21A019 Anarchist Ethics by Jim Davies, 5/25/2021


It's pretty simple: "I do not believe in the initiation of force."

That's the statement that the Libertarian political Party, for example, requires anyone to certify in order to become a member (the R&D Parties have no comparable requirement.)

Reactive or responsive force is ethically okay, but not that which is initiated. Thus, if you are attacked there's no ethical objection to using enough force to stop the attack (though only that much, no more) but the anarcho-libertarian may not begin the aggression. So this is known as the Non Aggression Principle or NAP. It's sound as well as simple; it covers almost every situation one meets in life.

It's so simple and sufficient that it's what everyone learns in kindergarten; don't hurt people, nor take their stuff. And it doesn't say one must meet force with force (pacifism fits it well enough) - just that one can do so, without guilt.

And since all government never does anything other than initiating force, it's a neat way to declare oneself an anarchist, if one so wishes. Me, I prefer to call a spade a spade. The A-word has a perfectly honorable etymology.

When in 1980 I first met the NAP I presumed that though it was very fine, it had somehow been plucked out of thin air, or was transcendental in some way. Later, I realized that it has on the contrary a rock-solid foundation, because it is actually derived from a yet more basic principle: the Self Ownership Axiom, or SOA. That holds that each human is his or her exclusive self-owner, because there is no logical possibility of there being anyone else with a right to own (control) a person's life and choices. From the SOA, it's a single step to the NAP; to aggress against any person by forcing him to make a choice other than what he wishes is to violate his right to run his own life.

The NAP covers "almost" every situation life may bring along, but here as elsewhere there is a line, or perhaps a gray area, where different people each trying to follow it may come up with opposite decisions on how best to apply it. Such questions about the margin are mostly theoretical (because it's not likely they will ever be encountered in real life) but can be fun to discuss, provided it's not overdone. And sometimes, it's definitely overdone!

An example is: you encounter someone about to commit suicide. On the basis of the NAP, should you intervene? The life about to be ended is the exclusive property of the person poised to jump, so to grab and prevent him would be an act of aggression, yes? Or, no? - since you'd actually be saving his life, which you'd immediately hand back to him, of course. Which do you think?

Another would be: a young person is making a choice for herself which is, your experience has shown you, very bad; she is getting addicted to drugs, or is about to get pregnant but not married, or (as in the current fashion) starting to proclaim that she's really a boy, trapped in a girl's body. Should you, again, intervene and try to over-rule her choice?

A parent does have the heavy but natural responsibility to make some of a child's choices for her or him until she is mature enough to make them herself - and the hard part is to judge when that stage has been reached. (There's more on this in the "Children" page here.) But does anyone else?

The NAP does not impose any obligation to intervene, but my own take is: advise, strongly perhaps, but do not persist if the advice is rejected. Sadly, being free to choose means that some bad choices will be made. Freedom comes with responsibility, and errors can be the most effective teacher.

The NAP, derived from the SOA, is based on self-interest. Ethical actions are those which enhance or preserve the life being lived, as perceived by the person living it; and that enhancement includes the satisfaction and pleasure obtained by helping someone else. Thus, even though the choices it leads one to make are often very similar to those following a Christian ethic, its source radically differs; the latter is based on self-sacrifice, the former on self-enhancement.

So no religion is needed, the existence of no God need be assumed; this basis for moral living is universal. Nor is there any prerequisite of people for whom to sacrifice oneself, unlike the religious alternative. If virtue really consisted of extinguishing self, the good would all die off and leave only the bad! - and those receiving such help would be incapable of becoming virtuous! The NAP turns that nonsense on its head, and is a perfect fit for every human being.



It did here. Daylight faded, rain tumbled, lightning flashed and thunder clapped. This ZGBlog, due on 5/25, is two days late!

The tumor, referenced at the foot of the 4/27 ZGB, was removed and was somewhat cancerous. But by 5/21 an infection had taken hold in the vacated space which zapped my appetite, removed all energy, and so swelled up that space that it started bleeding profusely. So on the proper date of 5/25 I was hors de combat.

To play catch-up, I plan to upload next week's edition on Wednesday, then get the following week back to the normal Tuesday.


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