Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Non Aggression Principle says Violence is a Virtue Ethics

Is any argument calling for the initiation of aggression (defined by the Non Aggression Principle as violence or the threat of violence against a person or her legitimately owned property) inherently self-contradictory?
No. Everything depends on whether the status quo is considered to be good in itself or having moral legitimacy simply by virtue of its existence. Any larger theory of the world which holds the status quo to be degenerate, or Fallen or Barbaric, also posits some hidden violence, of a more invidious and destructive kind, as already occurring and militates for the initiation of a visible violence that can surgically excise the danger represented by the 'hidden' violence.
   But, what if we introduce a further axiom such that Providence always ensures that the status quo is free of hidden violence and is the morally most perfect state possible? Surely, under those circumstances, it would be self-contradictory to argue for initiating aggression against any person or her legitimately owned property? 
Once again the answer is no. It may be that initiating Violence is a skill which, once mastered, brings some great benefit to Society such that a benign Providence would itself ordain that act of aggression. In other words, in addition to the axiom of the Providential nature of the status quo, we would need to add a second axiom- viz. that benign Providence can never ordain any initiation of aggression. But, now, we don't have any intellectual argument at all, just arbitrary assertions about the nature of Providence which, unless one subscribes to pure Occassionalist Theism, really does involve one in self-contradiction.
  An alternative tack is to deny the possibility of 'hidden violence', to dismiss the reality of unspoken intimidation, as a phantasm merely. By this account, the fact that I don't go and confront my hooligan neighbor when she turns up her hi-fi is evidence not of  the 'hidden violence' by which she intimidates me but my enjoyment of the horrible, probably Lesbic & obscene, lyrics of her favorite singer- M.S. Subbalaxmi.
  In this case, once again, an intellectual argument has been displaced by an arbitrary assertion about the facts of the World- one which collapses under Micro-Sociological appraisal.
Randall Collins, author of Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory, writes-
 'Humans confronting each other come up against a wall of confrontational tension/fear (ct/f), a tension arising from the hard-wiring in humans that makes us especially susceptible to rituals of mutual solidarity, Interaction Rituals in the specifically sociological sense...Successful instances of human violence come from getting around the barrier of ct/f, sometimes by chance, but also by techniques that persons skilled in violence learn to use. ' (Randall Collins)
Rene Girard developed a theory of mimetic desire which highlighted the role of the scapegoat- the human sacrifice- in rituals of mutual solidarity. Social Interaction, it seems to me, tends to be ritualized along lines of alterity whose borders are defined by the 'pharmakos' or scapegoat who no longer has to be killed in proportion to the capacity for coercion the Social sub-unit believes itself to possess.
The problem here is that Violence is a skill that has to be learned and, once learned, constitutes a type of Human or Social Capital which commands a rent even absent its exercise. Small groups, which cultivate that skill, can become decisive over much larger nomological rubrics, or unities, such as that under which Libertarians operate. Fortunately, Violence can only function as a 'Virtue Ethic' where it evokes a 'balanced game' so the Libertarians, or Gandhians, or Rousseauians or whatever are saved despite themselves.

Violence as Virtue Ethics
    Dipping into a book by Nicholas Gier got me thinking- you heard me right folks, I said thinking not drinking- has there ever been a philosopher or prophet or politician or any other sort of fuckwit whatsoever who has actually advocated Violence?
   Hilter? No he denounced violent opposition to himself in very vehement terms. Genghis Khan? No, he greatly disapproved of violent opposition to himself and delivered great masses of people from this detestable vice.
    Hitler never used violent means to secure his aim- viz. the end of violent opposition to himself. He never actually shot anybody or slapped anybody or even knifed them a little bit. Those who were already violent removed others- violent or not- whose counsel, example, or relative sanctity such as is conferred by mere continued existence, might have led those same men of blood to like mebbe one day violently oppose Hitler or something. In other words Violence used itself as the means to come to the particular state of absolute and eternal non-violence that Hitler enjoined.
    It may be true that a good end can not be achieved by bad means. But, nothing enjoins an officious striving to prevent a bad end frustrating itself by bad means such that a good end is achieved, albeit with little or no assistance from good means.
    We can turn any historical figure, no matter how brutal or blood-soaked, into a champion of non-violence by positing him or her to be a mere Kagemusha, or shadow warrior, to the true protagonist, occulted by the chronicles, who wills that non-violent end state which violence aims at.
   Assuming brain modularity, Principal Agent hazard (of the sort mentioned above) arises in even a one person, one time period, model- one can be violent to oneself by reason of preference falsification or Kavka's toxin. Any argument against what I'm saying here is going to have to admit that it assumes, and thus only has relevance to, a world where brains didn't evolve or look nothing like our own. But, even so, such arguments are wasted words coz of the Thomas Nagel 
Bat problem.
    What about a theory of Violence as a Virtue Ethics? What would a philosopher of violence look like? No, not Nietzche- give the guy a break, he was a syphilitic lunatic, not to say German philologist, and thus mentally incompetent to impose a poset on what he valorized- but maybe Merlin's King Arthur or some such mythical beast who insists every moral, that is deontic, or non alethic issue or question be settled only by violence. This would need to be a violent agon, otherwise there is no partial ordering of states of the world signified by the word Violence. To see why consider the following case- I cut your throat after you have stuck your head under a guillotine and let fall the blade. If you did this to escape my knife, I still am credited with a lot of violence. If however you did it for some other reason and neither knew or cared about my plan to cut your throat- the amount of violence I have actually perpetrated is considerably diminished. Essentially, the more causal chains having bearing on us both, the more difficult it will be to establish a partial ordering of states of the world such that Violence can be measured or states of the world ranked with respect to its criteria. In practice, the only tractable way to establish a Violence metric is to recast every interaction as a 2 person violence agon- even if it is both multi-agent as well as diachronous- with some ad hoc weighting formula for working out the contribution of each agent at different times. (This is Newtonian substantivism as opposed to the mirage of Leibnizian relationism.)
     But even with a pure two person violent agon the problem arises that I won't fight unless I get a positive Expected value for the Outcome- so there has to be a reward and a threshold probability of winning that reward. You may say, well, I'll kill you if you don't fight. But, all that then happens is, I choose the option that minimizes my own pain and suffering, not the one that maximizes the amount of violence I do and/or provoke. So, if Violence- as opposed to a utilitarian calculus of costs and benefits arising out of perceived tastes and potentials for violence- is going to be in a position to actually to decide anything of moral or non alethic import- i.e. if it is to be a virtue ethics- it has to ensure two things
1) Symmetry and 'Balanced Gaming' ( Notice Non-Violence does not demand Symmetry for its practice- thus it throws away information and is dissipative) Formally this means  all violent conflicts must have random outcomes- assuming all agents are risk neutral.
   However, suppose Iyers are more cowardly than Iyengars- this is empirically true of Iyer males when matched against Iyengar females- then Iyengar women must be suitably handicapped (I suggest they not be allowed to pull my hair or punch me in the fatty portion of my arm) and Iyer men properly armed and armoured.
2)  Impredicative Pareto efficiency- the setting up of the conflict situation must involve an outward shift in the production possibility frontier such that both parties to the violence can, at least theoretically, be made better off. In other words the purse for the prize fight must always exceed the sum of losses on both sides. Suppose, the reverse were the case- e.g. if I say 'you and your sister must fight each other to the death to decide who gets the hush money you are extorting from me for not telling your Mum and Dad that I let you stay up with me to watch 'Frightnight' even though they'd specifically said I wasn't allowed to watch it coz it makes me pee the couch and what sort of babysitters are they sending us nowadays anyway?'
    The problem is, to make sure you and your sister actually fight each other to the death, I have to import extra violence into the scenario. There has to be a credible threat that you will both die more painful and lingering deaths by refusing combat. But, from the first principle (viz Symmetry) this extra violence can't arise. Thus, unlike Non-Violence or Justice as Fairness or other such pi jaw, Violence as Virtue Ethics is impredicatively Pareto efficient.
   But, if these two conditions are satisfied then- for the first time in its life- Ethics would actually yield something Ethical. Thus, not only is Violence (as opposed to non-violence) a Virtue Ethics- it is the only Virtue Ethics which don't fuck things up big time.

No comments: