April 3, 2011

Pretty hate machine

Unless you are a monk who renounces all luxury, you profit from the abuse of your fellow humans and the natural world. We in modern society all are thieves, killers, and despoilers; we are only different by degree, by how far removed we are from the theft, the death, the destruction. Once you realize this, to convince yourself otherwise—to attempt any moral justification for your complicity—is an act of outright misanthropy.

Be always deeply grateful for your good fortune. It comes at great expense to people as real as you. They are not justly compensated.

Be kind and compassionate to others.


  1. I am not a thief, a killer, or a despoiler. Please speak for yourself.

    Further, every dollar I am paid implies that I’ve given people more than one dollar in value, so my good fortune creates even more good fortune for others.

  2. You are, as no less would I expect, unwavering in your principles.

  3. It is not a question of principles. It is a question of facts. Anyone is entitled to any opinion they wish to have, but you are not entitled to your own FACTS.

    Worse, let me say that you have expressed perhaps the vilest philosophy I have ever seen composed in the English language, and I say that as someone who has read far more than his share of repugnant ideological manifestos. I suppose a certain kind of congratulations must be in order, though no rational person would wish to have them bestowed.

    I have continued to read your musings far too long, likely from the memory of our long dead acquaintance. I shall not trouble you further.

  4. Interesting this, and yet also an economic fact. From a natural resource standpoint, there are by fact a limited number of natural resources. For any human to have more than any other human is a fact of market realities, and that is something that you cannot change. Absolute equal distribution of resources is an unattainable myth.

    The problem comes when someone participates unwillingly in the market economy. When you look at the goods that are purchased in any modern society, you’d be naive to think that all of them were created by the consenting participation of everyone throughout the supply chain.

    But market economics provide real value to willing participants, monetary and otherwise. To change it completely would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The thing to do would be to enforce humane labor laws throughout the world, but at that point we enter the realm of politics and all that this entails. It moves, but painfully (literally) slowly.

    And as far as nature is concerned, from a ‘despoiling’ point of view, you can argue that it is always an unwilling participant. But nature, being powerful, has its way of correcting some of these things. It is inherently beautiful and violent. And so, as nature is regarded, to be as light a ‘despoiler’ as possible (for an animal – us – that is well-organized and counts in the billions) we have to be cognizant of our stewardship of nature so that, unwilling to participate as it may be, it is also as little impacted as possible. That’s why I love the green movement so much.

    So from a moral justification standpoint, no there can be none. But you have to ask yourself, is it possible to ask a single generation of humans to absolutely correct the abuses in a global economic system? I think the answer is no. But if we look at the arc of human decency throughout the ages, I’d have to argue that it is on an overall upward swing. And quite possibly moreso recently, largely due to the awareness that the internet brings. So I think we have to make sure that we always ask ourselves if each successive generation is contributing LESS to suffering than the one that came before. If we continue on that arc, a thousand years from now this will look like the Dark Ages. And good for that.

    OK, my comment: long. Sorry!

  5. Chris & Perry, I have to disagree with you both:

    Chris, I don’t agree that economics is a zero-sum game. And I also can’t agree that I’m accountable for the actions of the thieves, killers, and despoilers who have rigged the system to their benefit and others’ detriment. Capitalism, despite being as vulnerable to corruption as any other human endeavor, is the best economic system invented; combined with real democracy and proper regulation, it’s the best system I can imagine. As for my own culpability, I’d be perfectly happy if my food and clothing cost twice as much and the folks who produced it were paid & protected appropriately; if the energy I use cost twice as much and came from sustainable sources, etc.; indeed, my purchasing, voting, and political activism have consistently supported the sort of labor laws, environmental regulations, market regulations, boycotts, and international policy that try to prevent the thievery, killing, and despoiling. Though I dream of being a vigilante who kills war profiteers and other human filth (cf. the “villain” of Iain Banks’s excellent novel “Complicity”), it’s really not feasible.

    Perry, your equation “every dollar I am paid implies that I’ve given people more than one dollar in value” seems an oversimplification. It may be the case for you (I don’t know what you do for a living), but plenty of people’s work creates value for some and destroys value for others. For example, a CEO that does not control his company’s pollution may be increasing shareholder value while giving cancer to people who live near the factory. For another example, folks who simply trade currency, profiting from differing exchange rates, are not creating any value whatsoever. So, although the statement “every dollar I am paid implies that I’ve given SOMEONE more than one dollar in value (assuming I’m not overpaid)” may be factual, it’s hardly an equation that captures the entirety of the increase & decrease in value resulting from a person’s work.

    Also, “the vilest philosophy I have ever seen composed in the English language” is pretty weak rhetoric (and a pretty funny statement—I assume unintentionally—to follow a hamfisted assertion about “FACTS”).

  6. Andrew, I didn’t say you were accountable for the actions of said others; I said that you benefit from their actions and need to recognize that—our human interconnectedness, ultimately. I’m not judging you guilty of inflicting suffering on others. You didn’t build the machine, nor would you design it so, but it (and the exploitation it entails) provides you an advantage nonetheless. That’s my point.

    Ceil, I’m not asking a single generation of humans to absolutely correct the abuses in a global economic system. I’m simply asking them—or you, at least—to acknowledge the abuses. Which you’ve done.

    Perry, you remain one of the sharpest minds I’ve known. Your path and mine diverged years ago; we haven’t really had anything to share but nostalgia and a few common interests, and our philosophies have become, for now at least, incompatible.

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