation where the gang doing the taking away of your property is the state, using Franz Oppenheimer’s “political means.” And in that case, the killing was clearly pre-meditated. That is why I like to say that unrequited taxation is murder.
Private and public space
I’ll now focus on real property (land, water, buildings). A key characteristic of real property is that it allows the proprietor, whether an individual, a family or a society, to control access to the property. Boundaries can be set around and, at need, within the property, and rules made and enforced on access to it. These rules can specify which parts of it may be accessed by whom, when, and for what purposes. Access rights can even be traded away, for example by renting out the property. All this is accepted as normal in most countries of the world.
Against this right to control access to real property, there’s another consideration, which I call the non-encirclement principle. People need to get from A to B. And if a landowner of a large territory in between places a block on all access to it, this may become unreasonably difficult. The solution, which evolved in England over many centuries of trial and error, is called easements. Easements allow for a general presumption of freedom of movement along designated routes, even across property owned by others.
As a result, land (and water, too) have become divided into two types of space: private space and public space. Private space consists of owned spaces, each with its own boundaries, but not including the easements. Public space consists of those easements.
There is also what I call semi-private space. That is, space into which the owner will invite anyone, subject to certain reasonable conditions like opening hours, being a bona fide customer, and in some cases pre-booking. Common examples of semi-private space are shops and bars; but transport such as taxis, buses or even aircraft are also semi-private space. (This is why airlines – not governments – are entitled to impose reasonable “security” rules on their passengers).
The only valid “no-go” borders are those which arise from the property rights of individuals, families and societies. Thus, the borders of political states, not being borders of property, are illegitimate; except in the rare cases where certain restrictions on free movement may be objectively justifiable, for example during an epidemic.
Moreover, the valid boundaries are all either at the edges of, or within, private spaces. Further, the non-encirclement principle requires that these borders can only restrict movement from the public space, or from other private spaces, into a private space, never in the opposite direction.
Thus, absent good and just reasons to deny access to it to specific individuals (for example, to those convicted of serious crimes and thereby sentenced to incarceration), the public space must be open to all, without exception. And once an individual is rightly in the public space, he or she has the right to go anywhere in the public space. So, the entire public space must be open to all, subject to reasonable conditions like not causing damage or excessive noise. And those conditions must be the same for everyone.
Moreover, I expect there will be, ultimately, only one public space world-wide, which will be connected. That is, any point of it will be accessible from any other point without leaving the public space.
Convivial and unconvivial conduct
Convivial conduct is the behaviour habitually indulged in by those who are, generally speaking, good people to have around you. Peacefulness and honesty are examples of convivial conduct. And aggressions, threats, theft, lies and deceptions are examples of conduct that is unconvivial.
A person, who always acts in a convivial manner, is a convivial person. (Or would be, if such a perfect individual existed). However, an unconvivial act doesn’t necessarily make the person unconvivial. For we often do things that, strictly speaking, are unconvivial. We may occasionally be unpleasant to others. And we may even cause actual harm in some small way. For example, heating our homes with wood fires causes pollution; or riding a motor cycle causes noise.
But we do these things, not out of any desire to harm others, but because the costs to us of not doing them are far greater than the costs to those adversely affected by us doing them. If we are to do such things without becoming unconvivial, then we must be willing to allow others similar latitude in return. And, if the harm we do is significant enough, we must be prepared to provide compensation to those adversely affected by it.
An important aspect of convivial conduct is what I call mutual tolerance. Or, otherwise put, a spirit of “live and let live.” In principle, if an objective harm is done to you, you are entitled to compensation if you want to pursue it. In practice, though, if the harm is small, most of us will choose not to pursue compensation. That may, perhaps, be because it’s too small to be worth the effort or cost of pursuing the matter. Or it may be in a spirit of mutual tolerance; accepting others’ small faults, in expectation of being able to offset that acceptance, if you need to, against any small harms you may cause others. For everyone makes mistakes, and we all sometimes have bad moments. Only if the harm we suffer is significant, or persistent, or apparently intentional, will most of us pursue compensation.
However, violations of rights, or harmful or potentially harmful acts, that are done in bad faith, or are gross, persistently repeated, malicious, seriously negligent, or irresponsible beyond the bounds of reason, are worse than merely unconvivial. The word I’ll use for these acts is disconvivial. Those that perform disconvivial acts, I call disconvivials. In the realm of conviviality, “disconvivial” means much the same as does “criminal” today. And an extreme kind of disconviviality is shown by those that make a living or career out of unconvivial acts. Such as gangland criminals, bullying government officials, lobbyists for harmful agendas, most politicians, and crony corporate bosses.
Because the Code arises out of human nature, convivial conduct, in the round, is human conduct. Put succinctly: human is as human does. In contrast, disconvivial conduct is criminal, or inhuman, conduct.
And because the Code evolves only as fast as human nature evolves, which is quite slowly on a scale of lifetimes, disconvivial acts committed prior to the introduction of the Code are just as culpable, and so just as punishable, as those committed afterwards. For the Code comes from human nature; and every adult human being worth the name ought to know his or her nature. Moreover, a claim of “sovereign immunity” does not excuse culpability. Indeed, it is a disconvivial act in itself, because it contradicts the ethical equality principle.
So, what of those, that use or have used what Franz Oppenheimer called the “political means” – the unrequited appropriation of the labour of others? What of those, that have lined their own pockets, or those of their friends, with money taken in taxation from us human beings, without offering in return anything valuable to us as individuals? Or have used political power to re-distribute wealth away from those they disfavour, and towards themselves, their cronies or their supporters? Do they not deserve to have their ill-gotten gains taken away, to be made to compensate the victims of their predations, and to suffer punishment in addition?
And how about those, that use or have used the state and political power to make “laws” that unjustly obstruct, or harass, or impoverish, or damage or inconvenience, or otherwise violate the human rights of, people who have neither done nor intended objective harm to anyone? By using the state as their tool, they have rejected the ethical equality principle. And by their conduct towards their victims, they have shown themselves to be dishonest and disrespectful of rights. They have rejected all three elements of humanity in the Behave dimension – ethical equality, honesty and respect for rights.
Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny; as Edmund Burke, rightly, told us almost 250 years ago. Then are not those that promote bad laws, that support bad laws, that make bad laws, that enforce bad laws, the worst sort of criminals? Should we not demand full compensation for what they have done to us? And if they cannot or will not compensate us, should we not reject and ostracize them? Indeed, are they even fit to be accepted into any community of human beings worth the name? Is it not, then, fair and reasonable to regard them as not human? And so, not us?