Touching on the Dangers of Living Among the Morally Delusional

A major theme of all I have written about morality is that it is subjective. Assuming I am right, this fact has major implications regarding human behavior. It follows, for example, that good and evil do not exist as objective things. Since they are almost universally imagined to actually be objective things, it follows that good and evil are subjective illusions. This begs the question of why the illusions exist. The obvious reason is that they exist by virtue of natural selection. As a result of the natural process of evolution we have brains that construct these illusions because, at some time and in some environment that was likely vastly different from the present, the illusions happened to improve the odds that the responsible genes would survive and reproduce. They are an aspect of human nature, if you will, and one that gives rise to what we commonly refer to as morality. Absent this particular aspect of human nature, morality as we know it would not exist.

Morality predisposes us to imagine that we ought to do some things, and ought not to do others. However, since the mental traits responsible for morality are the result of a natural process, it is impossible that there can be anything that we ought or ought not to do from an objective point of view. To imagine otherwise is to fall victim to the naturalistic fallacy. However, a life lived in complete indifference to what we ought or ought not to do would certainly be boring, and probably impossible for creatures such as ourselves, with a powerful predisposition to imagine that good and evil are real things. The question is, how do we come up with our oughts and ought nots? More broadly speaking, how do we come up with a “meaning of life” to which all of our other oughts and ought nots would presumably be subordinated? The obvious answer is that we assign these things to ourselves.

From a purely personal point of view I consider it expedient to consider rationally this matter of what ultimate goals to assign myself, and what I ought and ought not to do in pursuit of these goals. I have decided that my own personal goals should include survival and reproduction. There is no objective reason for pursuing such a goal, anymore than there is an objective reason for pursuing any other goal. I have chosen these goals because of my conclusion that virtually all of my essential physical and mental traits exist because they enhanced the odds that I would survive and reproduce. I prefer to act in a way that is in harmony with the natural processes that are responsible for my existence. If I were to do otherwise, I would have the impression that I had become “sick” or “dysfunctional” as a biological unit. In keeping with this goal, I have the additional goals of ensuring the survival of my species, and promoting its continued evolution to become ever more capable of surviving in any environment it is likely to encounter, and of ensuring the survival of biological life itself. I consider these additional goals reasonable because I deem them preconditions for my original goal of survival and reproduction, extended into the indefinite future. None of these goals are justifiable from an objective point of view, independent of my subjective mind. It is impossible for any goal to have that attribute. Call them whims, if you will, but there you have them. I have laid my cards on the table.

I would certainly like to see the other members of my species lay their cards on the table in a similar fashion, but that is not likely to happen. The problem is that almost all of them are delusional. They actually believe that the illusions of good and evil are real. Many of them also believe that their meaning and purpose are supplied by imaginary gods that don’t actually exist. Unfortunately, all this has a severe impact, not just on themselves, but on those around them as well. It can do a lot of what those others may perceive, and what I personally certainly perceive, as harm.

Consider, for example, the case of morality. There has always been widespread recognition of the harm done by those who blindly follow their moral whims. Shakespeare referred to them as “devils of Puritans.” More recently, they have been contemptuously referred to as the Uplift, or do gooders, or Social Justice Warriors. Seldom if ever, however, has anyone been able to put their finger on the reason why the behavior of such people is dangerous and harmful. The main reason for this is that they have always suffered from the same delusion as the do gooders. They, too, have imagined that good and evil exist as objective things. They merely believe in different versions of these imaginary things. As a result, they cannot simply point out that the pathologically pious among us are blindly following an emotional whim that is harmful to the rest of us. They are generally reduced to coming up with an alternative grab bag of goods and evils, and engaging in futile arguments over whose grab bag is better. Since the do gooders are generally a great deal more adept at manipulating moral emotions, they commonly win these arguments.

Consider what the outcome of this state of affairs has been concerning, for example, the integrity of national borders. In recent years, much of Europe, North American, and parts of east Asia had reached a state of affairs in which the birthrates of the indigenous populations was below replacement level. Eventually, this would have caused their populations to begin shrinking. In some cases they have already begun to shrink. From my personal point of view, this is an extremely good state of affairs. I would be the first to admit that alarmists have exaggerated many of the environmental problems we face. However, considering that earth is the only boat we have to live in at the moment, why rock it? Virtually every environmental problem you could name would go away with substantial reductions in population. With fewer others to compete with for limited resources, there would be more elbow room for my descendants. We are told that the economy will only be good as long as the population continually increases. Obviously, this can’t go on forever. The planet can only sustain so many people, and its limits are already being strained in many areas. To the extent that survival is a goal we have in common, it would be much better, not only for me, but for our species in general, if at least a few enclaves could be preserved with sustainable populations. Worrying about or tweaking the economy amounts to little more than an exercise in rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We have far more substantial problems to worry about.

However, we are told by the pathologically pious that we cannot continue to protect these potentially sustainable enclaves of ours because it is immoral. We must open our borders and allow anyone who pleases to move in, because this is the “moral” thing to do. The result is not hard to foresee. The amount of environmental damage these immigrants will cause will be vastly greater than if they had stayed in their own countries. Our population will no longer begin decreasing to more sustainable levels. Those coming in are culturally and ethnically different from the population already here. In view of the invariable human tendency to view others in terms of ingroups and outgroups, this will inevitably lead to social tension, perhaps culminating in civil war.  Even in terms of the economy, there is no evidence that allowing cheap labor to flood across the border, placing huge demands on our health, educational, and social welfare resources, will have a beneficial effect, even in the short term. Our population will begin to look more and more like the populations of South American countries such as Brazil and Venezuela that have been notably unsuccessful in sustaining a level of affluence similar to the one we enjoy, in spite of their control over vast natural resources. These obvious objections are commonly rationalized away with specious arguments in the interest of doing “good.”

If I were to ask those who support such a destructive policy to justify their claim that it must be done because it is moral, they would be incapable of responding with a coherent answer. If they actually understood what morality is, the best reply they could give me would be that they want to do it to satisfy an emotional whim. However, that emotional whim evolved at a time when our species never had to deal with such issues. Attempting to solve the complex issues we are faced with now by doing whatever happens to be most emotionally satisfying is not only stupid, but self-destructive. Unfortunately, those who seek to blindly satisfy their emotional whims in this way apply them not just to themselves, but to the rest of us as well. Unless they are allowed to dictate to us what we “ought” or “ought not” to do, not only in the matter of borders, but in everything else, then they will deem us “evil,” and seek to force their emotionally motivated solutions to all the world’s problems down our collective throats.

Unless we wake up and realize what morality actually is, those who hardly have our welfare or interests at heart will continue to manipulate it to lead us around by the nose. Unfortunately, I don’t see our species waking up any time soon. Our situation will remain as it is. Whatever goals and purposes we happen to assign ourselves, we must learn to deal with it. 

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

5 thoughts on “Touching on the Dangers of Living Among the Morally Delusional”

  1. I doubt that believing in objective morality simpliciter can be shown to cause the damage you describe. Surely a demonstration like that could guarantee one an endowed faculty position! So I think looking at specifics, and not seeing them as fully representative of ‘objective morality’, is the way forward for now.

    Plenty of Social Justice Warriors follow after Marcuse, who thought that tolerance should be shown to his side but not the other. “Liberating tolerance”, he called it. But this is just ye olde tribal morality, whereby one set of rules applies within the group and another (if any) applies without. They lack any sense of symmetry, whereby you only do something to others if you’re ok with them doing it to you. A possible consequence down the line is that rationality becomes fully uprooted and it’s just social power vs. social power. But aren’t you saying this is how things are already?

    Those you describe as ‘Puritan’ are known for their hypocrisy. This shouldn’t be surprising; articulating common rules allows reputations to be built up and then abused. (“He would never do that!”) Articulating common rules also allows trolls to more effectively dance at the margins, which is why Facebook didn’t publish its detailed moderation guidelines before Zuckerberg was grilled in Washington. Twitter still doesn’t. But I don’t see some minimum level of hypocrisy as a necessary outcome of any ‘objective morality’.

    You also pick out “those who blindly follow their moral whims”; surely you realize that plenty of religion asks people to be self-reflective. There’s nothing about ‘objective morality’ which necessarily entails ‘blindly follow’.

    Finally, I just can’t seem to convince myself that your highest priority is to tell the truth, or that your highest priority entails that you will always tell the truth. Or even tell the truth a great deal of the time. If my not surviving or thriving less would appreciably increase your chances of surviving/​thriving, what incentive would you have to be fully truthful with me?

  2. @Luke

    I doubt that believing in objective morality simpliciter can be shown to cause the damage you describe.

    Fire simpliciter doesn’t necessarily case damage either. That doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous, or that the danger can be ignored.

    As for tribalism, yes, I’m saying that’s how things really are. All humans perceive others in terms of ingroups and outgroups, applying different versions of morality to each.

    You also pick out “those who blindly follow their moral whims”; surely you realize that plenty of religion asks people to be self-reflective. There’s nothing about ‘objective morality’ which necessarily entails ‘blindly follow’.

    In the first place, there is no such thing as objective morality. Hence, it is impossible to follow it. Unless you know what morality is and why it exists, you are “blindly following” by definition. You are chasing a mirage. Is there a way of chasing unicorns that isn’t “blind?” I don’t think so. It is not inaccurate to describe those who chase things that don’t exist as blind.

  3. Your real problem seems to be with morality closed to arbitrary investigation. But that is necessarily true of human/​evolution-created morality: it bottoms out in power—physical and then social. Socrates is intolerable to such morality. There is no recourse to true rationality because resources are always scarce—social status if nothing else. Why reason if I can more easily take? Why include the really obnoxious people?

    Now, I can see objective morality being hard to discover and characterize like the laws of nature were hard to discover and characterize. They are extremely unnatural when compared to people’s default reasoning. (I’ll leave nurture and nature intertwined with that ‘default’.) A scientist must exercise tremendous self-control and transparency. Neither of these is rewarded in a manipulative society.

    But the very core of objective morality—that we were designed to operate better in some ways than others—seems perfectly possible and detectable. Engineers are quite good at inferring the designs and purposes of other engineers in manufactured products. It works better if you hold it this way. What is so often missing is that empirical corroboration. Perhaps because a lot of what passes as ‘objective morality’ isn’t.

  4. I just discovered your fascinating blog, and intend to read much more of it. If I may be so bold, you should write for some larger venue (say, Counter-currents, or The Unz Review) wherein your ideas could reach a larger audience and garner more feedback.

    That said, you make a lot of assumptions, the most basic of which is that there is nothing supernatural (ie, “God” does not refer to anything real, ie, external to the human mind). You might be correct, but even if you are, it hardly follows that “morality is subjective”. It would be better to say, “Following morality without any sort of divine imprimatur, understood as a scheme of rewards and punishments, is idiotic [counter to animalistic self-interest, or at least, generally likely to be so].”

    Morality is as objective as mathematics, though subject to much greater disagreement. Killing an ethical person is wrong in itself; no system of ethics could hold otherwise without falling into contradiction. Of course, if there is no force to judge and punish violations of morality, then what’s the point of abiding by it? There is no objective morality among animals: they act solely within the scope of their genetically determined natures. If God does not exist, abiding by moral precepts is either an instance of mental “slavery” (as Nietzsche understood), or a whim. But that does not invalidate the claim of the existence of objective morality per se (the understanding of how one ought to act if God did exist).

  5. @Leon

    Thanks for your comment.

    Unfortunately, larger venues (Unz, Counter-currents, etc.) haven’t been beating a path to my door. I appreciate the thought, though.

    If it is true that morality is subjective, then there is no “better” way to say that fact than, “Morality is subjective.” Human beings will “follow morality” more or less as they have always done, because that is their nature. As Hume pointed out, it is not possible for any aspect of our behavior, including our moral behavior, to be purely rational. All of it is motivated by desires and predispositions that exist by virtue of the process of natural selection that accounts for our existence in the first place. It may, therefore, be possible for the strategy one uses to satisfy a particular desire or predisposition, such as the desire to perceive oneself as “good” or “moral,” to be “idiotic,” but the desire itself cannot possibly be “idiotic,” because it is impossible for it to be the outcome of a purely rational process to begin with.

    To compare morality and mathematics is to compare apples and oranges. Regardless, it is hardly true that mathematics itself is necessarily objective. It can be used to describe objective facts, and that is probably why it is usually deemed “objective” itself. However, a perfectly self-consistent mathematics can also be constructed based on axioms such as 2 + 2 = 5, even though that axiom does not correspond to objective reality.

    It is certainly not true that we behave morally only because we fear judgment and punishment. However, the fact that morality is subjective hardly precludes judgment and punishment. It is our nature to perceive moral law as absolute, and to desire the judgment and punishment of those who violate it. We perceive the moral law in that way because that is the way it has proved most effective in promoting our survival and reproduction. It is, therefore, nonsense to claim that, because morality is subjective, it cannot be treated as absolute. It will be treated as absolute whether any of us deem it “reasonable” or not. It is quite true that morality can be said to be based on “whims,” in the same sense that hunger, thirst, lust, and all the other desires that motivate our behavior are “whims.” This fact is no less true because you happen to deem it unpalatable.

    If morality, or anything else, is “objective,” it must exist independently of what anyone happens to think about it. Where, then, are these good and evil objects? If they exist at all, isn’t it reasonable to inquire what they are made of? If they are made of nothing, after all, then they don’t exist. All you have done is insist that they exist. That is hardly enough to conjure them into existence, any more than it is possible for me to conjure a unicorn into existence by insisting that unicorns must exist, because otherwise my life wouldn’t make sense.

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