Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Supremacy Of Conscience

A somewhat odd title for a Liberty's Torch article, you say? Well, yes. But I write about what's uppermost in my thoughts, and that's what occupies the top spot today. Please bear with me as I develop some ideas you're less likely to see elsewhere in the DextroSphere.

There are few things of which any man, myself included, can be perfectly certain. Indeed, "perfectly" isn't the right word, but I could find no better one. Say rather that there are few things in which a man can afford to invest so much confidence that he needn't bother to search for counter-evidence of them.

One of those things is the conscience.

Even a wholly untutored individual -- raised by wolves? -- will possess a sense for right and wrong. That sense is trustworthy. Even when it proves impossible to articulate the conscience's decrees, if followed it will steer you down the correct path.

(Some claim that the conscience needs to be "formed" before it becomes trustworthy, but to me that sounds like a denial of the goodness of the God who made us. He doesn't make garbage -- and besides, who among us is qualified to do such "forming," and who "formed" him? A charming infinite regress, no? It sounds to me like an attempt to assert an authority that springs from nothing or close to it.)

We sometimes hear of persons who appear devoid of conscience, for whom the diagnostic term sociopath was coined. I've come to believe that the sociopath, too, has a conscience, but that he's succeeded in deafening himself internally to what his conscience is trying to tell him. After all, we ordinary types do it on occasion, so why should it be thought impossible that a "dedicated" sort might make such deafness permanent? It seems far more plausible than that a man might be born with no ability to perceive nature and its laws.

"Let your conscience be your guide" is one of the oldest of civilization's maxims. If taken literally, it leads to some interesting conclusions.

In analyzing any human institution, I start from a few simple premises:

  • Institutions are human artifacts.
  • Men build things to serve a purpose.
  • Therefore, every institution is intended to serve some purpose.
  • However, tightly bound to every purpose is a set of constraints:
    • What methods of achieving the purpose are permissible;
    • The maximum price, in whatever terms, that achieving the purpose is worth.
  • An institution that fails of its purpose, or exceeds the maximum price that purpose may command, should and must be corrected.
  • An institution that successfully resists correction may rightfully be destroyed. which it seems only reasonable to me to add the following candidates:

Repeated failures to build an institution for a specific purpose suggest with increasing emphasis that no institution can do so at an acceptable cost.


Persons who oppose some specific purpose will work to deflect, corrupt, or destroy whatever institutions serve it effectively.

These are metaphysical precepts. They precede and envelop all concrete applications of human imagination and artifice. If Man has a nature -- and you may rest assured that he does -- they cannot be wrong.

However, they can be ignored or dismissed...and they often are.

The institution of marriage developed to protect us from our weaknesses. The marital promise of fidelity and constancy is intended to protect vulnerable women and minor children from abandonment and abuse, and men from faithless exploitation and obligations they never agreed to accept. If marriage should fail to serve those purposes, or if the price should rise unacceptably high, marriage will cease to exist, de facto if not de jure.

I contend that marriage is expiring as we watch.

When marriage was regarded as an institution mediated and enforced by one's community, as is proper, it worked very well. It was very difficult for a faithless spouse to hide his transgressions from his neighbors -- and equally difficult to escape the penalties for them. Granted that I speak here of a time when one lived essentially one's whole life within the community of one's birth, but the principle has not expired. To serve its proper purposes, marriage must include the promise of fidelity and constancy, it must be enforced by those who are best positioned to know the married couple, and it must be free of external meddling by irresponsible busybodies, including governments.

Conversely, there's no point to marriage if it's severed from its purposes, which renders the cries for "marriage equality" -- i.e., same-sex marriage -- ridiculous in the extreme.

How high a price are we willing to pay to have marriage's purposes served? Plainly, there are limits. We're not willing to execute adulterers or women who deny sex to their husbands. Neither are we willing to sacrifice all familial privacy. (Admittedly, in medieval times those statements were questionable at best.) But we are willing to endure certain discomforts, including stoic tolerance of the frictions that have always arisen among faithfully married couples.

At least, we were willing, once upon a time.

Owing to the extraordinary hostility of various groups to marriage as it arose and was traditionally practiced, and the willingness of governments to stick their thumbs into the stew, marriage as an institution is near to extinction. Its promises are no longer enforceable. The potential penalties for failing at marriage are both asymmetric and draconian. Moreover, men have come to realize this. Women, including many women who've cheered the very developments against which men are rebelling, are lamenting the "marriage strike" that has resulted.

It was all foreseeable. It should have been foreseen. Some did foresee it, and many thereof spoke and wrote about it. But no one troubled to countervail it until the rot reached a terminal stage.

Natural Law 1, Wishful Thinking 0.

Because of this book, this book, and this book, and in a few cases because of this book as well, quite a number of readers have written to ask whether I believe that government is inherently evil. For a while I resisted those inquiries. They made it seem that there was something "off" about my thinking on political matters.

I eventually decided that what was "off" was my appreciation for the dynamics of political power and how they operate over time.

Yes, government is evil. There is no imaginable moral rationale under which some may assume the power of life and death over others. But government is also inevitable, at least from a certain perspective:

Any group ready, willing, and able to impose its will on an individual or other groups by force constitutes a government for the duration of those conditions.

Yes, you read that correctly. A lynch mob, if not effectively opposed by some other force, constitutes an ad hoc government. Moreover, no matter how large, how organized, nor how constituted, no government has any greater moral warrant than a lynch mob.

What a particular government does about a particular event at a particular time might well be universally approved. Indeed, it might well be right and necessary. But we could say the very same thing about a lynch mob that seizes upon a murderer and hangs him, at least if his commission of the murder was sufficiently far beyond doubt. The justice of the act reposes in the act and its enveloping context, not in who or what acts upon it.

The largest and bitterest of our modern totems, "democracy," is a con job, a public-relations attempt to blind us to the inescapable facts about governments: they are all corrupt. The occasions on which they administer genuine justice are minuscule in number compared to the occasions on which they inflict grievous injustices upon men -- and they strive to hide behind one of the oldest and most pernicious of all maxims: Vox populi, vox Dei. "The voice of the people is the voice of God."

"Vox populi, vox Dei" is bad law.
It's even worse as religion.
And it's terrible Latin.

Yet we persist in erecting governments, somehow persuading ourselves that we've learned all the necessary lessons from the failures of six thousand years of human history, saying to one another that "this time it will be different."

What was that Einstein quote about insanity again?

The oldest formal institution of all is the church. Not any particular church, but the concept of an organization formed to promote, and in some cases to enforce, the acceptance of a religious creed and its associated code of conduct. There have been many churches throughout human history, and all have shared certain characteristics:

  • The creed was formalized by a clergy that sprang from some isolated event and thereafter became self-perpetuating.
  • The clergy asserted authority over the creed and the code of conduct, which authority was eventually extended to encompass the privilege of modifying either or both.
  • Lay members of the church are encouraged to exalt the clergy above themselves, not merely as authorities but also as paragons worthy of emulation.

Let's pass over matters such as the plausibility of the creed, the ethical quality of the code of conduct, and whether the clergy continues to deserve the elevated respect it tends to receive from the church's lay members. The institution exists to serve a purpose, as do all institutions. What, then, becomes of a church that effectively abandons its purpose -- that is, a church that ceases to promulgate its creed and exhort its members to adhere to its code of conduct as those things were originally formulated?

A church that metamorphoses in that way might persist for a considerable time. But it has ceased to be the church that it was. It has become an institution of some other kind, perhaps one whose sole purpose is its own continuation. In the most terrible cases, a church that started with a wholesome creed and ethos becomes an instrument for the salving of guilty consciences, or worse, the forcible oppression of dissidents.

Is it imaginable that God, Who equipped each of us with a conscience, would approve?

I begin to feel that an apology might be appropriate here. These are frightening ideas to entertain, whose implications are awful to contemplate, and here I am ladling them out to my Gentle Readers in place of the usual semi-harmless political drivel for which Liberty's Torch is best known. All I can say in my defense is that they're on my mind, and I can't write about anything except what's uppermost in my thoughts.

Perhaps we should have a nice, anesthetic quote:

A blade which is designed both to shave and to carve, will certainly not shave so well as a razor or carve so well as a carving-knife. An academy of painting, which should also be a bank, would in all probability exhibit very bad pictures and discount very bad bills. A gas company, which should also be an infant-school society, would, we apprehend, light the streets ill and teach the children ill. -- Herbert Spencer, "Over-Legislation"

Many of the failures of Man's institutions do arise from "mission creep," as Spencer pointed out in the above. But mission creep isn't a primary consideration in institutional design; it's a consequence of the desire for power and prestige that inheres in those who rise to authority within institutions. It can be thwarted from within, though it seldom is, or from without, by disaffiliation and destruction.

When institutions go bad, the ultimate blame lies with those who saw the rot first take hold but ignored their consciences' commands to do something to thwart it. For conscience is supreme. It trumps the dictates of law, the decrees of tradition, and the currents of fashion, always and everywhere.

Yet the great majority of Man's institutions, in this year of Our Lord 2014, are either wholly and irredeemably corrupt or failing before our eyes. And the great majority of us are sitting quite still, content to watch from the sidelines as our political, social, and moral decay marches on. Believing against all good sense that we might yet be spared the consequences. Stubbornly resistant to the dictates of our consciences, perhaps in the hope that they will cease once and for to torment us.

What purpose do we serve in sitting so still, Gentle Reader?

Forgive me.


Bitmap said...

You are correct that all governments are corrupt. The greater the power of a government, the more the corruption.

Why would I try to bribe a man who does not have the power to give me something?

Xealot said...

I apologize, Francis, for the length of this reply. It must be said, however, so please bear with me. I promise I am going somewhere with it.

Where I disagree with you is your final conclusion. While you are correct to point out that we sit on the sidelines and do nothing what you miss is that there is nothing to be done. The battle has already been lost. Indeed, it was probably lost long before either of us could have done anything constructive about it.

I will explain.

Just prior to World War II, Socialism -- the penultimate evil among evil governments -- was triumphant. It had not merely won, Francis, it dominated everything. The Bolshevik variety had conquered Russia. The Fascist variety held firm in Spain and Italy. The Nazi brand held sway in Germany and was poised to expand into Austria. France was teetering, half of its government (and much of its policy) was in the hands of the Socialists (the same who would collaborate with the Germans in Vichy). Britain was already falling into it and America was firmly in the hands of Roosevelt and his New Deal, a uniquely American Socialism.

The Kings and Emperors were gone. The Republicans were pushed into the margins. Socialism should have won right then and there and Orwell's 1984, in all its horror, should have come into existence. Indeed, it almost did.

Something happened then, though. For us, living after the war had closed, it is, perhaps, beyond our comprehension. Intellectually I can grasp its horror, but to live it and feel it is beyond me. Whatever it was that awakened in that terrible conflict, be it the dying pangs of a civilization or merely the last gasp of old Humanists, it turned things around for awhile.

Roosevelt had been a popular President, nonetheless the two-term limit was quickly passed after his death. Most of Europe had, at least for awhile, enough of Socialism (even those caught under it wanted out). Franco, upon his death, let the reins of power slip from the Fascists because he knew without a strong hand like his, it would not last. The Soviet Union did not long survive the personal memories of 1918.

That was it, Francis. That was what you are asking for in the here and now. They tried, they fought, they died. And when they returned home, they did what in retrospect seems impossible, they actually GAINED GROUND against the tide of government power. They did so silently and without much fanfare.

But most of them are gone now, and that willpower just does not exist anymore in the general populace. With them dies the last first-hand memory of a world before the Socialists. Indeed, we find ourselves in a forlorn hope now. Once the vanguard against government power and Socialism, it has long since been cut off from the general population. We are surrounded and there is no where to go, nothing that can be done.

There is literally nothing left to do but wait it out. Victory, today, is not possible anymore than it was in the couple of years leading up to 1939. It isn't about that anymore. It's about the survival of our thought-lineage. The government beast will eventually consume itself, it always does, like it did in 1939. It will be terrifying to behold, but perhaps when it comes, ground can be regained again. Then we can get off the sidelines and fight.

For now, mere survival is the goal.

Weetabix said...

I don't think everyone is sitting still, but they're not actively acting, either. I think there's a lot of disaffiliation going on.

Xealot - what do you consider the ultimate evil among evil governments?

Xealot said...

Weetabix: Socialism is the penultimate evil government. As Francis said, all governments are evil to some extent. For that matter, all men are sinners, too.

Nothing holds a candle to Socialism, however, in the denial of reality, in complete and total subjugation and thought control. A bad king can often be ignored. The reach of a monarch, a single individual, simply cannot extend into every facet of your life. A bad Republican government can be voted away. But a Socialist government can only be toppled by extreme violence, and even then it is a difficult proposition. It destroys families, it degrades the trust between individuals and in so doing weakens resistance.

Socialism is the ultimate form of Tyrannical expression. Nothing else compares.

Weetabix said...

Xealot - I think we agree. I misunderstood your initial wording.