Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Was Confucius a libertarian?

A friend told me, "Confucius insists that moral rulers need no coercive measures in order to rule, and that rulers who do coerce are not worthy of their authoritative position."
I  enthusiastically agree with this principle. I wonder how many  moral rulers we can discover in history, defined in this way? I wonder, did Confucius provide any examples?
Confucius [...] argues that the best government is one that rules through "rites" (lǐ) and people's natural morality, rather than by using bribery and coercion. He explained that this is one of the most important analects: "If the people be led by laws, and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment, but have no sense of shame. If they be led by virtue, and uniformity sought to be given them by the rules of propriety, they will have the sense of the shame, and moreover will become good." (Translated by James Legge) in the Great Learning (大學). This "sense of shame" is an internalisation of duty, where the punishment precedes the evil action, instead of following it in the form of laws as in Legalism.
 Confucius believed that the motivation behind moral actions must be moral. If a person acts morally because he/she is coerced by fear then the person is not benevolent. Thus, laws do not develop moral character.

Delegating Coercion

A friend gave me trouble about my definition of libertarianism: "But just about your only definition of libertarians is that they prefer voluntary cooperation over coercion, and that, I think, brings just about the whole world under the tent, save for a few demagogues and the badly deranged."

To which I replied, channeling Larkin Rose: Pardon my cynicism. Most people choose cooperation over coercion when dealing with others face-to-face. The story changes when they can delegate the coercion through the mechanisms of voting, legislation, the military, and law enforcement. Then they enthusiastically support the coercion of those with different opinions or circumstances, forcing these others into their favourite one-size-fits-all scheme. It helps if they can tell themselves a story about it all being for the common good, though that is not strictly required. In the end, they probably do not even realize any coercion has happened. They  compartmentalize their link to injustice and place it carefully out of sight. 

Progressives coerce in the name of equality, the environment, and helping the poor. Conservatives coerce in the name of family values, property values, and patriotism. In both cases, they categorize the victims of their coercion as the "other," as "deserving" what they get. I can earn moral blame or virtue only when I choose without coercion. My good deeds earn me no merit if I do them only to escape punishment or seeking a reward.

Where are the boundaries of cooperation, coercion, extrinsic motivation, intrinsic motivation, rewards, and punishments? Nature will punish us if we do unwise things, and reward us for other things we do. Is nature coercing us? Can we cooperate with nature without personifying it? If a slave loves his slavery, would that mean that his master's threats and abuse do not qualify as coercion?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Judgements and regrets

Regret: When I behaved in the way which I now regret, what need of mine was I trying to meet?
Anger: The behavior of others may stimulate anger but can't cause it. Anger signifies we blame or judge others. If we connect to our needs, we may feel strong emotions, but not anger. What unmet need of mine is being expressed through this moralistic judgment? I am angry because I need ... Breathe. Empathize with the other. Identify the thoughts that are making you angry. Connect to the needs behind those thoughts. Speak the anger, transformed into needs and feelings.
Swallow the frog: I choose to ... Because I want ...
Badly paraphrased/plagiarized from M. Rosenberg.