17A021 Kindly Stop It by Jim Davies, 7/4/2017    


Recently Glen Allport wrote one of his best essays for Strike the Root, to stress the importance of kindness as a vital component of a decent society. Well worth reading, here.

It's an excellent point, sometimes overlooked, that mere abstention from evil is only part of what is desirable; the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) is very good but stops short of calling for positive acts of kindness. The NAP is derived, of course, from the undeniable premise (or axiom) of self-ownership. It is morally evil to aggress against someone because he or she owns himself, so nobody has a right to trespass.

Glen went too far in my view, when he called for a "kindness imperative." No, kindness is not a quality that can or should be mandated (absent government there would in any case be nobody to do the mandating) any more than compassion can validly be compelled; the latter is the alleged basis of all government operated welfare. Kindness and compassion must spring up from individuals' own standards and characters, or else they are false.

The article opened a debate about whether the NAP can precede a widespread culture of kindness, or whether it depends on its pre-existence. That's interesting, but my concern was and is to clarify that a free, libertarian society will take place when the NAP is accepted (and hence, that government vanishes) whether it is awash in benevolence or not. There is kindness around today - quite a lot of it - but there is not yet any general acceptance of the NAP so we do not have a society that is either free or decent.

In order to explore this theme I tried to imagine a society where kindness is almost - or fully - absent, and then figure out the effect of implementing the NAP, on its own. My first discovery was how hard is that task! There is kindness everywhere! This part of the thought-experiment sufficed alone to negate the Judeo-Christian doctrine of original sin. Eventually I came to visualize an early-1944 concentration camp (though later realized a battlefield might be worse.) Such a camp was packed full of aggression; the inmates' human rights were wholly violated, they were starved and worked literally to death, or in many cases killed on arrival. There was kindness in some measure among the inmates - one would help another when feasible - but those in charge showed them no humanity at all.

Now, what would have been the effect if a magic wand had been waved so that the NAP was instituted at noon one day? - that without increasing any compassion, all aggression ceased?

The guards would climb down from their watch towers, hand in their machine guns and, if conscripted, go home to their farms and factories. The SS staff would close up the "shower" chambers and the canisters of Xyklon-B would be placed back in storage. The gates would open. Campers would be free to leave, and offer their enfeebled services to the general population in exchange for food, drink and shelter. History's worst nightmare would end.

That enormous, life-changing improvement would follow implementation of the NAP alone, without any increase at all in the level of kindness at work. The Nazi staff might continue to despise Yids, gypsies, queers and reds, do nothing to repair the harm they had caused, and lift nary a finger to help the newly-liberated captives on their way; they would simply stop aggressing. Yet from that change alone, despair would change in an instant to hope and freedom. So I think the NAP is seriously under-rated.

An even more dramatic improvement would follow the magical introduction of the NAP on any battlefield, where everyone is busy lethally aggressing against the "enemy" - whether it's one with combatants eyeball to eyeball and sword to sword, or whether the killers sit behind consoles directing drones from thousands of miles away. Suddenly, it would all stop cold. The contestants might still hate each other, but the fighting and killing would absolutely cease. That benefit is hard to over-state.

Arguably, the NAP criterion forms a low bar, to define a zero government society. As just shown, it's a great deal higher than first sight may suggest - but suppose that's true. One can adopt it and yet still remain a cold, charmless person who does you no harm, but who does you no good either. Fair enough. There are plenty of other bars to discourage the radical change of mind required to become a libertarian, so I certainly don't want the qualifier to be any higher or harder than it need be.

Is there merit, finally, in the suggestion that the NAP will never take general effect unless there is already a good measure of kindness in the culture? Not much, I think - though it obviously won't hurt - and in any case, there is plenty around, right now. The change needed is mainly intellectual and self-interested. Everyone wants to be left alone to run his own life; the price is simply to let everyone else have the same liberty; that in order to enjoy our rightful self-ownership in practice, we must acknowledge the same right in everyone else; that is, practice non-aggression. It's not hard; any young child can understand the principle of not hurting other kids, nor taking their stuff.

A method of teaching that simple principle to the entire population in quite short order is already in use. While not as fast a process as the waving of a magic wand, it is real instead of imaginary, it is operating now, and is infinitely faster than any other method yet devised. If the reader is not presently using it, please go to TOLFA.us and get started.

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